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San Francisco Bay Guardian - October, 2000

Multiple Maniacs
She Mob doesn't act the appropriate way

By J. Neo Marvin

Today's She Mob

A WOBBLY TREMOLO -laden guitar figure sets up a song whose first line is "Why didn't you tell us that you were taking Prozac for an experiment?" A bratty punk anthem about cutting school to stay home and smoke pot climaxes with the plaintive cry "Why did I become a teacher?" A tender ballad of sisterly solidarity ("You can call me anytime ... I understand") turns out to be sung from the point of view of Linda Tripp. These are some of the passionately blunt statements and sardonic twists you'll find in She Mob songs.

Formed in the late '90s, the band is actually a reunion of sorts, centered on three friends (Sue Hutchinson, Diane Wallis, and Lisa McElroy) who have dabbled in music for nearly two decades. (Fourth member Alan Korn, veteran of countless San Francisco bands, has known the other three for almost as long.) Smart, funny women in their mid to late 30s don't often start up bands on a lark, but a few listens to She Mob's diverse, clever, and hummable debut album, Cancel the Wedding, may make you believe that more of them should.

Forging a clangy but melodic sound out of their own mostly self-taught multi-instrumental skills (apart from drummer Lisa, everyone trades off guitar or bass), She Mob call up an odd array of echoes: '60s girl singers, obscure early Rough Trade bands. But they remind me most of the mournful yet raucous and humorous music of the Cannanes or Scrawl. The thing that makes them more than another garage band is their stellar songwriting, the product of three writers whose individual styles are an outgrowth of their personalities.

Hutchinson is the extrovert, mining rage and silliness with an actor's arsenal of voices, from sarcastically sweet croon to aggressively deranged shout; her songs range from stories with mind-warping wordplay to topical vignettes. In contrast, Wallis's songs tend toward plainspoken, emotionally direct potency. McElroy is a master of the deadpan barb whose newest songs (including the aforementioned Linda Tripp ballad, "I Am You") suggest she may be the postpunk Dorothy Parker that Lois Maffeo never quite became.

It happens to be Wallis's birthday when I get together with She Mob to do an interview. (The night before, the band played Oakland's Stork Club dressed as the Powerpuff Girls, with Korn as monkey villain Mojo Jojo.) More than once, they seize control of the interview to question one another. All journalists should have it so easy.

Bay Guardian: Your name comes from a '60s B movie.

Lisa McElroy: We swiped it from a Roxie flyer, before we had even seen the movie. It's about five crazed women who escape from prison and capture a male gigolo and perform unspeakable acts on him.

Diane Wallis: Didn't they wear, like, conical bras in the movie?

Sue Hutchinson: One does. She pokes him with her bra and says, "Mah tits are as hard as mah heart!"

LM: And then she lunges upon [the gigolo], and when she pulls back there are two holes in his chest.

BG: Let's talk about some of your new songs. "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy" that title's a mouthful.

LM: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is this awful syndrome where women mostly women give their kids medicine they don't need, or constantly take them to the doctor, and the kids have unnecessary surgery or prescriptions because the women want attention for being the "health provider." Sometimes people do this for years, and no one catches on. Some women get famous for having such sick kids and get foundations started up for themselves, and they get to meet, like, Hillary Clinton and become famous for "taking care" of their kids.

DW: Lisa had written the words and had an idea of the sound she wanted, and Alan came up with the music.

Alan Korn: The concept was Metallica.

SH: And Alan had never heard Metallica!

LM: I used to be a heavy metal DJ when I was growing up in Concord, and I thought "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy" sounded like a bad heavy metal concept and it would be funny to write this hard-driving song about it.

BG: "Appropriate Way" is one of my favorites: "I don't know how to act the appropriate way."

AK: It's a universal theme.

SH: Let's just say the situation [that inspired the song] has been resolved, and I'm currently acting the appropriate way.

LM: Diane, what's "So Sleepy" about?

DW: I think it's partly about my friend with M.S. and partly about my dad about people who have to spend a lot of time in bed.

LM: Isn't "When You Go Away" about him too?

DW: Well, it was about him getting Alzheimer's. You watch somebody go through that, and sometimes they're not ... there.

AK: Like "Mrs. Idey" [an eerie song from Cancel the Wedding about an old woman wandering off and getting lost].

DW: Right. Mrs. Idey had Alzheimer's too, and my dad remembered her story when he first started getting it, which made it really spooky.

BG: Explain "Melvin" I've never figured that song out.

LM: My husband's mom lives in Massachusetts, and her neighbor, Melvin, is autistic. He's in his 20s now; he really likes machinery and clocks, and he loves the sound of trains. [The] song is about his grandfather becoming ill. It was Melvin's first time dealing with losing a family member he was close to; Melvin got a tape from his mom, and he loves the song, so that's cool.

BG: Let's see, your songs have weird mental states, deaths in the family

SH: And unrequited longing, in "Soulmate." There was this friend of mine from another state, who fell in love with this guy from a band, and he kind of led her to believe that they were soul mates. He said he'd been to a psychic who told him he was going to meet his soul mate, but he would be involved with another woman, and he wouldn't be able to be with [his soul mate] for a couple of years. He said that to my friend while they were lying in bed and looking into each other's eyes for two hours straight without talking.

AK: Or blinking!

SH: He didn't come right out and say "wait for me," but she thinks he led her to believe that. Then she went to a psychic who said the same thing to her: "You will meet your soul mate, but you will have to wait"!

LM: These psychics had both gone to the same psychic class! So I, being a very big skeptic, wrote this song about these psychics messing with this woman's head.

DW: I think we should ask Alan more questions. How does it feel to play in a band

SH: With so much estrogen?

AK: [In] the '80s punk had already happened, and suddenly there were all these brilliant bands with women in them.

LM: Well, that's when we were coming of age, during this time when all these women just formed bands and didn't care if they were "good." They just got together and got all their emotions out.

SH: Frightwig!

BG: But more and more people are discovering that period now. You see things like the Raincoats reissues a few years back, a new ESG compilation, and the box set of Kleenex/Lilliput will be out soon. And young bands like the Subtonix who draw inspiration from all that music. It still reaches people.

SH: Can I tell you why I'm in She Mob?

BG: Please do.

SH: Because it's a really good way for me to process my emotions. And it's a socially acceptable way to scream out loud.

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