Let it be known: Lindsay "Coco" Hames is now a Memphian. Though it may have been difficult for the native Floridian to identify with any particular place over the years, since moving here to be with her husband, music writer Bob Mehr, she feels an affinity for the green spaciousness of Memphis. Of course, she is strongly associated with Nashville, adopted home of the Ettes, the band she helped found in Los Angeles in 2003. And she still feels a connection to the place where she first discovered what it was to feel settled.
After years of living on the road, the Ettes visited Music City and realized "We could stay here! We could get a house, and we could rehearse in the basement, and there's a yard!" recalls Hames. "I started baking, and [bandmate] Poni [Silver] started sewing, and we're doing these very normal, domestic things, and we were speaking to other human beings. It was really great. And so we stayed. We definitely wanted to establish some life off the road, because we didn't have one."
Hames notes that the very things that made the Ettes a strong touring unit were also obstacles to developing a richer life. "We were so co-dependent. It wasn't just like a band. We called it the three-headed monster. We did not have lives; we did not have relationships. All we did was tour. We lived in the van; we didn't have apartments. I thought that's what everybody did. But life has a way of making itself clear to you, and we knew we had to dismantle the three-headed monster. It was hard, but we had to learn how to be human people."
Though the band continued a strong career out of Nashville for some time — along with baking, sewing, and even opening the record store Found Object together — it was "learning to be a human person" that ultimately led Hames to chafe at the constraints of the style she ironically dubs le garage.
After releasing four albums and garnering much respect on the trash rock scene, "it had run its course," she reflects. "I was done writing songs for that construct. It's great to write songs in that formula; you can write 'em forever. Just listen to [garage rock compilations] Pebbles and Nuggets and just write 'em."
A collaborative project in 2010 with Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright, the Parting Gifts, helped expand her horizons. "We can do anything," she thought at the time. "We can write prog operas if we want to! So that was a cool project. I didn't think beyond it. But eventually I was like, 'Well, when you stop playing with a band, you do a solo record, right?' So that's what I did."
In 2016, she began work on her eponymous solo album at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, which was released in March. "It was this massive leap of faith for me," she admits. "After being in a band for so long, this time I was on my own — no gang to hide behind or fall back on." Hames co-produced the record with Andrija Tokic, whose production credits include the Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and others.
Playing guitar, piano, and electric harpsichord, Hames enlisted bassist Jack "LJ" Lawrence (The Raconteurs), drummer Julian Dorio (The Whigs), lead guitarist Adam Meisterhans (The Weight), and veteran organist Dave Amels of Reigning Sound.
"I grew up listening to '60s pop, like Dusty Springfield, but also classic country music, like Patsy Cline, and things that bridged both worlds, like Bobbie Gentry," notes Hames. "With this record, the end result doesn't fit into any one category, which is an exciting thing to me."
Indeed, the record evokes those artists and their times, but what's most notable is her openness to the simple beauties of ensemble playing without the de rigueur noise or aggression of le garage.
"I just tried to put together a batch of good songs," she explains. "And being in the studio with Julian and LJ, I had no idea how they were gonna turn out. And some things turned out like, 'Is this funky? Is this funky? I don't know.' Because Julian and I would just be feeling something out, and then if LJ liked it and Andrija liked it and it was driving somewhere, I would hop onto it."
The result has the earthiness and historical resonance of many longtime Memphis artists, which made her move to the Bluff City a natural one. And not just for musical reasons: "Well, then I fell in love," she smiles. "Which, you know, can be very inconvenient, but ..." She trails off, wistfully.
Coco Hames, with opening band Little Bandit, will make her Memphis debut at the River Series at the Harbortown Amphitheater on Sunday, October 22, at 3:00 p.m. In case of rain, event will be held at Crosstown Arts.