Shot to the Heart
The first time Pam Puente, the front-woman/vocalist/guitarist of Denver's Double-Barrelled Slingshots, had the pleasure of meeting her future bassist, Amy Davis, there was more than a little tension in the room. Their predisposition toward one another was antagonistic. Had the introduction snowballed into a full-fledged tussle, few in the room would have been completely shocked.
"We didn't like each other before we met," Davis recalls. "It was gossip. It was a catfight over boy trouble, and there were things that were said about one another that weren't very nice."
"I thought she was taking something that was mine," clarifies Puente.
For all their differences, however, each knew the other harbored an appreciation for power riffs and the fury of electric guitars. So rather than resort to hand-to-hand combat, Puente and Davis opted to attack the misunderstanding in another way: "Instead of beating each other up," Davis says, "We said, 'Hey, you want to start a band?'"
While it may sound as if Davis and Puente started with the wrong foot forward, they regard the Slingshots' genesis as an appropriate precursor to their sound. After all, explosive emotions are the bedrock of some of the grittiest, gnarliest rock in history. Two years after their meeting, the initial hostility is long gone: Davis and Puente are still jamming together and have yet to come to blows. After a few lineup mutations that took place during the Slingshots' first year of existence, Puente and Davis picked up lead guitarist J.D. and drummer Matt Barclay to round out the band's confrontational punk-rock sound. Today the Slingshots serve up unpretentious, scorching songs that draw from early punk and riff rock with the occasional hint of deviant rockabilly. Taking cues from the kingpins of both snarl and glam, these are tunes that are simultaneously uncompromising and melodic, minus the usual masculine posturing.
With alternately snaky and chunky guitar licks hammered atop relentless rhythms, the Slingshots' music serves as a backdrop against which Puente vents her personal point of view as a lyricist. One theme stands front and center: vengeance against romantic and social wrongdoers. She doesn't mince many words as she lashes out against unfaithful ex-lovers, members of exclusionary cliques and a seemingly endless stream of other manipulators. In the characteristically pissed off "Submit or Be Destroyed," Puente bellows, "Heart-stealin' son of a bitch/Your blood-sucking ways/Have reserved you a spot/At the foot of my bed." Likewise, on "Lookin' Out for #1," Puente rails against yet another selfish jerk: "Takin' care of you and not yours/Your expensive taste in cheap whores/You can fake it all you want to, son/But you're too busy lookin' out for number one."
"I write about a lot of the mistakes I've made," says Puente.
Barclay, a transplant from northeastern Iowa, puts it another way. The Slingshots' music, he says, is about "dumbass boys and dumbass girls."
"I've always said it is girls-on-top rock and roll." (Interjects a snickering Puente, "As opposed to what? Missionary rock?")
"It's upbeat sadness," comments J.D., a Denver native and onetime member of the city's now-defunct hardcore outfit Cunnilingus, as well as Infestation, a Swedish death-metal act he played in during a two-year stint in Scandinavia. His evolving distaste for the latter style eventually prodded him in the direction of the Double-Barrelled Slingshots. "We [Infestation] had the long hair and the death growls and all that," he says. "I got sick of playing all that stuff. It just started sounding way too repetitive, so I went back into the old rock-and-roll, punk-rock style."
"Rock and roll...no assembly required," Davis says. Puente's description is similarly apt: "[We're] a band with chick vocals that can rock with the big boys."
Despite this self-described "chick" factor, both Davis and Puente keep the feminism to a minimum while doing duty with the Slingshots. Though their band's themes could easily endear them to fans of more vocal womyn-centric artists, Davis and Puente resist the association. "I don't want to be put in the angry girl rock thing," Puente says adamantly. "We don't want to be riot grrl, we don't want to be angry female rock, or any of that shit." Luckily, the balance of X and Y chromosomes within the Slingshots' lineup -- neatly composed of two boys and two girls -- provides less of an opportunity for onlookers to pigeonhole the Slingshots as a girl band, for which its members are grateful. (The moniker, however, isn't exactly gender-neutral: It's a reference to an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies in which Elly May Clampett finds a bra in her pre-stocked dresser and proclaims, "Gee, Pa, look! They got me a double-barreled slingshot! I'm going to go fetch me some critters!")
The guiding "Ramones-ish" musical philosophy underlying the Slingshots approach is this: Get in, get to the point, and get the hell out. To this end, the band's shows are high-octane affairs that generally involve reeling off thirteen songs over the course of thirty minutes.
"Our songs are like, a minute and a half," Puente explains. "Once we get bored, we figure they're boring."
"The reason why I dig punk rock is because it's just like the oldies," says Barclay. "It's like old Beach Boys tunes and stuff like that -- just on speed."
"We're not trying to do anything new," observes Puente. "We know that it's all been done before, but we just want to do it right."
While the band does mine the oft-traveled territory of '70s guitar rock and classic punk, Puente's vocals and Davis's backups lend an unexpected harmony to the Slingshots' turbocharged ditties. In other words, the foursome wields its sledgehammer material with a good deal of finesse.
"We're not always screaming and yelling," says Barclay, "although we can, and we do. It's nice to see that we can run the gamut -- from people rocking out and punching each other in the face to people dancing."
While Puente, a seventeen-year veteran of the Mile High punk scene (formerly with three local bands: Mindgrind, Smash Clowns and Hot Box), writes most of the lyrics, the band generally collaborates on the final product. "We're doing very well working together," she says. "In the past, I haven't really done that -- taken a lot of input from the people I was playing with. We try to be very diplomatic in our decision-making process. We have to agree on everything we're going to do [cue the sarcasm] as long as it's okay with me."
As Puente's cooperative tendencies have evolved, so has the local punk landscape. "In the early '80s, it was very united and family-like," she says. "There were a lot of people that were all friends with each other, that were all in bands, playing together at all-ages shows in the warehouse district downtown."
In the mid-'80s, thanks to political maneuvering akin to the city's latest concert policies, things took a turn for the worse. "The city started cracking down on all-ages shows," says Puente. "The scene tried to move into the bars, but it was really unsuccessful for a long time." The concept of a Denver punk community nearly disappeared, she adds, but the concept of interband friendliness has staged a recent comeback, spurring a revival of sorts. "The scene is actually a lot better than it used to be. There's a lot going now, a lot more than there has been for a long time."
"Right now, what's great in Denver is that there are so many new musicians out there that are working together," offers J.D. "In the late '80s and early '90s, it was so competitive that every band was almost against each other, like the hair bands and glam rockers. They hated each other, and it destroyed their whole scene."
"I think we're grateful to have the punk scene that we do have," says Barclay. "There are other forms of music here that don't even get a scene."
Regardless, the Slingshots view the city's new guidelines prohibiting all-ages shows in small venues as another setback to punk rock in Denver. "There are just all sorts of kids out there that have nothing to do," says J.D.
The local scene isn't the only musical community the Slingshots are part of: The band is one of 200 punk bands on A Fistful of Rock N Roll, a thirteen-CD compilation series executive-produced by Sal Canzonieri of New York-based punk act Electric Frankenstein; the Slingshots' "Out for Blood" is slated for volume thirteen. While the series is currently hung up in label snafus (it was dropped by Caroline, then picked up by Victory), the band hopes that it will see release by the end of this summer.
Another upcoming source of exposure: A clip of "Submit or Be Destroyed" is headed for the soundtrack of an as-yet-untitled zombie movie, a gig the band hooked up by way of their involvement with the Fistful of Rock compilations.
"We get a lot of connections through this Fistful of Rock thing," explains Davis. "Everybody [all of the bands on the compilations] is leaning on each other and giving each other information, trying to help each other get ahead."
"When someone from the Fistful comp comes to town, they say they want to play with another Fistful band," adds Puente. This kinship is obviously one that the Slingshots look to build upon in their quest for a higher profile beyond the confines of Denver.
As a stepping-stone in this pursuit, the Slingshots are heading to the studio next month to record a CD, tentatively titled Destroy Rock City. ("That's what my son [four-year-old Julian] calls 'Detroit Rock City,'" explains Puente.) Per the band's straightahead philosophy, listeners can expect fifteen tracks in thirty minutes -- give or take a few in either direction. They also are hoping to embark on a short stint on the road (i.e., four or five shows in the Midwest) later this year.
For each of the Slingshots, rock is a creative outlet to be taken seriously but one that also happens to be fun. This is a busy foursome -- J.D. owns a tattoo shop in Littleton, Puente is a full-time student/ mother, Davis a soldier in the temp army and Barclay a graphic designer -- but the band is squarely on each member's front burner.
"I've got a great respect for the whole band," J.D. says. "By far, it's been the best band I've ever worked with as far as getting along, everybody being responsible, taking care of their own thing and not having drug problems and alcohol problems. That's a big thing."
Not that the Slingshots don't get their kicks.
"It's tons of fun," says Barclay. "We have our arguments, but we don't have very many. You look back at me, and I'm smiling the whole time."
"He makes these drummer faces," jokes Puente.
"I want to go deaf by the time I'm forty," says J.D. "That's my goal."
"Why does everyone start playing an instrument?" asks a rhetorical Davis. "We're in it for the groupies."
In Puente's final evaluation, the Double-Barrelled Slingshots' true linchpin is emotional honesty. "I think it's important to just stand up and be yourself," she says. "I've got nothing to hide. My heart's on my sleeve."
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