Indie Rock Meets… Bette Davis?

Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak in 1932's THREE ON A MATCH

Three on a Match is a sharp, street smart 1932 melodrama starring Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell, under the always socially conscious direction of Mervyn LeRoy. You’ve got a very young Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart in supporting roles, saucy, fast-talkin’ dames, and plenty of gritty precode slumming. It’s a film so gloriously unrefined that it still views remarkably relevant to a modern audience.

Three on a Match also happens to be the name of an Indie rock band who, by their own description, are a “new songwriting project inspired by the films of the great Bette Davis. The songs draw on plot elements, characters, actors, biographic details, or, in some cases, the film titles alone.”

And with tracks like “Mr. Skeffington,” “Now, Voyager” and, the album’s best track, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” it is quite obvious that musicians Neil Carlill, Jeff Mellin and King Toad are quite sincere in their work. Do not expect to find a vintage-inspired set of neo-standards, this band is more Belle and Sebastian, Velvet Underground and Sufjan Stevens than anything else. Interspliced with dialogue from Davis films (including that great crowd pleaer: “After you kissed me I always used to WIPE MY MOUTH!) these films are obstinately original, yet at the same time, endearingly reverent to their inspirational source.

From their album liner notes:

“Each Bette Davis film resonates with me in its own way,” says Carlill. At times he finds inspiration in of the back story, rumor mill and pop-culture trivia because “the surrounding mythology yields too much comedy, irony and tragedy to go un-eulogized.” He conceived abstract character sketches and highlighted iconic lines to evoke the films’ atmosphere and to produce a musical structure “that sets the listener quite literally off-balance.”

Mellin says that Bette Davis movies are “perfect seeds for songs.” His approach was to focus on the titles alone: “I wanted to let the raw sound and rhythm of the words shape the songs’ creation, knowing there’d be no escaping the inherent aesthetics and my own subconscious associations.” He says the titles’ infuse the songs with a “vintage mystique” and “cinematic narrative” that results in the “sort of memory dream you might’ have falling asleep to Turner Classic Movies.”

And, in perhaps the most touching gesture of reverence to Bette, the band released the album as a name-your-own-price download on April 5– Bette Davis’ 103rd birthday.

While it may not be be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s been on my play list quite consistently and, if you are so inclined, I would highly recommend downloading this truly unique album here. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, order their exquisite special edition. Worth ever bloomin’ penny: the art deco design is simply irresistible– any album that includes a match box and candy cigarettes is simply aces.

Three on a Match - the special edition album, available now

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

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