'The Tit of the Iceberg': An Interview with Thunderpussy
Thunderpussy chatted about their self-titled debut, produced by Sylvia Massy, ahead of their NYC shows.
Before I sat down for an interview opp with Thunderpussy, a new rock band from Seattle, I gave their self-titled debut album a bunch of spins (as one ought to do). Thunderpussy (Stardog Records, an imprint of Republic), reflects a band with much more experience than what I normally anticipate a group's first record achieves. Maybe I should have expected more though as the band has made a fan out of Pearl Jam's Mike McCready and producer Sylvia Massy (who has worked with Tool, Tom Petty and more in her 30-plus-year career).
The group, vocalist Molly Sides, guitarist Whitney Petty, bassist Leah Julius and drummer Ruby Dunphy, aren't cohesive just on the musical spectrum. They exude coolness in their poise off-stage, and embody a brash attitude on-stage (plus the attire they donned for their Mercury Lounge show was definitely fab). And they are obviously close friends (to say the least, given there is a relationship between a couple of band members) as evidenced by their matching lightning bolt tattoos. (I wanted to get a photo of their ink not realizing they at least one same mark.) After the quick photo shoot, we chatted about their collaboration with Massy, wild tour experiences, a certain sensual water tower they encountered and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
From reading some of your previous interviews to prepare for this conversation, I got the sense you are a wild group off-stage as well.
Leah: Oh good.
Whitney: Oh, we have a reputation now.
It's getting out there! What are some of the weirdest tour experiences you've had?
Whitney: Definitely in the UK, definitely in the UK.
Leah: Everything there is weird.
Whitney: We went to Hull. It's where the Spiders from Mars are from.
There's a club there and the promoter, this guy named Andy is really awesome. I love Andy. He knows what happened, so I don't feel bad talking about it. But, we went to the show and then we didn't have a place to stay because our hotels got messed up, so he was really sweet. Like, we only had like half of a room for like five people, or some crap like that. So, he was like, you can stay with us. Who is a volunteer? So, Molly and I were like we'll volunteer.
We go out after the show and sing karaoke with, like, the entire town of Hull; they're all there.
Molly: I'm pretty sure the whole town showed up to this bar, and everybody sang, and everybody was incredible.
Whitney: The owner wanted to give us all the shots, all his special shots. I guess he thought that we, as ladies would like, so buttery nipples, and like, one tasted like Listerine.
Molly: Bubblegum, there was one that was like pink and bubblegum. It tasted like Pepto Bismal.
Whitney: But we got really drunk, and Andy got really drunk, and we hired a car to get back to his flat. And, I think he didn't even know where lived at that point. Like he almost walked into the wrong one-
Molly: No, he didn't! Because we stopped in the middle of the road, he got out of the taxi or whatever car, and then he started walking. We just were following him, and we're walking straight, and then he just turns around without saying anything and we walk back the other direction. And he was looking around, and they all look pretty similar.
Whitney: But this is not even the juicy parts. We get upstairs and he lives in an apartment that's never been vacuumed. There's like clothes everywhere. His roommate -- I guess? -- is there, and it's like four in the morning, and he's like, "Ladies you can sleep in my room. I'll sleep on the couch". We're like, "Thanks Andy". And he like goes into his room, and there's just…
Molly: I feel like we shouldn't be talking about this.
Whitney: No! The best part is like, we get in his bed, and like he comes in and like pees in the corner, like, while we're in there. Like, he doesn't remember that we're like in his room.
Molly: I mean, I don't think he realized his room was his room at that point.
Whitney: I step in the carpet on my socks and it's wet and I'm like I don't want to know. Oh my god. This is so bad, right? And then, it was really weird because we got up to get a glass of water or something and we come back out and it's like four in the morning. All the sudden there's a woman, and she's like showed up and she's like passed out.
Molly: All of a sudden there's this huge mattress in the middle of the room, and there's a woman in it. Like, we're passed out.
Leah: How did this all happen?
Molly: And we were awake like four hours later, and she was gone already. So, I'm like, what's that all about. It was just so strange.
Leah: Did it even happen?
Molly: The whole night was just so weird.
What's your go-to karaoke song?
Ruby: Oh man, "Break Stuff" by Limp Bizkit.
Molly: Wait, I have not seen you do that yet.
Ruby: I don't know how that's possible. I sing karaoke. It's just one of those days where I don't wanna wake up; everything is fucked, everybody sucks, you want to justify, ripping someone's head off.
Molly: Just drop the mic.
Ruby: Drop the mic, drop the mic. I love to listen to Molly do "Stand by Your Man". That's my favorite karaoke moment, not when I'm singing.
Whitney: I don't think I have a go-to, it's like you gotta feel it in the moment. You gotta vibe off the audience. I was more of an audience member at that particular venue. Really everybody in Hull can sing.
Molly: Son of a bitch! You remember that happening? That was…
Whitney: That was intense.
Thunderpussy, your debut album, recently came out. You all have a variety of musical influences, but on the album, you take those influences to create a set of songs that are cohesive thematically and have a vibe that based on their title. So "Badlands" starts with a spacious, wasteland kind of thing. Could you go into the recording process of this track?
Molly: The best part about the album is that we recorded it with Sylvia Massy. So, a lot of that recording ambiance, it was very atmospheric, right? We were able to create a different feel, and get really weird with it, with Sylvia, and experiment.
Ruby: You got to play the Theremin on that one.
Molly: Yeah, I played the Theremin on that one.
Ruby: It was pretty cool.
Molly: But her studio is like a big tool box. More like a treasure chest. You can play with everything, and you don't really know how it's gonna sound unless you try it and record it.
Whitney: She had just gotten every single one of every single EarthQuaker pedal, which is a great boutique guitar pedal company out of Ohio. And that was really fun because we used…
Leah: We literally tried every single one of them.
Whitney: All of them.
Molly: We had an inflatable shark full of EarthQuaker pedals.
Whitney: Pedal shark.
Molly: Pedal shark. Pulling them out.
Whitney: It was fun, I mean, that was like- we were like fuck it. Let's do it. Let's put these weird noises on everything, and we did. You know, she was like, "You just go ahead and do it, you can always take it off". You know, you're adding these layers, like you can test it and see how it works. But, more often than not, she'd have great idea and it would sound super weird and we'd just roll with it.
How was Massy adding to the songs? Did you come to her with an idea for a spacious vibe on "Badlands" -- did she add more to develop the track?
Whitney: What about the saron? I think that's a good-
Molly: Yeah, the saron.
Ruby: Saron is like this instrument from the '80s, I guess? Right?
Molly: It's like a synthesized Sitar sound.
Ruby: Yeah. Almost with like a "wah" [droning sound] to it or something.
Molly: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Ruby: And that just made for a really cool, like, ethereal intro to that song. And then, it's like the thread that goes throughout, but you don't even notice that it's there most of the time.
Whitney: I think the cool thing about that whole process was that we came with our songs, and then, after talking or experimenting with, okay, we want this sound or filling up this space or giving more space here, or trying out a saron, or the vibes, or something, we came there with these seeds, and then they were planted. And then, blossomed because of Sylvia.
Because she's not from this planet. Like, she really does hear things differently, and when you're so focused and, you know, when you're in the middle of a project, and you're so absorbed in it you kind of lose perspective.
And so, with her, it was always a conversation. Yeah, I mean, she's just like, "Throw this one out and try that out. Fuck it up. Get weird. Or literally go get fucked up, and then come back and let's see what happens"…
Molly: She'd take every idea that would make it better, pretty much like every time. She'd be like, I hear what you're saying, but I know what you really want to do and this is it. And you'd be like damn, you're right.
Prior to recording the Thunderpussy tracks, had you done anything together as a group? Your previous drummer is now in the band La Luz.
Whitney: We actually, we did something with that drummer. We had recorded some demos before. So we had done seven songs together.
But those aren't all the same ones developed for the new album…
Whitney: No, they're not. Actually, we did more than that. We did a couple other songs. We worked with Greg Markle in sound, then we worked with Jack and Deano in Seattle to do some tracks for a film that eventually will come out. But, the experience with Sylvia was just so much different.
And we worked with her previously. We met her when we did a thing for [an] online…
Leah: Educational forum.
Whitney: ...educational forum. Where a film crew spends a day with Sylvia and a band in the studio. It happened to be in Seattle at Avast, which is a great studio. And we were the band, and the crew filmed us for two days. So, one day was like we were tracking, and then we did a whole day of mixing. And people were actually able to write in live and ask questions and watch. It was very cool.
Through that process, we got to see her whole bag of tricks, right? Because she's trying to demonstrate so many things from like a teacher point of view. And so, we were just blown away by her. And then we're like this is not like any other recording experience that we've ever had, and that's kind of her thing, actually.
With the character in "Speed Queen", which I know you've already explained in other interviews, have you developed her further elsewhere? Either on tour, or on the road, or in a different song? Because she's such a vivid personality. And the song is a…
Whitney: Yeah, yeah, there will probably be a sequel to "Speed Queen" one day, when she's like old and haggard, you know. "Speed Queen" in the retirement home.
Leah: But I think there is something -- even with "Badlands" -- like, we want it to carry on the theme, you know. We want it to carry on this story. Whether it's the character itself or the idea of her. Kind of pulling that thread along. Yeah. Specifically through "Badlands", I guess, the visual part of it.
Yeah, I was thinking of Furiosa, in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Leah: That was Ruby.
You worked on "Velvet Noose" with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Does he play on the track too? Or did he just produce it?
Ruby: He plays on it.
Whitney: He's subtly, kind of, all over it. He's all over that track in different parts. But he does have a blistering solo at the very, very end of the song. That's what's so great about Mike, he's just like Leah was saying earlier, he has no ego really, and is just there to hop in. He's just very excitable. 'That sounds great! I want to play that!'
Ruby: He's always creating stuff.
Leah: And he's a really good listener too, though. Like, in the studio, because he'll hear things and he'll be like, he gets really excited and he wants to tell you, you know, 'let's try this out, let's try this out!' But he's not overbearing, and he's not, like, he doesn't want to lay it on top. He wants it to kind of sink in to the sound, which is more of the flourishes. He is such a good listener.
Molly: I think it's interesting that that track is on the album, and that's the one track that Sylvia hasn't touched. And, I mean, I can tell the difference between that track and the rest of the album. But they're all mixed by the same person and, you know, the song was written to be on the album, so it works.
Leah: It worked out.
"Pick It Up" has a squonky keyboard effect. Did you need to learn new instruments for this album?
Whitney: The Stylophone.
Ruby: But we didn't actually do that, but…
Ruby: But Josh Evans, who mixed the record just put it in there one day…
Molly: As a joke actually.
Ruby: As a joke, and sent us the mix and was like, how do you like it, and we were like 'hell yeah'.
Molly: He was like 'really?'. And we were like 'yep'. Let's keep it in there. But Ruby actually has a Stylophone.
So what ideas were tossed out? What instruments got axed?
Ruby: I mean, we included a TV, we included race cars, vibes, motorcycle…
Whitney: Motorcycle got outed. Motorcycle got kicked off.
Ruby: Oh, motorcycle was on for some.
Whitney: It wasn't as good as the drag racer.
Whitney: We did some field recording for this as well, in Ashland [Oregon], which was fun. But we didn't really like; we kept it fairly simple. We didn't try anything that was just like, you know, there wasn't like a, oh, let's try to put horns on this, and it doesn't work, or anything like that. You know, we were usually able to make stuff work somehow. So, we'll save some piece of it, and we'll bury it in the mix, or fuck it up, or something if, you know, it's hard just to say goodbye to something.
Leah: But on "Torpedo", we had strings, and three wonderful musicians came in and added an additional part that we all wanted to be there. They really made it happen, so that was exciting for me. Watching that happen, listening to it, was like 'Yes! Finally, we get strings on a song!'.
We kind of hit the wheel of instruments and making music. Making instruments out of things that aren't actually instruments.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
Molly: "Bangher" for Ruby.
Ruby: 'Bang' and then 'her'.
Molly: We don't get to play it very often.
Ruby: It's on Youtube. Laundry Room.
Whitney: That's really nice actually.
Ruby: A kid last night was…
Molly: We got a request for it last night actually, out of the blue.
Whitney: That's a really hard question.
Leah: That's a really hard question.
Molly: Leah, throw that one in there, I like it.
Whitney: It got a changes tune, you know, you're playing them a lot, and you get tired of one and four months later you're like, fuck, I love that song.
For right now, I'm really enjoying playing "Velvet Noose".
Leah: I like playing "New Shoes", which is not on the record, and I think that's probably why. Because it's the only time I get to hear it, is when I play it.
Molly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
It depends on the crowd?
Molly: It really does. And every night it's like, it's different. Last night, I had so much fun when we played "Somebody to Love", and threw it in there and-
Whitney: The covers are usually a highlight live. It's fun to see the crowd singing and stuff.
Molly: I love all the songs so much. But I do love playing "Torpedo Love". I feel like that's softer.
Leah: Last night, "Search and Destroy".
Ruby: Oh my god. I wasn't ready, but we killed it.
Whitney: It was fun.
Leah: I liked that surprise.
Where'd you play last night?
Leah: Boston. Someone showed me a set list, and I was like cool. And the rest of the band thought we were starting with a different song. Because I start both of the songs, that we were-
Ruby: One of them has a long intro, and one of them has a really short intro.
Ruby: She went with the one with the really short intro so, it was like, 'oh fuck! This is what we're doing?'.
Whitney: I know, and I'm at the other end, right? I'm down here ready for "Speed Queen", and I'm like 'No, fuck me, what are we doing? Okay, we're doing this.' That's great.
[Reading album tracklist] There is a track, 'UterTango'..
Molly: "Utero Tango"!
"Utero Tango", sorry. It's a new word to me!
Whitney: Molly invented it.
What other pussy, or genitalia, puns did you come up with that you did not, or could not, include?
Ruby: Oh, we don't not include things.
Leah: We don't censor ourselves.
Whitney: That EP is called Greatest Tits, man, come on.
Ruby: It's just the tit of the iceberg, you know?
Whitney: Just the tit.
Should we just have a round of puns?
Whitney: One of my favorite lyrics of all of them is this peach is getting ripe, open up and take a bite. I love that. I don't know why. Because I love peaches.
I love peaches.
They have a definite sexual connotation.
Whitney: What are you talking about? That's not sex.
Molly: We saw a giant peach water tower in Georgia, or was it South Carolina? It was the perfect butt.
Leah: It was definitely in Georgia.
Molly: Just a huge -- it was in South Carolina -- and I was like, 'why is there a peach here?'. It was a big, fucking huge water tower, and you get to the other side, I was like, I really hope that they went there, and this is a huge red ass just in the sky on the other side of the peach.
Ruby: I'm so turned on.
Molly: I should have got a picture.
Ruby: We should have stopped.
Molly: We should have stopped.
You know, our first bio was all puns. It was like a good man is hard to find, and booty is in the eye of the beholder, and what were some good ones in there?
Leah: Diamond in the muff.
Molly: Yeah, a diamond in the muff, I think I would really just like to- can we trademark that? Because I'd like to coin that as…
You have to put it on a shirt.
Molly: Thunderpussy colon Diamond in the Muff. But that's it.
Molly: The sequel.
What is a work of art, whether it's a book, a movie, actual art, that you have recently enjoyed and has moved you or made an impact on you?
Ruby: [Childish Gambino's] "This is America" music video.
Leah: Yeah, that is like the most powerful piece of art in that realm that I've seen in a long time, it's definitely that.
Molly: We were just in Washington D.C., and I had a moment with the Lincoln Memorial.
Molly: That's a fabulous, fabulous statue. It's big and so gorgeous. And we saw it at night too, it was just like lit up so perfect. And, I don't know…
Leah: It's so quiet.
Molly: Whoever the artist was that did that [Daniel Chester French] -- the countenance on his face that they captured -- I was just blown away. I need to look up the history on that. But that's like really recent; it's just fresh in my mind. We were just there, and it's really a moving monument, and I love that.
Whitney: I was going to say Martin Luther King Jr. Walking [through the memorial], and, as we were touching the walls, because of the way it was lit and the writing, and it -- we were all just like, 'how did they do this?'.
Ruby: Yeah, the artist plus the laying designer made the, like, engraving just so they can like…
Ruby: Glowing magical…
Ruby: Like golden…
Whitney: The dimensionality and, of course, the words themselves -- you continue along this path, and there's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just standing there. Very, very fresh in our eyes. We were just there.
But also, a book that I'm reading right now and I really love, and I'm fully absorbed in it, but I'm slow to finish it. Because it's so dense is that Last Train to Memphis, Peter Guralnick's book on Elvis Presley, and the rise and fall. The rise to the death, I guess I should say, of Elvis Presley, and it's powerful. And also, because Elvis is part of my childhood because my dad just really loves him so.
Molly: The fucking amount of research that that man did. It's insane.
If you were to send our current president one song as a message…
Whitney: I don't even…
Molly: We don't know him.
Whitney: I don't think you're ready for this jelly.
Molly: Any song? "Blowin' in the Wind"? We force him to listen to it. Probably be something by Bob Dylan. I'm a big Dylan fan.
Whitney: I don't know. It's a thinker.
Molly: I don't think I have an answer yet. Oh, no, sorry. "Masters of War" by Bob Dylan.
Whitney: I was gonna say the same thing but the Lucinda Williams version of that.
Molly: Oh yeah! That's a great song.
Whitney: So, okay, we nailed it.
Molly: Nailed it. That's it. That is a great song. I don't think I've heard the Lucinda Williams version. We're gonna listen to that.
Ruby: It's good. That's what it is.
Molly: If I had to send him one song, it would be Obama singing "Amazing Grace"…
Whitney: Oh my god. Oh my god.
Molly: At that giant ass church, after the shooting. Oh, damn. You just gave me chills.
Ruby: That's in my junk, right there.