By Ian S. Port
By Cory Sklar
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By Gil Riego Jr.
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Neither George nor Lou Lou had major periods of rebellion against Henry and Carola. In a household where your parents encourage artistically adventurous behavior, that would be too difficult. "They're into the same things I'm into," says Lou Lou of the parents she still addresses as "mommy" and "daddy." "I can't think of anything I'd want to rebel against."
So how do artsy kids buck artsy parents? They go mainstream. George had a phase where he was into Hollywood action films. Carola says that Lou Lou's "dark secret" came in second grade: "All the girls were listening to *NSYNC," she says. "So Lou Lou asked, 'Can I have *NSYNC?' And we were like ..." She pauses, giving a mock-horrified look. "But as open-minded parents, we bought it for her."
That phase didn't last a week. The kids not only developed their parents' alternative taste in music, they also inherited their musical talents. George particularly lives up to his parents' assertion that he's a rock prodigy: Carola says her son was playing free jazz at age two. In kindergarten, he was performing Beethoven's Ode to Joy on every instrument in the Complex. There are a lot of instruments on those six floors.
"I like to think I got something from my dad," George says with a shrug. "The spot at drumming that I started at seemed to be a lot further along than most people start at. I had the mechanics down."
When George was in high school he recruited his sister to start a band. "He just sort of grabbed her and said, 'Sing this,'" Carola says. "Lou Lou turned out to be a great singer." They secretly wrote songs together on the third floor of the Complex. Then in 2004, they went upstairs to ask their parents: "Want to listen to this song we wrote?"
It was a fully produced song, Henry gushes. "It had arrangements and instruments, and I was like, 'Where did this come from?'" he recalls. They'd used an early version of the GarageBand music software. Lou Lou wrote the lyrics, while George wrote the music and played all the instruments. They performed shows for their parents in the Complex. "George would be standing to one side and saying, 'Lou Lou do this, Lou Lou do that,'" Carola says. "The dynamic is sort of similar now."
George still writes all the music for the Guitarfish. Lou Lou still writes most of the lyrics, slipping her new song ideas under her brother's door in the middle of the night. It makes their already tight relationship even closer, which is both good and difficult.
"We get fed up with each other, having so much physical contact," Lou Lou admits. "It's hard to find the boundaries between brother and sister, and the things brothers and sisters do, like fighting, and being able to get work done. But for the most part the whole family gets along really well."
Her lanky, unassuming brother says good-naturedly, "She annoys me a lot, but she's a good sibling."
After those early home performances, Henry was so excited about their burgeoning music talent that he brought their raw demos on a Pirate Cat Radio show hosted by Arne Johnson, one of the directors of the Girls Rock! documentary on a music camp for young girls. Johnson was putting together a Girls Rock! showcase at Bottom of the Hill, so Henry volunteered Lou Lou and George's band. "We kickstarted the band," Henry admits. "I came home and said, 'Okay, you guys have to put a band together to play these songs.'" That deadline, and the availability of a couple of friends in another band called Tinkture, launched what became Lou Lou & the Guitarfish.
Carola also worked her industry contacts. She became friends with David Katznelson, owner of local indie label Birdman, when they both served on the Other Minds board. Carola mentioned her children had a band. Katznelson came by the Complex soon after, and left with a demo in hand.
"Their minds are developed way beyond their years in the way they look at the world in such an artful way," Katznelson says of the younger Rosenthals. "As a label person who has been around for a while, it's not something you take lightly. [Their household] is a breeding ground for people who have a language it takes most people years to work out."
Of course, just because the language is there doesn't mean the soundman will mike it correctly. Case in point: a music festival in Austin, where a young band's dreams of becoming the next big thing can get squelched by a club with malfunctioning equipment.
When the Rosenthals arrive in Austin, it's a typically sticky mid-March weekend. It's also South by Southwest (SXSW), the nation's biggest annual music marathon, which means the only hotel room Carola could find was way out by the airport. But there's a pool at the Hawthorn Suites and Henry has rented a van, which means the crew can spend a 90-degree afternoon negotiating the city's thrift stores, a favorite family pastime.
It's the second label showcase in Austin (the first was two years earlier) for Lou Lou & the Guitarfish. But this is the first time they'll have an actual record to plug, an important differentiation at an event oversaturated with fresh talent aching to be discovered.
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