A Chat With: The Total Bettys
Based out of San Francisco, California, the four-piece band The Total Bettys just released their sophomore album This is Paradise on November 16th of this year. The album follows up the debut record released by singer songwriter Maggie Grabmeier (she/her) and guitarist Reese Grey (they/them), the founding members of The Total Bettys, who have both since joined forces with bandmates Chloé Lee (she/her) on bass, and Kayla Billos (she/her) on drums. With their catchy pop punk sound, The Total Bettys have garnered all sorts of attention in their hometown and shared stages with the likes of Palehound, A.W., Jay Som, Hazel English, and Oso Oso.
Just one week after they put out the second album, Maggie Grabmeier took some time to chat with me on the phone from Cleveland, where she had been visiting her family for Thanksgiving. In our chat, we talk everything from the musicians who inspired This is Paradise, the band getting booked to play Treefort Music Festival, and pushing for a more diverse music scene. Tune in below!
What do you remember as your first musical memory?
It’s kind of funny, I think I remember growing up, my parents had this big like speaker system thing. You know, you always needed a lot of technology to make music play in your house, so I remember sitting in front of it and listening to Green Day CDs and I also really liked A Very Special Christmas 2, you know that compilation CD? That album—I just really loved it! I remember barely knowing how to use a CD player but putting in Green Day and that CD.
Nice, and that’s timely now with The Holidays coming up!
I know right? I’ve been thinking about it!
Nice! Well you just had your second album with The Total Bettys come out last week on November 16th—
Yeah it’s one week old today!
Awesome, so as far as the writing process on the album, how collaborative is it between you and the other band members and where were you coming from writing these songs?
I’ve been working on these songs since we recorded our first album. Once that was over, I started writing right away and I wrote the fill of the song with the lyrics and the chords and all that. And then usually I bring it to Reese our lead guitarist and they usually add the--I usually like it a lot more once I hear it with the lead guitar. They help it a lot. Then Chloe writes her own bass parts as well and it just flushes out the song. What’s interesting is Kayla, our drummer is brand new to the band. So she joined and we had like two months or something until we had to record, which is just not a lot of time to learn 10 songs, plus we wanted her to learn all of our old songs too so she was hustling and we’re really grateful she was able to learn everything so quickly and she wrote these parts that were awesome. Our previous album had really like present, loud drums, and she just totally picked that right up and added--she just had a really good sense of how it should go. It just seemed really natural when we started playing with us. So I’m really impressed with her. She was able to learn everything so quickly and so well. Lots of props!
Once the songs all came together, what was the recording experience like?
We recorded with Grace Coleman, she engineered our recording and mixed it and mastered it. We worked with her our last album Peach as well. We went to a new place, Secret Bathroom in Oakland…and I don’t know if they’re still around under that name. They’ve kind of had a brief life as far as I know. But we recorded in The Secret Bathroom and then mixed at Different Fur, which is where we recorded our first album, and working with Grace is amazing. We already knew that we really loved her but that first album recording was my first experience with professional recording. So I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into and I was extremely nervous but she just has a special way about her of being like if something takes time to get it right, we’ll take the time. And it’s not like roughed or scary and she’s just very patient with us and lets us hear stuff as many times and as many ways as we want. It felt a lot easier this time and not quite as scary because we already knew we had someone we really trusted leading us on the way.
That’s always a better environment to work in when you trust someone and they don’t make you feel uncomfortable. Then as far as the songs I’m sure it changes day to day or week to week, but what song on the album are you most proud of or do you consider your favorite?
Yeah that does change a lot! But I think I really loved “Dark and Stormy.” That song just felt really real to me and it’s also structurally a little different from the other songs that I’ve written, so I was proud that I was able to kind of try something a little different. I also really love “So Much Better.” That song emotionally feels really real to me now. It’s one of the more recent ones that I wrote for the album so I’m still kind of like…the emotions of writing it are still kind of fresh. And that one’s about being able to give advice but not being able to take your own advice. I think that for me that’s just like really how I’ve been feeling. When my friends are going through something, it’s like ‘oh my god no you don’t need to worry about this’ but when it’s myself I’m like no you’re useless.
Yeah that’s everyone. I think we’re all our own worst critics and it’s impossible to take our own advice.
So you’ve cited Charly Bliss and Diet Cig as influences in the past, but what else inspires you when you’re writing? And this could not necessarily be music, but other art mediums.
Interesting. I think with writing music, the first thing I jump towards are other musicians. And stylistically I really get a lot from those pop punk bands and I really love like the amazing women and queer people that are making music in the scene right now, but I also as I was writing these albums, I went through a huge Lorde phase. So I think what I love about pop music in general is it’s okay to say exactly what you mean and exactly what you’re feeling. It took me a long time to get to this place of just saying how I felt without having to try to make it more poetic than it is. That’s what I love about pop music and that’s something I really love about Lorde.
Yeah totally. It’s just so straightforward. So as far as your live shows, I saw you’ll be playing Treefort Festival which is exciting.
Yeah I’m so excited!
What other plans do you have for tour next year? Anything you can hint at or anything in the works?
Yeah so we also just announced we have a show January 17th-it’s gonna be our tour kickoff show with Remember Sports in San Francisco. I’m so excited. I really love Remember Sports and I’ve seen them live a couple times and I’m so excited to be able to play with them. I think it’s the second week in January, we’re leaving on our tour and going to Nevada and Southern California and Arizona. That’ll be a 10 day tour. We’re really really excited for that. I don’t have all my ducks in a row for announce yet but that’s in the works.
Awesome. Then what are some other bands in the San Fran scene you would recommend, or do you have any venues or DIY spots you’d like to shout out?
Sure! I really love Pllush, they’re a local band that’s really super great. I love Scrim. We love playing with Difficult Objects. There’s a really awesome scene of like queer people especially who are totally making amazing music. In the city, my favorite venue I don’t know that’s a hard one! Maybe Bottom of the Hill. That’s where our album release show as. El Rio is a queer bar that has shows and they have really great stuff. I wish there were more like house venues and DIY venues but it’s really hard for venues to stay alive. I just heard news about a club, The Mezzanine, in San Francisco closing. And the Hemlock which was a great club just closed a month or so ago. So people are a little freaked out that our venues are gonna start disintegrating but hopefully that means more people are gonna step up and start something new.
Ah but that’s the worst! Losing a live music venue and all the memories attached!
Yeah it’s really sad. It’s really sad.
I was also gonna mention you already send such a positive message of inclusivity with your members all either being female or non binary. And you just shouted out the queer music spot, El Rio, but what else would you like to see from the people in your music scene or promoters in general to help promote more inclusivity? What else would you recommend or like to see more of?
Yeah I think that it’s really exciting to be a part of a queer music scene and I feel like really lucky to be in San Francisco where theres so many musicians who are doing amazing things. And so many venues that are willing to host us. I think that’s really awesome and really special but I think that there’s still not quite as good representation of people of color in our scene and I’m trying to think of ways that my band that can help support bands that have people of color and also just uplift the music of people who we love. My big piece of advice to people is just to start a band. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I decided I wanted to be in a band. And I think it’s fun to do it. I’m also kind of working through the different ways that I as a person can help and that the Total Bettys as a band can help make the scene more welcoming and more inclusive. But I think it’s something that we’re striving for and we hope other bands in San Francisco are also trying to do better
Yeah if more people work together, things can finally change! So besides the tour and including people in the scene, what are some of your other goals for 2019?
I think I really want to keep writing. The last couple songs that I wrote, I felt pretty proud of, and I’m kind of doing some different interesting things so I’m excited to keep on writing and keep writing with my band. I want to tour more so we’ll see how that goes. And just kind of keep going and keep playing lots of shows and meeting new people.