The ladies of the Dayton, Ohio, indie-pop band Vanity Theft are young and pretty. Their songs are mostly about past romances. And when they talk, guitarist Brittany Hill, singer-keyboardist Alicia Grodecki, drummer Elyse Driskill, and bassist Lalaine Paras tend to giggle a lot. However, Lalaine, 23, would like to clarify one thing: "We may have vaginas, but we're not pussies."
With a moniker that sounds like the name of a Joan Jett B-side, the foursomeâwho'll drop their full-length, Get What You Came For, in February via Vigilante Music/Adamant Records - fit right into the storied legacy of all-girl bands bent on debunking benign all-girl conventions. For instance, "we've gone through a lot of breakups," says Elyse. "So for me, a lot of the lyrics are really sarcastic." The melancholic "Missing Teeth" messes with Auto-Tune to detail an ex's shortcomings; the highly danceable "Trainwreck" is about finding sexual empowerment in a dysfunctional relationship; and "Bit by Bit" uses stabbing riffs and retro synths to soundtrack being obsessed with the wrong person.
Not surprisingly, the group takes pride in churning out an ear-drum-beating live show. This is not lost on their loyal, grassroots following. In 2009, the group ended up playing the testosterone-centric Warped Tour when it swung by Cincinnati, after their fans rallied to get them the local-band slot. Meanwhile, Vanity Theft has also won over media in the heartland through sheer tenacity.
For five years, the women have booked their own tours, during which time they've picked up some critical life lessons while paying their dues. First, don't try to carry your food in a cooler: "It ended up growing algae. So we got rid of that," says Elyse, 23. "A lot of times people you're staying with will cook for you instead." Speaking of, try to crash with friends whenever possible. Says 21-year-old Alicia: "In Chicago, I literally gagged when I entered the hotel room because it smelled like stale cigarettes and curdled milk. I think it was just a rust stain in the shower, but everyone insisted that was bloodâ¦." Lastly, beware older dudes offering you weird favors. "This one guy wanted to put our music in pornos," says Alicia. "That's just creepy."
Though their front is unfailingly united, it took a while for Vanity Theft to get its footing. Forming in 2005, the band - then with a rotating bassist slot - formed in high school, practicing cover tunes in Brittany's parents' living room. "My mom was always trying to feed us sweet stuff," she says. "It was pretty cute." They graduated to writing original songs (the first being "Professional Hands," off their first EP, Symptoms) that mixed their two loves - guitars and synths - and assembled enough material to ultimately self-release a 10-song debut, Postscript, in 2008. They landed their first show on the fly, filling in for an absent band at a charity event to help the homeless. Notes Brittany, "It was kinda like we went from thinking we weren't going to play a live show for months, to playing one the next weekend."
Lalaine first met Vanity Theft in the studio while the group was out West recording their October 2010 EP, Anatomy, and early material for Get What You Came For with her acquaintance-friend, producer Josh Binder. A former child star who played Lizzie McGuire's best friend in the eponymous Disney show starring Hilary Duff ("How could I not be proud of Lizzie?" she says. "It was a training ground for me to learn everything"), Lalaine was keeping busy by doing vocal work around L.A. When Vanity Theft's bassist quit, her name came up as a possible replacement. The band asked her if she could play, and though she'd never actually picked up a bass before, she proved a quick study.
Flown out to Ohio as a chemistry test, Lalaine and her future bandmates went to clubs, messed with a Flip cam, jammed, and basically hung out. Within a month, she moved from L.A. to Columbus to prove her commitment to the act. "I was willing to take that leap," says the California native. But this final Vanity Theft line-up really jelled after touring. "When you're in a van constantly with three other girls, you're gonna know pretty quick," reasons Brittany.
Though they're pretty harmonious these days, Alicia can remember the band members' first fight. It was back in high school, when she, Brittany, and Elyse snuck out of their respective houses to hit a bonfire party outside of Cincinnati. The drive home was long and dark, the roads desolate. "We were all freaking out," Alicia says. "I think we were all trying to figure out where the heck we were going." With the release of Get What You Came For, they can now all agree that they're headed in the right direction.