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!