June 9, 2011
“We’ve been compared to the Girl Scouts,” said Jana Johnson, through a pierced lower lip, of the all-female band, The Elky Summers, for which she plays bass guitar. Though it may not seem an accurate comparison for a band that has been compared to, amongst others, PJ Harvey and the Pixies, Johnson was basically addressing how being in an all-female band is different from being in a coed band. “I think we’re more organized, to be honest.” The comparison to the Girl Scouts coincides with the assigned administrative jobs for each member in the band, which include, for example, treasurer, merch person, songwriter and practice host.
“And we have a chief financial officer – that’s Jana,” added lead singer Kay Gregg, who has a wry sense of humor reminiscent of Janeane Garafolo but who’s undeniably affable as well, a trait she shares with all the members.
When I met with them recently at the Acme Bar and Grill, the ladies were as cool as I’d expected them to be, though I imagined that belonging to the selective league of local, all-female bands would provoke them to affect an elevated removal that might be intimidating. Instead, they were altogether authentic and sincere. They even asked, before the interview started, for me to tell them about myself, as though I were the interviewee.
“I try to think of it as, like, almost, adopting the best parts of The Communist Manifesto, which is each to [his or her] own ability. Right?” said Gregg of their diplomatic approach to the administrative element of the band. “Each individual to [his or her] own ability. And the workers ... us. We control the means of production, meaning, we control how our items are manufactured, and we control how they’re sold and where they’re sold and how they’re marketed. The workers control the means of production. No one is exploited.”
“We’re definitely better-looking than most bands,” says Johnson. “That would be an advantage of being all girls. We have a great-looking band.”
When the three initial members were looking for a drummer, Gregg decided, “Why be three-fourths when you can be all?”
“I always wanted to be in an all-girl band,” said Johnson, “I just never thought I’d find the right people. People in Fort Wayne do a lot of talk and no walk. I mean, I’d talked to some other girls, ‘Hey let’s put a band together.’ Yeah, no, never happened. Never happened.”
I pointed out that the band has great band fashion. “Thanks for noticing,” said Johnson. Performances include collective accessories in sequins, leopard print, fishnet and floral. Do they have a desired aesthetic or inspiration as a band or personally?
“We all kinda have our own thing going on. I think you kind of noticed that we all have our own identities,” said Johnson. This is true. Johnson seems to be sweet and outgoing; Gregg, the leader, smart and friendly, with a hint of healthy cynicism; Oona Hackbush, who contributes on keyboards and vocals, quiet with a dry humor; and Jackie Davis, drummer for the band, nice and amiable. Their day jobs include dental assistant, certified pharmacy technician, a member of the library’s public access department and stay-at-home mom.
When asked about her inspiration for songwriting, Gregg cited a well-known beat poet. “I was just watching this movie about Allen Ginsberg, and he said – and I’m probably paraphrasing – he said that ‘Poetry is the rhythmic.’... He was saying that poetry is the ‘rhythmic expression of feelings.’ I think what he was really describing was songwriting ... I don’t mean to sound dramatic, [but] surely everyone here has been in a relationship and it went south, and you weren’t completely innocent in it. It was a complicated experience, but I got something beautiful out of it.” Then, she said quickly and quietly, “It’s all about a breakup,” and laughed. “I just wrote my last song about that specific period of time in my life. I had this last song ... ”
“I’m so glad you [wrote that one]. It’s such a good song,” Davis interjected.
Gregg added, with conciliatory optimism, “And the next three songs are party songs. ‘Elky season’ is about fun.”
What they call “Elky season” is a time of concentrated activity for the band. “We are kicking off Elky season – that’s the big news,” said Gregg. “That’s the period of time between June 11 and August 13, and that’s a period of time where we’re playing lots of shows. We’re gonna be recording, we’re gonna be releasing an EP, playing out of town, so it’s a period of more activity amongst the Elky community. You might see us darting back and forth on roads at night in the country.”
Gregg also emphasized the big massive blowout, end-of-Elky season party that’s happening in August.
“August 5 at CS3, and it’s gonna be huge. Calhoun Street. There’s gonna be confetti cannons and dancing on stage in elk helmets, and there’s gonna be balloons ... [that’s the] end of the local shows. You can find more about it on elkysummers.com.”
In addition to playing, recording and tackling the administrative tasks, the band members impressively hand screen and package their own CDs and print their own T-shirts. There is a YouTube video of Gregg and Johnson in what appears to be some basement workshop. “Me and Kay like to spend time in the ‘sweatshop,’” Johnson joked.
A few of the band members have children and I asked if they wish their moms had been in a band.
“My mom was in a band,” Davis recalled. “She was in a few. I was a kid during my mom’s second band, and it made me realize that I could still be a mom. I could still be there for my kids and be in a band. It wasn’t like one or the other. Like, it didn’t screw me up – not that I know of. I never felt her absence. When I was approached about being in this band I was like, ‘Is it gonna take up a lot of time?’ And then I just was like, it didn’t for my mom.”
Hackbush also had a musical parent. “My dad was in several [bands]. He taught me how to play guitar. We sang harmonies together.”
And do their kids like their music?
“Yeah, my kids love it,” said Davis. “We listen to it in the car ... at home.”
“My stepkids wear their Elky Summers shirts,” said Johnson.
“They listen during practice,” added Davis.
“They cheer through the door of the basement,” Hackbush said.
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