Bands usually start when two people decide to get together and begin making music. That was certainly the case with Jessica Numsuwankijkul and Amber Myers, founding members of the Brooklyn-based band Heliotropes.
It was fairly unserious, says Numsuwankijkul, on the phone from the bands in-transit tour bus. Like, Amber and I were just sort of tinkering around on, like, synthesizers and just making noise.
The former 9-to-5ers Myers worked in development at Pratt Institute and Numsuwankijkul was an editor at DC Comics were exploring their experimental, musical sides by trying to play Brian Eno songs on analog instruments.
That was kind of the direction we were going in at first, says Numsuwankijkul. And then we just sort of discovered that it was too hard and that we should just start a rock band.
Numsuwankijkul put out a Craigslist ad looking for musicians, eventually getting together with drummer Cici Harrison and bassist Nya Abudu. With guitarist Numsuwankijkul and percussionist Myers sharing vocals, Heliotropes was born well, not quite.
When we all first started playing, actually it sounded terrible, says Numsuwankijkul. So I think that it just took us a bit of trial and error and going out and embarrassing ourselves in Brooklyn.
Its taken three years for the Heliotropes to come together and establish their psych-rock/garage-band sound. Not to mention that its taken that long for Numsuwankijkul to study classic rock riffs and become the bona-fide, guitar-wielding riot grrrl she is today.
I would definitely try to figure out, you know, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana songs on acoustic guitar, she says, acknowledging the bands Clinton-era influences.
Yeah, I think its good we all grew up in the 90s. I think that if we put more thought into it, wed probably sound like something else.
Of course, what makes Heliotropes most distinctive is that theyre an all-girl, multicultural band Numsuwankijkul is Thai, Abudu is black, Harrison is Indian and Myers is white. Theyre a walking Benetton ad with instruments. Yeah, they should totally give us an endorsement, jokes Numsuwankijkul.
Yet they say their backgrounds rarely have a role in how they create music.
We dont really think about it that much, actually, says Numsuwankijkul .
I think weve been asked before if it was a conscious thing that we got together and were, like, four women that have got very different skin tones.
Numsuwankijkul says that they werent even an all-girl band at first. We used to have a guy in the band, actually, she says. Unfortunately, the guy had a job he wanted to concentrate on more.
The band generated a lot of buzz when they played at this years South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Rolling Stone put them on its list of 20 Must-See Acts at the festival. They did six sets in three days, a different experience from the last time they were at SXSW.
We went in 2011, and we played a couple of really casual, unofficial showcases, remembers Numsuwankijkul. It was a very different experience this time around. We had a great time, but this time it was remarkably more exhausting.
Currently, theyre out there doing more shows, getting audiences in their corner so theyll buy the bands first, full-length album, titled A Constant Sea, set for release in June.
The Heliotropes continue to make noise, but unlike the noise they were tinkering around with when they first started, you can actually rock out to the noise they make today.