This city’s no stranger to powerful femme voices and local indie punk band Atta Girl fulfills all your spunky female singer/songwriter needs with their new EP, Betty’s Begonia. With RM Livingston as the vocalist, Darien Day on guitar, Carl Athey on bass, and Chris Carreon on drums, the 4-track album is a fast-paced yet powerful and personal whirlwind of twinkly guitars and passionate lyrics.
In true DIY spirit, the album was written during a long weekend and ultimately recorded in only a day by the band members themselves and from a bit of help from Chris Compton of Scott’s Addition Sound. While that might not seem like too big a deal for a 4-track album, it’s proof of Atta Girl’s devotion to their music and ability to produce quality tracks without many do-overs. Local label Trrrash Records has also released the album on cassette.
According to Livingston, the group has grown steadily in the short two years they’ve been together. The short length of the album allowed them to focus on the overall quality and according to her, the best of their music yet. The album came naturally, with Livingston arranging the lyrics to the already-formulated guitar parts.
“I love writing to [Chris’] music and Darien’s guitar parts, we have similar tastes and I’ve like everything I’ve heard them write,” said Livingston. “It’s really fun, this is my first band, and it’s like solving a puzzle, figuring out how to make the melodies work.”
The group refers to themselves as twee-punk, which draws from Brit-pop influences like 90’s band Heavenly, but Atta Girl’s sound is still punk at heart. The product is clean, sparkly guitar parts and expressive vocals, but it doesn’t stop there; Betty’s Begonia has a deeper meaning, and grapples with such themes as loss and remembrance.
The album, released in mid-March, is a testament to lead singer Livingston’s relationships with her family and with her grandmother in particular. The title of the album is named after her maternal grandmother, Betty, who passed away a few years ago.
“When she passed, I took a lot of her plants, and one of them was this begonia that my cousin sent to her as a Christmas present. And I left it out in the freezing weather and it was dead as a doornail. I literally say in a song, “I’m sorry I left you out, I’m sorry I left you freeze,” said Livingston.
But there’s a metaphorical meaning to the titular plant as well. According to RM, despite the frozen outcome of the begonias, taking care of things can be comforting and important when faced with loss. “It’s reassuring when you feel like you don’t have a lot of control around your life. It’s about loss and how to try take care of the things around you and how you try to take care of yourself, which sometimes doesn’t work out that well.”
Livingston and Carreon, having met at VCU’s painting and printmaking school, also have artistic background. The band has produced their own cover art for both their albums, and Livingston also produced the tape layouts for the cassette versions of the album, complete with lyrics and pictures. Inspired by Betty’s collection of turtle figurines and Livingston’s own personal love of turtles, the album cover features an elegant depiction of a turtle surrounded by begonias over a baby pink backdrop.
“I used to think painting was my favorite thing to do, but it’s really nothing like frickin’ screaming and yelling,” said Livingston. “And getting in front of people, and getting that shit out, even if they have no idea what you’re talking about…I’m really bad at journaling so it’s a really good way to get stuff out that you’d normally just let build up.”
When asked about their favorite track, Livingston immediately said “26 Dunes” was the undisputed favorite. The track deals specifically close relationships, and staying true to oneself during times of hardship while appreciating the good things in one’s life, rather than letting people taint them.
“It’s probably the most vulnerable… It’s about my other side of my family. And sort of saying that I’ll still find peace even though I have a lot of pain in my life. Just gotta keep on keepin on.”
Last but not least, a few obligatory shout outs from the group: “Shout out to Trrrash Records and Tim Falen for being so supportive of us… and to Manny Lemus of Citrus City Records who’s been really supportive of us too.”
You can stream Betty’s Begonia on Atta Girl’s bandcamp here. Keep an eye out for them at the May First Friday event at the Camel and other shows they’ll be sure to play in the near future.
Top image via Farrah Skeiky