By Nicholas Jason Lopez
There they are.
Comparable to the “Goth Go-Go’s,” New York-based post-punk project Pageant Girls have been at it strong since the release of their 2021 debut LP ‘1st,’ basked in a sound enveloped in minor keys, boisterous guitars and borderline orchestral soundscapes.
Pageant Girls are vocalist Ivy Jaff, bassist Megan X Thomas, drummer Alex Rochinski and guitarist Doc Hammer, the latter of whom is also the creator of “Venture Bros.”
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Hammer/Jaff about their musical upbringings, who they’re currently listening to and more, which you can check out below.
Music Bugle – How did you decide on the name “Pageant Girls”?
Doc Hammer – Alex, Ivy and I were having “the name” conversation one night after practice. We had songs, a personal connection and commitment. We didn’t have a bass player or a band name. Midnight on a Brooklyn sidewalk isn’t a reliable place to find a bass player, so we tackled the name problem. Ivy and I are social outcasts. We just are. We don’t lament being misfits, but we do opine on it more than we should, so we suggested “The Unpopular.” Alex isn’t unpopular. He’s actually affable and one-hundred percent lovable, so he rightly bristled at the idea of leaning into our unpopularity. He suggested the “Unloved.” I guess you could argue that we were not all unpopular, but everybody, in some way, is unloved. I thought it was too reminiscent of the My Bloody Valentine album “Loveless,” so I rained all over that parade. This went on for a half hour ’til we all started playing with stuff like “Miss America,” “Miss Pre-Teen USA” and other copyrighted names that we can’t use. Why did we go down that path? Well, Ivy was an actual Pre-Teen Pageant Girl. She was telling us a story about it and we just kinda fell in love with how weird it would be to have a band named after all that. “Pageant Girls.” It’s evocative, but ultimately, it’s just a name we could all agree upon standing on a sidewalk in the middle of the night. We’re not that clever.
Ivy Jaff – Kind of going off what Doc said, it was just something that we all agreed on finally. I remember exactly where I was sitting on the floor when I looked up and said, “What about Pageant Girls?” and everyone kind of gasped like an “ah-ha” moment! There’s something really special about connecting with the youth to us, I think because music was such a big part of our own youth, so Pageant “Girls” made sense. Also, my dear friend Jack Martin was in a band called Knoxville Girls at the turn of the 21st century. It was short-lived, but kind of a weirdo supergroup featuring Bob Bert, Jerry Teel, Kid Congo Powers and Barry London. Anyway, I always adored the name, in a way that was like I kind of wished I’d thought of it myself. I think it’s cool that they were all males in a band called Knoxville Girls. Similarly, we have males in Pageant Girls who are totally proud to be one of the girls.
Music Bugle – Looking at your ‘1st’ LP, you had some interesting choices for singles. What made you guys go with “Fair Game” and “Complainer”? What was it about those tracks?
Doc Hammer – They are really just two songs we plucked from an album we were working on. There was no scientific method for creating or choosing them. We quickly decided that those two songs would be the best introduction to our sound. To describe the songs sonically would be a mistake. It leads to disappointment. Like, I remember when I was talking to a fellow painter about their work. They said all the right things, named all the right painters, invoked the Symbolist Movement and dropped names like Jean Delville and Suzanne Valadon. I was so excited to see this work! I found a fellow spirit! Well, then they showed me their paintings and they were awful. Like, preschool doodles. I was duped. Lesson learned. Don’t let the maker of art describe their art. They have no clue what they’re really making.
Ivy Jaff – I like to leave the songs open to the listeners’ interpretation. It’s for them, not for me! I hope to connect with people and really nothing more. I feel truly lonely without music, but I do have a “Fair Game” fun fact. I wanted to call this song “Bird of Prey,” but Doc said that sounded “too Romulan.” We are both huge Trekkies! “Complainer,” on the other hand, is a song I wrote when I was a kid. I’d been holding it in my back pocket and waiting to unleash it until the perfect moment. As far as the lyrics, throughout my experience working in the music industry, I have always been made to feel small and controlled and manipulated by an undercurrent of womanizing behavior. It’s not even overt sexism, it’s this unconscious sexism that is so deeply ingrained in the male gaze that most of their comments probably aren’t even their fault, but a product of our systemic bias against women in our culture. That may be the darkest part, that they don’t even realize they’re doing it and it creates a kind of shame around being a woman. It creates this overcompensation on my end. It slowly and quietly drives me insane. I truly believe that as a society, we have to give women the space to be insane. In essence, that’s what was going through my head when I wrote the lyrics to “Complainer.”
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Ivy Jaff – I’ve always loved Placebo, but I’ve been listening to them a lot more lately. As far as more modern stuff, I went to a Bambara show in NYC that I really enjoyed. My favorite local band is Art Gray Noizz Quintet.
Doc Hammer – You picked a perfect time to ask me that! I was sick of how streaming music like Spotify don’t let you dig into a band. I wanted to hear complete albums again, so I dusted off the old 5-Disc player and went into my CD collection. I’ll mention some of them, unexpurgated and without any name-dropping nonsense thrown in – Sparks’ ‘Mael Intuition (The Best of Sparks, 1974-76),’ The Clash’s ‘London Calling,’ David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans,’ Dead Kennedys’ ‘Plastic Surgery Disasters’ and Pretenders’ self-titled. There it is! Judge me. I will be found guilty of loving great music.
Music Bugle – What’s something that you wish happened less in today’s music industry?
Doc Hammer – It’s right there in the last word of your question. It is an “industry.” Music is powerful stuff. It changes us, but it’s clearly a business. I can’t change that and it will always be an industry, but there will always be bands that are making great art inside that ugly money- mess. Find them, cherish them, support them and then repeat, so I’d change nothing about the music industry. I simply hope that people will ignore it and really dig deep to find the music they love and not simply accept commercial crap thrust upon them. Everyone reading this knows what I’m saying. I’m preaching to the choir.
Ivy Jaff – I echo everything Doc said about it being just that – an industry, but honestly, I’d rather answer what I’d like to see more of and that is more women in music, specifically rock. I’m not sure why rock has become such a masculine genre. I really hope that we can encourage more young girls to play instruments like guitar, bass and drums. I can’t tell you how many females I’ve met over the years who have said, “I wish I played (insert so-and-so instrument)” and I try to remind them that it’s never too late to learn.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break? What are your favorite decompression spots?
Ivy Jaff – We don’t take breaks. I don’t know what it feels like to be decompressed and I’m not entirely proud of that, but at least I’m super productive.
Doc Hammer – I don’t really decompress, but when I’m completely drained by something I’m working on, I move to another discipline, so “my easel” is probably the short answer. Not that I find painting to be relaxing. It’s a nightmare of trying to get what’s in your head into the world. It’s like writing, music and every art form. Art is a nightmare of being let down by your own shortcomings. If art is a super-fun release for someone, I’m real hesitant to see their output. I like art that has the blood of effort and examination dripping from it.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote or movie that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Doc Hammer – I don’t have a quote, but I have a platitude that I’ve made up and remind myself of, “Painters paint, runners run and writers write.” If you want to call yourself a musician, you have to make music. If you’re not doing that, you’re not a musician. You’re someone on the couch watching Netflix. Nothing wrong with that. I do that as well, but soon, I remember what I am and I go prove it to myself. It’s a motivator! It’s also low-grade self bullying.
Ivy Jaff – “It is the strict adherence to daily routine that tends towards the maintenance of good morale and the preservation of sanity.” I try to have daily routines because I am fond of ritual. I also enjoy weekly routines, monthly routines and yearly traditions! I establish trust in consistency, so I guess my routines get me going and keep me going.
Music Bugle – What has been your hardest challenge lately?
Doc Hammer – Me? Doc Hammer? I’m a paraplegic. Have been for a few years now. Not to bring this down and get all maudlin, but my hardest challenge has been learning to walk again and living with nerve pain that is nearly indescribable. …Fun! I just ruined this. Hey, you asked.
Ivy Jaff – I have found it very beneficial to my mental health, especially to my anxiety, to not be in a pandemic.
Music Bugle – What’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
Doc Hammer – Ivy was a Pageant Girl when she was a kid and I was an Explorer Scout when I was a kid. Who knew? I don’t know, but you do now.
Ivy Jaff – I have one kidney. My right kidney went bye bye in 2013 after a lifelong battle of it trying to kill me.
Music Bugle – What was the moment that made you want to become a musician?
Doc Hammer – Always? Like, the first time music touched me, I knew that I had to be a part of it. To stand on the shoulder of the giant that is music and go, “Yeah, this too!” It’s like a religious calling. I’ve spent my life learning to play all these instruments and teaching myself how to record without ever saying, “I want to be a musician.” I just couldn’t stop myself from doing it. I had a band put together when I only knew, like, three chords. It couldn’t be stopped. I heard the calling and I just did it. Music is as simple as you want it to be and as complex as you dare it to be. I wanted to know everything about it. Nothing but doors before me and I just kept stumbling into them. Constantly learning, refining, understanding. It’s all very humbling. I look back on that old band and my three chords and am charmed by how idiotically content I was with my inability. When you make music, it doesn’t get easier. It gets harder. That little kid didn’t spend three hours finding the right compression ratio for a snare hit. Just you wait, little me, you will one day!
Ivy Jaff – I’ve been a performer since I can remember. I remember feeling silly saying “singer” when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I felt like I was supposed to say something reasonable like “doctor” or “astronaut.” Actually, I did want to be an astronaut, but I realized at an early age, I’d never pass the physical requirements needed to go into space. Therefore, my minor in college was Space & Planetary science, so that’s the closest I got. My parents were very supportive of me developing my musical abilities. I took all the monetary gifts my family gave me for my 8th grade graduation and bought my first electric guitar. It was a hunk of junk and I was terrible, but I was really passionate about writing songs, so there wasn’t really a moment, I just feel like it’s always been there.