Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lunachicks: The Epitome of Punk Rock Creativity?

During this age of “same-sounding-Billboard-chart-downloaded-to-iPod” phase of pop music, one wonders of the existence of an active government conspiracy 10 years ago – a la X-Files – bent on keeping the band Lunachicks in relative obscurity?

By: Vanessa Uy

The first time I listened to Lunachicks was during a point in my life that could be considered “musically” tumultuous. I was 8 at the time when I knew that achieving Joe Satriani like levels of guitar virtuosity is second nature to me. Avril Lavigne’s debut album was conquering the local airwaves unabated when I’m starting to wonder if my newly found virtuosity will only be in vogue in classical music circles (or 1980’s hair metal bands). My guitar skills will always be a legal way for me to achieve easy money by being a session musician, but it’s only fair to thank the band Lunachicks for keeping me sane during this past few years.

First formed way back in 1987 Lunachiks were said to be discovered by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at their second gig. The two members of Sonic Youth thought that Lunachicks were a “noise band” – but in actuality- Lunachicks hadn’t learned how to play their instruments yet at the time. A few years later –in 1990 – Lunachicks released their debut album titled “Baby Sitters on Acid” on the record label Blast First. Baby Sitters on Acid “is” the only Lunachicks album that I haven’t heard or owned yet (CD or LP only offers please).

The principal members of Lunachicks are: Theo on lead vocals full name Theo Kogan, stands a full 6 feet and extensively works as a model in the NYC area. Gina (full name Gina Volpe) on guitars and vocals. Squid (Sydney Silver), on bass guitar and vocal duties. Becky Wreck a.k.a. Susan Rebecca Lloyd was their drummer during their first two albums. Chip, (Chip English) replaced Becky about the time when Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart records – a legendary New York based independent music record label. Sindi, (Sindi Benezra Valsamis) served as the bands other guitarist from 1987 but she’s no longer with the band during the 1998 leg of their tour. Helen Destroy served as the band’s drummer from 2000 to 2001.

After achieving a substantial cult following and critical acclaim from their Baby Sitters on Acid album, Lunachicks released “Binge and Purge” on the Safe House record label in 1992. The album served as a creative template for the succeeding Lunachicks albums. With songs about female masturbation whose lyrical descriptions rival those of Jonathan Swift’s literary description of defecation on his book “Gulliver’s Travels.” As a Punk Rock band, Lunachicks’ uniqueness is the result of their unabashed use of “technical” guitar playing which is the preserve of 1980’s “hair metal” bands.

Lunachicks came into their own when they signed up with Go-Kart records. A friend of Greg Ross once told him to sign Lunachicks because they are NYC’s most popular “indie” band. Around 1995, Go-Kart was still a fledgling record label but as luck would have it Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart. In May 1, 1995, Go-Kart released Lunachicks’ third full-length album – “Jerk of all Trades.” Because of their popularity, Lunachicks single-handedly became the label’s financial bread-and-butter. During the later half of 1995, Lunachicks toured with “alternative / indie” bands made famous by MTV circa 1995 like Offspring, Marilyn Manson, Luscious Jackson, Rancid, and Reverend Horton Heat.

In February 18,1997, Lunachicks released “Pretty Ugly” on Go-Kart. It’s rare for them to retain the same record label in releasing a new album, but they might have been satisfied on what Go-Kart records did to the band’s career. A quirk about this album is the title track –“Pretty Ugly” was released on a Go-Kart records compilation titled “GO-KART VS. THE CORPORATE GIANT”. Production value-wise, “Pretty Ugly” is somewhat too bass heavy a recording for a Punk Rock band. Either they are following a trend – Massive Attack, Portishead and Trent Reznor / Nine-Inch-Nails - at the time were releasing albums with ridiculous amounts of bass which were selling like hotcakes- or experimenting. Back then, a friend of mine damaged his US$1,500 Velodyne sub woofer during the song “What’s Left” when he played the song at unamplified-drum-kit-sound-pressure-levels. Mind you his audio rig easily passed muster playing other well-recorded drum kit recordings at their natural/unamplified sound pressure levels (105-110 dB SPL). Remember, at that level of loudness the stereo set up should make the recorded sound of the drum kit sound like a real drum kit the way God and Her infinite wisdom intended to sound in nature.

In 1998, Lunachicks released “Drop Dead Live” which to me is probably the best Live Rock Concert album of all time in sound quality terms. Rivaling that of Kiss’ “Alive” and Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan”. This is where –as a live band – Lunachicks’ performance rivals that of Iron Maiden circa 1984. This just proves that independent labels –like Go-Kart – good sound quality comes naturally.

In 1999 while still with Go-Kart records, Lunachicks released “Luxury Problem”. I think –as epitomes of the Punk Rock ideal – Lunachicks became somewhat “uncomfortable” with their popularity in the audiophile community chose to record their “Luxury Problem” album with heavy amounts of audio compression and “dry” i.e. no reverb. But the resulting sound quality made the recording sound as if Lunachicks are playing in the cramped confines of a typical Punk Rock venue in New York City like CBGB’s. Are they trying to mimic the godfathers of Punk – The Ramones – on this recording? The tattoo art world / culture references are still present though.

From 2001 onwards, the band’s tour itinerary has gone from few to nonexistent. The band’s members are busy with their “other jobs.” Gina is now the lead singer and guitarist of the band Bantam. Theo now play’s with Theo and the Skyscrapers. Theo also appeared in the movie Zoolander, you know, the tattooed woman in Hansel’s loft. Becky was the drummer for the Blair Bitch Project back in 2000. Helen Destroy plays drums in the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin (The Lesbian Led Zeppelin?). Squid is currently working as a tattoo artist. I wonder if Squid did Theo’s tattoos?

Despite of their album’s quirks sound quality wise, it’s really hard to pick a single favorite album from Lunachicks. It’s like picking a best Mark Levinson amplifier. To me, Lunachicks’ influence reached beyond the confines of Punk Rock. Theo grazed the cover of Tattoo Magazine’s international edition and probably influenced a generation of women on their taste in fashion. They made some “conventional guys” that I know into loyal fans even though these guys are Soldier of Fortune types who helped Zimbabwe to become independent back in 1980 even though the country has bee going to hell recently. Some used to roam downtown Grozny, Chechnya with Kalashnikovs back in 1992. They don’t care about the “Brickface and Stucco” connotations, to them it’s all about the music and one’s “preferences” is his or her own business not the Government or the Church or whatever.

The songs that stuck on me are “FDS” from Jerk, which sounds like a Broadway show tune Punk Metal hybrid. I also like “Bitterness Barbie” for reasons that might result in me writing a 250 page Doctoral Thesis about what is wrong with George W. Bush and his neo-conservatives. “Spoilt” for it’s critique on Capitol Hill / Wall Street Imperialism that required the sacrifice of working class American blood in running it. And who could forget “Fallopian Rhapsody”, the Roe v Wade question that nobody seems to care or the American women whose voices are silenced by the Moral Majority / Right Wing Christian extremists. Remember the January 16, 1997 Sandy Springs incident?

To me, Lunachicks deserve multi-platinum status. Their drummer Chip’s been playing like they already had one. When the Suicide Girls appeared in Jerry Bruckheimer’s CSI New York, I thought would an appearance by Lunachicks be not far behind? Or is that prospect as viable as a Henry Rollins – Black Flag reunion tour?

Lately, a new band called Paramore whose promotional DVD was given to me from a sympathethic friend who works our local Kuwait Fund facility. To me Paramore's artistry could well rival that of Lunachicks, but it's too soon to tell.


Girlie May said...

LUNACHICKS! Lunachicks! We all scream for Lunachicks! Nothing makes me happy than visiting unofficial websites and blogs on Lunachicks. Please check out http://www.babysue.com . I've visited this site and -to me- this is a "period piece" website that is what a Lunachicks website would look like back in 1995. I admire the creators truism to Lunachicks. P.S. Did you know that Lunachicks also worked with artists that I don't like No Doubt / Gwen Stefani . And also those that I like Blondie / Deborah Harry.

April Rain said...

Even though I only own two Lunachicks albums - Jerk of all Trades and Pretty Ugly - I feel both like their biggest and only fan of theirs in this country. Thanks to your blog I now know there are at least three of us. In your opinion, do you think the song What's Left from Lunachicks' album Pretty Ugly is about the eloquent views of Norman Mailer on why he is against feminism? I had read Norman Mailer's views on feminism, even though I don't approve his views, I find his reasoning for rejecting feminism fascinating. When I mean fascinating, I mean like the way someone praises Adolf Hitler for commissioning the Autobahn. It borders on the politically incorrect.

Lilith Fair said...

Honestly, I've became a Lunachicks "convert" back in 1996 even though I'm already hapilly married back then and raising my first-born. Primarily, I listened to Lunachicks to wash - off the bitter aftertaste of that extemely pretentious "Cool Britania" phenomena called Spice Girls back then. Personally, I prefer the Ron Reyes era Black Flag circa 1980 because they are more truer to the spirit of the American Punk Rock movement which Henry Rollins only recaptured during his "End of Silence" and "Weight" solo albums in the 1990's. Isn't the Lunachicks song "What's Left" inspired by the book The Feminine Mystique and the authors critique about the emptiness of post-World War II American sub-urban "bliss"? To me, the band Lunachicks is a 250 page Doctoral Thesis subject-in-itself kind of band that is both cerebral and visceral. Talk about T.S. Eliot's "Cognitive Dissonance"!

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't happen to know the deal with Bantam? Are they together, or what?

It would be sweet if they were planning a tour since I won't be in NY any time soon.