Slumber Party plays a minimalist kind of narco-pop, not bossa nova, but its music is the aural equivalent of that storied girl from Ipanema: tall and tan and young and lovely. Subtle, ‘60s-pop-style vocal harmonies bring to mind languorous, sun-drenched afternoons and jet-set junkies in pink frosted lipstick. ”Get me out of here . . . You could chooseIt’s not Paris, but it‘ll do,“ guitarist Aliccia Berg sings in the dreamy ”Strawberry Sunday.“
This exotic-sophisticate sound was composed in the decidedly unglamorous locale of Berg’s kitchen in Hamtramack, Michigan, outside of Detroit. In fact, Slumber Party recorded its self-titled debut (due August 15 from Kill Rock Stars) deep in the bowels of the Motor City. The neighborhood around the recording studio was so unsavory that the videographer filming one of the sessions got his van broken into while he was inside.
So it‘s safe to assume that the four women in Slumber Party didn’t pick up their blase, retrofitted style summering on the Cote d‘Azur or slumming it on the Lower East Side. Instead, their sound originated with Berg and drummer Leigh Sabo, who started playing together a couple of years ago. Berg had studied piano, Sabo knew some guitar, but they basically learned their respective instruments by practicing together.
Slumber Party’s minimalism began as sheer necessity, Berg recalls: ”My ideas of how songs work were more developed than my mechanical abilities. Now I work to keep it simple — as I‘ve gotten better. I don’t want to sound like Steely Dan.“
Not surprisingly, each woman is convinced that her musical vocabulary exists only in a relation to the other. ”My drumming really evolved from playing with Aliccia,“ Sabo stresses. ”It made the sound very unique.“
Try to discuss musical motivations with the pair, however, and you‘ll see Berg squirming like a toddler in front of a plate of Brussels sprouts. What made her want to form a band and start writing songs? ”Oh, God,“ she says, ”I don’t know . . . I don‘t know what to tell you.“
Hard-and-fast facts don’t come easily, either. ”Do you need last names?“ Berg asks at another point. ”Let‘s just use our first names.“ She also won’t reveal anyone‘s age, except to say, ”Everyone’s in their 20s.“ Eventually, Berg admits that her day job involves a research project on estrogen receptors; she‘s completing her Ph.D. in molecular biology. She’s been trying to keep her music separate from her work, she says, because she‘s worried that playing rock & roll at night might seem unprofessional to her fellow scientists. ”I just try to keep my funding,“ she deadpans.
Attempts at discussing Slumber Party’s lineup are also met with mild exasperation. ”I guess I have to go into all this,“ Berg says with a sigh. ”The lady-band thing. Ladies come and go.“ For the record: Rachel and Julie were the rhythm section on the album, even though they‘re not really members of Slumber Party like Gretchen, the lead guitarist; the band’s actual rhythm section is Marcie on bass and Leigh on drums — but they didn‘t play on the album, because Marcie hadn’t joined the band yet and Leigh had left the band temporarily ”because she was crazy for a few months.“
Slumber Party was finished in three days, with a minimum of overdubbing, and produced by Matt Smith of Outrageous Cherry, another Detroit band that wears its love of ‘60s rock on its sleeve. The most obvious precedent for the album’s off-kilter guitar tuning and drowsy rhythm section is the Velvet Underground. Somehow Berg, a Minnesota native with a Minnesota native‘s speaking voice, morphs into an art-rock ice queen when she starts to sing — and yes, she does listen to Nico records.
”She’s cool,“ Berg says. ”You know, if you do a lot of heroin, you have trouble staying in tune, but she‘s got a cool vibe.“ Berg’s all-time favorite is reclusive singer-songwriter Fred Neil. ”There‘s no one like him,“ she enthuses. If Neil’s name doesn‘t ring any bells, it might be because he stopped recording in 1971, the same year that his song ”Everybody’s Talkin‘“ hit the Top 10 (in a version by Harry Nilsson that served as the theme to Midnight Cowboy).
Listening to Berg rave about a musician whose dark, moody work wasn’t even available on CD in America until a couple of years ago, and considering Slumber Party‘s other musical touchstones — the Stones, the Beatles, Gram Parsons, Tim Buckley — you have to marvel at the quartet’s cultural cocooning. Berg claims she never even heard of Ted Nugent or Bob Seger until she arrived in Detroit four years ago. In the middle of our cable-modem era, Slumber Party is starring in its own little art-house film. As Berg muses in her band‘s most up-tempo number, ”Fantasy,“ ”What does it matter if it’s only a dream?I‘m living in a fantasyif it makes me feel all right.“
Slumber Party plays at the Fold in the Silverlake Lounge on Tuesday, August 1.