Singer-guitarist Brittany Hill started her current three-piece touring unit Kerchief as a solo project in 2014, as an outlet for the creative and songwriting instincts given only partial vent in her previous outfit, the Springboro, Ohio-based Vanity Theft. Three years, two EPs, and one full-length release later, Hill is close to realizing Kerchief as an ongoing collaborative — not a solo project, but a full-fledged band.
“My initial goal was to start my own project and keep making music that I wanted to make,” says Hill, who moved to Cleveland, Tn., from Ohio in 2013. “The band itself was somewhat of a rotation for a while, with seven or eight different members who passed through. Then last fall I found a couple of people who’ve been steady with me, and hopefully they’re going to stick.”
Hill began her musical career earlier than most, becoming the lead guitarist in the aforementioned Vanity Theft at the tender age of 16. Toggling between three and four members over the course of its career, the band offered up an energetic brand of pop-rock equally indebted to ’80s rock and new-wave/electro pop, a hybrid of the Runaways and the Bangles tinged with just a hint of post-millennial emo and indie.
After signing a small record deal and releasing one album on Adamant Records in 2011, the band members went their separate ways, with Hill joining family members in Cleveland and pursuing her solo muse.
Hill’s first Kerchief release, the “Demonstrations” EP in 2014, introduced a beguiling mix of alt-rock, electro-pop, and singer-songwriter aesthetics. Elaborating on the antecedents of Kerchief’s style, Hill says she was weaned on ’80s and ’90s indie rock, and that she took a special interest in strong female performers who came up through the 1990s. “I always looked up to Gwen Stefani,” she says. “I’ve followed her career. Like me, she’s gotten more into electronics as she’s gone farther.
“I really get into pop music, too. I’m a big Lady Gaga fan.”
In fact, Hill’s influences are heavily told on all three Kerchief releases — including 2015’s full-length “Machines and Animals,” and the “Corner House” EP from last year — each of them redolent of the 1990s and the dawn of commercial alt-rock, an era when female frontwomen like Stefani and Poe and Shirley Manson and Kim Deal abruptly stormed into the public eye. Like those women before her, Hill has a quirky, distinctive vision, an impeccable sense of phrasing, and an ear for a pleasing melody.
Given that Kerchief began life as essentially a one-woman show — Hill has played most of the music on her three releases — the arrangements on these early records are often sparse, defined by skeletal keyboard frameworks and colored by intermittent swaths of guitar.
As Kerchief becomes more of a group effort, Hills says the character of the music may change, too. “When we play those songs live, there’s kind of a balance between the electronic and acoustic elements,” Hill says. “We have a sampler that the drummer triggers for certain parts. We don’t have a keyboardist right now, so live, the music is different from the recording. But we think it’s different in good way.
“As we move forward, I want to see us become more of a band. My bass player also sings, and we’re going to start writing songs together. Kerchief began as a solo project as more of a necessity, than from me expressly wanting to be a solo artist. I see it evolving into a solid, permanent three or four member group down the road.”
Kerchief will play Preservation Pub Saturday, March 25 at 7 p.m. as part of the Funny Ears Fringe Festival.