Sex BBQ, according to the Urban Dictionary, is an increasingly popular form of party among teens, similar to a bonfire with alcohol, but with food and sex. For our purposes here, however, it’s the name of an Atlanta-Athens band hoping to create some heat during the Slingshot Festival.
Sex BBQ performs music difficult to define by genre, perhaps because of the divergent backgrounds of its members. The band counts a former magazine editor and a neuropsychologist on its roster, and boasts band members from both a massive metropolis (New York) and a mid-size Midwestern town (Waukegan, Illinois). Happenstance may have brought them together in Atlanta, but it’s the spectrum of their differences that defines them as a group.
The band, which plays tonight at Go Bar as part of the Slingshot Festival, intends to drop its debut album, “Sex Noir City,” this spring, with plans for more touring following the release.
I sat down and talked with Athens resident Kate Jan, the band’s lead singer/guitarist who, aside from working as a neuropsychologist by day, has a love for punk music and skateboarding.
What’s the difference between the music of Atlanta and the music of Athens?
KJ: The shows here are more eclectic – you go to a show and there’s all different kinds of bands playing, whereas in Atlanta people make very deliberate choices with everything on the bill. I was really inspired by a lot of the bands in Atlanta; I thought they were really solid. It’s interesting that there’s the same amount of venues in Atlanta as are in Athens even though there’s a lot more people in Atlanta, though they are more packed in Atlanta. And they’re earlier (laughs). I can’t play weekday shows very often because I have a job in the morning I have to get to. In terms of the music itself, I’d say there’s a different feel to the music. (In Athens) there’s a lot more country influence and more (experimentation). I feel like everybody has something going on.
What got you into music?
KJ: Music has been a huge part of my life since I’ve been about 12. I grabbed a guitar when I was 13 and started playing Juliana Hatfield and Bikini Kill and a lot of the Riot Grrrls and bands like that. I tried to learn all the Nirvana songs. I played in college in a band, and I pretty much was playing in one way or another. I moved to Atlanta for my post-doc, so I sort of moved there incidentally – I matched at Emory – and I came down here and I met (guitarist) Steve LeBate. I met him at a Braves game and then I remembered being at a party with him and we both picked up guitars and started playing. That was sort of the genesis of this project.
What was it about Steve that made you want to play music together?
KJ: I really admired his guitar playing, he’s an amazing guitarist. We’re very different; he’s well trained in blues guitar and I’m a lot more experimental, but we started writing songs off the bat. We just wrote together really well coming from the two different approaches.
Listening to your music, there are certain aspects of genres I hear, but it’s difficult to define. How would you define your music?
KJ: It’s really hard for me to define it because we’re not going for anything when we start writing. It just comes together. The term gypsy punk comes to mind. It has the certain type of playful, but intense vibe. Some of our stuff is a little bit more like pop-punk and I think some of it is a little more influenced by goth (the Dead Kennedys start playing from the speakers in the background). … Whenever we give (multi-instrumentalist) Steve Albertson the microphone, he just comes on as Jello Biafra.”
What is the writing process that you put in place?
KJ: We all come into practice and I will have written something, or have a lick, and we’ll just start playing. Sometimes Steve will just start playing a lick and I’ll start playing off of that, and Steve Albertson will do something crazy with his chaos pad that brings it to another level and then we work it out in practice. It used to be I would come with full songs, but since being in bands in Athens, where things are totally different, I’ve realized the synergy that we have, so now we have a pretty open writing process. I write lyrics to the music. Sometimes I’ll just start singing something when I put the guitar down and … words come out that go along with the music. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing music.
I think most musicians do it that way; they can’t formulate the lyrics until they have the music. The music has to come first.
KJ: I do that a lot, I’ll do that at home, but I end up throwing out the song. I think that throwing out songs is the best thing to do in a writing process. I’ll write a little poppy Juliana Hatfield-y song, but I don’t play them for the band. For Sex BBQ I try and keep it more open so that we can all come together on our different levels and create something I would never do at home.
So it started as you and Steve (LaBate) — did you start scouting for people to play with?
KJ: They were friends of ours that we would have come in and play with us. Everett (Steele) was our original bass player and he’s just an all-around great musician and his wife Allison, who also does vocals and organ on the album. We went through a couple of drummers before we found Steve Brown, but they are all friends of friends. Steve (Brown) heard “Wake Up,” which is a song I had written back years ago during a rough time, and he was like, “Wow, this is nothing like I’ve ever heard, nothing I’ve ever played,” so he saw it as a challenge and he stuck with us. And then Allison and Everett left and we got Rob (Bellury) who’s another big crazy-talented bassist.
In terms of playing live, how do you approach shows?
KJ: We try to only play once a month in Atlanta and once a month in Athens, and it’s very different. In Atlanta you get the bands together, you call a bunch of friends and get a strong lineup together, and the difficulty there is getting something booked at a venue. You have to book far in advance to get a weekend spot, and all of those shows turn out to be great. In Athens it’s easier to get booked but, it’s more difficult to nail down the bands, because people in the bands are playing in a bunch of different things and they’re super busy – they’re playing a ton more shows. But it’s also been cool in Athens in terms of the bands that are coming through – we play with a lot more touring bands here and maybe that’s because I’m more available during the week to play.
What is the goal of the band — is there a defined thing of what you want it to be or not to be?
KJ: It would vary by person. As part of my band is now in the music business, they are a little bit more professionally-oriented, while personally I just want to play good music. My goal is to have fun, having great shows and sharing our music. I don’t know if we’re in any position to tour – we’ll see what happens when we come out with the record. They focus a lot more of getting our music out to a wider audience and I focus more on local experiences – the experience of having shows and playing with other bands. … We’re not on very different wavelengths. We’ll come together for practice and it will be awesome and we’ll want to practice every day. But then there’s that 70 miles between us.
As you get older it’s more difficult to get together and play than when you’re 22.
KJ: That’s right.