Channeling the best of the 80's and the current wave of synth pop, My First Earthquake blends speedy guitars, thumping bass, and melodic keyboard melodies with singer Rebecca Bortman's sassy lyrics about meat pies, vowel usage, and afternoon tea.
Three out of the four members of My First Earthquake went to college Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA before actually meeting in San Francisco. They've been a band since 2006, and since releasing their 2009 record Downstairs, they've completed a short tour, and recently played Noise Pop for the first time. MFE is Bortland (vocals), Chad Thornton (keyboard, bass) Andre Salcido (drums), and David Lean (guitar).
Thornton and Bortman sat down with Local Frequency at Casanova Lounge to chat about bacon dinners, working in food service, and some place called the Mastro.
If you could describe your sound as a San Francisco neighborhood, which one would it be?
Chad Thornton: I was thinking of a really specific neighborhood, like where Bernal Heights meets the Lower Mission, somewhere that's a little bit dirty.
Rebecca Bortman: I was thinking the Mastro.
CT: The Mastro? What's that?
RB: Where I live, which is in between the Castro and the Mission. It's the combination of a lot of neighborhoods that come together at Duboce Park. I'd say the Mastro is that area from Dolores Park all the way to Market.
CT: It's like the flip side of Duboce Triangle.
RB: Yes, like the evil twin of Duboce Triangle. It's got its undertones, you know there's a couple of streets where you can daily find feces.
What are you reading now?
CT: Oh, no I'm really boring
RB: No, no. Go ahead, say it. Show them you're a dork.
CT: I'm reading a book right now by a guy [Stewart Brand] who wrote The Whole Earth Software Review, this hippie manual from the '70s that he just did a follow-up to called The Whole Earth.
RB: I'm reading Money by Martin Amis. It has practically no redeeming value. It's about this film producer who's either drunk or high or hooking up with hookers, which is totally opposite of me. I also have a long list of books that Chad told me to read.
CT: I wish there was more good fiction out there. I recently read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; that was really good. It's a series of short stories that goes through time.
You recently played Noise Pop for the first time, how was that?
RB: This was the third year that we applied, and we finally got selected. We had a really fun stage show. Chad plays keyboards and has that and his laptop placed on an ironing board--it's the only thing that fits both of them. Our friend who made the "Cool In the Cool Way" video did video projections on a screen in front of the ironing board, and Chad was dancing behind it. The audience really liked it and it was nice to have another element of our stage show that we haven't been able to do in smaller venues.
What are some other local artists you're listening to?
CT: I have a big crush on Maus Haus. If I were playing in a different kind of band, I would want to sound like that. It's kind of embarrassing, I played a lot of acid jazz back in the 90's--you know it was cool then, probably not now. We had a sound similar enough to them; I get that.
RB: Right now my band crush is A B& The Sea. Recently they had a studio party at Different Fur Studios. They have this amazing recording studio that has a stage built in, and they played there. The night before the lead singer came to our show and it was so cool because it's like [high pitched voice] "Oh my god, he sings like Elvis and looks like a dream!" I could totally see 14-year old girls swooning all over him. Also, on the other spectrum, [I like] Wallpaper., and my old standby, The Old Fashion Way. I like to describe them as an Asian Johnny Cash with a minimal orchestral backup band.
Tell me about your first job.
RB: Lots of baby-sitting and camp counseling.
CT: I was 14 years old, and worked in a kitchen as a dishwasher. I was a vegetarian back in Iowa. It was a food-service kitchen they had this huge vat that would cook meat all day, and at the end of the day it would lift up on hydraulic shocks and would pour out these huge five-gallon vats of grease. There were these special grease dumpsters I had to dump them into.
Are you still a vegetarian now?
CT: No, not anymore.
RB: I've been a vegetarian since I was five. Unlike a good little Jewish girl that I should have been, I was having bacon at a dinner. I asked my mom what it was made of and she said, "Are you sure you want me to tell you?"
CT: Isn't it bone fragments?
RB: Yes, and a ton of other things. Anyway, she told me and I was like, "I can't eat it" and by 5 ½, the last thing to go was the Swedish meatballs at IKEA. I think at this point I'm a lifer. [My mom] also told me what masturbation was at age eight because I told her I liked the song "I Touch Myself." She's a psychologist.
My First Earthquake is unsigned right now, correct?
RB: Yes. We got an offer from EMI that basically said, "Give us your whole musical life!" and it kind of scared us. We're independent and kind of want to stay that way.