Before they could get down to the business of making visceral, reverberating noir-rock together, Gretta Rochelle and Jack Armando had an obnoxiously romantic hipster love story to overcome.
Jack, the guitar man, was raised in Brooklyn. Gretta, the singer and drum basher, was born on the bayou. He liked Depeche Mode. She preferred the Cure. For a while, they both lived in Albuquerque, but never crossed paths. In fairy-tale fashion, a chance meeting at a Chicago rooftop party in 2002 finally brought the perfectly complementary pair together, culminating in wedding bells and an attention-grabbing art-rock duo called My Gold Mask.
"The married life and the music life can certainly overlap a bit," says Armando, who played with Rochelle in another Chicago band called Bang! Bang! before forming My Gold Mask in 2008. "But at the same time, when we're working on music, we get into a different mind-set almost instantly."
"Well, we try at least," adds Rochelle. "Sometimes we try to separate [the working life from the married life] and it doesn't end up working out too well."
Offstage, the two are about as amiable and even-tempered a couple as you'll ever meet. They save the rock & roll angst and eccentricities for their shows, where Armando mines the dark side of Dick Dale while Rochelle clubs out the rhythm and wails like a banshee — Siouxsie Sioux not excluded.
"There is something very physical about it — not just emotional, but literally physical in watching us play live," says Armando. "I don't know if people would realize that's there just from our records, because sometimes our recordings are purposely about maintaining a certain tension. But live, that tension line tends to break. The fact that Gretta plays drums, sings at the same time, does all the physicality — it's easier to get caught up in the moment."
Rochelle stops short of calling it an onstage persona. "It feels more like me just letting loose really," she says. "When it starts to flow, it kind of explodes at a certain point, and I just kind of swim in that for the entire show. Playing live is extremely personal. I'm giving my entire being whenever I perform. I think maybe that comes across live, and that might be what fans are connecting with a lot of times when they end up coming up to us after the show."
Indeed, My Gold Mask's night is far from over when the music stops. At the merch table, Armando and Rochelle routinely meet with fans and sell copies of their two self-released 2010 EPs, A Thousand Voices and the vinyl-only A Million Miles. Though they've recently signed with Neko Case's manager, the band remains contentedly labelless, preferring their more DIY approach.
"It's just about connecting with people that are interested in what you're doing," says Armando. "A lot of bands can probably say the same, but I do feel like our fans seem to really connect with [us]. At the end of the day, it's all about your music. If you have a song that connects with people, that's what is going to matter the most. It'll filter its way through everything."
So far, My Gold Mask's brief existence has yielded a couple of heavily blogged tracks ("Bitches" and "Violet Eyes") and a slew of comparisons to other bands with dark undertones, surf rock riffs, and dynamic femme-fatale vocalists — the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Raveonettes among them.
"On one hand, you can get a nice push from a friendly comparison like that," says Armando. "But how helpful is that push really if it's not representing what you're really about?"
"It's simple for us," adds Rochelle. "We're interested in creating music we like, rather than trying to pick one thing and adhere to it. And that gives us a lot of freedom as well."
"Yeah, we might wake up tomorrow and want to make a polka record," Armando chimes in. "You never know."
"I don't see that one happening," laughs Rochelle. "But yeah."