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Cheerbleeders: Girl Power Role Models.

March 18, 2015

CHEERBLEEDERSdoubleSmallInterview and top image by Rick Kauffman. Other images by Michael Bucher and G.W. Miller III.

Cheerbleeders is a band offering one thing: a view of girl power through punk rock. By their abrasive and unforgiving live show, it’s clear this foursome means business. The attitude embodied by lead singer Summer Rice, 23, is mesmerizing both in her shrill delivery and her naughty girl aesthetic, making it difficult to peel your eyes away.

Guitarist Caitlin Walker, 20, drives the machine from behind a curtain of flowing red hair. She strives to take the typical idea of punk rock and power chords and turn it on its head with noise reminiscent of underground hardcore and the sounds that influenced early punk, both borrowing from the past and paving her own road ahead.

Drummer Mare Lemongelli, 27, is both the human beatbox and the muscle of the band, the enforcer who protects her girls. To put it simply, she’d be the one to kick your ass when you get out of line.

And that leaves us with bassist Mike Ortiz, 40, the guardian of the bunch. An older brother of sorts, he offers both songwriting prowess and a journeyman’s knowledge of playing in bands. But make no mistake, he offers no restraint to the unbridled attitude that comes with three females looking to kick ass and play punk music.

Cheerbleeders is a band but their true desires lie in forming a platform to influence young women through feminist ideals and to prove that punk rock isn’t just a boys’ club anymore.

What is Cheerbleeders?

Walker: Cheerbleeders is a rock and roll band.

Ortiz: Rock and roll?! Whoa.

Rice: It’s definitely punk rock.

Walker: I guess it’s punk rock and roll.

Lemongelli: We’re a ball-busting, core-cutting punk rock movement. That’s what we are. It’s a movement for girls.

How did you become a band?

Walker: Summer and I met two years ago and said we wanted to have a band, but there was no one else really interested. We have been with different bandmates but we finally found our lineup. We went through a lot of people. But it was consistently me and her. We used to have a girl, Jade, who’s now the lead singer of Posers. She used to be the singer of Cheerbleeders and Summer was the drummer, originally. Everything worked out. Everyone found their band.

Rice: We went through people left and right. I hung out at Connie’s [Ric Rac], where Mike works and I asked him if he knew anybody who could play and he said, “I’ll do it temporarily.” Then, when he started playing with us, I said, “Can you please stay in our band?” He fuckin’ stayed and he’s the perfect fit.

Lemongelli: And I was actually in a reggae band [laughs].

Walker: The drummer before we had Mare, we didn’t even tell him he was out of the band. Like, she just came to practice and we just stopped calling him.

Rice: He was really into glam rock.

What’s a goal of having a punk band like this?

Walker: We’re trying to be voices for women as musicians playing rock and roll. Women don’t have a lot of examples of other women doing rock and roll, so it’s hard for them to see themselves in that position. There aren’t many girls doing it, so they associate it to “a guy thing,” I think. I’m not saying it was a boys’ club but my examples were male guitarists. I listened to Joan Jett but my examples were Jack White and Jimmy Paige. That’s what I would practice. There is not a lot of girl guitar stuff going on.

What do you see for the band’s potential?

Lemongelli: I want to go on tour and I want to put our demo out. I want to get in my Jeep and go. We should go. That’s next. We need to go. We need to at least do an East Coast tour. My goal for this time next year is to at least open once for a band at a bigger venue, like the TLA or the Troc main stage. That’s what I see for us in the next year. That’s what I want.

How does typical songwriting go?

Walker: I think the honest comment on that is that no one is coming from the same place for the sound. It varies. If there is something that I like, Summer might not. It’s a challenge to make it work. There are positive points where everyone has their own input. I’d want to be more proto-punk, early Stooges, with sped-up Chuck Berry riffs. Summer would want it all punk. Mare likes hip-hop and Mike is into jazz. Some of our songs sound like basic punk rock but the vocals make it stand out.

“Waiting on a Train” is a much different track, what’s the influence behind that one?

Ortiz: I was in this band called Little Brown Chair and a bandmate’s brother was stuck in Argentina. That’s where the song developed from. But after the band broke up, I felt it was such a strong song so I brought it to the girls. They’re doing it a lot of justice. Caitlin plays the guitar. She’s doing the parts perfectly. The beat has got that feel and tonight, when we practiced whatever Summer lumped together the phrasing of the lyrics, it was fantastic. I thought it was the best that we’ve done.

Rice: Being in a girl punk … I mean girl-and-dude punk band, I like to get really high-pitched whiney and scream. But on that song, I can show my range of chords. When he played it for me, he sang the lyrics for me and he wrote them down. It was just me, Mike and Caitlin at Mike’s house and we just played it. It was bass and guitar and I just sung it in his living room. It was awesome. But it was so gospel and so powerful, I was like, “Oh, wow.This song is giving me the chills right now.” It’s awesome. It reminds me a lot of Portishead. It’s got a different feel.

What makes the band’s music unique?

Walker: I think the obvious thing would be that there are three women in the band. We aim to be original by not limiting ourselves to just punk. We want to be in the genre of punk but I want to expand upon that a lot so someday we won’t be so easily categorized. Some people would say, “that isn’t punk.” My goal is to do that – not to change the sound – but to expand upon it. It’s fun but it gets really boring.

Who’s your vocal influence when you sing?

Rice: What inspired me to do this band was Bikini Kill. I saw the documentary on Netflix and I wanted to do that Bikini Kill thing. I think it’s called “The Punk Singer.” Some people say I sound like Gwen Stefani and Karen-O. But mainly I just want to sound like myself.

What do you think the band’s music is representative of?

Walker: It is a representation of female musicians. However, it would be limiting to just say, “It’s for women.” You don’t want to exclude people because if you’re really about feminism, you should include men as well. For me, it represents what I want to do. That’s to play guitar. It’s representative of what we love.

Lemongelli: The thing about being queer and playing riot grrrl music? That was a whole queer movement back then. So, it’s cool playing in that kind of band where I can definitely be part of that movement again. I got written about in a blog called “Queer Musicians.” It was really cool. This whole thing was happening before with the Bikini Kill, queer, feminist movement and now it’s happening again. Voices for women really haven’t been heard.

CheerbleedersCoverOnlineWho do you become when you’re on stage? Are you different?

Rice: Oh god, yeah. I’m definitely different. This one show, I chucked this skateboard up in the air and broke the black light at Connie’s. I just heard a pop and glass shattering everywhere. That was the night I knew I was going to become a star [everyone laughs]. Look, if you’re going to skateboard off the stage that I’m singing on right now, I’m going to take your skateboard from under your feet, chuck it in the sky, break a black light and glass is going to shatter on everyone and it’s going to be awesome. It’s so punk rock.

Ortiz: And then I swept it up at the end of the night.

Rice: But it’s just who I am. I’m just a selfish, bratty person. Ask these guys. They fucking know. I’m a fucking brat. Like, if they’re late, I’m texting them and calling them and sitting here complaining about them until they get here. That’s just how I am.

Walker: That sometimes is a good motivator, though.

What is your performance indicative of on stage?

Rice: I put on a fucking act, I’m different person. I was a professional brat and now I can be a brat on stage and actually tell it how it is. When I’m on stage, I feel like I can really express myself.

RBSSposterPissedJeansWhat kind of people come out to your shows?

Rice: Mostly lesbians.

Walker: Yeah, we have some fans.

Ortiz: Oh, that little short girl is awesome.

Lemongelli: Oh, that fucking girl who was throwing fucking beers? I almost killed her.

Walker: She knows not to throw beers at us. She throws beer at everyone else.

Rice: She’s our biggest fan. Amanda? Amanda-son? The first show I ever met her, we played a show at The Fire.

Walker: She started the lesbian moshpit.

Rice: She fucking pushed me. I was pretty drunk so I picked her up between her legs, around her waist and body-slammed her.

Ortiz: Yeah, that was fucking awesome.

Lemongelli: Yeah dude! And that one time I was doing my drumroll at the end and I threw my stick and it went right in her eye. Dude! And she had a black eye for like two weeks [laughs]. I was like, “I’m so sorry! I feel so bad.”

What’s it’s like to be a guy in a girl band?

Rice: Oh, he’s our big brother and he has to take care of all of our fucking problems.

Ortiz: No, stop. It’s a lot of fun. I’m actually playing with a lot of musicians who actually play their instruments properly. I’ve been in a bunch of bands in the past, with a lot of different people. I’ve been around the block. For me, personally, I think it’s just great to play with a bunch of musicians. They have tons of attitude, and I can also see that they’re going to be growing. They all have bright futures in front of them. All of us together is great, because I got my girls I’m playing with.

All three girls: AWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

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