Kelly Alvarez' voice is quivering over the phone line.
'You can interview me if you want,' she nearly whispers, 'but I'm not sure I can tell you anything you don't already know.' I can hear her fidgeting with something next to the phone. We talk for at least a half-hour on this first phone call, and she never seems to get comfortable.
It's odd because only moments earlier this same voice was belting through my stereo speakers, exuding the kind of '60s girl-group swagger that made Ronnie Spector famous. Kelly Alvarez, the musician, is a throwback doo-wop queen who's rightfully gotten the attention of every in-the-know San Diegan on MySpace.
Yet, despite countless reassurances and straight-up begging, they may never see 'that' Kelly Alvarez in person.
'I grew up locking myself in my bedroom, singing Aretha Franklin,' she says. 'And one day suddenly it was like I thought that if I stood on stage that everyone would just, well, boo at me. I got stage fright.'
The 28-year-old went to Patrick Henry High School and grew up with a conservative mother and a Beatles-loving father. After dropping out of junior college, she made her way to Record City in Hillcrest, where she's been working for nearly a decade.
'It was just like in the movie High Fidelity where he says he never hired the guys that work there-they just kept showing up every day,' Alvarez says. 'That was me. I just couldn't stop being around records.'
Record City is also where she started to befriend musicians, artists and scenesters. It wasn't until Alvarez started dating Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower frontman Brandon Welchez that she considered recording her voice. Welchez convinced her to sing backup vocals on a few records by locals, including The Skylarkers, Last Priest, The Jack Saints, Please Mr. Gravedigger and, finally, on five different Plot songs.
She was hooked.
'Recording was so fun and so easy,' she says. '[It's] not like performing in front of other people, even though there were others listening. If I had to sing with just you and me, that would be fine. But if I had to do it in front of those three other people over there, I would just die, throw up on myself, pee in my pants and have diarrhea.'
Welchez and guitarist Andrew Miller (who now play together in The Prayers) bugged Alvarez to record more seriously. They did some covers with her, giving her the freedom and experience of vocalizing on a microphone in their bedroom studio. When Alvarez put the tracks up on MySpace-namely 'Sunday School' and 'Not Gonna Take It'-the response was staggering.
'When Kelly opens her mouth, people are just blown away by her voice,' Miller says. 'So it wasn't hard to believe that people would like the music we did with her.'
Miller was especially struck by the differences between working with men and writing music with Alvarez.
'It's obnoxious that every band is four guys, and so redundant,' he says. 'To work with a woman who has a huge creative contribution was refreshing and fun. It takes a more special girl than it does for a guy to make music. And Kelly is definitely that.'
Alvarez is a self-professed idealist who wants nothing more than to work on, think about and spin records all day long. Aside from her job at Record City, she recently started her own label, Sweet Tooth Records, and will release a colored-vinyl 7-inch from the ATOMS in late July ('I can't imagine myself ever wanting to release a CD,' she says). The next record released will be her own.
A few days after our first phone call, we meet to talk about everything on her horizon. She looks unassuming, with a thick black bob of hair (think vintage Winnie Cooper), cheekbone-length bangs, a pink Shangri-Las button and arrestingly dark brown eyes. But get her talking about her heroes-Spector, Exene Cervenka and Carole King-and her shyness disappears.
It was a mutual love of those female singers that bonded Alvarez and Maren Parusel, frontwoman for San Diego band Squiddo.
'We talked about how much it means to me to be able to make music the way I want and how much I wanted to share that with people,' Alvarez says. 'She basically told me, ‘You're going to learn to play guitar, and we're going to start a cover band, and you're going to get on stage, and you're going to perform.'
'It was a terrifying phone call.'
The two, along with Melissa (drums) and Kaitlin (bass) from the ATOMS, formed an all-girl tribute to The Zeros, a San Diego punk band from the 1970s. They named it Wild Weekend after one of the band's songs.
'Wild Weekend is cool because it's all girls and you just don't see that very often anymore,' Alvarez says. 'But we don't want people to come to our shows just because we're girls. San Diego is a huge city with three huge colleges and there are few female rock musicians. I just hope that maybe one girl will be inspired to start a girl band after they see us.'
After only a couple of months of learning her new instrument, Wild Weekend played their first show at the Coffee House on Broadway on July 13. Alvarez was fear-stricken.
'A few hours before the show, I was actually crying and having anxiety attacks,' she says the day after. 'I just kept thinking, What if we get booed?'
She doesn't recall hearing any boos that night. Then again, she doesn't remember much of the evening at all. It was a blur just trying to get through the show in one piece, she says, but it may have given her the confidence to eventually perform her own material.
'I did it. Afterwards it was a weird high. I don't do drugs, but it was such a great feeling. It wasn't as bad as I really thought it was going to be, honestly.
'I finally feel like it's over, and everything's just begun.'
Kelly Alvarez is not playing anywhere in the near future. Feel free to goad her on at www.myspace.com/kellyalvarezxo.