by Angelo Ruggiero
I am very pleased to introduce you the Cleopatras, a premium all-girl garage band, originally formed in 1998 in Colle Val d’Elsa, Siena, Italy. This lovely and dreamy group of chicks plays a splendid kind of raw rock and roll, heavily influenced by surf rock, girl bands, and sixties garage rock.
The Cleopatras’ founding members were lead vocalist Chiara, bassist/vocalist Silvia, guitarist Rossana, and drummer Camilla. Soon, this early line-up managed to cut a 5-track demo tape of pure lo-fi garage punk tracks, comprising “Don't Touch Me,” “Let's Go,” “Last Affair,” “I Want You,” and “I'm Dangerous.” The latter is a cover version of the Trashwomen track.
The demo proved they had an excellent ability to create killer garage tunes. So far, Chiara left the band, after what, Silvia just took over on lead vocals, and second guitarist Lucia was added to the team. The Cleopatras’ second line-up –Silvia, Rossana, Lucia, and Camilla– took shape and recorded two brilliant E.P.s made up of songs ranging from rough garage sound to surf punk, kinda punker Trashwomen, and speeded up Cramps.
The Cleopatras’ self-titled debut 7’’ was self-released in 2000. It was a 5-track EP, pressed as a 500 copy limited vinyl edition, featuring "The Time Has Come," "Welcome Baby," and "Make It" on side A; and "On The Beach," and a killer cover version of the Trashwomen's "I'm Dangerous," on side B.
The perfect follow-up to The Cleopatras EP was Let’s Run With …, a 4-track EP that came out on Perdurabo Records in 2001. Limited to 500 copies on transparent pink vinyl, this splendid record, consists of the songs "North Carolina," and "Let's Run," b/w the Young Jessie cover of "Mary Lou," and "Bye Bye..."
Both EPs were recorded at Alpha Earthbase Sound Laboratories, Firenze.
In 2001, I was present at two early concerts by the Cleopatras. I can remember that magic moment when the band began to play. Certainly, I could see the most adorable girls that played an exciting mix of punk garage and surf.
After numerous shows promoting the second EP, the Cleopatras suddenly went on hiatus for some years.
In the late 2000s, original members Rossana and Camilla expressed a desire to return to recording and performing again. Subsequently, they recruited new gals to reform the band. Alice was added on bass, and Elisa became the new lead voice for the Cleos.
It seems that the interruption in the continuity of the band’s work did not have an impact on their compositions. In 2008, the renewed Cleopatras came back with a superb 8-track self-produced debut album called ¡Dame Tu Amor!, including the songs “Dame Tu Amor!,” “Pussy Cat,” “AHHH,” “Japanese,” “Mongoloid,” “Surfing,” “Wake Up,” and “Monkey.” The band supported ¡Dame Tu Amor! with a long tour of Italy.
Next month, the Cleopatras toured the UK, including dates at London’s Peter Parker’s Rock’n'roll Club.
Things Get Better was issued as a digipack CD by the Area Pirata label in 2010, comprising ten garege punk anthems: “Sizes,” “Doll,” “Candies,” “Freaky Freaky,” “Real Wild Child (Johnny O’Keefe),” “T-Boy,” “The Asp,” “Masculine,” “Mr. President,” and “A Good Girl’s Song.” This year, the Cleopatras supported some notorious garage bands like the Real McKenzies, Morlocks, Pretty Things, and the Lords of Altamont.
The Cleopatras were included in the book “Le Ragazze Del Rock” (Girls Of Rock), published by Sonic Press in 2011. Written by feminist punk rocker Jessica Dainese, the book is an extensive work of research about all-girl rock bands and their essential role on the rock scene in Italy.
Since their early days, the Cleopatras have been really great at garage rock. With time, their sound has changed a bit, but for the better. They’re punker now, but their own blended garage tunes are the most powerful. So, if you love garage punk, and want to have fun, go the Cleopatras’ shows, and buy their records!
Here is an interview I had with the Cleopatras:
ANGELO: Please tell us about starting the band. Why did you call yourselves the Cleopatras?
THE CLEOPATRAS: The band is named the Cleopatras, after a song included on the Girls In The Garage [Vol. 2] compilation. We liked it and… we still like it! Besides, Cleopatra was a great and beautiful woman, with a wonderful haircut! Perfect, isn’t it? ;-)
ANGELO: Let us know about the band’s first ever recording session, and the resulting demo tape.
THE CLEOPATRAS: Just for having fun, our first demo tape was recorded live in 1998 at Controradio, Tuscany’s most important alternative radio, which has always supported R’n’R bands.
ANGELO: Please describe how the recording sessions for both of the Cleopatras' EPs came about.
It's not easy to keep a band together, especially because life is made up of many other experiences ... We just took a break because Silvia had two children, and it was hard to find her replacement.
ANGELO: Featuring a new line-up, the Cleopatras reappeared to release the band’s debut album in 2008, and the follow-up, Things Get Better, two years later. Do you consider that things got better for the band?
MARLA: When Things Get Better was realized, things were really good for the band. We were having a lot of fun together, playing a lot of shows all around Italy and Europe. A real cool time, with tons of energy and many new ideas. The line-up was new, but it doesn't mean better in that sense, of course. People that joined the Cleopatras during the years had always been great. Things had simply changed, and the band had found a new impulse into making music, and new enthusiasm…that's it!
ANGELO: Most of the Cleopatras’ songs are credited to the whole band. Do all of the band members contribute to the songwriting process?
MARLA: Most of the time, one of us comes up with an idea, then the whole band fix up the song together. Sometimes it is just an idea, sometimes it already has a defined pattern, but in the end, everyone gives her contribute. It would be silly to credit each song to each writer…none of them would exist in the way it is if it wasn't written and performed by the Cleopatras!
ANGELO: I would love to know the different point of views of the Cleopatras’ members. What’s your opinion about the past and current Rock N Roll scene in Italy?
MARLA: I had always been into the garage-punk scene since I was a nasty sixteen-years-old-girl in the late 90s. There used to be a lot of great italian bands back then (Ray Daytona, STP, Morticias Lovers, Rippers, Ups!, Fase Quattro, and several bands from Rome), and there are a lot of very good ones also now. But in my opinion, those were the best (some of them still exist, some had split in other bands). Now there is almost too many people playing. Things are becoming pop and indie oriented, and music scene is getting more about fashion than music itself, like everywhere else. But the real ones still recognize the real bands with a real attitude. By the way, I saw the Cleopatras a lot of times before joining the band, and I had always been their great fan!
ELISA: Since 1992, I started listening to the Ramones all the time. Then, from 1994 to 2006, I was into grunge and alternative rock. After that, I met the Cleopatras! Before 1994, I knew “I Negazione,” “Senza Benza,” “Flora e Fauna,” Motoraza, and of course, the Cleopatras, band of which I was already a fan. In fact, they are the only current Italian garage band that I like.
ALICE: Personally, I haven’t followed closely the Italian rock scene and in general, Italian music. I just began listening to Nirvana, then the Ramones, the Velvet Undergound, the Stones, the Clash, the Cramps, Joy Division… To sum up, I like quite a few musical genres, but unfortunately, I have little room for the italian music that I really like. Before joining the Cleopatras, I knew Ray Daytona. A great band!
ANGELO: The Cleopatras went from being gentle and nice with ¡Dame Tu Amor! in 2008, to being aggressive and unfeeling with Things Get Better in 2010. Are you pretending to be masculine to demonstrate you can rock the same as, or maybe even better than male bands are able to?
THE CLEOPATRAS: Between those two albums there was a change in the line-up as new guitarist Marla joined the band. As everyone brings her personal influence in songwriting, in Things Get Better you can obviously feel her punk 77 background. The resulting sound was not intentional, it just happened. But of course, as years passed, we also came to realize that being an all-female band it is not enough in itself: you need to demonstrate that you are a good female band if you really want to be respected…so we wanted things to get better from this point of view also!
ANGELO: What’s your way of thinking in relation to the gender equality? Do you feel you have had any type of discrimination when you’re trying to get gigs for your band?
MARLA: We think music scene is getting better in this sense. Actually rock’n’roll scene has always been welcoming to girls (just think about Poison Ivy, Joan Jett, Debby Harris…people consider them as much as icons as many men!). It was just a matter of having girls how wanted to start and make it. In this sense, we can proudly say that the Cleopatras had been an example (at least we hope so!!). Nowadays, more and more girls pick up their instruments and play good music, so people is getting used to it. But there's still a lot of work to do. Italy has such a strong catholic mentality, that girls still have to fight twice boys to be respected, and to see their job appreciated. Musically speaking, we think that “girls make it different”. In fact, even if our lyrics and contents are not so often explicit about gender issues, the way we play music say a lot about our “all female” identity. You have to be sensitive enough to catch this, or you’ll miss the best part. But people is not always ready to understand something different, that’s the real point!
ANGELO: Will you someday let a man be a member of your band?
MARLA: Actually last year we had to replace our drummer Camilla for a while, as she was expecting a baby… so by that time we had a little help from our friends….but they had long hair!!! Just kidding, we are not that straight and we have no “backward sexism” at all, but maybe we consider our identity too important to have a man as a permanent member of the band…sorry guys!!!
ANGELO: Can we expect a new Cleopatras record to be released soon?
MARLA: Yeah! Our latest studio work “La Maledizione Del Faraone” [The Curse Of The Pharaoh], is gonna be out soon! This new album features 11 tracks, 4 of which in Italian, in our classic garage-punk style, with maybe a little bit more of catchy tunes. It also contains an old Italian popular song that talks about women’s hard work in the rice fields, which we are really proud to use as a manifesto. The record was titled like this because of all the adventures and misadventures we went through during the last 3 years, which made the realization of this project so long. But we are stronger than curses, and we hope people could feel this in the new album!
ANGELO: Thank you girls!
April 20, 2014.