Image via Jenna Houchin
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The Aquadolls are lovergirls through and through. Drummer Jacqueline Proctor is an advocate for high school romances, lead singer and guitarist Melissa Brooks wants to make music about being lost in love in your 20s, and bassist Keilah Nina recently married her partner in a dreamy ceremony at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in Los Angeles. Decked out in equal parts leather and lace, The Aquadolls stepped right out of a Y2K band poster that came to life. The Southern California band’s “mermaid rock and roll” music exudes ‘90s nostalgia, analyzes relationships, and is made for girls who want to scream and cry on their drive home.
Founded by Brooks in 2012, the group was initially a solo project with a rotating band, until the three ladies came together officially in 2018. But long before they were The Aquadolls, the girls came of age in the LA music scene – Keilah went to shows at The Smell, Melissa dreamed of stepping out of the crowd onto the stage, and someone asked Jacqueline to go steady on Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride. Eventually, they became bandmates after Jacqueline and Melissa helped each other record their music and Keilah, a fangirl at the time, caught a ride home from a show with Melissa.
Their latest album, Charmed, marks the first time the three musicians wrote and produced together, with the help of The Goo Goo Dolls producer Chris Szczech. Due to the pandemic, much of the group’s earlier music was recorded remotely, making it the first time they made music in the same room. Bringing a Yoda-like energy, Chris helped the girls navigate writing music as a unit, encouraging them to take breaks, cry it out, and believe in themselves when it came to difficult instrumentals.
I listened to the album on an Amtrak ride from New York City to Philadelphia as longing guitar riffs contrasted the gray, quiet interior of the train car. The piercing album layers beach pop ambience over intoxicating, sometimes somber lyrics. I took deep breaths as I listened to “Your Heart Belongs to Someone Else,” a tragic ballad about swallowing hard truths. “Spotlight” made me curl up in my train seat as I replayed incredible dates in my head. The last song, “Cut Throat” is a manifestation of female rage. I listened, trying to absorb as much of its energy as possible. As I looked out the window, romanticizing my view of a dreary New Jersey winter, I realized The Aquadolls make music for girls who want to be the “main character,” even if it’s only for a brief moment.
I found solace in their sophomore album, The Dream and The Deception, during a difficult college breakup. The music is intense and starry-eyed as The Aquadolls give their listeners permission to overthink and scream their emotions. As I coped with heartbreak, I went on long walks in LA – rushing to “Ruby Eyes,” a song about falling hard and fast, and glancing longingly out at the city to “Meetme.” The project is a perfect late night friend, enabling and comforting at the same time.
On Charmed, the girls are more grown up. They no longer contemplate whether or not they are worthy of love, and instead, ask whether others are worthy of them. With more years of relationships and heartbreak under their belts, the lyrics are reflective, analyzing past situationships and validating anger and confusion. The album cover, the back of a tattooed coquette-angel looking out at a beachy sunset, embodies their music’s pining heroine, always questioning their love but falling hard all the same.
This January, I caught up with the band before they hit the road with Save Ferris for the Northern California leg of their tour. We discussed songwriting with RhymeZone.com, performing alongside drag queens in Texas, and everything else that matters. – Sophie Steinberg