story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: February 8, 2003
w/ The Honey Hush, Bleeders for Treats
Wednesday, Feb. 12
9 p.m., $7
13th and Martha
here's the deal -- I didn't hear back from The Bangs until after
my deadline for The Omaha Weekly-Reader had passed. Without
an interview, I wrote the following:
Look, there's this
misperception these days that Avril Lavigne or The Donnas have
something to do with punk rock. Please. Avril is nothing
more than a country yodeler in Hot Topic gear and a necktie, while
The Donnas, once reputable disciples of The Ramones, have turned
into a group of TRL-driven pop-rock Barbie Dolls.
Are things hopeless
for women in punk rock? For an answer, check out Olympia, Washington's
Bangs. The women-led trio (two girls and a guy) have been keeping
it real since their first CD, Tiger Beat, came out on pioneering
riot grrrl label Kill Rock Stars back in 1998. Their latest Kill
Rock Stars offering, Call and Response, is more of the
same blistering, in-your-face punk that would make any fan of
Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland or 7 Year Bitch raise a clenched
fist in joy.
The title track on
the new 6-song EP opens with raging hardcore urgency and a message
of frustration and anger, with vocalist/guitarist Sarah Utter
yelling to a straight-four beat "Just shut up yeah just
shut up is that what I should do? / And pretend it's all okay
try not to yell the truth?" "I Want More" is
brutal hard rock busted open with tasty white-knuckle guitar and
a pointed message about image and the media ("She's such
a tramp / He's just a whore / It's packaged so perfect / Yeah
I want more"). For every angry rocker, there's a fuzz-driven
pop song, like the SF Seals-flavored "Kinda Good," that
borders on being -- *gasp* -- a love song, without losing
So two days after my
deadline, I get a call from Bangs bassist Maggie Vail. Too late
for the printed article, Vail was willing to chat for Lazy-i.
read to her what I had written for the Weekly-Reader, and
she immediately sprang on The Donnas/Lavigne comment. "The
Donnas never came from a punk background," she said. "As
musicians, they really just wanted to be rock stars. The people
they emulated were Poison and Cinderella. They never thought of
the punk rock world."
Yeah, but you have to
admit when they first made it on the scene, they were touted as
a female version of The Ramones. "Yes, but that was really
their publicist who was responsible for that," Vail said.
There was no argument
concerning Avril, however. "She's awful," Vail said. "They
market her like crazy, like something in the Hot Topic stores --
teenage rebellion in a can. I truly believe punk isn't about the
Sex Pistols or Sid Vicious. It's more of a way of living your life.
People have been punk for years -- Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding.
It's about a continuation of living your life consciously instead
of submitting to the rest of the world."
Vail said her band is
proud of Kill Rock Stars' riot grrrl history, but never felt like
they were really part of that movement. "In some ways we've
been influenced by it as part of our surroundings and where we grew
up," she said. "We were never involved in it when started,
but it was influential. Those bands changed the world."
Many people believe the
riot grrrl movement made it more acceptable for women to take part
in the punk scene. In fact, there probably isn't a more accepting
genre in rock music than punk, which doesn't discriminate based
on testosterone levels. Vail agreed.
"We choose to exist
in this world," she said, adding that the band has never felt
out of place. "We play the circuit of punk rock venues. And
for the most part, they're pretty enlightened people. And the music
itself is amazing."
have been punk for years -- Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding."
not a super-conscious band, we just do what do."
recalled a story about a friend of the band's who originally worked
as the publicist for The Donnas. "She does publicity for Lookout
Records. When The Donnas got signed, she got hired by Atlantic to
do their publicity. So after she gets them some press, the label
asks her, 'How come no cover story?' That's the real music industry.
I can't deal with that world."
Our talk took place via
cell phone from Jacksonville, Florida, where the Bangs were scheduled
to play that night. The band was kicking back after a sound check,
had just ordered a pizza and was playing video trivia waiting for
it to arrive. You could hear laughter in the background, and occasionally
Vail would be distracted and say something to her comrades, usually
about a piece of trivia.
She said Jacksonville
was the easternmost gig of their national Call and Response
tour. With a war about to wage, Vail said the band will work some
politics into their set, but not into their music. "It's not
what Bangs are about," she said. "Sarah wrote most of
the songs on the EP, and she writes about what's on her mind that
day. We're not a super-conscious band, we just do what do."
Regardless, Vail said
politics was the theme that had been running through their tour.
"We've been running into protests," she said. "There
was a huge protest when we were in Austin the day after the State
of the Union address. It was nice to see people protest GW in his
Portions published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader Feb. 8, 2003. Copyright
© 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.