East Williamsburg-based band Screamin’ Rebel Angels is unafraid to make a vintage sound its own, marrying old-school rock ‘n’ roll with a modern twist.
Laura Palmer, frontwoman and founder, prefers high-energy and straightforward rock music without the frills. Her band, formed in Brooklyn in 2011, trekked its upright bass, guitars and drums to NY H.E.D. on the Lower East Side to record its 2013 debut album "Hitch Hike" entirely on analog.
But settling into the Screamin’ Rebel Angels’ sound for its sophomore album “Heel Grinder,” out Jan. 24, Palmer found herself reaching for more modern techniques.
“For this record, I realized we were never going to fit into the rockabilly purists and the people that are just vintage purists,” Palmer said. “While we still have that original rock ‘n’ roll rebellious feeling, we were able to use a lot of modern recording techniques just because there was no way that I would be able to play multiple instruments at once on the record.”
Still, “Heel Grinder” maintains Screamin’ Rebel Angels’ signature sound from decades past.
amNewYork caught up with Palmer in advance of her record-release show at the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge to talk about the evolution of her distinct rockabilly-inspired sound.
How did Screamin’ Rebel Angels get its start?
I started [the project] in 2011. Prior to that I had booked a bunch of shows under Rebel Angels Productions in New York City, and I brought in a lot of great rockabilly bands, a lot of punk bands and rock ‘n’ roll bands. I had always been a musician, but I was shy and I [thought I] just didn’t have it in me to start a band until 2011 and, luckily at that time, because of the previous shows [I booked], I had so many wonderful musicians. When the time came and I was like, “all right, I’m going to do it,” I was able to find a nice group of people and we just started making music.
What inspired your rockabilly sound?
Sometimes we say it’s rockabilly, that’s just really a start. What drew me to the sound of rockabilly is just that it’s a really pure form of rock ‘n’ roll that’s just really immediate and has a lot of energy. You just kind of feel it in your gut and you don’t have to think hard about it. It’s just really emotional. I think the kind of music that we play, we try to keep that in mind with it — just really high energy and emotional … so you just immediately want to dance or just feel something.
How does your band name describe your sound?
It’s one of those things where the name has just stuck with you. So, when I was a teenager, I started writing [under] a punk rock band name that was called Rebel Angel. Then from there on, everyone just started calling me Laura Rebel Angel. The name kind of stuck with me until I started DJing, and then I started putting on shows and became Rebel Angel Productions, and then I started a band so obviously, it was going to be something-Rebel Angel. And so, you know, as a little nod to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and kind of that energy, we became Screamin’ Rebel Angel. If I had to think about it again, I would’ve picked something that is so much easier to spell than to remember.
Were there any themes on “Heel Grinder” that you haven’t explored in the past?
This record is really about not being afraid — just embracing the raw power and raw emotions and feelings and a lot of the songs are about resilience and living life. For instance, “Racing Death” was one of the songs that I wrote about — I wrote it while we were in the studio. We played a show at the Knitting Factory and when I was onstage, I looked out and I had a whole bunch of my friends there. They just looked really somber … it had turned out that, while they were at the show, everybody had gotten word that one of our good friends — a musician — had died. It was hard being in the studio. I couldn’t go to the wake and the funeral. This was kind of on top of a string of a lot of musicians in New York City and people in the music industry had just been passing away unexpectedly and really young. The song is called “Racing Death” and … it’s about the inevitability of death and what you do while you’re here.
[The album] has an arc of just being empowered in life and not to let other people’s words or shame or just all these feelings that we have hold us back. It’s about embracing what you have and where you’re at and doing the best that you can.
If you go: Screamin’ Rebel Angels is celebrating the release of its second studio album “Heel Grinder” at Mercury Lounge on Friday at 10:30 p.m., 217 E Houston St., Lower East Side, ticketfly.com, $12.