"What's amazing to me is that all four of us got along so well, pretty much instantly," Emily Mills says of her four-piece folk-pop band, Little Red Wolf. The group's members all performed in other local acts before joining forces in 2008. On June 26 they'll release Junk Sparrow, their follow-up to 2010's If Only We Were Just Like We Are.
Mills is referring to the group's chemistry, not saying that all-female acts are prone to conflict. Bands of this type face some ridiculous criticism, even in this day and age, she notes.
"My hackles still go up at [media] coverage...that makes a big point of saying, 'I can't believe four women could get along well in a band!' It's weird to me that the idea of an all-female band is still so novel to mainstream culture."
Though she'd been in bands since the seventh grade, Mills had never played in an all-female act before Little Red Wolf. The bandmates complement each other nicely. All four members contribute vocals. To that Mills adds percussion, Laura Detert viola and bass, Meghan Rose accordion, and Kelly Maxwell harmonica. Rose and Maxwell both play guitar and piano, too.
The musicians' collective interest in theater makes for a lively stage presence. It also helped bring them together, Mills. says
"Through Laura I got briefly hooked up to play drums for a great band she was in along with Meghan called A Catapult Western," she explains. "And I remember joking with Kelly that it would be rad to start an all-lady band with her."
Eventually A Catapult Western disbanded and so did Mills' former group, Aporia. Little Red Wolf emerged quickly.
Mills says that while reception to Little Red Wolf has generally been positive, they've experienced some sexism.
"We've definitely run into the occasional sound guy that dismisses us out of hand and treats us poorly because he thinks a bunch of ladies don't know what they're doing," she says.
That's just one reason Mills wants to see more women in the music industry, particularly on the airwaves.
"I think there are people who like our music at least partially because it's coming from women. We all have a unique perspective that we bring to the table," she says.
For Mills, the all-female dynamic is the most fulfilling aspect of the band.
"The tight, sister-like bond we've developed is unlike anything I'd ever experienced," she says. "We get each other. It makes writing music together that much more enjoyable."
Life events, from babies to additional musical activities, made Junk Sparrow into a two-year project. An evolving sound may have played a role as well. Mills says the record is less rock and more country than the first album, reflecting influences that range from Neko Case to the Ditty Bops.
"I think we've finally settled a little more into what our sound is, though there's still a lot of diversity," she says.
In other words, while country and folk leanings were there all along, they've come to the fore.
"I think when we started, our various influences showed more starkly.... By now, though, we've found our sound," Mills says.
The group began recording on their own but later moved to Clutch Sound, where they worked with Brian Liston.
"He brought a great outsider ear and helped us add some flourishes that fleshed out the record. I already loved our songs, but I love the final album so much more than I expected to because of that," Mills says.
As for the title, Mills says an everyday house sparrow, or "junk" sparrow, was an inspiration.
"We liked the idea of identifying the record and the band with something that's not necessarily flashy, and sometimes denigrated, but resilient and beautiful after all."