Last Gang in Town

Local girl-punks the Peeps espouse the politics of good old rock 'n' roll

The Peeps are discordantly glamorous. Guitarist Paula Monarch is all tattoos and red hair. Bassist Chela Mischke is tall and dark -- with dark makeup and a helmet of even darker hair. Liz Adams is shy and soft-spoken until she gets behind her drum kit and becomes a reckless blur of sticks and cymbals.

Onstage they are frenetic, buoyant, a welcome change from the bland, self-serious artists and shoe-gazing depressives that have dominated music in recent years.

Their sound is a refreshingly simple three-chord barrage, an energetic blend of garage, pop and punk that has drawn favorable comparisons to other all-girl groups like the Slits, the Runaways and the Pandoras.

"Of course you don't mind if someone tells you that you sound like someone you like," Monarch concedes, "but we also want to be known for our own thing. And I think we are definitely different."

The band is gathered at the house Monarch shares with her husband, Sonic Thrills front man Jim Monarch. The living room, where the band practices, is predictably cluttered with instruments, amplifiers and years of rock 'n' roll memorabilia. On this afternoon, the Peeps are reminiscing about a recent tour of California. On their second night in Berkeley, the band members suddenly found themselves the unlikely subjects of rock-star adulation.

"People were coming up for us to sign their records," recalls Monarch. "All the while we're looking around to see if we were on Candid Camera or something."

"People had us signing their shirts and stuff," Mischke adds.

Adams chips in, "We even signed boys' bodies, which was really bizarre."

The memory makes all three convulse with naughty schoolgirl giggles.

The Peeps may just have to get used to that sort of fan-boy affection. Although they've been together less than a year, they've already established themselves as one of the most visible leaders of a rejuvenated and growing East Valley punk scene. Their well-distributed seven-inch vinyl release and write-ups in punk 'zines like Flipside and Maximum Rock 'n' Roll have earned them a national reputation.

Monarch, the senior member and band spokesperson, logged time in Clittylitter, a group she refers to as the "high school band that I never had when I was 16."

"It was mostly band-practice kind of stuff," she recalls, "but [playing with Clittylitter] was good because it helped me get over my stage fright."

Monarch began playing guitar only a year and a half ago. She admits, somewhat sheepishly, that she had always wanted to play, but assumed that learning the instrument would be a harder task than it turned out to be.

"I figured you had to play guitar since you were 5 to be able to play a power chord," she remembers. "Finally I had a friend show me some Black Flag songs and he taught me some power chords. I was like, 'Is that it?'"

Late last year, Monarch was starting to grow tired of what she considered a staid role in Clittylitter. She'd developed a new batch of songs and wanted to find sympathetic musical companions for the original and "fun" rock band she had long envisioned.

Adams and Mischke were already playing together under the Peeps moniker when they met Monarch last fall. The trio immediately hit it off both personally and musically.

"I went over to Liz and Chela's house and I looked at their records -- and all our records were the same, so I knew right away it was going to work out," Monarch says.

The band debuted last October at a benefit for the lamented Tempe Bowl, which, Adams notes wryly, "obviously didn't work."

The Peeps is both Adams' and Mischke's first band, and understandably, their enthusiasm is fervent. All three musicians express an almost dogmatic, all-for-one punk attitude.

"Nothing else mattered before this," says Mischke.

"I think we shoot for anything that rocks," says Adams.

The Peeps' musical singularity can be linked directly to the band's unstudied approach to music. "I've had people tell me, 'That thing you do on guitar -- I don't think you're supposed to do that -- but it sounds cool when you do it,'" says Monarch, laughing.

Whatever it is about their style, the Peeps have been winning their fair share of converts. Their growing reputation has been boosted by the release of a seven-inch the band put out through the Berkeley, California-based Super 8 label. The release includes a trio of originals, "Ballad of the Last American Rock Band," "Theme" and "I Don't Care." True to the band's punk/garage aesthetic, the songs were recorded in Adams' bedroom.

Super 8's relatively strong distribution has provided good national exposure within the close-knit punk scene.

"We just played with [Austin-based punk band] the Bulemics. After we played one of the songs, one of the guys came up to me and said, 'God, now I know why that song sounds so familiar, I bought your record!' He'd bought the seven-inch in Austin before he even knew he was playing with us."

While they regard the bedroom-session songs with obvious fondness, the group has begun pursuing bigger, more professional recording opportunities. They've already completed a pair of tracks with local indie/punk icon Jeff Dahl at his Cave Creek studio.

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