BY ZAK SZYMANSKI
Some people think young music fans are interested only in alternative rock or hip-hop. But at a local late-night performance, a group of young women harmonize their way through sha-la-la choruses while layering the sound with tambourines and, occasionally, a tuba. As the elbow-to-elbow audience bounces along to “Be My Baby,” it’s clear that the future of music, to many, is the past.
The Vallures, a mostly female Bloomington band performing 1960s rock, Motown, and soul, are rapidly gaining fans here and in other cities. Assembled in 2010 by lead vocalist Jes Franco and keyboardist Libby Scherer, the lineup includes guitarist Meredith Hubbell, drummer Dani Graf, backup musician/singer Laura “Wall of Sound” Wanner, and bassist Bryce Martin (the only male). Although they are twenty- and thirty-somethings, The Vallures grew up listening to ’60s music, something they share with older and younger fans, says Hubbell. “That’s part of the allure.”
Indeed The Vallures—part velour, part allure—really put on a show: beehive hair atop shimmery outfits and classic girl-group songs chosen as crowd pleasers. But this isn’t a gimmicky shtick. Band members are dedicated to their craft and to embodying the spirit of the ’60s.
They also comb through old records and the Internet to resurrect lesser-known songs from that era. Breaking into Claudine Clark’s 1962 “Party Lights,” Franco’s vibrato makes lines like “Mama, I wanna go” seem newly urgent. “Most of us didn’t know this song,” Franco says. “Now everyone wants us to play it.”
Recent appearances include local gigs at The Bishop and Root Cellar, some weddings, and shows around Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois (upcoming shows are promoted on their Facebook page). A January performance at Max’s Place raised money to help replace their equipment, stolen after a gig near Chicago. Next up is recording original material written in the same ’60s style; an EP (extended-play record) is due later this year.
As a mostly female band, The Vallures find themselves challenging biases; there’s the occasional fan, for instance, who is stunned that they can actually play instruments. But the overwhelmingly positive reaction inspires the group to set an example. “If I was a little girl in the audience,” Franco says, “I’d be like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’”