Nate Heller is on the back patio of Tiny's Tavern in Ocean Beach, pouring a glass from a pitcher of Hefeweizen and awaiting the arrival of his bandmates. Heller, guitarist and backup vocalist for pop-folkers Wendy Darling, is the only member who lives in O.B., but Tiny's has become the band's bar of choice, partly because of the bar's sliders, or miniature burgers, which Heller simply adores.
“They're fascinating to me,” Heller says. “There's something about eating a tiny hamburger—they're cute and little and you can eat, like, 10 of them and still feel good about yourself.”
Cori Rush, the tall, slim and undeniably sultry songstress of the band, eventually shows up and slides into the seat next to Heller, helping herself to a glass of beer. Once Jon Freeman and Hector Verdugo show up, the group is teasingly hitting each other, talking shit, occasionally hugging and shooting the kind of looks back and forth that only good friends understand. The chemistry is obvious, which is especially surprising when they begrudgingly admit to being, as Heller puts it, “one of those creepy craigslist bands” (he and Rush met on the online site about a year-and-a-half ago and played with another rhythm section before they found Freeman and Verdugo).
The friendly chemistry at Tiny's is the same stuff that goes down when the foursome plays live. Heller and Rush have a very Nicks/Buckingham-esque onstage presence. He'll glance at her when he's backing her lead vocals, and unless she's stretching out her arms with closed eyes to belt out a high note—diva-style—she's glancing right back. Each wears a slight, but noticeably proud smirk, as if to silently say, Hell yeah, we're actually up here doing this. Freeman and Verdugo, on the other hand, can't seem to look at each other without cracking up. They went to elementary school together in Rosarito, Mexico, so sometimes the 6-year-olds inside come out mid-song.
When asked how they categorize their sound, Heller tries to maneuver his way around the question.
“When we all sound like we're having fun,” he says, “those are the songs that I like.”
But a quick run through their first album—the recently released Half-Told Bedtime Stories—will have listeners jumping to the easiest reference points: other female-fronted indie bands like early Rilo Kiley, recent Neko Case or Tegan and Sara minus Sara.
The problem with categorizing Wendy Darling is that the band has yet to truly categorize itself. That is, they haven't really settled on a sound just yet. All are talented musicians, with Heller switching from guitar to banjo or accordion and Freeman and Verdugo equally adept on glockenspiel and piano. Their flexibility makes it easy for them to go from a song like “Persistence of Will,” which relies heavily on banjo and piano and is marked by a lot of bouncy twang, to a song like “Better than Penelope,” which is dark and slow until hitting the poppy chorus. Two of their newer songs rely more on synth loops and electronics; they say they're leaning more toward that kind of sound.
As Wendy Darling hone their craft, they're serious about getting signed to a label. They already have a manager and booking agent to help juggle Japanese distribution deals and promising record-label leads. This leaves Rush enough time to take the What kind of music do you guys play? questions with a grain of salt.
“Here's what I'll say,” she says, flipping her long, curly black hair in an exaggerated airhead maneuver and switching her voice into a mocking ditzy-girl tone: “Pretty much, always, I'll be, like, um, it's, like, indie rock with a folk influence, but my vocals are jazzy.”
She then adds, switching back into her normal voice and taking a big sip of beer, “That's the concise way to explain it.”
Wendy Darling's next scheduled show is Dec. 20 at Beauty Bar. www.myspace.com/wendydarlingrock.