‘Vapor punk’ band Perfect Girl reintroduces itself as an instrumental duo

 by Conor Battles

Akron rock duo Perfect Girl are in the midst of a rebuild.

Guitarist Sam Holik and drummer Jake Ross have been tasked with reshaping their sound in the wake of former bassist and vocalist Tony Bately’s departure in August. The band’s recorded material as a trio is a bouncy, shimmery take on funk, fusion and punk aesthetics the group describes as “vapor punk.” 

But in more recent performances, Sam and Jake have taken this new lineup as an opportunity to give themselves carte blanche in redefining the sound and identity of Perfect Girl. 

“There’s not really a direction,” Jake says. “What comes out is just whatever’s aesthetically pleasing to us.”

Perfect Girl began playing together about two years ago, shortly after attending high school together in Wadsworth. The band wrote songs at a relentless clip and honed them by playing just about every available open mic in northeast Ohio.

A band as unique as Perfect Girl would eventually wear out its welcome in many of the “middle-of-nowhere, backwoods town open mics” where they cut their teeth. Jake smiles as he recalls being banned from performing at the open mic at the Venice, a bar in downtown Kent, as a turning point in the band’s history.

“Eventually they were like, ‘you can’t keep doing this,’ Jake says. “And then the bouncer pointed us towards [Akron DIY venue It’s A] Kling Thing and we kind of spawned from that.”

The trio recorded their first full-length album, Spice Pictures: The Shape of Vapor Punk to Come, last summer. Their exuberant full-band sound is a refreshingly bright and poppy bubble in the middle of the traditionally dour and abrasive DIY landscape. 

But their more recent live material is fairly removed from these early recordings, and the instrumental duo are eager to get weirder as they go.

Holik cites the sonic experimentation of guitar wizards like John McLaughlin and prog rock stalwarts like Yes and King Crimson as inspiration for his own musical noodling. Ross’s drumming draws on an even denser palate of influences, including contemporary jazz and avant-garde classical like minimalist composer Steve Reich. 

The material coming out of Perfect Girl now is suitably abstract. The band views their evolving sound as an opportunity to experiment.

“We tried rehashing old material, but it just doesn’t work,” Jake says. 

“You’re not even really approaching stuff musically at that point,” Sam elaborates. “But if you build this stuff from the ground up knowing all the pieces you have, it will sound complete.”

The band relishes the opportunity to start from scratch.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Sam says. “But it’s definitely exciting. Any time you have an opportunity to play with new people or a different arrangement, that’s just an opportunity to do different things, and that’s exciting.”

Sam and Jake plan to release a new record under their new lineup this spring. 

“I’m really looking forward to playing with sound and doing cool things,” Sam says. “The last time around was fun but it was rushed, and we had very defined pieces of songs, and there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff going into [further experimentation] after recording.”

As for the future of Perfect Girl, early indications suggest that their sound will continue to explore more uncharted territory.

“If you’re a very complicated cellist, viola or violin player, we think it would be the coolest thing in the world to play with a string quartet,” Jake says.

Conor Battles is a journalism student at Kent State University.

Photos used with permission from Perfect Girl.