WHEN SHE WAS A KID, TAIRRIE B USED TO TAUNT THE NEIGHBOR'S Doberman. Everyone told her this was a bad idea. One day, she leaned across the fence with a piece of bologna in her mouth. Today, you can see a slight ridge on the bridge of her nose where the dog chomped her face, breaking her schnoz.
She was not cured. Throughout her life, again and again, Tairrie has stuck her nose in risky places.
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Like the music business. After a decade and a half of improbable navigations through that glamorous sewer, Tairrie has established herself in a band called My Ruin, originally a solo project so named because she figured that rather than let somebody else ruin her career, she was going to do it herself. Or succeed. But the responsibility would be hers.
Some performers, experienced in band interaction, would say that hell is other people; others, thinking of Tairrie's history (more on that later), would suggest that she brings her own inferno wherever she goes.
"Am I that bad?" she pleads hoarsely. "I'm not. I'm a pussycat, right?"
The question/declaration/rifle is aimed at Mick Murphy, the soft-spoken Tennesseean sitting next to her. In his two years as Tairrie's boyfriend and My Ruin's guitarist, Murphy has grown accustomed to handling such loaded inquiries.
"Tairrie is the sweetest, most loving person I've ever known," he says without a twitch. "And she can be the biggest nightmare on the planet. She's like her arms."
The tattoo on Tairrie's right bicep depicts the Virgin as heavenly queen; her left features a girl nailed to a cross. She has more: On her back, hands are shown folded in supplication for the success of My Ruin's last album, A Prayer Under Pressure of Violent Anguish. Below this, in ornate script along her panty line, is the legend "Pray for Rock."
You have guessed by now that My Ruin is a radical band. Tairrie's lyric expressions, whether agonized ("I burn like a saint"), obsessed ("If I confess too many sins, will you still save me?") or menacing ("Don't you fuckin' touch me . . . pig!"), are life-and-death stuff to her, and she pro-jects them in a scalding scream that comes from places far deeper and darker than her scarlet lips.
The express delivery of Tairrie's passion is a task to which the band is more than equal. My Ruin is headlining the Troubadour on a recent Thursday night, treading its first hometown boards after a tour in support of Kittie. There's a good crowd despite a competing gig by Downset, a group Tairrie feels shares her audience -- not Hollywood prettypuffs; real humans with real gripes, who need this music.
Meghan Mattox holds down the left side of the stage. Her bass hangs six inches from the floor; her pancaked face is cast down, brows knit as if she's plotting to blow up the world. Meanwhile she drives the music straight ahead ("Meghan rocks!" somebody yells), smiling a little only when she turns to lock in with the drummer, Yael. In contrast to the stocky, chain-dangling Mattox, Yael moves like a whip, whomping with heavy-metal authority on her substantial kit while grinning and making glittery eye contact with whoever can stand the electricity. Despite phenomenal exertions, she never seems to get tired; must be possessed. This striking witch has star quality, really -- she's been compared to Tommy Lee by Murphy, who's flailing his sweat-drenched hair on the other side of the stage, getting serious on guitar. He completes the picture of a rock band, with roots in Black Sabbath and Danzig, not a baggy-shorts nu-metal outfit. Though only 30, Murphy's been playing heavy shit since he was old enough to bang his head, and the way he articulates his riffs (damn good riffs) and works the wah-wah on his solos unmistakably stamps him as a dude with chops. Everybody's in black, the only sartorial contrast coming from Tairrie's red elbow guards -- she doesn't want to get bruised if she has to give some stage intruder a pointy one to the mandible.
Tairrie B commands the middle. She's strong, solid, so when she thrusts an arm or kicks a leg, you can't miss it. The PA tonight isn't as powerful as she is, which is a problem. It's not that you miss the nuances of the words -- Tairrie's a blunt lyricist, and she conveys more through her attitude, anyway. The shortfall is in what she contributes to My Ruin's sound: With roots in rap, she knows what it means for a voice to be an instrument of rhythm and texture: "You don't have to be a singer, contrary to popular belief!" she crows. If you're not hearing her loud, you're not hearing the band right. Tairrie compensates with drama. She shakes her hair, wails at the ceiling, pumps her fist, coming off not so much like Courtney Love as Blackie Lawless. She kneels down at stage edge and puts her message right into people's faces. She's always had conflicts about beauty, and in response to an Internet criticism that she's all about makeup, she takes a short interlude with cotton swabs and cold cream to wipe it off. She looks better without it.