Aberdeen reunites for first L.A. show in eight years; Beth Arzy on why she’s over indie-pop (but isn’t)


Aberdeen holds a special place in the cult of indie-pop. The quartet was the only Los Angeles band to release music on the legendary London label Sarah Records. Their gorgeous, shoegazey twee-pop belied the band’s tumultuous existence (and breakup) in the 1990s, but principals John Girgus and Beth Arzy got their heads together with bandmates Johnny Joyner and Brian Espinosa after a six-year layoff to finish the album “Homesick and Happy to Be Here,” finally released in 2002.

I thought then and still think to this day that “Homesick” is one of the finest albums of the genre. Jangly, melodic and just dreamy enough to intoxicate, “Homesick” (which was co-produced by David Newton of the Mighty Lemon Drops) struck a nifty balance between doe-eyed yearning and West Coast optimism. Certainly, any fan of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Radio Dept. will want to lend an ear. That the album’s Anglophilic stylings were largely the brainchild of two people who went to Palm Desert High with Josh Homme (“We were the weird sissy contingent,” Girgus says today) made it all the more fascinating, for me anyway. [Note: The first music-related interview I ever conducted for my previous employer was with Girgus, for a short-lived feature in the Sunday Calendar section called “Bonus Track.”]

Arzy has spent most of the past decade in London, where she sang in her beau Bobby Wratten’s Trembling Blue Stars, a band with its own indie-pop lineage. Wratten was the frontman of the band many consider Sarah Records’ flagship, the Field Mice. Girgus has gone on to play in several other L.A. bands, most recently rock trio Non Ultra Joy.

Now, with Arzy visiting from London, Aberdeen has reunited (and even has a handful of new songs in the works). The foursome played a show last week at SF Popfest. And on Sunday night at Part Time Punks at the Echo, Aberdeen will play its first hometown show in more than eight years. Another Sarah Records band, 14 Iced Bears, will be playing its first L.A. show ever.

Prior to a rehearsal, I caught up with Arzy, who talked about the reunion, her tenuous relationship with indie-pop and having Facebook fans in Indonesia – all with her characteristic biting sense of humor:

So, where do we begin …?

Oh, no, is this going to be one of those “Tell me about your childhood” interviews?

In a manner of speaking, maybe. You were just a kid when Aberdeen started.

I’m 40 now. People have phases and my indie-pop phase was pretty short.

So with all these bands today following in the footsteps of Aberdeen and its peers, you’re over it? You’re not keen on the Pains of Being Pure at Heart or new bands like them?

I hate indie-pop. I like our music, but I never listen to it. When this came up, I thought, “Somebody Google the lyrics.” … I feel a little dis-attached, and I feel like a fraud singing it. It’s just not me anymore. Now I listen to Krautrock and BJ Nilsen (a Swedish sound artist) and things from the Iceland label Hljodak Lettar. That’s my Sarah Records. I’m obsessed.

Then you can relate to the obsession of the people who still love Aberdeen.

Most of our Facebook friends are kids from Indonesia who love our music. I feel bad saying that I don’t like indie-pop. I mean, it’s good that people are enthusiastic. They’re all quite young people and maybe 10 years from now they’ll be listening to the sounds of fax machines fucking. But I don’t want to listen to people whining about losing their Pastels button.

Then why do this little reunion? Is it just out of pride?

Well, I am proud of what we did. When John first contacted me about this, I was inclined to pass. John asked me if I minded if he got somebody else to do my parts and I said no. Then I went to Bobby and cried. Plus, I heard the new songs and I got all, “Aw, I miss my band.”

Are you going to be excited to sing the old songs?

I’m scared. I haven’t been onstage in five years, and the last time was a Trembling Blue Stars gig at New England Popfest and I had a panic attack. My brain just melted down.

Is it OK for me to say I’m looking forward to hearing “Sunny in California”?

Oh, that song; it always felt weird. I grew up in the desert – I hate the sun. I sang a lot about rain because it was always something I’d like to see.

No problem with that now that you’re living in London. Do you like it there?

It’s a shithole. I’m not the friendliest person in the world, but London is really unfriendly. When I come back here, everyone is so nice. You hear, “Have a nice day” and it takes you aback. The last time I was here I was shopping with Bobby, who went off to take some photos while I bought some new pants. Some stranger said to me, “I like your pants” and I was so shocked I cried. By the time Bobby got back I was in tears and he was like, “What did they do to you?”

Will people who saw you back in the day recognize Aberdeen now?

And maybe a few others too. To some people I’m really famous because they think I’m Beth Ditto.

||| Live: Aberdeen plays Sunday at Part Time Punks at the Echo with 14 Iced Bears (Sarah Records) and Phil Wilson of the June Brides.

||| Previously: “The Boy Has Gone Away”