“We try to make each show special,” Ramonda Hammer singer-guitarist Devin Davis says about the band’s free Monday-night residency at the Echo, which concludes tonight, April 30. “[Bassist] Andy [Hengl] and I come up with weird things all the time.”
When the L.A. grunge quartet took over the Hi Hat for a similar monthlong residency in November 2016, they went overboard trying to give each week a different theme and set design.
“We built a haunted house at the Hi Hat,” Davis says in a phone interview. “We built a blanket fort onstage and projected videos.”
Announcing the “Electile Dysfunction” performance earlier the same month, Ramonda Hammer promised on their Facebook page: “There will be musical debates, a costume contest, Trump piñata, probably some arguing.”
For the April residency at the Echo, each band member was given his or her own theme night. The designated musician gets to choose a cover song that the group plays and also selects the images that are projected each night behind the band. In addition, the other members of Ramonda Hammer have to dress up like that musician.
The first night of the April residency centered on the group’s manic and energetic bassist, Andy Hengl. “He’s a very unique person,” Davis says. “He’s in charge of band morale — ‘Hey, guys! Everyone’s doing a great job!’”
Hengl prefers to wear a button-up shirt under his T-shirt, so guitarist Justin Geter and drummer Mark Edwards dressed accordingly while Davis wore an Iress T-shirt and a pair of Hengl’s “actual shorts.” “I’m always wearing short skirts or dresses onstage,” Davis says. “Nobody’s ever seen me wear shorts before.”
Hengl’s choice for a cover — The Flamingos’ sublime 1959 doo-wop version of Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “I Only Have Eyes for You” — wasn’t the type of song one would normally associate with the hard-rocking Ramonda Hammer.
“We did a fun grunge version of it,” Davis says. “We didn’t have a chance to rehearse it very much. We practiced it the night before the show.” The video projections included various anime images. “He and Justin are super into anime and video games and nerdy stuff like that, not that I’m judging because I’m nerdy about things too,” she adds.
The residency’s second night belonged to drummer Mark Edwards. “Mark is the only one in the band with glasses, so we all wore fake glasses that night,” Davis says. “He picked ‘Criminal’ by Fiona Apple” as the cover. The night’s projection was of a hockey fight improbably overlaid with an episode of Teletubbies.
The third night of the Echo residency was given over in tribute to the local music-scene photographer Emery Becker, who was killed in March while riding his motorcycle. “Emery really liked riding his motorcycles, so we projected images of the open road,” Davis says. Ramonda Hammer also cranked out their own version of Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” a tune that “embodies Emery’s positive outlook on life.” During Slug’s set that night, Davis sang harmonies on a song that was lyrically inspired by Becker.
Davis’ turn to set the mood came during week four, when the boys in the band wore her clothes. Geter ripped out intense solos as he stood at the edge of the stage in a dark T-shirt and tight, floor-length skirt, while Hengl leaped about in a short, sleeveless dress and a beskirted Edwards pounded at his drums in the Echo’s murky shadows. Davis’ projections fused together two of her early obsessions — Tetris and spelling bees. “Tetris was my jam as a little kid,” she says.
Davis’ cover-song selection was “Not an Addict” by the ’90s Belgian band K’s Choice, and she was joined onstage for a fierce, hard-rocking remake by Spare Parts for Broken Hearts singer-guitarist Sarah Green, whose band also was on the bill. The song’s performance that night had special resonance for the Ramonda Hammer leader. “We’re dating,” Davis discloses about Green. “For the first time, we got to sing and perform together.”
At tonight’s closing concert, the focus will be on lead guitarist Justin Geter. “We’re all going to wear backward baseball caps — that’s his thing,” Davis says. Without revealing which song Ramonda Hammer will cover, Davis says, “The cover is going to have a special guest. Their band is also playing.” The lineup for the final night of the residency at the Echo includes Yip Yops, Iress, Ever So Android, Rosie Tucker and Boniface, along with DJ Etworms.
The foursome’s obvious camaraderie and playful willingness to mix things up onstage nonetheless belie the literally and figuratively heavy nature of Ramonda Hammer’s convulsive music.
“When I started a band, I wanted that sense of family,” Davis says. “We don’t fight. We have a really good time on the road.
“I had written these songs over the course of 2012 and 2013. I didn’t want to be a solo artist. I wanted a full-band sound,” she says. “We didn’t know each other at all. Andy and I moved into the same art compound in Frogtown on the same weekend. … We started talking about music.” She eventually began working with Hengl and Geter, but Ramonda Hammer’s first show was in 2014 with a temporary lineup. “There have been other members,” Davis says, including former drummer Danny Louangxay, who was replaced by Edwards. “We are all invested in it. This has been the final lineup.”
Edwards, age 28, moved to L.A. from Austin, Texas, whereas Geter, 30, is from Corona, and Hengl, 29, hails from the East Bay. Davis, 29, is a San Clemente native who was raised in Orange County and now lives in Highland Park. Apart from Glitter Girls, a group she was part of in the third grade, Ramonda Hammer is her first band. For the past three summers, Davis has worked with Girls Rock Camp Alliance at camps in Santa Barbara and Ojai, teaching young girls how to find themselves through music and other creative expressions.
Named after a person on the tacky reality-show Cheaters, Ramonda Hammer self-released their debut album, Whatever That Means, in 2016. Subsequent recordings, including the singles “Zombie Sweater” and a fuzzed-out rendition of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” have been issued by indie label New Professor Music.
Ramonda Hammer are at their most fully realized, though, on their 2017 EP, Destroyers. Whether Davis is howling disillusioned revelations into a buzz saw on “Same Thing” or starting out more calmly and coolly melodic on “Bender,” she inevitably becomes engulfed in her own savage guitar riffs and the band’s dynamic power shifts. Unlike the lyrically vulnerable and softly jangling ballad “Too Much, Too Recently,” the EP’s other songs — including the title track and “Care 2 Slam?” — juxtapose Davis’ yearning vocals with crushing riffs and sudden contrasts in volume.
“We’re on the same journey together,” Davis says about “Bender.” “I’ve been openly depressed for 10 years. I get bouts of anxiety. I do a lot of self work. I don’t want to let that ruin my life.”
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Expanding on “Care 2 Slam?” Davis says, “I’m openly gay, but I’ve mostly dated guys till last year. The song is a sarcastic and sassy statement about sex, and about anyone hitting on girls in a sleazy way. The bridge is me shouting out so many pickup lines. … On the flip side, the song is also about making your own choice. The song plays with both of those dynamics.
“Sometimes as an artist, you need to go out and experience things you can write about,” she continues. Davis cites Nirvana, Pixies, Hole and Pavement as among her favorite bands. “Across the board, for all four members, we all agree that we’re big Nirvana fans. Kurt Cobain wrote pop songs with grunge structures … writing songs like The Beatles but adding a lot of grunge and more depressing lyrics. I just love the sound of a good melody that has movement. I love the sound of grungy guitars, but I also love pretty vocals.”
Davis says she also used to like such pop singers as Celine Dion, Britney Spears and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani. “I don’t listen to a lot of pop now, but I still appreciate a good melody.”
Ramonda Hammer perform at the Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; Monday, April 30, 7 p.m.; free. (213) 413-8200, spacelandpresents.com.