by Kevin J. Elliott

Cincinnati is a city for the ages, one which can tout generations full of equal parts rich history and social blight. It’s a landscape that reflects those highs and lows, with hills and plains working as borders between the dichotomy. Correspondingly, the music scene in Cincinnati—at least from an outsider’s point of view—follows those spikes, and as of late, the music being made in the Queen City is at a summit.

Marking that peak are Tweens, a trio that includes two members of another stellar Cincy outfit known as Vacation. Led by the effervescent BB Tween, girl-pop is the order of the day for Tweens, as is pulling from records by the Shangri-Las and Thee Headcoatees, who themselves were pulling at old threads. But while that en vogue brand of remembering, reworking and refitting for a modern audience is poison in the wrong hands, Tweens rake it through a rough and tumble urgency. Perhaps it’s brought on by the river? “Be Mean” is like the mighty Ohio flowing with over-concentrated sugar water, so syrupy thick with hooks and smiles you can practically float on its surface. There’s plenty of doo-wop-ish coos and hyper-melodic chants throughout Tweens demo tape, stuff that is obvious, but not obviously unwanted. Further down the road, it’s apparent songs like “Rattle and Rollin’” and “Bored in the City” don’t just siphon the ether of the past—there’s genuine raw awe in their pop creations. See Tweens live and it all falls into place.

I recently caught up with the trio in the midst of an East Coast tour and a couple weeks before opening up for The Breeders in their hometown.

How did Tweens come to be?

Peyton Dabney: Jerri and I are in a band called Vacation. We both live with BB so it was inevitable that we would eventually start playing together.

BB Tween: I had just started playing in this no-wavy noise band called Public Housing, but I was itching to sing and learn all these old girl group songs. Jerri and Peyton we’re practicing one day last May, and I brought them this Dixie Cups song to try. We played it and boom! Tweens was born.

When you started Tweens did you have any idea of exactly what you wanted it to sound like or did it come about organically?

BT: Around the time we started the band, I was obsessed with doo-wop and any female-fronted or all-girl punk band. I had never really played guitar before, so Jerri and I were going through a bunch of these old songs to cover. It was a power chord breakthrough. So I guess the song structures and style stuck with us in the very beginning.

Jerri Queen: Teaching her those songs really helped me re-learn pop song structures.

Is there a shared affinity for any particular artists or records that inspire your sound?

BT: Anything from the Bobby Teens to the Shangri-Las and a little bit of power-pop in between.

Is there something beyond music that inspires the band?

BT: Bad girls doin’ bad things! Boys shouldn’t have all the fun! I had to learn about all these women picking up whatever instruments and singing about their own troubles and one-night stands to realize I could pick up a guitar and do the same thing. The songs I write stem from my own experiences and what I know. I try to remain as honest as possible. Coming of age with lots of attitude.

I’ve really only heard the first couple of songs that you’ve recorded, but there’s a certain immediacy to your pop. Where does that energy stem from?

PD: Jerri and I have been going at it for awhile, but playing with BB has reminded us what it’s like to really focus on the fundamentals of music. We all live and work together as well. Constant exposure to each other like that can be a little intense sometimes, but it also promotes our chemistry onstage.

BT: I have this vision of how I want things to be recorded and sound and look, but it’s all so new to me that it’s hard to explain what I want in a technical way sometimes. Jerri and Peyton get it. They can translate what’s going on in my head better than anyone else. We work together so naturally.

What’s the musical climate like in Cincinnati these days? I haven’t heard many bands from there in the last decade, but now with you and what I’ve heard from Vacation, it sounds like there’s a community of like-minded bands.

PD: We have a lot of great friends making great music, though they don’t always get the local credit they deserve. It’s a great city, but it can be a little stubborn about catching on to new and different things going on.

Any dream collaborations that you like to happen, alive or dead?

BT: Too many dream collaborations! But off the top of my head... Gary Wilson. If you’re out there reading this, I would love a 2013 collaboration—for real! And a tour would be spectacular. I would also love Matt Horseshit to record a 7-inch sometime..

Fill in the blanks:
In 10th grade, I was listening to _____ in the _____ with _____ doing _____ wishing I was _____.

PD: In 10th grade, I was listening to The Grateful Dead in the sun doing mushrooms with Jeff wishing I was 21.

BT: In 10th grade, I was listening to The Sea and Cake on my Walkman in the front seat of my mother’s Toyota Matrix doing nothing but being misunderstood with an attitude wishing I was old enough to date 21-year-olds.

JQ: In 10th grade, I was listening to Green Day in the garage doing covers with my deadbeat friends wishing I would never turn 21.