Everything not quite peachy on BABS socially and politically charged debut

Andy Downing

When bassist Lissa Reed set out to record vocals on “Rage,” her bandmates in BABS did their best to help her work up the needed lather. 

“I’m a woman of color, so that’s just the space that I live in, the words in that song. … But I had to get into a physical anger, like I had to be puffed up as if I was about to fight, so my body was in this state that I don’t normally get into,” said Reed, who started playing bass in church bands as a youngster alongside her father, a one-time punk rocker. “I remember everyone talking me up, shouting things to make me angry, like, ‘Think about men taking up space! Think aboutTrump!’"

“I have lived a thousand lives now/Trapped beneath your thumb,” Reed sings at the onset of the track, her voice vibrating with a fury mirrored in the music. The emotions reach a full boil as the song passes its midpoint, Reed and bandmates Sarah Nocar (guitars/vocals), Liz Fisher (guitar/vocals), Devin Copfer (violin/vocals) and Mike Ortiz (drums) curling together like the fingers of tightly balled fist. 

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Throughout BABS debut EP,Peach,which will be released to streaming platforms on Friday, May 15, the musicians don’t shy from these full-throated expressions. Songs embrace explicit sexuality (“Poon MC,” whose origin story involves some combination of the Fourth of July, day drinking and the Spinal Tap album), the freedom to wallow (“Daylight,” a shadowy turn that could pass for a reflection on the coronavirus era but was actually written in the early years of the Trump presidency) and the rancor that can build from stored trauma and the weight of societal expectations (“Rage”).

“I always wanted to make the music that I wished I’d heard women playing when I was growing up,” Nocar said. “I grew up on Zeppelin and a lot of ’60s and ’70s hard rock that was sexual and angry, all of these emotions that women are typically not given the space to have publicly without constant scrutiny. … It’s the idea that we're going to have those feelings, and we're going to have them as loud as we want.”

The musicians in BABS first connected in 2016, coming together to perform as a Blondie cover band for Halloween. It didn’t take long, however, for Reed, Nocar, Fisher and Copfer to realize that this particular formation allowed them a more open form of expression than they had ever experienced making music in male-dominated groups. It helped that three of the four share a background in classical music, a genre that is also very white and male-driven. “And I’ve carved out a space for myself in that world,” Reed said, “which is trying to change it, making it feminist and anti-racist and anti-colonial. And I bring those same thoughts into any work or creative outlet that I’m a part of.”

“It’s the most supportive musical environment I’ve been in,” Nocar said. “We trust one another, and there’s a ton of respect for each person’s [creative] process.”

“We’d get together and be like, ‘OK, we’re going to practice these songs today,’ and then we’d end up talking about our lives for half an hour before we even got to playing anything,” Reed said. “And it was so meaningful, and such a good use of our time together to build those relationships, because as we came together and became friends, we realized we had these shared ideals and experiences, and we started to feel free to express our emotions in space together. … And I think that really formed the way we make songs around ideas rather than a musical style.”