Artists: Good English
Back in July I had the amazing opportunity to take pictures at a charity event for the Dayton Ballet Barre where local artists of every kind were volunteering their skills. It was at that event that this artists series was born: I was so amazed and proud of Dayton to see so many different kinds of artists coming together to support a cause. From the principal violinist of the Dayton Philharmonic, to a belly dancer, to a funk rock band, and everything in between. It was amazing, and I wanted to take some time to get to know these artists and their stories. Good English were part of those artists. I had heard of them before, but I didn't really know what to expect when they got on stage.
What I heard was definitely not what I expected, but was very definitely awesome: heavy, stylish, rock.
Because of that, as I started this series, they were always in the back of my mind as a group that I really wanted a chance to talk to. So after last month's interview with Dr. McNamera I thought it would be great to see the other side of Dayton's music scene.
Just like my first encounter with their music: I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I found were three sisters who are amazingly down-to-earth, professional, and also super cool. They gave me the opportunity to follow them around one of their shows and to talk to them about the work they do and how Dayton has helped them develop as a band and as musicians.
Here is (at least part of) their story
"We moved to Dayton in 2002 from charleston South Carolina, I was going into fifth grade, Celia was going into third and Leslie into first. We lived in Oakwood, but ever since we moved here our mom has pushed for us to be downtown advocates, I mean, even at fifth grade. A lot of Oakwood families keep their kids up in Oakwood, but she was not about that. She was really into supporting the city and stuff. So we've just really always had a love for Dayton"
That's Liz, the band's frontwoman and guitarist. I sat down with these guys (...ladies) in South Park's Ghostlight Coffee, where they talked to me about how they came to Dayton and how Good English came to be.
"Pretty much as soon as I started 8th grade I decided I wanted to play guitar, so I asked my mom to sign me up for guitar lessons. At the same time Leslie decided she wanted to play drums"
"Like out of nowhere!"
"We were like 'screw it, lets play instruments'. So we were just all doing our own thing, Leslie and I taking lessons down at Hauer and Celia was playing cello with the school orchestra, but at Christmas our parents decided to surprise us. I had just been playing my dad's old acoustic guitar, and Leslie had just been playing on a practice pad and a snare drum.
"[Laughing] yeah, I had a snare I got from my drum teacher and I didn't even have a stand for it, I just played it on random things"
"We were just totally playing with stupid instruments, so they got me my first electric guitar, she got her first drum set, and just kind of on a whim they bought Celia a bass; because it's pretty similar to cello. So that day, the entire Christmas day, we spent trying to learn how to play "Warning" by Greenday and we totally figured it out! I mean, it's only like three chords. I played guitar so I just sorta assumed I would be the singer [Laughing]"
"So from that point on we had pressure because we all had the foundation to be in a band, we were totally into it though! We were trying to learn songs, but not only were we learning how to play as a band we were still trying to figure out our own instruments: I mean, Celia had never played bass before! So it just made it really hard, someone would always end up storming out of the room like 'agh, I can't get this."
"Hauer, at the time, were offering what they called "band camps" where you would sign up for a ten week session that was a weekly session for an hour or two where they would put you in band with the other people who signed up. We were put into a band together, of course, because we're sisters. That's really where we learned how to play together. We were forced to learn these songs in a controlled environment where someone couldn't go running off when they got frustrated. Once we graduated from that we decided to form a band, and that's really where Good English started."
"Initially we really thought we needed a fourth person or we couldn't pull anything off. One of Celia's classmates, who was also a family friend, was playing guitar at the time: so we asked her to join us. She was with us for the first four-ish years. Mostly she did the lead guitar and I was mainly rhythm guitar and vocals. That's how Good English was created: as a four piece with Annie. But when it came time for Celia and Annie to go to college Annie decided to go down to UC.
We kinda knew from that point on it was going to be hard for her to come down and practice, and we knew we really wanted to take it to the next level and up our practice schedule and really try to do something with it. So we softly gave her the boot, but It was pretty mutual, I think she knew it wouldn't really work. We really thought we needed a fourth person though, so we asked one of Leslie's friends who's an amazing guitar player if he wanted to join the band --that lasted about two months-- it just really wasn't a good fit. In the end we were like 'you know what, let's just be a three piece'.
We had struggled in the past with Annie too because the three of us all were just one mindset, we all had our goals and the same mentality and we always had to deal with this fourth person who wasn't a family member who we kinda had to go through. We realized that as a three piece we were going to be able to make decisions so much faster and so much easier. That's really where what Good English is now started. Which was maybe around two and a half years ago."
"Ever since then we've really been growing as a three piece. It was really fun. We totally changed our sound: made it a lot heavier, it's interesting, we dropped a member but we got a lot bigger"
"[Laughing] Lots of pedals!"
"Yeah, Lots of pedals! It's forced me to take on some of the lead roles which has made me have to get better at guitar and stuff"
I asked them about their style before they moved into being a three-piece, and about their image.
"as a four-piece we were slightly more roots-rock, a little folky"
"[Laughing] very dainty! It was like what you would expect us to be"
"Yeah, and we try to keep that irony a little bit when we get on stage. We play up our look, but we still look very feminine: and then the first thing we play is this big power chord! [laughs]"
"We realized that if we want to pursue it you have to look at it as a whole package, and that requires something visually pleasing, it requires a good sound, it requires a uniform look. You know? We play with a lot of bands and they're really great, but when you watch them you've got one person in the flannel and jeans and the other dude in the T-shirt and, you know, the one dude in the full-on suit for some reason. It's a performance: if you go see a play or a movie or something they're in costume. We used to just get up on stage and play in anything, but this is more fun!"
"It's definitely more fun! we've had fun finding pieces, like 'oh! that's awesome for a show'. Also a lot of trial and error!"
"A lot of trial and error! and before every show like 'what's the look tonight'? That's something we're still 100% developing: you have to find quirky little stores! Although she [Leslie] has a sewing machine, so she can make stuff! [Laughing]. You really do have to play the image though. It is important to visually stand out, even when you're just walking down the street. It's a little odd, because you do almost end up selling yourself: like some kind of strange prostitution [laughs]!
It's not something we'd wear on a daily basis, but we've started to collect the 'show clothes' and that's what you go to when you want to dress up for a show. That really took reasearch on our part, just looking at what you need to do to make it as a band? I think a lot of bands think all you have to do is play shows and drink beer and stuff, you know? and really: It's so much more. It's a business, and you really have to learn how to work like a business. I cant tell you how often we're looking for articles and research on what other bands are doing. That's pretty much our full time job right now, doing the band. You have to have budget sheets and keep track of all those things [Laughing]."
The sisters work together, but also have pretty distinctive roles within the group. Liz and Leslie explained that co-op:
"In the past I would sort of come to practice with an idea and then Leslie and Celia would write their respective parts, but as we've progressed as a band we do a lot more. Sometimes we'll just start with Leslie on the drums or something. A majority of the time the melody will come from me, but it's totally a collaboration. If someone were to ask us 'who's the songwriter?': we're all the songwriter. Not one of us could totally take credit for any song."
"In terms of the business side of things, Celia is like the business powerhouse. She's the one on top of the game. She's really good at booking, really good at finding articles for us to read, she does the whole website."
"I'm more the artistic side of it, I design our posters and T-Shirts, we've all started doing booking more. Celia is the main booker, but we've all started splitting up cities and shows and booking ourselves. I guess I'm kinda the fashion one too [Laughing] I find the clothes and outfits and stuff online. It's helped with my online shopping problem!'"
"I've always sorta been the spokesperson, I've been the front person, so It just segued into that. I like to be the talker"
"you and Celia both do the social media...I don't! I'm not savvy with social media whatsoever"
"Yeah, the only time I can be witty or anything is on the computer! no one can see me! It just comes out, but I can never do it live. But we all have a say in things. [Laughs] Obviously I've done the most talking"
I asked the three about who their biggest influences were, both locally and otherwise, as they developed as a band:
"I think, if you went back to the beginning, there was a band from Oakwood called 'Southeast Engine'. There were two brothers in it and they were a very folk rock sort of group. They were probably one of our biggest inspirations just because they came from the same town that we did. They were just doing what we're doing now, but they seemed so big and so cool to us and they really motivated us. That was really one of the first big inspirations. Then, Obviously, Greenday was a huge influence: and I think the movie school of rock [laughing]!"
"The White Stripes for me"
"Definitely White Stripes! We grew up listening to bands like R.E.M, Counting Crows, and Talking Heads: so that was sort of 'back of the mind' influence'. Then, once we really started playing, we looked up to bands like The Yeah Yeah Yeah's, and one of our favorite bands is My Morning Jacket. We're also huge fans of The Flaming Lips, really just all over the place. If you listen to our sound you can hear things from completely different bands: from, like, John Prine to The Flaming Lips or something. So It's really hard when someone asks what your genre is. You're like "it's rock? [Laughing] some form of rock?
A major part of this series has been about how Dayton, specifically, has worked as a place for artists to grow and develop successfully. All three were pretty clear on the fact that their mother had been a major downtown advocate as they were growing up. It was obvious that Dayton had been a key player in the realization of Good English as a band:
"Dayton has been the best place to grow as a band, our first show was at Canal street, and for a long time it was one of the only places we played. It was comfortable to play there, everyone was very supportive and a lot of the bands we played with were very comfortable to play with."
"...and then there was Blind Bob's..."
"Yeah, that was kind of the scary, daunting place that you didn't want to play! So once we became the three-piece and started changing our sound we decided we were going to have the CD release party there: so we really started branching out and gained the confidence to play in front of the Blind Bob's crowd"
"They've become our family now!"
"yeah, they've been great. Dayton has a small music scene, but it is a very supportive one. It is a giant family! I love it!. It's really funny: they're a pretty intimidating crowd because a lot of them play music themselves and they expect a harder sound from bands, or at least that's what they like. So I feel like we've played in front of some of the hardest critics. Not like big music industry critics: but people who enjoy some good music. We're constantly having to up our game to play for them."
Recently we've started to play out of town at other cities and things, and it's so funny: we play venues in Cleveland or Cincinnati or something that are considered the 'hipster, kinda intense, venues' and everyone is like 'ooh, I hope you can handle it'
"and we walk in and we're just like 'what?'" [Laughing]
"Yeah, everyone looks so clean and put together and we're like 'you guys are the scary people in town?'. So I feel like people come to Dayton and are like 'woah'. It's a very raw place, so it's made going to other places really easy. It's really fun, and we have the most insane support system here: it's been really wonderful.
Of course, we support other bands too: so it's a mutually beneficial thing. We have to do that for everyone to be successful, but I think Dayton has been one of the key factors in our quote-unquote success. Also it helps to be a girl band [Laughing] but there have been so many different components, It's really wonderful to play here. I hate having to turn shows down, you know? You don't want to oversaturate your market, but it really sucks to turn shows down because you know you have a crowd there and they're all your friends, but you can't take everything.
Of the sisters, only Liz is over 21, all three were in high school, or younger, when the band started, and Leslie hadn't graduated until very recently, so I was curious about how their age had impacted their experience as a touring band:
"It felt very normal, I think because we've been playing together for a really long time" (that's Celia, saying something!) "We recorded with this guy Patrick Himes, who's from Dayton. We just knew him through mutual friends and we went down and recorded with him. That was a completely new experience. Obviously it's not like playing shows and it's not even really like practicing: you have to get it perfect every time. It's almost like playing for someone else's standards. That was an adventure. We really learned a lot from that. "
"It's been really cool growing up while doing it, especially when we play at Canal Street. Timmy, the sound guy, has been there since day one, and he's constantly joking around 'I cant believe it, it's been nine years' like 'oh my god, you can have a drink now! when I first met you you were six years out of having a real drink!'. So it's been really cool, and that's another thing that has contributed to our love for Dayton, we've grown up with these people."
"yeah, I kinda feel like the little 'sis to everyone. I really have. It's interesting, it's nice being out of high school now. When I was in high school everyone knew what I was doing, but they didn't really know what I was doing on the weekend. They were all just 'ooh, Leslie's in a band!' but didn't really know. So now I feel like I'm around people that understand it and understand how much work it takes."
"At first mom was a little worried about us playing shows, just because shows go so late, and we're there until last call so we can get paid and stuff. So it was a little iffy at first because we were there until like 2:30 in the morning."
"But it was also at Canal Street, places we'd played forever, and a lot of times our parents would stay with us. As we got older though there were just text messages to check in. [laughs] Now they go to bed. Like 'how much you get paid?'. It's funny, they used to come to every show and now it's: 'you going to come to the show?' 'well, there's a football game on...and we're tired' [Laughing]. But they've always been really supportive, especially when we started getting serious about it. They took it seriously, and I think they're looking for us to fund their retirement [laughs], so they're totally pushing for it!
Really though, we've been beyond fortunate to have parents that are 100% on board. They totally get it, and they are the ones who push us. They've become the investors in the band, so we have them riding our backs a lot, but it makes it worth it. It makes it kinda a family affair: people probably think we're crazy!"
"It's not like they're helicopter parents or something though, they just want us to take it seriously. I mean, I just graduated from college and they gave me the blessing to not go jump into a career"
"yeah, I'm taking a gap year, Celia and I both are: to focus on the band"
"Its awesome, we're going to owe them a lot"
Lastly I just asked them what some of their plans were in the upcoming years.
Liz and Leslie :
"In the short term future we plan to just continue with the regional touring that we've been doing. Dayton is perfectly located, with the radius around us we can hit so many cities: so we can do little weekend things. In the spring we've started booking a tour for the southwest. We applied for SXSW. We haven't heard back yet; but we have a friend who we're going to go down to regardless and network and do some house shows. So we have a three week tour planned to get down there and back. We'd love to get some more festival shows this summer."
"We'd like to get on some bigger bands as some supporting acts and stuff, whether that's down at Bogarts or the LC or somewhere like that where there's bigger bands coming through. It's to the point where we're almost done at the level we're at right now: it's time to take the next step. So we're in the process of trying to take that next step and it's extremely daunting [Laughing], but it's exciting"
"From that point you start looking at doing national tours and working with a touring agency, or getting on a label. There's so many different routes that could take! For all we know it's a european tour next summer or something, that's like my dream!"
"there's so many different things you can do, so it's taking a lot of research and a lot of networking"
"yeah, then just to continue playing and writing, that is our product: that's what we have to keep doing. Writing new songs, getting better at our instruments, getting better at our stage performance. That can take full days, and it's been really hard because we have to self-discipline ourselves. You don't really have anyone telling you what to do, so it can be hard, but as things progress it gets more exciting so you want to wake up early and practice and do things!"
"Obviously we're still really young, so there's that window of time that you have to get as much of your foot in the door while you can while you're still young. So there is a time crunch, we won't be as marketable when we're 33 than we are right now. It works in our favor aaand sometimes not in our favor, since Leslie and Celia are under 21 there are shows we can't do.
I get exhausted just talking about it, but it's so cool and so rewarding! I've never gotten off stage, even at a bad show, and been like 'ugh, I'm not doing this anymore'."
"yeah, I could be having the worst day and then we play a show and I'm like 'ah! what was I even mad about?"
"Or even just practice, and messing around, playing music is such a good outlet. I know people talk about music in a positive sense all the time, but I really think it's an important part of people's lives. It's unique to each person, and it's really cool to be able to express ourselves in that way and have that be something that entertains people. It's an amazing opportunity to have."
Good English is a band of sisters Liz, Leslie, and Celia Rasmussen, and is based out of Dayton OH. They tour locally and regionally and have been recognized in several local toplists and columns; including ranking in Dayton's top 5 artists of 2013, and in Dayton City Paper's 'Best Album of 2013' for their album "Radio Wires". Their work can be found on soundcloud and itunes, as well as on their website and facebook page. Contact for booking and other information is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, of course, be sure to hit up one of their shows and see them live!