Don't call it a reunion, it's just a homecoming for K. Michelle Dubois and Shonali Bhowmik
In the late '90s and early 2000's, Atlanta's best source of catchy rock and well-constructed garage-pop was Ultrababyfat. Led by childhood pals Shonali Bhowmik and K. Michelle DuBois with an ever-changing rhythm section, the duo toured the country and released a number of great recordings. Over a decade ago, Bhowmik moved to Manhattan and divided her time between law, music and stand-up comedy.
Her band Tigers and Monkeys continue to issue records sporadically, including the recent Saturday Destroyer. DuBois remained in Atlanta and continues to record, with a catalog of challenging solo and band releases. This year both have great new albums out and they'll close out 2018 with the artists sharing an evening of music at the Star Bar in celebration of the vinyl edition of DuBois' third solo record Harness.
INsite spoke with Bhowmik by phone from New York City.
You've been in New York for over a decade now.
Yeah but the time has flown by in many ways. But the connections and the friendships in Atlanta are just as fresh to me - and maybe get even more important â€“ as time goes by, with my life in better perspective.
The cover of the new record has a very cool, retro K-Tel vibe.
I can't say it's a complete departure from our other covers, because the one before this was also a travel picture.
But I thought, with the mood of the world today, I wanted it to have that essence. That '70s rock and roll feel. I went on Peru for my honeymoon a couple of years ago and that was a picture from then. I felt so good on that trip and I had a lot of hope, I wanted to use that for the feeling of this album.
Speaking of retro, the video for the song "Magic Marker" recently debuted. It's also very much a throw-back.
It's one of those times when the sound in my head and the visual idea really came together. Graham Mason, the director, said he had an idea. He was like, 'You know those '70s TV performances?' I didn't think he was even around at that time, but he said, 'You know those performances with the old-school lens flares and the candles?' I thought of candles of like, Black Sabbath era rock and roll, but when he started talking about it, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, it's like what singers would do in a television studio, back in the day.' They had so much personality when they did those clips.
Even the lyrics allude to simpler times.
That's what I was thinking. There are lyrics that, after the fact, I completely attribute to what's happening today. Instead of the usual love and romance of a standard pop song, we're trying to respond to now. Another theme is that, as a female, I'm important. So the idea is to empower and uplift other folks who might feel alone or ignored. It's like, 'Ook, we're here, we're gonna fight or at least talk about it.' But again, it's only after you finish a volume of work, you can step back and go, 'What the hell was that about?' So looking back now, I think mostly it's about fighting the good fight.'
In your hands, the message of some of your songs is often easy to miss. Because the song itself is so enjoyable on the surface, you nearly forget there's a message inside.
You know on "The Dream Is Still Alive"? In my headspace, I saw Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," that film with him and the poster boards. I was thinking, 'If I could just get these phrases stuck in everybody's heads.' We're going through crazy times, but we've got dreams and together, we're gonna keep 'em alive. We gotta do this. I used this folk-blues element to really make the listener feel at home with it. But it's still garage rock.
You can definitely get your points across with some incredibly catchy hooks.
I'm still trying. But I do know that even as a kid, I had the desire to never stop writing and making music. I think it was written in stone when I was a child that I would keep challenging myself, informing myself, listening to new music and creating until I'm under the ground. I knew it was something I can't not do. I'm always singing ideas into my phone. It's full of - to me anyway - the beginnings and endings of some good pop songs. So whenever I can get the time, I'll sit down and go, 'Ok let's do another one.' Then if even one person will listen to it and really dig it, then I've done what I needed to do.
Tigers and Monkeys play Saturday, December 8 at the Star Bar. K. Michelle DuBois headlines the show. For more information, please visit starbaratlanta.com.