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Punk Family Values 

Meet the Rosenthals: two generations of art stars in one six-story warehouse.

Wednesday, May 7 2008

Page 4 of 6

George still writes all the music for the Guitarfish. Lou Lou still writes most of the lyrics, slipping her new song ideas under her brother's door in the middle of the night. It makes their already tight relationship even closer, which is both good and difficult.

"We get fed up with each other, having so much physical contact," Lou Lou admits. "It's hard to find the boundaries between brother and sister, and the things brothers and sisters do, like fighting, and being able to get work done. But for the most part the whole family gets along really well."

Her lanky, unassuming brother says good-naturedly, "She annoys me a lot, but she's a good sibling."

After those early home performances, Henry was so excited about their burgeoning music talent that he brought their raw demos on a Pirate Cat Radio show hosted by Arne Johnson, one of the directors of the Girls Rock! documentary on a music camp for young girls. Johnson was putting together a Girls Rock! showcase at Bottom of the Hill, so Henry volunteered Lou Lou and George's band. "We kickstarted the band," Henry admits. "I came home and said, 'Okay, you guys have to put a band together to play these songs.'" That deadline, and the availability of a couple of friends in another band called Tinkture, launched what became Lou Lou & the Guitarfish.

Carola also worked her industry contacts. She became friends with David Katznelson, owner of local indie label Birdman, when they both served on the Other Minds board. Carola mentioned her children had a band. Katznelson came by the Complex soon after, and left with a demo in hand.

"Their minds are developed way beyond their years in the way they look at the world in such an artful way," Katznelson says of the younger Rosenthals. "As a label person who has been around for a while, it's not something you take lightly. [Their household] is a breeding ground for people who have a language it takes most people years to work out."

Of course, just because the language is there doesn't mean the soundman will mike it correctly. Case in point: a music festival in Austin, where a young band's dreams of becoming the next big thing can get squelched by a club with malfunctioning equipment.

When the Rosenthals arrive in Austin, it's a typically sticky mid-March weekend. It's also South by Southwest (SXSW), the nation's biggest annual music marathon, which means the only hotel room Carola could find was way out by the airport. But there's a pool at the Hawthorn Suites and Henry has rented a van, which means the crew can spend a 90-degree afternoon negotiating the city's thrift stores, a favorite family pastime.

It's the second label showcase in Austin (the first was two years earlier) for Lou Lou & the Guitarfish. But this is the first time they'll have an actual record to plug, an important differentiation at an event oversaturated with fresh talent aching to be discovered.

The Friday night before the concert, Henry leaves the kids and the band with Carola to see an opera based on the music of Daniel Johnston. When Carola and the Guitarfish head out, they immediately hit a snag, as most of the band is under legal drinking age. SXSW isn't your typical family vacation destination: The weeklong parade of shows and parties is fueled by a mix of adrenaline and alcohol. Most of the clubs are 21 and over. Given that only guitarist Mark Nelsen's girlfriend, Danika, is of legal age, and bassist (and George's girlfriend) 17-year-old Lena Brown is the only one with a fake ID, this is a problem.

The group moves toward a club called Spiro's. The gang hasn't heard of Harvey Milk, the band playing inside, but it'll be something to do. Carola pulls the doorman aside and works out a deal for the younger Guitarfish to enter the 18-and-over club. "Okay," the bouncer says to her, marking giant underage "X"s on the band's hands, "but you're their guardian."

Every member of the Guitarfish calls Carola the band's manager. She's the one fielding phone calls from the label, Photoshopping the cover of their debut CD, and slicing apples for band practice. Lou Lou goes so far as to call Carola "momager" (a label she vehemently rejects).

Once Carola has helped the flock into Spiro's, though, she fades off toward a Japanese punk showcase. Left to their own devices, Lou Lou & the Guitarfish eventually bail from the club and spend their Friday in Austin like many suburban teens: congregating from one street corner after the next, shut out of adult activities.

Later, Carola texts Lou Lou that X is playing an all-ages show at the Austin Convention Center.

"Who?" George asks.

"X, that old L.A. punk band," Lou Lou explains.

By the end of the night, Lou Lou looks at the wobbly foot traffic pooling around them and drolly observes, "SXSW is all drunk people and crowds."

When you grow up with rock 'n' roll parents, perhaps you don't get especially nervous about performing at a festival with 1,500 bands from 33 countries on more than 80 stages. Lou Lou's comments are more reflective of what she's seeing than revealing a queasy stomach. Anxiety slips from the mouths of these teens in small traces — George joking during one practice that "I think we should link all our songs together so no one can boo us offstage," or Lou Lou mentioning offhandedly before the show that she doesn't like the sound of her own voice.

The last night of SXSW, standing at Room 710 an hour before her band takes the stage here, Lou Lou seems more opinionated about the venue they're in than what people will think of her music. "This seems like a gross place to get drunk," she observes of the dingy rock 'n' roll hovel. It's a funny comment, given that she doesn't drink, and the hard time the bouncers gave her when she arrived for soundcheck. "They told me they'd let me in, but said if we drink they'll cancel our set and kick us out," she recalls. To which the second doorman added, "And then we'll kill you." It's an ominous introduction, and things only go downhill from here.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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