The band is like a long-distance love affair. The good songs come together like true love. And the side projects are when your steady goes out; nails the bartender at the Gulp 'n' Grope; and winds up stumbling sticky, drunk and ultimately unsatisfied into your cold, lonely bed.
Or more succinctly: "If they're out fucking other people," says Dejha Colantuono, singer/guitar player for the Rotten Apples, "maybe they'll come home and have learned a few things!"
Sensing a theme here?
"I constantly have sex on the brain," sighs Colantuono.
"She's, you know," whispers drummer Heather-Jane Anderson, "single."
But then that's how the Rotten Apples' repertoire demands it. Their debut full-length, Real Tuff: Durable Plastic, is built Poltergeist-style over an ancient ex-significant-other burial ground, with once-mushy-now-rigor-mortised relationships bursting through the floorboards into hideous (and new wave-y) life. Without these tales of doomed romance, we'd be left with half an album; with sex and single-woman-hood constantly bearing down on Colantuono's brain, Real Tuff stretches into something determined, honest and passionate.
You know what the most romantic song ever performed is? The New York Dolls singing "Give Her a Great Big Kiss" to the shades-wearing tuff girl who is good-bad but not evil. And that's not only the sound: there's a punk growl (though closer to Blondie than the Dolls, if we can dismantle the analogy a bit) with a girl-group gleam. That's probably Colantuono herself.
"Oh, I think it's something that just sort of happened," says Colantuono. "It's the types of things we're singing about, from the angle of the tough girl who always gets hurt by the tough guy. 'Unrequited love,' as it were—tough with an element of vulnerability to it."
There's album opener "Love Career" ("Look at my face and then erase it from your memory/The best decision for your love career!"); Colantuono and Anderson's favorite track, the chilly "Heart Candy" ("Won't you/Tell me/A friend, a foe, acquaintance or some other?"); the night of confusion in "My House" ("It's so amazing/That you'd end up at my house/I must be crazy"); the just-after letdown of "Not Yours" ("For another long minute/I have to ask myself why/What am I doing here in it?/The hand that touches me is mine"); and the as-subtle-as-a-pregnancy-test "FWAK," which, yes, stands for "fucked without a kiss."
That's delicate subject matter—out of 18-year-old suburban boys, we might call it emo—but it's all in the delivery, belted out in Colantuono's ballsy (or, you know, ovaries-y) cough drops-and-cigarettes alto and backed by punchy punk pop guitars. The Apples are from Seattle, but Colantuono commutes back to practice from LA; maybe that's why she has more than a little of Bellrays soul singer non pareil Lisa Kekaula in her voice. And though the clipped-verse-into-open-armed-chorus songwriting style Colantuono favors is borrowed more from the Bowie and Blondie of her youth than the jazz her musician parents kept her steeped in, you can still catch a little blue-note edge in the Rotten Apples.
"Jazz, for me, was the same as punk rock—all this music just being absorbed into my being," she says. "Simple songs, written so eloquently that you're taken by it—you feel connected to it. That's what makes a great song."
"Yeah," says Anderson, switching to a leaden deadpan. "I. Like. To. Hit. My. Drums."
"And then we have Heather," says Colantuono, "the monosyllabic type." The funny thing is that for all the raw and tragic subject matter, Colantuono and Anderson—they're the core of the band right now, signing on friends to flesh the songs out—are pretty funny (including asking this reporter if he was "hot," which, for the record, he goddamn well is), bouncing in-jokes off each other like softballs in a batting cage. That's gotta be the other benefit of all those ex-significant-others: after the trauma comes the sense of humor.
"That's our second calling: comediennes!" says Colantuono.
"Yeah! Why do drummers leave their sticks on the dashboard?" asks Anderson. "So they can park in handicapped zones!"
"How many singers does it take to screw in a light bulb?" asks Colantuono. "One! The singer stands there, and the world revolves around her!"
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They used to do shtick onstage, they say, but it confused and scared the audience—even if Colantuono and Anderson thought it was hilarious. So now they stick to heartbreak—which translates better—like professionals. Well, except in interviews.
"We get on, we rock, we get off," says Anderson.
"Maybe you get off," says Colantuono, "but I'm single!"
The Rotten Apples perform with Evil Beaver, the Shocker, the Lipstick Pickups and Us Against the World at the Liquid Den, 5061 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 377-7964. Sat., 8:30 p.m. $7. 21+.