Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
If you were going to compile a list of "forerunners of the Riot Grrrl movement," it'd be a pretty short list, even for one spanning 20-some years. Poly Styrene...The Slits... Au Pairs... The Raincoats...Bush Tetras and... oh yes, don'tcha despair, Phoenix, you do have one band to add to this elite list: Burning Bush!
They were poppy, they were punky but always kicking ass with a sense of purpose. Thomascyne Ryther (guitar, vocals), Denise Tanguay (bass, vocals) and Audrey Creed (drums) came together in 1987 and pretty much stood alone for all their time in this music scene.
Says Tanguay today, "As far as having a big popular following, we weren't that kind of band. Definitely on the alternative side all the time.There wasn't any other all-female bands that we would regularly play with. We would play with L7 from [Los Angeles]. But it was rare and still is. How many all-girl rock bands do you know? The only way you're well known today is if you're a diva or a pop star. There's not a lot of all-female rock bands."
If you were around in the late '80s, early '90s, you would've seen them most likely at the Sun Club. "That was our go-to place. We played at Crash before it was The Icehouse; there were a lot of arts events there. We played The Mason Jar, a lot of places that don't really exist anymore. Remember what they used to be, what are they now? Kind of like parking lots."
And of course, they played protest rallies!
"We did a lot of protest gigs and those are kind of like festivals for us in a way. That was more our style," Tanguay says.
Never did Burning Bush ever cross the line of civil disobedience.
"There were some people affiliated with us who got arrested, but I chose not to go that route. But some of our friends did," she says.
While there maybe a tendency to overemphasize the political bent of the band (after all their band name could be interpreted as a wish to burn then-sitting President George Herbert Walker Bush in effigy), Denise argues, "I think (politics) is only one facet of who were are. All of us have always been opinionated in certain areas and that's shaped the lyrics. Mostly they're song about friendships and personal relationships, it's not just one side of everything."
Although political rock tends to age like the newspapers they were cribbed from, Burning Bush songs still resonate just as much as a song about personal choice like "Never Kissed a Carnivore." Songs like the still timely "Terrorist" and this week's Heritage Hump selection, "Revolution Without Guns (Part 1)", originally released on a 7-inch in October 1991 and also on a cassette EP called Friends. No sign of a Part 2 exists on either format.
"The power to kill is the power to rule!"
According to Thomascyne, now living in Portland, "Revolution Without Guns" was very much influenced by the fall of the Berlin wall which occurred one month after my daughter was born. I was really blown away and caught up in the sight of it and of people taking bricks and pieces of it away. I was overjoyed by how much people want a good and free life and how the force of that want brought down a wall that had existed my entire life, seemingly impregnable, now a symbol of how we must open our eyes for possibility to become real. And for once no shots were fired."
As noted in last week's Heritage Hump of Hellfire, Burning Bush are reuniting for the first time ever in Phoenix (at Rips, on Saturday, March 28). When I suggested that for today's climate of fake outrage, Burning Bush might be "too radical" for a town like Phoenix, Thomascyne laughs.
"I have to tease a bit because, in Portland, I am totally ordinary. Okay, not totally but pretty much."
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