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Bangs: Hot Topics

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: February 8, 2003

The Bangs
w/ The Honey Hush, Bleeders for Treats
Wednesday, Feb. 12
9 p.m., $7
Sokol Underground

13th and Martha

So 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 the snarl.

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.



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."

"People have been punk for years -- Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding."



"We're not a super-conscious band, we just do what do."


Vail 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 home state."

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Portions published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader Feb. 8, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.