No bass guitar? That’s no problem for the trio The Please Please Me, which has the lower frequencies covered by cello player Alissa McClure.
Not every member of the Austin, Texas-based band believed in that approach from the beginning. Singer, songwriter, guitarist and founder Jessie Torrisi actually wanted to augment The Please Please Me’s recording sessions with a variety of other instruments. But drummer Agustin Frederic stated his case for keeping the core trio as is, and the biggest believer in a no-bass approach was CJ Eiriksson, who produced The Please Please Me’s five-song debut, Shake a Little Harder.
With her band’s first EP about to be released, Torrisi recently checked in to discuss a handful of personal and professional musical firsts in her life.
* Her first album: “It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I think I used my allowance money, but I can’t remember how much it cost or where I got it or how much cassette tapes cost back then. I would bring it with me to school, and me and my group of friends would listen to it at recess.”
* Her first concert: “It was the George Michael Faith tour. It was me and my best friend at the time — I think this was maybe third grade — and my mom and her mom. It was at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, where I grew up. I think we were the cream of the Oreo: We were not in the nosebleed section, but definitely not close up — but close enough where I could see George Michael. He didn’t look like an ant. I remember the hugeness of the sound. It was an awesome and impressive that a sound could fill that space.”
* Her first impression of Austin: “I came down here for South by Southwest while I was still living in New York; it was 2007 or 2008. I was playing drums with a band then called Le Fleurs Tragiques. If you show up to Austin, Texas, in the middle of March coming from a city like New York, you just think, ‘Oh my God, we’re all on vacation. It’s sunny, everybody is friendly, there’s music coming from everywhere — this is the life.’ There’s nothing fancy about it, but there’s something life-affirming and bohemian: This is where rock ’n’ roll people go on vacation.”
* Thoughts on Alissa McClure, one of the first people she met in Austin: “When I got to the city, I knew two or three people, and she was dating one of them at the time. We had been friends for a couple of months, and we were talking one day, and she mentioned that she used to play cello. I went off about what an amazing instrument I think it is and how much I love it. She said, ‘I still have mine. It’s at my parents’ house collecting dust.’ I said, ‘Well, go get it.’
“We started jamming a little bit, and in a way, she was the first person in the band. But at that point, the band was sort of a ragtag, evolving crew of people. She went on our very first tour, but then she wasn’t able to do [others] because she had a full-time job. … She was always around, but at some point we just had to show up at her door with a potato sack and say, ‘You’re coming [with us].’ ”
* First time she was asked if her band’s name is an intentional Beatles reference: “I can’t remember the first time, but I recently had a venue [contact us] that was very excited because they thought we were a Beatles cover band. … If you ask people in their young 20s, if you mention my band’s name, they all say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of you guys,’ and not a single one knows it’s a Beatles record. I didn’t [pick the name] to refer to The Beatles, I just really liked it. … It’s funny: For all the Beatles music I have, I don’t have that song, and I don’t quite know what it sounds like.”
* First song written as The Please Please Me: “I basically write all of the songs at home alone in my bedroom on acoustic guitar. And then we call it the A&A Science Lab: Alissa and Agustin then make it into something worthy of a band. They create soundscapes and counter-melodies.
“I would probably say [the first Please Please Me song was] ‘All Danced Out,’ which is track one on the EP. That’s the first song I remember coming to them, and I don’t remember saying anything. I remember half way through playing the song, they were just playing it, and they had already put something new and exciting into it. There wasn’t this conscious thing; everybody just started playing along, and I thought, ‘Oh, this sounds like a band I want to be in.’ ”
* First reaction to CJ Eiriksson’s no-bass approach when recording Shake a Little Harder: “Agustin and I have a lot in common: We’re both drummers originally, and we both moved to Austin from New York City. But we get into a lot of arguments, and that’s because he’s a purist and I’m a practicalist. I went into this record thinking, ‘We’re going to bring in horns and all kinds of musicians to make it exciting.’ And he thought, ‘Well, we three are the band, and we three need to just be the band.’
“I didn’t fully believe that it could actually work, and I was really surprised when CJ said that, frankly. He works on huge records — everything from U2 and Phish — and I just thought for sure that he was going to dress us up. I was shocked when he said, ‘I think the thing that’s unique is that it is a cello; we should just go with that.’ I’m a big believer in working with people who have more experience than me. And I thought, ‘Well, we hired him for a reason. I’m going to listen to him.’
“[Since then], we’ve gone further and further in trying to get pedals and experiment with how we play our instruments to fill up more space — to push the edge further.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
The Please Please Me on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Aug. 1: Donnie’s Homespun — Springfield, Ill.
* Aug. 2: Donne’s Homespun Pizza — Decatur, Ill.
* Aug. 4-5: World Café Live — Philadelphia
* Aug. 7: Living Room — New York
* Aug. 10: Precinct — Somerville, Mass.
* Aug. 13: Hill Country BBQ — Washington, D.C.
* Aug. 16: White Rabbit Cabaret — Indianapolis
* Aug. 30: Stubb’s — Austin, Texas