Oryctolagus Cuniculus: An Interview with Beth of Won’t Say Rabbit

Won’t Say Rabbit is a garage pop-punk from deep in the heart of New Jersey. Listening to the pair of tracks they currently have up on BandCamp and all the major streaming services, I’m picking up hints of ultra-cool 70s new-wave like The Runaways and Blondie mixed with a distinct 80s vibe. Over the years, the band has consisted of Brian and Tom on guitar and bass (and keyboards) respectively, and Beth on vocals. Drummers have included Frank, John, Billy, and Juan. I was curious to find out more about them, so I dropped Beth a line to see if she’d be up for an interview…

Earlier this year, you posted an image of the front and back cover of Won’t Say Rabbit’s CD from 1991. How long has Won’t Say Rabbit been together? Are you still playing?

Won’t Say Rabbit got together in 1989. We never disbanded, but we haven’t played any live gigs since 1997–yikes! We have all done musical projects individually, including writing new songs, playing and singing for fun, but we are just beginning to get back into our music more seriously in order to rehearse and record new material. Our goal is to release another album and play some reunion shows in time for our 35th anniversary in 2024.

Cool! Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band?

Tom learned to play keyboards as a child. In college, Tom became interested in punk rock music and gravitated towards bass guitar. Brian was about fourteen years old when they met while working at a restaurant called The Fireplace. At that time, Brian had just started teaching himself to play guitar. While Brian was learning guitar, Tom played bass in a band called Fragrant Moth.

When the band broke up Tom and Brian decided to form a band.

I always wanted to sing, it was my childhood dream. I sang in bands all through junior high and highschool. After college I put together a band called Vox Angelica that played gigs all over New Jersey. We released a vinyl 45 that got a bit of college radio airplay. However, by 1987 nothing was happening for us and Vox Angelica disbanded.

In June of 1989 Tom and Brian ran an ad in a New Jersey music paper called the East Coast Rocker. They were looking for a female singer and I answered the ad. They had all the music tracks recorded, so after rehearsing with them for a while, we went into the recording studio to add my vocals to the songs.

We released our eponymous CD in 1991, and once again, I was in a band that received a little bit of college radio airplay, but otherwise, crickets… We did play some gigs that Brian taped and I am currently putting videos from the shows up on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

I’m also curious about the band’s name.

When we started we had a different name related to “Oryctolagus cuniculus.”* However, from the time the Internet started gaining popularity, up to the point where bands were using Myspace, we kept receiving less than happy messages from bands with the same name. We vowed never to say that word again or use it in a band name. We thought about it for 25 years and finally came up with “Won’t Say Rabbit!”

That’s awesome! What part of New Jersey are you from? What was the scene like when Won’t Say Rabbit was getting off the ground? Who were some of the other bands on the scene at the time?

The three of us are from Northern New Jersey. The year 1989 was all about Hair Metal Bands. Poison, White Lion, Guns n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, etc. were played in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV. I like all those bands, and just as with any trend, New Jersey was overflowing with musicians that wanted to look and sound like them.

How did being from that particular place in that particular time influence your taste in music and the sound of Won’t Say Rabbit?

The good part about living in North Jersey was the proximity to New York City. In 1989 we were able to drive into the city and see bands we loved like Stiff Little Fingers and The Ramones. The hippest New Jersey scene was in Hoboken where there was a well known club called Maxwell’s. We saw great shows there like Marshall Crenshaw, Wreckless Eric, and The Hoodoo Gurus.

For each of us, our musical tastes evolved much earlier. Tom loves punk and is influenced by X, The Damned, and The Buzzcocks. Brian is a fan of classic rock and says his influences are Cheap Trick, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. I grew up singing along with the radio. I love The Beatles and the fantastic girl groups from the 1960’s like the Ronettes, Crystals, and Shangri-Las.

Currently, your songs “Getcha” and the instrumental “Laryngitis” are available on Bandcamp and other streaming services. The track list for the CD includes eight other songs. Any chance those will become available as well?

Yes, we will be releasing all our songs eventually. For anyone who may be interested, you can follow us here: https://twitter.com/beth60910 , https://wontsayrabbit.bandcamp.com and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

As someone who’s been playing music since the 90s myself, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry and how people make and discover new music. Do you have any thoughts on that topic?

Let’s see, I’m older than you, but I bet you remember cassettes and vinyl. It was so much fun going to record stores and blowing your allowance on the albums or 45’s you really wanted to get. In fact, I was photographed in a record store, at an autograph signing session for Meatloaf when his album “Bat Out of Hell” was released. That picture appeared in the “East Coast Rocker.” (I lost the picture long ago, but sometimes I look on EBay to see if anyone has back issues for sale.)

That’s wild!

Regarding making and discovering new music, you can do it all at home now. When Won’t Say Rabbit recorded our music in 1990, we had to go into a recording studio. The music was recorded on reel to reel tapes and then mixed onto a D.A.T., which was sent off to Discmakers to be made into CD’s. Now you can use software to record a masterpiece from your bedroom and release it on the Internet to your fans.

For discovering new music, Twitter is AMAZING. That’s how I learned about your great music, The Star Crumbles, Matt Derda, plus the other terrific #Tweetcore musicmakers. There are so many people on Twitter who love to recommend different bands and songs to listen to. I’m really enjoying all that energy, creativity, and love of music.

Needless to say, I agree! Why do you think so much music of the 80s and 90s continues to have such staying power?

I think every generation has a certain level of nostalgia for what their parents listened to. Just like punk rock from the 1970’s harkened back to the music and fashions of the 1950’s and 60’s, young people today listen to music rooted in 1980’s new wave (or dark wave for the Joy Division/New Order fans out there,) and 1990’s post-punk, indie, and grunge.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

It was an honor! Thank you for inviting Won’t Say Rabbit to be interviewed. I loved your thought provoking questions. I enjoy following https://twitter.com/marc_schuster #Tweetcore on Twitter and look forward to hearing your new music when it is released. In the meantime, I hope everyone watches The Star Crumbles documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B7mzXeCLOs . I know I certainly learned a lot about the band!**

*The Genus and species of rabbit!

**I swear I did not put Beth up to including these links… She’s just cool that way!

Tweetcore: Notes from a Scene

First, apologies for the title of this post. I was trying to come up with a name for a movement that doesn’t have obvious stylistic and/or geographic boundaries like the Seattle Grunge scene in the 90s or the Sound of Philadelphia in the late 60s/early 70s. And since I met most if not all of the musicians in question on Twitter—not to mention the fact that “core” seems to get appended to a lot of genres these days—I figured “Tweetcore” would get the job done.

Given its lack of traditional boundaries, Tweetcore is somewhat difficult to define. If pressed, I’d say it’s a term that applies to any group of musicians, songwriters, and recording artists who find and support each other on Twitter. It isn’t necessarily a single, focused movement, then, but a massive and ever evolving continuum of movements, each with its own ever-shifting center of gravity.

I happened into my own corner Tweetcore sometime in 2020 or 2021. I had recorded an EP called Introvert’s Delight and was looking for people who might enjoy it—and who might also be making similar music that I might enjoy. The only problem was that I didn’t know exactly how to classify my music. Bedroom Pop? Lo-Fi? Indie? Twee?

Somehow or other, I ended up following a band called Thee Rakevines on Twitter. It wasn’t exactly the same kind of music I was making, but that was the cool thing about it. I heard elements of what I was doing, but Thee Rakevines were doing something else. And they were often mentioning a lot of other bands that were likewise doing something similar but not quite the same: Fuzzruckus, the Negatrons, and the La La Lettes.  

And each of those bands started mentioning other bands and artists that I might also like. What I found especially meaningful about the interaction was that nearly everyone was discussing not their own musical output, but (for the most part) the music that other people were making. It was a fairly wide range of music, and my circle of online friends was growing exponentially with each new band or artist that I followed:  the Kintners, Eric Linden, Triangle Rain Club.  

The bands and artists come from far and wide. There’s Phil Yates and the Affiliates from Chicago, Laini Colman from Tasmania, Mikey J from Shanghai, and Scoopski from my own backyard in Philadelphia. They tweet about music and world events. They tweet about their lives, the challenges they face, the setbacks and victories. But most of all, they—or we, I should say—support each other.

Of course, it’s not just bands. I’m continually amazed at how many people support indie musicians out of sheer love of discovering new music. Jeff Archuleta’s Eclectic Music Lover blog springs immediately to mind, as does the entire You Haven’t Heard This Music Yet network along with Martin Holley’s wonderful Indie Musicians Talking Music YouTube series and the playlists curated by the ultra-talented Todd & Karen and the simply incredible Martina Dörner.

Along similar lines, Mike Five’s Lights and Lines music label is an inspiration. Lights and Lines Album Writing Club—open to all genres, free of charge—provided musicians from around the world a chance to complete and album or EP in the space of month, all while offering plenty of guidance, encouragement, and opportunities to chat with likeminded folks.

Brian Lambert and Marc Schuster — aka The Star Crumbles.

It probably goes without saying that all of the above inspired me to start interviewing musicians on this blog. It also gave me an opportunity to work with a handful of musicians that I really admire. I’ve played synths on tracks by the electronic music producer N Pa, keys on tracks by the aforementioned La La Lettes and Eric Linden, and I also added some keys and vocals to a track called “Kids” by Brian Lambert—and that collaboration blossomed into our full-blown project, The Star Crumbles.

I’m not the only one meeting and playing with a wide range of musicians across vast geographical boundaries. The Kintners’ amazing album, Collaborations, is a testament to the magic that can happen when people play together, as is their side-project with Mikey J, The Cheeky Mermaids. Likewise, Brian Lambert has been making some cool music with the Junior Mozley Collective while also doing a remix of Scoopski’s “Elon, Send Me to Mars.”

Speaking (again) of Scoopski, being part of our virtual scene has also given me an opportunity to get out of the house to see some live music in person. When Phil Yates swung through the greater Philadelphia area on his recent East Coast tour, Scoopski was the opening act, so I got a chance to see two of my favorite Tweetcore bands in a single show—and got introduced to two more acts: Bees and Graham Repulski.

Which is to say that the scene isn’t just virtual. It’s making ripples in the real world. Phil Yates played with Scoopski in Philadelphia. Brian Lambert played with Matt Moran in Denton (coincidentally, home of Rock Philosopher Dave Crimaldi). The Kintners played in NYC with Charu Suri.

All of this is happening in just the small corner of the Tweetcore universe that I’m privy to. Everyone I’ve mentioned above has probably borne witness to similar events—teaming up, sharing music, talking about recording techniques, pointing the way to new discoveries—in their own corners as well. It’s a wide-ranging, fluid, borderless movement with a horizon that stretches out into infinity.  

I suppose the point I’m making is that music is alive and well. And, I would argue, it’s a point worth making, particularly given the near-constant handwringing over the alleged death of the music industry. We’re still here. We’re still making music. And perhaps most significantly, we’re listening to each other, forming communities, and creating a supportive environment where music can flourish.

That last point is definitely worth emphasizing. I often hear that Twitter is a partisan cesspool of bickering and ad-hominem political attacks. While I do see a little bit of that when I’m on the platform, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Maybe it’s karma—the algorithm’s way of rewarding positive activity with a positive Twitter feed. Whatever the case, I’m incredibly happy to have found a community on Twitter, to be participating in an ongoing discussion of music, and to be a part of a diverse and far-reaching scene.

Good Luck, Happiness, and Joy: An Interview with Mikey J

Welcome to the first of several posts on musicians who recently participated in the Lights and Lines Album Writing Club! The idea was for members of the club to write and record an album or EP in a single month. As a mentor in the club, I had the privilege of listening to a wide range of recordings and styles—punk, folk, classical, and electronic (to name just a few). At the end of the month, prizes were awarded in various categories, including a Best Single award for Mikey J’s “My Little Dragon Girl,” an infectious ska-inflected pop tune with deadpan vocals and tight musicianship.

First, congratulations! How did you get into recording music?

Cheers Marc! I’m still struggling to believe that I got one vote! I’ve always enjoyed writing my own songs, probably even more so than learning and playing ‘the classics’! First thing I ever recorded was when I was a seventeen-year-old with my high school band (Blue Tracer). We spent a wonderful afternoon around a mini disc recording thingy and made a pretty rudimentary EP (which is currently still on my BandCamp page). While I’d love to say that sparked a lifelong pursuit of recording album after album, it wasn’t really until COVID that I began to get back into recording properly. The forced isolation & increase in time gave me the push that I needed!

What was it like recording an album in a month?

I generally work pretty quickly when inspiration hits and always have a bunch of progressions, licks and ideas rolling around in my head. But the forced timeframe raised things up a notch! For me, lyric writing has always been the most challenging part of the process and I think knowing that I had to get things done by a certain point in the month actually made it easier to get the lyrics down! Having the forum of other artists and the mentors was also amazing. They were super supportive, quick to offer advice or suggestions and generally just fun to be around! Sharing our ideas of songs, processes, art work and struggles was really inspiring and it was great to know others where experiencing some of the same feelings!

What kinds of challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was, and always is, lyric writing! I always write my instrumental parts first and then try to get a feel for what thought or emotion the song gives me! As we had the added layer of a timeframe, that meant that I had to work that part out quicker than I normally would, but I think that actually worked in my favour this time around! I also get a little gun shy around cover art, but the forum and the wonderful Twitter community helped me choose the artwork!

I’m curious about the cover image for your award-winning single, “My Little Dragon Girl.” Can you describe it? What does it mean?

It’s a field of red with a golden inner border surrounding the Chinese character for ‘dragon’! The colours were chosen because they also have pretty significant meaning in Chinese culture, red being the colour of good luck, happiness and joy, as well as a colour that wards off evil spirits. Gold is the colour of royalty.

Is there a little dragon girl in your life?

Why yes there is! As with most of my ‘sappy love songs’, My Little Dragon Girl is based on my darling wife Ella. When I tell people that she’s a dragon they normally look at me a little weirdly, but it’s because she was born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon!

Mikey J and Ella

A while back, you mentioned that English is not the primary language spoken in your household. What language do you speak at home, and how does that language—and culture—influence your songwriting and life more broadly?

As you’ve probably guessed, that language is Chinese! China, and Shanghai in particular, is my second home. I moved there in 2005 as a short break from life in Australia. I then met my wife, we got married had a son and all of a sudden it was twelve years later! China and Chinese culture has shaped me in so many ways – in fact I had originally planned to write ‘My Little Dragon Girl’ in Chinese! That didn’t eventuate due to the time frame – I couldn’t get my mouth around the words and make it sound good in time!

I love the trumpet solo—and the guitar solo that follows it! Who played those parts?

Ah, the trumpet parts are my favourite part of the song and I’m really lucky that I was able to convince an old friend of mine, Danny Davis (an amazing Aussie musician and educator, who I met while working in China) to record them for me! I have had horn parts in a few other tracks in the past and have only ever done them with midi instruments in GarageBand, so having real life horns on this one makes it even more special.

As for the guitar solo, that’s all me!

Nicely done! What is your recording setup? Do you have a dedicated space, or do you make do with a laptop and whatever is at hand?

Mikey J’s studio setup: “pretty simple.”

My recording setup is pretty simple. Everything is recorded on either my iPad or phone in Garageband! My Line 6 Spider amp plugs straight into the iPad to record all my guitar and bass lines. That sits in my living room and annoys the rest of my family, but I can record that even while my sons yells at his game and my wife watches TV! As for vocals (and in the event of acoustic guitar, cello or mandolin parts which I do regularly) my Shure mic plugs into my phone and I hide myself away in our guest bedroom / vocal booth! All my drum and percussion parts are programmed through the smart drummers in GarageBand (except for one of the tracks on my album for the challenge, which was graciously supplied by Shippa (Twitter: @shippa63) – another awesome Aussie musician! I then transfer everything into Logic Pro on my Mac and pretend I know what I’m doing when it comes to mixing!

Of course, “My Little Dragon Girl” is part of a larger project. Can you describe the album and let readers know where they can find it?

My full submission is an album called Wonderings. It has nine tracks of my usual eclectic style ranging from rock to power-pop, ska to dream pop, blues to retro pop rock! As with most albums, they are mostly sappy love songs, with one vengeful revenge track and a dreamy lament about not dwelling on the past! In addition to working with Danny Davis and Shippa, I have also collaborated with one of the kings of power-pop, Scoopski (Twitter: @scoopskitheband) on a power-pop remake of my Simon & Garfunkel inspired track, ‘When We’re Old’, from my last album!

‘My Little Dragon Girl’ is going to be released on Lights and Lines at the beginning of September, whileWondering will be releasing a short time after that! Both will be available on all platforms!

Anything else on the horizon?

As I said I’ve always got things rolling around the old noggin! But I’m most excited about a new project I’ve got cooking with Indie Twitter royalty, Kelly (Twitter: @kelly_kintner) & Kerri Kintner (Twitter: @keri_kintner) and Chris from LaLettes (Twitter: @LaLettes)! Not too much more I can say about that at the moment, except that it is exciting and I think you’ll all love what we are putting together!

All great people! I’m sure I’ll love it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me—and congratulations once again on the win!  

Cheers Marc!