Rebecca Loebe, Grace Pettis and BettySoo supergroup comes to Portsmouth
To a generation of musicians, Austin is the new Laurel Canyon. Every day, at almost any hour, music pours from hundreds of venues across the Texas city. It’s the product of a seemingly nonstop influx of creative souls flowing in from across the globe and colliding with a vibrant local scene that deservedly calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World.
With the arrival of Nobody’s Girl, Austin may have its own Crosby, Stills & Nash – in female form.
Each member hails from elsewhere. Grace Pettis grew up in Alabama and Georgia, Rebecca Loebe was born in Virginia, raised in Atlanta. BettySoo is the closest to a native; she came from Houston to Austin in 1996 to attend the University of Texas, learned the guitar and started writing songs, then never left.
“Austin is like the bat signal for all the weird kids in the South,” Pettis said in a recent phone interview. “We all just kind of end up there.”
All three have solid solo careers; each is a winner of the coveted New Folk Competition at Kerrville Folk Festival, where they first hung out together. But when the longtime friends joined forces for a brief “in the round” tour together dubbed Sirens of South Austin last year, alchemy occurred.
First, they worked up a version of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” as a show closer, and posted an iPhone video. It promptly got thousands of views. Inspired, they set out to write an original song. “What’ll I Do” leads off Waterline, a six-track EP released in September 2018. It features a near-acrobatic triple descant that coalesces into spine-tingling a capella harmony at the close.
Thankfully, the trio didn’t stop at one tune. When the studio owners heard what they’d done, they responded with an offer of a record deal. “We hadn’t even played a gig together yet,” Loebe said in a February interview. “We all just went along with it; we weren’t going to slow down something that had momentum on its own.”
Their name is shared with a Bonnie Raitt song (originally written by Larry John McNally), but the moniker is also a commentary on the trio’s purpose and place in the world. “It sort of sounds like a pop group’s name but it also sort of doesn’t, it’s a little more grown up,” Pettis said. “You know, none of us are 20; we know who we are and we’ve been doing this a while.”
Lucky area music fans will have a chance to see Nobody’s Girl before they hit warp speed, on November 15 at Portsmouth Book & Bar. The show is part of their first official tour as a group, though it’s not a New England debut – they did Me & Thee in Marblehead, Mass. in late 2018, and played Vermont’s Roots on the River Festival last June.
A two-sided holiday single dropped in October. The old chestnut “Merry Christmas Baby” gets some Muscle Shoals soul, while a cover of the Jackson 5 hit “Someday At Christmas” hews closely to the original, but adds a re-imagined chorus and soups up the melody to give it a unique stamp.
Michael Ramos produced the new songs; he also helmed Waterline and is supervising their long player, hopefully due out in 2020. Pettis gushed about Ramos, who’s worked with many of her heroes – Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams. “He puts together his dream team and lets the chemistry of the players create a lot of the magic,” she said of the backing group used for the session. “It’s like cooking; he knows what ingredients are gonna work… I think he got it just right.”
Amidst other projects – Loebe released an album, Give Up Your Ghosts, in February, Pettis put out Blue Star in a Red Sky, a duo EP with Calloway Ritch, last fall, and BettySoo performs frequently, both solo and with her trio – Nobody’s Girl continues to gel as a group. Pettis expects their first full-length will draw from this maturity.
“We’re going to be really intentional about harmony lines, descant and lead parts on this record,” she said. “I love that everybody is the lead singer in the band – I think that’s one of the things that kind of separates us. We’ll be spending a lot of time trading off within songs, and our goal is for people to not necessarily know who is singing what part. We all do all the parts – we do low, we do high. I love that about our group.”
When: Friday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m.
Where: Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $20 at bookandbar.com