New trio feels weird, is OK with it

Lisa Brokaw and Emma Headley had their first full conversation at a Juliana Hatfield show at Ace of Cups last April, and both of them were even more excited to see the opening band, local two-piece Corbezzolo, fronted by Marie Corbo.

As they geeked out over Corbo, Headley told Brokaw, who plays guitar in Van Dale and Blanket Boys, they should start an all-girl band. Brokaw agreed.

“Emma has only been playing drums for like eight months, so Grunge Dad started as a weird way for Emma to practice. … I just started writing random stuff for her to play drums to,” Brokaw said. “We kind of joked about Marie joining, and Emma was like, ‘No, I’d die!’”

Then, before a Grunge Dad show, Corbo offered to play bass. “I was like, ‘What? For real?’” Brokaw said.

“The first practice we had I was so nervous. I was freaking out,” said Headley, who lists Corbo in her phone contacts as “Marie Shredder.”

Soon enough, Brokaw and Headley picked their jaws up off the ground and began writing songs and rehearsing with Corbo at a basement storage space Downtown. Gathered at a Clintonville coffee shop on New Year’s morning and feeling the pain of good times from a New Year’s Eve show at Spacebar, the three bandmates act like longtime friends and mutual fans, each in awe of what the other members bring to the band.

Brokaw has reluctantly embraced the role of frontwoman and primary songwriter in Grunge Dad, penning uneasy, slacker-pop anthems. She doesn’t own an amp, and she still plays the Fender Stratocaster she was gifted at 13. Brokaw learned how to play guitar in isolation, developing an open-chord style all her own.

“I’m pretty shy, and I’m from a family with seven kids in it. I just started playing guitar really quietly because I was embarrassed. I didn’t have much guidance. So the way I learned was, ‘What sounds cool?’” Brokaw said. “I remember talking to other kids who were learning how to play guitar, and they had quick access to the internet and were more savvy. And I’m like, ‘I have a stay-at-home mom who monitors our internet usage all the time and I have a ton of siblings and never touch the internet.’ Even when I was pretty young, playing guitar in front of some other kid who plays guitar, he was like, ‘How did you write that?’”

Brokaw, 28, first performed in front of an audience at age 24. “I’m just now getting to where it feels cathartic to yell into a microphone,” she said.

For Grunge Dad’s three-song demo, I Feel Weird, released digitally on Bandcamp in December, the three musicians holed up in their practice space for a day while engineer Adam Hardy (Cliffs) kept the tape rolling. “An hour before we went to go do it, I got a call that my grandpa passed away,” Brokaw said. “I was in a weird fog the whole time, which was maybe appropriate given the music that we play.”

The EP’s title comes from a line in the song “Heavy” — a wry, Pinback-via-Pavement tune Brokaw delivers like an audible shrug — and the sentiment seems to sum up Brokaw’s daily reality. “I’m super awkward and socially anxious all the time,” she said. “I think I’ve embraced it. … I don’t know how to not feel this way.”

Corbo, meanwhile, has embraced her support role in Grunge Dad. “Sometimes when I’m practicing with Noah [Demland in Corbezzolo] he’ll be like, ‘Since that song is hard, let’s play a song that’s not hard afterward.’ And I’m like, ‘We don’t have a song that’s not hard,’” Corbo said. “When [Grunge Dad] was recording demos and Lisa was doing vocals, I was just eating pizza. And I was like, ‘Finally.’”

This year, Grunge Dad hopes to record and release more music while still maintaining the trio’s low-pressure, relaxed vibe. “I have this habit of referring to Grunge Dad as a joke band because our name is goofy, but also it just feels too easy to be a real band,” Brokaw said. “It always feels like half a joke. That’s what makes it fun. The second that we start taking ourselves seriously…”

"...it’ll be annoying,” Headley said.

“But we’ll forever have a stupid name,” Brokaw said, “so I think we’re good there.”