Tarah Who? like it loud. The Los Angeles-based trio are flying the flag high for grunge, punk and rock ’n’ roll, an adrenaline rush of distorted guitars and urgent riffs that courses through their latest EP, 64 Women.
But it’s taken some time for Tarah Who? to reach this stage of their evolution. Parisian artist Tarah G. Carpenter started the band six years ago as an acoustic solo act, and it was only last year that they established the core trio of Carpenter on vocals and guitars, Coralie Hervé on drums, and Joey Southern on bass. This is the line-up that fans have affectionately dubbed “if Motörhead were fronted by Alanis Morissette”. (The 64 Women EP also clinches a Morissette connection: it was produced by long-time Alanis bandmate Jason Orme.)
The EP, released in March, lodges Tarah Who?’s debt to the 90s-era alternative nation: it’s sneering and provocative, yet deeply personal. On standout track Umbilicus, Carpenter’s barbed lyrics surge over a blitzkrieg of guitars – “Mama’s boy / Cut the cord / Mama’s boy / Cut it off!” she shrieks like a shell-shocked Kim Gordon.
Guitar.com spoke to all three members of Tarah Who? to find out more about 64 Women, how their rigs have changed over the years and what they use for the distortion in their sound.
Can you tell us a little more about Tarah Who?
Tarah G. Carpenter: We are a very energetic power trio based in Los Angeles. We don’t fit in one music genre, as we care more about expressing and interpreting the right emotions for each song. We are rock-influenced with different backgrounds. I am into punk, 90s grunge and garage rock. This is where Tarah Who?’s sound and influences are from, but Coralie and Joey come from a different musical background – you can hear it in their performance, touch and sound.
The band has been described as “if Motörhead was fronted by Alanis Morissette”. What do you make of that?
TGC: When we first heard that, I thought “This guy totally nailed it!” I grew up listening to a lot of Alanis Morissette and then I discovered Pantera, Motörhead, Rage Against The Machine, The Distillers etc. I write very personal songs that are also autobiographical and in that sense you can say it is like Alanis, but we are loud and angry, and this is why we were compared to Motörhead. The fun fact about this was that we have heard this several times from the West Coast to the East Coast!
Can you tell us more about 64 Women and how it stands out from your previous work?
TGC: 64 Women stands out because the current line-up is on it. We have been touring, presenting this EP for a few months now and we are really proud of sharing it. We recorded the drums at Thomas Lang’s studio and then moved the tracks to [the studio of] Jason Orme, where we recorded the bass, guitars and vocals. It was really nice to work with Jason again – we work really well together. Matt from Lujuria joined the party for screaming sessions and Spanish texts at the beginning of Linger.
We started recording in January 2018 with Thomas, and then we had a hard time getting together with Jason, because he would either be on tour with Alanis or we were on tour. We finally finished after almost a year, which is unheard of for Tarah Who?. We recorded Federal Circle Of Shame in one day, [and it has the] same amount of tracks [as other songs]! So conflicting schedules were definitely an obstacle. Joey also joined the band during the recording, so we had to re-track the bass but we wanted to be able to promote something that we were all a part of.
What is your favourite track off this EP to play live?
TGC: It’s really hard! They are all fun to play. Linger is really fun but hard to play because it is all about timing. However, when we get it right, it is a lot of fun. Numb Killer and Copycat are not only people’s favourites, but they are also a lot of fun.
Coralie Hervé: 64 Women is actually the first EP that I recorded with Tarah Who?, so it’s really great to play it live.
Let’s move on to some gear talk. Has your gear changed much over the years?
TGC: Yes, very much! When I started the band in 2006, I was an acoustic solo act. When I started the band, I didn’t know anything about effects, so people were just telling me what to get and how I should sound.
Over the years, I have worked with a lot of musicians, men especially, who were really into their gear and effects and to be honest, it just gave me a headache. I had no idea what they were talking about and I had no interest in learning. I just wanted to plug in and play. Playing with Joey and Coralie opened a really big door in Tarah Who?’s sound. I can’t say that I know more [about] what I am doing now, but at least I know what I want to hear when we play.
Since Coralie and Joey have a different sound, I have changed my whole set-up so that our sound matches. Now Joey and I are both endorsed by Blackstar so we are working on our sound with our new toys. It’s a lot of fun!
CH: I actually played the same drums for over a decade before I bought new ones. I tried to find the perfect sound, cymbals, heads etc for Tarah Who?. Our sound is always evolving so it’s fun to experiment with new stuff until finding ‘the ones’.
Joey Southern: I used to play a four-string Warwick Thumb Bolt-on through an Ampeg SVT450 and the 4×10 HLF Cab. Once I joined Tarah Who?, the five-string was a must. I landed a G&L L2500 bass and fell in love.
I’ve played various bass amps over the years but once I found the Blackstar Unity Pro Bass system, game over! The rig is a 2×10 500-watt (U500) with a linked 1×15 250-watt (U250ACT). I can carry one in each hand on the way into a gig with my bass on my back! It has great tone and cuts through the mix for my style of bass playing.
When we do guides for punk gear, we often get comments that punk rockers shouldn’t care about gear, and that a $100 Squier and a stolen half-stack should do the trick. What do you think?
TGC: I agree to a certain extent. I think that being punk is more an attitude than a style of music. That is my definition, anyway. Punk music in itself is not that complicated – it’s just fast and angry. You can perform rap even and be a total punk if that makes sense.
I agree that you do not need expensive gear to make good music, whether or not it is punk. I never had much cash while playing: people even bought me snare heads and strings because I could not afford my gear. My drums are worth $200 but our friend Andrew Ramirez, who fixes drums, worked on it and made it sound like a DW drum set!
It isn’t the gear that makes you who you are or trying to be. It is your personality and your attitude. I can tell you that we have met some ‘punk bands’ out here who play punk rock music, but they are definitely not punk rock people… and vice versa.
Tarah, you’ve been pictured with a bunch of guitars. What are your main axes at the moment and do you have a favourite?
TGC: I really like my G&L ASAT. I love its tone and that’s why I bought it in 2007. I still love it. I am actually getting a guitar made especially for the Tarah Who? sound by Chris Lai in France. It will be ready in September and I’m stoked about it.
The reason why I have so many guitars is not to show off; it’s because I have different tunings [for] each one and I don’t have time in between songs to tune. I actually use them all at every show!
Distortion is a big part of your sound. How do you achieve your tone?
TGC: Until now it was all about the Friedmans and Fulltones on my previous Fender Hot Rod DeVille, and the Archer on the Vox. Now I have replaced the Fender DeVille with the Blackstar HT Club 40 and I use the distortion on the Blackstar. I love the tone of the amp and it goes really well with Joey’s tone and Coco’s drums’ tuning. It’s very well balanced, in the mid-lows as we like it.
How different is your live setup from recording?
TGC: On the recordings, I use mainly Jason’s vintage guitars and his vintage Vox amps. To be honest, he sets it up and I say yes or no, but I have no idea what he actually does. Jason gets where I am going with the sound so I trust him. When we rehearse for the live shows, it sounds very similar but I have to make up for the second guitar that is missing from the recording. We extend some parts and add a few things here and there. The song is the same in a way but they come alive during the live performance, definitely.
Are you precious about your gear?
TGC: Yeah, I am pretty attached to my gear and I cannot stand when people touch my rig or guitar. I think that guitars are very personal, and I am always shocked when people just allow themselves to touch or play. It doesn’t happen often – it’s actually rare now… I just don’t let anyone or everyone touch my babies. Some guitars I don’t care, but my black ASAT or my Gibson J45, hell no! I bite!
Tarah Who?’s EP 64 Women is out now.