Rats In The Louvre Interview by Tom Reardon
Musicians out there will understand this dilemma: It is both awesome and horrible to play a show with a band you wish you were in. Such is my dilemma with Rats In The Louvre, the totally fucking awesome Long Beach, Calif. band everyone should know about. While each member of Rats In The Louvre (RITL) is pretty damn cool, as a bass player, watching Rusty Cavender do his four-stringed thing with guitarist/singer Veronica Cruz and drummer Melissa Posod is both illuminating and angst-causing.
They are just so damned good and they are musical “lifers,” which is something I identify with strongly. A “lifer,” in my opinion, is someone who is going to play music no matter what because they have to play. They don’t play because they want to be in a band, want to get noticed, or receive adulation. A “lifer” plays because they have to and the members of RITL—or Rats as they refer to themselves—are lifers. Even if RITL were to call it a day, they would all move on to the next project. This is not their first rodeo—as each of them have been in bands previously— nor will it be their last.
All three members of RITL were seasoned musicians when they got together in late 2011 to work on a set of Bikini Kill covers for a show at The Prospector in Long Beach as part of the Album Attack series happening between 2011 and 2014. Cruz had been part of Sexytime Explosion and Look Daggers. Cavender was a member multiple bands, including the infamous Le Shok, and Posod played with Corridor and Mila Mar among others. With years of experience under their collective belts, it was only fitting RITL started off with a bang.
I originally met RITL at Harold’s in San Pedro when we (The Father Figures) played a show with them and Toys That Kill in 2015. When RITL took the “stage” (if you know Harold’s, you understand the need for quotes), they blew the roof off the place. There’s something to be said for tightly wound, hard rockin’ and noisy trios, and Rats In The Louvre packs a tremendous punch, both to the gut and the brain.
Cruz is no stranger to sharply worded lyrics punctuated by a combination of East Bay Ray and Duane Denison-style guitar jabs. She’s vocally adept at the old school, early ’80s punk rock sneer while remaining powerful and present in the mix, both live and in one of RITL’s awesome recordings. Posod confidently drives the train from her seat on the drum throne, providing a counterattack to Cavender’s deft bass lines at every turn. Seriously people, if you haven’t seen this band, go see them and if you can’t wait, pick up a copy of their eight-song, self-titled rocker that came out in late 2015.
After becoming friendly with the band and even providing a couch or two when they came out to Phoenix in 2016, I was stoked to get the message from Pedro author, label guru, and musician, Craig Ibarra to spend a little time on the phone with them for this here interview, so here it goes.
Veronica: Hey, it’s Rats In The Louvre.
Tom: Did you have a plan in mind for Rats or did it just happen naturally?
Veronica: It just kind of happened naturally, just friends playing music. We didn’t necessarily have a plan to become huge rock stars or anything like that. It kind of snowballed as people got interested. We started to take it more seriously after that.
Tom: Did you have a sound in mind that you were going for?
Veronica: Kind of. Just things that I’m influenced by, like Fugazi and Sonic Youth. Just that weird, punk ’90s stuff. That’s the stuff I like to play and we are into. We did talk, when we were jamming, about particular songs we like. Rusty made a mix CD of things he was into and we’re strangely into a lot of the same stuff. I’d never played in a band with people who were into a lot of the same things. It seems like we clicked really well.
Tom: Melissa, what was your hope or vision of what RITL would be?
Melissa: I always wanted to play with women, which I hadn’t, so right there I was expecting a more collective approach. I was really excited to work with Veronica. I actually wasn’t familiar with her old bands, but everyone in Long Beach told me that Sexytime Explosion was a really great band so I went in blind, not knowing her style, but vibing off the fact that we shared so many influences in what we grew up with and what we listen to now. I was hoping to do something minimal but aggressive with female vocals. We wanted Rusty’s bass playing, but we didn’t want his voice. I wanted that front woman sound and do something I could get really passionate about. I was done with school and I was done being zoned out and being this academic personality. I wanted to get creative again and it worked. It happened.
Tom: Did the band go in the direction that you were hoping?
Melissa: It totally did. It was an unexpected joy that everyone started acquiring pedals and went in the noisy guitar sound like Sonic Youth or Glenn Branca. That was an unexpected joy.
Tom: How long did it take for you and Veronica to develop a bond?
Melissa: It was pretty immediate. She and I will work alone together quite a bit, especially when she has a sketch of something going. She has this patience that helps me get more creative. I got to participate in writing with her and through that, we got to know each other immediately and vibe well.
Tom: I remember thinking—the first time we met and played Harold’s together—that you were keying more off Veronica than you were off of the bass.
Melissa: Oh my god, you picked up on that? Yeah!
Tom: I’ve played in a couple of bands where there was that dynamic as well, and I remember talking to my bandmates about there being a strong connection between you and Veronica. Not that you and Rusty weren’t locked in as a solid rhythm section…
Melissa: That’s probably where it comes from. About half the time, we write without the bass at first.
Tom: There is a great vibe between the two of you. Do you consider yourself a musical lifer? Do you do music because you have to?
Melissa: Yes. I definitely feel that way. I never wanted to give it up. When I had to, for a couple of years because of school, it was even more apparent. I wanted to get back to my life because my life is to make music.
Tom: Even if Rats ends tomorrow, and hopefully it doesn’t, you’ll all be in bands again sooner than later.
Melissa: Yeah, totally.
Tom: Getting to play loud music on a regular basis keeps you sane.
Melissa: Rock and roll for life. It feels unbalanced in your life when you don’t have a band.
Tom: Any new recordings coming up?
Veronica: We have a 7” coming out and we just got test pressings back. It’s been a long road with that. Craig’s label is putting it out (Water Under The Bridge out of San Pedro. Ibarra and partner, Bob Archer, have been releasing area music since 2008). We have some new songs, three or four, that we’ve been playing that are not on the 7”. It’s a good chunk of an album. We got the test pressings back once before and there were problems. Once we approve, I’m not sure how long it is going to take.
Rusty: This 7” has been an uphill battle. Technical difficulty after technical difficulty has been pushing it back.
Tom: Is there a title?
Veronica: It’s called Red Flag and will be on Water Under The Bridge Records.
Tom: Did you record these songs at Manny’s, too? (Manny Nieto is a longtime L.A. engineer and studio owner who seemingly everyone has recorded with at one point or another. Both Cruz and Cavender had known Nieto previous to Rats In The Louvre. Nieto has worked with bands like The Breeders, Retox, Tweak Bird, and many others.)
Veronica: No, actually Rusty did it.
Rusty: We made it home style.
Veronica: It’s true DIY. We did it in both of our places. We tracked the drums at my house. I have a vaulted ceiling. We did the guitars and vocals here at Rusty and Melissa’s house. Rusty has recorded a bunch of bands, so it’s not anything for him.
Rusty: We took an afternoon and set up a ton of mics and recording gear. It looked like a recording studio blew up in Veronica’s living room. We spent the day recording basic drums and just started adding stuff on top of that. Nothing’s gone right ever since. [laughs] The recording is kind of old, so I wish we could do it again. I have such better gear now.
Tom: You recorded your full length at Manny’s?
Tom: I recorded at Manny’s years ago. Is it still over by Dodger Stadium?
Veronica: I don’t think so. It’s near Whittier now. He did the mobile thing for a while, but he’s got a different spot.
Tom: We didn’t get a chance to meet Manny when we recorded there because he was off hanging out with Steve Albini, but our buddy was friends with him, so we got to record there. Great street food there.
Veronica: Oh yeah.
Rusty: East L.A., man.
Tom: I think I gained about ten pounds. Good carne asada.
Veronica: I’ve known Manny for a while. He recorded my old band. Don’t you know him too, Rusty?
Tom: Do you know Eddie Rivas, too?
Veronica: Yes. Manny’s partner in crime.
Tom: Eddie’s partners with my friend’s Tony and Meg (Totimoshi, All Souls) in Eastside Rehearsal. It’s a small world when you make noisy music, I think.
[Sirens in the background.]
Veronica: Could you hear the sirens? Good ol’ Long Beach sirens.
Tom: I heard that. That’s not uncommon, is it? Are you guys anywhere near Alex’s Bar?
Melissa: We’re just a few blocks away.
Rusty: If I walked out the door from Alex’s and walked in a straight line, as the crow flies, you’d walk right in our front door.
Veronica: Not the greatest neighborhood, but Alex’s is fucking rad. I love that bar.
Rusty: Alex’s is awesome. Melissa left part of her teeth there.
Melissa: I literally did. [laughs]
Rusty: She got intimate with the asphalt in the parking lot of Alex’s Bar one night.
Veronica: This was before our band even really started.
Rusty: Melissa passed out in mid-sentence and just fell flat on her face.
Tom: That’s like a professional maneuver right there. Not everybody can pull that off.
Rusty: She did it very well.
Melissa: I still have the dress with blood on it somewhere.
Tom: It’s happened to the best of us.
Tom: Do you remember what you guys were drinking the night Melissa took the header?
Rusty: Sometimes we get up, we shower, we go to lunch and get bottomless mimosas and have Bloody Marys, then we come home and mix drinks, I light up a cigar, and then we have band practice. I think that was one of those days. She didn’t drink hardly any water at all. It was mostly mix drinks and IPAs and then we played the set and it was a hot day. It made sense. She just decided to go flat as a board, right down on her face. It was shocking at the time. I thought, “Did she just play a funny prank on all of us?” I didn’t know what to think. It was one for the books. What doesn’t kill ya, right?
Veronica: It wasn’t like she was super wasted. She fainted. She was super dehydrated.
Melissa: The doctor told me to hydrate.
Tom: That will mess up your day, for sure. Sounds like something to write a song about.
Veronica: We should.
Melissa: That’s a good idea. We’ll credit you.
Tom: No credit necessary.
Rusty: That’s when Melissa fainted and that’s when the band started.
Tom: Shockwaves from the fall.
Rusty: It takes a nuclear bomb to wake up Godzilla.
Tom: Touché. It does, indeed.
Melissa: I had just finished grad school and I was ready to start playing in a band again and Rusty is always around.
Tom: What did you mean that Rusty is always around?
Rusty: I’m a band whore.
Tom: All the best bass players are.
Veronica: Then they got married (in 2015) and lived happily ever after.
Tom: Seriously? Congratulations…
Veronica: They were dating before…
Tom: How did you two meet?
Rusty: We met online at a dating site. I had a pretty heavy filter in terms of people I would be interested in going on a date with in terms of interests, especially music, and Melissa made it through the filter. We determined that we would have a password so that we would know we were meeting the right person when we went on our first date and that password had to with a Can album, so that set the tone for everything that has happened since.
Veronica: That would have been super rad if they had just met.
Tom: It would have been rad if, like, at mid-set they would have said, “I do.”
Rusty: Just locked eyes.
Melissa: Drum and bass moment…
Tom: Right on. I didn’t know that. That’s cool. Is it ever strange to be in a band with a married couple?
Veronica: I guess maybe sometimes, but not really. It’s not really that big of a deal.
Tom: I was just curious. I used to work for a married couple and it was just the three of us. It was odd being that third person sometimes. Does the dynamic affect the band?
Veronica: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Melissa: It’s funny. I think when we first started out, I think when we were all together, it didn’t feel like there was any type of boundary. Marriage, though, gets in the way of everything. Once in a while, it will seep through, but Veronica is a good sport about it. It almost kind of feels like we are all married together.
Tom: A band is very much like a marriage in many ways. I mentioned Meg (Castellanos) and Tony (Aguilar) from All Souls (formerly of Totimoshi) earlier? Tony plays guitar and Meg plays bass and they’ve been married for over twenty years, I think. We played many shows with them in the Totimoshi days and one time their drummer, Donny Newenhouse, got in our van when we did some shows together up the coast and rode with us between shows because he needed to get out of the “marriage” for a while?
Melissa: There are those moments. Maybe we all need band therapy?
Tom: It certainly worked well for Metallica.
Melissa: Or the Pixies. I think they did that, too.
Tom: Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that.
Melissa: For real.
Tom: I’ve never seen a band (the Pixies) where I felt more strongly that it was four people doing four individual things. Do you know what I mean?
Melissa: [Laughs] Totally.
Tom: Do you know the folks in Sex Stains… or, I guess they are Ex-Stains now?
Veronica: No, but I love them.
Tom: It seems like that’s how they got started, too, a similar type of show where bands would get together and play a famous record. I think Alice Bag may have stolen their guitar player.
Veronica: She did. He’s awesome.
Tom: That Sex Stains record is so awesome.
Melissa: I love that album so much.
Tom: Very early X sounding, to me, but I think the drummer of Ex-Stains was doing shows like the one where Melissa lost her teeth. It’s kind of a cool parallel between your bands. Allison Wolfe is amazing.
Veronica: I don’t know her, but I love her music. I was at an event in Long Beach she was at and she complimented me on my shirt. I was like, “I love your band,” then I thought, “Fuck, yeah. Allison Wolfe just complimented me on my shirt.” I always loved Bratmobile. Melissa is a huge fan too.
Melissa: I’m not worthy.
Tom: I was a huge Bratmobile fan and made the pilgrimage to see them at Gilman Street years ago… How did you guys get started with the Bikini Kill project? (January 21, 2012 was the date of the show.)
Rusty: Well, in Long Beach there is a bar called The Prospector where they were doing the Album Attack. There are a lot of musicians in Long Beach. If you want to do it, you can just round up some friends and cover a record. We told Jesse Wilder that we were going to do Bikini Kill.
Veronica: A friend of mine puts together shows once a month where he would get musicians together to do an iconic album.
Rusty: Melissa and I were at the My Bloody Valentine one hanging out, and I had lived in Long Beach for twenty years at that point, and we were shooting the shit with Veronica outside. I think Veronica came up with the Bikini Kill idea and boom.
Tom: Was that mutual between all of you?
Veronica: It’s not like we necessarily set out to do it. Jesse asked me to do it because he knew I was a big Bikini Kill fan. I knew Rusty would be into it. Rusty mentioned that Melissa played drums and was heavily into riot grrrl and would be into it.
Melissa: That was one of my entry bands, my coming of age band. For me, that’s why I wanted to do it. Veronica was like, “Yeah, that was a huge band for me and would be the coolest fucking project to do.” That whole scene really brought me up. Those are my punk roots, riot grrrl. We did a show at The Smell, which was part of Riot Grrrl Fest, last year or so. I’m totally all for this.
Tom: Do you consider RITL part of riot grrrl?
Melissa: That’s a good question. I think my answer would be no, but only because if you are going to associate with that, you’re definitely a politically active, culturally active band with a defined mission. For Rats, it isn’t so much that, although what we say in our songs definitely touches on those themes. It comes through because that’s what we grew up with, but I think we’re definitely doing more of our own thing. With us, it’s more of an art type of project.
Tom: I wouldn’t have used the riot grrrl label, but there is an edge, an anger, and general overall feeling of fed up-ness that is definitely there with RITL.
Melissa: For sure. Fed up-ness is right. Our new songs are definitely more angry.
Veronica: We had done that one-off show, we jammed again, and we decided we all wanted to do a band again. We are all into the whole post-punk stuff. It was perfect because of Rusty and Melissa. There is drums and bass right there. I kind of got lazy and that shit was super fun. I wanted to start another band and I think they both felt the same way.
Tom: What do you think keeps RITL going?
Veronica: Playing live shows and having those experiences—the feedback you get from people you don’t know—playing fun shows, meeting cool people all the time, and just having to play music. I feel weird if I don’t play music. It’s just therapeutic. It has to happen.
Tom: At what point did you know you had to play music?
Veronica: Probably at fourteen when I started playing guitar. It just felt natural. It’s not about something like, “I want to play Coachella.” It’s because I have to. It’s rad to play with cool bands, but it’s not necessarily why I have to do it. You can tell when you jam with people if they do it because they have to. Some people just follow the trends and some people do it because they have to. Some people don’t pick up the guitar when they are sitting on the couch, but I have to. There is always a guitar close by.
Tom: Do you just pick up the guitar and go for it and see what happens or do you pick it up with a song in mind to play?
Veronica: Most of the time I just pick up and see what happens. I use my voice memo on my phone and record the riffs then go to Rusty and Melissa and say, “Hey, check this out.” If I’m really into something, I’ll go into Garage Band and build it. I did that a lot with the album because we had just started jamming.
I write most of the stuff. Sometimes I’ll write a basic part and then we’ll just jam out on it. We have so many parts that, since Rusty is into recording and has so much gear, he’ll set up the mics and we’ll record our whole jam session, especially if we don’t have a show coming up or don’t have something we’re working on. Then he’ll burn a CD and I’ll listen to it and really fine tune lyrics or parts.
Tom: Melissa, tell me about your masters.
Melissa: I have a Masters in Clinical Linguistics.
Tom: What does a Clinical Linguistics expert do?
Melissa: I work in a hospital and help people who have stroke or brain injury learn how to speak again. It’s a rad job. Really rewarding.
Tom: Ever get any song ideas from your patients?
Melissa: Mostly Veronica does all the lyric writing, so not really, not in this band.
Tom: Veronica, how do you come up with lyrics?
Veronica: Sometimes it’s something that comes up while jamming. Things that are blurted out here and there. Usually the guitar and drums come first, then I listen to it, and come up with words from there.
Tom: I know for me, as a lyricist, sometimes the songs don’t really mean anything. It’s just words I like that sound good together.
Veronica: I know. I’m super self-conscious about lyrics. I don’t like anyone to read them until they’re finished.
Tom: Three pieces are a strange dynamic.
Veronica: They are. It’s such a small family.
Tom: What’s your home venue these days?
Veronica: I feel like Fourth Street Vine is our home venue lately. A lot of cool bands play there. It’s a weird little wine bar on Fourth Street.
Melissa: The owner is rad. Mike Watt plays there a lot. I would say Continental Room. It’s rare that we play there, but it’s awesome.
Veronica: The curtain always cracks me up.
Melissa: It’s an old style, like the jazz band days.
Rusty: It’s like a cabaret.
Veronica: I saw Melvins there. It was so incredibly loud. It’s super classy.
Tom: There is always Harold’s if you want to sweat out some toxins. (When we played Harold’s with Rats in September of 2016, it was during a heat wave).
Rusty: We play Café Nela up in L.A. sometimes too. We played with the Cheifs and the Mormons there.
Tom: There’s an odd little venue in downtown Phoenix that has a curtain as well. It’s kind of nice for setting up gear and not having to worry about showing off any plumber’s crack while bending over messing with pedals.
Veronica: It’s kind of great when you play your last song and they pull the curtain.
Tom: You have such a different sound from most of your fellow bands in Long Beach… what kind of reaction do y’all get?
Rusty: I think people get into it because it is genuine. We’re not faking it and it is definitely different. There is no mistaking that we’re not one of “these” types of bands or we’re doing “that” type of thing. I think people who are not into the bands that we are into…
Tom: Which is most people, right?
Melissa: When we play for an older type of crowd, people sometimes say we sound like Patti Smith or Mission Of Burma and for a bit younger crowds, we hear things like Slant Six or Bikini Kill. It’s kind of funny because I think we can kind of range that way.
Tom: It is funny. If you turned on the folks who say you sound like Slant Six or Bikini Kill to a band like Mission Of Burma, they might be like, “Oh, I get where this came from.”
Veronica: That’s true.
Tom: Just with better distortion pedals and a little more attitude. [Band laughs.] The older crowd seems to kind of get it a little bit more. I always have to remind myself that maybe one in a hundred people probably gets your influences. When it’s genuine, though, people can expand their minds a bit.
Rusty: Yeah. We played a show in Sacramento and we were not expecting it to be a good show because it was kind of like a biker bar.
Melissa: There were young punk kids there, but there was an older crowd, too. It was freaking packed. That was one of the best shows…
Rusty: I kind of thought they were not going to be into what we were doing, but they were actually super into it. It was cool.
Tom: It’s nice when those unexpected ones happen. Ever play Bakersfield?
Rusty: Not this band, but I’ve played there. Sometimes those places out in the middle of nowhere are the best shows.
Veronica: I had an awesome show in Hot Springs, Ark. that was totally unexpected.
Tom: The guys in Lenguas Largas speak highly of Arkansas.
Veronica: Arkansas was so fucking rad. Hot Springs was one of my favorite places. Even West Virginia was rad, too. Weird places that you don’t expect.