Swinging a guitar over her shoulder with ease, Eva Hendricks adjusted her half-up, half-down blonde ponytail. Her overwhelmingly sunny grin seemed to cause the house lights to flicker, illuminating the crowd of over 3,000 people waiting patiently in their seats. She switched the pedalboard on as blue lights shimmered over the audience.
In came the guitars. She strummed wildly, emanating chord progressions reminiscent of 20th-century garage rock. The crash of her brother’s drumming followed soon after, jarring the audience with a hammering crescendo.
“Cardboard cereal, eating me inside,” she squeaked the opening verse, simultaneously capturing the essence of a Disney princess and a lethal toddler at the same time. Larger-than-life, hyperbolic and infectiously energetic, Hendricks bounced across the stage. In her signature high-pitched squeal, she sang, “From across your room, I saw second cousins kissing on the lawn, we will never speak again.”
At the King’s Theatre in Brooklyn, I watched what I can only call the future of alternative rock.
A Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music alumna, Hendricks started her band Charly Bliss while studying at NYU, recruiting her brother Sam, childhood friend Spencer Fox and ex-boyfriend Dan Shure. I caught up with Hendricks over the phone as she prepared to begin her tour with Death Cab for Cutie. I could almost hear her grin through the receiver.
“I really believe there’s no better place to play than here, and I’m sure part of that is because, of course, if we’re on a tour there’s the energy of getting to see your family and friends and everybody but also — I just love New York,” she laughed, recalling her relocation to Manhattan to pursue music.
However, the move from her hometown of Westport, Connecticut to the Big Apple was not without obstacles. Hendricks soon learned that the New York City college music scene was heavily competitive, cutthroat and dominated by men.
“We felt really out of place,” Hendricks recalled. “Every band we played with was fronted by men … I always felt really embarrassed about fronting our band. That felt like I was kind of holding us back. I felt like I was singing about the wrong things, like my lyrics are wrong, my outfits on stage are wrong. I just felt [that] maybe if someone else was fronting the band, maybe we’d be doing better.”
But in the past three years, this changed. Hendricks’ femininity was embraced, not rejected as Charly Bliss began to garner a fanbase enthralled with their unique combination of grunge guitar riffs and high-pitched romantic evocations.
She reflected on the first album. “On ‘Guppy,’ I think I was really making fun of myself a lot. I think I was almost brave enough to be telling the truth about my feelings, but in a way that I was also making fun of myself because a lot of the lyrics on ‘Guppy’ are really sad,” she said. “They’re really upsetting and I think [are] about me kind of navigating anxiety, depression, breakups and and all the great stuff the world has gone through.”
Although she never anticipated much travel in her life, Hendricks caught a glimpse of the nation throughout Charly Bliss’ last national tour with Death Cab for Cutie.
“It’s been so incredible getting to see more of America but … it’s kind of upsetting in some ways because, since [Donald] Trump got elected, it’s definitely been crazy seeing more of the country and some upsetting things once you leave the New York bubble,” she said.
On their last tour, the band introduced one of their most high-energy hits, “Ruby,” a catchy riff-driven tune with an acoustic twist. “This song is about my therapist,” Hendricks remarked onstage.
While the distortion-driven track is typically played concurrently with audience members jumping around or even moshing, its acoustic rendition allowed the lyrics to be heard in a different light. Instead of evoking an attitude of indifference or rebellion, Hendricks softly uttered the lyrics which call back to a time riddled with desperation, passing out on the subway and references to cognitive behavioral therapy.
“Ditch me, gone to see Ruby, keep me afloat on call,” Hendricks sang, half choked-up and swaddled in blue lights from the stage.
Peeling back the churning guitars and voracious drums, this version truly allowed Hendricks’ lyricism to shine through, revealing the uncomfortable pain that fuels the essence of Charly Bliss. “She’s a pro, I’m not that bad though, maybe I’ve gone too far.”
“A lot of those songs are so dark and remind me of bad moments in my life,” Hendricks said. “I think it feels superhuman to have a performance that’s so full of energy and joy. It makes me feel like I’ve kind of moved past those things that I was writing about. I have more confidence and I’m more brave. I’m kind of looking at myself and laughing at all of the things that are really painful to me.”
While all the songs she has formulated are autobiographical, Hendricks explained that her use of exaggeration and hyperbole is simply in her nature. By assuming an exaggerated, caricatured version of herself, Hendricks felt that she could easily talk about these haunting themes.
“It’s like my version of the truth, my version of what felt [it] like to be me,” she added. “I think I used a lot of the time in the lyrics on ‘Guppy.’ I think I used a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration and stuff because in some ways, I tend to talk like that a lot sometimes.”
In her songs, Hendricks seems to ruminate on love throughout most of the band’s discography. From “Love Me,” off of their 2014 EP “Soft Serve,” to the band’s latest release “Heaven” — Hendricks’ self-proclaimed “first love song” — romance has certainly been a topic of interest for the songstress.
“I remember at an early show someone compared my lyrics to Taylor Swift,” Hendricks laughed. “They were like, ‘oh my god, all you sing about is breakups, you’re just like Taylor Swift.’ And I think that’s so stupid. I mean, I guess I just can’t think of anything that’s more interesting to me in the world than like people’s internal worlds and also, sure, romance and having your heart broken.”
Writing about this, says Hendricks, is nothing to be ashamed of.
“It’s all things that connect people and make people understand each other,” Hendricks continued. “I remember feeling really hurt by someone when they first said that to me. Then I’m laughing now by going to the extreme opposite and being like, “f-ck you, you want Taylor Swift? Bring it on!”
Charly Bliss’ debut album “Guppy” is available on all streaming services.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 12 print edition. Email Nicole Rosenthal at [email protected].