Even though 34-year old Thee Sgt. Major III vocalist Leslie Beattie always looks perfectly at home performing onstage, she has no idea how she ended up in a pop-punk band with veteran musicians Kurt Bloch (currently with Young Fresh Fellows and formerly of the Fastbacks), Jim Sangster (a fellow Fellow and bassist for the Tripwires) and ex-Posies drummer Mike Musburger. "I don't belong in a rock band, really," she says, while hanging vintage dresses on a rack in Los Rubbish, the consignment shop she opened in Greenwood this spring. "I belong on a piano in Reno, slithering around in a tight, sequined red dress...and some demons and skeletons in the closet."
Thee Sgt. Major III Columbia City Theater, 4916 Rainier Ave. S., columbiacitytheater.com. $10. 21 and over. 9 p.m. Fri., Aug. 27.
Beattie's being cheeky, of course, but it's not hard to imagine her writhing on a white baby grand in a casino, busting out a cover of "Fever." Part accidental comedienne, part vaudevillian scamp, and all fashionista, her sartorial style reflects the whimsy and weirdness she brings to the stage. "I love all that mod shit," she says, gesturing toward some neckties hanging on an orange-and-white-striped wall. "I got those in Brighton."
While working in label relations for a music- and video-programming company called Screenplay a few years ago, Beattie met Bloch at the Gibson Showroom, the lushly appointed private gallery where the famous guitar maker hocks its wares to high-profile touring acts and big-name locals.
"Gibson would call me to set up video drops with bands when they'd come in, and Kurt worked there. I told him I was going to see Billy Childish, and we just started talking. I didn't really have a concept of [how well-known] Kurt was. I didn't know the Fastbacks, so I was really indifferent. Still am. Just kidding. He's the funniest person I know. And so smart."
Beattie's entry to singing came slowly, and with some nearly crippling challenges. "I'd always wanted to sing, but I didn't have the courage to do it. I tried dipping my toe in when I was in college, but I was so petrified. I had horrible stage fright. I'd get physically ill, vomiting and sweating."
When she moved to Seattle 10 years ago, she joined fledgling pop outfit Cantona. "I lied about how well I could play guitar," she recalls, moving a stack of fedoras from the shop's entryway. "They said they were looking for a showoff." Even though the band managed to record an EP before dissolving, she was still paralyzed by performance anxiety.
"I used to live in Belltown, and I remember watching Nada Surf load in to the Crocodile and thinking, 'I hope my band never, ever plays,' because I was too afraid to get onstage. I couldn't see myself doing it. But then I got over it. Being in Sgt. Major has been good for me, because I came out of my shell. I felt comfortable geeking out with [those guys]. Before that I kind of just stood there and looked self-conscious."
When former vocalist Carmella departed the band's first incarnation, Beattie stepped into what she initially thought was an interim role. "They still had shows booked, and I told Kurt I would cram and learn the songs and it would just be fun. And we just kept going. I did it a few times, and [the stage fright] just fell away."
This Friday, August 27, Thee Sgt. Major III—the band's third incarnation—will celebrate the release of their full-length debut, The Idea Factory (Spark & Shine), with a party at the Columbia City Theater that also includes the Fucking Eagles and the Femurs. The album's title came from what Sangster decided was the band's wellspring of inspiration.
"We were at the Funhouse one night," says Bloch from his desk in the Gibson Showroom, atop which sits an old-school adding machine and a vintage typewriter. "We had loaded in and no one else was around, and we decided we wanted to get some work done. Sangster went to the bar and came back with a glass of Maker's Mark on the rocks and said, 'This is the idea factory!'"
Alcoholic muses have served them well. The Idea Factory is a sprightly, tightly executed effort that reflects Bloch's love of bisecting buoyant hooks with crisp, slightly sneering vocals. Tonally, Beattie vacillates between bratty and coy, a sour/sweet combination that obviously pleases Bloch, who speaks of her with great affection. "I guess those are the sort of people you look to work with—you don't have to think about it. You just want to be with people that are going to naturally do what you like."