How a Choreographer and a Riot Grrrl Formed L.A.'s Most Exciting New Punk Band
After two years of electrifying gigs all over the Greater L.A. area, Sex Stains finally release their debut album on Friday, Sept. 2.
For some, choosing a band name like Sex Stains would be risky enough, let alone using it as the title of your first record. But there's nothing tame about this L.A.-based five-piece, who drop their debut album today on Don Giovanni Records.
Led by the double-threat vocalist team of Allison Wolfe and Mecca Vazie Andrews, Sex Stains approach their live shows with a mix of joyful energy, confidence and intelligent confrontation. With Wolfe’s pedigree as a member of first-wave riot grrrl bands Bratmobile and Cold Cold Hearts, and Andrews’ dance/choreography background as the artistic director of The MOVEMENT Movement, Sex Stains are a visually engaging blur of constant motion backed by a powerful feminist ideology and a sound influenced by late-'70s proto-punks The Slits, as well as some nods to early X and Swiss '70s punks Kleenex/Liliput.
“I definitely wanted to do a band with another singer," Wolfe says. "I really like bands that have two lead singers who interact and feed off each other." She and Andrews connected at Part Time Punks in 2013. "I saw Mecca sing at the Crass Penis Envy tribute show, and she was by far the best singer there.”
Sex Stains officially formed a year later, in 2014, and have been gigging around the L.A. area fairly regularly ever since. Drummer David Orlando (ex-Warpaint) had been instrumental in putting together several of the Part Time Punks tribute shows and met Wolfe and Andrews because of their involvement along the way. Along with Orlando, Sex Stains also features Sharif Dumani (Cody Chesnutt/Alice Bag) on guitar and Pachy Garcia (Prettiest Eyes) on bass.
Sex Stains' Pachy Garcia, left, Mecca Vazie Andrews, David Orlando (head obscured) and Allison Wolfe. Not pictured: Sharif Dumani. (Sorry, Sharif.)
“This band came together very naturally. Creativity and expression is the motive. Fun is the outcome/reward,” Orlando says.
For Andrews, being a part of Sex Stains is something she is enjoying immensely after coming from a dance background and concentrating so deeply on individual performance.
"Sex Stains and music is mostly a collective practice and differing familial unit. It's beautiful to me the organic nature of communication that we've arrived at. It just layers and then it shifts and it's five folks, so it's a rainbow surf that I dig deeply," says Andrews, who has a rhythmic way of speaking that can be intoxicating.
As the band approached their first gig, they still didn't have a name, so Wolfe asked her Facebook friends for suggestions. After wading through a bunch of names no one could agree on, Dumani mentioned that he liked one suggestion, “Sex Stains.” This was Valentine’s Day 2014 — and also, according to Wolfe, a momentous day for Orlando. “It was the day David grew up. He threw out his futon and put a real, grown-up bed in his room where the band practices.”
Wolfe, who is close to completing a master's degree in specialized journalism at USC, has been a fixture in the music world since 1991, when Bratmobile began playing shows in Olympia, Washington, as part of the early riot grrrl scene. Even though she has moved around quite a bit over the years, she has almost always had a working band, in addition to her strong interests in feminist activism and journalism.
One thing she had never done, however, was share lead vocal duties, but so far she and Andrews have been clicking. “We each write our own parts," Wolfe explains. "Often the guys will be jamming something and Mecca and I will listen and see if we can come up with something while we’re sitting there. Sometimes there is a song that I feel a bit more than her or I will relate more to the chorus and she’ll relate more to the verse. There can be a lot of ego in bands, but luckily Mecca and I don’t have too much ego toward each other."
Andrews, for her part, is very excited about sharing vocal duties with Wolfe.
"Well, it's kinda dream scheme," Andrews says. "She's a hoot. I was very, very fond of Bratmobile in my teens. I think about how I've met and engaged with many folks I respect dearly ... really lucky lady I am. It's nut balls."
The interplay between the two on their upcoming album is fantastic. On the opening track, “Countdown to ...,” Wolfe and Andrews twist a wonderful call-and-response lyric over their bandmates' driving post-punk riffage, propelled by Orlando’s marching beat. Wolfe recounts childhood memories while Dumani’s guitar squelches a melody reminiscent of his many influences.
“I love the people who fell in between different worlds. Guys like Robert Quine [The Voidoids] and John Perry [The Only Ones] and women like Brix Smith [The Fall] and Pat Place [The Contortions/Bush Tetras]," says Dumani, whose work on Sex Stains more than lives up to the legacy of his heroes. "You can't peg them into any one category. They were able to slide in and out of any trappings if you paid close enough attention. They are beyond ‘punk.’ They totally approach their instrument in a different way than their contemporaries.”
Throughout Sex Stains, the band continually pushes the envelope. There truly isn’t a weak track on the record, which was recorded at Station House Studios in Echo Park with Mark Rains at the helm almost a year ago.
Wolfe says the band loved working with Rains. "He’s really mellow, but he says what he thinks. He’s got a great little vintage studio right in my neighborhood in Echo Park. It was a great experience working him. I hope we get to do it again.”
The always limber, always smiling Allison Wolfe
Wolfe is still a master of writing clever, confrontational lyrics, and self-aware enough to poke a little fun at this talent by naming a track on the record “Confrontational.” It features samples from an old interview Wolfe did, put together by her friend Chris Grier of experimental band To Live and Shave in L.A.; Grier died unexpectedly in 2014.
“I feel like a lot of my songs are more ‘do as I say and not as I do.’ A lot my songs talk about doing what I should have done in a given situation. I write a lot about human interaction and how fucked up it can get. A lot of that involved sexist interactions, as well,” Wolfe says.
“I’ve always been the peacekeeper in my family and various groups I’ve been dealing with. I’m not the best with boundaries, and I feel like I’m pretty giving and don’t stand up for myself in the moment when I should. People often ask me, ‘Oh, what guy is that about?' or 'What ex is this about?’ Usually the songs are kind of a conglomerate. They’re never usually about one person or thing. It’s usually a mashup of occurrences and situations.”
On Sunday, Sept. 4, Sex Stains will celebrate the release of Sex Stains at the Echo with special guests The Side Eyes, Egrets on Ergot and DJ Mukta Mohan. The band also will take off for a week of shows on the East Coast to further celebrate the release and spread the love to fans who haven’t had the chance to see Sex Stained live yet.
“I wish we could play some more and play longer, but I’ll be in the middle of grad school then and Sharif will be just starting grad school. We’re all pretty busy and it’s hard for us to do stuff" like touring, says the 40-something Wolfe, before adding, "Adulting is hard.”
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