Bad Habits

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Nunzilla's MySpace profile boasts more than 1,300 friends and 11,000 profile views, thanks largely to a calculated bum rush of comments the band left on other people's MySpace pages, saying things like "Say your prayers! NunZilla comes!"

But you can't always be in character, right? Well, when the members of NunZilla show up at Monroe's downtown on a Thursday night to just drink, eat, and gab (they're not playing or anything), they're all in their costumes. Three nuns and a priest, drinking beer and whiskey in a basement bar, singing impromptu backup baritone vocals for Brian Blush (formerly of The Refreshments), who's performing "Folsom Prison Blues" by the bar. How on Earth does something like this start, anyway?

Oh, with some ducks. Before they were Father Stone, Kenyattasaurus Rex, and Taryndactyl, they were Jason Stone, Kenyatta Turner (formerly Shircliff), and Taryn Moore, and they were neighbors, living across the street from Encanto Park in the spring of 2005. And one day, they lugged bongos and a banjo across the street and just started jamming down by the water.

"And while we were playing, out of the corner of my eye, I saw these ducks," Jason says. "And I turned to look, and there were all these ducks around us, just looking at us really intently. And we stopped playing, and they all waddled off. So we thought, 'That was weird,' and we started playing again, and they came back. And every time we stopped, they'd leave, and they'd come back when we started playing again and just sit there and listen to us. And I thought, 'Hey, if we can entertain these ducks . . .' "

"And then the sprinklers came on and drenched us and we had to run away," Kenyatta says.

But the seed had been planted. They had to play in a band together. It wasn't that the thought had never occurred to them before — Kenyatta and Taryn had both met Jason at shows around Phoenix in the mid-'90s, and Kenyatta's known Sister T-Raptor (nee Tana Youmans) since 1990. But like many other musicians in Phoenix's incestuous punk rock scene, they were busy with multiple band projects. Jason's drummed for Beelze Bullies and The Mongoloids for years, Tana's the bass player for Asses of Evil, and Kenyatta and Taryn are both in The Dropouts.

Their extemporaneous sprinkler symphony for the ducks at Encanto helped them realize the musical chemistry they had, and there were more practice sessions in the park. "It would always be too late, and we weren't supposed to be there," Kenyatta says. "So we'd be looking out for the cops, and we had beer, ready to run back across the street."

"Our Encanto Park sessions were fantastic," Tana says.

"Finally, we were like, 'We could move [practices] into our house if we wanted," Taryn says with a laugh. "Like, 'Okay, let's plug in!'"

There were some jokes about becoming a Heart tribute band (Tana really is a ringer for Ann Wilson), but a plastic toy put them on the right trajectory.

The "Nunzilla" toy, a 3-inch-tall wind-up doll manufactured by Archie McPhee Toys, has light-up, Kryptonite-green eyes and spits sparks when she waddles. She is to thank for Phoenix's NunZilla. When the band was still in its infancy, the members found themselves at Hidden House off Osborn Road, playing with this wind-up nun to everyone's amusement. Somebody suggested they call themselves NunZilla, they found nun's habits at Easley's Costume Shop, launched the NunZilla MySpace page in August '05, and that was it.

Well, okay, that wasn't really it — blow-up Godzillas, nun collage films, "levitating nun" stunts, and fog machines followed.

"Everything we do, we do for our own amusement," Kenyatta says. "If other people are amused, great."

And if some people are offended?

"We do not expect anybody to take us seriously," Kenyatta says. "If somebody's offended, then please, listen to something else. Watch something else."

Besides, as Tana points out, how much reverence should you offer the Catholic Church when "We live in a city where a bishop [Bishop O'Brien] ran over a man, killed him, and tried to get away with it?" (O'Brien was convicted in 2004 and resigned from his position but never served jail time, being sentenced to probation and community service instead.)

And it's not as if NunZilla is inventing a new, irreverent "pop culture nun" trend anyway. Just last year, UC Davis professor Frances Dolan toured universities delivering a lecture titled "Why Are Nuns Funny?" which focused on the image of nuns as humorous, absurd figures as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries. And ever since Sister Luc Gabriel (a real nun) cut a record as The Singing Nun in 1963, pseudo-sisters have been everywhere, from TV (The Flying Nun, Brides of Christ) to the stage (Nunsense, Late Night Catechism) to the big screen (everything from European "nunsploitation" films of the '70s like Killer Nun to modern musicals like Sister Act) to a 2005 Kabbalah party to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, where the ever-controversial Madonna dressed as a nun.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea