My favorite thing about seeing a band is getting to see their group dynamic. It’s a unique vulnerability — when a band plays together, they’re showing the audience exactly how they feel about one another. Sometimes it’s awkward; you can really tell when the people on stage aren’t getting along. But the best bands are the ones whose members seem like they’re having a blast together up there.
That’s what drew me most to adlt grrrl, Portland’s riot grrrl, art-punk trio. I first saw them last summer at Sun Tiki Studios, at what I later found out was their debut public performance together. The members of the band smiled easily during their set, joking with each other and engaging with the room, any stagefright invisible to the crowd. And on top of the good vibes, they really know how to rock.
After seeing their set, I met up with them at their rehearsal space, tucked in the hallway of a welding shop. Tapestries hung loosely over fluorescent lamps to cut their glow, pizza boxes sat on metal storage racks. Rugs overlap on the floor, along with the posters and drawings on the wall. If there’s anywhere in Portland where eco-friendly, feminist punk gets written, it’s in here.
adlt grrrl got going when guitarist/vocalist Ada wanted to start playing originals. They knew drummer Sarah from playing together at an all-femmes Nirvana cover show, and had wanted to play with bassist/vocalist Asher for years. The three musicians tossed around different ideas of what the collaboration could be. “I believe the exact words you said to me were, ‘Hey, I want to start a weird electronic band,’” Sarah teased Ada.
They found their home in grunge, and just like their rehearsal space, they’ve made the genre their own. Their song “Bleed Me Dry” would fit perfectly between La Tigré and Dinosaur Jr. on any playlist. Each chorus of the song has different lyrics, and it’s hard to say which one hits closest to home: “If they look I’ll di-i-e,” “It keeps me ali-i-ive,” “You can bleed me dry-y-y.” adlt grrrl’s lyrics are cathartic and honest, tackling climate change and self sabotage with a clever sense of humor and an even smarter sense of rage. The guitar tones are cutting and hazy like a hot day, soaring through a steady and always crisp rhythm section.
Just as the trio started cooking with gas, the COVID lockdown started. “It was a really scary time,” Ada told me. “We took really good care of each other. And that cemented the relationship that we have now, going through that together.”
They weren’t sure whether or not there was a future for adlt grrrl — or for live music in general — until the snow started to thaw last year. When the warmer weather came, Ada, Sarah and Asher were itching to put something together. “At the time I was renting a house,” Asher recalled. “We just ran a bunch of extension cable to the backyard.”
They started working on their first EP, Personal Best, recorded in the great outdoors of South Portland. “I look back on that time with such tenderness,” Ada shared. “There were birds chirping, and we kept seeing this little kid, like, come up to the bushes. Then this adult man comes up — we thought he was going to yell at us for being too loud. And he was like, ‘Hey, I just want you guys to know that, like, my son wants to play drums and he’s really excited that there’s a rock band playing next door and you guys sound great!’”
Passing on the rock ’n’ roll baton is important for adlt grrrl — the band has been a place where each member feels comfortable being themselves, musically and otherwise, and they want their audience to see that as an invitation to do the same. It hasn’t always come naturally.
Asked how the band writes together, Ada said, “If I haven’t painstakingly finished something that I feel is perfectly complete, I sometimes have a hard time bringing it to the table.”
“I think probably the biggest thing is figuring out a workflow,” Asher added. “How to bring ideas in and be comfortable with them not being fleshed out fully.”
“These two speak a music language that I don’t really understand,” Sarah joked at one point. “Then I just hit stuff and it all comes together.”
The process has brought out songs like the marching, yearning “Personal Best,” and the twangy-ish “Summer Beach Hit,” from their “Agoraphobia” single, released late last year. Their forthcoming release, Desperate Times, Desperate Measures, a “quasi-concept album,” comes out in early September. “Many of the songs are about the times we live in, but as many are about our internal and external responses to those times,” Ada explained. “Our approach has always been to write music we have fun playing and that makes us feel good.”
“I hope people like it,” Ada added, “but I’m also glad we like it.”
adlt grrrl plays an album-release show on Sept. 2 at Sun Tiki Studios (375 Forest Ave., Portland) with Tiger Bomb and Five Feet.
A.C. Howard is a writer and zinemaker with roots in DownEast Maine. They write essays about music, nature and queer life in their newsletter, THE DEAL, at thedealwithcamille.substack.com.