When pressed, Alex "Kidd" Kandel will admit that she feels much older than her actual physical age of 18. "But maybe it's because I've had to do a lot of growing up in a short period of time," says the singer, who — with guitarist/vocalist Tony "Tutone" Smith — co-fronts a new garage-punk outfit from Bowling Green, Ky., called Sleeper Agent.
Thanks to a propulsive 2:25 blast of a first single, "Get It Daddy," and its accompanying piñata-smashup video (with Kandel as an appendage-severing whirling dervish), the band's Celabrasion debut is already riding the biggest buzz of autumn. "So suddenly you're in a situation where you're not just making music, you're learning about the business and stuff, simultaneously. And that definitely makes you grow up fast."
For example, the "Kidd" moved out of her parents' house more than a year ago. She's put high school classes on hold while she ricochets around the country with her group, often alongside fellow Kentuckians Cage The Elephant. She even missed prom to pursue the rock 'n roll dream.
Smith, who came across Kandel on MySpace, says he was a little uncomfortable when he first met this bright-eyed go-getter. "She'd posted some songs, and I really liked the way her voice sounded, so I sent her an e-mail and we arranged to meet up." The original plan was for him to teach her bass. "But after about an hour of trying, I gave up, because it was very frustrating," he says. "It was taking her forever to learn the first measure of one song."
"I was nervous, too, though," Kandel pipes in. "Really nervous!"
It didn't matter. Smith had made up his mind. Kandel had to leave. "After the first couple of times working with her, I had issues with working with somebody so young," he says. "And dealing with things like having to go through her parents or picking her up all the time. It looked like it was gonna be more of an inconvenience than I was prepared for."
But Kandel simply refused to take no for an answer. Instead, she managed to insinuate herself into the lead singer position. "She refused to shake a tambourine, so we had to give her something to do," sighs Smith.
In earlier incarnations, the graphic designer and his longtime drummer chum Justin "Keyser" Wilson (yes, every Sleeper Agent has a wacky alias) weren't exactly prog-rock, but they did have those tendencies. Wilson, says Smith, was "well-versed in music theory, so we always did a lot of changing time signatures and beats, and six-minute-long songs.
"But since then, we've decided to just kinda ... well, go for it."
And so far, so good. In addition to "Get It Daddy," Celabrasion's highlights include the faux-reggae "Love Blood," the sludgy "Bottomed Out," the Shirelles-sleek "That's My Baby," and a decidedly White Stripes-ish "Be My Monster."
Sleeper Agent will soon relocate to Nashville, where their album was recorded with producer Jay Joyce. That means another quantum leap in maturity for the teenage frontwoman.
It will also mean a change in routine for Kandel's mom, who sounds just as determined as her daughter.
"My mom still buys me groceries," she says. "It's really sweet, and she just can't help it."