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San Diego’s Gen-Z riot grrrls have a name: The Inflorescence

A teen rock band sitting on a couch holding guitars and instruments
The Inflorescence in the home studio where the indie pop band rehearses (from left to right): Milla Merlini, Sasha A’Hearn, Charlee Berlin and Tuesday Denekas.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The indie-pop/punk rock group, who signed to Kill Rock Stars last year, just released their first official single “Are You Sorry”

They may be young, but The Inflorescence deserves to be taken seriously.

The indie-pop band — fronted by 17-year-old vocalist/guitarist Tuesday Denekas and joined by fellow guitarist Charlee Berlin, 16; bassist Sasha A’Hearn, 18; and drummer Milla Merlini, 15 — has accomplished a lot in the last three years.

Since forming in September 2019, they have already self-produced a six-track EP and graced the stage at some high caliber venues, with SOMA San Diego, House of Blues’ Voodoo Room and The Casbah under their belt. Plus, there’s the fact that these teens just scored a record deal.

Last November, The Inflorescence was signed to the independent label Kill Rock Stars, known for representing popular rockers like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. It’s a good fit for The Inflorescence, who often incorporates punk rock elements into their indie pop sound.

La Mesa, CA - December 15: Left-to right, Tuesday Denekas, Milla Merlini, Sasha A’Hearn and Charlee Berlin.
La Mesa, CA - December 15: At their home studio where the Inflorescence band rehearses. Left-to right, Tuesday Denekas, Milla Merlini, Sasha A’Hearn and Charlee Berlin.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

I meet the band for a photoshoot at its practice space, a garage attached to a La Mesa home where Denekas lives with their parents. Oriental rugs cover concrete floors; colorful tapestries and concert posters plaster white walls. We sit on mismatched furniture — from a grey IKEA futon to a red retro stool — scattered throughout the space. But the room’s centerpiece is a large drum set, with a heaping pile of speakers, amps and guitar cases serving as accent pieces.

The room is cool but chilly, a mix of the garage’s lack of insulation and the early meeting time. It’s 7 a.m. — the earliest I’ve ever met up with a band — but it’s the only time that works for the teenagers’ chaotic schedules.

Aside from University of California, Davis freshman A’Hearn, all band members are still in high school. (While A’Hearn is away at college, 16-year-old Maya Ordas fills in on bass for local shows.) Between making it to homeroom on time and working part-time jobs at places like Hot Topic, each musician’s dedication to the band is impressive.

They may have a record deal now, but it took work to get there. Three of the four band members met through School of Rock, the music school in Point Loma, and Denekas brought in her high school classmate Berlin — who at the time owned a guitar, but didn’t know how to play it — to round out the four-piece.

The Inflorescence started out with house shows and small gigs, like a Halloween concert at Queen Bee’s Art & Cultural Center in North Park. At that show, they dressed up as characters from the 1989 black comedy film “Heathers” — the set complete with Denekas performing Winona Ryder’s iconic opening monologue on stage.

“I think we still have those photos (in costume) on our Instagram; I can’t imagine why we would delete them,” A’Hearn says on a follow-up Zoom call from her childhood bedroom.

“That’s so cringey thinking about that now,” Berlin moans.

“I think it’s kinda funny,” A’Hearn counters. “We were like children — I mean, we still are children.”

Though mature for their age, the band members are still teenagers — and The Inflorescence’s audience reflects that.

“I would say like 95 percent of our fan base is people who are under 21; most of them are about 18,” A’Hearn says. “We do play 21-plus shows at Soda Bar and stuff, but I don’t think that many people come to those shows from our fanbase.”

La Mesa, CA - December 15: Left-to right, Sasha A’Hearn, Tuesday Denekas, Milla Merlini and Charlee Berlin.
La Mesa, CA - December 15: At their home studio where the Inflorescence band rehearses. Left-to right, Sasha A’Hearn, Tuesday Denekas, Milla Merlini and Charlee Berlin.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

So how did the band — who were born years after riot grrrl’s peak popularity in the ‘90s — stumble into the punk rock genre?

“I grew up on this stuff ... that Pacific Northwest, Riot Grrrl stuff,” says Portland, Ore. native Denekas.

“Not me — I grew up listening to Taylor Swift,” says Berlin, who attends San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. “I was a Broadway, showtunes kid in middle school ... I mean, my dad would always play 91X when he would drive me around, so I had an exposure to alternative music. But honestly, I was never that involved with it until the band started.”

These different music background coalesce into a unique sound — a blend of indie pop and punk rock. The band’s EP “Self Titled” (released under its former name The Fluorescents, which was changed for legal reasons) is a collection high-energy, indie pop tracks like “Maybe” and “New Years.” And just a few weeks ago, The Inflorescence put out its first original single for Kill Rock Stars titled “Are You Sorry.”

From lyrics like “Do you think you can just spit on me / And I won’t call you out for being so damn mean” to its grungy, ‘90s-inspired music video shot at Queen Bee’s, the initial release definitely exudes a punk rock, riot grrrl vibe.

“This song was very therapeutic for me to write, just because I was holding a lot of anger in at the time and I felt like I could finally get it out in a healthy way … it’s an angry song, and I normally don’t write angry songs,” says Denekas, who calls into the Zoom interview from a tattoo parlor.

When asked about a date for their debut album, the band members are tight-lipped. Now that they’re signed, there are more rules — but also more opportunity and support.

“There’s just more aspects to think about now,” Denekas says. “Before I was like ‘Let’s just get music out there!’ And now there’s lots more steps to make sure that everybody who wants to hear the music can, which I think is cool.”

“And there’s a lot more people involved than have been in the past, because now we have a (professional) team. We have people who we talk to about merch and directing music videos,” says A’Hearn, adding that their families played a large role at the band’s inception.

“We have money now, too — they like give us money, which is nice,” Berlin chimes in, laughing.

Aside from promoting its first single, The Inflorescence is staying busy playing live, including Saturday night’s gig at The Casbah and an upcoming concert at The Ché Café on Feb. 26. For show and album updates, follow the band on Instagram @theinflorescenceband.


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