By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Liza Graves, guitarist and primary mouthpiece for Long Beach punk combo Civet, recently reached a transformative realization. The Suicide Girls lookalike with a weather-beaten voice came to understand that Civet didn't need to be an all-female outfit to portray their punkish anti-rules-and-regulations ethos. In fact, rules of any kind only seemed to hinder what she had been aiming to accomplish all along.
Civet, which Graves formed with her younger sister Suzi Homewrecker more than a decade ago, had always been envisioned as an all-girl act. When its rhythm section of Jacqui Valentine (bass) and Roxie Darling (drums) quit last November on tour while the group was the opening act for Nashville Pussy, the pangs of finding new members opened Graves' eyes to a different approach. She found that doing things her way meant throwing down all conventions and opening the doors of her band to the less-fair sex.
"We'd had a lot of different girls in the band, and we realized that instead of just focusing on girls, we wanted to find the best drummer and bass player for us," she says. "So now we have two guys in the band, and it's honestly the best lineup we've ever had. Besides the music, when there are four girls in the band, it gets competitive. . . . Our chemistry now is really great."
Graves' independent streak crossed over to the recording of Civet's latest release, Love & War, issued on Feb. 22. The raucous, high-energy set is a guttural spitball draped in anthemic choruses—just the way Graves intended. Rather than working with two big-name producers (as they did with Julian Raymond and Howard Willing on 2008's Hell Hath No Fury), the band chose to go it alone in the studio, trusting their own talents to get the vision across.
"On our last record, the production was so large and the sound wasn't exactly representative of us," Graves says. "We wanted to record ourselves in a way that captured what we like and who we really are. It can be difficult without an outside ear to help you figure things out, but we feel good about it."
The set was tracked in an Orange County studio over a few weeks with a longtime friend engineering behind the boards. The atmosphere was relaxed and party-like, allowing for the creative energy to take the band in whatever direction they wanted. The result was 14 songs of power street punk recalling the brute force of Motörhead, the exhaust-fume vocals of Courtney Love and the big, snappy choruses of Rancid. Standout tracks include "L.A. Nights," a song owed to an evening on the town partying, and "Summer of Hate," a rollicking tale of growing up in a punk-fueled environment. "We really felt free in the studio," Graves says. "This may not be as polished as our last record, but people seem to be into it. There were no rules behind what we were able to do, and that's the way music should be."
Graves and Homewrecker penned all the songs, with the former handling the bulk of the lyrics. The two grew up in Long Beach writing songs with their stepfather playing the drums behind them. Though 27-year-old Graves is five years older than her sister, they always had the desire to make a career out of it together. While their relationship is generally very warm, the ebbs and flows of working with family mixed with countless hours trapped in a van in some foreign place can make for some less enthusiastic moments.
"I guess there is some Liam and Noel in us [as in the Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame/infamy]. You can't see it onstage or anything, but if you spend enough time around us, you can see it," she says. "I think that's natural with siblings. . . . On the whole, I love being in a band with her."
For now, Civet plan to spend the majority of the next year on the road crossing North America and making trips to Japan and Europe. With the new, emboldened lineup and a great record to promote, they're excited.
"This should be a big year for us," Graves said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to take everything in and enjoy it."
This article appeared in print as "Now With Boys! Civet ditch the all-girl punk-combo concept and release their best effort to date."