Why warble to Handel’s Hallelujah when you can really rock out? Try mixing it up withThe Hail Marys, the high-energy SF grrl group that twists hard-driving metal-esque rock around soulful ballads. One of the brightest stars in the queer rock universe, the Hail Marys appear this Friday, December 15, at the Paradise Lounge.
They’re not purely punk enough to be queercore — the genre that exploded onto the scene in the early ’90s with bands like Tribe 8 and Pansy Division — but their rebel attitude and righteous rage has earned The Hail Marys a place in dyke-rock history. Their lyrics, penned by lead singer Jackie Strano and guitarist Debbie Torrey, are a captivating combination of pugnacity and profane poetry. Think AC/DC with lyrics by Patti Smith. Along with bassist Veronica Savage and drummer Cat Barber, they’ve helped write a new chapter in women’s music.
The song “Hopeless Faith” from their debut CD, Sex Child, attracted enough attention to make it into the popular lesbian thriller “Bound,” starring Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. They performed a remix of “Cold Comfort” in Lisa Ginsburg’s short “Override” and more of their music made it to celluloid in the soundtrack of the German feature film “No One Sleeps.” The band’s third CD is due out by March 2001.
Taking a break from rehearsing with the rest of the group, Jackie Strano spoke with me at Cafe Macondo in the Mission.
Nancy Warren: Why the name The Hail Marys?
Jackie Strano: …Kind of playing off the campiness and kitschiness of Catholic iconography without the dogma. [I’m] half-Catholic and half-Jewish. I just thought it would be a really cool thing to give Mary her mojo back.
NW: Would you say The Hail Marys are part of the queercore scene?
JS: We say so although traditionally queercore has been a lot more of a punk music scene. Definitely our heart is there, our politics are there, our do-it-yourself ethic is there. We don’t have any kind of big label or small label, we don’t even have a manager at this point but we’re ready to get one. We did our whole national tour on our own. Definitely the queercore ethic is there — like “Hey you want to put on a show? Let’s go.” But…
NW: But something’s different? What’s different?
JS: We’re more like a hard rock band. … We have punk elements, but we’re hard rock with an edge. We sound a lot more like a lot of boy bands out there. The only difference is we happen to be dykes. Kind of a cross between Alice in Chains and Concrete Blonde. Patti Smith has been thrown in. We’ve been compared to L7 and Tribe 8 because we have a hard edge sound.
NW: What are your favorite bands?
JS: Well, to be fair to the band, I’ll give you the bands’ favorites. Zeppelin, Jane’s Addiction, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Afghan Wigs, Patti Smith. I think that covers everybody’s kind of big faves. L7. I love L7. Patti Smith and L7 are my personal favorites.
NW: Why should people see your band for the holidays?
JS: We do a wicked version of “Hava Nagila.” … We’re fun; we’ll leave you energized. It’ll be completely different than waiting in line at Nordstrom and getting gifts wrapped. … Just come on down and see some original SF talent. It’s hard to come by right now. The music scene is a really sad situation. There’s hardly any places to play and there’s hardly any bands left. The rehearsal studios are getting shut down. It’s really a sad state of affairs.
NW: I know it’s hard on everyone across the boards. Is it harder on queer bands?
JS: I look at it from a queer perspective: We had to move here. We moved here to experience coming out, to experience being politicized, being sexualized. … Not everybody else had to come here. It wasn’t a matter of queer identity survival, it was a matter of making money. … It’s sort of like you can’t have the liberty of choosing right now as a queer youth: “Oh I’m going to go to San Francisco, flop on somebody’s floor and play in this punk band.” Now, you just don’t have that. It’s really sad.
NW: How does your music help people with queer identity?
JS: When they see us on stage and we’re so f***ing righteous and fierce…
photos by Phyllis Christopher, Denise Macias, David Torrey, Shar Rednour