Frolicking Among the Pansies
As the queer-core genre continues to expand, one band remains a touchstone--the homo-trinity of Pansy Division. Sure, there have been gays in rock since there was rock, but when it comes to singing the joys of rimming and the tribulations of leaving the closet at an early age, Pansy Division is the undisputed O.G. (original gay-ster).
PD's ability to write supremely catchy, idiosyncratic pop songs, coupled with its label's (Berkeley-based Lookout Records) reputation as the standard for West Coast pop/punk, has earned Pansy Division the most diverse (lots o' hetero fans) audience of any queer-core group. PD filled the opening slot for Green Day on the infamous '94 Dookie tour, exposing hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country to the pansy boys' gay love songs and political protest anthems.
The band's last album, For Those About to Suck Cock . . . We Salute You, was seven inches of heavy-metal tribute (the title's a play on the AC/DC album For Those About to Rock . . .). The group is currently preparing a follow-up with notorious Chicago noise sculptor (and confirmed straight guy) Steve Albini. The result will be two more seven inchers, also to be released on an upcoming PD singles compilation.
On Saturday, March 8, Pansy Division--a.k.a. Jon (guitar/vocals), Chris (bass) and Luis (drums)--will bring the love to Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. It's also booked to play with Man . . . or Astroman? at Boston's in April. In a recent interview, Jon assured us that breeder boys are welcome at either party.
Revolver: Are there any towns you have trouble in when you play?
Jon: Not really. Our only problem is finding all-ages venues, which we couldn't do for the show in Phoenix. Sorry, kids. We played Eureka, California, the other night, and Eureka's way, way up north--it's lumber country and pretty conservative. But it's also Humboldt County, which is pot country, so you get an interesting mix of people there. The reaction there was actually great. Some kids came up to us and said, "Yeah, we're here 'cause our English teacher recommended we come to the show." That was surprising. For me to hear that a teacher recommended us to her students was wonderful. It means that apart from the music, the message got through.
R: How was the audience reaction on the Green Day tour?
J: It was mixed. I lean toward optimism so I tend to remember the good things, but there were bad things, too. I could always come away from a show and say, "Wow, see those kids over there, they really liked us, even if some other kids were throwing stuff." But we definitely expected that on the Green Day tour. When we did that tour, Green Day was at their total peak, maximum MTV exposure, everything was happening for them. So you get a crowd of kids--and it was kids, almost entirely under 18--and those kids wanna see one thing: their favorite band. So any opening band in that situation has to deal with some degree of animosity. But we picked up a lotta fans that we wouldn't have if we hadn't endured the booing.
R: For Those About to Suck Cock has a rant about antisodomy laws ("Government Out of Our Asses") on the sleeve. Is your political agenda the band's primary focus?
J: We're a political band with a small "p." You could come to a Pansy Division show, and if you're really clueless, you might miss the politics. But I think the whole position we take of being openly queer gives us political ramifications. Part of the reason why our band has been successful is the overall normalization of homosexuality in society--it's not such a weird thing to hear about anymore, and people know if they come out as antigay, others will attack them and defend gay people.
Personally, I'm really interested in politics. But, as a longtime music fan, I've found that sometimes the ideas behind politics don't really blend with the music itself. So instead of singing about political issues in our songs, we usually sing about the personal effects. There's a song on our Deflowered album called "Deep Water," which is about growing up gay in a small town, and the fear that you have 'cause the atmosphere is so negative kids can't come out safely.
R: You also put safe-sex information on your album sleeves, but it could be argued that some of your songs seem to encourage promiscuity. Can you reconcile that?
J: There's a new song we do that's recorded but not released yet called "I'm Gonna Be a Slut." That's supposedly one of the worst things you could call somebody, but what does it mean--that you enjoy having sex? I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. So we embrace sexual freedom in our songs, but at the same time we provide the safe-sex info as a kind of context, because we're living in an era of a plague.
Record Reviews . . . Seba-style
During Sebadoh's recent stop in Tempe for a show at Gibson's, Revolver suckered the band into helping out with review chores. 'Doh's members (Lou Barlow, Jason Loewenstein and Bob Fay) kept their comments short and sharp, but too bad this column is indie only. Our listening session was sandbagged for half an hour while Lou perused Sepultura videos and Cathedral albums at Tower Records. Maybe we shoulda sat him down with a stack of speed metal. Anyway, here are my reviews, buttressed by Seba-comments (my humble suggestion to Sebadoh: Don't quit show business).
VICTIM #1--Rodney and the Tube Tops,
I Hate the 90's seven inch
(Sympathy for the RecordIndustry)
Revolver: So a bunch of rich alternative types got together to do a masturbatory supergroup kinda thing with famed KROQ punk DJ Rodney Bingenheimer on a pretty cool indie label. Whether they're paying homage to their roots or grasping for indie cred doesn't matter, because this record is shit. You get two blasts of lagging, fuzzed-out sludge rock overwhelmed by Rodney's beyond-annoying, snot-filled voice, screaming about tattoo removal and tube tops.
Even if you can get past the bourgeois whining, the rest of the players sell themselves far short. The band--Thurston Moore, Eric Erlandson, Dave Markey and Pat Fear--oughta be able to come up with something, anything, better than either of these mud puddles. And if I buy another indie record that thanks Brooke Shields, Claire Danes, Kate Moss and Brian Wilson in the liner notes, I swear to God, I'm switching to country and western. (Sympathy, 4450 California Place #303, Long Beach, CA 90807)
Sebopinion: Lou--"Hey, these are, like, famous people or something. (Reads the roster.) Christ, this is really bad."
Jason--"That plastic coulda been made into combs. What a bad idea for a record."
VICTIM #2--John Davis,
Blue Mountains LP (Shrimper)
Revolver: John Davis is the half of Folk Implosion that doesn't sing for Sebadoh. This LP oughta shake up FI fans a little, though, as John's songs sound like the soundtrack to a children's show. You can almost picture him tying his shoes and buttoning his cardigan as he sings 'em to you and Lamb Chop. As neofolk goes, John writes impressive songs, albeit a little naive (lyrical example--"Drivin' through, French fry me, I'll burn I'll burn"). The biggest problem is his voice, which screams "Kick me, I'm a wuss!" That's not his fault, but a liability all the same. (Shrimper, P.O. Box 1837, Upland, CA 91785-1837)
Sebopinion: Lou--"He played that song for me ['The Way You Touch Me Makes Me Laugh'] when it was, like, only one verse and asked me if I thought he should go with it. He wanted to know if it sounded too cheesy ['the way you touch me makes me laugh, don't worry, not in a ba-ad way']. I told him to go with it."
Jason--"I haven't acquired a taste for John's voice yet. I think he's got balls, but I dunno about that voice."
VICTIM #3--Long Hind Legs,
Long Hind Legs LP (Kill Rock Stars)
Revolver: Long Hind Legs is an anonymous duo outta Olympia, Washington--well, not that anonymous (one-half of Long Hind Legs equals one-third of Unwound, but we're not tellin' who)--that's out to shatter your preconception of the "Olympia sound." Wolfgang and Paul (pseudonyms) certainly don't sound like Bikini Kill or Dub Narcotic Sound System. More like the demon spawn of Human League and Joy Division. From the ambient/synth opener, "Icarus Flew," to the nightmarishly repetitive "Alphabets of Unreason," this record is pure '80s New Wave, the vocals passionately belted out in a faux-British accent. This is turtleneck music for kids who missed the WaxTrax era. (Kill Rock Stars, 120 NE State Avenue #418, Olympia, WA 98501)
Sebopinion: Lou--"This is pretty bad. Is that really the bass player from Unwound?"
Jason--"Total fucking New Wave. Are they serious?"
Bob--"He sings like Dave Shouse [of the Grifters and Those Bastard Souls]. He just pushes his voice a little too hard. It comes off contrived."
VICTIM #4--The Softies,
Winter Pageant LP (K)
Revolver: This duo--consisting of former Tiger Trap vocalist/current Go Sailor front girl Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia--couldn't have found a more appropriate moniker. The songs on Winter Pageant are pure acoustic melancholy, both heart melting and disturbing. This album's biggest liability is its monotony--it's hard to tell the love songs from the heartbreak songs without the lyric sheet. Individually, each song holds its own in the girlie-pop pantheon, but as an LP, it falls from grace. (K, P.O. Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98501)
Sebopinion: Lou--"I like the Softies. Rose's voice is incredible. This needs harsher guitars, though. There's too much strumming. Their inner peace is deafening me."