There's something about carrying a torch for art that no one else seems to give a fuck about — when you love a band or a record or an artist so deeply but goes unnoticed by the general populace it starts to feel like it's your own special secret to keep. Not to say that the rest of the world didn't care about the Red Aunts' existence in the mid '90s, but I was, until recently, hard pressed to find anyone else who liked the band as much as I did, let alone knew who they were (present company of my fellow Westword contributor and Red Aunts fan Tom Murphy excluded.)
Earlier this month after a long time away, the Long Beach band released Come Up For A Closer Look, a greatest hits compilation of sorts. At first, when I saw that Noisey was streaming the album, I was excited. And then my covetous self appeared — oh, so now people care about my favorite band that no one gave a shit about in 1995 or 2005 or even 2013? Of course, I loved that the Red Aunts were maybe back in action, but I was mad. I wanted them to stay mine.
I fell in love with the Red Aunts at 15, after reading a review of their record, #1 Chicken, in Rolling Stone of all places (as a music critic now, I wonder how that review even got assigned. It seems so obscure of an album. But they were on Epitaph and that was a hot label roster to be a part of in 1995 and they probably had a publicist and whatnot, so.)
Upon listening to #1 Chicken, I didn't love the record, but I was fascinated — I studied the polaroids of the band covered in blood and the cryptic scribbled liner notes. Red Aunts had this kind of Detroit-by-way-of Long Beach bad-assery that was like nothing I had ever heard or seen before. And they were girls, like me. Though it had only been a year since Hole's Live Through This had changed the direction of my gaze, I felt like I had almost outgrown that existence. It was so dramatic. The Red Aunts were the opposite — they were the kind of don't-give-a-fuck cool I wanted to be.
It was my goth phase if I ever had one — and the Red Aunts were by no means goth. But the band was the kind of cool that you didn't have to project with a screaming "hey look at me!" They were wild and snarling but dark and a little bit mysterious (their monikers change throughout various album liner notes.) I have a VHS tape somewhere in my archives that I bought at the band's show on their last tour here, and there's a clip of bassist Debi Martini saying that she hopes her parents "rot in their graves," (which you can also see in the video above.) I must have watched that a hundred times, just see her unflinching coolness.
Then I saw the band live and I almost fucking died. They were exactly the kind of "hey look at me!" I wanted to be — writhing on the floor, howling at the moon kind of performers. It was the kind of punk show I had only read about but somehow never seen until I saw the Red Aunts. After this I started to dig deeper and found that the band had released a few records even earlier on in the '90s on the label Sympathy For The Record Industry. Those too were full of scrawling handwritten liner notes and photos for me to pour over.
The band's next record, Saltbox, was the album that struck me. It was bursting with fuck-offs and minimalist punk-blues. The Red Aunts weren't that cheap shot Warped Tour punk spin-off that was being sold to teens like me at the time — they were from another planet altogether.
My obsession with them as a band aesthetically only continued; the cover of Saltbox includes interchangeable cards of each of the band members' faces, each with their eyes cut out. Even the style of photography used for the album was the coolest thing I had ever seen at sixteen. I still stare at a tour poster I have for a Red Aunts show in Denver that I had framed and get those cool girl chills. I think I had every haircut modeled by each band member on that poster/album cover, and still think about trying to reclaim those feelings through emulating their looks.
The band's last record in the '90s, Ghetto Blaster, is still one of my favorite albums of all time. It begins with "Cryin'," an almost-four-minute-long punk song that devolves into noise, as if to signal that the Red Aunts didn't care what you thought they were going to be or sound like. Even at this moment in 1998 when the record was released and the band sounded better than ever, I still felt like I was one of their few fans. But sometimes, the most overlooked work is the stuff that sounds and feels the best as time goes on.
Fast-forward a decade or so — the cool/creepy part about growing up and into the Internet was that now these women were reachable people. In 2008ish, I found Red Aunts' singer and guitarist Kerry Davis on Myspace. She was performing and recording as a one-woman band called Two Tears, living in New York or Dubai or Paris, I wasn't sure which. She came to Denver in 2009 for the Denver International One-Man Band Fest and I was able to meet her. Ten-plus years after discovering her art, I was still in awe of her cool.
A few years later when I was touring the west coast with my own band, I dragged my bandmates into Auntie Em's, Red Aunts guitarist and singer Terri Wahl's restaurant in L.A.. She was there working while we ate, but I was too nervous to ask to speak with her. Imagine that. At almost 30, I was too afraid to talk to a regular old musician just like myself.
A few months ago when I heard the Red Aunts would be releasing something for the first time since the '90s, I was stoked. But then I got all nerdy and protective about it — I even got a little mad, as if me clutching tightly to my dream band was going to make them any more mine. I think I had just felt like for so long, no one had cared about this band that I was devoted to that I didn't even want to think about people deciding they were all of a sudden "cool."
Beyond being one of my favorite bands of all time, the Red Aunts also marked some momentous times for my teenagerhood. It was at one of the band's shows I saw in high school that ended up being the place my gaggle of girlfriends met a group of punk dudes from the other side of town. Our friend circles would merge and my best friend ended up marrying one of those guys. We had gone to see the Red Aunts because I loved them; our dude friends had gone to the show knowing the audience would be mostly girls going to see an "all-girl" punk band. They were right.
I'm actually surprised that in all of the silly bands of yore tattoos I've gotten as an adult, I don't have any Red Aunts in memoriam pieces. Now that this new record is out and a few new fans are introduced to the band for the first time, maybe I'll get a tattoo of a poison steak or a visual homage to "Cookin', Cleanin' and Cryin'." Maybe when I do come across another actual Red Aunts fan, we can talk about how great they are and I can be happy that a group I thought deserved so much recognition a decade and a half ago is finally getting its due.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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