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Photo: Soleil Konkel
Photo: Soleil Konkel

One Half DC, One Half NC, Full-On Hair Metal: Meet Bat Fangs

You never know who you’ll run into when you travel. You might think it strange to schedule an interview with a band that’s at least partly from the District during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But during our visit down south last month, we were able to secure an interview with fast-rising duo Bat Fangs.

Betsy Wright, one-third of DC-based rock band Ex Hex, and North Carolinian drummer Laura King released their self-titled album – a nod to the raucous hair metal of the 1980s – in February. Wright, who plays bass in Ex Hex, has put down the four-stringed instrument for its six-stringed cousin to produce speedy riffs, and King has found a serious niche rocking her drum set to the legendary genre of yesteryear.

Before their Luce Unplugged show on April 26 – part of a monthly concert series hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)’s Luce Foundation Center for American Arts – we wanted to give locals a chance to learn a little bit more about these retro-inspired rockers.

On Tap: How long have you two known each other, and did you share a musical connection before forming Bat Fangs?
Laura King: We met because our bands were playing together.
Betsy Wright: Our bands played shows together in 2015, and we met a few times. I was trying to start playing music with a drummer, and I just thought of her because she’s really good. We hit it off as friends and when I contacted her, she was super enthusiastic, so I just went down to North Carolina and we jammed. We just kept going
back and forth.
LK: I said “Yes” because I love Ex Hex and my previous band had just broken up, so I was in a bit of a rut as far as not knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t know she played guitar at first, but as soon as I heard her demos, I was like, “Wow, she shreds.”

OT: How long had you been “cranking acid-soaked, 80s hard rock for the living and the dead,” and when did you decide that you wanted to make a record in that genre?
BW: I wrote a bunch of the songs before we started playing, and that was what was coming out of my brain.
LK: Then we got together and both realized our love for 80s hair metal and glam. We rode that wave for awhile, and that’s how it ended up.
BW: That’s the music that I grew up on, and that’s the place I was at. Plus, I never stopped liking that music. Going back and listening, I started learning all kinds of guitar solos with that 80s metal sound. I just went through a phase.

OT: How different are your roles in Bat Fangs in comparison to previous projects?
BW: I never played bass before I was in Ex Hex, so that was actually the big learning curve. I always played guitar, so I was like, “I guess I can play bass.” But then I was like, “Oh sh-t,” because bass is a lot different. It took me awhile to figure out the feel. I ended up playing really evenly and very simply to be in line with the kick drum. However, when I’m at home and when I write songs, I play guitar.
LK: I think that this band has brought out the drumming I’m supposed to do. I played drums in lots of other bands, and some of them have been more hardcore or more punk. Some were really quiet, but I think this kind of sound has brought out the best of my ability. It worked out really well, and that’s what makes it so seamless.

OT: There’s a not-so-subtle use of zombie imagery in your album art that’s reminiscent of iconography used by bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica. Why did you decide to use that influence?
BW: We were talking about album covers, and we were trying to get people to do it, and no one would. So, I decided to draw it myself, and my favorite record cover from all the ones I kept looking at was Masters of Reality by Black Sabbath, which is just black with purple letters – it looks awesome. I just decided I was going to do something like that, so I drew it out and enlarged it. Laura put in Photoshop and added the colors; we made it together.

OT: What slasher flicks and other media in the genre did you draw from to create that atmosphere in your music?
LK: We watched some slasher movies.
BW: I read Dracula last year again, and I love Frankenstein – it’s like my favorite book ever. I always listen to the audio books of it around October. It’s weird because a few of our songs are like that, but there are some that are not like that at all.
LK: It was right around Halloween when we got together, and we put out a song around then, but [that was] way before our album.  

OT: How does living in different states impact how you both hear and write music? Is it seamless to combine those views when writing songs?
BW: It’s been really natural. Things came together really fast because we don’t have to explain stuff to each other, and we just kind of play. We mess around with different beats and arrangements, but it’s kind of easy. I’ll have riffs or lyrics to a song, and then we get together and work on it.
LK: We work together for days straight when we’re together, and jam for like six hours with lots of breaks. It’s fun.
BW: Sometimes, we’ll do freestyle jams and some cool riffs will come out of that, too.

OT: How many songs did you two throw out while putting together your album?
BW: We didn’t play together for that long, so we kind of recorded and boom, boom, boom. Plus, we don’t have that many songs on the record, so there aren’t too many, but we did throw out a few. They just didn’t fit.
LK: They didn’t feel right. We might revisit them.
BW: Plus, we’re always working on new stuff.

OT: When starting something new after a long stint in other acts, is there an inevitable sense of relearning a process of working with another person? Is that a refreshing experience?
BW: Yes, we’re still in the honeymoon phase. We get along really well, and it’s been fun because it’s new.
LK: Bands can be tough to be in; in my last band, my guitar player wouldn’t look at me for three months and I was like, “I can’t do this.” We’re really tight now, and we’re in another band together. But yeah, Bat Fangs is fun.

Catch Bat Fangs’ Luce Unplugged show on April 26 at 5:30 p.m.; show is free to attend. If you can’t make their SAAM show, catch them at 9:30 Club on June 5. Learn more about the band at www.batfangs.bandcamp.com.

SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art: 8th and F Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-5435; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/saam/luce