The song titles gracing the new album from Betty Machete and the Angry Cougars tend to be as short and punchy as the tracks themselves: “Shittalker,” “Hardcore,” “Get Away,” “Don’t Stop.”
In general, the punk quintet’s songs fall somewhere in the 90-second range, though a handful land well under a minute, with the band members embracing an ethos of letting the song be what it needs to be and nothing more.
“A lot of people would go, ‘Intro, verse, bridge, chorus, solo,' or whatever, and we just kind of go, ‘Well, what feels right?’” said Chris Casella, who joined bandmates Heather Lazor and Pat and Linda Dull for an early March Zoom interview. (Matt Campbell rounds out the group’s current lineup.)
“We don’t set out to make them that short, but it’s sort of become a running joke in the band, like, ‘Wow, that was a 20-minute set, and it was a billion songs,’” Linda Dull said, and laughed.
“They kind of have their own life,” Pat Dull said. “We don’t try to artificially make them something more than they are.”
As for the total number of tracks on the album, however, Pat Dull said that he was determined to hit a specific number in that instance, which led to the band writing two more songs in the weeks leading to recording sessions at Sonic Lounge Studios in Grove City, Ohio. “We only had 12 songs and I wanted 14,” he said. “And the reason I wanted to have 14 is because the first three Ramones albums all have 14 songs, and I thought, ‘That’s a Ramones dozen. That’s what good bands do.’”
These 14 cuts make up new full-length Angry Cougars II, which the musicians will celebrate with on Friday, March 10.
As on previous efforts, all of the band members contributed to the songwriting, which means the tracks come from a variety of viewpoints. Casella, for one, said his songs tend to be rooted in real-life frustrations, which he sometimes exaggerates for effect. Linda Dull, meanwhile, said she borrows liberally from true crime TV programming, her blood-smeared tracks inspired by real-life tales of serial killers (“”) and revenge murders (“Blood on My Hands”). Elsewhere, songs find the band members transforming biblical tales into punchy punk rippers (“Legion”) and clawing at the walls on tireless cuts embedded with pandemic exhaustion (“I Want Out”).
While the material might spring from myriad sources, each track is transformed into a Cougars’ song once it is introduced to the full band, which the musicians described as a byproduct of years spent playing together.
“I really like the fact that this band has five different people with different experiences and different musical DNAs, and they all intermingle,” Pat Dull said. “I could never write a song like Chris writes. … And when Heather brings a song to the band, it doesn’t sound like Chris or me. But when we get together and finally play it, it sounds like us.”
“There was always a chemistry in the band, but it’s just evolved,” Lazor said. “If Pat brings it in, or Chris or Linda, I’ll think, ‘Alright, how is this going to end up like us?’ And then somehow it does. And it melds. And it’s awesome.”
The Cougars formed more than a decade ago out of Linda Dull’s desire to sing with a punk band, and the increased punch and swagger in the group’s music has mirrored her growth as a front person.
“When we first started, I was nervous to sing into a microphone, so for the first few practices I sang into a maraca,” Linda Dull said. “And I now have that [maraca] framed, because things are so different now from where we started. … Being in this band, and being around the people here, it helped me, and it gave me a lot of confidence.”
“I don’t think we necessarily sound different than we did 10 years ago,” Pat Dull said. “We’re just tighter as a unit and much more focused. We're just better at it."