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The Exbats: Garage Doo-Wop from the Heart

Effortlessly traversing genres, The Exbats move between '60s girl groups, teenage tragedy songs, bubblegum garage pop and trashy rock 'n' roll. In this freedom of expression, you can hear the joy of creating that permeates the band’s music, which also explains their boldness in producing four albums in six years despite the chaos of the global pandemic (with one on the go as we speak!). Following the release of their latest album, Now Where Were We, we caught up with The Exbats' drummer-vocalist Inez McClain to talk all about her musical influences, her band's musical growth, and what's currently in the works.

Listening to Arizona-based garage punks The Exbats, you might be surprised to find that their published discography begins in 2016 and not 1966. The band, consisting of father-daughter duo Kenny (guitar, vocals) and Inez McClain (vocals, drums), joined by Bobby Carlson (bass) and Matt Rendon (guitar), have a beautiful way of translating their vast range of vintage musical influences (The Monkees, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas) into something that feels entirely their own. Effortlessly traversing genres, The Exbats move between '60s girl groups, teenage tragedy songs, bubblegum garage pop and trashy rock 'n' roll. In this freedom of expression, you can hear the joy of creating that permeates the band's music, which also explains their boldness in producing four albums in six years despite the chaos of the global pandemic (with one on the go as we speak!).


One key detail to The Exbats' uniqueness is the familial relationship between Kenny and Inez, who have been playing music together for around eleven years. After picking up the guitar at the age of 42, Kenny, who was in need of a band member, convinced a 10-year-old Inez to learn drums and start a band with him. Thus, The Exbats' sound incorporates the perspective and flavor of two different generations, which can sometimes be heard in the contrast between lyrical content and instrumentation, and other times is in complete harmony. The bond formed by playing music and growing together has nurtured the creative project into something unlike many other bands emerging over the past decade. Always working on the next album, The Exbats are a seemingly unstoppable force of creative inspiration.


Last year, they released their fourth album, Now Where Were We, through Goner Records, ringing bright with a menacing garage rock take on the Shangri-Las and the Beach Boys, effortlessly catchy, pure pop perfection, and some tongue-in-cheek nods to outlaw country music (the good kind!). Recorded on eight-track with Rendon at Midtown Island Studios, the album touches upon life during the pandemic, the political divide in America, and the perils of climate change. There's a wealth of influences that run across the album from cartoon quintet The Archies to punk rock originators Avengers, and from the so-sweet-it-hurts 1910 Fruitgum Company to Los Angeles antiheroes The Weirdos. The opening track, "Coolsville USA," is a jangly, yet sinister guitar-pop ode to the friendship that exists between Scooby Doo and Shaggy Rogers while the foot-stomping garage nugget "Ghost in the Record Store" is the perfect spine-chilling tune to dance to at a Halloween party.


Following the release, we caught up with Inez McClain to talk all about her musical influences, her band's musical growth, and what's currently in the works.

Paperface Zine: I feel like having a father-daughter team at the heart of a band is quite unique in this day and age. What is the best part about having a family member in the band, and how does it influence the creative process?


Inez McClain: It's very easy to schedule band practice and shows considering we also work in the same school. Dad and I are usually able to find inspiration within the same domains, which makes the songwriting process flow naturally. Realistically, my dad writes the songs and I edit them as he does. Saying what's good, what sucks, switching out lyrics for others. I feel that our best songs are the ones with heavy influence from both of us.


PZ: Do any of you have solo or side projects as well, or is Exbats the main focus?


McClain: I'm writing a couple D&D campaigns currently… if that counts.


PZ: You've released so many great albums in a relatively short amount of time, which is amazing! How do you know when you're ready to release an album?


McClain: It feels like we only write albums, as soon as one is done being recorded (not even released yet) we are onto the next. I think it's because my dad has so many songs and ideas to put out into the world, and he should. So much so that I'm sure we have scrapped as many songs as we have put out.


PZ: What have you learned from the making of each album? Were the processes fairly different?


McClain: I'd say that the processes have been similar, only as each album is recorded we get to know the studio better. We record with Matt Rendon, who plays guitar in the band now too, but before that he recorded us and was considered the "fourth Exbat" as he gave so much input into each album gradually and taught me how to sing harmonies which is now a must have on almost every single song.

PZ: Listening through your discography, it's clear there's a love for mid-'60s American pop music. What are some of your main influences, and are there any that people wouldn't expect?


McClain: Our main influence for as long as we have existed has been The Monkees, who I personally don't think are given the credit they are due. I think there were some times in the middle that were maybe not influenced, but sounded like The Kinks. Dad loves The Rolling Stones, as do I, so there is influence there. I'd say on the last album and more recently, we have drawn from early-Beach Boys into the greatest album of all time, Pet Sounds, and The Mamas and the Papas. I have also always thought we sounded in some regards like Ramones (sorry, not '60s, but very cool nonetheless).


PZ: I read that one of your favorite drummers is Charlie Watts (hence the song!). What are your favorite Stones songs, and what is it about Charlie that makes him stand out so much to you?


McClain: The first Rolling Stones song I ever just sat and listened to (possibly one of the very first I ever really listened to) was "Play With Fire." When I first heard it, I was probably in first grade, and I had just never heard anything like it before, it was entirely new to me. I can remember sitting in my room that had a red shaggy carpet and a cheap chandelier, making me feel like the most mature first grader to have ever existed (probably not true). Nowadays the majority of my Spotify playlists consist of "Street Fighting Man" or "2000 Man" (sorry purists, lots of Rolling Stones stuff I like are from Wes Anderson movies). My first real impression of the Rolling Stones as human beings was from the Tami Show where I just thought Keith and Mick were the coolest dudes I had ever seen (obvi), but then I watched the documentary Charlie is My Darling, and fell in love with the cool demeanor of Charlie Watts, he seemed to be a loner, but the coolest loner you've ever seen. And as a drummer, that's extremely relatable. Charlie Watts just seems sweet and respectable. And cool.


PZ: All your album artworks are really cool! Who makes them and how do you come up with the concepts?


McClain: My dad is the brains behind the album covers, even with different artists working on them he has heavy influence, although "I Got The Hots For Charlie Watts" was a photo taken of me by a friend for instagram, instead it became the album cover. We took inspiration from My Three Sons for "Kicks, Hits, and Fits" and the novel H is for Heroin, for our latest Now Where Were We. Simply put, we make album covers that we would buy ourselves (probably not the most original thought).


PZ: What's in the works right now for the Exbats?

McClain: New album as usual in the works, and just like always, probably even better than the last. Possible European tour ╮ (. ❛ ᴗ ❛.) ╭.


Now Where Were We is out now through Goner Records.


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