"I never even thought about doing it with dudes,” says bassist Allegra Anka. There’s a beat before her bandmates, lead singer/guitarist Augusta Koch and drummer Kelly Olsen burst out laughing in Koch’s South Philly living room. She’s talking about the formation of their band, of course, a decision they made at a party in 2011, the first time Olsen and Anka met Koch. And while all three wanted to form a girl band specifically, what brought them together was knowing they had instant chemistry, but not much else.
“I had to borrow a friend’s guitar,” Koch says of Cayetana’s first practice. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think they know that I don’t know how to play guitar at all.’” She was in good company; no one else knew how to play their instruments, either.
The three are essentially self-taught, their educations supplemented by YouTube tutorials and musician friends. They worked out their sound through trial and error; some of it in Koch’s basement, where they practice, and some of it in public.
They wince when they remember performing the “ghost song,” as they now call it, which involved an a cappella breakdown. It still makes Olsen groan, “Oh, God, we must have looked so weird.”
They’ve come very far very fast. Cayetana’s music is elemental punk rock in both its simplicity and force. Olsen’s drums give structure and lift, Anka’s New Order- and Joy Division-influenced basslines are so intuitive they hook you on their own and Koch plays guitar with a basic trust in the catchiness of wiry riffs.
“We’re not a riot grrrl band,” Koch says when the topic of contextualizing their sound comes up, and you can hear that tension in their songs: the noise they threaten to reach for without fully embracing, the yawp Koch’s voice peaks at before pulling back, wobbly and affecting. She loves that tradition, was nurtured by the blare and self-realization of bands like Sleater-Kinney and regards herself as a feminist, “but it’s a different time.”
Koch’s preoccupations are her own, in other words, and it shows in her lyrics. They range from the urban fantods of “South Philly” (“I fall asleep to the sound of violence/ And I wake up to the sound of sirens” and “You daydream about God/ Are you daydreaming still?”), to the elegy for her grandparent’s marriage on “Miss Thing” (“At the end of your life, all you’ll eat is ice cream,” and “Till death do us part, I loved you from the start”).
On “Hot Dad Calendar,” a song about disappointment and the sudden death of a friend’s father: “There’ll be a clash between you and the you that’s staring back,” Koch warns, but, “Kid, you’ll be OK, you’ll get better with age.” Time as savior-destroyer, love as defiance, smarts approaching wisdom and empathy approaching grace — in three-minute rushes of song.
All of this has marked the trio for distinction in a crowded scene. Late in 2012 they released a striking three-song demo that caught the ear of enough people that Tiny Engines, a young independent label based in North Carolina, signed them.
They will release their first music video (for “Hot Dad Calendar”) and a 7-inch next February. Along with fellow locals Ma Jolie, Cayetana toured the Midwest over the summer and their debut album, which is being recorded at North Philly’s Miner Street studio, should be out next spring.
“We’re kind of just taking this where it’ll take us,” Anka says.
Adds Olsen, “Opening for Justin Timberlake, is that too much to ask?”
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