To be engulfed in ex-boyfriends, alcohol, heartache and even death can be a devastating environment to traverse. In many cases, the barren result of such negative experience is immobilizing.
However, Columbus power pop band The Girls! wants fellow women and anyone else to join them as they dance the bad things away.
“We want the girls to have a party,” said frontwoman Jessica Wabbit, whose real name is Jessica Ankrom, “Not being told what to do and not feeling like they can’t be comfortable being themselves.”
Three of the six group members sat around a table on the patio of Little Rock Bar Tuesday night.
“I’m all about liberating girls ‘cause I’ve been in two really abusive relationships. I’m a rape victim,” Ankrom said. “I want women to feel like they can have fun and do whatever the f— they want.
“The ridiculous ideals that women have to be held up to physically — the first thing they do is get with some guy who puts them in a cage essentially,” she added.
“And not in the fun way,” Ankrom joked, provoking laughter from recently added guitarist Joe Damn, whose real name is Joe Rosenblum.
“First they’re their father’s daughter, then they’re somebody’s girlfriend and then they’re married and that’s all they ever do — dude, you can do whatever you want,” Ankrom said.
When Ankrom left the father of her child, she was making $8 an hour and working 12 hours a week.
“And I made it f—— work,” Ankrom said proudly.
“I have a self, I am a person and I can do this, and so can you,” she said. “You don’t need a guy, you don’t need anything, all you need is yourself and you need to dance your ass off.”
The idea is one the band takes seriously.
“It’s a goddamn mantra,” Rosenblum said. “The fact that feminism has to be a movement is a travesty in its own right.
“It should not be about finding some a–hole with a good job and a healthcare plan who can finally provide for you to be just a woman, that’s absolutely an archaic thing that just needs to go and f—— die,” he said.
The band released its first album, “Let’s Not Be Friends,” on April 18 on vinyl. The concept, and the entire record, is about one person that Ankrom spent 10 years of her life with.
“To me (the album) means I’m at least leaving something behind in the event of my untimely death, and also people can take something out of that s—–, s—– relationship,” Ankrom said.
Since releasing the record, Ankrom has been writing songs of happier content — inspired by recently falling in “genuine” love — which will go toward a new record currently in the works.
“Love is what inspires me the most,” she said.
In July, The Girls! lost its original guitar player and a well-known member of the Columbus music community, Joey Blackheart, whose real name was Joey Moore.
“I lost my musical soulmate when Joey died,” Ankrom said.
“I’m well f—— aware of what shoes I have to fill,” Rosenblum said, who was asked to play in the band after Blackheart’s death.
When people ask tambourine player Raeghan Buchanan who replaced Joey, she just corrects them by saying, “we added a member.”
Moore died of a drug overdose July 9.
“When Joey and I played together, it was like we were reading each other’s minds,” Ankrom said. “And when he used, I could tell there was an absence of that, like I couldn’t feel him when I was playing.”
The music wasn’t “golden” like it always was, Ankrom said.
Rosenblum has tried to align the spirit of the songs with his technical ability, and as he explained it, “f— it up as best as I can.”
The three Girls! members laughed, lightening the seriousness of the topic. Overall, the transition has been as smooth as it could really be, given the circumstance, in Ankrom’s opinion.
“I was a fan before I ever joined — I got to make five damn good friends,” Rosenblum said. “It was definitely more of a concern to become friends with them and be there for people who were having a real s— month inside of a s— year.”
“Ya know, keep bringing beer and cigarettes to practice,” Rosenblum laughed.
Rosenblum’s initial reaction to being asked to play guitar was to talk them out of it, he recalled.
“I had lost a band member previously to an untimely death, I lost another to addiction, so I kind of had a vague idea of what was going on — I still don’t pretend to completely get it,” Rosenblum said.
“(When Rosenblum tried out for the band), he was really good with everyone so upset,” Buchanan said.
“I think one song in, I threw my guitar down and started crying and ran out the back door,” Ankrom said, recalling Rosenblum’s tryout.
“And Joe was like, ‘What did I do?!’” Buchanan said laughing. “We’re like, ‘You played good! It freaked us out!’”
“When we play together, it’s magical, now I’m learning how to make new magic,” Ankrom said, before Buchanan added “Joey Blackheart lives on through the band.”
While The Girls! carries on Moore’s legacy, it still serves as the mobile of Ankrom’s dreams, emotions, and future.
“This is the band I’ve always wanted to be in, this is the band I’ve dreamed of being in, this is something I’ve worked towards musically my whole life,” Ankrom said. “I haven’t gotten that exact right recording, but I’ve got the right group of people and I think that that’s going to happen. That everything I dreamed up when I was 17 and started doing this is all falling into place.”
“Columbus is kind of incestuous,” Rosenblum said.
“There’s a lot of people who hang out together and wind up in bands,” Rosenblum said. “I knew (The Girls!) as cool people before there was even thought of me playing guitar.”
“The way (Buchanan) got in the band, she just loved our band and was at every show,” Ankrom said, “and she would get up on the stage with us and dance. I was like, ‘let’s give her a tambourine — and singing lessons.”
Having Buchanan in the band is hugely important to Ankrom, though she claims to have “haters” on the subject with fans occasionally questioning Buchanan’s presence in The Girls!.
“They’re like, ‘you don’t need her in the band!’ Ankrom said, “I have a lot of people come up to me and say that she doesn’t need to be in the band, that ‘she’s taking attention off of you’ and blah blah blah.”
Ankrom brought Buchanan in the band to do just that. Having her best friend in the band takes the pressure off of Ankrom, who self-admittedly has some insecurity about playing live.
Even outside of shows, she wears sunglasses all the time because she’s so shy.
Through all the ups and downs of life, Jessica Ankrom and the rest of The Girls! continue to battle through.
“We decided early on — and it sounds kinda corny I guess — but, we knew that Joey (Moore) would have wanted us to go on,” Buchanan said. The three agreed that the band was the mechanism by which they can “keep going.”
“Just because I have a kid doesn’t mean that all my dreams still can’t come true, and I aim to fight for it,” Ankrom said.
Her goals include getting signed to a good label, going on a few good tours, retiring and having her own studio. “And putting my son through an extremely, obscenely expensive college, like spend all the money on him,” she said.
As for relationships and heartbreak, the front woman has discovered one thing for certain:
“You’ll meet that person that gets you. My life is a fairy tale,” Ankrom said.