“The More Patterns, The Better”: An Interview with “Horror Folk” Band Terrible Buttons’ Sarah Berentson
Sarah Berentson (above), a founding member of horror-folk/blues band Terrible Buttons, took time out of her busy touring schedule to chat with WanderChic about her style on stage and on the road. (Photos courtesy of Sarah Berentson, except for the last photo, of Y La Bamba, from oregonlive.com).
WanderChic: Tell me about your band, Terrible Buttons. How would you describe your sound?
Sarah Berentson: Our sound is hard to pin down. I generally tell people it’s folk-rock-blues. The boys like to call it “horror folk.” Honestly, the songs are all over the map. I think we have something for everyone. Our main influences are Tom Waits, Bonnie Prince Billy, Arcade Fire, Horse Feathers, to name a few. Each of us has our own influences as well, based on our instruments.
WC: How did you and the other band members find each other? And how did you come up with the name?
SB: My boyfriend, our frontman Kent Ueland, and I started playing music together in 2009 in the basement of his home. We started out busking on the streets of Portland, and came home to Spokane excited about making music together. He moved out of that house into a new house, and coincidentally many of the soon-to-be band members were roommates. One by one they trickled down to the basement offering their instrument: bass, violin, drums, etc. Soon enough we were like some weird, dysfunctional, non-traditional family band.
The name actually came from a short story Kent read in [Whitworth University professor] Fred Johnson’s American Immigrant Lit class. The name is escaping me now, but it was about an immigrant who works in a button factory. She goes to work before the sun goes up, and leaves when the sun has set, so she only identifies Americans as different types of buttons.
WC: I’m not in a band, but if I were, I’d spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out what to wear. (It’s handy that I’m in a church choir, where we all wear lumpy robes). Where do you find your looks for shows? How has the band affected your style (or, conversely, how has your style affected the band)?
SB: This is a good question. My style seems to always be in crisis. I can never commit to one look. I’m painfully cheap.
My style for shows is truly dependent on my mood that day, and the weather. If I’m feeling good I’ll throw a dress on with tights, and boots. If I’m not, you’ll most likely find me in jeans and a pretty casual top.
The key is being comfortable on stage. I can’t be worrying about a wardrobe malfunction. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s if you play the accordion, always wear a bra. If you don’t the bellows make your chest quite uncomfortable.
Oh, and I love layers and patterns. I don’t know if it’s very fashionable, but for me the more patterns the better. As far as my style affecting the band, well I find it doesn’t much matter what you wear if you’re good at what you’re doing.
WC: Which musicians are your style icons?
SB: I think that Florence from Florence and the Machine has an awesome style. I love her crazy makeup and her crazy hair. She has reinvented the classic look, and added a bit of flair. Same with Merrill Garbus from TuNe YaRdS. She rocks some pretty sweet face paint, and her dress is always casual. Luzelena Mendoza from Y La Bamba (a band based out of Portland) is a stunning long legged, exotic singing creature. Her dress is always hip, but casual. I adore the musicians who find the balance of looking good, without looking like they tried, or even care.
WC: Where have you traveled with the band recently? Where will you tour next?
SB: We just recently returned to Spokane from a month long adventure in Alaska. We’re focusing on the next album for the coming months, so we will mainly travel within the Northwest with hopes of making it down to California. Hopefully upon completion of the album we will travel all over the planet!
WC: What are your plans and dreams for Terrible Buttons? Where do you hope to be five years from now?
SB: We’d love to be an independent, self-sustaining touring band. If we could all quit our jobs and be on the road for the majority of the year, while still being able to pay our student loans and other debts, I’d consider that success. This is truly what we’re working towards.
WC: What are your travel essentials?
SB: I’m always thinking about my voice, so I always come prepared with cough drops and throat coat (tea). My two main items that I have trouble cutting down on when packing are shoes and sweaters. I love sweaters, even in summer, and I love boots, which are take up a lot of space in my duffel.
WC: Who’s on your ipod right now? What should we be listening to (besides Terrible Buttons, of course)?
SB: Some bands you’ll always find on my ipod are Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, Beach House, Bright Eyes, Cat Power, and Communist Daughter. NPR is a great way to find new music. You can check out their Tiny Desk concerts, and they often stream albums before they are released.
And of course, listen local. Some of my favorite Spokane bands right now are Nude Pop, Franklin, Dead Serious Lovers, and David Plell. New music is everywhere in Spokane.
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