TIDAL Rising: Charly Bliss
Eva Grace Hendricks was making avocado toast when the news broke that her band, Charly Bliss, would be coming out with their debut LP, Guppy, in late April 2017. The addition of the trendy breakfast food to the menu at Brooklyn coffee shop, West, had been both a blessing and a curse to the staff — it kept a stream of steady traffic coming into the establishment early in the morning and…well, it kept a stream of steady traffic coming into the establishment early in the morning.
On that February work day, mashed avocado and goat cheese were the last things on Hendrick’s mind, however, as the album’s bouncy-yet-sneering lead single, “Glitter,” filtered out onto the Web. Instead, she was fixated on her phone.
“I was up at five in the morning waiting by my phone for someone to send me an email saying that the album wasn’t coming out,” she says, perched on a stool at Williamsburg’s Trophy Bar in a red and white polka-dot dress a couple of months later. She’s kind of a cross between Minnie Mouse and Courtney Love with her bleached blonde hair and affinity for overalls, floaty ‘90s dresses and glitter. “It feels really crazy in a lot of ways that this is now just happening,” she adds, taking a sip of beer.
What may read as post-creation jitters holds more weight for Hendricks. Although Charly Bliss has recently garnered buzz via performances at SXSW, she and her band had been working toward Guppy for essentially six years. “There was definitely a lot of heartache and paranoia that existed around that,” she says. “I think, ultimately, now that’s it really coming out, I feel really happy that we made it.”
Eva grew up in Westport, Connecticut, a prototypical musical theater kid; she starred in local productions of Little Shop of Horrors, among other shows, and attended a high school with a solid theater program. Her onstage background is pretty apparent when you see Eva perform, confident and emoting as she shreds through the set list — the band’s high-quality videos also betray a theatrical past. (Check out their nostalgia-laced video for shredder “Black Hole.”)
Still, while she credits that upbringing with her musical discipline, the whole scene wasn’t really for her. “I think, looking back, it’s easy for me to see that I was more passionate about music than theater,” she says. Hendricks was a diehard Rilo Kiley fan, and credits the soundtrack of 2001 cult classic Josie and the Pussycats as one of her biggest influences. “But I feel like growing up in suburban Connecticut, there’s not really many options.”
When she met Charly Bliss guitarist Spencer Fox at a Tokyo Police Club show at New York’s Webster Hall at age fourteen, music became more of a focus, however. “We weirdly immediately bonded in a completely platonic way,” she says, stressing that the two have never dated. “We started video-chatting every single day after school. He’s an incredible guitar player and he kept egging me on by saying, ‘I bet you’re really good at writings song — or you could be.’”
The two started writing over video chat, and even more so when Spencer moved to Westport. When Eva was accepted into a music program at NYU, Charly Bliss was born. “Everyone in the program already had CDs out and had played shows,” Hendricks recalls. “So, last minute over the summer before coming to New York, I said, ‘We have to record something so I don’t seem like a total fool.’” Her older brother, Sam, played drums and Spencer played guitar. “It was meant to be a one-time thing. We didn’t mean to start a band, it kind of just happened that way.” Later, bassist Dan Shure would join the fray.
Although the band didn’t release any music until several years after Hendricks graduated, Hendricks did have a few key experiences that helped her find her sound during that period — both, oddly enough, included members of punk band the Julie Ruin.
“I had never heard of [Bikini Kill and Julie Ruin lead singer] Kathleen Hanna and then in my freshman year of college she came to speak to a class that I was in,” Hendricks recalls. “I just walked out being like, ‘Something just changed.’ I had always listened to some rockier music, but it was this huge shift for me that came at the perfect time. It was right around the time we started playing shows in New York.”
Seeing Hanna speak, and getting into her music, helped Hendricks embrace her voice, which she always felt was both too raspy and too high-pitched for musical theater — and for garage rock. “For the first couple of years of us being in a band I really remember feeling like I was holding the band back,” she says. “Not because of anything anyone said to me or how anyone treated me. It was more so we kept playing these shows and I was like, ‘We don’t blend in yet. I’m not singing about the same things these people were singing about and my voice is so ‘girly.’”
“[Seeing Hanna speak] gave me this awesome validation to feel like whatever the fuck I’m experiencing is real and it’s worth it and I know other people will get it. That was huge turning point for me,” she adds.
Julie Ruin guitarist Sara Landeau, for her part, was Hendricks’ fairy godmother when it came to her instrument. “I was mesmerized by seeing any woman playing guitar,” Hendricks says. “I’m surprised I didn’t end up seriously pursuing it when I was a kid. But every guitar teacher I ever had were men who were like, ‘So do you want to learn this Van Halen cover?’”
Two years ago, Hendricks saw Landeau on the train, and, when she looked her up later online, learned that she taught guitar lessons — which the Charly Bliss front woman promptly signed up for. “I cannot say enough nice things about this person; she is my hero, my favorite person, incredible,” she says. “Working with her was so exciting and in so many ways I want to be her and because of that it forced me to practice more.”
These skills in hand and…well, it still wasn’t time for Charly Bliss to break out. After they finished recording the first iteration of Guppy, they decided to start over mostly from scratch — in large part because they realized that they were not, in fact, a garage rock band, but a garage pop band. Out went half of the record.
“I’m not going to lie, the last two years of recording the record and rethinking it was a mess,” Hendricks says, finishing her beer. Still, she’s happy that the band took the time to find its sound — especially in a musical climate that rewards overnight successes only to forget them 365 days later.
“The four of us built up this wall of trying to not get excited about anything, because there were so many up and downs of feeling like something was going to happen,” she says. “It felt like forever, but I think one of the most gratifying things is seeing my band mates realize that the record is actually coming out.”
And it seems that Guppy is emerging at the best possible time, replete with glowing write-ups and buzz built at SXSW (Hendricks was pleasantly surprised by how little of a shit show that was). A recent show at Mercury Lounge was crammed with fans lifting cameras to capture shots of Hendricks and her band mates’ extremely polished performance, the hometown kickoff of a tour with Wolf Parade offshoot Operators. They opened the show with their first single, “Glitter,” released back on that dark February morning when Hendricks worried if the record would ever get off the ground. Still, to look at her face — smeared with the song’s namesake and beaming — it seems like she finally believes that it’s all happening.
Guppy is out April 21 on Barsuk.
(Photo credit: Shervin Lainez)
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