One day this week, Rachel Vette, vocalist of local synth-pop band The Vettes, visited her hairstylist. She figured the appointment would last four hours. Instead, it stretched to eight.
“The worst part,” Vette said, “is I might have to go back. It’s a blonde thing.”
Her hair is not the only creative endeavor to take longer than expected. The Vettes formed in 2005, but the band’s new “Gold Star” is only its second full-length album. Its predecessor, “Plasticville,” came out in 2010.
“We have very high standards, almost to our detriment,” Vette said. “As artists, you continually question yourself. If we’re not happy, it doesn’t go out.”
They’re happy with “Gold Star." On Friday, the Vettes celebrate the album’s release at Southport Hall. They’ll occupy the middle slot on a bill that includes opener Akadia and closer 12 Stones, the south Louisiana modern rock band whose singer, Paul McCoy, was featured on the hit Evanescence song “Bring Me to Life.”
Rachel Vette was still Rachel Breaux when she graduated as the valedictorian of Crescent City Christian School in Metairie and enrolled at Loyola University as a biology/pre-med major. She switched to music business studies, intending to manage her older brothers’ Coldplay-esque band, the Hush.
Instead, she eventually recruited them — singer/guitarist Todd, keyboardist Chad and drummer Brian, plus bassist Mitch Gray, who had moved from Nebraska to New Orleans in 2004 — for a new project dubbed the Vettes. They all assumed “Vette” as their stage surname.
Taking their sonic cues from the ’80s and early ’90s, inspired by everyone from Garbage to Lady Gaga, they emphasized pop hooks, synthesizers and dance club beats. From early on, they skipped the local club circuit in favor of writing, recording, re-writing and re-recording material in the studio installed in an upstairs bedroom of the family home in River Ridge. Songs were hardly ever really finished; to the Vettes' ears, they could always be improved.
All that obsession paid off on the Vettes’ polished, poised 2008 debut, a five-song sampler called “T.V. EP." Top 40 radio station B97 placed the song “Give ’Em What They Want” in regular rotation, a rarity for an unsigned local band.
The same five songs, reworked once again, turned up two years later on “Plasticville," alongside a batch of newer compositions. Vette wrote the brash "Invincible, " with its home-run chorus, as a statement of resolve after others doubted her decision to switch majors from pre-med to music. Much of the rest of “Plasticville” toyed with the superficiality of celebrity.
Throughout the new “Gold Star,” she strove for “Invincible”-like sincerity rather than sarcasm. “Diamonds In a Jar” is a let-yourself-shine anthem along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Firework.” It is unabashedly positive, with a message Vette summarizes as, “You can do more with your life than people expect, or than you expect.”
“Survive the Night” is also an exhortation to overcome. She and her bandmates “have grown up a little bit. But we still don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Case in point: the new album’s “Swagger Jackin’” and “Flip the Bird.”
“Flip the Bird” and “Diamonds in a Jar” wear their pop influences proudly. But overall, Vette and her bandmates strove for a more “indie sound.” To that end, her vocals aren’t as prominent in the mix.
“I had to readjust my ear to that,” she said. “But I’m really happy with it.”
During the years they spent crafting “Gold Star,” the musicians worked with various producers and also produced some tracks themselves. “Diamonds in a Jar” was originally released as a single in 2014, only to find a formal home on “Gold Star.”
“We’re just this little indie band from New Orleans, so we can get away with” re-releasing songs, Vette said. “Our old stuff is new to most people. Even though ‘Plasticville’ is from 2010, it’s new to most of the world.”
It's not new to at least one well-known fan. Three times, Drew Brees has invited The Vettes to perform at the VIP after-party for his annual Brees Dream Foundation fundraiser at the House of Blues.
The musicians were pleasantly shocked to discover the Saints quarterback knew the words to “Give ‘Em What They Want.” At one fundraiser, Brees asked them to play the song twice. They obliged.
“Of course we are not going to say no to Drew Brees,” Vette said. “It’s not every day that you have the best quarterback in the league asking you to play your little song twice.”
As an independent act, The Vettes finance their recordings themselves, squirreling away money made from performances. They don't perform all that frequently. They tend to favor festival appearances where, Vette said, “people are open to hearing new music.”
They’ve made multiple appearances at the Gretna Heritage Festival; in October, they preceded Pat Benatar and the B-52’s on the main stage. They’re multi-year veterans of the Voodoo Experience as well.
Next week, they’ll log three shows in Austin, Texas, during the South By Southwest music conference. In April, they’ll perform at the French Quarter Festival.
And if history is any guide, they’ll tinker for the next few years on their next album.
“It might take a long time,” Vette said, “but when it’s done, it’ll be done right.”
Much like her hair.