Thee AHs: An Ahverview
Culture / October 1, 2012
By Elizabeth Hann
[associate copy editor]
Cute is a double-edged word.
Isn’t it? Originally derived from the word acute, meaning among other things “sharp or penetrating in intellect, insight or perception,” cute has come to mean merely something like “appealing and delightful.” And that’s at the best of times – at worst, cute means something like “mincingly pretty or clever, precious or affected.”
As one can imagine, it can be a mixed blessing for something to be called cute – especially when that something is a rock band. After all, isn’t rock ‘n’ roll supposed to be an outlet for everything that isn’t appealing and delightful and pretty and precious and affected? Well, the answer to that is – it depends on who you ask.
Thee AHs, an up-and-coming Vancouver band, have managed to combine garage-rock toughness with a rare quality – a cuteness that is truly unaffected. The results are something that demands a second look, and a closer listen.
Let us discuss the cuteness first.
Thee AHs – guitarist Sarah Lowenbot, lead vocalist Davina Shell, drummer Marissa Holmes, and bass player Ridley Bishop – are all well under the age of twenty-five, and they sound like it. They perform wearing heart-shaped sunglasses.
Thee AHs’ latest EP, Thee AHs Ahtack!, was recorded on hot-pink vinyl. It featured a hand-designed sleeve (by Sarah Lowenbot, who’s the group’s art designer as well as their guitarist) with a picture of a cute little girl on it, a girl who looks like someone you’d doodle in the margins of your high-school English notebook during a dull class.
Davina Shell, the group’s chief songwriter, writes songs with titles like “Onion in My Pocket”, and “Strange Little Scene” – songs that, in their fragile lyricism have been compared to the songs of noted cutemeister Jonathan Richman – and the group’s most effective work to date is a speeded-up cover of a girl-group ditty from 1963.
The members of Thee AHs have even admitted a fondness for that sticky-sweet bubblegum queen Britney Spears – an unironic fondness.
At this point, admirers of serious music – and fans of good red-blooded rock – may be gearing up to dismiss Thee AHs as a pack of piffle-purveyors. But if they did dismiss them, they’d lose a good thing: Thee AHs are a whole lot tougher, and smarter and certainly stranger, than their cute and cuddly image would suggest.
So, some strange little facts about Thee AHs:
One, they released their EP, Thee AHs Ahtack, on a Spanish record label, 7 Ietepulgadas Records, and the EP comes with Spanish-language-only liner notes. And the cartoony record sleeve for that EP, the blonde, bouffanted little girl is sticking her tongue down the throat of a much older man. Nymphet imagery is surprisingly common in Thee AHs’ work. One of their songs is called “Too Young for You”, and the cute heart-shaped glasses they wear on stage serve as an homage to the ones Sue Lyon wore in the 1962 film Lolita.
Thee AHs’ lyrics may seem sweet at first blush, but you just have to scratch the surface to uncover their secret strangeness and melancholy. The hook to the twee-titled “Onion in My Pocket” is the repeated phrase “When I start to cry/Nobody asks me why…” One of the new songs on Thee AHs Ahtack! carries the weirdly suggestive title, “Ooh They’re Inside Me.”
And of all the creamy, sugary girl-group songs from 1963 that Thee AHs could have covered – “I Will Follow Him,” “Be My Baby”, “Our Day Will Come”, etc. – the ditty they actually chose to cover was the deeply obscure, startlingly catty and honest “Sour Grapes”, by (but of course!) Australian performer Patsy Ann Noble. Thee AHs’ other musical influences are equally strange, and much tougher; they admit to being inspired by The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, The Pixies, and The Smiths.
Thee AHs’ sound is something much more than cute.
On songs like “Onion In My Pocket” and the aforementioned “Sour Grapes”, the guitar chords race forward like wild horses, with Sarah Lowenbot and Davina Shell’s thin, tough voices and Marissa Holmes’s shambolic drums racing after them. Bassist Ridley Bishop defends Thee AHs’ shambolic wildness as intentional, worthy and necessary.
“We hate slick sounds,” he has remarked in conversation, “We want to sound like we’re torn up by the roots.” When asked how he would define Thee AHs, Bishop explained, “We generally think of ourselves as black bubblegum pop.”
This last phrase marks Thee AHs as part of a noble tradition indeed – according to rock ‘n’ roll Apocrypha, The Sex Pistols’ infamous Svengali-manager Malcolm McLaren defined punk rock as “dirty bubblegum.”
So what’s next for these double-edged cuties and black bubblegummers? At the moment, Thee AHs are planning to release their second full-length album, which they recorded in February. They undertook their first cross-country tour in July, and are still channeling the inspiration from it into new material, perhaps for their third album.
In the meantime, their E.P Thee AHs Ahtack! is available at http://www.7ietepulgadasrecords.com/.