Allison Wolfe of Sex Stains (Photo by Theresa Sanchez)
In 2016 riot grrrls use Snapchat.
Don’t believe me? Not punk enough?
Boisterous, bespectacled redhead Allison Wolfe would beg to differ.
“I’m learning Snapchat,” said Allison to the capacity audience at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C., last Thursday, September 15. She was thanking Governess and Coup Souvage & The Snips for opening and had captured part of each local band’s session with her phone using social media app popularized by Millennials. “You can’t see it because it disappears in like 2 seconds. I’m supposed to be learning [technology] though. I am taking a class for that.” She’s enrolled at the University of Southern California and even wrote a song about it called “USC,” which kicked of the Sex Stains set that night.
The Washington, D.C. native whose rock pedigree is one that has literally made the history books – really, check out page 458 in Barbara O’Dair’s tome “Trouble Girls: The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock.” She’s been “jumping around like a manic cheerleader” since the early 1990s performing in first generation riot girl outfits like Bratmobile, Partyline, and Cold Cold Hearts.
Her notoriety has certainly helped the new Los Angeles-based band garner fan support while on tour said the band’s drummer, David Orlando, former Warpaint member who moonlights as a DJ and club promoter. “There’s a commonality there – people come out to our shows because they are definitely interested in what Allison [Wolfe] is doing now.”
This third stop on their brief 5-show, post-album release, mini-tour was no exception. Friends and family were in the audience, including legendary singer/songwriter, guitarist and founding member of Fugazi, Ian MacKaye. Members of Nation of Ulysses were also present to support their long-time friend’s new endeavor.
“I really consider DC to be home,” said Allison at the top of the show, who also identifies another Washington as “home” – the Pacific Northwestern city of Olympia specifically. “I mean I bitch about it all the time, but I love it!” That sentiment was not lost on the DC residents present, who cheered loudly in agreement.
Even though she might be the initial attraction and the more outspoken of the two vocalists, it’s important to acknowledge that Sex Stains is not just Allison. Upon experiencing them live, that assertion quickly became abundantly clear. She specifically sought out a partner because, “While being a front person is cool, after awhile you’re kind of bored with yourself and I just wanted to have someone else to interact with.” Her aim was to take achieve “something a little more complex onstage or at least vocally.”
She succeeded brilliantly in securing Mecca Vazi Andrews, who she discovered at a tribute night for the English punk rock band Crass, dubbed “Crass ‘Penis Envy’ 30-Year Anniversary Celebration” at the Los Angeles club The Echo. The professional dancer and choreographer’s performance of “Bata Motel” elicited two words from Allison: “Oh wow,” and she immediately knew she wanted be in a band with two singers.
Visually, they couldn’t be more opposite. That stark contrast permeated their individual onstage personas and delivery, both making it a point to interact with the receptive audience. The two complemented each other in a way I haven’t seen before, especially with females, and it was more than refreshing. The high-powered verbal and physical dance they exchanged was engaging and left me demanding more after the 43-minute set was finished.
If it wasn’t for these tribute nights at the Echo, who knows if the band ever would have formed, but it did and both me and their other fans are glad. David, Allison, guitarist Sharif Dumani, and bassist Pachy Garcia (also in Prettiest Eyes) all met after witnessing each other’s individual performances of various cover songs at the Part Time Punk shows at the nightclub. Their love, knowledge, and respect for the punk and post-punk genres is indisputable while watching the show and the quintet play seamlessly without a hitch – except well, maybe the first couple of minutes, where Allison asked people to let Mecca cut in the bathroom line. But that just added to the whole raw, intimate atmosphere of the night.
Fan and concert attendee Bramman “Sander” Avery, 27, from Washington, D.C., summed the night up perfectly: “This is the most punk show I’ve been to in a hot minute.”
– Allison is a champion at self-deprecation. A fan reminded her that she allegedly said: “Never date a guy who listens to GWAR.” Surprised by this, she stated she forgot saying that, and offered: “You could do worse – like me.” Those interested, take note.
– Allison embraces nostalgia. In an effort to revisit her past, she visited local haunt, Tastee Diner, but apparently chose the wrong one (Silver Spring, MD). The audience set her straight regarding location. “The food is still just as crappy!”
– Don’t try to “mansplain” to her, especially about music-related issues. Sometimes, it’s helpful, because had a 20-something male not challenged her over the song 1966 song “Can’t Explain,” by the band Love, she might not ever know that The Who did it first in 1964 with “I Can’t Explain.” This discussion was fueled by lack of sleep (“Some of us woke up at 5 a.m.”) and the title of their new album’s 8th track, “Who Song, Love Song.”
– She’s a proud LA metro cardholder, and has no qualms about taking the bus or the subway, even if it’s in her own neighborhood. In fact, she mentioned it twice throughout the night.
– While Mecca “always tries to rationalize “’Sex on the Subway,’” Allison admits she can’t, identifying as a prude … a “fake” prude actually.
– Don’t try to grab a copy of the setlist. You cannot have one because they reuse them. No riot grrrl zines or flyers on hand either. They did have merch however.
– Outside of the 12-song album (with average length being about 2 minutes each), the band only has two additional tracks they showcase live: “Numbers, Faces” and “Producing Products” and they played both. For “Cutie Pie” enthusiasts, sorry no dice tonight (and possibly down the road).
– Allison’s a former gymnast who can do splits and she’s not afraid to rip a dress, even a nice vintage satin one given to her by Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill in the 90s, who also authored the infamous “Riot Grrrl Manifesto.”
– Mosh pits are encouraged.
As a person unfamiliar with band, but knowledgeable of the “chick rock” and riot grrrl movements, I had no trouble enjoying the concert. While a bit loud and gritty at times, that was to be expected. They are most certainly a skilled super group, with a phenomenal stage presence who put on a thoughtful and engaging show. I’d recommend that anybody see them live. In fact, I suggest you get on a plane in to California and hit up their next live show in Santa Monica on September 24 (18th Street Arts Center Beer & Art Festival). Heck stick around through the weekend and into Tuesday and head to Los Angeles and catch them at the American Legion Hall. But if you really want to rock out, maybe wait until October 23 and watch them at The Echo, a venue instrumental to their formation.
Thoughts on the Album: First and foremost: Do yourself a favor and buy the album. You’ll thank me for recommending it and the band for making it, I assure you. And, hey, NPR recently covered their “Period. Period.” video release, and they’re usually on point, right? Do it! Watch Sex Stains perform “Period. Period.” at Comet Ping Pong on Sept. 15:
Instead of “resorting” to Facebook for an album title, like they had for their band’s name, Sex Stains decided to keep it simple and go the eponymous route. Their self-titled album was released September 2 on Don Giovanni Records, a New Jersey-based indie record label by anti-corporate partners Joseph Steinhardt and Zach Gajewski. Since it’s creation in 2003, they’ve earned a reputation for supporting female-fronted bands and LGBT artists with an edge (a major tenant of the aforementioned “Manifesto”).
David designed the cover art. He used an artist friend’s discarded oil pain palette. He used – wait for it – TOOTHPASTE to write the words “Sex Stains” on the front. “The painting was so colorful that it needed something to contrast it.”
What’s Next for Sex Stains:
David: “We’re growing in Los Angeles. I think a lot of our main concern is that this is fun and stays creative and that we’re able to grow our ideas and come out with more great music. If we make money or whether it goes somewhere or not, all that other stuff is icing, because I’m already on like Cloud 9 from having an album come out and getting to play with this group. It doesn’t get any better than that for me.”
Icing. Or toothpaste.
Allison: “There’s definitely hope for this scene and music in general. I think there’s a lot of great bands – like Downtown Boys. I mean there’s a lot of shit too, you’ve got to just sort through it.”
You’ve already got a head start with this band and their stated influences. Educate yourself by streaming Kleenex/LiliPUT, The Slits, Bikini Kill, and Allison’s previous bands. Check out bands they played with, like the Downtown Boys, Governess, and Coup Savage & the Snips. Visit Don Giovanni Records and explore the band’s label mates. You won’t be sorry.