From left, Mr. Cobra, Rebecca Gone Bad and Jess G. make up the San Francisco band Happy Fangs.
San Francisco-based artist Rebecca Bortman often feels feels like she’s leading multiple lives. As a visual designer, she worked for YouTube, and also was art director for the Disposable Film Festival. She designed apps and websites for a hip engineering consultancy, and even tried her hand at improvisational comedy.
But the creative project she is most proud of is her band, Happy Fangs.
“It’s become a vehicle for so many other crazy things,” says the singer, who fronts the group as Rebecca Gone Bad.
Happy Fangs’ eponymous debut EP – which it backs in concert on Friday – is adventurous enough. In garage-punk assaults “Midnight Monsters,” “That Activity” and the chant-along “Hiya Kaw Kaw,” Bortman’s barely-restrained banshee wail rides herd over guitarist partner Mike “Mr.” Cobra’s Cramps-trashy powerchords. (Originally a DIY duo, the team has added drummer Jess G. to good effect.)
Bortman and Cobra met in 2007, when Bortman’s earlier group My First Earthquake was sharing a Tenderloin rehearsal space with Cobra’s old combo King Loses Crown. Happy Fangs soon became their cottage industry.
“With every part of the band, we get to be really thoughtful, and we’re always coming up with new ideas,” says Bortman, who completed the French New Wave-styled video for “A Lion Inside You” in 48 hours.
She and her bandmates also filmed a “Hiya Kaw Kaw” clip, perched high in a tree in Marin, where a crow disrupted the shoot. “He wasn’t berating us. I would like to think it was a nod to our awesome crow-themed anthem,” she says.
Now fans expect certain aesthetic things from the group.
In concert, Bortman, 30, sports tribal makeup, dubbed warpaint. And for every show, Happy Fangs pens one spontaneous track live, using an audience suggestion, an exercise called the Insta-Song. That’s where her imrov background comes in.
“Mr. Cobra takes it very seriously, and he’ll come up with a guitar riff inspired by, say, a zombie unicorn,” she says. “And my disclaimer is, ‘It might be horrible or it might be awesome, but our promise to you is that we’ll never play it again.’ As it is born, so does it die.”
The trio is planning a self-curated November Fangs-giving bash.
The moniker has a simple origin: “Mr. Cobra is the Fangs, and I’m the Happy, because I’m a little too chipper for some people’s taste,” says Bortman, whose psychologist mother is always analyzing her. “But I think I’ve managed to keep mom’s expectations of me high. She always says ‘Rebecca, I never know what you’re going to do next! I just sit back in amazement!’”
IF YOU GO
Coo Coo Birds, with Happy Fangs
Where: Elbo Room, 647 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $10 at door
Contact: (415) 552-7788. www.elbo.com