At a north-downtown practice space, testosterone drips as a competent but sadly predictable bar band runs through covers of tunes by such hormonal outfits as Rancid, the Replacements, Green Day, the Goo Goo Dolls and Pearl Jam.
Meanwhile, across the hall, the members of Denver's Hectics are (reluctantly) discussing the meaning of gender in rock and roll. "That's not something I worry about," insists guitarist Juli McClurg, who, as the woman behind the local fanzine Diagnosis, is something of an expert on the nature of pop music. "Even if we had a girl drummer, I still wouldn't want to be called a girl band. I just think too many people pay attention to music for the wrong reasons. I mean, girls, guys, whatever--why do you have to categorize it? Why can't you just fucking rock and have a good time?"
Fine, then--McClurg's baby isn't a girl band. But she and the other Hectics (guitarist/vocalist Anika Zappe and drummer Dan Tafoya) acknowledge that any combo that's two-thirds female flies in the face of forty years of rock history. "Maybe the expectations are shifting now. I don't think that anyone necessarily feels that women are going to suck anymore--that they're going to play a bunch of crap," Zappe explains. "But there was the idea for a long time that women could only play a certain genre of rock and that if they stepped outside of it, it meant they had penis envy or something to that effect. And I don't think that's valid at all. I mean, I think there are a lot of different influences that make up who I am and what I play. I don't want to be the beast of anyone's stereotypes."
The Hectics most certainly are not. On stage, they chip away at the style's boys-will-be-boys aesthetic, playing hyperactive, feel-good punk that befits the band's name. Given their skill at manipulating rock's age-old three chords, it doesn't much matter what sort of genitals they've got.
Of course, Zappe and McClurg are hardly the first females to make audiences forget rock and roll's tradition of brotherhood; artists like Patti Smith and Kim Gordon long ago beat them to that particular punch. But in the late Eighties, when Zappe and Spell bassist Chanin Floyd were part of a female-only combo called Barbarella, the concept was relatively novel. "It was really weird back then, because all of our boyfriends or husbands or whatever were in bands, but there weren't that many all-girl bands in Denver," Zappe says. "And people put a lot of pressure on us. We were so freaked out by what people were going to think and what people were going to do that we never did anything. And that's the one thing I was really adamant about with this band--the first time we played, I didn't really care how bad we sucked, because Barbarella was such a disappointment.
"Barbarella was great in a way, though," she continues, "because we'd have these six-hour practices and all of our boyfriends would call up and say, 'When are you coming home?'"
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After Barbarella's premature demise, Zappe sought comfort in art school. But when she felt the urge to rock again last fall, she approached McClurg, an acquaintance from the Barbarella days. McClurg, in turn, brought along Tafoya. "I remember at the Lion's Lair when I first ran into Dan and said I'd like to play. And he said he didn't really care what we played as long as it was fast," McClurg recalls, laughing. "And as it turns out, some of our music's kind of fast. But I think it's more important for me to just kind of have it loud and raw. Keep it simple, keep it catchy, keep it fun. And sometimes we can be kind of inept, but I'd rather see that than some fucking balls-out guys being cocky."
Tafoya, for his part, was blase about the prospect of becoming the trio's sole male member. "I didn't think it mattered," he notes. "I've always liked a bunch of bands that had girls in them, and I didn't think, cool, there's chicks in this band. When I started playing with these guys, it wasn't about that they were girls. These guys fucking rock." However, he adds, "There is one difference with this band from all of the bands I've played in. I have to load everything."
The lineup complete, the Hectics began playing local clubs this winter. The trio remains without a bassist, though. "We used to joke around about getting a guy bass player," Zappe says. "We thought it'd be really funny--ha, ha, look, yet another band with a guy bass player."
But for now, at least, they're happy just to be playing--period. "Every band I've known, the guys have been playing guitar since they were like fifteen years old. But you're not really encouraged when you're a fifteen-year-old girl to start a rock band," Zappe states. "Still, music has always been a really big thing for me--and as you get older, you're like 'Why can't I do that?' How many years did I spend going to see my rock boyfriend's band play and thinking, you know, 'God, I wish that was me up there rocking out?' And why can't it be?