The Muffs - By Mark Woodlief

Good girl/bad girl. Madonna/whore. The Muffs' Kim Shattuck could get caught these age-old double standards, but she refuses to play the game.

 In the wake of the riot-grrl revolution, Shattuck--a woman who seems to resist all movements--is fiercely independent, self-reliant, and reluctantly poised to be a new pop-punk heroine.
 
 

Her band's new record, Blonder and Blonder-the group's second for Reprise-defiantly avoids sophomore slump with a variety of hard hitting '60s-influenced songs seemingly perfect for radio success. With Shattuck's tough, hook-laden songwriting and her honest, personal lyrics, Blonder sounds like an album for the '90s, especially in light of 1995's punk-embracing mainstream.

 Hey, if the kids go crazy for the snotty-cute antics of blue-haired Billie Joe, wait'll they get a load of Shattuck, his sexy female counterpart (and labelmate). And as catchy as "Come Out And Play (Keep 'Em Separated)" is, Shattuck's got more hooks in her pinkies. It feels like The Muffs' time has finally come.

 On the eve of the release of Blonder and Blonder the trio-Shattuck on guitar, Ronnie Barnett on bass, Roy McDonald on drums-couldn't be more nonplussed about its situation. During preparations for the current tour with Veruca Salt, Muffs members were asked if they thought the timing was better for Blonder than the band's 1993 self-titled debut.

 "No," quipped Shattuck, "there's still a bunch of boneheads in the world, so it doesn't matter," while Barnett quietly replied, "Maybe."

Moments later, after a range of sarcastic responses (a band trademark of sorts), Shattuck confessed, "I don't blame people for not buying the first album," and Barnett added, "It sounds like a first album now, in retrospect." All three Muffs believe Blonder's beefier production makes it a stronger effort.

 Speaking to the times, the bespectacled Barnett concluded, "We don't sound exactly like Green Day or anything, and we're not influenced by Bad Religion or any of the latest chick bands."

 In a later conversation, Shattuck offhandedly compared herself with other successful female rockers. "I'm not a big pro-feminist, with lots of issues on my mind, and I'm not a drama queen like Courtney Love, and I'm not anorexic like PJ Harvey, and I'm not like Liz Phair, who seems like a person who hardly ever has sex, because to talk about it all the time usually means you're not getting any."

 Shattuck shrugged, "If it's hip in the world to like our kind of music, then fine."

 As a founding member of L.A. all-female garage punkers The Pandoras, the 31-year-old Shattuck has been playing this stuff a while, and she's honed her chops to a raw, jagged edge. McDonald paid his dues behind the traps in Neurotica-era Redd Kross-perhaps that combo's finest lineup. Barnett's a relative newcomer, but his manic approach to bass is all punk rock.

 Slated to be The Muffs' original drummer when the group formed in 1990, McDonald had other commitments-primarily to a newborn son-and turned Shattuck, Barnett, and then-rhythm guitarist Melanie Vammen (now with L.A.'s Leaving Trains) onto a Seattle emigre named Chris Crass.

 "I was his boss at Wherehouse Records," remembered McDonald, "and I was put in an ugly position where I had to fire him. And I was borrowing a set of his drums at the time. To kind of offset the firing, I put him together with The Muffs."

 From there, The Muffs proceeded to electrify audiences at now-defunct punk venues around L.A. Even then, Shattuck and her mates were strong-willed and boldly independent.

 Shattuck recalled the band's "first three little rules."

 "The ones we had when we started," she explained, "were we'd never pay to play, we'd never send out demos, and we wouldn't do showcases."

 Those rules in place, a logical one followed: "We made this band pact that we wouldn't let people treat us like shit," Shattuck said. "We root for ourselves everyday. Basically, when we're given shit, we give shit back. It's a protective thing."

 That kind of loyalty has earned The Muffs its share of notoriety, and Shattuck has personally been in the middle of various fracases with disreputable club owners and the occasional police officer. Oft-clad in thrift-store granny dresses, Shattuck might appear demure and sweet, but she's not one to hide displeasure, as lyrics like "I don't like you/ and I won't pretend to," from "Big Mouth" bear out.

 Still, the question--good girl or bad girl?--is moot. Shattuck's simply a strong talent, armed with big-league songs, great lyrics, and a sense of self-preservation for her band. While McDonald and Barnett (who, as a former beau, ought to know) were whispering that Shattuck's "nuts, out of her gourd," someone suggested that she might make an excellent role model for other young women.

 Shattuck laughed uncomfortably and replied, "Hell, no." (As a self-described "schizophrenic," Shattuck's sometimes hard on herself. For instance, she publishes her songs under the misnomer, "Pretty Awful Music.")

Still, with Blonder's combination of vulnerability ("I Need A Face," "I'm Confused") poignant, articulate observations on relationships ("Just A Game," "Agony," the single "Sad Tomorrow"), a little "bonehead rock" ("Ethyl My Love"), and harsh putdowns (the cow-punkish "Red Eyed Troll," "What You've Done"), Shattuck assembles a solid catalog of commentary that sounds like the work of a self-reliant woman.

 "Well, I think that's important for any one to put across," Shattack said. "I just think people should be able to do what they want to do and not care what other people think. Most people care what other people think, but they shouldn't. I don't. Sometimes I do, but only with people I care about.

 "I'm trying to be me. I've never been the popular person at school. I've never had loads of friends. It suits me better. Being yourself seems like it's really hard sometimes."


illustrations snagged from blonder and blonder album art - originally drawn by Mr. Ed Fotheringham
muffs band photo by alberto tolot

 email Mark Woodlief at warpwood@aol.com

 design and layout by marc brown

 


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