April 12 Feature – The Blackouts
Photos and Interview by Sheila Broderick
Let us introduce you to the Blackouts, a Denver group that is fast becoming one of Colorado’s premiere all-female, in-your-face hard rock bands.
Shaped by Kate Innes (lead guitar) in 2008, the band consists of Innes, Ali Frankfurt (lead vocals), Hope Bertsch (drums), and newest member, Susan Phelan (bass).
Phelan joined the group last December; Frankfurt began as a guitarist, then became the lead vocalist in 2010; Bertsch joined in 2008, and was responsible for bringing them together; while Innes is an original member and co-founder of the Blackouts.
CMB: How did you come together as a group?
Ali: I grew up surrounded by music; my dad’s mom was a touring singer in the 1930s and 40s, and my dad’s dad was a piano player. My father was a working musician from the time he was 13 through college. He played drums, piano, guitar, and any instrument he picked up, he could just play by ear.
When I was 13 years old, I went to my first rock-n-roll concert, Bon Jovi in 1986. It was at that moment, I found my self and my passion. I bought my first electric guitar, and began to learn metal tunes of the ‘80s, and classic rock tunes of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I am self-taught and like to dabble with the drums and bass as well.
I spent the next few years dreaming of becoming a rock star. By the time I was 18, I became distracted with boys and emotions, etc. and my parents began to discourage the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Regretfully, I put my dream, and my guitar, aside for the next 15 or so years. In 2008, I was in my daughter’s preschool class. The teacher was also a local musician, and we made a connection; I told her that I played guitar years ago, and she mentioned that her friend, Kate Innes, was putting together a chick band just for fun.
Although I hadn’t taken my guitar out of its case in years, I felt compelled to check it out. It was instant religion; the universe had brought this magical connection together. I was alive with the energy and passion of a teenager again! Kate hadn’t played guitar since college, and we began to relearn from the beginning.
We started learning some easy covers and Jenn (the teacher) sang, and attempted to teach herself the bass. Jenn’s sister, Amber hadn’t played the drums since her days in a high school marching band, but decided to give it a go. Eventually, Jenn brought in her friend, Darci, to sing lead while she focused on the bass. After a few months, Jenn left the group. Kate’s long-time friend Jenn Brown joined the band on the bass. Brown could barely play a note. We played our first few shows with Jenn (the teacher) singing harmonies and back ups, but she left soon after. At the same time, Amber decided she wasn’t in it for the long haul.
Hope responded to Kate’s Craigslist ad for a new drummer. She auditioned, and the rest is history. We went on a 2-year run with Darci as our lead singer. We improved slowly and began writing more and more original songs. Again, personal differences caused Darci to leave the band.
Still flying on pure passion, I decided to give it a shot as the front woman. I had a whole new aggressive and gritty style that gave us more of the sound that we had been looking for. After a few months of regrouping, we came back onto the scene. We got a great response to the new sound. Six months later, Jenn Brown decided to leave the band and pursue a new project with her then soon-to-be husband. At that moment, I thought to myself, Hell, what do we have to lose at this point? I am going to ask the bad ass Susan Phelan to fill in for a few shows, until we find a new bass player. I was praying that Susan was going to ultimately sign on, and she did!
Susan: I am the newest member of the band – performing with the Blackouts since December 2011. [I grew up] in Indiana, my family owned a music instrument store, and my father was a professional upright bass player. I started playing bass when I was seven years old, and have been in bands since I was 13.
I studied some music in college before dropping out and becoming a professional wrestler – I was “Liberty” with POWW (Powerful Women of Wrestling) back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I’ve taught bass and guitar privately, and had the opportunity to work with young kids at a couple different rock and roll camps. I was also the front woman (on bass and vocals) for the Dirty Backseat Lovers (nominated this year for “best of” in Denver Westword).
CMB: Tell us about your new release Getaway Driver. Where did you find your inspirations?
Ali: This is our second 6-song EP release titled Getaway Driver, named after one of our songs. We decided to record the culmination of what we had accomplished since Darci left, and right as Jenn was planning to leave, to capture sort of a chapter in our story. For me, these songs are inspired by our lives, and the emotions that we have gone through. These songs were written straight from the heart and soul. The lyrics are about experiences we have had in the past through present day. The song “Getaway Driver,” and the EP, is about transforming from all of life’s stress and difficulty, escaping, and coming alive through rock-n-roll. Our music is a therapeutic expression.
Susan: (joined after the CD was recorded) my father, who was my music teacher and mentor, continually inspires me. I strive to give my all at a show, and my band mates also inspire me. We strive to put on a good, hard-hitting rock n roll show each and every time we hit that stage. Our goal is to have fun, play some great music, and take the audience on a wide ride!
CMB: What is your favorite song off of your new CD and why?
Ali: For me, it is “Getaway Driver” because it is hard, fast, and driving, with a cool riff. It symbolizes freedom and empowerment through the transformation into the alter ego. It is this whole other side of all of us, and that is empowered through rock-n-roll. It is about letting go and being in the moment. When I play, everything else vanishes, and I am fully present in the moment and free! It’s my Getaway Driver!
Kate: “Getaway Driver” started as something I wrote about breakups, but Ali chucked the lyrics and made it about that moment you’re escaping your 9-to-5 life–jump in the car with your crew of friends and, in our case, go drink beers and get onstage to rock!
CMB: What do you find to be your biggest challenge as musicians?
Kate: Gotta find the balance between working hard and having fun, finding time for it all. When it comes down to it, we’re friends who have each other’s back, and always will. New songs we’re writing reflect that: “Blackouts Brawl” and “Stay the Fuck Outta My Way.” We never cancel practice because we know we have to keep pushing.
Susan: The biggest challenge for me has been dealing with people who question my musical skills strictly based on the fact that I am a woman. I have been playing music my entire life and I can play as hard and fast as any man. I don’t believe gender has a damn thing to do with musical ability – it takes passion and a whole lot of practice.
Ali: I think the biggest challenge was starting basically from ground zero, as musicians, and working our way in a relatively short amount of time to where we are now. It is frustrating when your musical ideas are beyond your technical ability. However, we are improving all the time. People mention the whole “all girl” thing as something not to be taken seriously. I feel like we have gained a lot of respect from the music community for being just raw and true, and bringing it hard as hell.
CMB: If you could be super heroes what would you be and how would you use your gift good or evil?
Ali: It is ironic that you ask this because before my shows, I always say to my husband that it is time to transform into my bat suit. I go from mom/wife to rock-n-roll. Black leather, denim, and studs! In fact, when I was writing the lyrics to “Getaway Driver,” I had written a vocal section over the bridge that was something like, ‘rock-n-roll super heroes, civilians by day….’ however, it never made the cut. One of the verses in the song says, ‘workin’ like a dog at my 9 to 5, time to transform and come alive, put on my leather and my knee-high boots, honey, got one thing left to do!’ Anyway, that is the essence, this super hero transformation. I would say that I would want to use my super hero powers to inspire and empower young women to follow their dreams and passions. Not to sacrifice yourself for anyone or thing, just listen to your heart and go for it, balls to the walls. If I were ever to make any real money at this gig I would play for the protection of animals from abuse and neglect, ensuring that those who mistreat animals would suffer serious consequences by law.
Susan: I’d love to be able to defend the underdog. It’d be helpful to be able to fly to get around quickly – and wear some kind of fancy cape. I would definitely use my powers for the good and help those less fortunate.
CMB: What are your thoughts on the Denver music scene?
Kate: We count so many bands among our friends, it’s pretty cool to be part of a thriving rock / punk scene in this town. There is some new Internet radio shows that are supporting the local scene, most notably Clampdown Radio.
Ali: The Denver music scene has a full range of diversity in music. There are extremely talented musicians in this town. There is never a shortage of good shows to see. All in all, the Denver music scene has treated us quite well. Fortunately, we are in it because we love what we do.
CMB: Tell us about a significant moment for the band.
Ali: A few instances come to mind: Our first “real” show at 3 kings opening for Girl In A Coma and Miss Derringer. I was an absolute anxious wreck, to the point where I was barely able to function. We stood up there, not knowing what the hell we were doing, stiff as boards! I don’t think we missed a single note or beat of our little amateur set, nor did we move a muscle or ever once engage with the audience:) Ha! We have come a looooooong way!
Another funny moment was when we were asked to play the Thunder Valley Motocross National Championships. We were rockin’ our hearts out to hundreds of Motocross fans, not realizing that we were playing, at one point, right over the National Anthem! That didn’t go over too well:)
Also, when we were considering asking Susan to join the band, it was as if we were asking this larger-than-life person to play with us. I carefully planned how I would ask her to fill in, totally expecting her to say no. My finger hovered above the send button for at least 30 seconds before I had the courage to press it. I nervously awaited her response and when it finally arrived, I cringed and opened my eyes to read, “Hell yes, I would love to fill in!” I let out a blood-curdling scream and proceeded to call the band so we could scream with joy together.
Now that we know Susan on a whole different level, she is so normal and down to earth. She is modest and humble, and we are so blessed to have her in this band. Finally, we are honored to be on the cover of Colorado Music Buzz Magazine! Thank you, Sheila! The Blackouts are a dream come true for me. I would love to see us propel even further but I can at least say that I fronted a rock-n-roll band before I die! I have done what I always dreamed of doing. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity at my age and stage of life.
CMB: Do any of you have any side projects going on?
Kate: Good rehearsal space is hard to find in this town, especially on a budget. I’m opening up RocketSpace Rehearsals in April; we’re building four soundproof practice studios. It’ll be perfect for bands who don’t need their own dedicated practice space, and who don’t want to deal with the hassle of signing a lease and bringing their own P.A. system. For bands that practice 1-3 times a week, they’ll save money, and the rooms will have all the basic gear already set up. It’s a lot like the drop-in rehearsal spaces that you’d find in NYC or L.A, really flexible. Instructors can teach lessons there too. It’s a great location at 2711 Larimer Street, between Larimer Lounge and Meadowlark.
Side Note: Keep your eyes open for a more in depth look at The RocketSpace in next months issue.
CMB: What are some of your favorite Denver bands?
TBO: the Swanks, King Rat, Lyin Bitch and the Restraining Orders, Smoothbore, the Hollyfelds, Dirty Lookers, Fire in the Asylum, the Railbenders, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Halden Wafford and the Hi Beams, Dick and Lois, Hawk Attack, Hotgun, Sunday Girl, the Jekylls, Black Lamb, Vibes on Velvet, the Bloody Fives and many more…
CMB: Lastly, what makes you stand out as a Denver band?
Ali: Well, the obvious, that we are one of the hardest rockin’ female bands. You don’t hear too many women getting compared to Bon Scott from AC/DC, and Lemmy from Motörhead. Again, the diversity and originality in our music sets us apart. I also think that the image we portray is, quite frankly, HOT!
Susan: The fact that we are an all-female rock band is pretty unique, and we play well. There is no pretending here. We bring the ROCK with 100% passion! We’ll kick your damn teeth in!
If you haven’t heard the Blackouts yet, what are you waiting for? An equal mix of punk, metal, and hard rock, they are diverse in the sense that every song sounds different based on what inspired them at the time. The amount of talent between theses four make up one tight and well-oiled machine. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for the Blackouts. This is one group that won’t silently go in to the night.
April 12th Colorado Music Buzz April Release/EP Release at Herman’s
April 28th at Lost Lake with Lords of Fuzz
May 26th at 3 Kings with Hotgun and Demon Funkies
June 8th at 3 Kings for Mile High Lowlife Compilation Show
July 6th at Benders line-up still tbd