It's easy to picture Oakland foursome the Splinters as a gang of boisterous broads out to fuck shit up. The band's anthem, a fist-pounding riot called "Splintered Bridges," proclaims, "We will walk over splintered bridges and burn them behind us/We will break off door hinges and shut 'em when we leave." In "Oranges," guitarist Caroline Partamian sings about hooking up with a girl, getting in a violent tussle with her, then staring in disbelief as said female is later seen walking through the park with a man. Take that prickly band name and the group's crude-but-crafty brand of garage pop — which borrows from both the Shangri-Las and Bikini Kill — and it seems like the members could be a bunch of bull-dykes on a bender.
Not exactly. In real life, the Splinters are four straight, overachieving SoCal transplants who met at UC Berkeley and never thought they'd be in a band. Guitarist Ashley Thomas and drummer Courtney Gray grew up together, but "were too into academics," Gray explains, to get serious musically. When Thomas started penning original songs with Partamian and Lauren Stern, Gray didn't take them seriously enough to join. Maybe it was because their first song, "Periscope," was "about our first serious boyfriends going down on us," Partamian says, or because back then Stern banged on a toy drum kit purchased at FAO Schwarz.
But when the four women finally came together, they discovered a chemistry that allowed each one to contribute musical ideas, lyrics, and vocals. They all sing to various degrees on most songs, "Splinter-fying" their surly stew of the Breeders, Sonic Youth, and riot grrrl punk with a sheen of girl-group harmonies.
On their debut album, Kick, out March 9 on Oakland's Double Negative label, the Splinters mix silliness, sincerity, and sarcasm so much that it can be hard to tell them apart. On "Sorry," Thomas addresses a fling that ended in flames, singing, "You wish your friends didn't like me/But your friends, they like me. ... I'm sorry if that offends you." While it comes off as snarky, she says the song began, like most of hers do, as an acoustic ballad, and that the apology is painfully serious. ("Ashley could totally have a coffeeshop solo career," Stern muses.) The roughhousing "Oranges," meanwhile, is a Sapphic fantasy about sex and violence: "She bit at my boobies/I grabbed at her crotch/I tried to hurt her bad/But instead I got her off." Those lyrics, which Partamian wrote, are pure fiction. "I write about lesbian things when I can't speak about my own feelings for some reason," she explains. And "Ch-Cha" began when Stern and Partamian made a list of ridiculous words (like "pterodactyl") they thought would be funny to use in a song.
As saucy as some numbers on Kick get, the sentiments feel real. "Dark Shades" runs lyrics about the downside of seeing only what you want to see on top of a badass garage groove. The gorgeous acoustic closer, "Worry," features Stern's lush voice lamenting the uncertain look in a lover's eyes. When the Splinters do decide to let their unadorned selves show through the songs, they seem just as vulnerable as the rest of us.