by Gene Armstrong
For The Love Me Nots, it's all in the Farfisa and the fuzz.
It's hard to ignore, of course, lead singer Nicole Laurenne's commanding presence. Behind the microphone, she's the embodiment of female power and assertive sexuality, barely controlling her punky frenzy. When she performs, she sounds as if she's 10 feet tall.
But the Phoenix band's sly, sexy combination of garage and psychedelic rock, vintage new wave, R&B rave-ups, spy-movie and film-noir soundtracks, louche cabaret and surf music relies on the thick fuzz effects drenching the guitar of Laurenne's husband, Michael Johnny Walker, and by the wheezing insinuation of her 1960s-style Farfisa organ.
Laurenne prefers the distinctive Farfisa, and when onstage, she plays it exclusively.
"Because it's easy to haul around," she says during a recent phone interview. "It takes a beating and still sounds good. I picked it because it's a traditional instrument of this type of sound, and it's really noisy and obnoxious and cuts through the live chaos. In the studio, I usually record using a Jaguar (organ)."
The Love Me Nots will perform at midnight as part of the Tucson Weekly's Fall Club Crawl®. The band will be preceded on the Rialto Theatre stage by the Triple Double Band, The Project, La Cerca and Tom Walbank. In addition, more than 80 other bands and individual artists will play at some 30 venues spread out along Fourth Avenue, on Congress Street and in other downtown locations.
This band from the Valley of the Sun has a strong following in the Old Pueblo, a community with which its members feel an affinity. The Love Me Nots have played here several times since the band's formation in 2006.
"We actually did our very first record-release parties down in Tucson," Laurenne says. "We used to play down there a lot a few years ago, but haven't been to town in a while," adding that this weekend's gig is The Love Me Nots' first at the Rialto and the first at a Club Crawl®.
Laurenne, by the way, lived in Tucson in the late-1990s, playing jazz piano at corporate resort gigs, accompanying opera students in class and sometimes sitting in on organ with local acts. She came to town, however, to study law at the University of Arizona.
I ask when and why she left behind the courtroom for rock 'n' roll. She replies, "Well, the truth is, I never left it. I have been doing both the whole time."
Laurenne is a judge in Gilbert Municipal Court. "I've never talked about my day job before, but I might as well now, because I think there is another story about it coming out soon," she says.
Laurenne says she has been keeping the worlds of justice and music distinct for so long that it just comes naturally. "They're really separate worlds. I have to use two totally different sides of my brain."
However, when she takes some time to think about it, Laurenne says she does notice some similarities.
"I have a psychology undergrad degree, and I think all people are crazy and stupid some of the time, and I see people in court when they are in their most-challenging moments. Music ties into that world in that I am writing about the ups and downs of human experience, and I get to see it every day—some of the same kinds of people that I write about in my songs."
When she calls from her cell phone while driving around Phoenix, Laurenne is in the midst of just another normal day.
"Today is a very typical day for me, being on the run, trying to get to the post office on my lunch break to send out some eBay items we auctioned off in our 'garage sale,' then leaving work for the day, going to pick up my bass player and going to rehearsal. That's where we are headed right now."
In the car with Laurenne is Sophie O, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter and Love Me Nots fan who has been playing bass for the group since midsummer. She also sang backup vocals on The Demon and the Devotee, The Love Me Nots' fourth album, which was released earlier this year on the band's own label, Atomic a Go Go Records.
Sophie O admits she is still in awe of playing with one of her favorite bands. "I think I started at the end of July. We played one gig, and then our next shows were in France. I'm originally a guitarist, but when they needed a bassist, I was happy to step in and pick that up. So I practiced a lot to get up to speed, and it has been so much fun, I can't tell you."
Rounding out the group is drummer Jay Lien, who was in The Love Me Nots when they formed, but took a few years off to live and work in Brooklyn, N.Y. He returned to the fold in 2010.
The last 12 months have been especially challenging for Laurenne, who was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago. She reports that after surgery and some reconstruction, she is cancer-free.
"It's gone, gone, gone. I am so lucky we caught it early. They cut it out, and I didn't have go through any treatments, and as soon as the scars healed, I was back in action, making the new record and touring all summer."
She credits her husband, Walker, with helping her survive the last year.
"I have learned, frankly, that it is not just a hardship for you if you have cancer, but also for the people around you. Michael was really distraught, but he was also incredibly supportive and helped me get through it."