INTERVIEW: Sharkmuffin Flashes Fangs in “Factory”

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Left to Right: Chris Nunez, Natalie Kirch, Drew Adler, Tarra Thiessen. Photo by Thomas Ignatius.

Sharkmuffin have been rocking Brooklyn and beyond for five years now, and plan to commemorate their anniversary with the release of a split EP with their buds The Off White via Little Dickman Records on July 21. Earlier this year, they also put out phenomenal full-length LP “Tsuki”; the record veers through searing rock and roll tunes to more mellow tracks with an underlying darkness.

One of these is “Factory,” and the video reflects that darkness perfectly. It begins in 1904 with guitarist and vocalist Tarra Thiessen and bassist Natalie Kirsch portraying factory girls. In a series of events involving romance and trickery, they become vampire goddesses, turning guitarist Chris Nunez and drummer Drew Adler into vampires as well. Over the course of a century, they have gained more rights and ownership of the factory, meeting with Trump in the present day as he tries to take it over. Without much negotiation, they completely devour him.

Check out the video below and keep scrolling for our interview with Thiessen and Kirch about their latest EP, touring with The Off White, and Vampires vs. Hierarchy.

(Originally premiered via Tidal)

AudioFemme: Who did you work with in the making of the video for “Factory”?

Tarra Thiessen: Eric Durkin shot and edited it, Vramshabouh of The Big Drops and Wild Moon played the first factory owner, Davey Jones of Lost Boy? and The So So Glos played the next victim trying to buy the factory, and Nick Rogers of Holy Tunics and Jordan Bell of GP Strips were also part of our vampire family at the end of the video.

AF: What inspired the message of the video? Do the lyrics also have a political undertone?

TT:  I didn’t intend for the lyrics to have any political message while I was writing them. The song tells a story of a very young woman factory worker who falls in love with her boss. The owner of the factory then crosses professional and personal boundaries in the relationship and it gets complicated.

Natalie Kirch: The video’s theme of female factory workers over the ages and the changing power dynamic between male and female factory workers and business owners were inspired by Tarra’s lyrics. At the turn of the 20th century, many women worked in fabric factories. During World War II, it was mostly canned food and ammunition for the troops, so we played into the historical social themes as well. I am also a horror buff, which is where the gimmick on Nosferatu came into play. It allowed us to maintain the same characters but show how dynamics are changing over the eras. Actually, Jordan, Nick and I are in a Horror Book Club together so they seemed like the perfect friends to ask for the part. Once we had come up with the idea of the women switching roles as business owners, Tarra thought the final victim should be Trump – he matched the prototype: business owner, disrespectful of women, etc.

AF: Do you feel Trump is essentially trying put women out of business and dismiss the effort they have put into equal rights movements over the past century? It seems like you’re saying to him: you can’t buy your way out of acknowledging our struggle?

NK: I don’t know if he is even conscious enough of his decisions to be so pointed in them, but he has definitely shown that he believes women are inferior and not worthy of the same rights as men in our society.

TT: It’s really unfortunate and unbelievable that someone who so obviously doesn’t feel women are equal is our president in 2017. It’s a really strange time and we can’t sit around and let him reverse years of equal rights movements in a few tweets.

AF: Why vampires? Does Trump become a vampire himself or do you devour him without a trace? He is the last person that should ever live for eternity.

NK: He is consumed as feed. We ended the video on that note to imply that he was not going to make an appearance as a vampire.

TT: Don’t worry, we don’t want a Trump vampire to deal with for all of eternity either. Originally, we wanted to keep the fact that it was Trump more vague, so that the final victim’s arrogant hand gestures and weird hair piece could represent any human attempting to change how much women’s rights have improved since the turn of the century.

AF: What’s the most difficult aspect of creating a music video?

TT: Keeping everyone on task enough to get all the necessary shots. It’s easy to get side tracked because it’s so much fun filming videos.

NK: Organizing everyone’s schedules and ideas.

AF: Do you feel touring extensively is still an effective way for musicians to promote themselves? Do you see a difference in your audience and surroundings while on the road with Trump as president?

TT: I personally feel like it’s more important now than ever to be a touring musician, because in many different parts of the US it seems they rarely get to see women musicians like us and it can be really empowering for women who feel more vulnerable in today’s political climate. The biggest compliment we can get from anyone who comes out to see us play is that we inspired them to want to play music and/or start a band.

NK: Absolutely. Especially if you are a band who puts on a strong live act, it encourages more people to develop an interest in your music. It is usually clear what area of the states we are in by the responses and comments we get in different areas. Men will often comment on how they have never seen a “girl shred like Tarra” or how it’s surprising I can play “such a big bass for such a little girl.” However, I don’t think any die-hard Trump fans would be showing up for a Sharkmuffin set.

AF: How was hitting the road with The Off White? When and why did you guys decide to come together for a split EP?

NK: We love those boys so much. They are tons of fun to hang out with and extremely talented musicians. I never get bored of their music; it totally rocks and they put on a killer live set.

TT: They’re so much fun! I think we had been thinking of doing a split together since the fall and finally got enough material together to make it happen.

Sharkmuffin is on tour again in August; check out the dates below and catch a killer show in your area!

8/11 @ Brooklyn Bazaar w/ Hanks Cupcakes

8/12 @ Porta Pizza, Jersey City, NJ w/ The Big Drops

8/16 @ The Meatlocker, Montclair, NJ~

8/19 @ Mad Liberation Fest, Hammington, NJ~

8/20 TBA, Ashville, NC

8/22 @ Snug Harbor, Charlotte, NC~

8/23 @ TBA, Nashville, TN~

8/24 @ Best Friend Bar, Lexington, KY~

8/25 @ Jurassic Park, Chicago IL~

8/26 @ Milkies, Buffalo, NY~

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MORNING AFTER: Diner Daze With The Off White

I’m not upset or anything, but Sean Jones got me to profile The Off White under the pretenses of a home-cooked meal. I remember it clearly, and by that I mean I barely remember it at all. I was at Milo’s Yard sandwiched between him and Michael Stuart Grossman. Sean was hand-feeding me a samosa and he was like, “Mary Grace, interview us and I’ll make you breakfast,” and I was like, “Oh my god, I love free things!” The plan was set. But that was before the boys woke up hungover after a gig at Berlin, back in the days when I could stomach food (because it has been a rough week).

Regardless, I’ve broken bread with The Off White before, and it’s always a goddamn party. Long Beach Island troublemakers at heart, these Jersey boys have been crashing the Brooklyn scene for a while, making high-tide waves last summer when I found them at my go-to pizza place. At the time I likely served the same side-eye I used to reserve for my little brother’s friends, thinking “What are all these children doing in my home?” but a few shows, a tequila-saturated night at the Soho Grand followed by a very bohemian brunch at The Lodge later I warmed up to them. And musically? They’re heating up just in time for this summer. They’ve added a little polish to the scrappier psych-punk sound for their upcoming EP, and even showcasing a bit of surprising swagger on songs like “Rave And Drool” (recorded and co-produced by Gods’ and The Parlor Mob’s Paul Ritchie).

It’s like when your little brother’s friends come home from that first year of college, still rambunctious and a bit goofy, but having long shed all their baby fat. You’re impressed, intrigued, and maybe a little bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, 3/5ths of the band are with us today: Sean, Matthew Aidala and David Jensen. Michael Rocco Bongi is absent, and frontman Pat Brenner… I just want to go on the record saying I think Pat is a very charming young man, but for personal reasons I’m malevolently thrilled to write he’s at his diner job today. Also joining us is longtime band associate  Melissa (she’s known the guys for a decade), who looks way too pretty this early in the morning, like it’s criminal.

The Scene: The crew allowed me to pick our breakfast place, and it was a real Sophie’s choice between “the diner next to my apartment” and “the diner next to the G train.” I opted for the latter, mainly because I have to bounce to Penn Station to make it to Jersey for Easter. But diner-ing was entirely necessary, and everyone feels very welcome at Manhattan Three Decker, the Mediterranean mural besides us a reminder of our shoreside routes.

11:11 This feeling of belonging is immediately followed by everyone being seriously disappointed in me.

“Mary Grace, Pat says there’s no booze here,” Sean says. I mumble something about how I think there’s mimosas although now I’m wondering if I dreamed that up. Matt’s V8 juice arrives and he empties it with a manic glee.

They want to make sure that V8 gets an endorsement, so this article is brought to you by V8 and by JD Powers and Associates.

“This article is going to be a V8 sponsored post,” I promise.

“I mean we have endorsements across the board,” Sean says.

“We should get Nascar jackets with all our sponsorships,” David adds. Matt’s now pouring hot sauce into his cup, which apparently makes the difference. Sean and David are adamant about adding butter to it.

“Rich makes coffee and he adds butter and coconut oil,” Sean explains. “It tasted like we were drinking butter. And it was a French press, so it was really strong coffee.”

“What is a French press, anyway?” I ask.

“It’s like this…” Sean gestures wildly. “Kind of like this but a little bigger…” David also mimes the coffee-making mechanics.

Melissa has a more coherent explanation. “It’s like you have tea, but you put in the coffee, it’s the same thing where you’re like, pushing the grinds down.” The bottom line is, everyone’s about this weird, fancy machine.

“Once you start French pressing…” Melissa starts.

“…you can’t go back.” David finishes.

11:23 Shout-out to Mustache’s Bill’s. Sean is trying to tell me, “We all worked at this diner—”

“I didn’t work there.” “I didn’t work there.” “I didn’t work there but I’m sure it’s great.” David, Matt, and myself gang up on that statement real quick.

“Me, Pat, and Bongi worked there,” Sean confirms. “Our boss has complained about being abducted by aliens twice. He’s our biggest fan.”

Incidentally, Pat isn’t just working at Mustache’s Bill’s anymore. Not only is he really embracing his role as a frontman now that he’s not tethered to his drum kit, he’s also working as an insurance salesman, which means he now brings business suits into his stage attire. Last night, he added a cowboy hat to the ensemble (Melissa has the pictures). Again, I’m delighted.

11:26 Our food gets in and there’s a lot of side-eye thrown at Matt’s toast-and-sausage combo. He’s really just not a big fan of anything scrambled, poached or, I don’t know, hollandaise-d. “I don’t like eggs, I don’t want eggs.”

“Alright, Nuge.” Sean says, and everyone laughs. “Dude, Nuge worked at a breakfast joint and just hated breakfast.”

Michael Nugent—friend, bandmate, also of the band Psychiatric Metaphors—passed away back in November, just as he was slated to make the move over to Brooklyn with Sean. It would be inappropriate (and the boys are big on inappropriate, but I like to keep my tactless behavior at a 7.5) to eulogize him so dramatically based on a few conversations about records and that one brunch with the boys. It’s not my style, just like breakfast was not Nuge’s style.

What’s clear is that Nuge is permanently associated with The Off White, tied to the family forever. They carry him everywhere, they mention him constantly, and when they do it seems to be with more laughter than tears.

I never knew Nuge past one brunch, but it’s a safe assumption that’s what he would’ve wanted.

11:35 For whatever reason the diner has completely cleared out (Sean: “We’re too lively for them”) and the band starts talking tour booking. “April… 20-something I have a wedding,” David says. “Or September.” There’s a light ripple of incredulousness that flows throughout the group.

“That’s this month,” Matt says. “That’s in like four days.”

David backtracks with, “Not this month. Maybe the next month.”

“Not this month, but September,” Sean says. “So you’re saying we shouldn’t book anything until September; it could be any of those days.” Eventually everyone stops jumping down David’s throat, and we start talking about how weddings are just so gosh darn lovely. “I’m trying to set up a wedding for Chris and Amy from Little Dickman records,” Sean reveals. “I call them mom and dad, so I’m gonna sett it up for my own personal reasons.”

I perk up at this. “Just like in Beauty and the Beast when Gaston comes to Belle’s house and he’s like, ‘Ok, suprise wedding!’ and she’s like, ‘No, thank you,'”

“Absolutely. I can’t wait. I can’t believe we didn’t do it in Texas when we had the chapel on the ranch.” The boys lament not utilizing their SXSW home-away-from-home in such a way, but said chapel was allegedly being occupied for sex stuff. You didn’t hear it from me. Except… you literally did.


11:53 Sean has some great news:  “I switched over my plan for Verizon and went from like $130 to $80 for like, 16 gigs which I go over all the time. Unlimo!”

“Is this another sponsorship we should add in?” I ask. This article is brought to you by Verizon, and also Sprint.

Apparently they all went from Sprint to Verizon or Verizon to Sprint, so that’s just being fair. I ask if there’s any other sponsorships I should tack on. The short list seems to include Penske, the new 1892 (I think they mean 1893) Pepsi, and Lime-Cucumber Gatorade: the very “essence of freshness.”

Anyway, the band doesn’t just promote fine goods and wares, they’re also promoting their latest record Free, Four, Five, and it’s coming out with Little Dickman records, accompanied by their very first release show. Obviously I love parties as much as I love free food, so I ask when it’s happening.

“We’re saying May,” offers Matt.

“We’re thinking mid-April,” David counters.

“It’s either April or September,” Sean says. It’s going to be a secret release show, too. “You have to win a ticket inside an 1982 Pepsi.”

12:04 Because it’s a day that ends with y, the G isn’t running properly, so Sean offers to drive me to the L in his glorious soccer mom minivan. Melissa is adamant that “this is The Off White” – this van, and everyone in it, is now basically part of the band.

There is a momentary lapse of seriousness on the drive over, as Sean and I chat about the upcoming release. “It’s not lo-fi at all. Our last two were. Everything is clean and upfront and our last two weren’t even mastered.” There’s a faint, almost imperceptible touch of self-disgust at this. “We put out a full-length on Little Dickman Records and we didn’t even master it.”

And there it is, the rough-around-the-edges band shedding their baby fat. Make no mistake, The Off White is far from fully grown and they’re not retiring their rowdy, booze-loving behavior and endearing goofiness anytime soon. But a year since I side-eyed them, less than a year since brunching in the mid-July sun, I’m ready to buy into the party, eager to see what they can do with this newfound bit of swagger.

This article is brought to you by The Off White & Associates.

You can follow The Off White on Facebook and stream their self-title EP at Bandcamp. Their next show is May 22 at Alphaville in Bushwick.