In the funkiest part of San Francisco, across the street from City Lights bookstore, perches a kaleidoscope of a café called Vesuvio. Crammed full of character like an over-stuffed Jack Kerouac piñata, this place is a hidden picture puzzle of stained glass, Beat Poet ghosts, and things like the John Wilkes Memorial Booth.
When Ashley E. Norton and Stephanie Groot wandered into the café like so many artists before them, they had an idea for a new band, but no name. They’d finished a Suburu-sponsored 2018 tour of several European countries with their folk-indie band Whitherward (a duo comprised of Ashley and partner Ed Williams, with Stephanie playing part-time) and had gained some fame doing a YouTube series called “Songs from a Suburu.” Whitherward had great reviews in Europe, but Ed had moved on to other projects, and the women were both ready for something new.
Vesuvio had been a hangout for several years for the group, and they’d taken to occupying a spot upstairs with a sign: Lady Psychiatrist’s Booth. As Stephanie tells it, “In June 2016, I went on my first tour with our other band, Whitherward. Our first stop was in San Francisco and we played our show then decided to grab a drink nearby at Vesuvio. It was crowded and we had to take our drinks upstairs to find seats. As we sat there, we noticed a booth (like Lucy’s booth from Peanuts [comic strip]) and we decided it would be fun to grab some photos. We had our other bandmate take a series of probably 25 photos of us just being goofy and striking different poses. As we went through the pictures later, we found one that made us laugh for days! And then we laughed even harder when we realized the sign on the booth said LADY PSYCHIATRIST’S BOOTH. Years later, when Ashley and I formed our own project, we had just finished recording and were driving home from LA, trying to think of a band name. Ashley suddenly yells out “I’ve got it! I know the name of the band and you will love it! And here we are…LADY PSYCHIATRIST’S BOOTH!”
What started in that North Beach coffeehouse has become one of San Diego’s most-talked-about new bands, a high-energy blend of originals and unique covers.
“Whitherward was very deep and introspective with our original music,” Ashley notes. “We were playing more witty, creepy, weird, funny stuff.” When that successful band finished its run, Ashley said she and Stephanie wanted to “have a good time,” so they turned to home studio recording and writing during the pandemic when live music venues were shuttered. They recorded a duo EP with L.A. friend Laura Hall, and it got some play in Germany and England.
Drummer Amanda Albini happened to see one of Ashley’s solo shows at a winery and was immediately smitten with the unlikely acoustic cover version of Blinding Lights by the Weeknd. She didn’t hesitate to join in when asked.
“I always wanted to have an all-female band,” Ashley says. “I was always jealous of my girlfriends in Nashville who have all-female bands. I love playing with men, but I’ve done that my whole life. Stephanie is my first real female bandmate. We got this female drummer [Amanda], so I said, ‘Hey, let’s do all female!’ We had so many friends who said, ‘Marcia Claire is your woman! Get Marcia Claire!’ So, she came to a trio show we had and said, ‘Yeah, this is the band for me.’”
Marcia shares a birthday with Ashley, so photographer John Hancock told her the pairing was meant to be. She sat in with the trio at a Mia Marie Vineyards gig. “I bonded with them immediately,” Marcia says. “The rest is history.”
Ashley recalls that Marcia came to a gig the band was playing at Petco Park. When the trio had to load their instruments onto an outdoor lift to raise them to the stage, Ashley says the three women on the lift did a superhero pose as they ascended. “Marcia’s family saw us and told her, ‘You found your people.’”
All the women in the band have played most of their lives with male musicians; while they all note that they love the men they’ve performed with, having an all-female band is a different vibe. “Although gender shouldn’t matter, it is nice to play with people who understand some of the boundary issues we have to deal with, not to mention the surprised reactions we receive when people [all people, not just people identifying as male] see that we can actually play pop/rock music,” Marcia notes. “I always wonder if women who play piano, bassoon, or clarinet go through the same issues in concert band and symphonies as we do in pop bands. Having said all that, men get stereotyped all the time in the music business, so we’re all fighting different stereotypes and/or being pigeonholed.”
Stephanie mentions that part of the appeal of Lady Psychiatrist’s Booth is the sheer fun the members have on stage. “I think we have a tremendous group of talented women and we’re all very confident in what we do, so ego doesn’t factor in. It has given us the opportunity to just be great friends first and foremost. The bond we have was an instant one and it’s contagious!”
“Everyone has a good time,” Ashley laughs. “One of my favorite things is when I look at the audience when I’m playing and they’re receiving—I try to connect with them. You can just see by the looks on their faces that they’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, they’re all women, and they’re all badass amazing women in one band!’”
Stephanie has worked with Ashley for many years, but the combination of their duo with the addition of Amanda and Marcia sparks a different kind of alchemy. “There are so many things to love about this band,” Stephanie says. “We get to take the stage together and bring the audience into our world, make them a part of ‘the inside joke’ and then deliver some great music. I also really love the variety of music that we play. Nothing is off limits in terms of a style or genre. We have managed to take folk, rock, R&B, rap—yup, I said rap!), country, and a few others that I’m probably forgetting and make it into a sound that is uniquely our own.”
Marcia has played in many bands locally and praises the Booth (their nickname for the band) for its work ethic and dedication. “Everyone in the Booth is incredibly professional and they take their craft seriously, and that’s part of what allows the band to be carefree and entertaining at shows.”
What kind of music is it? They call it Americana because that covers almost everything. On any given gig you can hear covers of everything from the aforementioned “Blinding Lights” to the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” “Glory Box” by Portishead; there was a moment when Young MC’s “Bust a Move” was playing while they were setting up, and they considered playing it. “We just do songs we love,” Ashley says. “We like to give our audience a well-rounded menu to choose from.”
The Booth is also a cross-generational marvel. Spanning four generations, the members of the band are hard at work writing original songs and looking at recording in Nashville in September.
“Songwriting is probably my favorite thing,” Ashley says. “I keep writing a song a week for my Patreon page, and that’s my pledge to my patrons. Sometimes it’s trash and sometimes it’s okay but may not work for the band. It’s been fun for me to dig into my vault of songs and kind of think about what might be something for us to pick up. We play stuff I wrote ten years ago and stuff I wrote a week ago.”
The four ladies have written one song together as a band (so far), and Ashley describes it as “quirky and funny,” but so far Ashley has been the driver behind the original material. She co-writes with other composers in Nashville via Zoom and hopes to expand that horizon as the Booth moves forward.
With a driving rhythm section underpinned by Marcia and Amanda, Stephanie’s violin or mandolin lines and solos give old songs a new twist and give new songs irresistible hooks. Rounded out and tied together with Ashley’s lead vocals and lead guitar, the Booth is starting to perform again live. The high-energy fun they have together pumps the performances up to hyper-active sleepover energy, infused with years of performance experience and expertise. Think uber-talented rebel girl slumber party.
Another great feature that the band and audiences both love is the ubiquitous tight vocal harmonies on most of the songs. All of the band members sing and they blend like they were born to sing together. “The harmonies fill my soul,” Ashley says.
Ashley moved to San Diego during the pandemic, not sure at all that there would be a music scene to come to. Prior to this move, she’d been on the road in Europe with Whitherward, so moving to a new town during a lockdown was not at all a sure bet. She and her husband landed in Ramona, a little town he drove through all the time but knew little about. “We came here (Ramona) and saw how beautiful it is. It’s country living just outside of San Diego. A lot of San Diego people think it’s so far away, but it’s not. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”
The first place Ashley played solo was the Ramona Ranch Winery, and she developed a relationship with them. She said she was surprised at the thriving and growing music community in Ramona. Shows at Ramona Ranch sell out consistently and are limited to 50 tickets. An anniversary show is coming up in September.
The next performances for the Booth will be August 6 at Ramona Oaks Park, August 7 in Julian at Heroes (formerly Wynola Pizza), and even a show in Phoenix, Arizona with Farm Truck and Summer Dean.
Full band live video:
Joelle (original): https://youtu.be/YpDkCtAERWg
Sweet Dreams by The Eurythmics:
Blinding Lights by The Weeknd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OugqgzPPIQY