Fashion and Music with Alex Gehring of Ringo Deathstarr

by Rachel Efruss

Illustrations by Rachel Efruss

Alex Gehring sings and plays bass in the alternative rock band Ringo Deathstarr, an Austin-based three-piece whose aggressive sound blends punk, psychedelic rock, and dreamy noise pop. Since their formation around 2007, Ringo Deathstarr has put out four albums and two EPs, and has toured internationally. The best way to experience Ringo Deathstarr’s music is to attend one of their shows, which are an energetic mess of back-and-forth vocals, effect-heavy guitar, and vigorous bass and drums.

Onstage, Gehring’s sweet, floaty singing juxtaposes the angry tones of her sticker-covered Fender bass. She has an eclectic style, both musically and visually. Her wardrobe is a seemingly endless vault of vintage dresses, band tees, and black stockings. Gehring’s outfits show a clear love of fashion, and she is unafraid to experiment with accessories like cowboy hats, sparkly boots, and flower crowns. I met Gehring for coffee to discuss her interest in fashion, and how outward appearance can impact the way an audience perceives the band’s music.

Spark Magazine: Is there anything in particular that started your interest in fashion?

Alex Gehring: I’ve always been interested in it. I’m probably the only person in my family that cares at all, but it was my first job. When I was in high school, I worked at a store here called Factory People, and then I bounced from retailer to retailer. I worked at Feathers Boutique, and now I work at Garment Modern + Vintage and Moss Designer Consignment. So I’ve just always been in the retail game, and I’ve always had a soft spot for vintage.

SM: Is there something specific about vintage that appeals to you?

AG: I guess I’ve always loved the style of the ‘60s, and obviously I like the ‘90s too — I wear a lot of floral dresses. I grew up shopping mostly at Savers. It was just the cheapest option, and I think that’s probably where my love of vintage grew, just buying used resale. Vintage stores were so much cheaper than buying new anywhere. We couldn’t really afford to go to the mall, so I always went thrifting and found cool vintage little babydoll dresses. I know vintage has been cool for a long time, but back then when I was in high school and even middle school, I feel like people did not really care about vintage. But I loved it.

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SM: Where did you grow up?

AG: I grew up here in Austin.

SM: Oh, cool, me too. And I feel really lucky that we have so many thrift stores and vintage boutiques to choose from.

AG: Yeah, there are so many great options in town. People are always asking my favorites and I’m like, ‘Oh my god! I don’t even know. I love them all.’

SM: So online, I see pictures of you modeling. Is that something you still do?

AG: I really only do modeling for the stores that I work for. I feel like that was my first foray into “modeling.” I’ve never done anything really professional. I’ve just worked at shops that needed someone to throw on a dress so they could take a picture of it and then they’re like, ‘Oh, you know what, actually you’re pretty tall, I think you could just keep doing this and you’re already here.’ So then when enough people saw that I was doing that, I started modeling for other shops in town. The only real thing I’ve ever done it for was Jonesy New York which is an underwear company. I’m not even really sure how they found me. But I’ve never done anything super pro.

SM: Is professional modeling something you would want to do?

AG: I think I did want to do it. There was a time when I thought it would be cool, but I feel like as I’ve gotten older, I don’t know. I think I get too critical of my appearance and the more images I see of myself I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t like this’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ I’ve realized sometimes you take a really great selfie and you’re like, ‘Oh! I feel so beautiful,’ and then you see a picture someone else took of you and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, why? Why do I look like that!’ So I don’t know. I think maybe modeling is not in the cards for me so much.

SM: Is it just when you’re looking at photos that you feel self-conscious or does that ever happen when you’re looking at stuff like music you’ve made in the past or videos of yourself performing?

AG: Definitely, it happens all the time in all sorts of ways. I’ve seen so many embarrassing videos of myself performing. I used to have really, really terrible stage fright and it took me a long time to overcome. I would still say that sometimes I’m afflicted by it but I’ve gotten a lot better. Also, I have new tools onstage to help me. But for a long time, I just could not sing to save my life. I would get up there and I would get so scared. I would watch those videos and I can just tell from my body language, and the way it sounds is awful. I feel like that’s definitely where it shows and where I feel the most self-conscious is looking at those older videos. I’ve been in Ringo for ten years now and it’s just now getting to a point where I can look at videos and be like, ‘Oh, ok, that was actually pretty good. I’ll listen to it with the sound on.’

SM: What are some of those tools you’re talking about, besides just, y’know, time?

AG: Time was the biggest one. I started using an in-ear monitor and honestly, that was a game changer for me. I just have my vocals going through it. We’re such a loud band. I’m right next to the drums and Elliott’s guitar is so loud that I could just never hear my vocals at all. This did not help with getting up on stage and trying to just be like, ‘I am confident and I can sing great and I’m gonna do this.’ It helps so much to have an in-ear monitor, like a little safety blanket or something to know that I can hear myself.

SM: How do you decide what to wear onstage?

AG: I typically want to wear dresses. I feel like that’s my norm, but I definitely have to think about something that won’t show how grossly sweaty I get onstage. It also has to be something that’s pretty durable for loading in and loading out purposes. I have an insane collection of dresses, but cotton dresses are obviously the best. I try to wear clothes that are feminine but durable. I do think a lot about sweat, though. I am always like, ‘Is this just gonna show everything wrong?’

SM: Is it hard to decide what to pack when you guys go on tour?

AG: Oh my gosh, I hate packing. I’m so indecisive. I have a hard time. I can’t even decide what I want to wear tomorrow until I wake up and then I have to try on like ten things and I’m like, ‘Ok, this feels right.’ So when trying to plan out two months worth of clothes or what I want to wear, I just end up packing way too much. It’s definitely hard for me.

SM: Do you have a favorite article of clothing?

AG: Yes, I do, I feel like I have two basically. I have my favorite dress that I never ever wear. I think I’ve worn it once. I got it at Moss. It’s this gorgeous Dolce & Gabbana light blue dress. But I feel like if my house was burning and I had to run in and grab one thing, I would probably grab this cheap Zara dress that I wear all the time. I feel like that’s what I would miss the most, y’know? So when I think about it, I’m like, ‘Oh, of course, I have this gorgeous dress,’ but if it came down to it, I really get so much use out of this thirty dollar Zara dress.

SM: That’s such a great find, the Dolce & Gabbana dress.

AG: Oh my gosh, I have so much gorgeous stuff from working at Moss that I just never wear. I don’t know what lifestyle I think I have, but it’s not one where I wear runway dresses.

SM: You talked about comfort and not showing sweat when it comes to picking clothes to wear onstage. Do you ever think about how your fashion might connect to the music you play, or how it might enhance the audience’s experience of your music?

AG: People have told me in the past, ‘Well you’re the only girl, why don’t you dress crazy? Y’know, you can wear whatever you want up there.’ I love watching bands that do that. I know with A Giant Dog, Sabrina always wears these awesome, amazing outfits. I see photos and videos of her performing and she’s such an amazing performer and I feel like her clothes are really a part of that. And, I don’t know, I feel like that is not me. I’m not so much of a performer. I feel like if I was to wear something crazier or a little more wild I would need a different persona onstage to pull that off. So I typically just wear kind of what I would normally wear. My go to is just sneakers and a floral dress. I don’t really know if that enhances the music or the experience. Maybe people can see me and be like, ‘Oh, I like her style, that’s relatable. Maybe her art is relatable to me as well.’ Hopefully, that’s what people can take away from the way I dress. I guess I mostly just go for overall comfort and durability onstage.

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SM: That’s interesting you bring up Sabrina Ellis and her onstage persona. Sometimes I wonder, is it the persona that matches the clothes or the clothes that bring out a certain persona?

AG: Right? Maybe if I started dressing like that I would want to grab the mic and run around onstage. I haven’t done it so maybe. Maybe I should try one day. Elliott and Daniel would be like, ‘What happened to her?’

SM: You guys are recording an album right now. Is there anything you can say about that?

AG: Well, it’s been almost two years since we started recording this album, but I feel like it’s finally coming together. We’ve got several songs that have actually taken shape and become songs—which is really exciting. We’re doing it all out in our practice space in Pflugerville which is how we recorded Pure Mood as well. I feel like over the two years my friends have been egging me on being like, ‘How’s that album coming? How’s that album coming?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s not coming along at all.’ But, we’ve finally been trying to get in there the last couple months and making some headway. I really, really hope that by the end of the year it can just be done. That would be my personal goal, but we’ll see.

SM: So you’re recording the album by yourselves? Is that how you’ve always done it?

AG: For the most part. We’ve recorded at The Bubble, that’s where we started, and we still have a relationship with them. On our past couple albums, we’ve done punch-in vocals or something at a studio. However, Elliott is really interested in the whole recording process, and he’s really great at that whole thing. I know nothing about it. He tries to tell me stuff or explain things, and it’s so over my head, but he has a genuine passion for it and even records other bands. I feel like that is such an amazing asset for us, and it saves a lot of money because we’re super poor. He’s been doing it mostly analog on a Tascam 388. It’s nice getting to do it on your own but it definitely is making music take longer than if we had paid for studio time, where we’re like, ‘Well, we already paid for it, so we’ve really got to sit down and record this.’

SM: Well I’m really looking forward to listening to the album when it does come out!

AG: Thank you! I’m sure everyone will know when it’s done because I will be screaming from the rooftops that it’s finally ready.

You can listen to Ringo Deathstarr’s music online on Bandcamp. •  

Rachel Efruss is a tiny meat crumb residing on a giant ball of dirt. She has two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and many other body parts. Rachel is currently working on a studio art degree with aspirations of one day waiting tables at a large chain restaurant.

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