August 26, 2022

The psychedelic riot grrrl sound of Karate, Guns & Tanning

Karate, Guns & Tanning -- guitarist Joy Caroline Mills, vocalist/guitarist Valerie Green and drummer Erik Fox (l-r) -- performs during WFYI’s Small Studio Sessions. - WFYI

Karate, Guns & Tanning -- guitarist Joy Caroline Mills, vocalist/guitarist Valerie Green and drummer Erik Fox (l-r) -- performs during WFYI’s Small Studio Sessions.


Karate, Guns & Tanning are this month's featured Small Studio artists. They’re an Indianapolis-based trio that describe their music as “psychedelic-tinged post-punk”, mixed with “shoegaze and dream-pop.” 

The group’s vocalist Valerie Green, and guitarist Joy Caroline Mills, spoke with WFYI’s Kyle Long after their performance.

Valerie Green: Hi, I'm Valerie Green, and I play bass, sing, and I play some synths and random keyboard stuff.

Joy Caroline Mills: My name is Joy Caroline Mills and I play lead guitar. I also do some synth stuff, and some backup vocals for Valerie as well.

Kyle Long, WFYI: I want to ask about the band's name, which is a very distinct name. I think maybe this is a question for you, Valerie. This name relates to the town in Indiana where you spent your formative years, right? Tell us about the name of this band.

Green: Yeah, so the name comes from a former strip mall in Plainfield, Indiana on the west side of Indianapolis where I grew up. If you can guess what was in the strip mall, there was a karate studio, a tanning salon and a gun store - so Karate, Guns & Tanning. It was just a giant sign that advertised those three Midwest necessities, I guess.

Long: Karate, Guns & Tanning. have a somewhat new album out titled Concrete Beach. The album came out last year in March, I believe. This is an extraordinary record. It's sonically powerful. There are so many musical textures swirling around, and I wanted to ask you about the musical influences you were bringing into this project.

Green: For me, growing up, I kind of went through every phase you could go through. I was studying classical music, but I was very interested in the grunge scene, like Nirvana, I was pretty young when that came around. From there I went to harder metal and got into Metallica. I played with some guys in high school, and we would just drill on these Metallica riffs. Then I got into techno and the rave scene that was exploding around Indianapolis, and then Joy brings this pop sensibility to the project

Long: Joy, the guitar sounds on the record are really imaginative and powerful. You add so much to this album, tell us about your approach to the guitar, and performing for this band.

Mills: I bring a pop sensibility because I'm a firm believer that pop music doesn't always have the same connotation as bad music. It's popular for a reason. So on any track that I'm playing guitar, I kind of view it as, “Am I going to add another emotional layer to this? Or am I going to take away from the sonic composition that's already there?”

Long: One of the songs you performed today is off your upcoming album. Tell us about what future plans you have for Karate, Guns & Tanning.

Green: It will either be an EP or an album, and the name of the project is "Crisis Genre." That’s taken from what you said before, people couldn't decide what kind of music we played. Like you said, there’s shoegaze, punk, and riot girl. We're kind of everything wrapped into one, and we want to keep it that way.

Kyle Long is the host of WFYI's weekly show Cultural Manifesto.

Scroll through Small Studio Sessions page for every session, with both audio and video versions. You can also catch these performances on WFYI's Small Studio Signal Boost weekly program, airing on WFYI 90.1 Saturdays at 9 p.m.

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