Three Beers Deep with Horrible/Adorable

Find out why this garage pop duo from Oakland is "lookin' healthy."

Horrible/Adorable (Photo courtesy of the band)

It’s hard to decide where to start when writing about Horrible/Adorable. In the space of two and a half hours, the Oakland duo – made up of guitarist Kristin “Kiki” Petiford and drummer Candice Kuter – covered everything from lusting after pink bowling balls and throwing glitter on a sidewalk to forming a biker gang called The Peanuts after getting their motorcycle licenses together.

Holed up in their practice studio with an ample supply of Coors and Miller High Life, the pair shared stories galore from their teen years, including the time a 15-year-old Kuter got caught making out with the boy who was supposed to be teaching her guitar.

“My dad totally caught us and was like, ‘No more guitar lessons!’ ” she recounts. “I still can’t play guitar.”

But it worked out all right. After a lifetime spent thinking she would eventually get around to learning how to play the guitar once and for all, Kuter ended up teaching herself how to play drums instead. She took to the primal joy of hammering away at the kit immediately.

“I never thought I would play drums, just because I didn’t have any,” she says. “And then I started playing and was like, ‘Oh, this is it. This in my instrument.’ ”

Petiford came to guitar equally late. She had fumbled around with an acoustic guitar for a few years prior to forming the band, but Horrible/Adorable’s first practice marked her first time playing the electric version. That practice was also her first time singing in front of another person. She decided to take voice lessons to make up for lost time.

“I had never been a singer,” she says. “I had a shaky goat voice.”

That first practice, however, was something of a surprise to both members. Kuter and Petiford were casual acquaintances when they connected at a barbeque in West Oakland in 2011. Surrounded on all sides by indie bros talking about how great their bands were, the pair started joking about how much their own fake band, dubbed Horrible/Adorable right then and there by Kuter, freaking ruled. Then they actually went through with it.

The original Horrible/Adorable lineup included a bassist Kuter and Petiford met the night of the barbeque. The trio’s initial practices involved jamming and searching for their own sound by covering “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Troublemaker” by All Girl Summer Fun Band at Petiford’s suggestion.

“We learned the song and it was a perfect catalyst for us to start playing,” Kuter says.

Things with the band started to become peachy keen, until they weren’t. Feeling disconnected from the musical direction Horrible/Adorable was heading, the bassist quit after a year. Her timing was far from perfect as the band was just two weeks away from recording their first EP, Lookin’ Healthy! But, as Petiford describes it, the departure was a blessing in disguise.

“It made us try to be better at our instruments,” Petiford says.

Horrible/Adorable made their live debut as a duo on air at the KALX studios — an experience both members remember as moderately terrifying. But it went off without a hitch, and they decided they liked being a duo so much that they stayed that way, despite exterior pressures to find another bassist.

In the end, the singular guitar and drums unity made Lookin’ Healthy! sound exactly as Kuter and Petiford had wanted. The EP is a collection of punchy, upbeat pop songs that wear its love for the ’90s on its sequin-lined sleeve. The delectably fierce “Hail Sk8tn’” emerged after Petiford scrolled though the Facebook profiles of people she knew from her ultra-Christian upbringing.

“They were all having kids and I was like, ‘Ugh, sounds terrible,’ ” she says. Having walked away from the church at 20, her response, which she smuggled into the song, was swift and scathing: “Give me one good reason / Why I shouldn’t be a heathen.”

There’s also the endlessly entertaining “DMV Dream,” a charming and fuzzy surf-ish number about entertaining a cradle-robbing fantasy while in line to renew your license. Kuter and Petiford like the song’s openness: It toys with the sexist Mrs. Robinson stereotype but, as Kuter tells it, could also be written from a 16-year-old’s perspective.

Looking Healthy! – the title, that is – was inspired by a text message from Kuter’s father in which he told her she was “looking healthy” in the photo she sent him of her standing beside her new car.

“I was like, ‘Did my dad just call me fat?’ ” she says with a laugh.

The phrase stuck, as did Petiford’s idea to have the pair hold giant ice cream cones on the cover.

“I was like, ‘We have to be holding giant ice creams. This is how it has to be.’ I had a dream about it,” she says. Petiford, who attended California College of the Arts, illustrated and designed it herself.

The pair are now preparing to head back into the studio in December. On their to-do list is a clapback song, an ode to the aforementioned pink bowling ball, and a song about the joys of being a good ol’ fashioned pen pal. They’re also getting ready to dust off their Christmas tune, “Santa Dear,” which just so happens to be the first song Petiford ever wrote, for their upcoming December shows.

“It used to be a song about my ex-boyfriend, and then when that ended badly we decided to change it to a song about Santa,” Petiford explains.

“It’s about seducing Santa,” Kuter adds with a laugh. “We’re talking about Santa’s package.”

“It’s a little racy,” Petiford agrees, taking a sip from her beer. And just a little racy seems to be exactly how Horrible/Adorable likes it.

Horrible/Adorable play at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22, at The Uptown in Oakland. More info here.  

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