Rock bands aren't known for being quiet or humble. Oddly enough, singer Lyndsay Evans and guitarist Adam Eder are both of these things. Offstage, anyway.
The couple helm Madison band Sexy Ester, which earned a WAMI nomination this year and picked up four MAMAs in 2011, including Alternative Artist of the Year. Since solidifying their lineup in 2009, they've built a regional following around their upbeat, danceable sound and Evans' powerhouse vocals, which channel Heart's Ann Wilson and Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. They'll release their fourth studio album, Monomania, on March 30, at a prom-themed party at the Inferno.
When we meet to discuss the new album, Evans' mohawk is tucked into a chic beret, and both she and Eder nonchalantly sip cups of green tea. This subdued scene is a far cry from their sexy, powerful live act, but they exude a quiet confidence that stems from their musical relationship and their 10 years as a married couple.
"I think it's our best album yet," says Evans, who is surprisingly soft-spoken. "It's about finding yourself and embracing who you are."
Monomania picks up where Sexy Ester's 2011 album, Sequins, Sin, and Appetite, left off, flirting with new wave and classic rock while deftly avoiding outright imitation. It reveals a group that has developed a sonic profile of their own. Songs like "The Hotness" and "Silver Shoes" could be described as 21st-century reimaginings of Joan Jett or Sleater-Kinney, but their intensity is balanced by a playful campiness. "Rock Candy" and "Red Shoes" evoke sounds and themes like those of the B-52s, Devo and even the off-Broadway musical Hedwig & the Angry Inch.
Evans says her brother, Roscoe, who's also the band's keyboard player, took their sound in a new-wave direction. But the whole group contributes to the songwriting process. In fact, they began working in the studio before playing any live shows.
"Adam and I went in and recorded the first album with our first drummer, Dusty. We didn't have a bass player or anything, so Adam wrote and recorded all the bass lines in the studio," Evans says.
"We really did do it backwards," Eder interjects.
Now a lot of the songs spring from free jams.
"I'll be jamming with the [others], get a little melody going, then record those songs onto my phone, take them home, and work on lyrics," Evans says.
Practically finishing each other's sentences, Evans and Eder make it all sound smooth. But their journey has had its share of bumps. Like many bands, Sexy Ester have gone through drummers like matchsticks. Luckily, current drummer Jenna Joanis offered to be on-call the night before her predecessor, Paul Kennedy, resigned.
"She jumped right in, and she fits super well with us," Eder says.
But great live shows don't always lead to great albums. While Sexy Ester make good recordings, they're still figuring out how to cram all of their charisma into an audio file.
"People [often] say that they like us live better. It's so hard to capture that live sound on an album," Evans says.
That's why Sexy Ester decided to play Monomania's songs together in the studio rather than recording one part at a time. Eder says this approach helped Monomania get closer to the band's live sound.
"It helps, having that feeling of everybody in groove with each other," he says.
But, in a way, the audience is also part of the band. They help generate the electricity that drives the live shows.
"It's hard to get the feeling you get in the vocal [at a show], with the energy feeding from a crowd, when you're just standing there in a dark room with a microphone," Evans says.
In other words, Sexy Ester are a band you should hear, but you really ought to see them as well.