STEAM IN THE DESERT: CIVET at THE NILE THEATER UNDERGROUND, 4/20/2011 MESA, AZ
(Galleries follow interview)
Sisters Ms. Liza Graves and Suzi Homewrecker, along with shiny new rhythm duo, Christian Riersgard (drums) and Jonny Grill (bass), steamed up the Nile Underground with songs from their Hellcat Records debut, “Hell Hath No Fury,” and their recent release, “Love & War.”
The night started revving up straight away with young, local punk band Riot Act. Considering that half the band is still in high school, I was impressed by the energy and talent these guys brought to their short, but ripping, set.
One of my local favorites, Look Out Look, stepped up the heat with a strong set, featuring their new lineup. LOL’s bass player, Kevin Casteneda recently switched off from bass to guitar, and new bassist, Paul Levesque, made the lineup tighter than ever. Levesque’s energy matched the veteran trio’s terrifically well. Gaby Carvajal, on guitar and vox, blazed through the hard hitting set, her hair whipping to the beat, and her vocals a constant challenge to the crowd; exhorting them to join the party.
Continental, fronted by Rick Barton (ex- Dropkick Murphys, Everybody Out!), brought their exciting mix of folk-punk-rock to the stage and only gave us a moment to breathe before ripping up the stage. Barton originally started the band with his son, Stephen, and his friends, telling them that if they got good enough, he’d take them out on some gigs. Well, they are definitely good enough. Barton was amazing, but he didn’t need to carry the band, the team effort was evident throughout the set.
Finally, Civet hit the stage. The comparison to iconic 70s girl band, The Runaways has been made so often, it’s become a cliche. If a comparison must be drawn, I’d chose another Hellcat mainstay … the band that started it all for Hellcat, actually: Rancid. Like that early punk revival leader, Civet’s aggressive, beat heavy songs are filled out by thrashing guitars, pointed lyrics, and a terrific mix of anger, angst, and humor. Tough as nails dipped in titanium, the girls attack their guitars with energy fueled by sex, anger, joy, sex, rage, and more sex. While Riersgard and Grill certainly maintain a hefty presence on the stage, the act is owned by Liza and Suzi. Unabashedly female, they let everyone in the club know that they are girls who will not be fucked with.
After the show, the founding members of Civet sat down with DOOM! to talk about the past, present, and future of the band:
DOOM: We are here with Civet; the founding sisters, Ms. Liza Graves and Suzi Homewrecker.
DOOM: You’ve had kind of a crazy year. Last November, you lost your rhythm section …
DOOM: Again! It’s been quite a year for changes in bands; last week Blitzkid was reduced to one member, but Argyle’s being quite positive about it.
Liza: Well, you have to be.
DOOM: I read in an interview, Liza, you said that you have to have big dedication; it’s your life. Jacqui left to get married, right?
Liza: Yeah. You either want to stay on the road and you want to play music or you want move on to something else.
DOOM: You said they “grew up.”
Liza: Yeah. That’s what we ran into. It’s like they stopped living the dream. They had other dreams, and that’s marriage and babies. If you’re gonna do rock and roll, you’d better just do it 100% in order to succeed. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out.
DOOM: What do you consider success? You’re pretty well known; touring all over the world, and you’re huge in Europe …
Suzi: We’re doing really well over there.
DOOM: And you’re with an incredible punk label: Hellcat. Do you work closely with Tim (Armstrong)?
Liza: We see Tim all the time. We did the song (“All I Want”) on the last record with him. Living in Los Angeles, he’s around … I actually went in and sang on the last Rancid record with him, but the track didn’t make it. But the label’s really great; they treat us really good.
Suzi: It’s kind of like a family.
DOOM: Is it like a boy’s club, though, most of the roster is kind of testosterone heavy?
Liza: Yeah, but out of the bands that tour, there aren’t that many bands left on Hellcat. But they have that great catalog, that great history, and we’re just proud to part of that.
Suzi: Yeah, for Hellcat, it’s that they always just wanted to put out really great punk bands, and we fit the mold. It didn’t mean we had to be part of the boy’s club, but we made music that appealed to the same fan base. Street Dog, Left Alone, Rancid … they’re all there for the same reasons.
DOOM: You do have that Hellcat feel. I don’t mean to be cliche, but you’ve also got that Joan Jett feel …
Suzi: The toughness, yeah.
DOOM: It transcends gender. Which leads to this: You have always been perceived as an “all girl punk band” and now you’re a “female fronted” band.
Liza: Actually, most people don’t know that we weren’t always an all girl band. On “Hell Hath No Fury” Josh Freese, from The Vandals (and NIN, Devo, A Perfect Circle, The Offspring, etc.) played drums; he’s the go-to drummer. And even though we did have a girl drummer, she wasn’t up to par enough to play on the record. And it was an honor; we didn’t care that he was a guy! And when we started, my step-dad actually played drums with us. So, there have been men … we’ve dabbled.
DOOM: So are the new guys just with you for the tour?
Civet: No, no! They’re permanent … they’re awesome!
DOOM: Is this going to affect your songwriting?
Liza: We did some songwriting with our drummer, when we first got him with the band, and he was awesome. We wrote a Christmas song…
Suzi: It was killer! It’ll be out next Christmas because we missed the Christmas deadline.
Liza: But we wrote a song with him originally, just to see if we could write with him, and it was just a whole different level.
DOOM: Is Hellcat going to put out a Christmas album like Blackheart Records (Joan Jett’s label) did last year?
Suzi: Did they? That’s amazing.
Liza: We might just put out a Christmas EP or something, just from us.
DOOM: A lot of your songs, especially on Hell Hath No Fury, are “angry woman” songs.
Civet: Yeah. *laughter*
DOOM: And on the new album too, like “I’m Not the One.”
Liza: Yeah! You can’t tie me down!
DOOM: Kind of “you lazy slob on the couch, drinking the beer I paid for!”
Liza: Yes! But I think when we wrote it we weren’t just speaking as women, but like people in general in a relationship where one is always carrying more weight than the other. It’s kind of just very truthful, and I hope that guys and girls are going “Oh my god! Tell me about it!”
DOOM: Do you find that your audiences skew either way? More women or men?
Liza: It’s always been half and half. Even more guys now that we have guys in the band. It’s like now it’s OK to go to a Civet show.
Suzi: They’re not all like “I’m going to a girl band show.” It’s pretty cool!
Liza: If anything, the next album will just be tougher and harder. We’re always going to write about the same stuff, but better.
Suzi: But it might sound a little bit different. We haven’t written any songs yet with Jonny playing bass and Christian just going “hey, I wanna put this in.”
Liza: We’ll see. We’re excited to see where it’s going to go.
Suzi: It’s evolution, being in a band. You don’t stay the same.
DOOM: Well, you’ve been together for what, 10 years now?
Liza: Do I get an award or something?
Suzi: You should get one!
DOOM: A bunch of us were talking at the merch table about other bands, AFI in particular, who’ve been together over 18 years …
Civet: 18 years! That’s a lonnnng time!
DOOM: And they’ve changed a lot over that time, with Hunter and Jade coming on, and different sounds through their history. As a fan, I don’t always want to listen to the same stuff I was listening to when I was 18, and I can’t imagine, as musicians, you want to be making the same music you were when you were 18.
Liza: Yeah. I think a really good example of that is a band like Social D (Social Distortion), who we’ve toured with twice, and they just did their 30th anniversary, and there are those people who just want to listen to “Ball and Chain” over and over again.
Suzi: There *are* a lot of fans that say that!
Liza: But how can you just say, “Hey, Mike Ness, go write ‘Ball and Chain’ again” because you can’t feel that same way all this time later.
DOOM: It’s like asking Billie Joe to do “Dookie” over and over because it’s going to sell a lot.
Suzi: Yeah. You change, you grow. Life looks different.
DOOM: Where did you find Jonny and Christian?
Suzi: We knew Christian because we used to play up in Reno a lot during our touring and he was in a rockabilly band up there for a while. And we both did an Electric Frankenstein, um… it was a tribute record, but it actually never ended up coming out. But we knew each other from the tribute.
DOOM: Do the tapes exist?
Suzi: Yeah, we have our song on it.
Liza: What song was that?
Suzi: “Use Me.”
DOOM: Are you guys tied up in legal on that and can’t release it?
Suzi: No, we could probably release it.
Liza: It’s old.
Suzi: We just have to find it.
DOOM: That would be an incredible bonus track.
Liza: So that’s where we found Christian, we knew him from other bands, you know. Reno. And then Jonny…
Suzi: Jonny just lived in L.A. It’s just something you would see out all the time. And I live in L.A., Liza lives in Long Beach, but I used to see him at shows all the time, I was like, that guy looks crazy. We wanted him in the band, we need a wild card in the band.
DOOM: The guys match your energy.
DOOM: And I was worried about that. I was thinking… you know, girl hardcore and guy hardcore have a different feel. Even… as hard as it can be.
Liza: They’re both just very excited to be in a band. And you know, we get along so good. It’s so nice to be in a band with people that make you laugh, as opposed to people who are just sitting on their cellphones, checking out.
DOOM: And you’re not all on your period at the same time.
Civet: [general laughter]
Liza: We like the dynamic of having guys around.
Suzi: Yeah, it’s cool. Maybe there are more dirty jokes… but why should I, like, we consider ourselves to be pretty funny, it’s nice to have people who match our level of humor.
Liza: An old friend who we used to play in bands with, when we used to come through Arizona, was here tonight. And he even said, he was like…
Suzi: What did Brian say?
Liza: I totally forgot. He said it was better, but there was also something really cool that he said. Something about dynamics and energy. Maybe it’ll come back to me.
DOOM: We’re talking about gender stuff… thank you, by the way, for letting us reprint your blog on the Poland underpants shooter. DOOM is pretty outspokenly feminist. Everybody on the magazine’s a woman and we write about gender issues a lot. One thing that came up recently; The Riot had an article about two months ago about Warped Tour. Last year, Warped Tour was girl-heavy. I mean, there were so many bands either fronted by women or had women members or all women. It was amazing. I think, as of the article, they had two bands signed for the full tour with women in them. And everyone’s kind of like, whoa, what happened here? Now, were you guys invited to Warped this year?
Suzi: No, actually, we weren’t, and we tried to get on it. Not that we weren’t invited, but conflicting stuff. And we just weren’t… nobody really ever said hey, come do Warped Tour.
Liza: I really think Warped Tour is… it was a really great thing at one point, but now it’s like they picked bands based on who’s going to bring a lot of revenue to the tables so that they can continue the tour.
Suzi: And it used to be about breaking in.
Liza: And it’s not so much about that anymore, which we fully understand.
DOOM: It’s a shame, though, because where can bands go to break in? It’s doing the club scene, doing that endless club scene. Having small turnouts. I’ve been surprised. I really thought the turnout tonight was going to be much bigger.
Liza: Eventually, it’s gonna come back up again, and we’re going to be here still. We’re not gonna be one of those bands who takes a hiatus, we won’t do it.
Suzi: It’s just a trend in music, the economy, there’s so many things that are making it this way. We’re not the only band that’s out here right now, doing this… small numbers.
DOOM: I mean, I’m in the clubs almost every week. I see this, and…
Suzi: It’s ridiculous.
DOOM: The Meteors are playing here in a couple of weeks. It should be interesting to see the turnout; I mean they’re the band that originated psychobilly.
Liza: Oh yeah. We’ve played with The Meteors before.
Liza: They’re really good.
DOOM: The Quakes show was amazing, during the opening acts, people weren’t moving, they were standing there kind of staring at the stage. A few people started wrecking when The Quakes came on, and it got a little warmer in the room, but ..
Liza: We’ve noticed that a lot too. There’s a lot of people, it’s the people that are in Europe… in Europe, it’s still like the 90s.
Liza: Oh, I remember what I was gonna say. My friend said that having less women in the band kind of allowed me and Suzi to shine doing our own thing, because it’s always been me and Suzi, and we’ve always been the writers and everything, and instead of it being like a collect all four kind of game, it’s more like: these are two sisters, they really write heavy and they focus on women issues, and all that. We just look a little bit more secure in our element.
DOOM: You guys have presence on the stage. You own it. There seems to be a perception–back to the gender stuff–there seems to be a perception that punk is male, goth is female.
Liza: And the thing about that is, I was totally goth in high school. But I wanted to play punk. And they were like, it doesn’t go together.
Suzi: You know what’s funny about that is that, we have the album “Hell Hath No Fury”, there’s a Revolver magazine sponsored tour going on right now called the “Hell Hath No Fury Tour”. And it’s all women. And we’re going ‘oh, really?’
Suzi: Are you gonna pay us for that? Do we get any credit? Do we get to play?
DOOM: What is your contractual commitment to Hellcat? Do you guys have a certain number of albums that you’re supposed to produce for them?
Liza: Um… we’re gonna start writing a new record, who knows? We’ll see.
DOOM: It’s pretty open-ended, they’re loose?
Suzi: We’re not gonna stop putting out records, ever.
Liza: It basically depends how well the label’s doing over there, we’re not gonna be like–if you guys… it’s all a money thing, too, because Hellcat is really Epitaph, so we’ll see.
Suzi: It depends. But Liza and I could never stop writing or playing for people. In early years, we said, what’s success to us? I saw… almost everybody that did come out tonight singing along. So if it’s thirty… fifty… I don’t care.
Liza: If they’re enjoying the music that we make, and they’re coming out and saying, hey thank you… that connection means more to us than anything else.
Suzi: That’s success.
DOOM: That’s wonderful. And now, the big question: If you woke up tomorrow morning and it was the zombie apocalypse, what would you do–Ms. Liza?
Liza: I would be so scared, I probably wouldn’t leave the house. I’m terrified of freaky stuff like that.
DOOM: Are you really? Your stage persona is so tough!
Liza: Yeah. I’m a scaredy cat.
DOOM: And Suzi?
Suzi: I’d start at the grocery store, I’d grab all the canned goods I can…
Liza: And then she’d come get me.
Suzi: And then I’d rob a gun store, and I’d go out swingin’.
Liza: Would you?
Suzi: On a roof. I’d get to a roof.
DOOM: Sniper Suzi!
Suzi: I’ve watched enough movies!
DOOM: Any last words for young girls starting out in rock and roll?
Liza: You know, just don’t give up, and hopefully we just see everyone at the shows. We love playing with girls in bands Just try to get out and do shows.
Suzi: If you like it, and it makes you feel good, then it’s right. Don’t stop. It doesn’t matter what–if it’s music, art, whatever it is that you’re into, just fucking go for it.
Liza: Do what makes you happy.
DOOM: Thank you, ladies.
Liza: Let’s get out of here before they lock us in!
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157626453260383″]
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157626590809619″]