Oakland's Hottub's got its start rather randomly three years ago, and has quickly formed into one of the Bay Area's biggest draws. Although the press occasionally mistakenly tags the band as an all-girl group, the female MC's of Hottub--Nicole Feliciano (aka CoCo Machete), Amber Griffin-Royal (aka Ambr33zy), and Jenifer Ackerman (aka Lolipop)--are actually 3/5ths of the project.
The group is the brainchild of producer Jason Stinnett (aka Jay-Sonic), who works with keyboardist Mark Gregory (aka Funky Finger Mark) to provide Hottub's original beats. Stinnett pulls from '80s electro,'70s funk, and '90s hip-hop to compliment the ladies' deliciously crass lyrics and hyper stage performances.
After opening for M.I.A. last year and wrapping up a tour with The Ting Tings last May, the group released a 4-song EP On Blast! on its own label Le Heat. All Shook Down's Bay Area band column Local Frequency met up with Hottub backstage before The Big Idea Party at Yerba Buena to chat about free food, domestic partnerships, and getting crunked.
If you could describe your sound as an Oakland neighborhood, which one would it be?
Jason Stinnett: It would be a West Oakland Flea Market with a Taco Truck.
Nicole Feliciano: Yeah, I love how diverse that particular neighborhood is. It's so urban, but there's a lot of artists that live there. I mean you've got artists that live there, fucking Burning Man people that live there, galleries, just a hodgepodge, kind of how we are.
It's happy hour, where can we find you?
JS: Probably working on music.
Amber Griffin - Royal: You can find me at Lake Merritt. I chill out and watch the sunset, have a couple of beers, cigarettes - good for inspiration.
NF: I work in Downtown Oakland, so I'm terrorizing all those fancy places. There's this one place where you can get $6 sangria and all you can eat fancy hors d'oeuvres.
NF: It's across the street from Luka's. What the shit is that place called? Like, ridiculous, hella-bougie, like I never would [go] in a million years, except they have free flowing food. [Writers note: Franklin Square Wine Bar]
Mark Gregory: Let's see, 5pm, what am I doing?
AG-R: Getting a reach-around?
MG: On myself? Happy Hour, I might be DJ-ing possibly. Or working on mix tapes.
You mentioned you're such a hodgepodge, how did everyone originally get together?
NF: Jason has been producing music for a really, really, really long time and had this project called Hottub that he wanted me to do for a minute. He and Mark had this electronic group prior to this called Concepts. So Jason and I got together and were like, "Let's do it!" Originally it was just going to be me doing a bunch of shit in Tagalog, which is my native tongue, and Jason making the beats for it. So we go and play our first show; Jen was there, being a supportive friend. At? Shit! Where was it? We drove by it the other day!
NF: Right. It's this Middle Eastern restaurant. Intense. There was this party we were supposed to play. I was scared shitless. I thought I was going to die. I had never really performed at all. So, we did it, Jason dropped the bass line, and their old, janky, '70s speaker caught on fire. We were so fucking scared, and all these kids were dumping liquor in it and singing "The Roof is On Fire." Anyway, the moral of the story was: fuuuck that. I cannot do that by myself.
MG: But honestly, it was a good sign. Our first show, and something catching on fire, a good sign to keep going.
NF: If your bass brought fire upon a speaker, I guess it's a good sign. But, from my perspective, I was like, "This would be so much better if I had my homies," So, we tried one girl, and changed our direction a bit and thought we were going to do bass-y Miami doo-wop. At the time Bmore music was starting to hit, you know like mixing a lot old 60's foot-stomping songs to heavy bass.
Meanwhile, I worked with this awesome babe (points to Amber) at the Buffalo Exchange on Telegraph. For a while we were like, (high pitched voice) "Amber, do something with us!" We did a radio show two days after Zanzibar. Amber moved to New York, happened to come back one day, and come out to one of our shows.
AG-R: I hadn't been in communication, and I get a text saying, "Hey, what's up, we're performing at The Uptown (Night Club) come out." I came a little bit late so I missed the show, and they were like, "Well you're back now from New York, so I guess you can be in Hottub." We had practice the next day, and then the day after we had our first show, at The WC in Oakland. I threw up everywhere. I was so fucking scared. We drank Sparks earlier, and I was trying to blame it on the Sparks.
NF: The whole set sounded like we were in a fucking wind tunnel.
AG-R: Which was really good for me, cause I was fucked up.
Your live shows are out of control, where do you ladies get your energy?
JA: It just comes.
NF: Testicular injections. No, but really, I have a 9-5 job and it's a good way to release a lot of stress from the day.
AG-R: I'm not sure either but I use it as an excuse to get lewd, just go balls to the wall.
MG: And strip guys.
JA: Amber has no problem spitting on people, or on me, like the time she spit sour cream on me.
NF: We feed off each other. We're all un-self-conscious and childlike. It works.
How did opening for M.I.A & touring with the Ting Tings come about?
MG: A good friend of ours, Jeffrey Paradise. I talked to him on the phone one day and he was like, "Wow, Hottub is a great name." I told him about what we were doing, and he had us play Blow Up. From there things just took off.
JS: Because of Jeffery Paradise, we were able to play more shows. And that's when we got asked to open for M.I.A, on her last tour.
NF: We got asked to play like, a week before our show and we hadn't played anything that large before, or since really. There were like, 5,000 kids all screaming.
JS: After that we got asked to play with the Ting Tings. They loved us, and asked us to go on tour. That was an amazing experience, like holy shit.
NF: In terms of a promoter, Jeffrey Paradise is great. With our tour with the Ting Tings we had to fund it ourselves, and were able to afford it by getting shows booked through Jeff because he believed in us. Additionally, with the help of family and friends, who helped us raise money, or covered the costs for things, it's been amazing. It's about being part of a cool community.
Last thing you've read?
JA: I read Wax Poetics. I just got a subscription.
MG: I'm reading a book called Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living With Each Other as an Unmarried Couple. It's about domestic partnerships. I didn't know that heterosexuals couldn't legally have domestic partnerships, apparently you gotta be 65.
JS: Last book I read was Mini-Mode Synthesizer - a users guide manual.
AS-G: Pimp by Iceberg Slim. It was just pimp talk the entire way. That's like the illest thing, being a pimp. I wish I could be a pimp.
NF: The last thing I read that really knocked my socks off was The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz. It's about this kid's experience growing up in the Bronx but being originally from the Dominican Republic. I have a soft spot for immigrant stories, because I am one.
You were involved in the Girls Rock Camp here in Oakland; can you tell us more about that?
AS-R: It's in Oakland at Mills College. Remember the documentary that came out? It's the same group. They were able to start a chapter out here, and recently gained non-profit status. Basically, they run this really fucking really cool summer camp for girls.
Jenifer Ackerman: The age range was so huge there was like, little, little girls, all the way to 15 year olds all learning the same thing. They get to take all these workshops.
NF: Workshops like, Band Management! Playing Guitar! Song Writing!
JF: This summer will be the third year, musicians are welcome to volunteer and teach workshops. We did a Q&A after our set, that was so much fun. The girls would ask questions like: (meek voice) "Um, like, how do you decide to wear what you're going to wear when you go out?" We talked about how fun it is to express yourself with your fashion, or however you want.
NF: And this one little girl goes, "But what if people think you're weird?" And this other girl in the back, with blue hair stands up and says, "People in my class think I'm weird everyday and I LIKE IT!"
JA: We were all like "Yeah!" That's so great!
AG-R: Brings a tear to your eye.
What's a song that's been stuck in your head recently?
MG: The last two days, I've gone retro. "I Want Your Love"-- Le Sheik. Also, Solange's cover of The Dirty Projector's "Stillness is the Move."
JS: "aNYway" by Duck Sauce.
AG-R: I've got two songs! "Hey" by The Pixies. Which is funny, cause I don't really like them. And "aNYway" by Duck Sauce also.
NF: This is embarrassing but I've got three Heart songs on my iPod, and for some reason I can't seem to get "Barracuda" and "Magic Man" off of repeat. I'm a sucker for power female rock.
JA: It's because we saw the Pixies the other day but "Monkey Gone to Heaven."
What are some of your favorite venues?
AG-R: The Fillmore! Playing at the Fillmore blew my fucking mind. It wasn't the best show we did, but the fact we played at the Fillmore was a dream completed.
JA: I would say the say the Rickshaw because they have the best soundman in the world, Waldo! Also, Aunt Charlie's.
NF: I would have to agree and say that the Rickshaw has definitely been our home through out this.
Finally, you bill yourselves as a Punk, Crunk and Funk outfit. Is crunk a lifestyle or attitude?
NF: Ooooh, It's a smell! It's a taste! All those things are smell driven. I think that the best part of Hottub is that Amber brought the crunk.
AG-R: Yeah, the crunk to a different level where I don't know it's wrong for me to piss in the middle of the street.
JS: That and all those words happen rhyme also.
NF: It is funky what we do. It's punk in the sense of attitude, the rawness. It's punk in the sense that fucking hip-hop was raw.
AG-R: And it's crunk because of the Bay Area, also that crazy, like fucking body bounce you do.
JA: People kind of want to put us in a box, like hip-hop and we're not really that. We rap, we chant, we sing, we scream. It is what it is; we're a little bit of everything.
Where can we see you next?
Dec. 4th at The Rickshaw