When Brooklyn power-pop quartet Charly Bliss formed six years ago, they had no expectations of success. “That’s shooting yourself in the foot,” says guitarist Spencer Fox. “Being grateful for everything is what makes being a musician sustainable.” But here they were, playing their first South By Southwest and sitting in an office converted into a cozy, West Elm-decorated “birdhouse” in Downtown Austin.
Even still, Fox and the rest of the band — singer Eva Hendricks, drummer Sam Hendricks, bassist Dan Shure — remain fully convinced of their underdog status. Plopping down on a plush armchair, Eva squeals excitedly at her surroundings, while a couple of the guys show off brand-new Vans they received. “We met Kesha [at a SXSW “gifting”], which was the highlight of our universe,” Eva exclaims. “I was really really nervous, so I got pretty drunk beforehand, [but] she couldn’t have been nicer.”
Charly Bliss — who, after much deliberation, simply named themselves after a Connecticut friend called Charles Bliss — have every right to be riled up. In a few weeks, they’ll unleash their Barsuk Records debut, Guppy, (since released on April 21st) home to Bouncy Ball singles like “Glitter,” “Black Hole” and “Ruby.” Plus, the band are just naturally bouncy in-person — especially Eva, who, with her nasal-high register and penchant for emitting yelps mid-song, is like the human equivalent of a squeaky toy. More even-keeled is her older brother, Sam, whom Eva says got her into pop-rock giants Weezer when they were growing up in Westport, Connecticut. When on her own, meanwhile, she’d spin records by Rilo Kiley and Letters to Cleo (specifically, she admits, Letters to Cleo singing the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack).
Actually playing music, though, was another thing entirely. As an adolescent, Eva was heavily involved in musical theater (where she’d eventually connect with Shure), starring in productions of Grease (she played Sandy; naturally), Little Shop of Horrors, Rent and others. Later, when she entered high school, Shure introduced her to Fox at a local Tokyo Police Club concert. “To be totally honest, I don’t remember that night being very significant in terms of making so much of a connection [with Fox],” she says. “But for whatever reason, after that Spencer and I ended up chatting for hours and hours every day after school.”
Fox and Eva’s friendship blossomed, with the former encouraging the latter to try her hand at songwriting. “[He] believed in me as a songwriter and encouraged me to do that,” she says, then turns to Fox and addresses him directly: “I think I never would have had the confidence without you, so thank you.”
In 2013, Charly Bliss put out their first single: the eager-sounding “Clean.” A three-song EP called Soft Serve followed in 2014, but the group took their time writing a debut long-player. Instead of rushing to get an album recorded, they opted to play all over New York City, cheering when they’d book Wednesday residencies at starter venues like Arlene’s Grocery.
“In some ways it felt like we had this pent-up [desire] to get this record out, but I am so glad we had those years to play the stupid shows and be bad and not fit in and not be making cool music,” says Shure. “I think it’s given us this really awesome perspective, especially for four extraordinarily fucking neurotic people. Like, we’ve lived through so many bands that we know, where we think, ‘Oh, shit, they’re famous now,’ and then a year later, they’re gone.”
One advantage to putting more time and effort into recording their debut (they ended up scrapping their first attempt) was an uptick in interest from record labels. After some fits and starts, Seattle indie-rock powerhouse Barsuk signed on to release Guppy, and they took very little convincing. Unlike a number of labels, who’d show superficial interest in Charly Bliss but ask to see their social-media numbers before committing, Barsuk jumped in immediately.
“I love every band on that label,” says Eva. “Death Cab, Rilo Kiley, Mates of State. So I think when they called I was assuming they were gonna say, ‘Oh, we want to come see a show, we’re not sure,’ but they were like, “We love the record, and we want to put it out. Are you guys in?’”
It’s easy to see why Barsuk jumped on board. Like their earlier output, Guppy makes no secret of its affection for toothy-grin pop (Charly Bliss’s classify themselves “bubblegrunge” on Facebook), writing romping, distortion-packed melodies that would fit right in on The Blue Album. Except instead of a morose male singer, there’s Eva, whose scratchy, childlike vocals are reminiscent of peak-era Veruca Salt. It’s a style she developed in admiration of her idol, ‘90s pigtailed frontwoman Kay Hanley. (“I love Kay Hanley, and it is my dream of all dreams to meet her,” she gushes.)
And the group’s appeal goes beyond pure aesthetics — Eva’s verses are substantive, plainly vulnerable yet blunt and often assertive. On “Glitter,” she presses a love interest to reveal how unique their connection is, asking, “Am I the best? / Or just the first person to say yes?” Opening track “Percolator” is unflinching in its assertion that “I’m not scared to lick the floor/ Cause I have sucked on something worse.”
Above all, though, is the band’s unwavering commitment to writing captivating — but never cloying — hooks. “I am never-endingly fascinated by catchy melodies and what makes a song memorable,” says Eva. “All of my best memories happened in the midst of pop music. I loved screaming along to songs in my car growing up. And there is something to pop music where you’re always trying to out-write yourself. We’re all really competitive, but I think we’re also all really hard on ourselves. [Pop] totally lends itself to being, like, ‘We wrote this big hooky chorus. What can we do to outdo ourselves next time?’”