A Conversation with The French Tips
Originally published March 21st 2019
Fresh off the release of their debut album, “It’s the Tips”, the French Tips are readying themselves for this year’s Treefort Festival. If you haven’t heard the record yet, get your ass in gear and buy a copy already. It’s one of the strongest releases by a Boise band in years.
As busy as they are, the group very graciously invited me out to their rehearsal space a couple weeks ago to give me the skinny on their origins, their album, and whatever the hell else came up in conversation.
For the record, The French Tips are Ivy Merrell (guitar, bass, and vocals), Angela Heileson (drums and vocals), and Rachel Couch (bass, guitar and vocals).
I began by asking them how they came together.
“Well,” explains Ivy, “we were all playing in other bands. And I think we played a show together–you guys were in Desert Graves, and I was in Get Wet +. And I think we played a show together and we just…[a bit of laughter from her bandmates] enjoyed each other’s company?
And how long ago was this?
“Two or three years ago. There was a local show called Inaugurate Resistance, where there were a bunch of bands that were playing covers, and I was helping organize it. And I really wanted Desert Graves to play, and somehow when we were talking about it, we decided that, instead, the three of us would play some songs together. And we just really enjoyed that, and decided to keep playing and writing and–”
So, wait, you started off rehearsing strictly covers for this show? I ask, amused. What exactly did you play–just out of curiosity?
“A Bush Tetras song called ‘Too Many Creeps’, and a Le Tigre song called ‘Hot Topic’.”
“I really liked those covers,” Rachel adds. “And we did ‘em for a couple other shows, then Ivy cut it. [laughter from Ivy and Angela] She’s like, ‘No more…doin’ that.’”
(I made a point of finding these original tunes online, and I’m glad I did. Frankly, these two songs are a perfect little dive into the aesthetic of The French Tips. The Tetras song has a certain hyperactive attack, and of course Tigre has a pop sensibility with a real ‘fuck-you’ edge. I can see why everything began with this.)
Angela jumps in, here. “I think we knew that we were, like, ‘We should probably just write original stuff.’ We just seemed to get along really well, and, I dunno, it just made sense. All of us kinda have different backgrounds, and styles of music, and what we grew up with. That kinda comes through in our music, especially because we all sing. [Indicating the other members] They’ll sing very differently.”
Ivy grins and admits, “Also, we liked the name enough that we couldn’t just let it go: The French Tips?”
“It’s funny because, usually a name is negotiated for awhile before it’s decided upon,” Rachel says.
Or you play under two or three names until one sticks, right?
“Yes!” Rachel agrees, clearly enthused. “I remember Ivy came up to both of us and was just, ‘You know, we should start a project called The French Tips.’ And it was just one of those names where both of us were like, ‘Okay.’”
Ivy continues, “That show we learned two covers and that was in January ‘17, and then it really wasn’t until later that year, kinda more around the summer, that we started writing songs together.”
“I think,” Rachel says, thinking back, “we went our separate ways for a few months…and then got back together, and said, ‘You know, we should really do this.’”
Angela goes on. “What’s funny is, we’re all women, and–at least for me–part of the thing was like, ‘I don’t have to play with some fucking dudes!”
And that’s rare in Boise. Most female musicians I know are almost always playing in a band full of “dudes”. Has that been your experience? I ask.
Nods all around. “And there’s something really special about this,” Angela explains, “because the way that we get along and can communicate with each other is so different than all of these other bands we’ve been in. You know, nothing against dudes, but sometimes it’s just like…there’s just a big difference, and it been a lot–easier?–to communicate with each other. Because I think we know how to do that. It’s really nice.”
Ivy picks up the origin story again. “I think we played our first real show in October of 2017, and we played Treefort in March , and by then, I was like five months pregnant. And so we decided to record the songs we had at that point. The timing of me having a baby really helped dictate that we were gonna get that recorded, and spend the time focusing on that. You know, putting that record out.”
I ask about the recording process, and Ivy explains, “We’d only really played like three or four shows at that point. To be honest, it made me feel a little nervous recording them that soon, but we liked the songs, and that’s what we wanted to do as a group. There was a hot minute where we talked about recording them ourselves, but then we decided that wasn’t what we wanted to spend our time and energy doing. And so, I had recorded with Zach [producer at Z.V. House, aka Rabbitbrush Audio] three or four times prior, and I knew that he was awesome, and super confident, fun to work with. He really ‘gets’–at least all the bands I’ve worked with, he super ‘vibes’ with. And so we recorded with him, and I think that was a great decision.”
And so none of these songs were demoed in advance, they were just fleshed out in rehearsals and live shows?
“Mm hmm,” she confirms.
As to the writing process, I ask if individuals bring in fully-formed songs, or if it’s a wholly democratic process.
“It’s very collaborative,” Ivy insists.
Rachel seconds this. “I think it is, too. There have been a couple of occasions where one of us will bring in an idea from somewhere else, but for the most part, it’s kind of… I don’t know! I would almost describe it as ‘magical’!” Her bandmates laugh a bit at this thought. “When we get together, the parts seem to just come together.”
“Also, because we all sing, even if someone else writes the bulk of the progressions, then someone else is coming in and at least writing vocals and vocal melodies,” Ivy says.
And are the lyrics generally written by whichever member is singing?
I press them about whether egos ever get in the way of the writing, and we joke a bit about that problem being more of a ‘guy band’ thing.
Rachel laughs and says, “My favorite one is ‘he-peating’, which has happened to me quite a bit!”
Can you define that for us?
“It happens when you state an idea, and then somebody else has to rephrase the idea–”
“–And then gets the credit!” Ivy interrupts, smiling.
“–as though it was their own,” Rachel says. “And then you’re like, ‘That’s exactly what I said!’” This prompts some very un-selfconscious, and very knowing, laughter from all three.
So there’s no butting heads, or territoriality, while working out the songs?
Angela thinks for a moment and answers, “I think we talk through it.”
“Yeah, we’re flexible,” Rachel concurs.
As if dissatisfied with her original thought, Angela continues, “I don’t know, uh… There’s no egos! I think right up front [we decided], ‘If you don’t like something, don’t just sit there.’”
So everyone has veto power?
Again, they nod unanimously.
But a thought occurs to Angela. “In the very beginning, some of the first things we were writing, were a little too punk for my taste…”
“Ohhh, yeah. I remember that,” Ivy says in a kind of aww-shucks way.
Angela goes on: “…and I thought, ‘I just can’t handle it,’ and I was just like, ‘I, uh, don’t like any of this!’ [lots of laughter from bandmates] So then we kind of got together and asked, ‘What are some things we like? What kind of bands do you like? What kind of styles?’”
What are your plans for Treefort? Don’t you have two shows?
“I think one ‘official,’ and one ‘unofficial.’” Ivy tells me. “Yeah, I think we’re doing the Camp Modern, a little set there, Saturday afternoon. I don’t know the exact time, I think it’s like 3? And then Neurolux Sunday night.”
And the set-list? Is it strictly the songs on the record?
“It is pretty much established, just playing the album. I mean,” and here Ivy laughs a bit nervously, and explains, “we’ve written one more song since then, but…we started writing songs a year and a half ago, and in that time I had a kid, we recorded a record, we put a lot of work into putting that record out–pressing it to vinyl, we screen-printed it ourselves…”
The album cover is fantastic, so I press them on the process of printing it themselves.
“Well, screen-printing is a skill that I thought…uh, we should have,” Ivy says, with a self-effacing shrug. “And I’m not artistic at all, so when I say that I felt like I should have it, I really kind of pressured these ladies into learning how to screen-print! It was rewarding, and very frustrating at times. But we learned how to do it, and we had good guidance from friends who are really good at it. In particular, my bandmate [in Get Wet +] Bryan Hallowell really helped us a lot.”
Was it a total pain in the ass?
With no hesitation, Angela answers, “I think it was worth it.”
“I feel proud of it. I feel like it’s very DIY,” says Ivy.
Angela adds, a bit more forcefully, “I think it’s special. Like, ‘This is something that we…made with our own fucking hands!’” All of us laugh.
When I ask how limited the press-run for the vinyl edition was, I am somewhat shocked when they almost simultaneously answer, “It was a hundred.” Only a hundred?
Ivy explains, “I think when we heard the record, after we got it back from Zach, we were just feeling really inspired by what he did with our songs. And we felt like we had to do vinyl.”
“…go all the way!” Angela playfully adds.
“It’s kind of funny, what it turned into,” Rachel affirms. “Like, ‘We should record a demo, just so we have these recordings.’ It was definitely intended to be a pretty casual endeavor.”
Like, just go in and record your live set?
Ivy confirms this. “Yeah, like, ‘Let’s get somebody to just record our tracks. It doesn’t have to be professional.’ But then we got in with Zach, and he did such a stellar job that it was one thing after another…”
Picking up the thread, Angela adds, “…Like, ‘We should get it professionally mastered.’”
And who did the mastering?
“Mell Dettmer [at Studio Soli],” Ivy says. “The way that we found Mell was, like, Blake Green, who plays music around town, he has gone to her for mastering before. So Zach and I have worked with her in the past, and she’s awesome.”
“And it’s a woman!” Angela interjects, clearly thrilled.
I ask about whether some of the unusual tones and textures on the album were originally the band’s ideas, or if those grew out of a collaborative process with the producer during the mixing stage. Specifically, I mention the throaty bass guitar sound on “Burn it Down,” and the wah guitar on “Dancelite,” both of which sound remarkably unique on the finished product.
Giving it some thought, Ivy pauses a sec, then say, “I think a lot of the tones–I mean, we were a pretty new band at that point–so I think a lot of how he captured us was very inspiring to us. I know when we played shows after that, I wanted my tones to sound the way they did on the record.
“And when we went in there, there was at least one song that we hadn’t hardly played at all, and he was–he’s always–good for bouncing ideas off of. He’s kinda like a fourth member of the band…if you’re wanting that when you record with him. Just fun to collaborate with.
“Now, I hate recording!” Here, her bandmates laugh yet again. “But these two women were incredible in the recording experience. The both had great ideas going into it. There’s sounds on the record we don’t do line, because we just can’t. Add a keyboard, add a tambourine or a second guitar, additional harmonies, things like that.
“It was just kind of a magical experience all the way around, for us. We had more ideas, and were feeling really creative when we went in there. And being in there with Zach was really helpful, too, so…”
And, as for their post-Treefort plans, Ivy tells me, “We are going on a tour right after Treefort. We are going to be playing in Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla, in support of Built to Spill. And then I think our plan is to play out of town, just a few dates, in late summer or early fall. …And writing new songs! Those are our goals!
“Yeah, I think that’s definitely what we wanna do,” Rachel adds. “I mean, it’s been awhile since we’ve had any kind of free time to actually compose new songs. We have, like, one new song.”
Angela giggles a bit and says, “Lots of ideas that haven’t gotten fleshed out yet.”
“Yeah. So it’ll be really cool to take a few months off,” Rachel admits.
I ask about outside exposure, airplay, online streams/sales, etc.
“Well,” explains Angela, “after we released our album, it took me a little while to figure out the whole Spotify and iTunes thing. But that’s been done in the last two or three weeks. It’s kind of a hindrance if you don’t have a Spotify, I guess. So once we got that squared away, I think Treefort’s made a few ‘Treefort Playlists’ on Spotify, and they snuck a few of our songs on there. So that’s helping us get new listeners from all over.”
Petting an old cat that has climbed into my lap, I point out that this cat sheds like my cat, and then I confess that it was 2018’s Treefort Festival where I first discovered The French Tips. We go off on a tangent about randomly discovering bands every damned year, and then Ivy makes a soild point.
“I always wonder, as a local band, if people will come see us, knowing that there’s all these other big bands in town. But people REALLY show up for the local bands! It’s so awesome how supportive it is, supportive of local bands.”
On that note, I strongly suggest you get to either of their shows at this year’s festival. Or both, if you can make it. The first show is all ages, from what I hear, and absolutely free–so you have no excuse to miss it. It’s Saturday the 23rd at 3pm at The Modern Hotel. The second show is at the Neurolux–meaning it’s 21-and-over, and you’ll need a wristband–Sunday the 24th at 10:40pm.
And in the meantime, find them on BandCamp, Spotify, etc., or pony up the cash to buy the LP or the CD. I absofuckinglutely guarantee you’ll dig it.
New Cassette by James Plane Wreck