With a last name like Rasmussen, sisters Elizabeth, Celia, and Leslie could probably have done without a proper band name — the Rasmussen sisters could have worked just fine. But these girls don't go for the easy route. At ages 21, 19, and 18, respectively, Elizabeth, Celia, and Leslie are balancing college and high school with thrice-weekly band practices, recording sessions, and a busy performance schedule in their home of Dayton, Ohio. And although they're all quite young, they've already been playing as Good English for five years.
Each of the sisters was musical from an early age, but this is not some genius-prodigy story. All three of them worked hard to learn their instruments and especially to play together as a band. It began about eight years ago. Elizabeth says, "I wanted to play the guitar, and Leslie, the youngest, around the same time said she wanted to play the drums. I was in eighth grade at the time, and she was in the fourth grade. Celia was playing cello for orchestra, so that Christmas our parents decided to buy me my first electric guitar, and they bought Leslie a full drum kit because before then she was just playing with a snare drum. And just to try it, they bought Celia a bass." The presents were a huge hit, and the girls spent the rest of the day trying to figure out songs they could play together.
They ended up wanting more formal instruction, so they turned to the professionals for help. "We signed up for a band camp at our local music store," Rasmussen says. "It was a 10-week long session where you would go and play in a band with a bunch of other kids, and we would learn songs, learn how to play them together, and at the end we got to perform for friends and family. We did two sessions of that, and it really taught us how to play together."
After that, Good English was officially born. For most of the group's life, they had four members — the girls added in their mutual friend Annie Bartlett, who also played the guitar — and released an EP called Take Control in 2011. And while their lineup worked well at the time, the sisters have to admit that it's easier being an all-in-the-family band, which they've been since Bartlett left for college in 2012. "We played with Annie for four years, and it was fine. We didn't know anything other than that. But when she went to college and we became a three-piece, it was night and day how the communication was because the three of us always kind of have one mind-set and similar goals," Rasmussen says. "It's just made working together that much easier."
Good English released their first full-length album, Radio Wires, this August. It's a record that is, somehow, as distinctive as it is hard to pin down. Elizabeth's vocals, which have rightly been compared to Karen O's of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, are rich and dark, while the songs themselves range from stormy and moody ("The Road") to almost jangly ("A Day Wasted"). The sisters write all their songs together, and went through a fairly intense production process for Radio Wires that differed greatly from their experiences with Take Control. They recorded both in Nashville with producer Patrick Hines. "It was a neat experience [recording Radio Wires] because when we recorded our EP we had the songs laid out pretty much how we wanted to record them," Rasmussen says. "With Radio Wires, we went down to Nashville with the basic structures of the songs, but we knew that we wanted to work with Patrick in terms of setting any sort of production value to it that he heard. For example, on the song "Radio Wires," when he listened to it and said 'I hear organs in this one part,' and so we tried it. That was not something we'd expected to add into the song at all, but we ended up hearing it and loved it."
The songs are all characterized by strummy guitar and bass and rock 'n' roll rhythms, and they show the breadth of what Good English is capable of. "It's a collection of songs that really represents us as a band, in terms of our variety of sound," Rasmussen says. "We always joke to anyone who asks what our genre is, because we claim to have a genre identity crisis. The sound is a mix of so many different sounds."
The sisters are excited to be playing their first show in Charleston, as they actually spent their early years growing up in Mt. Pleasant before moving to Dayton. Being in school doesn't make touring that feasible, so it's rare that they get this far down South. But they're OK with that for now. "That's what breaks are for, and that's what summers are for right now," Rasmussen says. "But I think I can speak on behalf of all of us when I say we'd like to take this as far as it can go, whether that's just a couple more years and we play regionally, or if it's something bigger. If we could play music for the rest of our lives and have it be our career, we'd all love to do it."