Photo by Patrick Miller
The night started off like a roller coaster on crack, but local rock & rollers the Sharp Ease are used to chaos.
We were already late. Pixie-haired singer Paloma Parfrey gripped the wheel, and guitarist Sara Musser — tattoos gleaming, eyes lined in black and bangs flattened to a slick shine — rushed me into the back seat. We tore off toward Long Beach, got lost somewhere between downtown and the 110, and had to call the club from a pay phone. Alex’s Bar was one of those hidden L.B. holes — dim red walls lined with velvet paintings and a tasty selection of smashed skinheads and bored old men. Bassist Dana B. and drummer Christene Kings hauled ass to the van when we arrived. Twenty minutes later, the band jumped onstage.
After Shesus’ Ohio-bred fire and brimstone, the Sharp Ease ripped into six short songs sporting spicy big riffs, spiky beats and Paloma’s customary butt-baring jumps and wails. Paloma, a 21-year-old husky-voiced Jean Seberg/Belinda Carlisle hybrid, once vomited up cake in the name of performance art and cites both Nick Cave and Billie Holiday as inspirations. In her miniskirt, pink ’80s sunglasses, ripped fishnets and American-flag underwear clinging like glue, she threw herself onto the floor, curved her yelps into Iggy Pop moans, danced around Sara’s groaning Les Paul licks and shouted, “We were in traffic for 10 hours!” The darkly new-wave cigarette binge of “Patio Chair” melted into the bluesy metal chomp of “Great White.” But the night was far from over.
While the other ladies took off after the set, Sara, Paloma and I headed back to the club from the parking lot. Right away, a gigantic DICK (Drunken Idiotic Cock-grabbing Killjoy) loomed in front of us, demanding to see our IDs. He grabbed Paloma’s shades and both her and Sara’s Cali licenses, and wrapped his hairy arm around my neck. Paloma did what any self-respecting post-riot-grrrl singer would do: She shoved off his arm. And after the guy slapped my ass, Sara complained to the owner, as any post-riot-grrrl guitarist would as well. A half-hour later, we discussed Bikini Kill and Marx at Rally’s, and the fry cook invited Sara to join him in a threesome with his pregnant wife. Afterward, the girls pissed on the sidewalk, hooting and laughing.
Was the moon in retrograde? Or do the Sharp Ease daily experience the kind of stories that slip so easily into great political and teasingly fun songs? “Lick My Ass” and “Rock N Roll Detox,” two flagrant tongue-in-cheek tracks from last year’s popular T-Spin 7-inch, only serve as zesty tastes of things to come on the band’s as yet untitled fall full-length debut. “Lick My Ass” (the “new ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T,’” according to Dana) starts sweetly enough, its vocal intro harmonizing “lick lick lick lick.” Then the drums and guitar launch their sizzling attack, and sweet becomes sticky as Paloma sneers, “If you’re gonna lick my pussy, you better lick my ass!” It’s a Ramones moment by way of L7 (and the group claims that an “alter ego band” wrote the song). “Rock N Roll Detox,” a saucy rant any Strokes aspirant could learn from, rides high on complex disco beats latched onto Dana’s chiseled bass line and Sara’s revved-up Pixies twang. Midway through, Paloma deadpans, “Hi. I’m an addict, and I’m addicted to rock & roll/People say I’m an alcoholic, but I say no!/I’m a rock & roll-a-hol-ic!”
Two days after the exploits in Long Beach, the Sharp Ease congregate at Sara’s Eastside apartment, eating watermelon and listening to the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. Sara asserts, “In L.A., you get this fucking disgusting Westside actor industry bullshit. There’s going to be a byproduct of that, which is the artist. The real artists: the feelers, the thinkers.” Dana, who came up with the band’s name and concept, adds, “This is my dream band. It evolved from the Sharpies, like the marker, to the Sharp E, because there’s no sharp ‘E’ in music. And the ‘Sharp Ease’ has another meaning. That’s a pretty cool name.”
The new album shoots straight from the culturally sundry soul of Los Angeles. Dana’s from Sherman Oaks, Sara grew up in a strict Baptist household in El Monte, Christene’s from Long Beach and used to play with the Chubbies, and prolific writer Paloma (formerly a National Teen Slam champion) grew up on a commune, moved to Boyle Heights and Santa Ana, and used to front the punk outfit the Grown-Ups (LAWMA-nominated in ’99). Famous Haden sister Tanya first introduced Dana to Sara, and the two connected through a mutual love of “anything from Joni Mitchell to the Breeders.” Paloma, Dana and Christene all met separately at Santa Monica’s 18th Street Coffee House, and Weezer producer Rod Cervera, a.k.a. “Daddy,” is recording the LP. Witness the post-punk grit of “Going Modern,” which Paloma describes as a “reference to anthropologically functioning as sex people in L.A.” as well as a postmodern allusion to the city’s reservoir:
We’re living urban, going modern
Living like our bodies are our minds
Every body a reservoir
Reborn distracts, reinvention contracts
The pain of overwhelming, unknowing, fills out what you see
Like the Clash, Paloma’s biggest lyrical influence, the Sharp Ease shift sociopolitical meaning to dance-ready heights. Their L.A. shows duplicate that feisty mix, and the gals play out their different personas on- and offstage. For instance, a typically rebellious display of Sharp Ease humor took place at a dark and Gothic-tinged gig last Halloween. Defying the night’s implicit dress code, Sara donned a giant green and yellow sunflower suit, and Dana wore a muumuu and afro as Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company.
Aptly, the band loves nicknames. Sassy ’n’ chatty Sara, influenced by the “conviction and bluntness” of blues guitarist Robert Johnson and the Pixies’ Joey Santiago, has earned the nicknames “Wolf,” “Elf Dictator” and “Xana,” the devil girl. Small, wiry, cute, and a fiercely gifted drummer, Christene is “Froggie International” for the scrunched-up frog faces she inadvertently makes. At Sunday’s Long Beach show, she sweated in a self-made tee listing most of her favorite women drummers, including Moe Tucker, Janet Weiss, Karen Carpenter and Sharp Ease booker Toast.
Dana, permanently attached to her hipster trucker hat, is the band’s “Disciplinarian.” At least until she downs Wild Turkey. “One time, we played the Smell, and Dana had a little too much sauce,” Sara says. “She literally picked me up and threw me against a metal wall. She was like, ‘Sara, I love you!’ I was like, ‘Dana, you’re physically violating me!’” The spoken-sung blazing anthem “Joan” credits Dana’s friend from “the Lair of the Bears,” a Humboldt camp she used to work at. “The staff there got wasted the whole summer,” Dana recounts. “Joan and I drank hard liquor and rolled cigarettes, even though you’re not supposed to smoke in the forest . . . The song’s very campy.”
“Commie Baby,” Paloma’s nickname, seems most appropriate. “The night the war started, we did a show at the Bigfoot Lodge,” says Christene. “My brother’s in the military, and I was bummed out. But Paloma walked in dressed as a Parisian in a beret, striped shirt, fucking cute as hell. She did it because of the whole ‘freedom fries’ thing.” Paloma, whose dad moved her out of the commune when “the nipples started getting bigger,” has proclaimed her liberal beliefs from Orange County to Echo Park. Desire, socialism and the full-on joy of grabbing one’s coochie and spazzing out fuel her onstage. “When I perform, I’m so happy afterward,” says Paloma. “It makes me feel like I’ve just had sex.”
Two days before taking off on their first tour of the Midwest, the Sharp Ease played a tight and wild show for the Scutterfest benefit at the Echo. Kids moved to the front as the band erupted into a 10-song set following astronaut robot rappers 8-Bit. Mirrors along the venue’s walls reflected back Paloma in top form, her short dress punkishly torn. Fist-in-the-air screams of “Resist!” from “Advantage” switched into butoh-like facial expressions and crowd-humping interpretive dance moves during the instrumental “Killing the Rooster.” A Scutterfest organizer mooned the audience. An impromptu gay-boy mosh pit broke out during “Lick My Ass.” And all four grinning bandmates threw themselves into the chorus chant of “From the Dodge.”
That night, I realized that the Sharp Ease are my L.A. rock & roll drug of choice. They kick up their boots at societal dogma, appreciate where they’re from, and, in Dana’s words, “We’re not going half-assed.” Or, as Paloma proclaims on the upcoming album: “I demand! A new plan!” Damn straight, sister.