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Glam, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am 

Abby Travis does it all

Wednesday, Jul 26 2006
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These people who can do so many things so very capably, with never a trace of mediocrity, and somehow come off very, very sexy doing ’em — well, there’s no term for types like that, because there aren’t enough such to bother coining one.

Just check this abbreviated list of Abby Travis’ accomplishments. First coming into the public eye as the 16-year-old bass player in the garagey Lovedolls, featured in the renowned Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and its scabrous sequel, Lovedolls Superstar, Travis went on to become a much-favored session player/singer, with Elastica and Beck at Lollapalooza ’95, then with a strangely eclectic array including Exene Cervenka, Michael Penn, KMFDM, Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes, Vanessa Paradis and the mighty Spinal Tap. She was the house bassist at L.A.’s infamous Club Makeup, backing Dee Dee Ramone and an endless string of outrageous draggy divas; she has appeared in several indie films, including Shadow Hours, Weathermen ’69 and The Book of Manson; she’s acted in the play The Strip, and has long hosted and hustled Mata Hari Night at Tangier.

Travis just finished touring with the Bangles and had the time of her life, but mainly, mainly, she makes records — really good records that combine her fearsome vocal and bass chops in heavy-rocking and artfully arranged scenarios, with a charming affection for Weillish cabaret, and offer an oh-so-true heartfeltness about life and love and such without all the standard aerosol frommage. Her new disc is a very glittery, glam-rocky yet souled-out and decidedly decadent entity called GlitterMouth, about which she is here with us to impart some wisdom.

Abby, you say on abbytravis.com that your last album, the critically slobbered-over piano-&-vocals-oriented Cutthroat Standards & Black Pop, was rather “dark and intellectual,” but that GlitterMouth “comes more from the pelvis.” Now, I like that — a lot — but I was wondering: Any reason why?

“I guess I just wanted a change,” she says. “I wanted to unfetter it a bit, and do something a little more upbeat. I just wanted to rock out a little more, get kinda sexy!” She laughs — she does that a lot.

Travis played bass and several other instruments on GlitterMouth, and I see here that she engineered the dang thing too.

“I engineered most of it,” she says, “but there’s four songs that are more on the trip-hop side, and those were collaborations with a guy called Lamont Hyde [formerly with Dr. Dre]. He’d do the drum programming, I’d do some stuff, bring it back, we’d just pingpong. I had 32 tracks of digital audio, which enabled me to do all this layering, get into the production side of it.”

Please savor high-fashion photog Rocky Schenck’s sumptuous cover pics. “I thought,” says Travis, “what would make people buy a physical record rather than just downloading it? Well, fabulous packaging.”

But the songs are the main attraction. GlitterMouth is a nice mixed plate of the many styles that are Travis’ stock-in-trade, alluringly sung in that husky velveteen purr — and roar. A glitteringly grand and stegosaurusly meaty “Now Was” comes decked out with a great glammy guitar solo courtesy Dave Bongiovanni, El Vez’s bandmate and also the guitarist in Travis’ live combo. Travis does a boss bit of Bowie-fied abstract funk on “Hunger,” then goes all urban-contempo on non-phony-sounding standouts like “Chase Me” and the Hyde collaboration “Roberto.” Soak up the beautiful bathos of the torchy “Blythe,” and Travis’ groovy cover of the Shangri-Las’ 1966 “Past Present and Future.”

Travis straddles the camp and the crucial. “There’s a real thin line,” she says, “between something that’s anthemic and universal, and something that’s trite and odious.” Right on, and she walks it with skill and style. The odd variety of the album — tracks from which have graced the airwaves via 103.1, Rodney Bingenheimer’s KROQ show and the WB series High School Reunion — owes something to Travis’ somewhat eccentric taste in playing partners, who on GlitterMouth include Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood on guitar, ex–L7 honchess Donita Sparks, Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde, punk godmothers Alice Bag and Teresa Covarrubias, and former Save Ferris singer Monique Powell. And no Travis project would be complete without her longtime creative partner Kristian Hoffman, a sterling songwriter and one of the finest pop arrangers in this or any other known universe.

All this, and a glamourpuss too.

“I really feel comfortable performing,” says Travis. “Maybe that’s the dancing-monkeys end of it, but I like it a lot. Maybe I’m a big ham. I like expressing myself, and I like old-fashioned rock stars — I love the mythology of rock, and I love costuming, I get really excited about What am I gonna wear for the show? It’s almost like getting into a character. It makes me feel alive too. It makes me feel like I’m a full-blown human being.”

Abby Travis performs a free show at El Cid, Sun., July 30, 9 p.m., with DJs Kevin Fitzgerald and Clem Burke.

Reach the writer at jpayne@bluefat.com

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