It’s not hard to see why Peach Kelli Pop is often categorized in a very particular way.
Adorable, cute, girly – these are the terms assigned to Peach Kelli Pop. And these terms are not wholly inaccurate. Peach Kelli Pop III opens with a power pop anthem delivered with a Ramones-level sense of urgency called “Princess Castle 1987.” Seven songs later, you’ll find a loving cover of the Sailor Moon theme. The two full-length records that precede III — two self-titled efforts released in 2012 and 2013 respectively — depend on similar girlish touchstones and charming moments, such as rhyming “Debbie Harry” with “canary” on “Eenie Meenie Minie Moe” or morosely admitting defeat to a sex doll on “Plastic Love.”
But it would be a disservice to Allie Hanlon, the main songwriter and creative force behind the project, to write off Peach Kelli Pop as merely adorable. In fact, Hanlon would prefer you didn’t.
Sure, she gets how the mechanics of her melodies — lo-fi, trebly, and irrepressibly catchy guitar hooks backed by quick punk rhythms — can disguise the genuine melancholia and more serious issues in her lyrics.
But she’d rather you look for that melancholia. It’s not that hard to find — especially lately, with the release of the six-song Which Witch EP this past April while waiting to release her most recent album, Gentle Leader. Both contain direct expressions of her own depression, fatigue, and self-doubt.
Not that it made a significant difference.
“I mostly just got the same kind of reaction we usually get, which is, ‘It’s adorable!’ even though the subject matter is pretty different,” she says.
Perhaps it would be an easier pill to swallow if the relentless fixation on Peach Kelli Pop’s femininity and so-called adorableness, however harmless it may appear, didn’t have an undesirable flipside: Hanlon and her man-free band are still sometimes treated as a cutesy novelty and taken less than seriously.
“The way our culture is, we don’t take femininity and being girly seriously. That’s something I’ve learned,” says Hanlon. “It’s actually made me want to push away from expressing my femininity because I feel like it does not serve you well.”
On tour, it gets worse.
“More than half of the bills we get booked on, especially on tour, consist of bands that are women that sound nothing like us,” she says. “It’s well-intentioned and people think it’s cool and progressive, but I do become curious: Was there any reason this was curated this way besides the fact that we’re women and these other bands consist of women?”
Hanlon is worth taking seriously. Raised in Ottawa, she started drumming at 15 before teaching herself how to play guitar and bass. She found a home in the local DIY scene and stayed there for a decade, living in show houses while drumming for garage-punk trio The White Wires and playing in those short-lived projects that sustain underground scenes.
“Everyone has a basement in Ottawa, so it’s really easy to have basement shows,” she says. “One time, my old band played in a UHAUL.”
She relocated to Los Angeles in 2013 and found herself driven to work harder by mood of the city itself.
“When I lived in Ottawa, I felt like people made music for fun. When you live in Los Angeles, it can be your job. You can make a career out of it, so you approach it that way.”
She was never in it for the fame, and Hollywood failed to work its magic on her.
“Living in L.A., a lot of people do want to be famous. It’s a very different world than we live in,” she says. “I don’t think Peach Kelli Pop could ever exist in that world.”
Whereas her self-titled debut, released in 2012, was representative of the first songs Hanlon was writing – “I was just having fun with it. I was not sure anyone would ever listen to them or that I would perform them live. I was trying to have a good time,” — her second LP, released on Burger Records the same year she moved to L.A., sounded more focused. The lo-fi guitar and unobtrusive, reverb-coated vocals remained, but she had figured out how to pack more into the spaces of her signature three-minutes-or-less songs.
By then, Hanlon had also assembled a live band. More house shows, DIY tours, and venue shows followed. When a bandmate connected the group with friends in Tokyo, Peach Kelli Pop began touring Japan annually. (2018 marked the band’s fourth time making the trip.)
In Japan, Hanlon notes, she is more than just taken seriously.
“People are really expressive with their passion for music and they make you feel really welcome,” she explains. “They appreciate the energy that we put out. Our general vibe goes over really well even with the language barrier. We’re inspired whenever we play there.”
Now she’s back in the United States, touring on the back of Gentle Leader, her first full-length for Mint Records. Like the Which Witch EP, the songs are more honest, vulnerable, and direct than her previous work. If people want to call it adorable, Hanlon acknowledges that that’s their prerogative. But she’d rather you look and listen deeper.
Peach Kelli Pop with Toner and Moon Daze, Thursday, June 28, 8:30 p.m., at Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk St., $12, hemlocktavern.com