Memphis’ musical history is rife with more than just blues, gospel, soul, rockabilly, country and R&B. Since the 1970s, cult acts like Panther Burns, The Klitz, Crime, The Compulsive Gamblers, The Oblivians, The Grifters, Jay Reatard, Reigning Sound and Ex-Cult have transformed the Bluff City from a redoubt of all sounds Southern to the epicenter of primal, scuzzed-out garage-punk. Cementing the scene’s DIY ethic, Eric Oblivian founded Goner Records in 1993 because nobody else would release his namesake band’s music — but since then, the now-legendary label has served as a springboard for cult acts like Harlan T. Bobo, The King Khan & BBQ Show and Ty Segall. In 2004, Goner added a record store and yearly festival to the mix, and the mini-empire now serves as a local, regional and national punk-rock mecca.
All of which lays the perfect narrative path for all-female Memphis quartet Nots, embarking on a maiden national tour this month and releasing its debut full-length on Goner in November. Sure, throwback garage rock is all the rage these days, but Nots isn’t selling standard-issue psych-slop silliness. Instead, the handful of abrasive, throaty songs that core duo Natalie Hoffman and Miami native Charlotte Watson have released with various supporting players hark back to experimental ’70s and ’80s British pioneers like Androids of Mu, Slits and Raincoats.
But as Hoffman tells Folio Weekly, Nots’ early 7-inch samplers don’t necessarily represent the new direction the band has taken since drummer Laurel Ferdon left the fold. “Charlotte and I have been doing Nots for probably four years now, but we’ve gone through so many lineup changes,” Hoffman says. “Recently, Charlotte moved to drums and we added Madison [Farmer] on bass and Alexandra [Eastburn] on synth, just in time to record the upcoming LP. It was a bit stressful trying to get all the songs written, but it ended up being a surprisingly awesome transition.”
Young bands entering a studio for the first time often encounter massive hurdles, but Hoffman says that the recording experience with producer Doug Easley was liberating — and right up their primitivist alley. “Doug recorded us live with minimal overdubs together in the same room as we would play them at a show, which captured our energy,” she says. “But it’s funny — before we came in, he watched a video of us from four years ago, when we were a completely different band. So when he heard us play stuff for the new album, he was, like, ‘What are you guys?’ He was very shocked.”
Anyone possessing a passing familiarity with Memphis punk won’t be shocked by Nots’ propulsive approach, however. “In terms of aggression and intensity, I think most bands from here are pretty similar,” says Hoffman, who until recently played bass for Ex-Cult, Memphis’ hottest indie prospect. “Obviously, we’re all women, so our vocal sound is completely different. And we gravitate toward weird female post-punk bands like Androids of Mu. That is most influential on how I want to write music.”
Hoffman believes the addition of Eastburn, who’d never played synth before taking up the instrument for Nots (“She listens to so much of it, we figured she’d be really good at it,” Hoffman says), should push the band into uncharted territory. But she adds that Nots still feels indebted to the long, strange history of Memphis punk. “We’ve all been in Memphis for at least seven years, so we’ve seen these waves and explosions of great bands like The Barbaras and Jay Reatard,” she says. “There was a great punk scene with a strong support system here before us, and there’s tons of shit going on now. We’re really lucky.”