“I started singing when I was about five or six, perhaps younger, and would sing along to Selena around the house. The more my parents told me to shut up, the louder I sang,” says Marlene Perez, the fiery frontwoman of Los Angeles band The Rhythm Shakers.
While her first inspiration was the Mexican- American pop star Selena, Perez and The Rhythm Shakers blast out red-hot rockabilly and R&B. “The band got together by accident really,” says Perez. “Victor [Mendez, bassist] and I were at our friend’s house one day and he had recording equipment in his room, so we decided to mess around with some covers.”
Victor played the tracks to Reb Kennedy, founder of Wild Records, and they were off and running. They released their debut album Flipsville! in 2009 followed by Voodoo in 2014. The Rhythm Shakers’ musical assault is positively ferocious and the sleeve notes for Voodoo give special thanks to the people who inspired Perez, because they “pissed her off enough to write songs about them.”
“I’m very happy even though it sounds like I hate everything through my lyrics. Writing helps me release aggression,” explains Perez. “Victor helps me with concepts or ideas and I come up with scenarios in my head. Victor has also written a few songs and I just change a word or two. He writes full songs and I write lyrics over them. He has also written full songs that are pretty incredible. The first time he played Leaving Me as I read the lyrics, I cried. It was beautiful. I’m very fortunate to have him in my life.”
Flipsville! and Voodoo were recorded direct to tape in the Wild Records studio in Hollywood. “It records the raw, intense energy that digital can’t capture. There’s something about recording on tape that’s very special,” says Perez. A new album, Panic, will have arrived by the time this interview goes to press, so expect more fireworks from the powerhouse singer. “I felt a lot more comfortable toughening up my voice and just letting go,” she says. “I’ve learned to know the capabilities of my growl and to not be afraid of not sounding like a woman all the time.”
The Rhythm Shakers have exceeded all of Perez’s expectations. “We’ve done so much in seven years,” she says. “We’ve opened for many big names and people we look up to like Barbara Lynn, Imelda May, Los Lobos and Wanda Jackson. Jeff Beck attended one of our UK shows and had a private jam session with us; Jeff on guitar and Victor on bass while I sang. Most meaningful has been all the love and support we’ve received everywhere we’ve travelled to, we have always been grateful for that. Everything that has come our way has been a highlight since this little band started accidentally, and we never intended it to go anywhere.”
“I love people like The Cramps, Ronnie Dawson, Selena, Karen O, Imelda May, The Sonics… And Selena really was a great influence in life. She had such wonderful charisma and amazing energy that I didn’t even understand as a child, but it drew me to want to sing and dance.”
Panic is out now via Wild Records.