Why is modern love generally so unromantic? All that cheating, lying, deceiving, crying—plus the long-distance shit, the dating sudden deaths, the two-timing devils. Where has all the romance gone, when nights out didn't mean midnight booty calls and when suitors wooed their crushes with class? Okay, maybe such a fantasy is just a Grease-induced hallucination. Even as the smitten snuggled up at the sock hop, evil libidos preyed inside undercover playboys and girls. It just all sounded so much simpler in song, though—the ladies of '60s girl groups like the Ronettes, the Shirelles, and the Shangri-Las sending harmonies heavenly and offering an eyelash-batting innocence with racy hints of simmering hormones.

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It's tough to capture that '60s essence, that just-so-fierce delivery of a heart pounding through its cage; a female dynamo declaring a lover is hers alone, or begging for an incorrigible stray to come on home.

The Tough & Lovely's guitarist Andrew Robertson proves the romantic rocker is not simply an old apparition. As the main songwriter for the Columbus, Ohio, five-piece, he's penned/cowritten more than a dozen songs that sound straight from some unearthed comp of broken-heart classics. The band's debut, Born of the Stars (Spoonful Records), bathes soaring female vocals in candied organ swirls and booty-shaking garage-rock rhythms. Like his idols, Robertson also gives those sentiments boosts of pop and soul—delivered through the commotion of one Lara Yazvac, a woman who could freeze wandering eyes with her ardent cries for affection. She possesses both a crackling, smoky barroom yowl (perfect for commanding a man to move "what your mamma gave you" on "The Ooh La La") and a melancholy croon that's powerful even in submission (the gorgeous pleas of "Never Let Me Go").

"Groups like the Shangri-Las had a snarly attitude, but with this real innocent teenage bubblegum thing," Robertson explains of his obsession with beehived dames of days gone by. "It's this 'I'm so wild about my man' kind of music—which is silly and melodramatic, but there's something great to it, too. I like the simplicity there, that everyone can relate to, as simple as 'I'm hurt 'cause you left me.'"

Yazvac's dynamic presence first caught Robertson's attention at a karaoke bar, of all places. "I'd seen her around town, but [suddenly] she'd just gotten really good at singing," he explains. "She'd go up and knock people's socks off." He especially remembers Yazvac taking on the Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz." "Everyone was half into the karaoke and then she got up there and totally worked the crowd." For Yazvac, karaoke was a method of perfecting both vocal range and crowd engagement. "It was like practicing an instrument for Lara; she got good at it. She has a 'don't give a fuck' attitude, so she can really put herself out there onstage, whereas other people may be thinking too much about how they sound or feel."

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Their singer may have earned her chops belting out other people's material, but unlike the similarly oldies-attuned Detroit Cobras, the Tough & Lovely pride themselves on writing originals so classic-sounding you have to double-check the credits to make sure they're not covers. That special reverence comes via the band members' vinyl obsessions—Robertson is a rabid collector of old 45s. He's even considering bringing a portable record player on the road. "I know people who have been in bands with me have found themselves waiting in front of the record store rolling their eyes like, 'Come on, man,'" he says, laughing, "which I completely understand."

That passion helps Robertson, Yazvac, drummer Christian Pierce, and new members Paul Gault (organ/guitar) and Matthew Million (bass) reinvent the oldest subject matter in the songbook. "It's funny, I had trouble singing love songs in my old band... for some reason it was hard to put my heart on my sleeve—with this band we've written a lot of love and breakup songs. Now I find it hard to write stuff outside of that," Robertson admits. "I'm just a record-nerd kind of guy, but it frustrates me that there's not the same sensitivity in new music. There're love songs out there, but [listen to] a Roy Orbison song or an Everly Brothers song and you just don't get that in most music these days."

jennifer@thestranger.com

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