Surf Rock Music Because It Rocks

Devon Cathlin: An Interview with The Neptunas

The Neptunas rock and roll surf rock band A Devon Cathlin Interview
An Interview with The Neptunas
Interview by: Devon Cathlin

Every once in awhile you meet a group of people that you end up adoring. You think up any excuse you can to be around them. You wonder if you can ever be that cool, that focused (or not?), that eager. You just know something is going to happen when they're in the building.

That, dear readers, would be The Neptunas. Uber cool. Wet-your-pants fun. In short, Outrageous Women Rockers. We recently had the good fortune to talk to this all woman surf rock band via email. Wow!

Devon Cathlin - The Neptunas is a band idea that should have happened a long time ago. In spite of the Girl Groups around no one has the panache you do. Where did the idea come from and how did you all make it happen?

Leslita - Pamita thought it up and makes it happen with a smidgen of help from her bandmates.

Sabrinita - I'm sure Pamita gave you the history of the Neptunas, which began in 1994, so we have been around a long time. I have to admit, all of the "panache" comes from Pamita and Leslita, both of whom exude coolness.

Pamita - The Neptunas were the unholy lovechild of some of the greatest bands of our time. In San Francisco, where I was living in the early 90s, there were some amazing bands playing surf instro and 60s garage – The Phantom Surfers, the Mummies and most of all, the Trashwomen. When I moved back to LA in 1992, I was looking around for bands like this to see, and there wasn't anyone doing much of anything like that and certainly no women doing wild surf instro (which is all we used to play), so I sent out an ad looking for girls who played guitar and drums. It said, "You don't have to know how to play, but a good wig and bikini collection are a must!" and guess what I got – girls who didn't know how to play... but they did have good costumes!

Sabrinita - I use to jam with Pamita in high school and she had the same showmanship and knack for promoting her ground breaking crowd pleasing ideas.

Devon Cathlin - How is it you decided to be musicians instead of, say, purveyors of all beef patties or airline pilots?

Leslita - We love music.

Pamita - When there aren't bands out there doing what you'd like to see ... you're either forced to do it yourself or wade through loads of "Destiny's Child" and "Eminem". That's just not the world I want to live in. Plus, I've heard that the grease in the air at those burger joints gives you bad acne. Now, airline pilot ... I definitely drink enough for that job! Maybe I'm due for a career change, after all!

Sabrinita - I was guided by my mom's Ouija board.

Devon Cathlin - The sense of humor and fun..... have you always had this much fun musically? And, okay, we know there's a lot of hard work behind your sound. No one plays like you do without it. So, the truth now, what do you do to leave pain, suffering and PMS behind when you climb on that stage?

Sabrinita - I don't leave the pain and PMS behind, I use it to fuel my performance. Hey, those cramps have to have some benefit. It's what elevates us above male musicians.

Pamita - If it wasn't fun, we wouldn't be doing it... lord knows we're not making any dough. We're running a balance sheet like Enron, at this point. But my whole life is fun, which is why I'm not a multi-millionaire - I'm broke, but then again, I'm not doing a job that I loathe (I'm the mom of two punk rock toddlers. I also do PR for bands and drag race teams and tutor kids to put the Kraft Mac and Cheese on the table). We're probably a little too much about fun which often results in band practices where we sit around and goof off and laugh the whole time and don't get anything done.

Sabrinita - I can honestly say I always thoroughly enjoy and LOVE playing the drums. I've played in orchestras, musicals, jazz bands, marching bands, drum corps, cars, many bedrooms and garages, and clubs, and each time was a kick (pun intended).

Leslita - We have some sense of theater and have a common goal to put on a good performance. Pamita gives out reading assignments so that we will strive to improve our shows.

Sabrinita - Also, the tequila shots work wonders. (A newly established Neptunas' ritual.)

Devon Cathlin - Tell us about becoming a musician. The pain. The heartbreak. The joy of trouncing ego-centric gorillas with a great run or drum break just as they've snorted a neanderthal-esque comment about women musicians.

Sabrinita - Throughout my early years I hated hearing, "You're pretty good for a girl." I don't hear those back handed compliments any more, thankfully.

Pamita - This is a totally weird question for me. On the one hand, we are as lunk-headed and rudimentary as they come. No one comes to a Neptunas show expecting to hear some hot Yngwie Malmsteen licks, but then again, seeing Yngwie Malmsteen sounds about appealing as going to a Promise Keepers meeting to me. I like lunkheaded three-chord garage rock – and I like it fast, loud and loose. So, has being a lame girl band hurt us? On the contrary, everyone comes out for the freak show.

Leslita - We had to push some boys around at first, but now we seem to get a bit more respect.

Sabrinita - When I was 10 years old and wanted to play drums in the school band, I was told that there were already too many boys who wanted to play the drums, and that I should play a girl instrument, like the flute, instead. I don't think so! Even at 10 years of age, I knew their comments reeked of sexual discrimination and when I threatened to sue for a lifetime supply of Bazooka gum, they had no choice but to let me play drums.

Pamita - There are going to be folks that snort at us no matter what we do. (If I went to Billy Joel concert and he did the most rad garage rock piano solo, I'd still go, "Whatever, guy!" Nothing he could do would change my mind that he's a lame-o.) Also, when someone says something bad about us, it usually isn't to my face because people are afraid of me for some unexplicable reason. But if I find out that someone was talking shit after the fact, or say, we get a crappy review, I think, "Ah man, that cat just doesn't get it!" Couldn't possibly be that we suck! As my best friend constantly has to inform me, my main character flaw is that I have too much self esteem.

Devon Cathlin - Where do you see yourself and the band in another five years? And, more importantly, how are going to get there (in other words, tell us your secrets so we can do it, too)?

Leslita - It's a lot of fun, and we plan to keep writing songs and playing as long as we can.

Pamita - I don't really know where I see us in five years. I'd like to have a few more CDs out. Playing lots of shows for happy audiences and maybe flying to gigs in the Led Zeppelin Starship. Just a few modest goals. I'm along for the ride. I like surprises!

Sabrinita - I hope I'll be a better musician and that we'll be playing bigger venues and more people will have enjoyed the Neptunas experience. We may have to bribe a lot of people initially, but we're not above that.

Pamita - As for getting there, I will share the seven sacred words that have been the guiding star in my life and will continue to form the basis of every decision that I make, "There is no such thing as bad press."

Devon Cathlin - How about writing more songs? Is there an all originals future for The Neptunas?

Leslita - Yes. We write songs easily and quickly when we take time to do it.

Pamita - Yeah, Leslita and I are an effin' Leiber and Stoller. We've got this great thing going in a lot of ways. First of all, Leslita totally ups the ante for me. Everytime she writes a new song, I think, "Oh shit! If I don't get offa my ass, she's going to have more songs on the next CD than me." So then, I write something. When we bring it to practice, she and I add to each others' songs, make suggestions, etc. Sabrinita writes her drum part and we give the whole band writing credit.

Pamita - I love the way she and I write together. I am very traditional, very logical in my writing. I'll write funny lyrics, but it will be in a dry, well-thought-out sort of way. I'm pretty left brain. Leslita writes prog rock space arias. I think, "Where the hell did that come from???" but we meld together and it's perfect! Her lyrics always make me laugh too! I quote her lyrics all the time in my day-to-day life. I'm always saying "Jalepenos While-U-Wait" for some reason, which is from her song "Neptuna Car Wash". It sums up a whole lot for me. It's the most random thing you could ever possibly say. Anyway, it's become my mantra. Ah.. now who's the weird one?

Sabrinita - YES!!! I enjoy doing covers, but I want us to create enough originals so that many years from now, young, musically hip kids can cover our songs. (A girl can dream.)

Devon Cathlin - Okay, we're going to be serious here. What kind of practice and rehearsal ethic do you have?

Leslita - We try to practice at least weekly.

Pamita - Well, I'd like to say that we have three regular nights a week that we practice and that each practice is 4 hours long... but I'd be lying my ass off. We practice when we can and for as long as we can. Sometimes it's twice a week and sometimes it's twice a month.

Sabrinita - I love to practice, it's just difficult finding the time for all three of us to schedule practice in between our day jobs, significant others, kids, and pets.

Pamita - I will say that I do have a good work ethic when it comes to press releases. I always send out announcements of our shows. You'll never have to say that you missed a Neptunas show because you didn't know about it unless you're living on a mountain in Tibet. However, I have been getting a few emails from the monks in the monestaries up there asking me to stop the spam so, no doubt, they're hearing about us there too!

Devon Cathlin - How do you prepare for gigs, what do you take with you, what kind of road crew do you use?

Pamita - My personal road crew is my two friends Rosy Palm and Mr. Hand – my husband Jeff (who is the drummer for a great band called "The Mighty Kegsmen", who, incidentally, we wrote the song "Sorority Stomp" about) helps me occasionally, but most of the time he's at home with our kids and it's just me. Leslita's husband, Dallas Don, helps her out sometimes and Sabrinita's girlfriend, Sandy helps her out.

Leslita - I have started bringing two guitars, a guitar stand, and a tuner, along with pedals, cords, and amp, to every show. My husband is my road crew.

Pamita - As for gig prep, here's my actual list that I printed out for my last gig – this is for real, I swear.
    Neptunas showtime checklist

  • Costumes - (capes, underpants)
  • Props - (hot dogs, candy, cards)
  • change of clothes
  • make-up
  • flyers
  • merch - (Merch bag, signs)
  • email sign up list - (Clipboard, pens)
  • set lists
  • business cards
  • bass
  • amp
Pamita - You can see very clearly where my priorities are – I could always borrow someone else's bass and amp, but gawd forbid I should show up without hot dogs!

Sabrinita - I find directions to the club on mapquest, load up my car and take off. I use ANY road crew I'm lucky to get. I love it when a friend or two shows up at a gig. Although I'm happy they came to see the Neptunas perform, secretly I'm even more thrilled that they'll be around to help me load my drums back into my car at 1:00 in the morning.

Devon Cathlin - Any favorite instruments or goodies you use to get your sound?

Leslita - I usually play a National that looks like an SG; my amp is a Fender Super Reverb.

Pamita - My lovely hubby just bought me a new "back up" bass for my birthday – a Danelectro short horn re-issue in Silver Sparkle, which I adore!!! My old stand-by, the green Fender Mustang with the Competition Racing Stripe, is in the guitar hospital at the moment. Please send get-well cards c/o the Neptunas and I'll make sure they get to her.

Sabrinita - I love banging the Neptunas' signature blue sparkle kit, which was refurbished by Pamita's rockin' drummer hubby.

Sabrinita - However, I find that I sound the best after I buy the audience a couple of rounds.

Devon Cathlin - That's about as serious as I can get, asking about instruments, so let's talk about....... falsies. Tell! This is a story we have to hear!

Leslita - Pamita has the best falsies story.

Pamita - Being on stage can be heaven or hell. I've had some of my proudest moments and my most humiliating experiences on the fine stages of this great land we call the U.S. of A. One of the most humbling events I've ever had as a performer was at this show that I wore a very voluptuous low cut dress. I was jumping around, doing karate kicks and then.... I saw it... my foam falsie had pushed up out of my bra and was halfway out of the dress. So, I did what any self-respecting garage girl would do, I pulled it out all the way, took out the other one and threw them into the audience. Man, even better than when Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick throws picks into the audience, I say! He should take a tip!

Sabrinita - This question is answered in one glance!

Devon Cathlin - Got any other secrets we can make public or whisper about?

Leslita - If we tell, they won't be secrets.

Sabrinita - I wish I could tell you about the Surfari tour we took five years or so ago, but I was sworn to secrecy by Leslita.

Pamita - I'd love to tell you all of our great road stories, but then I'd have nothing to print in the tell-all bio that will fund my retirement. But believe me, though it won't be out for another 60 years or so, I promise you, it'll be well worth the wait. The one about Johnny El Dorado and the tobacco shop doorway at 3 a.m. in Athens, GA will be worth the highly-inflated cover price alone!

Sabrinita - Pamita flashes her undies at me during every show, which have hand written messages on them. Sometimes she has to wear layers.

Devon Cathlin - Last but not least, who thought up the cool band name, the cool nicknames, the cool stage presence and why don't you let us steal it?

Pamita - The cool stage presence? WHAT cool stage presence? We're complete idiots!

Leslita - A friend of [former bandmate] Toastita suggested the name after we were considering the name "Petuna", which is a cat food. The nicknames happened after I went to Mexico and sent back a postcard that said Leslito — we changed it to the correct Leslita, then Pam and Toast added "ita" to their names, too. Our stage presence reflects our personalities.

Pamita - The nicknames came about because Leslita went to Mexico and sent us postcards signed "Leslito" and I'm like, "'LeslitO'?? Hey, knucklehead, that should be 'LeslitA'!" Then we just started calling each other that.

Pamita - None of us thought up the name... and I'll tell you why. At first we called ourselves "The Aquanets" because we couldn't think of a good surfy-sounding name. That was OK, but there was already a band called "The Aquanettas" and that's just too close. So we were throwing out ideas.. and as we were scraping the bottom of the barrel, I said, "How about 'The Petunas'?" Petuna is the cheapest cat food you can buy. I don't even know if it's around anymore, but it used to be just one tiny step above generic cat food. Anyway, our old drummer Toastita, asked her friend over the phone what she thought of "The Petunas." Her friend mis-heard and said, "The Neptunas? That's great!" So Toastita told Leslita and I and we all said, "YEAH! That's IT!"

Pamita - And the reason we won't let you steal any of it because damn if we didn't shoot the wad. Please, have a little mercy! And don't make us have to come up with another band name! It was hell enough the first time!

Note from Devon Cathlin -
Sure. It's worth noting that Pamita also has an all-girl Cheap Trick tribute band called Cheap Chick. We doubt if imagination is something these Madames of Mayhem are ever lacking!

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Interview by: Devon Cathlin

© Devon Cathlin 2002
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Devon Cathlin is a tarot master,
shaman and New Age writer.

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