Austin’s Agent Ribbons make art and music of old into something new
By Gary Spencer
There are occasions when music and art inspired by the past are melded together to create something different, new and intriguing. Such is the case with the two-woman duo Agent Ribbons. Originally hailing from Sacramento, Calif., but now residing in the hip music mecca of Austin, Texas, Agent Ribbons – Natalie Gordon (vocals/guitar) and Lauren Hess (drums/vocals) – has created a somewhat unique niche for themselves as artists and for their musical style. Not only does Agent Ribbons’ music reflect sounds from the past such as The Velvet Underground, The Shaggs and ‘90s bands from the K Records/Kill Rock Stars catalogue, but it also shares musical sounds and aesthetics from modern day wave makers such as The Dresden Dolls and The Dum Dum Girls. And if that weren’t enough, Agent Ribbons throws in a detectable element of visual art and theatricality to their craft that screams Three Penny Opera as much as it does Babes in Toyland or The Slits. When you put it all together you’ve got a special blend of music and art that while heavily rooted in the old, brings something new to both the eyes, the ears and the mind. I recently got to chat with Agent Ribbons’ drummer Lauren Hess concerning the band and what they’re all about. Here’s what she had to say…
Tell me about the origins of the band.
Natalie and I first met through friends at an old record store in Sacramento, Calif. (that) I frequented there. She was doing odd jobs like painting and dumping out old buckets of water that would leak from the ancient roof. She had a solo show coming up, but really wanted to play with another person. She asked me if I played drums. Even though I did have a set at my house, I didn’t play it often. But of course I said yes and we had our first show week later
– Lauren Hess
Musically/artistically what are some of Agent Ribbons’ influences?
Musically, we have a wide array of influences and sometimes they cross over into other spectrums. We both love The Zombies, The Boswell Sisters, Mirah and most things with an intelligent pop sensibility. I’m personally more influenced by late-70s/early-80s punk, specifically female-fronted bands. I think collectively we are both influenced and romanced by the past. We are inspired by things that are old, worn and disregarded but still capture something interesting or beautiful. -LH
There seems to be a visual aesthetic/concept to Agent Ribbons’ imagery. Is this element of the band intentional or coincidental?
The visual aesthetic is coincidental. There is nothing contrived about the way we look or what kind of art we put into the world. We both dress pretty much how we look on stage. We are both avid thrifters and collectors, so that spills into the Agent Ribbons world. Of course, there are sometimes when we don more dramatic looks, but we don’t have personas or anything like that! Most of our aesthetic has to do with necessity. We handmade the first 800 of our first album from craft supplies and random things Natalie and I both had in our apartments – it was because we couldn’t afford to do anything else! So a crafty, collage-type of aesthetic grew from there. -LH
What do you think of the term “girl group?”
I don’t think “girl group” is necessarily a bad term, but I hope women who play music can someday do so without it having to be identified by their gender first and foremost. I really am tired of seeing “Chicks that Rock” shows being put together. We already know that, it doesn’t need to be stated! Girl bands can all be on a bill without having to advertise the fact like it’s a new concept. -LH
Do you think Agent Ribbons fits into any neat or predefined genre/subgenre of modern music?
I really don’t think we fit into any specific genre. We have touches of pop, garage rock, jazz, etc., and use all of those influences to produce a unique sound -LH
How would you describe Agent Ribbons to a stranger?
I usually say we are a cabaret-inspired garage pop duo. -LH
Tell me about your live show. How does it differ from your studio recordings? Why might someone want to come Agent Ribbons perform live?
We definitely play faster and with more fervor at our live shows! We try to add dramatic flair and put more of a “show” than just a rock band (merely) playing. –LH
Any particular reason or attraction led Agent Ribbons decide to make it a point to play in Dayton, Ohio?
We actually love playing in Ohio. On our first U.S. tour, we hung out in Ohio for over a week and got random shows. We met some pretty awesome people, so it was a no brainer that we should book some more Ohio dates! We’ve never played Dayton before but we have friends from there, so we are excited to roll through! -LH
Agent Ribbons will perform an all ages concert this coming Thursday, October 4 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Avenue in Dayton. Dear Fawn is also on the bill. Doors open at 9 p.m. and admission is $5 at the door. For more information, please visit agentribbons.bandcamp.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@daytoncitypaper.com.