The members of Scarlet Presence acknowledge there are those who view classic rock as somewhat self-indulgent, what with 10-minute guitar solos and long jam sessions, but they don’t see it that way. Drummer Carter Lee says, “Playing this kind of music shows the talent of the players; it’s real music.”
Jordan Pelsue, the bassist and newest member of the band, agrees, “It’s far more of a cooperative effort. We actually have to listen to each other and respond.”
Fronted by 19-year-old guitarist and vocalist Michelle Coleman, Scarlet Presence brings to the stage a hybrid collection of rock standards and original tunes, with the line between the two sometimes so blurry that, listening, you can’t tell when one begins and the other ends. Almost like stepping into a time machine, their music is a revival of sorts not unlike what the White Stripes brought to the table, reminding the audience that rock ’n’ roll used to be performed by musicians who could come up with enticing new ideas in the spur of the moment, rather than limited to simple riffs and formulaic songwriting.
Performing at Black Tangerine to an enthusiastic audience, this time with session players from local band The Bubbas on keys and bass, Coleman takes heavy distortion, rhythmic wah, and clean licks from her Gibson and stirs them together with a dash of fuzz and reverb, all the while wailing the lyrics to the likes of Cream, Sabbath, and Hendrix. Coleman explains that, for their bar shows, they mix cover songs in with originals in order to suck in the audience.
Though not one of them is old enough to buy a drink, the members of Scarlet Presence can deliver rock ’n’ roll of a caliber far beyond their youth. Even when covering a song by, say, Little Richard or Zeppelin, they don’t play it lick-for-lick the way it was written.
“Sometimes we take the chord progression and the words and put them together differently,” says Coleman.
“Really, every show is entirely improvised,” says Lee.
Coleman has been playing guitar since the age of 10, after first learning the basics of music theory on piano. Now, she teaches guitar and songwriting at $99 Guitars. When asked about their songwriting process, Coleman says she often hears musical ideas in her head.
“I hear riffs, or get ideas when teaching, and then I’ll bring them to [Lee],” she says, and then they put a song together. Lee, who played guitar when Scarlet Presence first started three years ago, has now fully embraced the drums, but plays an equal role in providing new song ideas.
The two met at a Reno Music Project open mic three years ago, and instantly hit it off. Now, when asked about their ideas of where music is going, and what they want, they almost answer as one.
“Music has changed,” says Coleman. “There doesn’t seem to be albums anymore, just songs. People are just downloading single songs now.”
Lee takes over with an apt analogy: “It’s like taking a small piece of a Picasso and trying to say you can get something out of it.”
“Exactly—you don’t listen to one song off Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here, you listen to the whole album,” says Coleman. “I don’t know if it was David Gilmour who said it, but the only thing that matters is if the music moves you. I want to bring music back, music that’s not made on the computer, but with real instruments and real feelings.”