One of the hottest groups in Tucson this year—at least according to Tucson Weekly readers—is an avant-punk rock band that was formed as a lark barely a year ago by three members of other groups, and one previously untested female lead singer who has since become something of an outrageous icon.
Cadillac Steakhouse was named the Best Up-and-Coming Artists at this year's TAMMIES (Tucson Area Music Awards) ceremony on Sept. 8 at the Rialto Theatre.
Arresting vocalist Nikki Rosing's kinetic presence and sometimes obscene tirades have become the center of attention regarding Cadillac Steakhouse—and band founders Erik Ketchup and Miles Bartlett sort of wanted it that way.
Ketchup, a member of Flagrante Delicto, began jamming a little with Bartlett, who plays with Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout. Drummer Aharon Lund, also from Flagrante Delicto, joined in.
"We never talked about it being a serious band; it was just meant to be fun," Bartlett says. "But we started thinking we might like the female presence of a strong frontwoman. Nikki's kind of nuts, and she was pretty damn entertaining.
"She's very comfortable as a person with attention on her, but she had never sung in a band before. But from what we knew about her, we thought she would be perfect."
Says bassist Ketchup: "We just started the band to have some fun. Then we were talking about how there needs to be more girl-rocking happening downtown."
Ketchup knows his downtown, seeing as he books acts for the Congress Street nightclub Vaudeville. "And we thought there was no one better for that in our minds than Nikki. She was already a rock star before we even started Cadillac Steakhouse."
They propositioned Rosing to become a part of the band, Bartlett says. "She thought it would be fun, but she was pretty nervous about it. You would never guess from seeing her onstage, but she can still be nervous about performing. So we told her whatever she wanted to do was OK. We said, 'Do whatever the hell you want.'"
Indeed, Rosing is a commanding presence on stage—both sexy and confrontational—shouting, bellowing and biting off lyrics, answering hecklers, contorting and displaying herself. Obvious predecessors include empowered female rockers from Lydia Lunch to Joan Jett to Courtney Love. Mostly, she recalls a female Iggy Pop in search-and-destroy mode.
The band plays an inventive blend of revved-up punk, off-kilter funk, blasting skronk and thinking-person's boogie, mashed up irresistibly.
As Ketchup says, "It's rock 'n' roll played by musicians more geared to the avant-garde. ... We wanted to do something that was simplified and fun. We've had to concentrate so hard from time to time to rock in other projects. This was meant to be one where we can just close our eyes and dance around and play instruments."
Cadillac Steakhouse's tunes are created almost spontaneously, Bartlett says.
"Before Cadillac Steakhouse, I would pretty much write a song on my own on guitar and bring it to whatever band I was playing with. But with this band, we sort of had an unwritten rule from the beginning that no songs will be written previously or outside practices. I'll come up with a guitar part, or Eric comes up with a bass part, and we take it from there."
The members of Cadillac Steakhouse normally finish a song before they leave for the day, he says. "If we start a song, we don't want to leave and leave it hanging."
It's been a satisfying process for all involved.
"Everyone's pretty much on the same page. If it sounds good, it sounds good. There's no limitation put on the music. These are, however, some of the more pop-structured sort of things that I have written," Bartlett says.
That Cadillac Steakhouse—which has existed for such a short time and has no recordings yet to its credit—would be honored by the readers and critics who vote for the TAMMIES was a surprise for the whole band.
"I was pretty surprised," Bartlett says. "For one, I remember when I tried to vote for the TAMMIES myself, I couldn't get in on the computer. It kept turning me down. And the other bands are all pretty good."
Ketchup says Cadillac Steakhouse is not about making a lot of money or gathering accolades.
"The momentum hasn't stopped. We all get along really well. We just pump out the music. I don't see it stopping anytime soon. As long as it stays fun, we'll continue to do it."
The band has begun recording for an eventual album, Bartlett says.
"We're in the process of recording some tracks for songs. I mean, I don't think we're ever going to be the sort of band that has an album that has a totally cohesive feeling. We're not like that. But when we have 10 good songs, that'll be the album."
He estimates that within two or three months, the group might have enough songs recorded for that album.
"It's hard to tell when it's going to be something that we're all totally content with. One thing I am not worried about with this band is having enough material. It's been deliciously easy, being in this band."