Wild Flag makes for a modest supergroup
With Eleanor Friedberger and DJ Carbo
At: Paradise Rock Club, Friday, 9 p.m. Tickets: $15. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
Like a lot of bands, Wild Flag was born when a group of friends who had known each other for years came together. It just so happened that those friends were indie-rock stalwarts Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (both of Sleater-Kinney), Rebecca Cole (the Minders), and Mary Timony (Helium). As a result, it was all but inevitable that a certain word would repeatedly pop up in reference to the band.
“At first, when people started using that term on the Internet, we were all kind of like, ‘That’s silly. We’re not a supergroup,’ ’’ says guitarist, singer, and ’90s Boston-scene mainstay Timony, who points to bands like Asia and Mr. Big as better fitting the bill. “It’s just kind of a silly term.
“But it’s all good. I think we strive to not be a band of four big personalities, [instead] just trying to make it work as one single entity. I think the thing that makes supergroups weird and awkward is that it’s four gigantic personalities, or five, or three, or how many people are in the band. We try not to have it that way.’’
Supergroup or not, it seems to be working. In March, a solid six months before they’d released a note of music, Wild Flag sold out the Brighton Music Hall, and the band graduates to the roomier Paradise on Friday. Of course, any new band with a history (or histories) as rich as Wild Flag is certain to draw an audience with built-in expectations. Timony says that her bandmates addressed that head-on in an effort to establish their own, new identity.
“I think at first, the other girls, especially Janet and Carrie, they had this thing about, ‘There are going to be Sleater-Kinney fans there that are going to be disappointed,’ ’’ Timony says. “Carrie actually was kind of funny. The first tour we did, she was like, ‘Let’s just get those people out of the way. They just want to come and see the spectacle, and they’re going to be disappointed that it’s not Sleater-Kinney.’ ’’
It’s hard to see how. Onstage, and on its just-released and highly-praised self-titled debut, Wild Flag certainly has echoes of its members’ established playing styles - Weiss’s thunderous but unobtrusively complex drumming, the spidery roar of Brownstein’s and Timony’s guitars, Cole’s careful fistfuls of keys - but there are new inflections of psychedelia and heavy ’70s rock. While Timony describes her band’s sound more succinctly (“I would say we play rock music and we like to play at a relatively fast tempo’’), she figures that Wild Flag could never have been simply a rehash of any of their earlier groups.
“Every band is different, just depending on who the musicians are,’’ she says. “I never played with a musician and felt like it was the same as playing with a different musician. Every band, there’s a really delicate chemistry that’s just different. I don’t think you can compare them.’’
While the band members have all played with one another in various combinations in the past (guitarists Timony and Brownstein as the Spells, drummer Weiss and keyboardist Cole in a cover band), Wild Flag had its proper genesis in Brownstein’s soundtrack work last year for “!Women Art Revolution,’’ a documentary about feminist art. Filmmaker Lynn Hershman found that Wild Flag’s music resonated with the movie’s themes.
“It was totally about independence and finding one’s place and finding a place in the world for themselves and making a place in the world for themselves,’’ says Hershman, who also notes the inspirational effect that the group that Brownstein recruited had on her crew. “I didn’t know them as well as people 10 or 20 or 30 years younger than me knew them. But people who worked on the film said that they changed their lives, because most of the people that worked on my film are in their 20s and 30s.’’
When it comes right at the very formation of a band and has yet to let up, that sort of adulation can place a lot of pressure on four musicians. And there are other challenges to overcome: D.C.-based Timony has to commute to join the others in Portland, Ore., and the band’s activities need to be scheduled around the budding television career of Brownstein, who stars on cable sketch-comedy show “Portlandia.’’ But if Wild Flag feels any pressure based on what others expect, Timony won’t admit to it.
“I don’t know what people’s expectations are,’’ she says. “People just like good stuff. They like to get excited about music, and they like when people are enjoying themselves on stage. I don’t know; I’m just thinking what I would expect out of a band. I just like when it’s good.’’
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.