Interview with Melissa Brooks of The Aquadolls
From psychedelic surf punk to breezy beach pop, Melissa Brooks and The Aquadolls have been pulling fans in with the irresistible potency of a riptide ever since splashing onto the scene with their debut EP, We Are Free, in 2013. Signed to Burger Records, the California four-piece was crafted one year prior due to Melissa’s insatiable hunger to break out of her shell and front a collective she could call her own, after her talents were drowned out by the fishy behavior of a sunken former band. Having undergone nearly as many outfit changes as one may expect in anticipation of a first date, The Aquadolls―currently comprised of bassist Bella Devroede, drummer Jacob Brown and original member Ryan Frailich on guitar―are looking to sweep us off our feet, continuing to make waves while touring up and down the West Coast.
Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi! My name is Melissa Brooks, I’m 21, and I sing and play guitar in The Aquadolls.
Great to meet you, Melissa! Now… anyone who follows you closely of course knows about your admiration for mermaids and all things ocean-like, and I find the aquatic references especially appropriate since your first show, as I understand, was Gwen Stefani at the Arrowhead Pond of all places?
Yeah, Gwen Stefani was amazing. That concert was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen―even though I had nosebleed seats and could barely see anything. She looked very tiny, but it was really, really cool. I made a little poster and it said, “YOU MAKE ME FEEL LUXURIOUS” from her song “Luxurious,” and I cut out a magazine clipping of Gwen. I was holding up the poster, screaming all the way―I think it was like the second-to-top row―and everyone that was sitting with me were old people and my parents, and everyone was just like, “Be quiet!” But I was just screaming the whole time. It was awesome.
Were you on the swim team as well growing up?
Yeah. When I was in elementary school, I was in swim team [sic]. But I never went to any of the swim meets. I was like the worst member of the team because I literally never showed up to the meets, ’cause they were always at 7 a.m. And I was also scared of diving―like I would just not do it. When people had to dive, I would just cannon ball in. People would always get mad at me. And they were like, “Do push-ups!” So I would do push-ups.
Which is pretty ironic I suppose, considering you do quite a bit of stage-dives now, right?
That’s true [laughs]. It’s different though, ’cause you’re not diving head-first [laughs]. I go like… butt-first or something [laughs].
And I noticed you actually have a Mermaid Kitty merch poster, of course a song called “Cool Cat” as well, and have even played shows with Kitten and Cat Power. But did Sprout the Cat really get you guys kicked out of a gig once?
Ohhh [laughs]! Oh my gosh, Sprout. Wow, throwback! Oh my gosh. Umm… he didn’t get us kicked out, but we got kicked out because we were underage―or I was underage―no, at the time we were all underage. We were playing at this bar―or like, we got hired to play at this bar, and we showed up and set up all of our equipment, and―
The Avalon Bar?
Yes. [Long pause] Oh, the Avalon Bar! OK… this is a funny story. Yeah, it was the same situation I think… yeah, none of us were 21 and we had already gone inside and were gonna start setting up our stuff―I think we had already started setting up. And then they were like, “We need to check your IDs, everyone!” And we were like, “We’re not 21. Is that OK?” And they’re like, “No! No! Get out!” The bouncer was yelling at me and being really mean, so I told him off, and I told off the lady that booked us… and I called her some mean words. Then we left, and we were like, “Wow, let’s never go back there again.” Yeah, never went back. We don’t play bars anymore [laughs]. Oh, yeah, I’m with Ryan―he says now it’s not even a bar anymore; I guess it got shut down. That’s what they get for being rude to the bands they hire, but… it’s all good.
Was there another show at The Catalyst where the power went out on you guys?
Yeah… it was just for like… 10 seconds that it happened. (Inaudible) All of a sudden the lights went out, and I was like, “I can’t see!” And then all the power went out and we were like, “Oh crap,” but then it went back up. I think it went off again for like two seconds, later on in the show, but no one really cared and no one seemed to mind, so it was OK.
And I saw that you actually dressed up as a kitty at one of your earlier shows, whereas a fan has since dressed up their cat in like an Aquadolls jean jacket of some sort―
Another one, if I’m not mistaken, named their cat after you, and one fan even choreographed a dance with their cat to your song “Rich Boyz?”
Oh my gosh! Whoa! Yeah. You’re like tripping me out with all this stuff… it’s awesome. Yeah [laughs].
Have you gotten to see the routine at all?
Umm… I just saw a little video of it on Instagram―like, oh my gosh, what, like three years ago? That’s so long ago. But yeah, it’s really cute. We love it when our fans have their animals involved, it’s really cool. People always send me snapchats too of listening to my music with their dog and stuff, it’s really cute.
Speaking of dances, I understand there was also a show where you got to help someone ask their date to prom?
How did that come about?
They sent me a DM on Instagram, maybe a couple weeks before―it was the guy, and he said, “Can you help me ask my girlfriend to prom, or could you do like a promposal thing?” So then, I was gonna do it and ask for him, but I thought it’d be cooler if he came up onstage, so I was like, “Hey! Come onstage! Where you at?” And then he came up and brought his girlfriend and asked her, it was really cute―probably one of the cutest moments of a show ever.
Aww, it sounds like it. And if I’m not mistaken that was a gig with Melted and No Parents, although technically I’m assuming your parents might have been there―along with many other shows―since they help handle your merch?
Mhmm, yeah. They’ve always been super supportive of the band since the beginning―my parents, and Ryan’s mom too… they all help us. All of our merch is hand-made, so we do all the tie-dying and stuff, and they’re all iron-on shirts, so we iron on everything. And then at shows, my parents―whenever they don’t have work―they always try to come and help with the merch and stuff. Yeah, they’re very supportive, and very cool.
And I imagine your mom in particular knows how to drive a hard bargain, since she managed to get you quite a deal on your first guitar back in the day?
Yeahhh! But actually, one of my old friends is the one that found the ad on Craigslist for my first guitar. I wanted to get a tan guitar, because I wanted to paint boobs on the back, so I could flip it up and be like, “Hu-ha!” But I never did it—maybe I will now ’cause I have a new guitar. But yeah, he’s the one that found it and then my parents drove with me… pretty far. We went down south—maybe like an hour away—to go pick up the guitar. It was awesome. It came with an amp, and a Webster dictionary, and a cable, and a bunch of guitar picks… so it was a pretty good deal.
Everything you need.
And your parents do, as you mentioned, seem really supportive of your career, apart I suppose from urging you to stay in school unless you get offered a major record deal or something—
You are signed to Burger Records in the meantime, where I understand you used to ride your Razor to and volunteer between classes, but ironically wasn’t there also a time when you got in trouble for cutting class and had to miss out on Burgerama as a result?
Yeahhh [laughs]! Oh my gosh. Yeah, that was not fun for me. That was my senior year. I decided to ditch and take a nap in the park down the street from my school. I don’t know why I did it, I was just really tired—and I could’ve napped at school, but I decided to walk kind of far. And then… I… called the school—I don’t know, this was so stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I called the school pretending to be my dad. I could’ve pretended to be my mom, but I pretended to be my dad, and was like, [deep voice] “Melissa’s sick today, and will be missing first and second period.” They immediately knew it was not my dad, and called my mom’s phone… within five minutes. And then I get a phone call from her, and she’s like, [angry voice] “Where… are you!?” And I was like, “I’m at Subway, I’m not feeling good; I just threw up.” So I was just lying, and she’s like, “I know you’re lying! I’m gonna come get you right now! You’re in big trouble!” And I was running from the park back to my school—like super fast, and out of breath—and then her car drove by and she saw me running, and she’s like, “Get in the car!” It was really scary. She took me back to school, and then after school she ripped my Burgerama ticket, and I didn’t get to go.
Oh no! And there’s probably a lot worse things you could’ve been doing than just taking a nap in the park.
True that. [Laughs]
On a similar note though, for those who may not know, you had a cameo in Charli XCX’s “Break the Rules” video. But did it really take you like three weeks to get the slime out of your hair afterwards?
It was sooo horrible… I mean the video shoot was so awesome—getting to see Charli and everything was so cool, and she was really nice, and it was really awesome getting covered in goo—but yeah, the after process was a nightmare. Like immediately after the video was finished and the director was like, “Good job!” and Charli was taken away on this golf cart—probably to a nice shower or trailer or whatever—everyone else was just standing there covered in goo. But I had the most goo out of everybody because I had pushed my way to the front, and I let it pour directly all over me, so I was the most covered out of anyone there. And they had these locker rooms—it was at a high school, so we went to the high school locker room, and then we were showering… Kitten was there, and we’re like, “Oh, hey!” [Laughs] I was trying to put my hands through my hair and wash it out—with just water, there was no shampoo or anything—and it was stuck. It was starting to dry really hard—like glue, like a thick glue—and I was kind of panicking. I was like, “Oh my God, OK well… when I get home, I’ll use really good shampoo.” I got home and I tried to shampoo my hair and take it out, and it just wouldn’t come out. I put my hair in a towel, and I took the towel off my head and I showed my mom, and she started to freak out. She’s like, “Oh my God, Melissa, you need to cut your hair off; this is bad.” I put so much stuff in it. I put mayonnaise, I put Vaseline, all these conditioners—you don’t even know—baby oil, the weirdest stuff in my hair, just trying to pull it out one string of hair at a time. Me and my mom spent like six hours just trying to pull it out of my hair softly without yanking all my hair out. We got a good majority of it out, but yeah, it took about three weeks until—I was still pulling out little pink dots from my hair. It was so horrible.
Was it still worth it though?
It was totally worth it, yeah. It was so worth it.
And if I’m not mistaken you adopted—not a hare, but—a pet rabbit that you named Princess Mermaid. Interestingly enough, didn’t your first song involve both a princess and a rabbit?
Yeah! I actually have two bunnies. Princess mermaid is my newest one—I’ve had him for about three years. And then I have another one that I’ve had since middle school; he’s very old. His name is—oh my gosh, are you ready? It’s a long name… I’m serious, too. His name is Professor Nacho Libre Pudding Cup Toilet Dispenser Angelino Cookie Baby McNutty III.
How do you remember all of that?
I just do—but Big Bunny for short. Big Bunny’s the boy and then Princess Mermaid’s the girl. They live in my backyard; we don’t have cages for them. They just roam around free, so the whole backyard is their fortress and they just dig in the dirt, and poop, and hang out in the grass. They’re very happy bunnies. But yeah, I love them.
Typical bunny stuff?
Yes. They’re very cute.
What do you remember about the song, though? That was “Hassle in the Castle?”
[Pauses] Whaaaaat!? Oh my God, that’s so crazy. That was the first song—yeah, that was the first song I wrote… when I was in second grade. Yeah, it was about a princess and her parents were the King and Queen and they were gonna break up and get a divorce, and then it goes into the chorus about living in Canada—I don’t know, it literally made no sense. But yeah, that was my first song.
And she became friends with a rabbit in it or something?
Yeah, yeah. It literally made no sense. I was like seven when I wrote it. [Laughs]
Speaking of making friends, do you still keep in touch with Harriet by chance?
From… The Tuts?
Yeah, weren’t you pen pals with her?
Yeaaah! Oh my gosh, yeah. We still follow each other—I haven’t talked to her in a long time, but yeah, I still follow them. Yeah, they’re rad—they’re a really cute girl band.
And didn’t she put in a good word for you with Kate Nash?
Yeaaah, yeah. That’s probably the reason why we got to tour with [Kate]. Because they were on tour with her, and then one day I saw that Kate Nash followed me, and I was like, “What!?” I knew it was probably [thanks to Harriet], ’cause they were hanging out. But yeah, that was awesome. [Laughs]
How’d you bump into Ashton and Calum from 5 Seconds of Summer?
Oh my gosh, it was so random. I was hanging out with my band and a friend of mine on… Sunset? Or no, on Melrose… in Hollywood. We were debating where we should go eat, and we were standing in front of a restaurant, and we were like, “Oh, should we go in here?” [But decided], “Aww, no, it looks kind of expensive.” And then the door opens to the restaurant, and it’s Calum and Ashton, and I was like, “Oh, hello.” [So I said], “Hi…can I have a picture with you?” And they’re like, “Yeah, sure!” I took selfies with them, and then they walked away. My friends had already walked away—they thought that it was fans of mine. I was like, “That was 5 Seconds of Summer.” And they were like, “What!?” [So] we chased them—we started running back towards them ’cause they were gonna cross the street—and I was like, “Hey, wait! Wait! My friends wanna meet you!” Then we took more pictures with them. They were really nice. Our drummer actually just ran into Ashton at The Grove like two weeks ago, so he’s gotten to meet them twice—three times, I think.
That’s awesome! It’s pretty crazy how one thing can lead to another. Speaking of which, I understand you were actually at a venue called Chain Reaction when you sort of had an epiphany that this was what you wanted to do with your life?
Yeahhh! Yeah. When I was 16, the first band—or the first serious band that I was in, we played at Chain Reaction a lot and would sell presale tickets and do all that stuff. And… yeah! It was that night, after we played the show. I was laying in bed listening to Paramore and I was like, “I wanna be like Hayley Williams and front my own band.” And then two years later, we started The Aquadolls.
Was that Colortrap?
What ended up happening with Colortrap, ’cause hadn’t you guys even won a Battle of the Bands contest at one point?
Yeaaah. Oh my gosh, you know so much about me, this is really cool [laughs]. Yeah, it was my ex-boyfriend’s band. He was the frontman in the band; I sang backup vocals and played keyboard. But there was one song that I sang on—that was my song that I wrote—but they were always really weird about me singing songs that I wrote because the other guy was the frontman and he didn’t want me to take over the band. We were dating, and he was really mean and psycho. We broke up, and the band broke up because… it was just really weird.
I’m sorry to hear that.
Oh, don’t be sorry. It was bad—it was a bad situation. He couldn’t even sing… at all. I was just singing, “Oooh! Aaah!” in the background. I was not happy.
Were you also in a screamo band?
Yeah, in eighth grade. But it only lasted like a month—we only played my middle school talent show at that was it.
So no future in screamo for ya?
Probably not… yeah. That was during my Hot Topic, emo phase. That was a dark time. [Laughs] But it was fun.
I’m gonna be—ooh, I don’t know if I can say it yet, but I’m gonna be releasing new material very soon… like, probably within a month.
Awesome! Is that gonna be off your solo project or the whole band’s project—or aren’t you able to say?
I’m not exactly sure yet. I’m not totally sure what it’ll be under. I think it might be Melissa Brooks and The Aquadolls… like, both combined. [Laughs] But yeah, there’ll be a new music video too.
Well we’ll definitely be looking forward to it! Any final thoughts at all for the folks out there?
[Pauses] Love yourself, and be yourself, and good things will happen to you if you’re a good person and have good karma.
Connect with the AQUADOLLS:
photos/ Danielle Ernst
story / Damon Campbell