Sarah Holt remembers Britney Spears blasting out of a boombox when she was a kid, singing along with the pop star. The love affair was fleeting. More enduring was her affinity for Liz Phair, who took Holt’s passion for music to the next level.
“I discovered Liz Phair in high school,” explains Holt. “There was this indie documentary that someone uploaded on to YouTube called Dirty Girls and it follows these two girls that live in LA in the ’90s. They are trying to create their own riot grrrl scene, and Liz Phair’s ‘Batmobile’ was on the soundtrack for that movie. I heard ‘Batmobile’ and said, ‘Wow, this is really good,’ and then listened to Exile in Guyville and became obsessed with that album. That album was what made me pick up the guitar in high school.’”
Little did Holt know when picking up that guitar as a Liz Phair-obsessed teenager in Atlantic County, that she too would one day have her own band. In 2015, her indie-rock band Molly Ringworm was formed, rounded out by her cousin Johnny Zappas (guitarist), with whom she played music growing up, and, later, a Andrew Simpson (bass), and Michael Auble (drums). Since 2015, they have released two EPs with a third coming in March.
When you think of music scenes in New Jersey, Atlantic City and the towns that surround it probably don’t cross your mind, but the Galloway-based band makes their location work, and has helped build a music scene at Stockton University.
Holt and Zappas are currently graduate students at Stockton as well. Holt was heavily involved with Stockton’s college radio station WLFR in her undergraduate years, and it was there where she grew into the music scene, and was exposed to newer music that would influence Molly Ringworm.
“Stockton is weird because it is a commuter school,” Holt explains. “I mean people live there, but they go home on the weekends.
“I DJ’ed all four years of undergrad at Stockton,” continues Holt. “I hosted a weekly show and had bands play live music. Being a DJ exposed me to a lot of new music that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. WLFR has been a great supporter of us, and there are still DJs that come out to our shows. WLFR felt like a community at Stockton. Maybe not Stockton as a whole, but if you find a club or activity, you find community as well. WLFR was that community for us.”
WLFR was also where Holt was exposed to musicians and bands like Speedy Ortiz, Alvvays and Elliott Smith. The influences of these musicians are evident lyrically and musically in Molly Ringworm’s past EPs.
On Molly Ringworm’s latest EP, Good Old Boys, released in 2019, the band explored frustrations that Holt felt about the male-dominated music industry; a topic that was mined in the song “No Matter What.”
“’No Matter What’ was written in frustration about playing in another band and feeling like the odd man out as the only girl in the band,” says Holt. “And being in a scene where sometimes I’m the only girl in the lineup.”
Zappas says that “No Matter What” is one of his favorite songs to play live because of the energy of the song, and for the content of the lyrics.
“It’s fun to play consistently,” says Zappas. “The lyrics are relevant with stuff that is going on in the scene with people not taking women seriously like, ‘Oh, you play bass? That’s cute.’”
Holt wrote about her experience in the music industry earlier this year (How Can I Say This So That We Can Stay in This Band Together? — PILOT (pilotmagazine.uk), and she ultimately wants to see more diverse lineups in music.
“It’s a weird line to walk because we don’t want to be tokenized,” explains Holt. “Diverse lineups should be the norm, don’t be like, ‘Oh, we are playing a show, and we gotta get a girl band’. Play with bands because you like them and in the area that exists diversify your taste and share the spotlight with different bands.”
Molly Ringworm will play live at Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City on April 2, in support of their new EP, Seems, which will be released on March 1.
Seems was recorded in true DIY fashion and in the apartments and houses of all the band members. And recently, Molly Ringworm released their first single from the EP called “Nana.”
“This is kind of cringe, but I wrote this song after watching the first episode of this ’90s anime called Nana,” explains Holt. “It’s about these two girls who met and they are both called Nana and they had this bond and I was like, ‘I love my girl friends’. I wrote ‘Nana’ about my best friends and any other girls that have been in my life. Girls that I admired, thought were cool, old friends and new friends.”
The song is similar-sounding to previous music that Molly Ringworm has released, even with the inclusion of an electric sitar.
“I think it’s similar to our first EP,” says Zappas, who plays electric sitar in Nana. “It kind of has that stale grungy sound.”
“True to old style it, kind of has that grimey sound,” says Holt. “Originally, it was my favorite out of the group, but it has been growing on me. Every time I have been relistening back to it or playing it, I’ve been like, ‘Oh shit, this is really good.’”
On April 2, concert attendees can see Zappas play the electric sitar live at Anchor Rock Club in AC, a venue that is run by former Philly music promoters, and bands like Real Estate, Kurt Vile and Wavves have all had shows there. Molly Ringworm remembers playing at the venue before it got cool.
“I’m excited,” says Simpson about the upcoming show. “Last time we played Anchor Rock Club it was in the winter and there was no heat. There was a space heater on the bar that we would take turns rotating, and that didn’t take anything away from the experience. It still has that DIY flavor, but it’s at a nice venue (and there is heat now.)”
In the meantime, the band is balancing practicing for the show, graduate school,and teaching. Holt and Zappas are full-time substitute teachers, and Auble is a substitute as well and grew up wanting to be a chemistry teacher. Balancing all three is challenging, yet rewarding for the band.
“It’s exhausting,” says Holt about balancing all three.
“But it’s welcoming as well because teaching is what we would prefer to spend our time doing,” says Zappas. “Like every time we meet up we’ll be like, ‘How’s school going?’”
Molly Ringworm will be playing at Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City on April 2. Ticket information can be found here.