Distaff of Life

One of the things that distinguishes South Florida's music scene from, say, Seattle's, is that our bands do not have an identifiable sound, like grunge. The women making the music at our original rock venues have little in common beyond geographical proximity. Ponder the following:

"I don't know if spit is considered a prop," replies Jack Off Jill vocalist Jessicka to an innocent question about her band's proclivity for incorporating various apparatus into its stage show. The mind reels to think of what Maurice Chevalier would have said about these "little girls." In addition to vocalist Jessicka, the Jills are bassist Robin Moulder, guitarist Michelle Inhell, and drummer Tenni Ah-cha-cha. The foul-mouthed four have just released a tape, Children Five and Up, produced by another notorious local "babe," Marilyn Manson.

In addition to their favorite pastime ("just being jack offs"), the Jills have been playing a lot of live dates and generating considerable word-of-mouth, as much for their stage show as for their music. Sums Jessicka: "We're visual in a sense, although it's probably more violent commotion than anything else. Toys. Body fluids. We call it 'cuntcore.'"

"I use props, too!" jokes Marianne Flemming, a throaty singer-songwriter whose music is about as far removed from Jack Off Jill's as Chevalier's is, and whose stage accoutrements do not generally include double-pronged dildos. Yet Flemming, who is putting the finishing touches on her first CD, has an irreverent streak a mile wide and loathes the folkie label she is occasionally tagged with ("Oh no! Not another girl-with-a-guitar!"). She has little time for purists who believe the song should be the entire focus of a live performance. "I have a cigarette, which I hold in my guitar like Keith Richards when I play a slow blues tune, and a pair of come-fuck-me pumps for torch songs."

Jonelle, who hails from West Virginia, speaks in a voice that sounds like it has just been bottled from a mountain still. Her singing, however, is unaccented and magnetic, and she has little use for gimmickry (unless you count going barefoot on-stage). Jonelle and Jim Baumann, her songwriting and performing partner, specialize in lush, introspective, deeply personal acoustic ballads. Of late they've cut back on live appearances, preferring to ensconce themselves in their recently purchased recording studio at Baumann's place in Homestead and commit their songs to tape.

The Bellefires, featuring songwriter Valerie Archon on lead vocals and guitarist Lisa Cattoretti, have progressed from the atmospheric folk-rock of their first band, Daisy Chain, to a rootsier, rockier sound. The shift is partly attributable to the addition of rock players to the lineup, and partly to a conscious decision by Archon and Cattoretti to move from a melodic, keyboard-based approach to something harder and more guitar-oriented.

Says Cattoretti: "Female pop bands like the Go-Gos and the Bangles didn't influence me at all. I've always listened to rock -- Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Aerosmith. Rose [ex-Vesper Sparrow Guilot] was about the only girl guitar player I ever saw locally that really impressed me. I liked her playing a lot. Now I like Demonomacy, they're superaggressive, and Jack Off Jill. But what Valerie and I are doing is pretty different from them. We're not that alternative. We're a pure rock-and-roll band."

While Rose Guilot is still regarded as one of the better female lead guitarists in South Florida, many musicians would cast their vote for either Ditto's Michelle DeDominicis or Kathi Gibson of Whig Party. Gibson and Chris Limardo recently rejoined the Party after fronting another original rock band, Blizzy Nation, for six years.

"Being a woman and playing original rock is kind of a double-edged sword," says Gibson. "There's more initial interest, but you have to fight harder to be taken seriously. It's getting easier 'cause there's more women around. I just wish it paid better."

DeDominicis is half of a duo with Cyndy Ditto. Although occasionally compared to Indigo Girls, Ditto offers more musical sophistication. DeDominicis and Ditto prefer acoustic rock or jazz to folk; the sound won them a 1992 Jammy Award for Best Duo.

"We both started out up north, playing in places like Long Island and Connecticut. When we go back up there we notice there are hardly any women playing," says Ditto. "We're very grateful to the fans and the club owners down here for being so supportive."

Dana Cosley, Jamie Avery, and Lisa Antoniotti want to get signed to a label because they can't afford to tour on their own. Their hardcore/death metal band, Demonomacy, played the Sixth Annual Milwaukee Metal Fest last July with the likes of Cancer, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, and Deicide. The band has inspired comparisons to Malevolent Creation and Celtic Frost, and are informally referred to in certain circles as Satan's cheerleaders. Off-stage they're candid, softspoken, and articulate, and as likely to listen to classical music as hardcore. On-stage they're, well, demons.

Fans of local folk music are familiar with the name of Bob Ingram, one of the founding fathers of the vibrant Coconut Grove acoustic music scene in the Sixties. Not surprisingly, Bob's daughter, Bryn Ingram, lead singer for the Tunnelfeelers, credits her father's influence with much of her love for music.

"My father always instilled a sense of realism in me. If you play music because you love it, you've got a much better chance of making it," theorizes Bryn, who can trace her musical heritage back to her grandfather, a onetime big band musician in Havana. Grandpa went so far as to learn a handful of Beatles tunes on the guitar when he discovered his granddaughter was a fan.

"There's not much difference between the way a woman gets treated and the way a man gets treated [in the music scene], except that when you put an ad in the Rag you get a lot more idiots calling, asking, 'Are there any other girls in the band?'" hazards Kathy Fleischmann, currently involved in a number of projects after fronting Poetic Injustice and Big Tall Wish for the past five years. "I won't make that mistake again. Essentially, it was hormones calling. One guy kept bugging me to do hip-hop."

While Fleischmann is upbeat, even funny, in person, her songs cluster near the darker end of the spectrum. "I can't write happy songs. I'm not walking around manic-depressive, slitting my wrists or anything, but when I try to write upbeat material it all sounds trite or overdone. So when I get bothered or depressed about something, I get out my notepad."

Wet Flower vocalist France Blais had been planning on taking some time off from performing to concentrate on writing and recording new material when she found out she had another reason, one that male rockers never have to consider, to cut back on live appearances -- pregnancy.

"Being pregnant has changed my views on the band and on music in general," she says. But contrary to what one might expect, Blais claims impending motherhood has made her more motivated to get Wet Flower to sprout. "So far the only physical limitation is I'm a little shorter of breath. This makes me want to put more into the band and get things going. Now, it really matters. Being in a band totally changed my life. It's what I always wanted to do. The guys in the band were real cool about it, so I figure pregnant or not pregnant, baby or no baby, I'm still gonna do it.

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony