Many things make me happy. Boxing. Coltrane. Hot sausage. Fellini. Dolce & Gabbana. My pharaoh hound, Tia. And anything that sounds remotely shoegaze-y, dreamy and starkly VU-meets-MBV, and comes with the occasional James Bond reference. Having Philly’s all-female trio, Total Rubbish find exquisite beauty in detritus and supple melody in noise in its debut EP, “Triple Negative” on Born Losers Records, then, is a joyous occasion. As is having bassist Bre Steinfeldt, guitarist Cass Nguyen and drummer Kiki Schiller be the bringers of such gauzy, gorgeous gear-grinding muzik – produced, as such, by Nick Bassett of Nothing/Whirr/Deafheaven fame.
“What’s Your Damage?” ask Total Rubbish on the EP’s song of the same name.
They’re the damage.
Each Rubbish member totally and nobly responded to a handful of my questions the other night, even with a COVID scare going on within the trio’s extended fam.
A.D. Amorosi: Who had the initial idea for the specific sound of the band?That aggressive Velvets/post-MBV thing? And what were its developmental stages like? Was hard shoegaze always the goal?
Cass: I’m totally loving everyone’s take on our sound. It’s cool to hear all the different influences that our listeners associate with our music. Our intention wasn’t immediately shoegaze. I had written most of the songs with definitely Velvet and Brian Jonestown influences. But was also listening to a ton of Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, Hole, Garbage, etc. We really wanted to bring back that 90’s girl grunge sound but with a hint of something fresh and new! But the shoegaze association is undeniable, especially with such an amazing and influential person behind our mixing and production.
A.D. Amorosi: I should actually ask first how the three of you wound up together and Rubbish’s pre-band life. I do know that one of you comes from California and the other, Chicago.
Kiki: I actually am from West Philadelphia, East Lansdowne to be specific. But I moved to Southern California when I was 19 until I moved back to Philly a few years ago at 28. While living out west, I was exposed to new sounds: psych and surf and punk rock artists such as the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Dead Kennedys, The Modern Lovers… Oh man, I could go on and on…
Cass: I’m originally from outside Philadelphia but lived in Chicago for about seven years during and after college. I met Bre in college and we lived together in Chicago for several years after. We were always winding up at local shows every night and I feel like all of our friends were in garage-psych bands. That was the huge thing in the early 2010s in the mid-west. So I think that’s where a lot of my early influences lie. When I first moved to Philadelphia, Kiki became one of my first and closest friends. We would party and go to shows together. It seemed like such a natural pull when we were forming our little trio!
Bre: Cass and I met in college when we lived in Chicago and have been friends ever since. We lived together a few different times in Chicago as well. Cass moved back to hilly before me but I ended up moving out here almost three years ago because I took a job working as one of the photographers for Urban Outfitters, so it was a happy coincidence we both ended up in Philly! Then I met Kiki through Cass and we all just clicked! I feel like we are super lucky because that doesn’t just happen with people.
A.D. Amorosi: Is the songwriting democratic, or are the tracks culled from jams? And where do the five songs on the EP settle/stem as part of your development?
Bre: Cass did all the hard work when it came to writing our EP. She definitely gets all the credit! But it’s been fun now that we are practicing more and playing together. I feel like we start to play and then just build off of each other, it’s really fun! I feel like now that the EP is out we are starting to focus more on writing new stuff together and it’s been a great learning experience!
Cass: This was my first venture into songwriting – a lot of it started as shotty recordings of riffs on my phone and words scribbled in random notebooks. A lot of the lyrics are pulled from movies as well as books I was reading throughout quarantine. I was getting really big into 1900’s Japanese novels.
A.D. Amorosi: Maybe a dumb question, maybe not… Did Total Rubbish set out to be an all-female band on purpose?
Cass: We did set out to be an all-female band! I’ve mentioned our influences earlier, but we really wanted to keep that momentum and spark of really powerful female-fronted music going. There are a lot of really rad women out there doing their own thing and it is really inspiring to see and hear! We fucking love it.
Bre: 100% yes. We are really excited that we are an all-female band because honestly there should be more out there! It also gave us the opportunity to work with other female creatives throughout the process. From hiring our favorite female photographer, Caro Ramirez, for promo pictures and videos, to working with our awesome friend Emma who did all of our graphic design work. I feel like we wanted to give other creative ladies a chance to be recognized as well!
A.D. Amorosi: I’m a big Nothing fan. How and why did Total Rubbish hook up with Nick, and how did he propel the band’s sound?
Cass: My boyfriend is actually the drummer of Nothing and we have played on stage together a few times as Night Sins. Nick is an old friend and such an insanely talented musician. We had a lot of the core ideas of the songs in place, but he would make suggestions and things would just meld together so seamlessly. It’s crazy how his brain works, honestly. I’m always in awe of the things he is creating.
A.D. Amorosi: Who is the James Bond fan in the band? In fact, all Total Rubbish iconography is psychedelic. Why does that speak to you as a collective?
Cass: Ha! Guilty! I made it a goal of mine to watch every James Bond movie in chronological order. Although I will admit, I stopped after “Moonraker”. Roger Moore is great. But he is no Sean Connery.
A.D. Amorosi: In terms of timing, Total Rubbish is a pandemic release trio. How did filming a video alone in a club feel and are you anxious to get out of our shells? Play out live for people? Or are you okay alone with yourselves?
Kiki: It felt right to film our first video at Ortlieb’s since we are all friends with the owners. Most of our friends have performed there multiple times. Not to mention we have all been regulars there since pre-COVID times. They were really great with keeping everything safe. And we were able to set up and film with just us three and one additional person to shoot. Since we shot most of the takes separate, it was a little nerve-racking to be the only person on stage. But it was good to feel the energy and experience the lights and cameras on us playing! I think it will be awesome to finally play live. We have enjoyed being able to practice and do live streams. But we definitely can’t wait for people to see us play live and in-person.
Bre: I feel like it felt super comfortable to shoot the video at Ortlieb’s because we had all been there so many times before. But getting to switch over and be the ones performing on stage was awesome. For me, personally, it got me so excited to start playing shows! I truly can’t wait. Hopefully, it will be safe enough for us to do that sooner rather than later.
A.D. Amorosi: Final words? Cass: I’m so proud of our band and everything we’ve accomplished so far! I’m stoked to keep making more music with these gals and even more stoked for people to get to hear it.
Kiki: We just can’t wait to write more music and share our performances and songs with people! That’s all we really care about.