Out to Lunch With the Regrettes

Frontwoman Lydia Night talks self-love, ABBA, and keeping the rose-colored glasses off.

The Regrettes (Photo by Lindsey Byrnes)

Lydia Night is on her lunch break.

“If I randomly stop talking for a second, it’s because I’m getting a sandwich right now,” she says from a grocery store near her Los Angeles high school. “Can I get an iced vanilla latte? Sorry. I’ll have a large. Sorry. I’m here.”

As a student, Night is somewhat restricted to taking interviews around her class schedule. But she’s gotten used to it, and she’s definitely accustomed to raising a few eyebrows because of her age. At 16, she’s the frontwoman of the Regrettes, a fast-rising garage-pop band whose four members aren’t even old enough to drink.

“You can’t pretend I’m not 16, you know?” she says. “Sometimes people are uncomfortable with it. I’ve seen it with sound guys who automatically assume I don’t know how to work my amp, but it’s impossible not to encounter some of that when you not only are 16, but you’re also a girl.”

And yet, it’s Night’s age and gender that are integral to what makes the Regrettes tick. On the band’s debut album Feel Your Feelings Fool!, Night takes an exacting look at life as a teenage girl in the contemporary U.S., splicing her own experiences with progressive feminist values. She celebrates her “ass full of stretch marks” and “nice full belly that’s filled with food” on the doo-wop-inspired, selflove anthem “A Living Human Girl,” and mockingly parrots the sexist jeers of her haters (“I heard that girl Lydia is a total fucking bitch”) on the rollicking punk number “Ladylike/WHATTA BITCH.”

 

Drawing from life comes naturally to Night, who found herself increasingly frustrated with the vicious cycle of anxiety and self-doubt that plagued herself and her classmates.

“I was surrounded by so many insecure girls, and it made me super insecure,” she says. “It’s this constant weird cycle of ‘If you’re insecure, then I’m insecure, because I feel bad about liking myself.’ ”

Night wrote “A Living Human Girl” as an antidote to the insecurities of high school life and to push back against society’s twisted beauty standards, but she’s quick to admit that it took a while for her to believe her own confident declarations of self-love.

“Having to stand in front of a crowd and sing those lyrics was so difficult at first. Singing them but still not liking myself was really hard,” Night says. “The more I did it, the more I actually believed what I was saying. I started practicing what I was preaching.”

No matter the subject matter, all of the Regrettes’ songs are a smorgasbord of girl group-era doo-wop, upbeat scuzzy guitarwork, and deliriously fun bubblegum hooks. Raised on Buddy Holly, David Bowie, Patsy Cline, and Big Star, Night’s garage-pop effortlessly references the ’60s and ’70s, with frequent forays into ’90s alt-rock and post-punk. Throughout the record, Night is the four-piece’s indefatigable leader, commanding the room with her lively alto reminiscent of All Girl Summer Fun Band’s Kim Baxter and Republica’s Saffron.

Not that either of those bands are on her mind right now.

“Oh my god, my song just came on!” Night shrieks, interrupting her own musings on her songwriting process. By “my song,” Night does not mean a tune by the Regrettes. She’s referring to “Waterloo” by ABBA.

“I’ve been listening to ‘Waterloo’ on repeat, and it just came on in the store I’m at! That’s so cool,” she gushes. “What was I saying? What was the question?”

 

The question was about how she transitioned from her former twopiece band to the Regrettes, all of whom are School of Rock alumni who first met at a Motown tribute show. Following graduation and the breakup of Night’s former band, she joined forces with guitarist Genessa Gariano, drummer Maxx Morando, and bassist Sage Nicole — all of whom were already playing as a trio.

“I just slid on in there,” jokes Night. “It was a perfect fit.”

Warner Bros. Records signed the band before they had been playing together for a full year. Tours with Tacocat and Sleigh Bells followed shortly thereafter. Then came their debut album and slick music videos, including one for the ridiculously catchy “Hey Now,” which reimagines the group as a featured act on an American Bandstand-esque TV show — only without the rose-colored glasses. Night, who conceptualized the video, felt it necessary to acknowledge the racism and casual misogyny of the era, using a scumbag host and references to Negro Day — the one day of the month Black people were permitted to dance for the cameras — to do so.

“I’d always wanted to make a music video that was reminiscent of that time period, but I didn’t want to hide the fact that there were so many issues,” she explains. “I used to say, ‘I wish I could live in that time period, everything was better back then.’ That’s not true. The clothes might have been, the music might have been, but socially, no.”

Night’s insistence on referencing the past — Hole and the Ronettes are audible in her songwriting — while maintaining a realistic, forward-thinking mentality is ultimately what defines the Regrettes. And since music has been her top priority since childhood, she’s had plenty of time to develop such a mentality.

“My dad took me to a Donnas concert when I was 5. That’s just how I knew,” she remembers. “When I was in first grade, we had this project about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote about how I wanted to be the singer and guitar player in a band.”

By now, it’s probably safe to say that she never looked back.

The Regrettes play with the Frights, the Garden, and Dinosaur at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Chapel. $15-$17; thechapelsf.com

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