Suck On This: An Interview with the Aquadolls

The Aquadolls are the “mermaid rock n roll” band going on eight years since their foundation by front-woman and lead vocalist, Melissa Brooks in 2012. In that near decade, the band has seen members come and go with the exception of Brooks, and their music has reflected that versatility and dynamism. Now will momentum and a consistent lineup with Jackie Proctor and Keilah Nina, the Aquadolls continue their strut with a tour with White Reaper and the message of their most recent single, “suck on this.”

“suck on this” audio video that came out on September 1, 2019.

The debut album, Stoked On You, came out in 2014 on Burger Records and had that surfy dream rock sound that showed off Melissa Brooks’ airy vocals; it was the perfect music for a day in the sun with your crush.

But the Aquadolls music has always had a bittersweet sense because of Brooks’ lyrics, a I-want-things-to-be-for-real-but-there’s-some-doubt-and-anxiety kind of feeling. The result is some music perfect for swaying, with typical California surf rock riffs but with near melancholic poetry that tucks at your heartstrings. They describe their sound as “mermaid rock n roll” and that actually might be the best way to describe it.

The sophomore album, The Dream and the Deception, came out in 2018 on the band’s own label Aqua Babe Records and only added to that sense of disconnect with other people. The album was carried heavily by the lyrical prowess of Brooks’.

In an interview during their final tour of 2019, the band talked about how their current lineup got together, their latest single and first song out with the current lineup, and Melissa Brooks talked about the the last album and where some of the inspiration came for the lyrics. The interview took place at the Lowbrow Palace on October 3, 2019.

Antonio: So, I know this tour started on the 27th of September and now you’ve already added new dates. How has it been going? why the new dates? And are you going to new cities?

Jackie: This is our second day basically. We got pretty tired and already kind of sick but today we’re feeling a lot better, I’m just a little bit tired but yeah it’s kicking our butt but it’s something we just have to get used to and I think once we get more in a routine it’ll get better. But it’s been really fun.

Keilah Nina plays bass for the Aquadolls. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

Keilah: Tour has been really fun. We had actually been planning on adding the second set of dates because our first set was in July and this is our second set. We’ve been planning this third one for quite a while. We just announced it recently, and we’re going up to places we didn’t hit last time and this time too. Like we’re going to Canada, San Francisco and we’re heading to places we hit last tour like Sacramento. We’re going back to L.A. in [Orange County] which is like our hometown so that’s really exciting, but it’s just been really fun. I think we just really need to get used to being on the road because I kind of still feel like I’m in California.

Jackie: It’s like everything looks like Joshua Tree.

Keilah: Yeah, I was saying everything looks like Joshua Tree to me. We were driving through Arizona and I was like, ‘it’s Joshua Tree.’ And then we were in New Mexico and I was like, ‘oh it’s Joshua Tree.’

Jackie: Especially because we don’t experience going out and doing much stuff because we’re literally just getting in the hotel, driving, so we just see the car red and desert and then we’re in a venue, and then we’re going again.

Keilah: So when I see a saloon, I’m just like, ‘oh we’re in Joshua Tree now, duh.’ We’re gonna be in Texas and I’m gonna be like Joshua Tree! Woohoo!’ So I just think we need to be getting used to being out on the road. I’ve never been on a U.S. tour like outside of California before so I just gotta get used to it but it’s really fun. We just gotta get on that tour mode. Grind.

Melissa: Even though this is our first time in El Paso and these gals have been in the band for over a year now and I’ve had like different lineup changes over the years and stuff but I had been in Texas about three years ago. We did a few dates and it’s cool to come back and also to get to play new spots like El Paso and then Houston and then we’re going to play Austin City Limits on Saturday. So it’s been really cool to get to travel to places that we’ve never been to and at each place there’s people there, and they know about us, and they know we exist and know our songs. They’re really sweet and it’s been really mind blowing to go to  places you’ve never been. It’s really cool.

Antonio: And then I saw on Instagram, did ya’ll play like a festival recently?

Melissa: Yeah we played Ohana Fest on Saturday and that was with Eddie Vedder, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Strokes. That was cool. We played like the little mini story teller stage. It was supposed to be an intimate stage where a lot of guest speakers where and poetry and acoustic guitar and we were the only rock band on that stage. So it was really cool to shake up that little stage and get a little slice of this really big festival.

Antonio: And like you said, there’s been lineup changes, but this tour, is it really in support of a specific album? Are you playing a lot of the most recent one?

Melissa: Yeah, technically we’re touring The Dream and the Deception right now because we haven’t toured that album outside of California, or even Southern California at all really.

Antonio: That album came out on your own Aqua Babe label, like how it was put out because I know the first ones that where on Burger Records. How and why the change, I guess?

Melissa Brooks raises a fist during the Aquadolls set in El Paso, TX at the Lowbrow Palace on October 3, 2019. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

Melissa: Burger Records put out the We Are Free EP and Stoked On You. I love them, I still work with them, I just went to the shop a couple weeks ago to get CD’s, but I wanted to start my own label because, long story short, I was working with some people and I was trying to sign to a major label and try and go into the pop direction and I was, ‘like what am I doing? No, I don’t want to do this, I want to DIY and start my own label so I can be in control and just do whatever I want.’ Even though it is self-funded and I’m very broke so it’s difficult, I did earn enough money to press CD’s, so we got some CD’s and stuff. But yeah, the label is just a way to put music out. Like when you put music on Spotify, its literally like ‘Type in your record label, if you don’t have one, make it up’ and I was like oh shit I need to make up a label. I was wondering what should it be and they said Aqua Babe was cute. We call our fans Aqua Babes and when I mail out merch, I put ‘To Aqua Babe Emily’ or whoever. So I don’t know, I thought it was a good extension, and then carrying the label name into the tour. Kind of like expanding Aqua Babe love.

Antonio: Then the new song that ya’ll very recently put out is called “Suck On This.” And that was like the first song that ya’ll made together right? Can you talk about what that was like and why or how the song is a different style compared to some of the other Aquadoll stuff?

Keilah: Actually, what happened is we were at practice and our previous guitarist who went off to college- I miss you Kate- and she had this really cool riff and everyone just started jamming on it. Then I believe it was Jackie and Mel that just started talking about experiences and started putting lyrics together about being an all-girl band and showing up to venues and just not being taken seriously. And I think that next week they got to practice and showed us the song and we just started jamming on it and it was pretty cool. I think since it’s such a different lineup, we all have pretty different influences. It kind of changed the sound a little bit, and a lot of fans weren’t really prepared for that but I think they like it. We’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback so far about it. And we’re still trying to find our sound ya know. We’ve only really written one song together, as a band, so maybe it will be different from that song.

Jackie Proctor plays the drums at full force durign the Aquadolls set during their stop at the Lowbrow Palace on the last leg of the Aqua Babes tour. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

Jackie: Yeah, I mean, ditto. I’ve written songs like that before so I think that’s where the flavor came in. I’ve written a song before that was called “Cut Throat” about a boy, of course, and like Mel writes stuff like that too, about boys; we’re like ‘fuck you,’  so basically it’s just another fuck you song. That’s why I wrote “Suck On This.” And we where like what should we call this? Suck on This, because we all kind of feel that way about stuff sometimes; it’s a way to let out your anger in a healthy way. I don’t know. That’s how I would explain it.

Melissa: We were stuck on a title for a while too. We would call it ‘New Song’, we would call it ‘The Band Song’, and then we called it ‘Soundcheck’. We had like ten different names for it but none of them really fit. They weren’t bad but it wasn’t it and “Suck On This” captured the energy. And I thought that’s kind of naughty and I was like wait, that’s good, I like that it’s kind of naughty. It might not get on the radio but it got on the radio. It played on Rodney on the Roq (a radio show from California), so yeah it’s been cool. We’ve been getting like some good feedback even though it is a lot more heavy, but I feel like a lot of early Aquadolls stuff is heavy if you listen to the deep cuts. Like “Sinus Infection,” I feel that’s pretty heavy stuff. It’s kind of expanding on that and mixing all of our influences in together, adding new voices. This is the first song that not only are we writing together, but it’s featuring other vocalists besides me, so it’s really cool. We get to show our different personalities and stuff through it.

Antonio: It’s interesting you said it’s kind of about this experience of being a band of all women. I wanted to ask if there a specific experience behind it? Like the line that goes ‘He said take off those heels,” that line.

Jackie: Yeah I don’t know, it’s not specific. I literally just had to take them off because I had to play drums and stuff, but I love wearing heels, like if I could I would. But it’s because I’ve had dudes literally just like be like ‘they suck, they should leave.’ No, you should leave, suck on this. It’s not supposed to be super, super specific exactly but that’s kind of what I mean by it because they’re like ‘get off you’re all girly’ and then I keep doing it.

Antonio: So I guess this one is kind of also a kind of dated question but September 29, the day after the tour started was the one year anniversary of “Communication.” And then I saw on Instagram, I don’t know if it was your personal account or somewhere with the band but I saw you said it was one of the “rawest” songs? Can you tell me a little bit why that’s the rawest song?

Melissa: Yeah, so the story behind that song, I wrote it and it was actually one of the last songs I wrote for The Dream and the Deception and it basically is about this guy that I was talking to for maybe like three weeks. It was really short. We only hung out like one time and then we went to this concert and then we hooked up. Literally the song is literally saying ‘we hooked up outside of my house, in his car’ and then it was really awkward, and I was really awkward and I didn’t really know what to say. I just wanted to like chat, but he was trying to get all touchy and I didn’t really want to because I just wanted to talk and stuff and make a friend. He ended up ghosting me after that and I was like, ‘what the heck, because we spent all this time texting and sending memes and I questioned if that was all because you wanted to get into my pants and when I didn’t let you, you ghost me? That’s lame. That song is basically about how I just want someone to talk to. I just want a friend. Even if it is a romantic relationship or something more platonic, I just, I’m lonely and people get lonely sometimes you know? And its hard this day and age, especially with the internet. And social media and texting versus contact in person, you see the differences between people, and sometimes when you’re texting you can seem different and then when you’re in person you have different motives. I think that’s lame. Just be real, all the way, and this song is kind of about my struggle about that and also how I’m really bad at talking. I suck at communicating.

Antonio: And several songs have that personal feel to them. “Burnt to Ashes” was another one of them that stood out.

Melissa: That song was literally written a day after “Communication” and that was the last song of the album. Also, about the same person. So The Dream and the Deception album is written in chronological order.  Or like when you listen, it’s in order of how things happened in my life. It starts in 2014 then it goes all the way until about April 2018. It kind of just shows my progression of me being like a hopeful person and then the second half is really sad.

Antonio: I also wanted to ask you about the album cover and the title. You said you did the album in order, what was the concept behind the cover?

Melissa: So the cover art, there’s a black side and there’s a red side. The black side is supposed to be like the dream and like I’m smiling, and I’m chained up and I seem like I’m happy but it’s actually darkness.  It’s super symbolic, the cover. It has all these weird kinda things on it. There’s like red splotches that are supposed to be blood. I’m actually bleeding but I look happy, I’m pretending I’m happy but I’m really not. And then the second side is red and it’s anger and it’s passion and I break free of the chain and I’m holding it and I’m more pissed off. It’s like I’m deceived and I’m more mad. It’s more angry, then it shifts into sadness but the cover just represents hope and then being deceived and the polarities between the two.

Antonio: This next question is kind of random. I don’t know who would be the one behind it. On your Instagram, you know like the stories that stick on the profile? There was one that had a cover of Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi?

Melissa: Yeah I love it!

Antonio: Yeah, could you talk a little bit about that and how there’s a lot of anime in Aquadolls stuff?

Melissa: I don’t watch a ton of anime but I loved watching Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi. It’s like two girls and they’re a punk band and like one of them is really sweet and the other is really mean. I think it’s cute and it’s both of my personalities in one. I don’t know, I thought it was cute and that’s why I put it. I like using little cartoons.

Antonio: I loved that show. It needs to come back. The only other question I have is how did ya’ll start playing together?

Keilah: So I’ve been listening to the Aquadolls since I was like in the 6th grade. Basically since the beginning of the Aquadolls all the way up until now. I’ve always been a fan and I always knew of the band from when I was in 6th grade in Florida all the way to moving up to California and kind of discovering the Burger Records scene through my sister. She was going to all these cool Aquadolls shows and I wanted to go to all these cool Aquadolls shows and so I was just a really big fan. I listened to the album all the time and I’ve been following [Mel] on Instagram since I’ve made an Instagram. And so I had always been like a really big fan, and I never actually got to meet Mel or talk to her until near the end of 2017. And she played a show at my friend’s house; it was a backyard show. And she was hanging out and just chilling, and she was like, ‘you want a drink?’ and I was like, ‘sure.’ We shared some ‘ritas. Just kidding, haha, I drink water only. And we just hung out and talked and stuff, also I met her friend Sydney as well, who’s like a friend of mine…

Melissa: Sydney also did the makeup on the album cover, super sick.

Keilah: Yeah, and then after that I ended up going to another show. She threw a rave in December, for Christmas, and  what happened is I needed a ride home because my mom didn’t want to pick me up from the venue and so I was like ‘ok mom, if I get a ride to her house’ because I knew she lived close to me, ‘I can just uber home’, she was like ok. So I asked her for a ride home even though we had talked like twice and she said yeah. And we ended up getting invited to the same kickback, so we went, and it was so sketchy. And we had like a little bonding suss experience with these band boys that shall not be named. And so after that I got her number and we just started hanging out and I went to a practice with her at Jackie’s house. And I’d been listening to Jackie’s previous band before too. I went to a Halloween show. I’d been following them on Instagram. So it’s cool that these two bands that I’d been listening to are now in a band together and I’m in it. So I was at a practice at Jackie’s house and Mel was like ‘hey, do you know how to play keyboard?’ and I was like ‘dude no, like twinkle twinkle little star, that’s really it’ and she said ‘that’s fine, Ill teach you everything and you can play at our show next week’. So I practiced once and I played the show. I was actually playing keyboard all the way up until like maybe December then I incorporated bass for a song. Then it was keyboard and bass all the way up until now. This tour is the first time I’m playing bass full time, which is really cool. So yeah that’s how I started.

Jackie: Yeah I was in another all girl band and yeah, thanks Keilah. And Melissa actually recorded our band, and I was like a fangirl. So when we found out she wanted to record us, we’ were all screaming and excited so we went over to her garage and she recorded us and we put out a tape. She also introduced us to Burger Records. She was like ‘I’ll bring you guys in there’ and so they helped us with tapes too. Then we started playing similar shows and then we started keeping in touch a lot. Then we both kind of parted ways with the members in both of our separate bands at the time and that’s why there’s different members in the Aquadolls now. It ended up just working out. She was like ‘wait you play drums?’ and I was like ‘yeah, do you need a drummer?’ and she just came over to my house and then Keilah came in the picture too. It’s been a road but it’s been awesome.

Antonio: So that’s it for my questions, I don’t know if you want to add anything in general?

Melissa: Come see us on tour! I promise we don’t suck!

Jackie: We like to have a good time because we’re not sipping on that haterade, we only sipping on that Gatorade. Sometimes.

Keilah: Drink water and “Suck on this,” and watch scary movies, and do stuff with the people that you love. And surround yourself with positivity and light and happiness and make music if you want, dance in your room, do stuff to makes you happy.

Melissa: Follow your dreams, be yourself, if anyone else tells you differently then tell them to stream “Suck On This.”

By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca

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