Five years ago Lydia Night posted on Facebook: “I am now a TWELVE year old singer/songwriter from Santa Monica, California! Yay! Can’t wait to see Marlhy and go to Rocky Horror Picture Show at Midnight!” Marlhy being her bff—and the 9-year-old drummer who played with Lydia that year at SXSW in their band Pretty Little Demons.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Night, now 16 and a senior in high school, has been playing music half her life. At the moment, she’s in the back seat of a mini-van driven by her dad, Morgan Highby Night, somewhere off California’s Interstate 5. She’s on tour with her buzzy band, The Regrettes, supporting its Warner Bros. debut, the utterly infectious punk-pop album Feel Your Feelings, Fool!
Night—along with bandmates Genessa Gariano (guitar); Sage Chavis (bass); and Maxx Morando (drums) – is headed to a gig in Stockton, and while she’s not sure what town they’re in, she reports: “no cows,” but “beige buildings.” And a Starbucks, her current location. Dad’s driving (Lydia failed her permit test) and tour managing, because “he does it all for free, and he’s good at it.” The Regrettes stay in AirBnB’s or at Motel 6, boys in one room, the three girls in another.
Age and adorableness factor aside, The Regrettes are the real thing for a band of any age. Lydia’s years of seasoning—playing with School of Rock in Burbank, California, attending Southern Girls Rock & Roll camp, and leading three bands—are evident in her writing, playing and singing chops. A favorite pre-teen birthday gift? A ’64 Gibson. When she was younger, her powder-blue Fender looked like it weighed more than she did.
She’s a good kid who doesn’t forget Mother’s Day. But instead of a Hallmark card, in 2013 her gift to mom was YouTube video of 13-year-old Lydia doing an acoustic rendition of Danzig’s “Mother.” It’s not a song Night’s particularly enamored of, nor does she share her mom’s taste for death metal. (“To each her own” Night quips.) But she does take influences from her parents: Dad’s a Joan Jett fan, mom digs Patsy Cline (when she’s not head banging.)
“Both of my parents have pretty good taste,” Night allows. To wit: her first concert was Fats Domino. “That’s my first memory, too. I love him to this day. I wanna say I was like 2 or something. It was some outdoor festival. When I was about 5, Brett Anderson and the Donnas was the first concert that I went to that made me want to play music.”
For the Regrettes, influences include: “Ronettes, Kate Nash, YYYs, Detroit Cobras, 50’s Doo Wop, Bleached, Deap Vally, King Tuff, Hole, Ty Segall, Peaches, Joan Jett, HAIM and Devendra Banhart.” And the 15 songs on FYFF reflect and channel those artists. But the young quartet is not retro. “It’s fair to say retro-inspired,” says Night. “There’s definitely a lot of that style, 50s melodies and chord progressions and ‘60s harmonies, but we’re not a retro-style band. We don’t try and go for that. If it comes through, it’s because we like that kind of music. It’s a part of who we are, but it’s not who we are.”
Night, though she has a typical Cali 16-year-old’s speech patterns and enthusiasm has ambitions, though she doesn’t state it as such. “I started a band when I was 6 or 7, all girls, called L.I.L.A., which stood for Little Independent Loving Artists,” she says with an embarrassed laugh. Their first gig was 2009 (she was 9), at L.A.’s storied McCabe’s Guitar Shop. That lineup morphed into Pretty Little Demons, who recorded an EP of original music in 2012 at Hicksville Trailer Palace in Joshua Tree, California with producer Ethan Allen (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Cult, Gram Rabbit). Now, five year’s later, Night has Regrettes.
Though she’s two years away from voting (all the Regrettes are teens: only she and Morando are still in high school; she’s taking a month off from home-schooling to tour), Night’s far from immune to the current state of the nation. She recently penned what she “hopes” will be thought of as a feminist anthem. In “Living Human Girl” she saucily runs down a personal yet universal litany: “I don’t exercise and I don’t read books / And if you want to criticize me, go ahead, take a look / I’m not being bossy, I’m saying how I feel /And I’m not a bitch for stating what is real /Sometimes I’m girly and sometimes I’m not / So let’s take a listen, hit me with your best shot.” Stretch marks, razor stubble, dating, Night puts it all out there. “I think that anyone who is not a feminist is either misinformed or uneducated in that department.” At an LA gig, the frontwoman dedicated the song “Seashore” to President Trump, because “I wanted everyone in the audience to know that it’s important to be who you are and stand up for what’s right, even during this divisive political climate. Lyrically ‘Seashore’ is an expression of that.”
Feel Your Feelings, Fool!’s cover features a pink cake with fluffy white frosting, and a parental advisory sticker, which sums up the group’s sweetly subversive approach. Night’s too young to go to an R-rated movie without her parents, but is right at home in front of a beer-swilling festival crowd. (Though, of course, no drinking for the band, and when The Regrettes play 21+ clubs, they can’t stay in the venue post-show to hang or meet their fans at the merch table.)
The world is opening up for Night, and her future writing will reflect that. She covered the January 20th Women’s March for Noisey, writing: “I have never in my life felt so accepted and appreciated as I did on Saturday. Nobody questioned my age because I was one of many minors not OK with having a misogynistic, racist, and fascist man as our president, and we’re not OK feeling like we don’t have full control and safety when it comes to our bodies.”
Now she feels hopeful, and is seeing that reflected in her art. “That experience completely inspired me musically. I think [the election] that’s happened, and a lot of my music recently was taking that kind of turn, more of the darkness of the world. I write a lot. And only a small portion of the songs get out. But after that march, I took a turn to a more hopeful point of view.”
Thus far, the response to their major-label debut has been mostly positive, and after playing out for more than a decade, the 16-year-old is pretty confident in her abilities. “The only negative things maybe I’ve read or heard was that ‘Pale Skin’ (a slower, darker, more meditative five-and-a-half-minute tune) was so different from our other songs. But that’s the point,” she says, before adding in a perfect-teenage-sing-song, “and I don’t care!”
The Regrettes play Mercury Lounge on Friday, March 24 and Rough Trade on Monday, March 27
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 24, 2017