What compels someone to place a missed-connection ad? Cynics might argue the act is the province of the pathetic: After all, in the movie Ghost World, Enid and Rebecca ruthlessly roast the reclusive Seymour when he posts an ad seeking a “striking redhead” he shared a fleeting moment with on an airport shuttle. But a more generous reading suggests an improbable belief in love, serendipity, and the power of connection.
That’s the premise behind the new romcom-core supergroup Who Is She?, comprising Lisa Prank’s Robin Edwards, Tacocat’s Bree McKenna, and Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro. It all started when Edwards and McKenna were living in adjoining bedrooms at the punk residence known affectionately as Spruce Haus. On a suggestion from a friend, the two decided to try using The Stranger’s “I Saw U” section as songwriting prompts and quickly found the source to be a fount of inspiration.
“It’s so romantic!” Edwards marvels. “I love how long-shot it is, too. And also, it just kind of fits into that idea that you could just fall in love with someone by seeing them and making eye contact with them for one minute. It’s really a wild, magical idea.” And not as far-fetched as you might expect: A friend of Edwards in Colorado got married thanks to a missed-connection ad, and McKenna offers that another friend of theirs went on three separate dates prompted by “I Saw U.”
What began as an idle off-tour project penning goofy jingles for their friends and covering Elliott Smith songs quickly grew into more. The duo enlisted their roommate Shapiro to play drums, and the result was their debut tape, Seattle Gossip (out October 6 on Father/Daughter Records), a series of light, comedic, jangly, twee ditties in the tradition of Cub or All Girl Summer Fun Band. “Cub is a Canadian treasure that doesn’t get talked about enough,” McKenna says of the underrated Vancouver indie-pop gem, whom they cite as a primary influence. “We’ve said before—what would the world be like if Cub was bigger than Nirvana?”
Before settling on Who Is She?, the band called itself Gutless, a reference to the timidity of most missed-connection authors who couldn’t gather the nerve to approach someone in the moment. Edwards empathizes, “It’s just so hard to approach people you have a crush on.” The track “Nervous Dufflebag Boy” describes a dreamy stranger spotted on public transit, never to be seen again, while “Blushin’ on the 44” documents more bus-based bashfulness.
Asked if they think this reticence is a uniquely Pacific Northwest quality, they demur. “I think a lot of people move here from other places, and I always hear that when you move anywhere, you have to put in your six months of awkward,” says McKenna. “And I think a lot of people want to blame the city on that, but I think it’s like anywhere.” Their song “Seattle Freeze” challenges the notion of the city’s supposed iciness with the chorus “It’s not Seattle, it’s you.” Both Edwards and McKenna praise the surprisingly warm welcome they received when they moved from their hometowns in southern California and Colorado.
And of course, Seattle has hosted no shortage of romantic comedies (Sleepless in Seattle, Singles, Say Anything, 10 Things I Hate About You)—a cherished topic for the band, who are vocal in their appreciation of the various roles of Bill Pullman (the “king of rom-coms”). “I like the genre because it’s such a beautiful fantasy,” Edwards says. The song “Romcom” is a loving sendup, skewering common tropes like supernatural secrets and conveniently forgotten fiancés.
One of their favorite conventions to poke fun at is time-travel romance: One song imagines John Titor, alleged time-traveler and subject of a ’90s Internet conspiracy, as an unlikely love interest, whose courtship from the future inadvertently causes unfortunate temporal troubles such as a civil war and the prevention of McKenna’s birth. (Sample lyric: “Don’t know if I have what it takes/To LDR through time and space.”)
“I really hope he hears the song,” says Edwards.
“Whatever timeline he might be in,” McKenna adds.