On a Wednesday night in the cramped basement of an East Nashville home, Queens of Noise are enthusiastically rehearsing for their biggest gig yet — the 2017 Tomato Art Fest. Running through a cover of the Runaways’ “You Drive Me Wild,” guitarist Gwen Holley struggles a bit with the solo.
Holley runs through it again while fellow guitarist Robin-August Fritsch, vocalist Zoë Dominguez, bass player Kyra Cannon, and drummer Lola Petillo offer encouragement.
After several tries, Holley clearly grows frustrated. Following a time-honored rock & roll tradition, the drummer is the first to grow impatient with the guitar player’s quest for perfection. “Let’s just play ‘Queens of Noise,’ ” Petillo says from behind her drum kit, emphasizing her impatience with a few quick, light taps on the snare drum.
Meanwhile, Fritsch isn’t ready to give up on the song. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it,” she says to Holley. “Even the Runaways kinda sucked sometimes. But they always killed it because they had attitude.”
Queens of Noise have an ample supply of attitude. Formed less than a year ago, the glam-punk quintet of four 14-year-olds and one 12-year-old (Petillo) are still accumulating experience, but have already demonstrated their charm, enthusiasm, and DIY punk ethic across a handful of gigs.
As with the story of many rock bands, the path for Queens of Noise began with their exposure to RAWK followed by a declaration of, “I gotta do that!” In Fritsch’s case, her “I Love Rock ’n Roll” gene was activated by a Joan Jett concert.
“I went to see Joan live, and it was like, ‘Why did I not know who she was!’ ” Fritsch says. “So I stayed up ’til four in the morning looking up stuff about her on the internet. Then I found out she was in a band called the Runaways. I watched the documentary and the movie about the Runaways all in one night.”
Formed in 1975, the Runaways were the first all-female teenage rock band to combine the sounds of heavy metal and punk. They were dismissed at the time as “manufactured rock & roll” thanks to a combination of the overly hyped bad-girl image promoted by their notorious manager, Kim Foley, and hoary cries of “girls can’t play rock & roll!” Despite the musical misogyny, they inspired generations of young women who rejected prim and proper to run with the loud crowd.
Although Fritsch’s initial idea was to recruit a group of friends to dress as the Runaways for Halloween, the jump to a full-fledged band didn’t take long once she introduced some of her musically inclined friends to the group’s music. As a veteran actor, singer, and performer — including roles in plays, independent films, and episodes of the Nashville TV series — Fritsch was used to the spotlight. The same was true for Dominguez, who had appeared in local theatrical productions, and Cannon, who had performed with her parents, Nashville musicians Chuck Cannon and Lari White. Holley, a longtime friend of Fritsch, lacked stage experience, but had been playing guitar for years. A Facebook search led them to Petillo, who, like Fritsch, Holley, and Cannon, was an alumnus of the Southern Girls Rock Camp.
A pair of gigs near the first of the year led to high-profile bookings at Fond Object, Grimey’s, and The Family Wash. Along the way they expanded their repertoire to include songs from Bikini Kill, Fleming & John, and Those Darlins, specifically the song “Ain’t Afraid,” a special tribute to Those Darlins member and cancer fighter Jesse Zazzu, founder of the Ain’t Afraid Scholarship for Southern Girls Rock Camp.
On a muggy Saturday afternoon three days later, Queens of Noise take the main stage at Tomato Art Fest. As their set nears its conclusion, the band launches into their original song “2016.” Written by Dominguez and Fritsch, it’s proof that the new generation of riot grrrls has reported for duty.
But the thing that takes the cake,
The thing that makes us all break,
Is the demagogue, racist, Islamophobe, misogynist.
The tiny handed Twitter user
Pumpkin colored wife abuser.
I won’t dare speak his name,
But you know who I’m talking ’bout all the same.
There are a few moments of missed notes, but technical perfections don’t matter to the mass of teenage girls crowded close to the stage in rock & roll adoration, nor to the adults further back, soaking up the regal noise thrown down by five girls busy killin’ it with attitude to burn.