Heather Leigh has single-handedly re-invented the pedal steel guitar as a sonic disruptor par excellence. Her early work as one half of the Ash Castles On The Ghost Coast duo was spectacularly disobedient, combining an instinctive feel for non-idiomatic improvisation with the reification of various psychedelic states in sound and a feral understanding of the concept of extended technique. But it was her work with Charalambides and her duo with Christina Carter, Scorces, that really put her name on the map, playing on Charalambides heaviest side to date, the monolithic Joy Shapes, while inventing some of the most instrumentally barren yet emotionally weighty music ever to sail on electric strings over a bunch of amazing Scorces sides. Her solo work combines the No Wave brutality of early Teenage Jesus with the sanctified strings of Washington Phillips and the vocal energies of Patty Waters while her work with Taurpis Tula alongside David Keenan and Alex Neilson re-directs her abilities in a cranky avant-garage direction. Her last solo album, Devil If You Can Hear Me, was one of the most high-wire reconciliations of song-forms and total musical freedoms while her forthcoming double LP with Scorces on Not Not Fun sounds like the real heavy meta. A lifetime record collector, Heather had seen more key underground groups by the time she was 18 years old than most fanboys take in in their lifetime and we are psyched to present her beautiful eye-witness account of the legendary Harry Pussy show in Austin, Texas finally released on CD by Sister Skull. Radiation Nation: Harry Pussy Live in Austin, Texas 1997
When I first heard this was coming out I was like, “What?! THAT show?! That fucking wild show in ’97, I’ll never forget that show!” and here it is. And it sounds exactly like I remember it. This is one of many times that I saw Harry Pussy, but I had never seen this line-up of the group before. With Dan instead of Mark in the ranks, it was a whole new pussy to me. It was one of those really humid Texas nights. It had to be during the weekend cause Austin’s notorious Sixth Street was blazing. I remember Bill Orcutt telling Christina Carter and I that we sounded like English students because we were complaining about rowdy college dudes crawling loudly across every street amidst cheap jewellery stands, spray-paint artists and drunken obliteration that would even have fluorescent Newcastle honeys aghast. He was right though, we sounded like a couple of whiners! It was such a weird night too. That strange way where everything is kinda off, people have faraway glassy looks in their eyes. You’re cracking a different surface. The venue was The Blue Flamingo, a total hole in the wall, very sleazy and super small. I knew before Harry Pussy started they were going to vibe with the fucked-up energy of that place so perfectly. So yeah, this disc, it takes me back to that time completely. The music that night was totally overblown, the audience going more and more insane and just screaming their heads off, falling into inane heckles of the band, “louder!” “fuck you”, “(insert various puns on the word Pussy)”, the music ripping through a tiny, completely packed room, beer/cigarette/piss smells abound. It’s so weird to even hear my own screams on the recording, a totally enthralled member of the audience like everyone else there. An image that totally sticks with me was a point when Adris was in the middle of the floor, rolled into an atomic ball, her incredible voice screaming, hard from the throat, completely matching Orcutt’s fierce and totally ecstatic guitar playing while Dan’s thumping bombs vibrated the walls. The air was so thick, all those stinky Austin boyz around me, completely lacking in good looks or personal hygiene. You can hear Adris screaming to the audience on the disc something like, “fuck you!...you’re all really boring and really lame and you don’t know how to dress and you look like a bunch of fucking college brats”, knowingly riling ‘em up, but also just goofin’, talking shit. I’d seen Adris fuck with an audience like this before. The looks on the boys faces were half, “what the fuck is this chick mocking us?!, trying to show us up, uh no, a chick can’t be this intense AND sharp!”...to “holy shit! this is the best music I’ve ever heard in my life, I don’t care if she’s abusing me or not, I’m into it!” I remember thinking, was it like this seeing The Stooges? Teenage Jesus? I always thought Harry Pussy were completely free, and sonically it was totally psychedelic and *free* but after seeing them live so many times I knew there was no way it could be completely improvised. Harry Pussy were tight, and not in some dumb geek way of giving an accolade based on technique either, technique is not something I’m really concerned with when I listen to music, but every time I saw them do songs over the years, especially consecutive shows, they played the songs almost exactly the same way every night. They were ON IT. To hear them belting out one of my recorded favourites of theirs’, the cover of Kraftwerk’s Showroom Dummies at this Austin show brought back memories of my first exposure to Harry Pussy. It was their self-titled record on Siltbreeze. I already loved Siltbreeze as a label at that point and just bought whatever was on it. I remember being totally confounded by the cover. Slam dancing? Is this going to be a hardcore record? That record was all I had to go on when I first saw them live. It was on a tour with Charalambides, who were already friends of mine since I met them at Sound Exchange, my favourite Houston record store and the place I spent a ton of time and all of the money I was making holding a part-time veterinary clinic job. My boyfriend and I basically followed some of the tour till we ended up at the first Siltbreeze festival. We stood outside the club, too young to get inside, and waited for one of the bands, I think it might have been some of the Strapping Fieldhands in the end, to sneak us in through the stage door of the Khyber Pass. We loved almost everything that weekend musically and as kinda kids on the sidelines, we soaked up the atmosphere, it was super impressionable, almost like going to your first concert and hanging with the band backstage afterwards. But way better. And it was Harry Pussy that made the biggest impression on me. I can’t underestimate the influence they had on me, musically of course, but the whole ethos of going for it, pushing boundaries, it felt almost revolutionary to a seventeen year old. But THEIR MUSIC! They encompassed so much of the music I love, punk, free-jazz, rock, they sounded totally fearless and free. Bill Orcutt’s guitar playing is without a doubt an influence on my playing, I still consider him one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Everything about his sound was just perfect to me. Amphetamine gnawing, those sudden sliding dips, so nasty and sexy, rhythmically a rainbow across the ears. And Adris, I mean how could anyone NOT be floored by her presence, musical talent and complete abandon. Her natural playing ability was stunning, but I think she was especially influential for a young woman like I was. I was already playing free music myself by the time I saw Harry Pussy, but only private solo recording and with Shawn McMillen in Ash Castles On The Ghost Coast. So to see a woman doing this live, Adris totally validated my own desire to have the confidence to go live as a woman musician, just being completely true to your own personal vision. Hot and rockin’. Rock music, it’s my favourite music, and this was my favourite rock band, most definitely my favourite band to see live at the time. Period. No matter what show they played, I always got that kinda giddy, an almost anxious feeling of not knowing what was going to happen but knowing whatever happened I was always booked in on that ride wherever it went. Gladly. And this Austin show. I remember there were spans of time where the audience started swaying and falling into each other like this great nebulous mob, it felt huge, almost historic, total madness, anything could happen! I remember Bill walking out afterward and saying “Geezus, it was like Shea Stadium in there!” It felt Dirty and Epic in some greasy dive in the middle of toe-head county hee-haw. I didn’t know that this would be the last time I would see Harry Pussy. Fucking Harry Pussy. Maybe they really were the greatest rock group of all time? This CD brings back that time for me. Those early Siltbreeze festivals, the Dead C touring the East Coast, catching those shows they did with V-3, I could go on and on listing all those early shows and records that had such an affect on me. There is a part of me that can’t help but be nostalgic for those days. I think “mid-90s? oh yeah, that was JUST in the mid-90s, right…there…but..” yeah, it’s not just right there. It was already a long time ago really. But for me, those were my late high school/early college years when my tastes were refining. I think so fondly of those days, pre-internet really, when I had to trawl zines for information, reviews of records you were probably not going to actually ever get to hold in your hand. Or a mystic ad, taunting you while you’ve already started building a legend about the release in your mind. And so here I am, 11 years later, still raving about Harry Pussy.