Crafted with an emphasis on pop appeal and passionate call-and-response vocals born from gospel music, Motown once captured the attention of the world and birthed the northern soul movement. The pop music created at the Hitsville studios, which produced wildly famous hits like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “What’s Going On” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and immortalized Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes as permanent fixtures in pop music’s lexicon continues to impact young musicians who reside just a few hundred miles from Detroit.
The Regrettes, a female-fronted soul and R&B revival band make their stock in trade from the raw, rootsy sound and rhythms made famous by Motown and Stax records. Recalling the vocal delivery of Aretha, Martha, Etta and even at times the “Godfather of soul,” singers Meghan Hutchinson and Lizzy Morris trade sultry harmonies and lines about love, lost love and everything in between. Backed by drummer Adam Scoppa, bassist Dan Barnes, key master James Allison and guitarist Dennis Tanner, the band is fierce, nuanced and hoping to baptize another congregation of soul devotees.
Singer Lizzy Morris brought Ghettoblaster up to speed…
You guys have been together for just over a year now, but you’ve already made quite a splash in Columbus. Was Cowtown chomping at the bit for a soul band?
I think it has kind of been happening in Columbus. There was this undercurrent of people who were starting to get into it. We have a regular Motown dance party, and there was another band called Tolford and Company who’ve been doing the same thing, but with a male lead on the keys. I think people are always excited to see a band that is a performing band. I think in general people want to be entertained. It always ups the excitement level to go see a band and have their stage show make you say, “Holy crap!”
It certainly makes a difference when you have a sound that is so universal. Do you think that has helped make your transition from newbees to staples so expeditious?
Absolutely. Our music appeals to any age. Even our parents, who are our number one fans, love it. An older generation being able to get into a band from the local music scene is really exciting.
Local press and radio have embraced you. Has that been helpful along your journey?
Absolutely. We are very lucky to have such a great local independent radio station. It is that old Motown thing where a DJ hears a band and they start spinning the record and then people start getting into it. That’s exactly what happened to us.
Does your band challenge the guidelines of the soul archetype or are you pretty true to form?
We play it pretty true to form. We all grew up loving this music. It’s not like we go into it saying, “This song needs to sound like ‘this’.” But Megan or I write the songs and it is whatever moves us.
Do you guys have a background as instrumentalists or do you come in with lyrical ideas and let the band flesh it out?
I come in with lyrical ideas. I grew up doing vocal and piano lessons and all that kind of stuff. But mostly I leave it to the guys. Megan plays bass so she’ll bring in a bass line and say , “This is what I want.” Most of the time we have all the lyrics and melody written before we approach the guys.
Who in the band is the most avarice when it comes to the Motown influence?
That would be Adam Scopa, our drummer. He is a local DJ that only spins records. And his record collection is absolutely unreal. He is obsessed with Stax Records, and ‘50s b-sides, and that fusion of Motown into more of a rock ‘n roll sound. He does a local dance party called Heatwave that is all ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s b-sides. It is extremely popular in Columbus. So we’ll play something and he’ll be like, “That sounds like this…” And then he gives us our homework. He tells us what we should listen to and how we can dial it in.
Do you guys do covers as well as originals?
It is all originals. Every once and a while we will throw a cover into the set, but generally it is all of our own material.
Is Motown-influenced how you describe your sound?
I always tell them that it is a Motown sound but that we definitely veer from that. We have two female lead singers who pass the torch back and forth.
Does the stuff that Megan does ever get under your skin like “Man, I have to write a song like that!”?
No way! Our voices are completely different as are our styles. My songs are all the really crazy upbeat screamer songs. Her songs are all the pretty, torch songs. Both sounds are needed to create what The Regrettes are.
I think a lot of the old soul bands did a lot of alternating between barn burners and ballads.
My preference are for barn burners for sure. I think like a man would’ve in Motown music. I idolize James Brown. Megan is definitely a Supremes girl.
You are from Dayton correct?
Yeah, I’m from Englewood.
When you were growing up in Dayton did your parents play all these old soul records and you just came out in your PJs and let them have it?
I was obsessed with Michael Jackson and learned how to dance to Jackson 5. My mom really loved the Shirelles and The Supremes, that kind of stuff. In high school I had friends who were obsessed with Prince and Sly and The Family Stone. That has all inspired me toward my sound now.
How quickly after forming did you get in the studio and start recording your debut?
After our first show we hit the studio and recorded one song so that we could enter a local competition to play CD 101 day. We recorded a song, and got a photo taken after about a week. About a month after that, we started writing the album and that song is the first one on the album.
There was a lot of fanfare when your debut came out and your release party was at Newport Music Hall. How cool was it to be playing an iconic venue like that?
It was unreal. The support that we had from Columbus blew us away. The two bands who played with us were amazing and we had such a great turnout for a local show at the Newport. We couldn’t have been happier.
In recent years it seems as though the indie underground has embraced artists like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings as quickly as the mainstream latched on to Amy Winehouse personalities. Do you feel like indie and mainstream audiences get you in the same way?
I don’t know yet. Right now the indie crowd does. We played ComFest last year and were feeling the love. So you’d hope that it crosses the board. I guess we just have to wait and see.
How was your show at Canal Street last time you were here?
We’ve played Canal Street twice. The last time I played in Dayton was 10 years ago with a band called the Switch and we played the Dayton Band Playoffs and got second place. It was really important to me to play my first show back in Dayton at Canal Street. I also told the band that I wanted to play at Peaches because I grew up making trips to Yellow Springs. So we’re really excited to come back and hope to see a packed house again this time. We’re a grass roots, D.I.Y. band and I think that shows in our work and will appeal to the Yellow Springs audience.
Are you looking for label support?
Who knows? Other bands have done it without a label. If we get label support then great. But we’re not focusing on that, we’re just focusing on writing good music.
Have you guys played regionally?
We have played Toledo, Youngstown, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, Dayton, and we’ll be doing Yellow Springs and Chicago and have Michigan booked. Then we’ll get back to those places again. We all have 40 hour a week jobs so we have Saturday nights to make it happen. So we book as many Saturday nights as we can.
What is your day job?
I’m an aesthetician so I’m a skin care therapist. I do waxings and facials and makeup and stuff like that.
Do you make everyone in the band look pretty before they hit the stage?
The boys do a good job of that themselves, but I’m definitely Megan’s makeup guru. She’s an anthropologist and lived in the jungle in Argentina for a year studying monkeys and she could live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and be happy. So I make her put make up on and do her hair.
Do you have to play wing woman after you sex her up and make sure that guys aren’t harassing her too bad?
No. She can definitely take care of herself.