Ladies bring the blues

Posted on 26 Jul 2007 at 4:58pm
By Gilbert Garcia Pop Music Critic

Lesbian duo The Moaners travel light, rock hard. And they aspire to be badasses just like Foxy Brown



Southern gothic SOUND: Swingle, left, and King bring North Carolina-based garage blues to Big D on Tuesday.

You can tell a lot about an artist by the size of their entourage. Divas like Xtina and Britney may travel in luxury, but when Chapel Hill, N.C. blues-rock duo The Moaners hit the road, they jam econo-style.

Earlier this week, we were scheduled to chat about their Dallas gig on Tuesday. But the pair asked if they can put off the call until they’re done loading their van.

A few hours later, with the band heading out of town and drummer Laura King handling the driving duties, guitarist and singer Melissa Swingle gives the low-down on the duo’s lo-fi brand of dirty blues.

“You hear this a lot, but a band is only as good as its drummer,” says Swingle. “I’ve been very lucky to find Laura. Pretty much everyone is amazed by her drumming,” she says.

Swingle seems to have been one of those most impressed by King’s skill. In a short video documentary on the group’s Web site, Swingle recounts the first time she heard King then the drummer for Chapel Hill’s Grand National.

“She didn’t play like a girl at all,” recalls Swingle. “She was laying into those drums like there was no tomorrow.”

Having a double shot of estrogen in the mix was a plus for Swingle, who had previously fronted alt-country outfit Trailer Bride.

“In my previous band, I was the only woman,” she says. “Forming an all-girl band was appealing to me. And being that we’re also good musicians, it’s fun to surprise people. Audiences are often taken aback by us.”

Though female lead guitarists are still far from the norm, Swingle doesn’t buy the notion that guitar is still a boy’s pursuit in this day and age.

“Being that we’re in the 21st century, guitar is just as much of a rite of passage for girls as it is for guys,” she says. “But drums are still a much more male-dominated instrument these days,” she says.

Though the Moaners have mostly counted bluesmen and male rockers as their main influences, Swingle singles out a number of women she thinks the band owe their fiery spirit to like Chrissie Hynde.

“She was one of the first women I saw who actually rocked out. And Bessie Smith could belt it out, too,” she says.

Punk poet laureate Patti Smith also earns a nod.

“[Smith] wasn’t afraid to be weird and not follow any trends,” Swingle says. “When she sings, she doesn’t sound like she’s had voice lessons. She doesn’t sound pretty.”

Given a chance at penning their own ode to femininity on their latest “Blackwing Yalobusha,” The Moaners wrote the track “Foxy Brown,” a tribute to the ’70s blaxploitation heroine played by actress Pam Grier.

“That’s our goal, to be more like her,” says Swingle.” If we can psyche ourselves up to be that badass before a show, that can carry across. I have an afro wig that I’ve worn to get myself into that mood, and I was even hoping to learn some Kung-fu moves to do on stage.”

A native of Mississippi, Swingle finds the South to be more attuned to her and Kings’ dirty bluesy stomp.

“When we tour up in the Northeast, people are just really reserved,” she says. “But when we get down south, people just seem more into it. There’s more hooting and hollering.”

Although she finds herself better connected in Tennessee and Mississippi than Texas, Swingle does have at least one attachment to Texas a sister who lives in the metroplex.

“I visit her about once a year,” says Swingle. “That’s who we’ll be staying with when we’re there.”

As the chat comes to a close, Swingle and King have finally found the interstate, and are now on their way out of town toward the next gig on their roster.

“It’s a challenge,” says Swingle, discussing the notion of touring the country with such a bare-bones stage act. “But it’s a challenge we’ve stepped up to,” she says. “And one that’s made us better musicians.”

Undoubtedly, this is a band that’s earned their keep by paying their dues night after night. And Kung-fu moves or not, they’re badasses in their own right.

MOANIN’ WITH PLEASURE

On a bill with Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter,
The Moaners play The Loft,
which located inside the Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St. July 31, 8:30 p.m. $10. 972-343-2444.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2007

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