Imagine you’re a cop driving around one night, when you notice a van parked in a dark corner of a school parking lot. Stepping out of your squad car, you notice the subtle back-and-forth rocking of the van, the din of rock ‘n’ roll emanating from within. Feeling like you’ve just stepped into a scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” you rap on the window.
The van door opens; and there sit two 30-something women with a guitar and a kid-sized drumset.
“Nothing to see here,” says one bashfully, “just a couple of moms having band practice.”
“Sure!” she replies, and the two launch into a perky, punky anthem that sounds like Bikini Kill on happy pills.
What it definitely doesn’t sound like is two exasperated, exhausted moms commiserating over their colicky babies. But that’s exactly the shared misery that brought Jennifer Tachovsky Parsons and Cindy Marshall together in that van, and ultimately to the stages of Missoula as the two-woman band Vera.
“It started out more like a colic support group than a band,” recalls Marshall, who at the time had recently given birth to her second child. “We didn’t have a practice space because if a pin dropped in one of our houses, it’d take hours to get our kids back to sleep. So we used my van as our practice space. Jen had real drums, but we couldn’t practice at her place, so we used (Marshall’s older daughter) Phoenix’s toy drumset. We would park behind the (UM College of Technology) and write songs and talk about surviving what we were going through and drink some beers.”
The first song that the duo wrote together was titled, appropriately and simply, “Colic.”
“It’s literally two chords,” says Marshall. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing; I have a limited vocabulary that I have to speak with. Which is fine by me, I’ve always liked limitations because if I knew every single thing about the guitar, I’d probably be overwhelmed with choices. So for me right now, it’s like, okay, what can I say with five chords? I think I wrote 25 songs with about six or seven chords, total.”
That limited vocabulary is scrawled boldly across Vera’s debut CD, “Pupils Black to Black,” which hits the streets this week. The galloping opener, “All Leaves for Noah,” kicks off on the same chord and rhythm as the album’s fourth track, “Goodbye Old Friend;” most of the tracks follow a roughly similar formula of two-chord verses and sliding bar-chord refrains.
Yet with Marshall’s sweetly lyrical voice set against the stark backdrop of crunching guitars and pounding drums, it’s easy to get lost in the album’s black-velvet textures — a testament not only to the skills of producer Shmed Maynes, but to the power of simplicity.
“I feel so small,” the duo chants against a churning wall of guitar and drums in the song, “Small.” But “Pupils Black to Black” is big, brash stuff — a fully absorbing record that should wipe away even the worst crying-baby blues.
Vera celebrates the release of “Pupils Black to Black” at a show this Friday, Dec. 11, at the Badlander. Secret Powers and Butter will also perform.