Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Punk Pawns

By Christopher Gray

JULY 19, 1999:  Even the greenest music journalist would expect the phrase "love sausage" to surface in an interview with Kid Rock or the Scabs, but never clean-cut Austin rockers the Shindigs. They're just so nice. The PG-13 punk that pervades their self-titled debut, released this March, is hardly innocuous, but save a line in "Gaz" that uses the word "creamy" in a decidedly non-dairy sense, there's nothing for Jerry Falwell to get his knickers in a knot about. Even so, in a brief discussion about the band's eating habits, specifically who's vegetarian and who's not, up pops "love sausage." The Shindigs are nothing if not full of surprises.

"Sex sells, you know," says the band's leader and vocalist, Melissa Bryan. "We haven't used that yet. Maybe we should start. If we wore no clothing, people would come see us."

Though bassist Jennifer Nalley relates an intriguing anecdote about a band in Las Vegas who performed wearing playing cards in strategic locations (bet the house on it), the Shindigs probably won't pull such a Chili Pepper act anytime soon. They have far too much class for that, though Bryan admits such behavior would definitely draw attention. "In Austin you have to have a gimmick," she asserts.

So far, the closest thing the Shindigs have found to a gimmick, besides beguiling songs and crackling stage energy, isn't something a band likes to be known for. Since Bryan formed the band in 1996, the Shindigs have seen their lineup change "more than the Beatles, fewer than Guns 'N' Roses," according to guitarist Geoff Lasch. Discussing the band's current lineup of Nalley, Lasch, and drummer Nathan Fontenot -- the only other original Shindig -- Bryan claims the group's current roster is as stable as it's ever been. Nalley, a Shindig since April, offers her newcomer's perspective.

"I like Melissa," she says. "I like Geoff. I like Nathan too. I don't know Nathan very well, I don't know Geoff so well, but I like him. And every gripe is always with a humorous undertone."

It's this same undertone that's present throughout much of an interview with Bryan, Lasch, and Nalley on the roof of Waterloo Brewing Company downtown. Fontenot, who had a date, is absent ("but we're glad he's getting some," says Bryan). When talk turns to Bryan's reasons for starting a rock & roll band, and why so many Shindigs songs seem to gravitate toward the subject of boys, the danger of that famous Waterloo house brew flying out some nostrils becomes real.

photograph by Todd V. Wolfson

Melissa: I don't know. I feel so on the spot. [Not to be confused with legendary punk producer Spot, who mixed their CD.]

Jennifer: Remember? To get guys.

Geoff: To get guys. What is it -- the cute young Emo's something?

Melissa: It's been three years and it hasn't worked yet!

Jennifer: It's not the Emo boys. They wear the wrong colors.

Geoff: What is this, a gang or something?

Jennifer: Emo boys tend to be fixated on these Seventies colors and clothes, like pea green and orange.

Chronicle: What type of boys do the Shindigs prefer?

Jennifer (who's taken, guys): I don't know if I should disclose this kind of information.

Melissa: I'm not going to say anything because you're going to patronize me and say the Shindigs just want tall, skinny rock & roll boys.Geoff: I know what kind of boys I like.

Jennifer: I prefer farmers. A little overweight, balding, gold teeth.

Melissa: She likes mailmen [or male men; the exact meaning is unclear] and she likes those guys that walk around on Sixth Street.

Geoff: Bums? Frat boys?

Melissa: Don't say anything, because she doesn't like to admit it. She likes the ones that wear baseball caps, are really buff, white T-shirt, khaki shorts, sandals ...

This is approximately the point in the conversation where the phrase "love sausage," rears its head. Soon after, Bryan reveals the real, suspiciously supernatural, reason she got into rock & roll. The Orlando native confesses to a junior high Molly Hatchet jones and later acquiring the nickname "headbanger" during college at Auburn University. Her DIY conversion came on the road to Seattle, not Damascus, but the effect was similar.

"Before I moved to Austin," recounts Bryan, "I was driving down the road, and all of a sudden I was turning around. I didn't really know why, except I had seen this cool-looking second-hand store. I went in there and it had all this junk, all these old wood-burning stoves, just junk everywhere. I walked back into the back and there was this room full of vintage guitars. The first guitar I picked up, I was like, 'Wow! I can play this guitar!' and I ended up buying it."

The epiphany happened as Bryan, looking for a place to settle, was traveling from San Francisco to Seattle. After a brief stint in the Emerald City, she decided Austin -- which she had visited previously -- was more to her liking.

"I went to Triple A," she says. "And they were like, 'No, you can't go back to Austin. You can't go back to Texas until the spring' -- this is like November -- 'because the passes are snowed in and if you don't have snow tires you won't make it.' So I freaked out and left the next day. I went to a youth hostel and picked up these strange people and drove them to Texas with me."

Once here, she solicited band advice from a local pop-punk elder, who told her she needed to find some musicians to be her "little pawns." Bryan, who assumes most band responsibilities and admits to a "control thing," found Lasch a year later after he saw the band, then featuring ace utility man and adult-magazine connoisseur Jacob Schulze on guitar, at a Spider House benefit for Austin's Rape Crisis Center. There, he had his own revelation.

"I realized when I saw Jacob play, I had to take his gig," says Lasch. So the man whose résumé includes a stint with ex-Jimi Hendrix drummer Buddy Miles became a Shindig.

Even without the near-constant personnel turnover (other ex-Shindigs include Ryan Willis of the Mittens, Juan Solo's own Chepo Peña, and some dude named Miles Zuniga -- briefly), things have hardly been all sunshine, rainbows, and cute boys for the band. Bryan suffers from chronic rheumatoid arthritis, which makes even fingering guitar chords painful. And for folks who think boys and girls playing in the same band inevitably means married couple-style squabbling, Bryan doesn't deny differences of opinion -- as in "the girls like good music, the boys like Van Halen.

"We have really sweet boys in our band," asserts Bryan. "We're lucky, because there's a lot of assholes out there, especially in the rock & roll world."

Besides, she says, "We are empowered women who don't need men."

"Need, no, but have no problem indulging," Nalley clarifies.

The talk turns more serious as the band discusses various past obstacles, but as always, they retain the same ringing sense of optimism that's evident at their shows. They tap the same rock & roll vein of swaggering vitality as Iggy Pop, the Replacements, or Little Richard, in that the music beckons strongest to those who are willing to lay it all on the line no matter what their individual circumstances. And if more people don't recognize this in the Shindigs, well, it's not the band's fault.

"I don't see what I've been through as hard," says Bryan. "I did for a really long time, but it's just been in the past year or two that I've been able to realize that I've been given a disease and it's for a reason. It's a blessing because it's gotten me to where I am right now. I had to go through all this depression and all this shit, hating myself, blah blah blah, but now I'm all right."

"When I was a kid I went through the whole thing with my hair and that's exactly how I felt," Lasch says. "I hated it all, everybody making fun of me constantly. It wasn't cool to be a little punk kid."

"I read in that England's Dreaming book that John Lydon had [meningitis] as a kid," Bryan continues. "The quote was that he, like many people who went on to be famous, had a childhood disease. It set them apart from other people, and he, at a very early age, gets a sensation of being different from other people."

"I had that too, but not with a disease," Nalley says. "It was just automatic for no reason."

"Well, that's because you are a weirdo," says Bryan, always the last word.

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