Trouble in Mind
Tacoma, Washington's Girl Trouble has made some of the kitschiest, trashiest, most entertaining garage rock to come out of the Pacific Northwest since the Sonics hung up their Silvertones for the last time. The trouble is, they haven't made that much of it. During its fifteen years of life, the quartet has generated a smattering of lovingly cracked singles and collection one-shots on respected labels such as K, PopLLama, Dionysus and Sympathy for the Record Industry. But they've managed to release only three proper full-lengths during that period--and none since New American Shame debuted on eMpTy Records in 1993. That's about to change, however: The band has finally finished Shame's much anticipated followup, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. With questions about who will distribute it unresolved, though, the only people who will be able to buy copies are those who come to Girl Trouble shows. Everyone else will have to wait even longer to get their hands on it.
How do the members of Girl Trouble explain the band's unbelievably slow creative pace? "We're just lazy," says K.P. Kendall, the band's vocalist and saxophonist. "When something fun comes along, like if there's a good band in town or a good show on TV, we tend to skip our music duties. So I guess you could say that a lot of the delay is due to dinking around on our part."
Of course, it didn't help that while recording the songs for Tuesdays, Kendall and his compadres (guitarist/vocalist Kahuna, bassist/ vocalist Dale Phillips and drummer Bon Von Wheelie) were plagued by disturbed studio owners, disappearing DATs and a raft of other difficulties that would have had Job hollering "uncle." A misunderstanding involving engineer Brett DeRoscher was typical.
"We had all the master tapes mixed down, and he took them to get a CD burned so we could see how it sounded--and he just vanished," Kendall explains. "We went to his studio, we left messages on his beeper, but we couldn't find the guy anywhere. Three months later he called and left us a message saying he had been in L.A. auditioning for a job and he was sorry, and blah, blah, blah. But by that time, I didn't want to hear it. I was too pissed."
With DeRoscher temporarily out of the picture, Kendall says, "we went to this place on Sixth Street to do the job. We had heard some horror stories about it, but we had never actually worked there, so we thought we'd give it a shot. The first thing I noticed when we got there was that the owner looked exactly like Steve McDonald from Redd Kross, which was a plus, because I love Redd Kross. But then the guy spoke, and I knew we were in trouble, because whenever he said something, he always said it with his eyes closed--and when he did open his eyes, they were always kind of rolling up into his head. At the time, I didn't think he was on drugs or anything; I just thought he had a nervous tic. After I got the CDs, though, it was obvious the guy was on something, because three of the songs were mixed at half-speed. They sounded like fucking funeral marches. I just had to throw my hands in the air at that point. We threw all the tapes in the garbage and started over."
The band wasn't faring much better with its prospective label, Estrus. Dave Crider, Estrus's owner, had expressed interest in backing the Girl Trouble disc--and since he'd previously issued a successful single and a couple of compilation tracks by the band, the match seemed like a good one. But the partnership went sour when Girl Trouble and Crider disagreed about the printing of the CD's jacket. At the end of their collective rope, the musicians decided to bypass the process of shopping for a label and put out Tuesdays on their own imprint, Wig Out Records.
According to Kendall, the split with Crider was inevitable. "It really worked out for the best," he says. "All the problems we were starting to have at Estrus were the same problems we always have with these labels, and it's usually because we aren't happy with the end result. I think, and this is just my personal opinion, that a lot of the people up here that are in the music scene--engineers, bookers, what have you--look at us like, 'Look, you're just this shitty little rock band, and you're not that good, and there are hundreds of you.' But the way I look at it is, 'Yeah, we're a shitty little rock band, but it's our shitty little rock band, and this is how we want it.'
"When you turn your record over to someone else, it's almost like turning your baby over to someone," he goes on. "They start doing things with it, and before you know it, you're telling them, 'Uuuuhhhh, get that thing out of his mouth. He doesn't like it when you do that.' Things like that. It's a weird feeling."
In this instance, Girl Trouble's overprotective impulses were justified: Tuesdays is the band's classiest piece of work yet. The players push the same sort of groovy, thrift-store nuggets throughout the disc that have made them longtime cult favorites, but this time around they've put a few new items on display. The twangy "Louisianappeal" would sound at home on an Appalachian folk platter if it weren't for Kahuna's husky, hotrod fretwork and Wheelie's shake-and-bake drum fills, and "Mr. Thackery's Day Off," the CD's final cut, almost--almost--has a pop ring to it. Add classic Trouble tunes like "Intoxicating Criminal Die Cast Cool," "Live With No Tomorrow" and the Cramps-meet-Johnny-Cash dirge "Common Law Loners," and you have a record for a time capsule--a delinquent-teen exploitation soundtrack sans the celluloid.
Kendall says he's pleased with Tuesdays, but he admits that he still has trouble getting used to the sound of his Lurch-like baritone. "Every time I hear my voice, I just kind of flinch. I was listening to some of the new stuff today, and all I could think was, 'He's flat, and that's that.'
"But I like getting up in front of people," he continues. "I like being a game-show-host kind of guy--more like an emcee. I think that's why I ended up being the singer in the first place."
Anyone who's seen the band play knows that Kendall belongs on stage. The singer works the crowd like a punk-rock Bob Barker on stilts (he's six foot five), passing out complimentary prizes, blowing requests on his out-of-tune sax and bantering with audience members. At one of the foursome's more memorable shows, Kendall laid out a dozen pillows and engaged in a pillow fight while the rest of the band blazed through a rousing rendition of the theme to TV's Batman. All in all, a Girl Trouble show falls somewhere between a pilsner-fueled sock hop and an episode of The Gong Show.
Unfortunately, Kendall hasn't gotten much of a chance to show off his skills lately; the act's current tour is its first since the appearance of Shame. In the interim, the group was seen in Hype!, filmmaker John Pray's exhaustive documentary about Seattle's grunge explosion. The movie exposed Girl Trouble to a wider cross-section of listeners, but Kendall would just as soon forget the entire experience. "Jesus, that was a whole fiasco for us, too. I'm just glad we finally made it in there."
The singer is more excited about the use of a Girl Trouble song in Highball, a forthcoming flick starring Eric Stoltz, Ally Sheedy and Peter Bogdonavich, and the prospect of returning to the studio in the near future. "Mark my words, because we're really going to start kicking some ass here pretty soon," he declares. "We've got about a half a record's worth of new material, and we're going to record it and haul ass and get another album out as fast as possible."
If there's nothing good on TV, that is.
Girl Trouble, with the Down-N-Outs. 9 p.m. Tuesday, October 13, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $6, 303-572-0822.
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