Scrawl guitarist Marcy Mays straddles a barstool at Tempe's Sun Club, sipping a beer and reflecting on the small-potatoes status of her all-female band. "You have to wonder," muses Mays in a preshow interview, "where we'd be if we wore corsets."
Mays wouldn't be caught dead in a corset. In fact, on this evening she's clad unseductively in knee-length shorts and scuffed-to-hell cowboy boots. Sassy lingerie and coy sexuality don't have any place in a Scrawl show. Mays is simply too busy emulating the jack-off guitar playing of her idol Ted Nugent to pose like a sex kitten.
Scrawl isn't the kind of band that performs disposable dance songs or weepy girl-loses-boy ballads either. The closest thing to poignant in the band's repertoire is its tribute to a female trucker.
In short, Scrawl effectively dissects the girl-group myth. "There are obviously a lot of all-female bands that want to be `girl groups,'" asserts Mays. "You can tell by their name and their attitude and what they're singing and writing about. They're more in a Sixties vein. That's not us."
Mays claims that honest-to-God rock 'n' roll bands that just happen to be made up of women "are still a little bit unique." It's true that a few female-dominated rock bands--such as Throwing Muses--exist. Still, most acts are Expose-style Top 40 products that have a record-industry Svengali to thank for their songwriting, production and, usually, existence.
In contrast, Scrawl--like many a great guitar band--sprang from the imaginations of some bored college students. When starting up the band five years ago in Columbus, Ohio, Mays and bassist Sue Harshe never intended to keep the guys out. If one of their male college pals could've faked a decent drum solo, Scrawl would very likely be a coed group today. But as it happened, the pair hooked up with she-drummer Carolyn O'Leary, and Mays says the exclusively female line-up has always suited her just fine.
"There's a reason they make dorms with all girls, you know," she explains with a raspy giggle. "And there's a reason guys get in bands with all guys. It's easier."
But from their first gig in 1985, Scrawl has had a hard time winning the respect of some chauvinistic male rock critics. Several reviews of the band's first two albums Plus, Also, Too and He's Drunk were so blatantly sexist that you'd have thought they were penned by Andrew Dice Clay. One particularly Neanderthal New York scribe opined that the only reason these women had any kind of success was because "they're kind of cute."
Nearly every write-up of Scrawl's albums suggested that the group would be wise to spend more time in rehearsal hall. Whereas a male band would be called raw or garagey, the amateurish but passionate Scrawl was labeled sloppy. Even though this offensive double standard caused Mays to contemplate kicking some rock critic butt, she admits there was a modicum of truth behind the remarks.
"There was a short period of time when I felt we weren't getting a fair shake," she acknowledges. "But, to be honest, we weren't very good technically when we started. We just weren't. We hadn't performed very much, which was one reason a lot of people said, `Oh, their songs are okay, but they can't play.'"
All the gripes about the band's sloppy musicianship should be stifled with its latest LP Smallmouth. It sounds like Mays has taken a decade's worth of guitar lessons since '88's He's Drunk, and the band, in general, seems tighter and more assured. The vocals are equally improved, especially the rough-edged harmonies that call to mind the Roches--if they'd spent some time in reform school.
Scrawl's songs have always had a skewed feminist perspective. On He's Drunk, a tune about a female trucker ("Breaker, Breaker") bumps up against a song about the joys of shopping malls ("Let It All Hang Out").MDRV "If not feminist, I think they're definitely feminine," says Mays of the band's lyrics. "A lot of people appreciate the fact that it's a different perspective on some of the exact same things guys write about."
Scrawl's postfeminist slant is evident on "Charles" from the new LP. This track is a cheeky take on Kiss' 1976 sexist ballad "Beth," this time with the woman calling the shots: "Charles, I have a schedule to keep/I can't come home and find you asleep."
The witty "Charles" ends up being the highlight of both Smallmouth and the band's Sun Club show. Even guys in the audience hoot appreciatively at the end of this tune, although it is unclear whether they grasp its man-eating tone. Other crowd-pleasers include inspired Cheap Trick and Eurythmics covers. But more than one concertgoer is disappointed the group didn't throw in its totally reverent rendition of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever."
Most of the gig has the band sounding as stripped-down and abrasive as it does on vinyl. Mays and Harshe, who both served time in hard-core bands before starting Scrawl, let their no-nonsense punk sensibility shine through. But suddenly, toward the end of the show, the act does the unexpected. This band--that just an hour or so earlier proclaimed itself the antithesis of the Sixties girl-group tradition--runs through a sweet, heartsick version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" that does the Shirelles proud.
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Obviously, nose-thumbing audience expectations is a woman's prerogative.
production - plz cut in box at end. thx.
"You have to wonder where we'd be if we wore corsets."
Whereas a male band would be called raw or garagey, the amateurish but passionate Scrawl was labeled sloppy. The rough-edged harmonies call to mind the Roches--if they'd spent some time in reform school.