Gretchen Phillips

Gretchen Phillips
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Why was Gretchen Phillips voted into the Austin Chronicle's 2000-2001 Music Poll Hall of Fame? Let's see. Her choice to put a lesbian point of view front and center in her songs has been cited as an inspiration to such indie pop sensations as Le Tigre, The Butchies and Pansy Division. Her bold and creative use of Casio presets has been cited as an influence on Austin's own foul-mouthed music sensation Hug. And, very arguably, where would Riot Grrrrl be without Meat Joy, her seminal first band, which artfully combined sexual politics with lots of humor? Yes, her twenty-four years in Austin have been well spent. A Texas native, Gretchen moved to Austin in 1981 after finishing up three years at the prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston where she was in a band with Sara Hickman. She immediately fell into the flourishing, incredibly creative Austin punk scene. Emboldened by the unapologetic and sexy outness of such local gay punk stars as Biscuit of The Big Boys and Gary Floyd of The Dicks, she decided to forge a path of her own in the hitherto underrepresented genre of "lezzie rock." Flanked by her wonderful gay and straight, male and female band mates and vowing to put the "sex back in homosexuality," Meat Joy, released a "...stinging, springy assault on sexual warfare that has to be heard to be believed" according to New Music Express, Oct. '84. They purchased 1500 blank album covers and with the help of the Austin community hand decorated every single one. They shared the stage with such acts as The Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Sun City Girls and The Meat Puppets. As much a performance art troupe as a punk or even folk band, after winning Best Avante-Garde/Experimental Band in the Austin Chronicle's 1984-85 Music Poll, they, of course, broke up. Saddened but free, Gretchen quickly formed two different all-girl bands in the summer of 1985. Girls in the Nose was the more rocking, electric outfit and Two Nice Girls was the more acoustic. She devoted equal time to both bands, but Two Nice Girls captured Austin's heart more quickly. Aided by the enthusiastic support of Mark Pratz (who then ran the Continental Club) and Austin Chronicle columnist Michael Corcoran, they built a loyal audience both gay and straight. When invited to play at the very first SXSW conference, they initially balked because of lack of payment. Fortunately they got off their high horse and ended up having a great show at the Hole in the Wall with The Wagoneers. And as if in a dream, Two Nice Girls was signed by Rough Trade Records as a result of that first SXSW. Rough Trade was good to Two Nice Girls and their first of three albums spawned a couple of college radio "hits." One was their cover of Lou Reed's Sweet Jane smashed up with Joan Armatrading's Love and Affection and the other was Gretchen's original country song of remorse, I Spent My Last $10 (On Birth Control and Beer). They toured the US, Canada and England a lot and got to share the stage with many other wonderful bands. They also won more Austin Chronicle Music Awards as well as the prestigious GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) media award. Things were great, then things got hard, and the cliché of "musical differences" tore Two Nice Girls asunder. One of the differences was Gretchen's desire for an even more experimental approach to music. After a brief tenure and tour with Girls in the Nose (who had been flourishing nationally) in the early 90s, Gretchen began her solo career. Welcome To My World was her first release, an unclassifiable cassette (back in the days when that was a very viable format) of spoken word ruminations on sin and excess set to the music of the beloved Casio. She then formed the Gretchen Phillips Xperience with such Austin luminaries as Jo Walston (Meat Purveyors), John Paul Keenon (Cibo Matto, Sean Lennon), Andy Loomis (Craig Ross), and Thor (Swans, Shearwater). Always aided by gorgeous go-go dancers, GPX was a live experience not to be missed. They played all over and had a lot of fun and then Gretchen got it in her head to move to San Francisco in the mid-90s and broke the band up. While in SF she began the terrifying project of performing solo. She asked herself, "What are the merits of stripping a song of its ornate arrangement and presenting the bare bones of lyrics and melody?" She then answered herself, "Well, potentially having an even stronger grasp on songwriting and enhancing the performance of raw, vulnerable emotion." But after a couple of years of that, Gretchen returned to Austin and quickly formed Lord Douglas Phillips starring Terri Lord (Jitters, Sincola and fellow Hall of Famer) and Darcee Douglas (Swine King, and Girls in the Nose, among many others). A rocking, lezzie trio, Lord Douglas Phillips enjoyed playing locally and with touring national dyke acts. And then, like all good things, this band ended. Not to be forgotten in the midst of all these bands are the sojourns with such illustrious luminaries as Kathy McCarty in the Buffalo Gals ca. 1983 and Josephine Wiggs (The Breeders) and Vivian Trimble (Luscious Jackson) in Dusty Trails ca. 1999. The dawn of the new millennium has seen the formation of Gretchen's NYC fag/dyke duo, Phillips & Driver, co-starring New York's downtown superstar David Driver. They released the critically acclaimed album, Togetherness, on Bar/None Records in 2003. And Austin saw the formation of The Gretchen Phillips Ministries, her popular country/gospel band co-starring Jo Walston and Andy Loomis, folks with whom she'd rocked the hardest and now saw fit to reconfigure as a Christian youth group. In 2004, Gretchen spent six months living in Paris, France, working on demos for her next solo album entitled I Was Just Comforting Her. She performed in Paris and Croatia to enthusiastic crowds and is anxious to get her ass back over to Europe for some more gigs. Currently settled in Austin and working with Rob Halverson, she's almost completed recording on that solo album. Perhaps an uncompromising approach to the inherent politics of pleasure coupled with a ceaseless desire for fun is the reason Gretchen Phillips is a "fringe legend" according to Texas Monthly, January '99. Perhaps. Maybe it's just the good music.
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