The Charms
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The Charms

Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
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The best kept secret in music

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This Charming Band

Boston Metro, Weekend, January 23-25, 2004

By SELENE ANGIER

Guilty pleasures, everybody’s got ‘em - fans and musicians alike. Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Three Dog Night. Even the word’s Cheap Trick, crazily enough, have been uttered as a guilty pleasure. Some closeted pop lovers might call the Charms one, too.

The Boston fivesome’s first album, the cheekily billed “Charmed, I’m Sure,” was bubblegum pop at its finest, with songs about crushes on boys, vintage cars, and listening to the radio. Fueled by Ellie Vee’s sassy vocals, Kat Kina’s ‘60s garage Farfisa and Joe Wizda’s unabashed love for late ‘70s guitar solo’s, the album was sugary sweet.

And, as Vee precociously Coo’s on their new EP “So Pretty,” just like candy, it’s addictive.

You can’t help but like these songs, they’re undeniable. Without even being aware, your foot is tapping, your head bobbing, your hips are shaking, your hands are clapping. Enjoying these songs is autonomic, beyond your control, like breathing.

The new album channels Kiss, AC/DC, and Cheap Trick - still power pop but grittier than the last record. “‘Charmed, I’m Sure’ is sunny and very happy,” Vee said, sitting at the B-side Lounge, Wizda at her side. “It’s like driving in the summer in a ‘57 Chevy. And “So Pretty” is like having a sordid sexual encounter in a dirty bathroom.”

The album cover says it all; a legs only shot of a punk rock girl decked out in Converse and fishnets, her pink panties around her ankles. Dirty indeed.

“We really wanted to capture the live sound we have now because it’s more raw, it’s more high energy,” she went on to say.

Wizda concurred. “Yeah, with live bands, you can hear it in their fingers.”

Playing more than 100 weekend-warrior shows a year, they shaped their rugged pop with determination and a little prodding. “Our manager is a total slave driver,” Vee said. “He believes in playing as much as possible and doing as many gigs, as much press, as much promoting.”

Wizda, ever the musicologist, agreed. “George Young, who was [AC/DC’s] manager and producer in the beginning, wouldn’t let them do any recording until they played 200 gigs and then [they started] recording. That’s how we look at it.”

Carrying forth all of the saccharine beauty of the first album, the Charms take on more adult subject matter on the EP with Vee still penning about boys, but not pining for them. This time around, with a little more Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde in her, the songs are about one night stands and late night partying.

Vee and Wizda, the groups main songwriters, also take on mainstream music. “Believe,” is a kiss-off to corporate rock. “There are just some things that you can’t put a price on and that you can’t fabricate no matter how much money you throw at it and one of those things is the feeling you get from rock and roll,” Vee said. “It’ll always be in the underground even if the music ‘business’ is churning out McIdols. People want rock and roll and they know a real rock band when they hear it.”

So what are the guilty pleasures of the Charms? Britney Spears? Yes? Phil Collins?

“We’ll never say!” Wizda said.

“See, the thing about a lot of my favorite musicians, like Joey Ramone, they had a lot of secrets,” Vee said. “Musicians have a lot of secrets about what they listen to and how they write. Like the Ramones and the Cars - both loved music that when you fans of theirs that they loved it, they’re like ‘No Way! It’s impssible.’”

But after a few drinks, Vee and Wizda let a few names slip out. Connie Francis, ‘the cheesy Brenda Lee stuff’ and Ohio express. Yummy yummy yummy indeed.
- Boston Metro


The Charms
BOSTON’S WEEKLY DIG

By Hallie Engel

It’s a good thing The Charms weren’t around when I was in high school. Had they been, I would have spent my days making out with guys who took shop and skipping algebra to smoke cigarettes under the bleachers, while blasting their glammed-out, garage inspired latest on my headphones.

So Pretty, the band’s follow-up to Charmed, I’m Sure, is in stores January 20, and it’s worth buying based on the fact alone that its cover photo was shot in the Middle East bathroom. But trifling details aside, it’s heavy on the riffs and bursting with down-and-dirty sex appeal. Think a little Joan Jett, some Cheap Trick, some good mascara and a slap on the ass.

I spoke with the band within the family-friendly confines of Pizzeria Uno, far from the maddening crowd of groupies and random sycophants, where of course, the subject of The Kinks worked its way into the conversation ...

Speaking of Ray Davies - you met him not too long ago?

Joe Wizda (guitar): I saw him walking out of The Middle East with a Charms CD. It’s so funny. My friend tapped me on the back and said, “Look behind you.”

Did you talk to him at all?

Ellie Vee (guitar/vocals): Yeah, he was kinda cranky, but who cares? He’s Ray Davies. I was like “I missed you [his set], but can you fit this CD in your jacket?” and he was like “Yeah,” and he looked at the cover, he kinda like examined it ... and then he jammed it in his pocket.

Have you found Boston to be a supportive community to have a band in?

E: Definitely, especially when you’re starting out ... I think it’s easier to help bands that are starting out, because they don’t have their own agenda - they take anything. People were rally helpful. They gave us gigs and opportunities. The thing is we’re not part of any one scene, though. I think for a pop-rock band, it’s not the same as the rockabilly scene or the punk scene, where there’s a lot of camaraderie. I don’t think there’s a rabid pop cult following.

Ellie, your parents were classical musicians - did you start lessons at a really young age?

Well, I started violin when I was five, but I had this psycho teacher - he made me play the same piece over and over until I got it perfect, but I fucked it up every week, because I got so nervous. You think classical musicians are square, but I grew up around drunks and pot-smokers and gos knows what else. Like, I’d walk in my room during parties, and there’d be people in my bed making out. I’d be like, “I’m going to bed now, so you’re going to have to leave.”

And Joe, how old were you when you started playing, and what was the first music that you ever really got into?

J: Well, I wanted to be Ace Frehley real bad when I was 14,

Did you have a girlfriend named Beth by any chance?

J: No, but [I was a big fan of] Kiss, Led Zeppelin, blues, rockabilly - all that stuff. My favorite guitar players are Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, then Gene Vincent and Ace Frehley. Rock & roll!

On the So Pretty EP - is the song “Believe” about the record industry at all?

E: I don’t know ,.. It’s basically a “fuck you” to corporate rock.

J: I think it says there will always be Britney Spears and things like that, but rockabilly and 60's garage rock and blues will always be played in the clubs.
- Boston's Weekly Dig


Garageland

Boston Phoenix, January 23, 2004

By BRETT MILANO

The Charms and Muck & Mires are two of the better-natured bands in town, but there’s one sure way to get them both riled. Just drop the name of some band currently hot on the Billboard charts or on commercial radio.

Both bands have turned to the ‘60s for inspiration and fun, not necessarily in that order. And the ‘60s sound has proved the charm for both, earning them local-headliner status and a following that their leaders’ previous bands – Flexie and the Nines, respectively – never captured. Each group celebrates the release of its sophomore disc this weekend: The Charms with their EP So Pretty (Primary Voltage) at T.T.’s on Friday and Muck & Mires with Beginner’s Muck (Amp) at the Abbey on Saturday.

Summing up the Charms world view isn’t hard. “It’s all about playin’, fuckin’, and drinkin’,” notes guitarist Joe Wizda over beers at the Abbey. Indeed, the Charms’ first album (last year’s Charmed, I’m Sure) celebrated all three of those passtimes over a giddy, Farfisa-driven bubblegum/garage sound. On the follow-up disc, the subject matter hasn’t changed much: the love songs may be a shade darker, but there’s still the sense that a good time will win out. What has changed a bit is their sound, the result of their working at New Alliance Studios with producers Andrew Schneider and Nick Zampierello, both loud-rock specialists whose resume’s include heavies like Cracktorch (who’ll share the T.T.’s bill with the Charms) and Slughog and very little pop. They haven’t taken the fun out of the Charms’ sound, but they have pumped it up quite a bit. Wizda’s guitar and Jason Meeker’s drums both take on a mile-high sound; even Kat Kina’s trademark Farfisa organ sounds sleek and modern. Front-woman Ellie Vee also favors a deeper register these days, sounding less like a sex kitten than like a full-grown tiger.

The Charms’ musical roots stretch a bit farther than the ‘60s. Vee is a Brenda Lee fan (she has a side project singing covers as Brenda Vee), Kina was classically trained, and Wizda’s a card-carrying member of the Kiss Army. Still, it’s not hard to tell where their musical hearts lie – not when Kina (a Russian emigree who’s taken keyboard lessons from the Lyre’s Jeff Conolly) sneaks the “96 Tears” lick into one tune. Or when the opening “Believe” – the one Charms song that has nothing to do with love or sex – charges out like a close cousin to “Mony Mony” and Vee sings the praises of garage rock’s favorite chord progression: “That 1-4-5, that’s something money just can;t buy.” As she explains, “That’s just us saying that rockabilly and ‘60s rock and roll will always be in the underground, and you can’t stop it.” Explaining the change of sound, they point out that the first disc was a demo, one recorded in part before they’d begun playing out. “This disc sounds tougher, but I think that’s how we sound live,” Wizda notes. “The producers have that modern sound, but it’s not like they tried to change us.”

As for the “playin’, fuckin’, and drinkin’,” Vee admits she’s nervous about what her mom will make of So Pretty’s cover art, which shows a pair of panties pulled down around fishnetted legs. “But you had to do that,” Wizda reminds her, “because you wrote this song [the title track] about feeling dirty after a one-night stand, then going back and doing it again.” Although Vee swears the song is about someone else, she notes that she can be more brazen on stage than she might be in real life. “It’s a part of myself that I get to live vicariously through. It does mean we see more weirdos at gigs....” “But I like the weirdos, because I’m one of ‘em,” Wizda concludes.

And in truth, the past year for the Charms has been more about hard work than about screwing around. The debut album took off quickly, getting a good review in the Village Voice the week it was released; they’ve since played regularly up and down the East Coast, totaling about 100 gigs in 2003. They already have a higher profile than Vee and Wizda had after five years with their previous band, the more streamlined pop group Flexie – and they’ve met a few of their heroes, getting to schmooze backstage with Cheap Trick and Gene Simmons. But they’ve also seen their share of inglorious gigs and sudden personnel changes (both drummer Meeker and bassist Pete Stone have left since the album was finished). And they’re currently in the gray area between a struggling band and a more established one. “You start out being happy just to play, then you start hoping somebody gives you money,” Wizda notes. But Vee has higher aspirations: “I want this band to make a lot of money, because I really want to own a ‘54 Corvette.”
- The Boston Phoenix


Retro-rock revival hath its Charms

Boston Herald, Monday, January 26, 2004

By CHRISTOPHER BLAGG


There are several bands patrolling the deep waters of retro rock. The Charms aren’t content with mining only one decade’s sound. However. Performing for their CD release party Friday at T.T. the Bear’s Place, the local female-fronted quintet managed to blend ‘60s garage-rock swagger with a taste of the late-‘70s guitar-god arena rock – a strangely satisfying concoction.

Led by a Debbie Harry look-alike vixen dressed in red vinyl hot pants and a turquoise half-shirt, the Charms tore through a short but explosive set of tunes from last year’s debut record, “Charmed I’m Sure,” and their new EP “So Pretty.”

Highlighting the band’s throwback style was a Farfisa organ, played with cool assuredness by sultry Russian emigre Kat Kina. Singer Ellie Vee was in complete control of the audience, delivering coy, girl-next-door shoulder shrugs one minute and not-so-coy biker-chick pelvic maneuvers the next. Her voice was at times girlishly sweet, exemplified in the glam-rock confection “Candy.” At other moments, her hoarse shriek dominated, especially during “Boys Room” and the “Girls Gone Wild” anthem “Wish Song.”

Throughout, Vee’s boy-crazy musings and confessions ranged from gentle innuendos such as “I forgot my halo” to forthright demands and admissions such as “You make me want to fall down on my knees.” It quickly became clear that the rock manifesto of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” has not been lost on the Charms.

Occasionally, the band’s sloppiness exceeded even garage rock standards, but the melodies and hooks of the songs, especially the newer ones of “So Pretty,” generally overcame the lack of a tight, focused sound. As the garage-rock revival gains followers, it’s refreshing that Vee and her band bring something new to the table. The Charms alter the garage-rock formula by adding a delightfully cheesy glam-rock element to the mix. Songs such as “Waiting for You” and “Easy Trouble” managed to inject epic over-the-top guitar breaks into their crude three-chord nuggets. Its like pouring a shot of whiskey into your Pabst Blue Ribbon – unnecessary, but welcome all the same.
- The Boston Herald


Somerville band’s ‘So Pretty’ showcases Vee’s talents

Somerville Journal, Thursday, January 22, 2004
By ED SYMKUS
CNC Staff Writer

There’s no easy way to categorize the music of Somerville-based band the Charms. Driven by guitar, organ, and the lead vocals of Ellie Vee, it falls comfortably somewhere between raw garage rock and slick power pop, with some sensibilities drawn from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. And it feels fresh today.

Neither is there any easy way to describe Dee’s voice. When she’s belting out a song, there’s a little growl, a little grit, and when she calls for it, a big gasp. When she’s on the phone, discussing the band, she tends to get excited, even giggle a bit, and the voice shoots way up high. When she calms down and the voice dips to a lower register, there’s a raspy little crackle.

Her voice is all over the place when talking about the Charms’ new six-song EP “So Pretty,” which they’ll showcase at T.T. the Bear’s on Friday.

“The EP is kind of like a short album experience,”says Vee from her home in Somerville. “We’re going to put out another full-length one. We want to put out something every year. But we’ve been doing a lot of touring, so we decided that instead of spending too much time in the studio, we’d get something out that we thought was representative of how the sound has developed.”

Together now for about 2 ½ years, the five-piece band didn’t have any early visions beyond playing together and having a good time. But they clicked, among themselves and with audiences.

“It kind of happened naturally without a lot of planning,” says Vee. “We did stick to a certain sound, and it just evolved. It’s like a combination of all the people in the band and their assorted pasts.”

Most of the writing is handled by Vee and lead guitarist Joe Wizda.

“He’s a rockabilly guy, I don’t know what I am,” she says. “I think garage rock is my natural calling. I listen to all kinds of stuff, but that’s what influences me the most. Joe also loves ‘70s rock. I do, too, but that comes out more in his playing, and the garage comes out more in my writing.”

While earlier recordings have been self-released, “So Pretty” marks the band’s debut on Cambridge-based Primary Voltage Records.

“That’s because they love us and they’re interested in us,” squeaks Vee. “We’d like to be playing a lot more than 100 shows a year, which is about what we’re doing now. But you need money to tour around. Luckily putting out records isn’t as expensive when you have a label doing it. You need backing.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll sell a ton of records and Primary Voltage can pay for everything, “She adds with a laugh. “Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Vee, who is “in my late-20s” moved to the Boston area after growing up in New York, in a home with two parents who made a living in classical music. Her mother is a flutist – formerly for orshestras in Hong Kong and Venezuela – and her father is a pianist and professor of music theory. Vee started playing flute when she was 8, then took up guitar at 16.

“But I really didn’t have anywhere to apply it. So it kind of fell by the wayside, and I didn’t start playing again until I started writing songs, in my early 20s.”

But she had been goofing around in bands in high school, and had a lot of friends in bands over the years. When she made the move to Boston in the mid-‘90s, there were no solid plans, but there were definite thoughts of getting involved with a band.

Now she plays rhythm guitar over her own singing.

“My favorite rhythm guitar player is Malcolm Young,” she admits. “I’m not saying that I play like him, but I do think he’s got that nice simplicity.”

When Vee first arrived in the area, she lived in Allston, where there were plenty of big houses for long jam sessions.

“Then Allston got kind of collegiate,” she says. “So I moved over to Cambridge, but Cambridge got way out of control with rents. Somerville is affordable, and we have a big van, and we can park in Somerville. So that’s an advantage.”

Vee still keeps a day job doing graphics and design – her work can be seen in the EP.

“And we practice, we do promotion, we’re out seeing other bands,” she says. “Normally we have two or three gigs a week. So we’re busy pretty much every night. We have tons of new material. The plan is to work on it.”
- The Somerville Journal


MUSIC SCENE: Quintet is full of charm

The Charms make their Quincy debut on Saturday at The Beachcomber.
By JAY MILLER
The Patriot Ledger

The Charms don't exactly ride the wave of garage band rock revivalism like The Strokes and The Vines. The Boston quintet takes classic 1960s elemental rock, mixes in classic '70s and '80s arena rock dynamics, and shakes and bakes it with eye-opening doses of contemporary attitude, humor and grrrl-power.

Their second EP, ‘‘So Pretty,'' has been out since January on Primary Voltage Records, and is a favorite of Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show, hosted by ‘‘Little Steven'' Van Zandt of E Street Band and ‘‘Sopranos'' fame and syndicated on 170 stations nationwide. That's one reason the EP has been on the Top 200 chart of the College Music Journal for six weeks.

The Charms make their Quincy debut Saturday, when they open for favorites Clutch Grabwell at The Beachcomber on Wollaston Beach.

Singer Ellie Vee is the source of The Charms' unique stage presence, and the main songwriter, with guitarist Joe Wizda, responsible for tunes such as the current radio favorite, title cut ‘‘So Pretty.'' That song decries one-night stands, sweetly maintaining that two-night stands are better.

The combination of Vee's girl-next-door voice, ironic lyrics, provocative gear like miniskirts and leather boots, and a stage persona midway between Mick Jagger and Deborah Harry would be enough to make the band memorable. But add in their skill at reprising retro styles in a bizarrely captivating new way, and The Charms are a certain antidote for any boredom you might be feeling about music these days.

Did we mention that this band uses a Farfisa organ, that gloriously rinky-tinky relic of the '60s, more effectively than anyone in rock since The Sir Douglas Quintet? And that it's played by another hot-looking lady, a Russian and a reformed classical musician?

The core of the band is Vee, Kat Kina on organ and Wizda. The rhythm section has undergone changes, but now Stu Yaffe is on bass, with Frederick Arciniegas on drums.

‘‘Everyone in the Charms listens to music that is pre-1979,'' said Vee from her Boston home. ‘‘The only stuff we buy that's new is from local Boston bands, and there's a lot of them doing good stuff. We were all in other bands when we got this together a little over two years ago. Three of the guys were in the Bombastics, a rockabilly band. Kat was literally right off the boat from Russia, and had never played in a rock band before.

‘‘It was all kind of experimental at first - whatever formula we hit on, it was simply rock 'n' roll that felt good to us. Rock that is not too fancy, simple and direct, may go underground from time to time, but it never seems to go away. We're part of that tradition.''

Shortly after forming, the Charms recorded a three-song demo to help secure gigs out of town. Fans and club owners loved it and began sending it to their friends, including radio DJs.

Before long, the Charms were playing 100 dates a year all over the East Coast. They rapidly expanded the demo into a full album, ‘‘Charmed I'm Sure,'' in January 2003. It ended up on many best-of-the-year lists, and further expanded the legions of Charms fans. Boston's Primary Voltage Records signed the quintet, and released their latest EP.

Little Steven's enthusiasm has meant a busier tour schedule.

‘‘I was reading a terrific Rolling Stone article about Little Steven,'' Vee said. ‘‘He was telling how when he pitched his show, people kept telling him ‘You CAN'T play rock 'n' roll on the radio anymore.' That's scary to us. We travel all over, and think people want to go out and hear rock 'n' roll - there's definitely a demand for it, whether the commercial corporations want it or not.''

Many comparisons have been made about the Charms' sound, and Vee admits KISS and Cheap Trick and Blondie were all influences. But when we go further back, and mention the Sir Douglas Quintet and ? and the Mysterians, we hit a soft spot.

‘‘I loved the Sir Douglas Quintet,'' she said. ‘‘We used to do an acoustic cover of one of their tunes. And we've been to see ? and the Mysterians at the Middle East, and they were superb - he's like a Tex-Mex version of Mick Jagger.''

Obviously, every rock frontman borrows moves from Jagger. But when a woman uses the same cocky, strutting persona, it becomes different. Onstage, Vee's clearly having a blast.

‘‘One of my favorite performers is Brenda Lee,'' she said, ‘‘but I also loved (former AC/DC singer) Bon Scott. I like singers with a sense of humor, who don't take themselves too seriously. It maybe comes off as more confident that way, but hey, it's rock 'n' roll; it's not funeral music.''

Vee's parents are both classical musicians. She grew up in New York, but spent lots of time in places as far-flung as Venezuela and Hong Kong. Her parents told her she was playing drum rhythms on her crib as a tot, to the extent the ne - The Patriot-Ledger [Quincy MA]


Discography

* "So Pretty" EP [Primary Voltage, 2004]

* "Your New Favorite CD" compilation [Primary Voltage, 2003]

* "Charmed I'm Sure" LP [Red Car, 2003]

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Louder, sweatier, and sexier than ever – The Charms are back with a new EP which combines their 60’s garage-pop roots with 80’s guitar-rock bravado. The music is thick and nasty; the vocals are flirtatious and arousing; the songwriting is infectious.

The Charms formed in Boston in 2001 as a side project whose immediate following soon made them the main attraction. Supporting their debut album Charmed, I’m Sure with over 100 appearances in 2003, The Charms established themselves among critics, radio DJ’s, and – most of all – dedicated fans.

On So Pretty, The Charms have taken their unique Farfisa-rock hooks and upped the Rock & Roll octane. Guitarist Joe Wizda’s cranked Marshall tone has an added edge – but as always, it’s Ellie Vee’s sex kitten growl that sets The Charms apart.