“We are not here to please someone else,” Myriad Slits declares over percolating electronic beats and waves of distorted guitar on “Preggerz,” from ModPods’ 2017 album, No Strut. “I want change; I demand it, an execution of sorts,” she continues insistently in a litany of defiant phrases that sum up her band’s uncompromising worldview.
Slits started ModPods as a solo project during a brief sojourn in New York City in 2006. After relocating to Los Angeles, the Palm Springs native worked with various musicians before she settled on her ideal lineup with Daniel Guzman and Mindee Jorgensen, who trade off on drums, bass and guitar. The local trio likely will gain wider attention this week when they begin a tour of the West Coast and Canada with grunge icons Melvins.
“I found my courage in New York,” Slits, 37, explains by phone after a band rehearsal in East L.A. “I was experimenting with making beats on a computer. I really wanted a band, but I started playing by myself, just me and a tape deck. I decided I’m going to sing my songs whether anyone likes it or not. … Samantha Burpee was the first musician willing to make music with me. My guy friends didn’t want to play with me.”
Although Burpee eventually left the band, Slits found simpatico musical partners in Guzman, who started collaborating with her around 2008, and Jorgensen, who solidified the lineup in 2012. “Daniel and Mindee are down for making little music babies with me,” says Slits, who teaches children in pre-kindergarten through second grade. “I’m an art teacher for babies,” she adds. Guzman is also a teacher, leading classes in theater and stagecraft at a performing arts high school.
“My first show was at a backyard party in 2008. I played by myself with a tape deck and a microphone,” Slits says. “After that, it was me throwing art parties for my band to play. Gigs didn’t come till later, when Daniel and I started a rehearsal-work ethic.” ModPods’ first proper club show occurred at Casey’s Irish Pub in downtown L.A. Since then, the trio have ensconced themselves in the underground scene, performing alongside punk, art-rock and LGBTQ-friendly groups.
But even within that milieu, ModPods stand out as an unusual band. Slits’ bold, confident and empowering lyrics echo the subversive tendencies of classic punk groups, but she sings in a disarmingly poppy and soulful style. Meanwhile, Jorgensen and Guzman lay down an unsettling array of heavy post-punk riffs and sonic textures, which are contrasted further by Slits’ electronic beats.
“It’s our fourth member, our computer in the corner,” Slits says proudly about the computer she uses onstage to manipulate tempos. “In 2006, when iPods were a thing, I had a very cheap iPod, and I used to call it my ModPod.”
ModPods’ songs on No Strut range from the shimmering space rock of “Fill Callin’s” to the foreboding, tension-building “Weepies,” in which Slits fervently announces, “I will build a bomb out of my love.”
“I really like ‘Weepies,’” says Jorgensen, 35, who hammers out the track’s rhythmically skeletal architecture on drums. The song’s compulsive groove is “broken, abnormal, and the accents aren’t on 2 and 4 like a traditional song,” she says.
The enigmatic, album-closing “Like Pams” is about “that moment when you realize you’re not equal to trust-fund kids, people who have the option to fail,” Slits says. “People with money can do this. They don’t suffer.” She says the song isn’t about anyone in particular and that “Pam sounded like a rich-girl name.” Slits point out that “if art is what you want to make, it doesn’t matter” if you don’t have money.
“‘BFFFF’ is me being silly, and it’s about … fucking around with people who are going to be true to you,” Slits about the electro-pop reverie. “I like to play with words. A lot of the song titles have nothing to do with the song. Like ‘Preggerz’ has nothing to do with being pregnant. It’s more about the pregnancy of ideas — getting together with your friends and coming up with ideas. ‘Elephant Stampede’ is another song about making art with your friends. Mindee has her own titles for our songs. She calls ‘Ting Tong Tongue’ [a song with chimes and stop-and-start rhythms] ‘Tick Tock.’”
The circular, driving riff of “Apocalypse” revolves around a disastrous flood. “The bed becomes a boat, as we manage to escape,” Slits sings fancifully. “Apocalyptic kids meet on the high point of this city and realize that we are on our own.” Meanwhile, the beat for “Mr. Johnston Please” was “supposed to be for a Daniel Johnston cover, but it morphed instead into that song, which is about hating your job and going through the motions so you can do what you really want to do.”
“We’ve never done a cover. It’s not part of our nature,” says Guzman, 35, who was raised in Echo Park and Los Feliz and lives in East Hollywood. He explains that Slits writes all of the group’s material and that he and Jorgensen are more focused on adapting the singer’s lyrics to their arrangements than looking for outside songs to interpret. He says the closest ModPods ever come to a cover is when they perform what he calls “the Yoko, going wild and doing a loud improvisational thing” at the end of some of their concerts.
The album title No Strut alludes to two interconnected tracks, “No Strut” and “Strutless,” that close ModPods’ 2014 debut EP, We Are So. In typically unsentimental fashion, Slits warns on the former tune, “No one’s coming to save you,” over a throbbing rhythmic pulse.
So what is strut? “It’s like that cool factor, like you know how to walk into a room,” Slits explains. “The three of us have no strut, but we have fun. That’s the act of not really giving a fuck, just being yourself with no strut, as awkward as you are. We say our music is like awkward dance music. I think the music is a little awkward, but it’s a good awkward, a sexy awkward,” she laughs. Imagining the reaction of a nervous new listener, Slits adds, “‘Should I dance to this?’”
Is it ever a problem with Guzman and Jorgensen switching instruments onstage and in the studio? “It works itself out,” says Guzman, who used to mix folk-rock banjo, guitar and ukulele with distorted experimentation in his solo project Day Labor. Guzman also has contributed to the electronic group Horse and used to play guitar with Kill Rabbit Kill. “We’ve never really had a conflict about it,” he says of working with Jorgensen. “There are moments when we both hear a guitar part we want to try. We keep circulating until something really sticks for all three of us.”
“She’s a beast on the drums. She’s a monster; she’s ferocious,” Slits marvels about the first time she saw Jorgensen play drums with local punk band Dangerously Sleazy.
Jorgensen was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa. “It’s a heavy place,” Jorgensen says of her hometown. “Sioux City is a dark, dark place. I can see why it creates so many great musicians because there’s nothing else to do there. It’s mostly Christian Republicans, and the punk scene is very isolated. There’s so much to rebel against there. I’ve technically been in 25 bands in Sioux City,” she continues, most notably in the heavy instrumental grunge-punk band Silent Time and as a fill-in with raw-blues terrorists Sioux City Pete & the Beggars. While in L.A., Jorgensen also has played with jazzy garage-rockers Azteca Frame and pop-punks Peach Kelli Pop.
“I like to take on fill-in things,” Jorgensen says of her life as a drummer. “I like taking on the challenge of learning new songs.” One of her latest challenges is working as the live drummer in a new solo project by Dale Crover, the early Nirvana member who went on to drum with Melvins. Jorgensen became friendly with Crover after meeting him six years ago at the NAMM convention and later interviewed him for a podcast. Crover finally came to see ModPods at Lot 1 Café in Echo Park.
Crover also announced that they were his favorite new band from Los Angeles in his list of the best records of the past year in Revolver magazine. “He said, ‘We were wondering if ModPods might want to do a show with us,’” Jorgensen remembers, and the trio ended up agreeing to accompany Melvins on their tour of the West Coast and Canada.
“I’m very nervous,” Jorgensen admits, “but I think it will fit well because we’re both unique-sounding bands, not that we’re in the same genre at all. We’re both hard to compare to other bands.”
“I think that’s part of why we got their attention,” Guzman says of ModPods’ distinct style.
ModPods perform with Melvins at the Troubadour, Friday, July 13. They also are billed together at the Observatory in Santa Ana on Thursday, July 12.