Back in the garage
Heidi, Muck & the Mires, and the Gizmos
Cellars by Starlight by Brett Milano
After a year in which Boston embraced heavy metal and arena rock in a big way,
it's starting to look like the summer of garage-punk revenge. Consider the
evidence: an old-school punk/pop band, Darkbuster, won everybody's hearts at
this year's Rumble; the folks at Lilli's are doing their darndest to create a
new garage scene and revive the old one; and I saw a pair of great,
well-attended gigs by the Real Kids and the Lyres just last week. What year is
Call it a throwback season, but I say it's more proof that Boston is
remembering what's always mattered: good songs, punk irreverence, and garage
roots. When garage rock gets revived, so do its close cousins, fun punk and
punk-with-tunes. In short, it's the perfect time for a band like Heidi to rule.
Talking to the members of Heidi at the Middle East, I encounter four women with
one guiding purpose and one goal in life. This is drummer Lisa Pimentel
explaining how the band formed: "We started writing songs because we had to
rock; I mean, we really wanted to rock." This is singer Jilly B explaining why
she stopped being a horn player: "Probably out of rebellion, after my last
band, Flunky, broke up. And I really needed to rock." Here's Pimentel again,
explaining how guitarist Janet Egan joined the band: "I asked Sandy [bassist
Sandy Monticello] if she rocked and Sandy said she did." And this is Egan
explaining why she joined: "I saw them and thought they were awesome; I thought
Actually the four members come from somewhat diverse backgrounds. Pimentel and
Jilly B were indeed horn players in ska bands; both were in Flunky, and Jilly
was in the Allstonians' first line-up ("That was my high-school band").
Monticello has been kicking around town for years, most recently in Bosley.
(Full-disclosure notice: I was once in an outfit with her that never got out of
the basement -- but even then she could play circles around the rest of us.)
Egan, also known as WBCN's Juanita, was the last addition; and Heidi is a
change for her after she'd made a name in two heavier bands, Malachite and the
Tulips. "Heidi's songs just got to me, I liked the lyrics and melodies a lot,"
she says. "And I still love playing guitar; it's the only thing that makes me
So far Heidi's sound brings to mind a couple of first-class bands, the
Fastbacks and the Muffs, both of whom embrace pop-punk roots without getting
trapped by them. But Heidi came up with a couple of ways to make themselves
stand out. The first was to write their songs about specific people and attach
women's names to most of them. "But we stopped doing that after it played
itself out," Jilly explains. "I mean, the first album has `Susan' and `Suzanne'
on it, and it was getting so even we couldn't tell them apart."
The subjects could be friends, enemies, or people who just sparked Heidi's
interest. "Flora" is about a local eccentric they once saw do an interpretive
dance at the coffeehouse Carberry's. The obvious hit and the one conventionally
titled song on their self-released Heidi (which they sell at gigs) is
"People We Hate," whose two subjects get skewered so thoroughly that one hopes
they never hear the song. "They're people that probably wouldn't wind up
hearing it," Monticello points out. "Their identities are our little secret,"
adds Jilly. "But we really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings; we just want
to rock." Of course.
Heidi's other attention grabber is their cheerleaders' skirts and tube socks --
which they wear because, well, they can. "It's like a school uniform that shows
you're on the same team and don't compete with each other," Monticello
observes. "And you won't believe me, but they make me feel like a different
person," adds Pimentel. "I'm in power when I put the socks on. You can wear
them under your pants all day and you know they're there."
At present Heidi are recording new demos, with Letters to Cleo bassist Scott
Reibling producing. The two tracks I've heard ("My Day Anyway" and "I Don't
Want It") are terrific songs, respectively sporting funk and metal influences
that were absent on Heidi. "I don't listen to one kind of music so I
can't see playing just one kind -- and I think I ripped that quote off from
somewhere," Monticello says. "But I listen to so much R&B right now that in
a perfect world I'd be playing Otis Redding songs. And that's not out of the
question with this band."
Do they feel that local trends are going their way? "I like to think it goes in
cycles," she answers. "Whenever the angry-metal thing is happening, people say,
`I'm so relieved to hear a pop band.' Before long people will get sick of us,
Heidi will share a bill with Darkbuster at the Middle East this Saturday, July
MUCK & THE MIRES. After all these years, new stocks of '60s garage
singles are still being unearthed. And I recently stumbled across what sounds
like a good one from an ultra-obscure Canadian band called Muck & the
Mires. Their "best-of" CD, All Mucked Up (on the Ontario-based Amp
label), gives no info about the band, but one would guess that they recorded
around 1964, just after the first Beatles and Dave Clark Five singles leaked
out of England. You can sense that in the primitive recording quality -- lots
of wide stereo and lo-fi guitars -- and in the sound, a mix of beat-combo
harmonies and R&B harmonica. The songs are all short (12 of 'em in 24
minutes) and damn catchy -- so catchy that you have to wonder why they never
had a hit, and why even diehard garage collectors have never heard of this
The reason, of course, is that they didn't exist. The CD is a little hoax
cooked up by Nines frontman Evan Shore, a gifted hook slinger whose love for
the British Invasion is matched only by his love for the Ramones. The disc
originated as Nines demos, but when he realized they were sounding more
'60s-ish than usual, he took the ball and ran with it. The Canadian label is
for real (it ordinarily does garage rock and reissues), but even Amp wasn't
told that there's no band -- behind the joky pseudonyms (Joey Muccarino on
guitar, Pete and Bob Myers on bass and drums), it's Shore playing everything.
And unless you count some of Roky Erickson's basement tapes, it's likely the
first one-man garage record ever made.
"I didn't need to take credit because I had enough of an ego trip just making
the album," Shore explains. "The whole thing's just about having fun. Plus, my
drumming's so lousy that I didn't want my name on it." But it gave him a chance
to get the '60s out of his system -- he even samples the handclaps off the
Beatles' "Roll Over Beethoven" (which he could do because he has the British
version, where the claps are panned to one channel). "It's funny, what Amp
loved about the album was the retro sound, but I made it in a totally non-retro
way, starting with a scratch guitar track and building the rest on top of that.
But I wanted it to sound like it was the Beatles in a room playing to
Made-up bands always have a certain cachet. XTC are are still more popular in
some quarters as the Dukes of Stratosphear than as their true identity. Shore
senses that something similar may happen with Muck & the Mires. "It's
already gotten me a couple of production gigs. And it would be ironic if this
wound up doing better than the Nines, but I welcome the competition." He's
already setting up some Mires gigs for the fall, where he'll be joined by his
fellow Nines (drummer Linda Koury and bassist Bob Skaltsis) plus Ape Hangers
guitarist Pete Sjostedt. Meanwhile the Nines play the Milky Way with the Real
Kids this Friday, July 28.
GIZMOS CD. No round-up of garage rock would be complete without a
mention of Kenne Highland, without whom the local scene (or at least Club
Bohemia on Friday nights) would be a lot quieter. But before Highland became
one of Boston's resident rock madmen, he was part of a band of delinquent teens
in Bloomington, Indiana. That group, the Gizmos, released a few EPs in 1976-'77
and drew a thumbs-up from critic Richard Meltzer, and they rate as one of the
last outfits you'd ever expect to see reissued on CD.
Nonetheless, the CD The Gizmos: Studio Recordings was released on the
band's own Gulcher label this month. It reveals a group with a Ramones-inspired
sense of the basics, plus a sense of humor somewhere between Lester Bangs and
Mad magazine. I wouldn't guess that anyone's ever come up with a more
understanding response to sexual rejection than their Faces homage "That's
Cool, I Respect You More." On the other side of the coin, as it were, is
Highland's lyrical masterwork, "Muff Divin' in Wilkie South." The title refers
to an Indiana University dorm; the lyric might be called an instruction manual
("Let her know she's your favorite gal/Stick your tongue in her birth canal").
The disc also uncovers a strange twist of history: guesting with the Gizmos on
one track is one of the other punks who resided in Bloomington at the time, a
kid who called himself Johnny Cougar. It may be the first evidence that
Mellencamp once had a sense of humor.
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