Sometimes in Maine, it’s hard for a group of 17-year-old female punk rockers to be taken seriously. At least, that’s the mutually shared opinion of Kinsey, Lexi and Meagan Johnson, triplets who are making the transition out of high-school and headfirst into a lifestyle (and hopeful career) dedicated to recording and performing music. Together, they form the four-year-old alternative-punk-rock band, Random Ideas, and have been carving a name for themselves in a community, they feel, can be quick to judge.
“People subconsciously don’t think we can perform as well as males can, or that we don’t know what we’re doing,” said drummer Meagan Johnson. “We want to smash all kinds of stereotypes.”
Random Ideas was born out of South China, a sleepy, pond-spotted village community in Central Maine that literally never comes to mind when you think of anti-establishment fervor and loud rock-n-roll. It’s a picturesque, forest-filled community where the spots filled with the most people are on the snowmobile trails, or in the handful of gas stations. The people in Central Maine are sometimes put off by an aggressive, raucous punk band that’s comprised of three young females. Some are simply weirded out seeing a girl behind a drum kit.
“Living in Maine, it’s harder to get accepted,” said Meagan Johnson. “Some people immediately write us off, or don’t take us seriously.”
Lexi Johnson, the lead vocalist and bassist, detailed a time performing in Howland, where a man mockingly said, “Oh! They’re a girl band. At least they’re trying.”
Even a teacher at their high-school, Erskine Academy, dismissed the girls’ “unrealistic goals” of performing full-time, and attempting to get signed onto a record label. He allegedly scoffed and said, “What are you going to be, the next Kelly Clarkson?”
Upon graduation from their high school in May, the triplets plan on moving to California to fully challenge and immerse themselves in the music industry. Once they reach the San Diego area, they plan on meeting with an entertainment agent who will help them “explore connections.”
Thankfully, Random Ideas has the musical talent, the rocking sensibility and the textbook punk attitude that helps give its member’s dreams some validity. Songs off the debut album, which Lexi Johnson humbly dismissed as “more like a demo,” because it was hastily recorded in a makeshift basement studio, is a well done first foray into the rock-n-roll world. It’s full of the purposeful riffs, meaningful lyrics and high-intensity drum-beats that you’d expect from bandmates that work well together; which is kind of surprising considering their sibling status.
Random Ideas also has some stage and recording cred. I know this because I met the girls at WMPG’s station, a community radio station at the University of Southern Maine. They were preparing for their first radio appearance on Local Motives, a show that’s “always live and always local.” Before their two-hour on-air showcase of originals from their debut album We Met in the Womb, we chatted about what influences and experiences brewed this passion for punk music in a relatively quiet corner of the state.
The Johnson sisters had a passion for music, pretty much all their lives, and started learning classical instruments like the clarinet, flute and trombone around the age of 7. Their dreams of starting a rock band didn’t solidify, until, well, RockBand. After being introduced to the video game RockBand, which lets you “perform” mega-hits from many rock genres, the Johnson sisters knew what they wanted to be when they grew up: professional punks.
The Johnson sisters aren’t just attracted to the allure of being rock stars because of their intense appreciation of music from the likes of Paramore, Fallout Boy, Nirvana and GreenDay, but also because of their collective ideology. Random Ideas is drawn to ideas surrounding societal non-conformity and wants to send powerful progressive messages through music. After listening to their songs, “Love is Love,” “Don’t Stop,” “Miranda’s Not Always Right,” and “Don’t Listen to the Media,” it became clear what social issues the girls cared about: equal rights for LGBTQ people, the misrepresentation of powerful women in the media, gender stereotypes, the mass incarceration of innocent African Americans and the notion that punk rockers (or young people in general) can’t be sober.
Soon Random Ideas began performing their heavy riffs and shouting their screw society sentiments at places like their high school's homecoming dance and Bentley’s Saloon and Campground in Arundel. Over the years spent developing a tighter proficiency with their respective instruments, Random Ideas progressed to playing on stages at the Maine Academy of Modern Music’s SLAM, an annual musical talent competition. Last year, Random Ideas took the first place prize for best band, and won a $1,000 scholarship to the Maine College of Art.
The Johnson sisters aren’t sure if they’re going to accept the scholarship and apply to go to college at MECA, because it’s more geared towards the visual arts. Instead, they aim to trust their instinct, and journey to the golden coast of California, where their favorite bands (Green Day and Blink-182) got their start. They even wrote a song about it, called “California,” that details how bored they are of Central Maine and how much they’re itching to travel and have new experiences.
“It’s safe to say that we’re a little bored,” said Lexi Johnson, the lead vocalist. “Getting out of this state will be a challenge, but we’ll be safe going there no matter what.”
This sense of security comes partly from the girl's’ parents, Lisa and John Johnson, who said that they’re planning on supporting their daughter's’ music career no matter what. They already have been, by driving two cars (to accommodate all the gear) to each of their scheduled gigs across the state. After acknowledging the competitive nature of the live music industry, Lisa Johnson said that she believes Random Ideas’ uniqueness will be one of its greatest strengths. Plus she believes her daughters’ messages of equality and lost trust with the government will be really popular with young people.
“In every generation, there’s been young people or communities that call for change,” said Lisa Johnson. “But something’s different now. People don’t rely on politicians the way they used to. The powerful thing about music is that other messages out there, and people can tune in, respond, agree with and then maybe go out and do something about it.”
After my interview with the Johnson sisters and their parents, I settled into the WMPG studio, just as hosts Monica Wendel and Matt Perry were starting the Local Motives show. They greeted the band members, and jokingly introduced them as the “Tripolar” band. Meanwhile, the triplets were going through sound-check and tuning their equipment. I slipped on the studio headphones and asked the hosts on air, “what’s the mission of your show, Local Motives?”
Wendel smiled and told me that the show seeks out local talent every week for a live showcase, and strives to give bands that wouldn’t otherwise have an audience some well-deserved air-time. Perry, who’s known in some clubs around town as Be See, the electronic DJ and producer, said that he can’t stress enough how important it is for local acts to get on community radio. It seems, for the three girls that make up Random Ideas, performing their experience-driven, original music through WMPG’s radio waves, was a small step towards something greater. But for now, Random Ideas is just happy if you lend them your ears.
“We’ve had bands that nobody has ever heard of before and their performances have been fantastic,” said Wendel. “Young or old, give these kids [Random Ideas] a chance, give them a listen, go out and see them!”
Local Motives features a new local musician every week and you can listen to them live on Fridays from 7:00pm to 9:00pm on WMPG radio 90.9 and 104.1. Archived versions of the show are avalable here: http://www.wmpg.org/show/fri1930/#.
Random Ideas will play live again at the 1-7-10 bowling alley in Augusta, Saturday, Feb. 13, as part of a fundraiser for Fire and Iron.