MTV's newest reality show, The Electric Barbarellas (Wednesday, 11 p.m.), chronicles the efforts of a group of five girls from Los Angeles in a girl group (called, you guessed it, The Electric Barbarellas) trying to make it big. Considering the fact that MTV cameras followed them as they did this, it’s safe to say it worked—their album, Strange World was released on iTunes earlier this month. It probably also doesn’t hurt that they’re kind of really hot. We recently sat down with the girls in an effort to get to know them a little better.
Complex: I know there was a lot of drama trying to get the show on MTV—some people were pushing for it and some weren’t. How would you describe the process of getting the show on the network?
Heather: I think that the show speaks for itself, it’s a really great show. I actually pitched the show myself, I cast the girls myself, and I spent four years and my entire life savings trying to sell the show, so I think the talent stands the test of time and we are so fortunate to have MTV as our network.
What made each of you want to do music?
Gynger: I’ve always wanted to do music ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be a pop star. I was like really weird as a kid, growing up in Memphis; nobody ever gave me the time of day. They just looked at me like I was really weird, like, “Why is this girl walking around with all these colorful clothes on?” So, I decided to move to L.A., and once I got here, I just kept going for what I wanted to go for.
Missy: I started doing music when I was five—my parents put me in piano lessons when I was five years old—and I just fell in love with it really. I played forever, I took like 12 years of lessons, and then I started writing my own stuff. I was doing a project on the side in my own band where I play piano and sing soul, when I met Heather, and I mean…who doesn’t wanna be in a girl group? How awesome is that? To put on sparkly clothes…it’s like my secret fantasy, all my friends made fun of me for it.
Chelsea: I actually started in musical theater growing up. My mom took me to see a musical—I think it was Peter Pan—and I fell in love with it, so she immediately signed me up, and from there it just progressed into dance and singing lessons. No one in my family is musically inclined actually; we all play sports, so it still comes as a shock to them. Every day, they’re like, “Where does this come from?” So, it’s definitely something I’ve done and it’s always been like a love of mine. I grew up doing sports and entertainment, and sports ended up taking a priority, so I had to put entertainment on the backburner, but once I got into college I started thinking for myself and making my own decisions and I had to follow my heart and continue with music.
Raven: I started singing around the time I was 13 or 14—and I had a falling out with my dad, and I kind of wanted to stop singing after that because my dad was managing me. I started modeling, and after I met Heather she kind of convinced me to get back into singing and pursue music again. I was modeling at the time, and I was sent to Heather’s audition on accident, and we met each other, she really liked me, and after that we just kind of hit it off.
And, Heather, I read that you started out as a production assistant for MTV and you worked your way from there. How exactly did you go about putting the group together?
Heather: I grew up in L.A., so I realized that I had access to a lot of talent in this town. I held dance auditions in Millennium Studios and held rehearsals, actual vocal auditions, at another studio in the valley called Amp, and I did one-on-ones.
When I would narrow it down to the best dancers and singers, I would actually ask the girls to meet me at Starbucks. I actually didn’t have a formal office, so I would ask that each girl meet me at Starbucks, and usually they were like, "Really, Starbucks?" And I was like, “Yeah, lets just keep it casual, talk over coffee!”
I was completely not legit—I had no production office, I had nothing really. I had a little bit of experience in the industry, being a PA—I also worked as a PA on music videos, I actually started as an intern at DNA Productions, which is my uncle’s music video production company, and so it’s because I worked on music videos as a PA, that’s how I became a PA for MTV.
We weren’t put together by a label. I didn’t have a million dollars and an Interscope behind me like the Pussycat Dolls did, and I didn’t have Ron Fair writing our songs. —Heather
Raven: It was a little bit related to the Duran Duran song! Heather wanted to use the word "electric," and after she figured out electric, she was always a Jane Fonda fan and she loved Duran Duran, so she just kind of took the combination of "Barbarella" and "Electric Barbarella," and that’s how we got our name.
What do you think sets you apart from other girl groups?
Heather: We weren’t put together by a label. We were put together by an individual in the group; the group came about organically, like, I didn’t have a million dollars and an Interscope behind me like the Pussycat Dolls did, and I didn’t have [Record Producer/Song writer] Ron Fair writing our songs. I play guitar, Missy’s a classically trained pianist; we all sat in the studio and we wrote our lyrics, we wrote our songs, and I think that is what makes us different, there’s not someone writing our songs. There’s never been a girl group or a boy group in the history of the music industry that has been put together by themselves and written their own music like we have. It’s completely revolutionary.
Raven: We came together organically without the help of a label, there were no big producers involved, it was just five girls that came together, and the only motivation we had to keep going was ourselves and the belief in our band. I believe in our music and I believe in our album and…it’s good!
Who is someone that you all dream of collaborating with?
Raven: Personally, I would love, love, love to collaborate with Nicki Minaj. She’s on top of the world right now, so that’s somebody I would really love to work with. Of course, we would always want to work with Gaga or Britney, but, you know…I’m sure they’re really busy!
There’s clearly been a lot of tension in the group judging from the episodes. How would you describe the general atmosphere in the group now that the record is out and the show is airing?
Raven: It’s always hard when you have five girls with five really big egos and five really different personalities, and, you know, we love each other. We love each other and we fight like sisters, but at the end of the day we all have a common goal and that is to make this group succeed. So, I mean, right now, tensions are always kind of high because we’re always doing something, but the pressure's really on now, but it’s more like we’re excited. We’re excited about the show; we’re excited about our album. We’re just girls, we’re in our twenties, we’re trying to get it together, and it’s always fun. I love those girls.
And, I have to ask, reality shows always get ragged on for being scripted or at least manipulated, so how much of the show would you say is real?
Raven: You know what, all of it. The show is real. Obviously production has things that they wanted us to focus on, but they would give us a general idea, and we would take it and make it our own. So everything you see, all the reactions are real, all the tears are real, all of the fights are definitely real. This is really us, and I think that’s part of the reason people are going to like our show so much, just because we’re real girls.
Of course everybody wants to see something that’s put together and is sparkly and nice, but we’re real human beings, we’re not perfect, we don’t always get it right, and I think it’s going to make younger girls be able to relate to us and know that it’s OK not to be perfect.
So, Missy, you have another band—a rock band, right?
Missy: It’s really kind of more indie, soul type of music, it’s a little bit jazzy…it’s kind of like almost like a Fiona Apple meets P!nk, somewhere in the middle. Some of the songs are kind of rock, some of the songs are darker and a little bit more soulful, so…I do that on the side. Actually the bonus track of the album that we put out on iTunes, “Can’t Let Go,” was a song from my old band. Heather and I reworked some of the lyrics and used it on the record. So my band couldn’t be that mad at me!
Heather, in the pilot episode, you mentioned that you fractured your back and were nearly paralyzed, and that you decided that if you recovered you were going to pursue music. What is the story behind that?
It looks as though I should be paralyzed if you look at my backbone in X-Ray. —Heather
I had to go to the hospital; they took X-Rays, and I compression fractured four of my vertebrae. I used to be 5’11”, but now I’m 5’9” and like a quarter, so I lost about an inch and three quarters of height. And I was in the hospital and I basically didn’t know if I was going to be able to walk again.
I remember lying in the hospital, like, "Why am I even here? I’m in college and I’m getting the degree that my dad wants me to get." I’d always wanted to be a singer, I always wanted to live in L.A. and work in the entertainment industry, and I had a taste of it because I grew up here. So while I was in the hospital, I was like, "If I walk again, I’m going to live every day like it’s my last day, I’m going to do everything that everyone ever told me that I couldn’t do, I’m going to do the craziest things and I’m going to do the nuttiest things, and I’m not going to take "no" for an answer.
Lo and behold, after three months, I completely healed. Not even the doctors could completely understand how I was in such good physical condition. It looks as though I should be paralyzed if you look at my backbone in X-Ray—I have no sponge in between my spine, which is how I lost a lot of height. They got smaller. I have a lot of back pain, but it’s actually really good for me to be a dancer and for me to be really active because it helps with the arthritis that I get in my back, and I never would have done this if that would have never happened. It’s completely like therapy.
I do a lot of yoga. And I’m not going to lie, I hate Bikram yoga. It’s horrible, it smells bad, it’s an hour and a half of my day, it’s not fun. But every time I’m like, “Eh, I don’t want to go,” I think back to the fact that I’m so lucky I can go and I’m so lucky that I had dreams.
Lastly, what would each of you would be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Raven: I’d still be modeling.
Gynger: If I wasn’t doing music or in the group, I really don’t know. Music is my life—I know I would still be doing music. I love writing, so I’d be doing a lot of writing, like movies and books and writing for other artists, and also doing my comedy. That’s something I’d definitely be doing, like stand-up comedy and trying to get into comedy movies since there aren’t a lot of young black girls out there doing it.
Chelsea: If I wasn’t in music…I actually was in school for court reporting, right before I joined my first big-break girl group. I know, it’s like the biggest shock ever. I was going to sit in a court room and type away, so that would be my exciting life without music.
Heather: If I wasn’t doing music, I would definitely be working on music videos. Hopefully I would have been in a position that’s not the lowest level, hopefully I would have made it to like coordinator or production manager now, but I would definitely be doing that because I love music and no matter what I’m doing, as long as it involves music, I’m happy.
Missy: If I wasn’t in the group, I’d still be doing music, but if I couldn’t do music at all…that’s a good question. I don’t really know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing music. I do have a college degree, I finished college early, so I might use that for something—I spent like a hundred grand on it. I majored in Communication Media Studies and I minored in Spanish, I studied abroad in the Dominican Republic, so I don’t know, maybe I would teach Spanish. I always thought I’d have a good time being a teacher, maybe like a high school show choir teacher, like Glee-status. I’d be like Mr. Schuester, teach all the kids how to sing and dance. It’d be fun.