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Femmes on Flames 

Wednesday, Sep 13 2000
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The Butchies

Tammy Rae carland

I’m sitting in the L.A. Weekly conference room getting all wet and fidgety interviewing what must be the hottest bulldagger band on the planet, the Butchies: gorgeous Kaia Wilson, vocals, guitar and keyboard; demure Nubian womanchild Alison Martlew, vocals, bass; and rambunctious sister Piscean Melissa York, drums. The night before, I witnessed them perform an electrifying set at the aptly named the Smell club downtown; today, I‘m the lucky M2F2M who gets to fawn over the dyke heartthrobs and discuss their sizzling new CD, Population 1975 (Mr. Lady Records), before they zip to a sound check at House of Blues, where they’re opening for the Indigo Girls.

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L.A. WEEKLY: Both of you guys [Kaia and Melissa] spent some time in Donna Dresch‘s pioneering queer punk band Team Dresch before this project. Any fond memories?

MELISSA: Yes, not liking airplanes. We’d spend over $100 getting drunk onboard planes. Donna would sit in the crash position during the entire flight.

KAIA: Takeoff for me is the worst. Landing I can handle.

Thank god you‘re vanning it on this tour. Now, about your show. I love how Alison is up onstage with that smile on her face -- you guys communicate such warmth and vitality. You’re shaping the new face of rock!

K: It‘s great that you felt that from us, because I was so excited about the audience, and I’m always thrilled about performing.

M: At first the crowd was just sort of looking at us, arms folded, which can be typical of L.A. But I just said, ”Fuck it, man, I‘m going to sweat my ass off, and the sound sucks, but I’m onstage with two people I love, and I‘m going to have a good time.“ And we totally won them over.

No one drums like you, Ms. Melissa. You have that whimsical touch to pounding the skins. The musical interplay on the record is really powerful, with Kaia and Alison going back and forth in these fractured, off-kilter harmonies. There’s nothing formulaic about your sound.

M: We‘re onstage as part of a community. We want to get everybody involved, like karaoke.

I love how you break the pace and Melissa leaves the drum kit and comes up to the front and tells a story. Not a spoken-word interlude, no standup comedy, just interacting with your audience in a matter-of-fact way. Even Alison, with her quiet aggression -- it’s disarming. You were channeling some mighty fierce spirits.

M: We tend to write songs in terms of lows and highs. It‘s not calculated, it’s just that we‘re an emotional band. I’m glad I‘m a part of something that’s so unique.

I thought the sound at the Smell was going to be a lot worse, actually. You couldn‘t hear the vocals that well, but it didn’t matter, because you‘re so expressive with the singing that the thoughts behind the songs are communicated by your body language and your phrasing.

K: All the queer kids that come to our shows are so appreciative. They’ll say, ”Without you, I don‘t know what I would have done.“ That’s a big compliment.

There‘s a certain kind of retro womyn’s feel to your sound. I recently saw old-school womyn‘s-music legend Holly Near perform at San Diego’s Gay Fried Festival. I‘d never seen her live before, and I really liked her. She was very sincere and earnest. And it didn’t come off as hokey, which surprised me.

K: Holly Near is an activist. I respect her a lot. She‘s very smart. The whole perception of ”womyn’s music“ sucks. Like punk girls or post--riot grrrls aren‘t supposed to like that kind of music because it’s too old-school, too lesbian and granola. We pay honor to those womyn, as hommage.

In your first album, Are We Not Femme, you do a cover of a Chris Williamson song, ”Shooting Star.“

K: Yeah, and people were moshing to it last night at the Smell. It‘s terrible to cut yourself off from any kind of music just because it may not have a perceived cool factor attached to it.

M: Yeah, because it’s identified with mullet-wearing lesbians. On a deeper level, it‘s people trying to distance themselves from that sort of politics, as if there’s just one aspect of the radical-feminist lesbian movement.

K: I love expanding on those ideas, taking it in a new direction. Not being embarrassed by it or backing down from it.

Getting back to Holly Near, did you know she used to be an actress and was in the movie version of Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five? She also used to be lovers with well-endowed Don Johnson in the ’70s. They starred together in the movie The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart.

M: He must have turned her out. [Everyone laughs.]

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