Outcalls’ Melissa Wimbish and Britt Olsen-Ecker talk dangers women face in bars, impostor syndrome, and more

Melissa Wimbish (left) and Britt Olsen-Ecker of Outcalls. Photo by Steve Parke, courtesy Outcalls.

As its title would suggest, local pop sextet Outcalls’ track ‘Pillcauzbee,’ off their September EP “No King,” conjures the moment one realizes they’ve been drugged and begin to lose faculties, a moment experienced by many of the nearly 60 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. “Every single time I try to walk away I feel real high/ What did you do/ It’s getting late and maybe I was thinking I should say goodbye/ Why can’t I move,” sing Melissa Wimbish and Britt Olsen-Ecker. Late in November, Outcalls put out a remix of ‘Pillcauzbee’ by producer Drew Scott, best known as a member of Blacksage and for his collaborations with Al Rogers Jr., among others. On the remix, Scott strips away the R&B-inflected track’s horns and threads woozy synth womp-womps around Wimbish and Olsen-Ecker’s vocals, at one second measured and rhythmic and at another trailing and faded. Founded by Evan Kornblum and Jeff Bucklew as a mostly male eight-piece, Outcalls has since split off, leaving Wimbish and Olsen-Ecker at the helm. Shortly before they return to the recording studio, I sat down with the two classically-trained Peabody alums shortly to talk about the band’s new direction, the inspiration behind ‘Pillcauzbee,’ the plague of self-doubt while in a room full of dudes, and more.

Baltimore Beat: Tell me about the story behind ‘Pillcauzbee.’

Melissa Wimbish: A friend of ours went to a party. She definitely felt like she knew something happened, she was drugged, because she had I think two or three drinks. She woke up in a bed, like where the fuck am I? These two men came into the room, they were a couple, and said “you were really messed up, we knew something happened, it didn’t seem like you were just drunk, it seemed like somebody gave you something and we tried to ask you where you lived by you couldn’t remember your address so we took you here and we didn’t do anything, we just put you in the bed.” As she’s telling me this story she’s like ‘I woke up and the first thing I did was say where am I, and then I checked to see if I was still wearing my Spanx. And when I realized my Spanx were still on I knew nothing happened.’ So she knew she hadn’t been assaulted but that somebody had attempted. So these guys were awesome and took care of her.

Britt Olsen-Ecker: I think we started writing it like early 2016 before any of this stuff really started going down. The beginnings of all of that inspired us.

MW: Right because that was around the time that [Bill Cosby] had just been accused, he wasn’t even on trial yet.

BOE: They were starting to flow in, a lot of them. For the longest time we would just call it ‘Pill’ and for the album I think we debated do we do ‘Pillcauzbee’ or do we do ‘Pill’? And we decided to go with the ‘Pillcauzbee’ name and I’m glad we did.

BB: Why’s that?

BOE: With everything that’s happening right now, I think it’s good to be making a statement like that and my hesitation is always err on the side of caution, don’t be controversial, but it is good to be controversial right now.

MW: And why is it controversial? We discussed that too, like maybe he hasn’t been proven guilty but the fact is, he’s probably guilty and we believe the women, we believe the victims, and why isn’t that the default?

BOE: We were saying believe victims. It’s taken me a little bit to get over my own being afraid of saying things but now that’s happening and I’m glad. The song itself, we wanted to talk about what is that experience like.

MW: But it’s very simple as far as what we’re saying but you don’t have to day much to say what’s happening especially if you call the song ‘Pillcauzbee’. But the simplicity—obviously because what faculties do you have about you when you are in that situation? I think because we both come from this classical background and having to translate texts a lot from another language, how do we simplify something, how do we just boil it down? We did that with this song lyrically and we communicated that to Drew [Scott] as well, we said, “This song is dark and it’s fucked up but it’s also fun because there is that aspect of [having] your guard down.”

BOE: Yeah, you’re partying, you feel a little buzzed. But I’ve been in situations where there’s the instant that you’re like, something’s wrong. Or something’s a little off and it’s scary to be thinking about that while you’re having such a good time—and it happens like a snap.

BB: For a lot of women—I would say this is true of myself, even if I’m having the best time at a club where I feel relatively comfortable, I never feel totally at ease.

BOE: Definitely. I never leave a drink unattended.

MW: Never ever ever.

BOE: And that concept is just . . .

MW: The fact that we have to think about that! It runs through my head every time. And it’s so funny how even now when I’m at a bar with a guy or a friend that’s not a woman and I say “watch my drink,” they smirk. And it’s like, do you understand that this is going through our heads all the time?

BOE: And it happens anywhere. We’ve had it happen to friends like down the street at the local neighborhood bar. It’s crazy.

Outcalls live at Ottobar. Photo by Chrissy Abbot, courtesy Outcalls.

BB: How was it working with Drew Scott on the remix?

MW: He really followed our direction which was, we wanna make this sinister but fun; let’s not make it all super dark. Because it is very dark already.

BOE: I like the end where he repeats that “How did I get here?” When we were recording, I think this song has the most personality and Steve [Wright], our engineer, was like, “Think of a character and maybe be a little slurred and don’t over-enunciate—”

MW: Right, don’t try to sing it too beautifully. What would the character be doing, what would you be doing if you were in this situation?

BB: What were some of the ideas you were working with in the other songs on the EP?

BOE: Crushing the patriarchy with ‘No King’ [the title track] for sure. Kinda the story behind that is you [Melissa] were living in Denver and there was an artist who would tag on “no parking” and “no smoking” signs and he would just erase the “par” or “smo” and it would say “no king” and we decided that we wanted to write a song called ‘No King’ before the first note was played. We kind of function like that, like we come up with lyrical ideas or a title and then think of what a story or future music video would look like. So with ‘No King’ it was like medieval like sword fight and execution and we were like, ‘this is where the sword fight happens.’

MW: And how do we recreate that musically.

BOE: We recorded it the day after the inauguration.

MW: It was the song we wrote the fastest. We had played these songs with these other guys [in the previous band lineup] before, and we wanted something totally different that we had come up with ourselves and Britt really was insistent upon that; let’s write something just for ourselves that nobody else had any input on.

BOE: Mostly the men.

MW: Right, nobody as in all of the previous men that we worked with. Some of them were great, some of them weren’t, and we wanted to have something that was totally our own. And that’s why ‘No King’ meant so much to us.

BB: Do you feel like there are any threads from the original iteration of the band that are still there in your current music?

BOE: Yes and no. But I would say more no.

MW: Even the songs that we wrote in that arena sound different now. And when we play them live, they sound totally different. In a way that we connect with more. We have an idea now and we can talk it out with our band.

BOE: Yeah that was a big thing [before], feeling not safe in the room.

MW: Feeling like if we had a suggestion or we didn’t know exactly how to articulate it, that we would be looked at in a way that was very dismissive.

BOE: Like we would be shut down.

MW: And in some ways I began to feel so inexperienced like I had nothing to offer—

BOE: We both did.

MW: —or I didn’t know how to talk, and so I thought, maybe I should just not talk.

BOE: And we would say it to people like, “well I don’t know much about this—” And then it was like, no, we have music degrees, we know about this.

BB: Imposter syndrome.

BOE: Absolutely.

MW: But heavily perpetuated by some of the people we were working with. So it’s amazing how in retrospect, one of the things Britt and I keep coming back to is: Let’s never let ourselves be in that position again where we’re questioning ourselves like that. There were so many drives home where we were just like, what did we do? Every night, we were just not happy. And now we can’t shut up, we’re just like, “What about this idea, what about this idea.” And being exhausted after an hour of rehearsal, now we can rehearse until two in the morning and be like oh shit, time to go to bed.

Outcalls plays Windup Space’s Interstella Live! Live! Live! NYE Daft Punk tribute show on Dec. 31 and Metro Gallery on Jan. 6 with Amazing Bill and Petunia. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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