‘Grease” is nearly the word for Britain’s latest pop sensation, Kenickie.
The tidy guitar band – made up of three 19-year-old women and a 20-year-old male drummer – takes its name from the bad-boy character played by Jeff Conaway in the hit movie from 1978, the year the women were all born.
Conventionality belongs to yesterday, and Kenickie goes as far as it can with its debut Warner album “At the Club,” out June 17. It straddles Go’s-Go’s pop, Blondie-like punk and a general frenzy, lacing it with just enough fetching detail, such as the infectious handclaps on the track “Millionaire Sweeper.” One British writer described them as “the Shirelles meets the Ramones.”
Bassist Emmy-Kate Montrose loves it.
“That sums it up better than I can,” she said recently. “I think even for us it’s difficult to describe our sound, because we have so many musical influences. (Guitarist) Marie (Du Santiago) loves everything, (singer) Lauren (Le Laverne) is into pop music and I like Motown and soul. Put all those influences together and it gives us our sound.”
Le Laverne, Du Santiago and Montrose have been friends since grade school, when they always sat together in the back of class and passed notes. They shared an obsession for Gary Numan, even though they were all in diapers when “Cars” helped usher in the new wave era. Like their male counterparts, Ash, they formed their band while in high school, then recruited Le Laverne’s older brother, Johnny X, to play drums.
“We didn’t know how to play any instruments, but we thought we could learn,” Montrose said. “When we learned to play, we were pretty good. There’s no concept, it’s just us playing punk-influenced rock ‘n’ roll.”
Their early demos caught the sharp ears of renowned British disc jockey John Peel, who played them on the air before they were signed and also predicted big things. One cut, “Come Out 2 Nite,” was voted No. 1 in Peel’s annual “Festival 50” list last year.
An eight-song EP, “Catsuit City,” on the Newcastle, England, label Slampt earned them a spot opening for the Ramones at their farewell Brixton Academy gig. Another EP, “Skillex,” prompted Bob Stanley of the British group Saint Etienne to sign them to his EMI-affiliated label, Emidisc. Their first major-label single, “Punka,” cracked the U.K. Top 40.
By then, they were plastered on the covers of New Musical Express and Melody Maker, from Aberdeen to Exeter.
“We’re big enough now to be working all the time, and we get a bit more artistic freedom,” Montrose said. “We’re obviously not getting mobbed on the streets, but every now and then we’ll be on the train and someone will scream out. You catch yourself looking around, going ‘Who? Me?’ “
All in all, the ride to fame has been enjoyable, Montrose said, but whether it flies in the United States is anyone’s guess.
“We just wanted to make the best album we possibly could,” she said, “and we’re all very, very proud of it. I hope people in America will like it, because it’s a fun record.”
BWF (before we forget): The group has since broken up, but fans still maintain a Web site.