When asked what their band sounds like, each member of the local all-female trio the Great Ants says something different -- Cannibal Corpse! La Bouche! The Proclaimers! Black Sabbath by way of the Pixies! And though they're obviously joking, it does illustrate one thing: These women don't take themselves or their music too seriously, or at least not seriously enough to lose sight of the collaborative pleasures of performing and writing songs together.
"All three of us, from the get-go, have taken everything very naturally," says Laura Totten, the Great Ants' drummer. "We've never had a lead singer," she adds. "We've never wanted one -- it's actually worked in our favor." Sometimes Totten, guitarist Jody Perigo and bassist Leah Klein take turns singing the main vocals; other times they all sing together. Each brings ideas to practice, where the other two build on them and help shape them into complete songs.
"We have such different personalities too," says Klein. "We couldn't just let one person be the lead man, because we're all lead women."
"Jody is extremely logical," says Totten. "She has to have all her parts set in stone, and Leah is extremely emotional -- she's very much about how the song feels, about the mood."
"And we tell [Laura] she has the 'T&A,'" adds Klein. "T&A," in this case, stands for "transitions and abstract thoughts." Totten finds ways to connect two seemingly incongruous parts.
Though the band members take a philosophically informal approach to their project, it doesn't take away from the strength of their instrumental technique, as evidenced on their debut album, For Simply. The result of this kind-of-casual collaboration is an array of intricate arrangements that vary from aggressive and catchy pop melodies to complicated, angular guitar and bass interaction, with sweet-sounding, three-part vocal harmonies carrying everything through.
The album was recorded over several months at the Great Ants' practice space at ABC Storage, in Allentown. Totten recorded the songs and sent them to renowned techno producer John Tejada in Los Angeles for mastering. The finished product is polished and tight, but they still intentionally left in a few mistakes, giggles and belches for good measure.
"You want the album to sound good, but you don't it to sound like a completely different band," says Perigo. "I'd rather it be rough around the edges. That's how we are live, and that's how we are as a band."
But they weren't always so confident and comfortable with each other.
The Great Ants didn't have great expectations when they initially met through fourth member Laura Dziuban and formed as Align Alike, in 2005. Dziuban hadn't played in a band before, and Perigo, despite some previous experience performing in her college band, had never sung. Klein hadn't touched a bass until she joined the group. Totten had the most musical experience, having played in various bands since she was a teen-ager, and made a living as a drum-and-bass DJ until just a few years ago.
They grew more sure of themselves after their first shows. But when Dziuban left the band within its first year, they needed to reaffirm their capabilities as well as reinvent their sound. And they had one night to do it, before their next show.
"I remember saying, 'I can't do it; I can't be the only guitar player,'" says Perigo. "But Leah said to me, 'Well, I'm the only bass player, and Laura's the only drummer,' and I thought, 'That's really true. Let's do this.'"
"That night, we got together, and I swear to God, we rewrote every single one of our songs in one day," says Klein.
"It's made our music so much better," says Totten.
Soon after, the band formally expressed that new identity by adopting its new name.
Part of that Great Ants identity and attitude is that they're often willing to play shows that other bands might easily turn down, whether it be a benefit for retired racing greyhounds or some guy's 50th birthday party. Or a stage performance at the Phantoms in the Park Halloween attraction, with an audience consisting mainly of a bunch of kids on a nearby playground.
"I'm not going to remember some drunk guy whistling at us at a pub," says Perigo. "I am going to remember some little kid in a jungle gym."
Great Ants CD Release with Centipede E'est & More Humans. 9 p.m. Sat., April 21. Lawrenceville Moose, 120 51st St., Lawrenceville. $6 (includes free CD). All ages. 412-361-2262