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xmag.com : April 2001: Just Kick My Ass

People form rock bands for all kinds of silly reasons, but the musicians that make up the most fascinating groups are usually motivated by reasons that are far beyond the mundane. There is a restlessness to the creative spirit that can't be satisfied by merely getting a job, going to school or even getting laid. The Portland bands Betty Already and Dear Nora sound nothing alike, but they share a basic need to express those bothersome elements that laugh, cry and dance in their respective unconsciousness. They come at their art from different directions and make their music happen through varying processes, but on their debut records-- currently available--they both succeed admirably and take their places as vital, happening constituents of the Portland music menagerie.

 

Betty Already

Scott Young: Guitar and vocals

Miz Kitty: Vocals

Icky Boom: Bass and background vocals

Murphy: Guitar and b-vocals

The Postman: Drums and b-vocals

 

The Bettys leap out of the gate in a whirlwind of roaring guitars and snarly vocals on "Amerimaniacs," the title track of their self-produced inaugural CD. "We're Americans/we're the ones/we're the ones with the biggest guns/We're Americans/fuck the rest/we know how to kill the best" is the refrain that guitarist/singer Scott Young and singer Miz Kitty stomp on like it's a rat in the bathtub. The music is punk-informed--they obviously own a few Ramones and X records--but with well-placed metallic solos and more up-to-date melodic substance than is usually mustered by your basic three-chord cretins. Betty Already can pack a wallop but they wisely realize there's more to the story than just the flexing of musical muscles. If you clean the gunk out of your audio holes and stand on your head you can hear the joyous subtleties; it almost sounds like the Pixies performing songs for a Rocky Horror Picture Show revival.

Scott Young is the principal songwriter, but each band member adds his/her own personal stamp of vitality.

"I initially learned to play guitar to help me with writing a melody," Scott says. "As I got more competent, it just developed into writing my own songs. With this project, I bring in the bare bones of a song and the rest of the band is crucial in constructing and filling in the parts that make it work.

"I was always serious about this band. When putting the group together, I had to let everyone else know right off the bat that this was going to take practice and work to make it the best we were capable of, or not do it all. We're all serious about doing the greatest job we can with every gig we play."

Speaking of gigs, Betty Already is an exceptionally fiery live band, with the various members pushing each other to extremes of artful recklessness. Icky Boom tells me that in a previous band, Scott got them all 86ed from EJ's for climbing around in the rafters before trying to leap down onto the cigarette machine. Scott ended up with two injured feet and no more gigs at EJ's.

"I've always tried to be theatrical," Scott explains. "The show is very important to me."

Even as Scott, Icky and Murphy rev up the rock 'n' roll testosterone engine on stage, Kitty coils and writhes, spitting lyrics like cold accusations. And if all eyes occasionally fall on Kitty and whatever volcanic outfit she happens to be wearing, that's just fine with the fellows, who appreciate her gift for grabbing some spotlight time.

"I think of them as my bandmates and don't really notice that they're of the male persuasion until the grunt work has to be done," Kitty says, from the gender minority chair. "Then I realize that they skedaddle and, because I have the female sensibilities of getting shit done, I'm the one working away.

"And, it's often painfully obvious how much smarter I am. Poor things. They can't help it... they're just boys. Other than that, they crack me up and keep me very, very happy. I adore them."

"Dear Nora's soft harmonies and gentle guitar tangles are miles away from the
blasting ferocity of Betty Already, yet it's obvious that the reckless spirit
of punk rock was a liberating influence on both combos."

 

The group dynamic is one of constant flutter and frenzy, which fits the material like a snakeskin suit. Though not always in a lather, more often than not, Scott and Kitty are locked on target, dissecting some clueless twit: "You're a hydrogen bomb on a sunny day/A dead baby at a picnic," they sneer on their song "H-Bomb."

"Some songs are extremely personal. Even the more political ones like 'Amerimaniacs' are from a personal bent," Scott says. "I don't claim to know exactly what's going on, but I know that I have this anger against the government, The Man, the whatever, but it's confusing as to why. I know I'm angry. I don't exactly know why. The system is so complicated, I'm not even sure who I'm angry with."

Like Dear Nora's main mover Katy Davidson, Scott is an idealist--he believes in the serious cultural weight that music can carry.

"Change the world? Absolutely; it's done it before," he says. "It can change the environment dramatically in a country, a region, the world. It's something that happens when politics, culture, [and] music all reach a crazed pinnacle at the same time and the convergence changes everything."

www.seanbaby.com/bettyalready

 

Dear Nora

Katy Davidson: Guitar and vocals

Marianna Ritchey: Drums and backing vocals

Ryan Wise: Bass

While Betty Already look around at the world and report on what they see and loathe, Dear Nora's Katy Davidson takes a more introspective approach to pop music.

"My songs are personal because they're about things that happen to me, things I think about, real-life melancholy, real-life joy," Katy tells me. "However, my lyrical choices allow them to be interpreted universally.

"I would not say that I am a political songwriter, but rather a political performer. I say this because several women have told me that my performances have inspired them to write songs and perform themselves. It's of great interest to me to see a lot more women involved in music."

Though Dear Nora's first record, We'll Have A Time, is definitely a catchy, uber-melodic stroll through candyland, there is a pulsing undercurrent of wistfulness that lets the listener know that this is not the work of perpetually playful, giggling adolescents. Even when she sings "La la la la, La la la la" in "When the Wind Blows," the effect is bittersweet rather than merely effervescent. Katy Davidson is like Nancy Drew toting around an ambivalent diary stuffed with

dilemmas. Instead of smugglers and pirates, the mysteries she needs to solve are mostly in her head. As she dutifully reports on the vicissitudes of life, love, and her quest for being, the songs tumble out like fractured journal entries, the results of epiphany and rough lessons. In "Since You Went Away,' she sings,
"I think I've learned a lesson/I live inside a mess and/it's never going to clean itself."

"My songs come quickly and abundantly, with the music and words at the same time," Katy explains. "They are inspired mainly by nature, human nature, transitions. Most of them come at times of great introspection, sadness. Most of them are written in the wee hours of the morning."

The vocal interaction between Katy and drummer Marianna Ritchey (also of Battle Cat) is lovely and spot-on, recalling girl groups of yore like the Ronettes and the Shirelles, while deliriously steeped in post-punk femme outfits like the Breeders and Lush. Dear Nora's oft harmonies and gentle guitar tangles are miles away from the blasting ferocity of Betty Already, yet it's obvious that the reckless spirit of punk rock was a liberating influence on both combos. It's like a tap on the shoulder with someone telling you that playing by the rules is for chumps.

"I think songwriting and the drive to perform came really naturally," Katy recalls. "In college [Lewis & Clark], I was surrounded by an amazingly talented and inspirational group of friends--a group that spawned wonderful bands such as Yume Bitsu and Wolf Colonel. Merely by the nature of their actions, these friends challenged me to create.

"I decided to start my own band and pursue music seriously after I lived in Glasgow for several months in '98 and collaborated with a lot of Scottish musicians. I also had a quasi-cathartic experience in the front row at a Built to Spill show in '99," she adds.

Katy tells me in parting that she is Dear Nora both as a solo performer and as a band. Got it. She is also due to tour with K Records artist Mirah pretty soon. Duly noted.

www.magicmarkerrecords.com

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