Bring the Noise

Cover your ears or bask in the blare. Miami avant-skronkers Harry Pussy, Rat Bastard, and Tom Smith's To Live and Shave in L.A. have launched an audacious aural assault on the senses. But is anyone out there listening?

Is America ready for Harry Pussy?
Kurt Cobain thought so. Several Miamians who attended Nirvana's November 27, 1993, concert in Bayfront Park verify that Cobain urged the amphitheater crowd to catch Harry Pussy's set later that night at Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti. Of course, Cobain didn't actually go to Churchill's, but why quibble?

Lou Barlow thinks so. The Sebadoh singer-songwriter-bassist and one-time Dinosaur Jr member who, legend has it, was so true to his indie-rock roots that he parted company with J Mascis and friends when the band inked a deal with Sire/Warner Brothers, stroked Pussy in Pop Watch, a Boston alternative music magazine. "It's amazing," Barlow labels the band's recent recorded output. "Total guitar noodling, screaming, jagged improv which, for no other reason than sheer will and charisma, works for me more than 99 percent of that usual mock improv noise shit. One of the 'songs' features some genuinely horrific female screaming that could've been taped off a snuff film, 'til said female says 'thank you' and the live audience of maybe ten gives up some sporadic applause. It gets me every time."

Thurston Moore thinks so. In the "Raves" section of the June 16, 1994, issue of Rolling Stone, the Sonic Youth feedback king labeled Pussy's latest discharge "anarchistic noise freak-out stuff that I think is really cool." A week later Moore, while hosting an episode of MTV's 120 Minutes alternative-rock show, exhibited a few seconds from a video of the band recorded live at the Alliance Cinema on Miami Beach, then held up a copy of its latest seven-inch single and urged viewers to go out and buy it. In indie-rock circles this is tantamount to a papal benediction.

Kurt Cobain. Lou Barlow. Thurston Moore. These men have all earned spots in the alternative-rock pantheon. They love (in Cobain's case, loved) Harry Pussy. The band's recorded product -- three seven-inch singles (two of which were distributed by indie-scene tastemaker Matador Records) and a full-length, eponymously titled album -- always has sold out initial pressings, and its music has garnered glowing notices in the 'zines (the primary mode of information dissemination in the indie-rock world remains underground magazines, referred to as 'zines by anyone who actually reads them). Yet here in Miami, Harry Pussy's hometown, it's strictly Rodney Dangerfield time. No respect at all.

"I love Guided by Voices," says Harry Pussy guitarist-vocalist Bill Orcutt between drags on a Camel. "The idea of this small-town Ohio band, together for more than a decade, no national exposure. Suddenly they're playing Lollapalooza."

Except that no one familiar with Harry Pussy's modus operandi would give you much better than even-money odds that the band even would accept a spot on the annual summer megatour if it were offered. This is a band that does everything unconventionally. Orcutt, for example, uses only four strings on his guitar A low E, G, B, and high E. He says the bizarre stringing enables him to play two lines at once. Mark Feehan, the band's other guitarist, uses only three. There always have been bands and musicians whose anti-establishment ethos was at odds with their popular success (the late Cobain comes immediately to mind). But few seem quite so determined to dodge celebrity as Orcutt's group.

By way of demonstration, most bands planning a big tour up and down the East Coast who had just been anointed by Thurston Moore in the most widely circulated rock magazine in the land would plaster the quote over every piece of promotional literature they could afford to print up. They'd use the recognition like a calling card to wangle interviews or to try to land more gigs. No flyer, handbill, or poster would roll off the press without the words really cool followed by Moore's name. But that's not Harry Pussy's style. When they leave Miami for three weeks in late July, with stops in Gainesville, Columbia (South Carolina), Chapel Hill, Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City, none of its publicity will include the quote.

"Rolling Stone doesn't really reach our target audience," explains Orcutt halfheartedly. But there's more to it than that. Like, maybe being written up in a publication as mainstream as Rolling Stone (or New Times, for that matter) embarrasses Harry Pussy.

For a band that San Francisco 'zine Insensato describes as "propelled by guitars that scrub into open wound," or that Minneapolis's Your Flesh terms "an out-and-out screamer...a potent brew of free-falling improvisation within a loose rock format...vocals with the mike down the throat," the members of Harry Pussy are preternaturally subdued when they're away from their instruments. Neither Feehan nor drummer Adris Hoyos (who happens to be married to Orcutt) is given to small talk. (Especially not with an impertinent writer who thinks Sun City Girls is the name of a sit-com that resulted from the Golden Girls relocating to Phoenix.) Hoyos, who recently completed her master's degree in English lit. at Florida Atlantic University, responds to most queries with cursory one- or two-word answers. Feehan goes her one better by reducing his communication to an occasional smirk. Orcutt, by default, assumes the mantle of band spokesperson. And his favorite word is whatever.

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