Ex-Girlfriends was born a little less than a year ago by divine intent to melt faces with punk rock and roll. Tara Theissen shreds on her acrylic Flying V, Heather Cousins emotes with in-your-face vocals and guitar, Monica Knapp shimmers on keys, and Christine Hill hits back on the bass. Thiessen and Cousins front the band together, swapping leading vocals and guitars, which gives each song a distinct vibe.
The title track “You’re Next” is a heavy western noir-esque song that is simple and impactful. Cousins lifts us out of this darker track about drugs and excess with the energetic and punky song “Slay.” This song is truly uplifting, especially live. You can really see the audience perk up when she puts her guitar to the side and takes to the mic, dancing around the stage and the crowd. It’s hard to keep your eyes off her as she enters a world of her own, taking us along with her. The excitement builds as Knapp moves out from behind her keys to sing and dance along with Cousins to completely captivate the audience.
The group’s first four song EP, “You’re Next,” was released this year with Little Dickman records on Feb. 3, kicking off their tour from NYC to the West Coast and up to Seattle with fellow Brooklyn musicians, Fruit and Flowers.
In the tail end of their tour-gone-right, with only two shows left, their drummer seemed to have had enough of playing live music and traveling with badass women. She bailed on the band via text somewhere in California (so holla if you know someone who is driven and loves to play).
We took a long drive in the tour bus to North Bend, Oregon to visit Twede’s Diner, better known as the Double R Diner from the ’90s serial drama, “Twin Peaks,” for pie and coffee and to discuss the meaning of music.
BTRtoday (BTR): Where are you from?
Christine Hill (CH): I’m from Upstate New York.
Monica Knapp (MK): I’m sort of from Pennsylvania and Indiana.
BTR: So what made you want to come to New York?
MK: I went to college in Philly. Once I graduated, all of my classmates were moving to New York. I decided to come and I’ve been here for five years.
BTR: You said you’ve never been in a band before?
MK: No, I grew up playing piano and in the orchestra, but I’ve never been in an actual band.
BTR: What did you all do for fun in your home town before you were in a band and touring? And how did you get exposed to live music?
Heather Cousins (HC): I grew up in New Jersey but I would take the train to New York City when I was like, 15, to go to punk shows.
CH: I was from upstate and the only thing we had were shows at the local roller skating rink. But weird bands would come by too, like A Day to Remember before they got all MTV, they would roll through, or like Psyopus. It was a weird scene-y hardcore scene. I thought it was cool. So that’s how I got into music.
BTR: What was your first instrument that you fell in love with or played?
HC: My first instrument that I played was accordion when I was like 14. My grandmother had an accordion and she died when I was really young and it got passed down to me. So I played with it. And I always kind of wanted to sing in a band since I was little.
Tara Theissen (TT): I wanted to play flute when I was in third grade but my mom told me I was not gonna do that.
MK: Piano for me.
CH: I played the fiddle and then I moved to a school that didn’t have an orchestra so I resorted to the flute. I can teach you!
BTR: Who do you look up to creatively as far as music goes? Who are your influences? Who was the first person to make you realize music is what you wanted to do?
TT: Jack White, The White Stripes, and Led Zeppelin are why I started playing guitar.
HC: Actually, I don’t know who would be the first person I looked up to. But I saw this guy who ended up being a friend of mine who played guitar and he was so wild on it, and I just wanted to have that kind of stage presence.
MK: I really admire Kim Gordon. I sat next to her at this small screening of this film and she’s like this older woman who is still doing shit and I think that’s awesome.
CH: We had this old stereo record player and we would always play the FM radio and my dad just turned on AC/DC and I was like two-years-old, just head banging and my mom was like, “How does she know how to do that?”
BTR: How did you guys become a band?
HC: I worked at Cake Shop and I knew Tara from living in the same apartment building a year prior. I just kind of asked around and it happened.
MK: I met Heather at Cake Shop. I used to work there. I came in to hang out and she was like, “join the band!”
CH: Our former drummer, Crystal…I was walking out of my apartment once and I don’t know, we had a little talk and she said she was starting some band and I said I have a practice space you could use and then I just ended up playing with them. But I’ve always known about Tara because my old band and I used to play with you guys.
BTR: How do you get the name?
CH: It’s funny when people ask us this question. And now it’s like, irrelevant because Crystal…it’s because our drummer left us. She’s our ex-girlfriend.
BTR: Where did you guys record your EP?
HC: We recorded at our friend Terry’s house.
CH: He’s the best-ever to work with. I’ve worked with five music engineers and he just knows the sound to the T and what you’re looking for. He is so talented.
BTR: You guys have a music video too for the song “Bones.” Can you explain to me how that happened?
TT: We drove to Seaside Heights after a show in Brooklyn. After we got there we missed check-in time, so then we hopped the fence to go into the pool anyway. Then we got another motel down the street.
HC: And we trashed the motel room. There was glitter everywhere. And we had a séance with some skeletons we brought.
CH: My favorite scene is when we were on the beach and we took the skeleton and just whipped him into the ocean.
BTR: So this is pretty much the last day of tour. What are some highlights?
TT: My favorite thing that happened is that our drummer broke up with us in a text message and went to the airport without telling us.
CH: My favorite part was definitely Amarillo. It was just that small town feel. A beer was a dollar. People were like smoking cigs everywhere in the bar. No rules…Texas.
BTR: Why do you love playing music? What’s the point of traveling all this way and playing show to show?
MK: For me it’s that I’m working a full-time job on the road. This is so much fun and it’s a new outlet of people and experiences that I never thought I would have, and it’s very exciting. It’s like one big breath of fresh air.
TT: The people you tour with sort of become your family. It’s like being on a mission together.
CH: My favorite part of the trip is Jay. He is our personal photographer who is filming this right now!
Ex-Girlfriends are soon to be on the road again, touring with Tara Theissen’s other project, Sharkmuffin. The two groups will be hitting SXSW together this March. In the meantime, you can check out their newly released music video for title track “You’re Next”.