If you were to test “how rock are you” in a Buzzfeed quiz, you’d be lucky if you got Nicole Fiorentino or Meghan Toohey. The two musicians are the forces behind the L.A. shoegaze/early alternative band The Cold and Lovely, a project that draws upon their combined experiences playing with such bands as The Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, Spinnerette, The Weepies, The So and Sos, Lenka, Schuyler Fisk and The Damnwells.
When they’re not spreading the good word with their new standout Ellis Bell EP, the ladies are also missionaries of rock, volunteering the free time they have to Girls Rock Camp L.A. We catch up with Fiorentino and Toohey to talk ‘90s icons, their other famous former member and creating music for Kenmore dishwasher commercials. No, seriously.
How did you guys meet anyway?
NF: “We have a mutual friend in Barbara Gruska (The Belle Brigade). I was invited to Meg’s house one night, and she played me demos that were on her computer. I couldn’t believe they weren’t being heard. It was frustrating to me, so I encouraged Meg to record them and told her I wanted to be involved in any way I could. Any time I’d come back from tour with The Pumpkins, we’d get together and write and record and it started morphing into The Cold and Lovely.”
Am I wrong or wasn’t Hole drummer Patty Schemel in The Cold and Lovely at one point?
NF: “Yes! Patty was the first drummer in our band. We started the project with her, and she still continues to be a good friend of ours, but our schedules were getting in the way so we decided to keep it just the two of us. We love Patty though.”
When you say “schedules weren’t working out,” does that give any credence to those Hole reunion rumors?
NF: “Yeah, as far as I know it’s on. She’s been doing that along with playing in her band Upset, and she has a band with her brother called Death Valley Girls that’s really good. So she’s a pretty busy lady.”
Well that’s good to hear! It seems you guys really gravitate around that ‘90s alt world with the bands you’ve been in and your current sound is very reminiscent of acts like PJ Harvey. I’m guessing you came of age in that era.
NF: “We were teenagers in the ‘90s and going into our 20s so it was the music of our youth.”
MT: “I remember in high school driving around in my friend’s Ford Escort blaring those bands and smoking cigarettes and thinking we were some bad ass chicas.”
NF: “It’s funny because some of the bands I grew up listening to like Hole, The Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt are all bands that inspired me to pick up the bass in the first place. And now they’re my peers and I’m playing with them. My 16-year-old self is floored by my experiences.”
When you think about it, it makes sense. The ‘90s was one of the first times girls had examples and encouragement to rock out. Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna made it okay to be grungy and scream like a banshee.
NF: “Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the reasons we formed this band. We wanted to bring back that kind of energy to the indie scene because there’s not a lot of it there still.”
MT: “The fact that there even has to be a movement is really annoying. I remember in the ‘90s I had a bunch of labels courting me and Lilith Fair was happening at the same time. I remember going to labels, and they were like, ‘Oh we already have this many female-fronted bands.’ There’s always a different standard for women, it’s so ridiculous. It should just be about how good that band is period.”
Any chance you’ll head out on tour with those ‘90s bands. A lot of them are reforming.
MT: “Actually we were just talking to Louise Post about how great it would be to do some shows with Veruca Salt eventually. Nicole and I are really involved in the Girls Rock Camp here in L.A., and so there’s a lot of professional women in music that participate in the program so we get to talking.”
Yeah tell us more about what you do with the Girls Rock Camp and the message behind it.
MT: “I’m actually an executive team member of the camp, which means I help run it with women who founded it, Mona Tavakoli and Becky Gebhardt. I played a few gigs with Mona, and she introduced me to it and I fell in love. I went there thinking I’d volunteer for like a day, and I’ve stayed ever since. Now I’m a teacher and band coach. The camp is about bringing girls at a young age together in an environment that’s not competitive. They get songwriting and instrument instruction, learn about recording, they make band logos and screenprint T-shirts. We even teach self-defense. They can be loud and creative and make noise and be heard. It’s awesome to see the transformation of these shy girls that by the end are on their knees playing their guitars and pulling out strings with their teeth.”
NF: “I think what’s so incredible is that all of the women that are involved have been in some way part of the music industry, like Linda Perry, Exene Cervenka and Sara Bareilles, so the campers have strong female role models coaching them, teaching them and empowering them. I don’t think there are a lot of strong female role models today like we had in the ‘90s. We want to inspire the new generation in the same way.”
I read that a recent Pledge Music campaign you hosted will donate proceeds to the Camp. Is it also helping to fund a new record?
NF: “Yeah, we’re aiming to put out a new record in the fall, another EP, and we just shot a music video for the song ‘Doll’ from our current EP Ellis Bell. It also helps to fund our press campaign to get the word out.”
How is the music of The Cold and Lovely different than your other projects?
MT: “For me, it’s that we both love the same music. I’ve been in bands over the years where everyone has different tastes. We have the same motive about wanting to have it be a shoegazey kind of dream pop band. We both have been wanting to start this band for a long time, and it came together.”
You’ve been together for three years now, so is this your focus? Nicole aren’t you still with the Pumpkins?
NF: “I am. We’re not recording just yet, just touring. So at the moment this is my focus. I’ve been with the Pumpkins the last 3.5 years so up until this point The Cold and Lovely has just been a studio band, but now we’re available to get out there on tour.”
MT: “I’m always doing something. As a musician you have to always do something. I also write a lot for film and TV, and I’m producing a few records right now for other people.”
What film and TV projects?
MT: “Nicole and I actually played on that Pixies’ ‘Gigantic’ commercial for Apple. I have friends who are producers for that kind of stuff so they’ll send me tracks to play guitar on. I’ve written for anything from Nickelodeon shows to Kenmore dishwashers.”
It seems like you’ve certainly made a lot of connections in the entertainment world – do you think having that helps you or hurts you being in this indie band now?
MT: “It’s so hard to say because the industry is changing every day. Sometimes the associations are great, but they can hurt you because people are quick to judge based on them.”
NF: “I think initially it was great to have the Pumpkins association because I personally have a lot of fans who have crossed over from seeing me play with them and now follow The Cold and Lovely, so it’s cool to get all that support. In that sense it’s great but it can hinder you too because there’s expectations. Initially when I joined The Pumpkins there was that feeling of oh here’s another female bass player, she’s the fourth one. But as the years have passed I proved myself to be valuable part of that project, so no matter what happens I’ll have that as part of my history. And I can say that all the work I’ve done I’m extremely proud of.”