Evangeline Noelle packed up her family and, at the age of 38, moved from Dayton, Ohio, to Ojai in hot pursuit of a rock and roll dream. That was 13 years ago. Originally a classical flutist and part of a five-piece band, Noelle, now known as “Sister Ook,” found in California a place to refine her sound from an open-mic acoustic experiment to a tight, three-member, hard rock outfit. With a voice evocative of Dry-era PJ Harvey and a grinding and halting guitar sound, Sister Ook (whose band also consists of her husband, Yam, on bass and a new drummer, Vicente Zavala, whom she describes as an “old soul”) is poised to release an album and begin a career years in the making.
Like many curious band names, Sister Ook’s moniker came from a slight slip of the tongue. After a spat with the band back in Ohio, Yam declared that someday he would just start his own band and call it, “something like Sister Ook.” When Noelle picked up a guitar and began a solo act, she took the name and it stuck. In order to add a little mystery and anonymity to her performances, Noelle (now Ook) sported five or six wigs and layers upon layers of vintage clothes culled from a massive collection. She notes, “I thought I’d wear a wig and some dark glasses and use that name in case I sucked. . . . Then it [the name] just stuck.” She wanted to keep her children, now 23 and 26, and family life separate from her nascent musical career, but as Sister Ook took shape, she found that her children were more than supportive.
With long dark hair and bangs, a classic glam-rock wardrobe and throaty voice, likening Sister Ook to Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde is a little too easy. She counts among her influences originals like punk’s spry grandfather Iggy Pop, golden-voiced chanteuses Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin, and especially Bob Dylan, whose idiosyncracies she considers admirable. “He has a questionable voice, but he goes out there with the attitude that ‘I’m just going to do what I do.’ ” Ook found her voice drawing comparisons to Melissa Etheridge, and after recording what will be an album slated for release early this summer, the band decided to seek out renowned producer and audio engineer Niko Bolas, who had previously worked with Etheridge, to mix the tracks.
“What we do live differs from what we do in the studio,” Ook says while gearing up to gig locally in order to capture a new audience. Having an album nearing completion for distribution will allow Sister Ook to tour closer to home, including an appearance at Wild Ride’s festival in April and dates in February and March booked by new drummer Zavala. At 51, Ook’s dedication to her craft serves as something of a “fountain of youth.” She looks and sounds about 25 but carries years of inspiration and passion with her, having shed the multiple wigs and layers of vintage along the way. “This is what I have to do,” she concludes. “I’ve always lived by following my heart.”
Catch Sister Ook at the grand opening of Bikes, Tubes and Tires in Ventura on Feb. 2, 11 a.m., and on March 19 at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge #89 in Oxnard. Learn more at www.sisterook.com.