Erin Tobey and Amy Oelsner said they knew their band’s Facebook and Bandcamp profile photo could be serious if they wanted it to be.
Instead, the two women wore white wigs reminiscent of “troll doll” hair.
Tobey and Oelsner are the sole members of Brenda’s Friend, a lo-fi guitar and vocal rock combo based in Bloomington. The band recently secured a spot in this year’s Culture Shock lineup. It’ll also perform Wednesday at the Kroger Castle, a local house.
Tobey said the wigs let people know they don’t take themselves too seriously. This go-with-the-flow attitude allows them to try new ideas and reshape songs at will.
“I think we try to, like, push our boundaries of what we normally write about and how we normally sound,” Oelsner said.
Both musicians have ongoing solo projects as well. Oelsner, who performs as Amy O, released an album with her backing band last month. Tobey will release a new solo album in June.
While these commitments can lead to frequent hiatuses for the combo, Tobey said the creative collaboration of Brenda’s Friend is a nice change of pace.
“In a way, it feels more free,” she said.
The two knew each other for years but grew to be close friends when Oelsner moved to Bloomington about two and a half years ago, she said. They started playing music together soon after.
“I think it was an excuse to spend time together,” Oelsner said.
She said friendship makes for strong musical chemistry and they’ve both been able to improve their craft because of it.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot about songwriting by sharing it with someone else,” she said.
Even though most of their songs only feature two guitars and vocals, Tobey said they’ve found a way to bolster the fullness of their sound through harmonies.
However, Brenda’s Friend still has to deal with misguided expectations, she said. Some promoters hear “female guitar duo” and picture quiet acoustic ballads.
“It’s easy to get pigeonholed, especially if you’re two women playing guitars,” Tobey said.
She said in reality, the band is much more aggressive.
“I feel like I shout more in Brenda’s Friend,” she said.
They’re even capable of adding percussion when necessary. Oelsner said at some performances, the two play kick drums with their feet while simultaneously strumming their guitars.
“We sort of try to present as a full band, even though we’re only two people,” she said.
Despite the instrumental acrobatics, some audience members still come up after shows to suggest adding more musicians, which Tobey said is a bit irksome.
When Brenda’s Friend first started, Oelsner said she and Tobey considered adding another member. But as time went on, the band realized it worked best as a duo.
“Personally, I never think about it anymore, because I think we just have such a great relationship, and we write together so well, and I couldn’t really imagine improving that,” Oelsner said.