New York Press: Profile of Mommy & Daddy
By Laura Barcella
They may call themselves the “Sonny and Cher of electropunk,” but utter the word “electroclash” in Mommy and Daddy’s presence and prepare for a deluge of exclamations and eye-rolling.
“What a joke,” says 24-year-old Vivian Sarratt (Mommy), sighing over the last bite of her pizza crust. “It’s a cool idea that went way wrong,” concurs Edmond Hallas (Daddy), Sarratt’s husband of nearly three years, who wouldn’t reveal his age. “People lump us into that category, but it’s off the mark. We’re just a punk band without a drummer.”
Relying solely on a drum machine, fuzzy bass guitar and taunting boy/girl vocals, the sound of this East Village power-couple-in-love reflects hints of Le Tigre, the Liars and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Since their first live show at Acme Underground last July, the couple has amassed a small but devoted local following of hipsters, perverts and Luxx-lovers, largely through word of mouth and grassroots self-promotion. “It was difficult because everybody in New York is in a fucking band,” Sarratt laments.
Hoping to carve out a spot in the local synth-and-leg-warmer scene, the duo launched a full-force campaign of fliers and stickers across the city. People noticed; with such a memorable moniker, how could they not?
“Mommy and Daddy–it is a great name,” Sarratt laughs.
Hallas attributes the name’s origin to the couple’s penchant for kitty-cat baby-talk. “One day I said to our cat, ‘Mommy and Daddy are practicing!’ and it was like, ‘Ohhh, that’s it!,’” Hallas remembers. “The name just stuck. It’s kind of creepy, it’s kind of cool.”
Creepiness is what drew Hallas and Sarratt together five years ago in a George Mason University philosophy classroom near Washington, DC. Sarratt recalls, “I thought he was an inmate. He had tattoos and he dressed really dorky. I was like, ‘Hey baby.’” Two weeks later they began to make music together, and in June 2000 the newlywed couple moved to New York to collaborate on folk, metal, slow-core and what Hallas dubs “Thrill Kill Kult-kind of” projects.
But nothing gelled until last summer, when they received a shot of divine inspiration in the form of a Knitting Factory performance by Olympia punk band the Gossip. The show opened Sarratt and Hallas’ eyes to the kind of “pure freak-out” music they truly wanted to make.
“I cried,” Sarratt remembers, eyes widening. “[The singer] took off her top, yelled, ‘This is for all the fat girls!’ and threw it in the crowd. Everyone was like, ‘Ahhh!’”
Indie-snob head-bobbing would not suffice. Like the Gossip, Mommy and Daddy wanted to provoke audiences to shriek, wail and, most importantly, dance. “All of the stuff we had written previously was about venting something. It was less party-based, less fun,” says Hallas, who began to notice a shift in the local rock climate last year. “As cheesy as it sounds, I think 9/11 affected [the music scene] in that people want to go out, get fucked up and enjoy music in a positive way by freaking out and forgetting about things.”
Inspired, Sarratt and Hallas started writing accessible, electronically minimal songs with a bratty punk sensibility. “Our songwriting starts with a riff that either of us has created,” explains Hallas. “The drum patterns we try to keep as minimal as possible.”
Most of the band’s song structures follow a simple pattern, looped within one or two measures with no breakdown or tempo change, Ramones-style. The lyrics come last. “Though we spend a lot of time on our lyrics, I think they’re secondary,” says Hallas. “But it’s funny,” Sarratt chimes in, “because after we write a lyric, I’ll think it doesn’t mean anything. Then later I’ll hear it and go, ‘Ohhh, this song is about oral sex!’”
Mommy and Daddy’s most oft-quoted tune, “Permed Past Her Prime,” is a bitchy anti-Chloe Sevigny rant joyfully dissing the Connecticut-born fashion plate, in which Sarratt deadpans, “‘Paparazzi vipers!/Why can’t I live a normal life?’/She says from behind sunglasses/Next year she’ll be a Stepford wife.”
Sarratt would rather not discuss the song for fear that a certain Connecticut fashion plate will “take it too seriously,” but she does admit it’s about the cult of celebrity. Hallas adds, “The chorus is a Chloe Sevigny comment. But the lyrics are a composite about different people who are famous, and you’re never sure why they’re famous.” An animated Sarratt describes picking up a recent issue of Vogue: “Who are these people? They’re just society people! They’re in this dumb magazine, and people eat it up.”
After self-releasing a six-song demo last summer and opening for esteemed acts such as Hot Hot Heat, Add N to X and the Walkmen, Mommy and Daddy’s underground whisper has grown into a buzz. In September the pair was signed to London’s Big Cat Records, early home of Pavement, Jeff Buckley, Luscious Jackson and Mercury Rev. Last Halloween, they hit the studio to work on a debut EP with veteran punk producer Don Fury. It was a “total dream” for Hallas, who had grown up on Fury-produced New York hardcore bands such as Gorilla Biscuits and Agnostic Front. “[Fury] had never worked on any synth-based things at all,” he says. “So I think it was fun for him to figure out what the hell midi is, and what drum machines can do.”
Mommy and Daddy, for their part, are figuring out what the hell it’s like to work with a significant other. “Adjusting was weird in the beginning,” Hallas notes, “because there’s a band relationship, and then there’s the relationship-relationship.” But Sarratt finds being best friends with her only bandmate easier than enduring other musicians’ “really annoying” personality quirks: “They don’t show up, or they suck. It’s too complicated.”
In order to pursue music full-time, Sarratt recently quit her marketing job, and Hallas plans to follow suit. They don’t expect or desire fame and fortune; they just want to make a living. “It would be cool to play bigger clubs and have them fill up,” says Hallas. “That’s as big as we would want it to go. Once it gets past that stage, it gets boring.”
As long as audiences respond with as much enthusiasm as Mommy and Daddy exert on stage, the duo is content. These loving parents have but one wish: to see “the kids freaking out.”
Mommy and Daddy play Thurs., Jan. 16, with the Boxes, at the Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard St. (betw. Church St. & B’way), 219-3055. Their self-titled EP will be released on Big Cat in February. For more information, visit MommyandDaddy.com.