When life’s self-imposed complexities begin to feel like sand in the gears, it’s time to free yourself from the philosophical drag show, shed the shackles imposed by our largely ephemeral sense of identity, and, in the immortal words of Mystikal, shake ya ass.
It’s in this way that the Rogers Sisters operate as the musical antithesis of a Rorschach inkblot test. They aren’t particularly concerned with imposing meaning on the white noise of experience — they’re interested in a little consciousness-deadening booty bumping.
Formed out of the ashes of Ruby Falls, the Detroit-bred Rogers sisters, Jennifer and Laura, with fresh recruit, bassist/vocalist Miyuki Furtado (Gerty) began their Brooklyn trio out of a simple idea.
“A couple years ago, there weren’t that many clubs in Brooklyn. Instead, people had these after-hours and late night parties in lofts. We started playing those. We really didn’t have an agenda, like wanting to make a record or anything,” says singer/guitarist Jennifer Rogers. “We just really wanted to have fun. And the parties were much more fun than clubs, because people were wild and dancing and there wasn’t that New York attitude.”
For more than a half-dozen years the pair had toured the country as Ruby Falls with Cynthia Nelson (Retsin) and Letha Rodman, and they weren’t exactly keen on returning to indie rock’s merry-go-round.
“We were kind of like, ‘This sucks; we’re going to play friends’ parties and that’s it,’ because it’s really just a terrible life to have,” says little sister Laura, the band’s drummer.
The Rogers Sisters often recall the B-52s because of the jittery vocal interplay between Jennifer Rogers and Furtado, whose tightly-wound vocals sound remarkably like Fred Schneider. But musically the band’s as influenced by no wave as new wave, mining a primitive, rhythmically driven sound that’s less concerned with melody than the music’s pummeling pulse. Their songs can be found on a slew of comps (Yes New York, U.S. Pop Life Vol. 17, etc.), singles, and on their lone 2002 full-length, Purely Evil.
“The thing is, all three of us are truly drummers and dancers, first. So if it doesn’t have the beat or the drive or the shake, or whatever, it’s boring,” offers Laura, looking a little like an extra from Square Pegs in her ’80s pink-and-black, striped stage garb. We are standing outside a South Carolina club where the Rogers Sisters have just played.
“We just do what comes naturally and easy to us, and we want to have a good time,” says the tall, somewhat sharp-boned older Rogers sister, clad in black leather boots, stockings and a mini. “But it’s true, we all played drums at one point or another so we’re very percussive with our instruments. … Even our vocals are percussive.”
Like the music, there is something primitive and strangely visceral about the band’s lyrical reliance on repetition. They cut through the complex emoting and tired intellectualizing that plagues indie rock to express a core sentiment.
“In the ’90s the music got so serious, so slow and so deliberate, so overly thought-out and mathematical that we just kind of wanted to let go of that for a while,” Jennifer explains. “It just seemed more fun to write simple one-minute songs.”
A little while later, unwinding over drinks at a nearby bar, the sisters talk of their father as strong musical inspiration.
“He’s a huge influence. He plays drums. He’s a record distributor. He’s been taking us to concerts in Detroit since we were babies,” says Jennifer. “I had a record collection when I was 2 — 45s. I had a little record player.”
“Every time we hear anything on the radio, or anytime we play anything, it’s based on some record she had when she was 2,” jokes Laura. “OK, maybe not every time, maybe only 25 percent.”
The two have an easy rapport. In fact, Jennifer lured Laura out of Motown to the Big Apple with the promise of drumming for Ruby Falls. It wasn’t a hard sell.
“I really went to NYC to get away from Michigan. I couldn’t stand living there. There was nothing cool going on,” says Laura of Detroit in the early ’90s. “You were either a doctor, lawyer, an office worker, or you worked in a gas station and were a loser. I would go into Detroit because we’re from the suburbs and it’s a horrible place. We’d try to find the right things to do and there just wasn’t anything. I didn’t think anything would ever happen there again. It’s like anybody who I ever knew who did anything remotely cool left. So it’s really weird that there’s this huge resurgence.”
Jennifer checks her watch and announces they’ve got to head back to the van.
“Look at us,” she says. “We got sucked into the clubs somehow and ended up making records, again.”
But if they’re disappointed to be back on the musical treadmill, at least they go knowing they’ve offered a brief respite of kinetic ‘pow!’ to obliterate that niggling self-awareness.
The Rogers Sisters play the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 313-833-9700) on Friday, May 1, with the Raveonettes.Chris Parker is a freelance writer and dishwasher. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org