NORTH ADAMS -- Drawing inspiration from past girl groups, like the Andrews Sisters and the Ronettes, the trio known as the Bandana Splits are adding an indie-pop cred to the form that is all their own.
The band performs at Mass Mo Ca on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m.
Consisting of Lauren Bal throp and Annie Nero, both of the band Balthrop Alabama, and solo performer Dawn Landes, the band got its start after an impromptu stage collaboration. Each year for several years, Balthrop Alabama host ed an live Christmas show at Joe's Pub in New York City, inviting fellow musicians to help write and perform original Christmas songs. In 2008, Lan des was asked to participate.
"She wrote this song called ‘Army Guy,'" Balthrop said. "It's about being in love with a Salvation Army guy, and it was written to be sung like a girl group. She invited me and Annie to sing with her on the song, and we made up a name for the show. We called ourselves the Bandana Splits, and thought that this was so fun, we should write songs and make a whole album. "
That song made it to the Very Balthrop Christmas Al bum, and the style the Ban dana Splits currently mines is on that track, already fully formed.
Following that performance, the trio got together and started writing songs with their friend Sam Cohen -- known as Mr. Sam -- who produced the band's album. Two recording sessions with him yielded the album, for which songs were realized while working on all their other musical projects.
"Balthrop Alabama was touring," Balthrop said. "We did the whole summer tour, and Annie and I were on that tour together, and we wrote a bunch of songs together while driving across the country. "
The Bandana Splits didn't start playing live shows until well after they finished their second recording session with Mr. Sam, which gave them time to try and figure out how they were going to translate the recording project into a full show.
"We tried it with backing tracks and dancing, but that didn't really work," said Bal throp. "We did a couple of shows like that. We thought if we wanted to arrange for a band, and then we had to figure out how to pay for a band and coordinate all those people's schedules.
"It was really, do we want it to be the three of us singing around a microphone or do we want to play the instruments ourselves as well? It took us a while to figure it out. Annie plays bass, so she's been playing bass, and Dawn and I switch between playing drums and guitar. Our drum set-up is simple, so that we can all three be standing across the front of the stage, so we just have a snare and a and percussion."
Other talents found a use in the show -- for instance, Balthrop tap dances in the song "Choo Choo." For the show at Mass MoCA, the girls will have a drummer accompanying them on stage.
It's fitting that the Bandana Splits is a project amongst friends, since Balthrop equates the sort of music they do with family gatherings.
"When I grew up, my mom and her two sisters sang like the Andrews Sisters and they would do Andrews Sisters songs at family gatherings," she said. "There was a song that my mother learned on her honeymoon, called the ‘Hawaiian Love Song,' and that's the one we do a cappella on the record. I grew up listening to that kind of stuff, so it seemed natural to me."
The members also work with each other beyond the Bandana Splits and Balthrop Alabama. Nero's husband has produced a solo record for Balthrop, and Balthrop co-wrote with Landes on her recent French-language EP, "Mal Habillee." For Balthrop, all these projects are an opportunity to explore her own musical path apart from the one she travels with her brother and band.
"Balthrop Alabama is a big collaborative project," she said. "There's lots of different inspirations coming in from my brother and other people in the band, so that's very collective."
"The Bandana Splits is definitely inspired by other bands and older things, and things I grew up with, and my music is just personal and some of it's very literal translations of my life, but it's still got that vintage aesthetic that I like. I never get bored. Sometimes I wish I was less busy, but it's fun to have all these different outlets."
As for the future of the Ban dana Splits, the trio is looking ahead and figuring what they want to do next. Balthrop says they all look at it as one project amongst several, rather than the center of their musical life, and that's exactly they way they want it to be.
"We toyed with funny ideas like the Bandana Splits do the ‘80s, silly ideas like that, but as of yet, we haven't really started anything," Balthrop said. "Dawn has her own solo music, Annie and her husband Josh have a band together, and I have a solo album plus Baltrop Alabama, so the three of us are pretty busy, so it's sometimes hard for us to get together and develop new stuff.
"I don't think it's going anywhere, the Bandana Splits, and we'll probably make something else at some point, but it's a project as opposed to our long range vocation."
Bandana Splits can be found online at thebandanasplits.com.