Deep Throats, “Good, Bad, Pretty”

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“So, we were banned by cops from our scene and so we made our own scene.”

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Sam Lefebvre | January 19, 2016

Deep Throats

Deep Throats at 16th St. BART, 1998 or 1999. Photo by Christopher Mika.

In the 1990s, San Francisco’s Mission District teemed with record stores, communal living, guerrilla gigs, idealism, and decadence. The uniquely intersectional punk scene incorporated the city’s longstanding queer radicalism, fanzine culture, and an emphasis on accessibility and autonomy foreman by nearby Gilman St., resulting in spaces such as the community center and record store Epicenter Zone—a space from which the Deep Throats were summarily banned. It’s not that the group objected to the aforementioned values; rather, righteous fervor is always fraught and usually afflicted with infighting. But as drummer Sugar Fixx recalls, “We were banned by cops from our scene and so we made our own scene.”

Another Mission District punk fixture was the Starcleaner warehouse, which Jennifer Shagawat ran at the inception of Shellshag, as she explained to Victoria Ruiz in a recent Impose feature. It was there that, in the late 1990s, the Deep Throats recorded Good, Bad, Pretty, an album that’s only now seeing release, via Castle Face on February 26th. John Dwyer, label head and leader of Thee Oh Sees, arrived in San Francisco around the time of Good, Bad, Pretty‘s recording and saw the group one evening in Clarion Alley. In a rather lyrical press release, Dwyer recalls, Drugs, violence / General snottiness / Elastic paranoid guitar / SRO drum kit / Coke-bottle specs sharp bass sounds–which imparts a sense of the combustibility now archived on Good, Bad, Pretty.

The lineup heard on Good Bad Pretty includes drummer and vocalist Sugar Fixx; guitarist and vocalist Tracy Lourdes; and Ron Draino—better known as the visual artist Chris Johanson, a key figure in the Mission School art movement, which included Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen—who played bass and sang.

Below, we’ve premiered the album’s title track. Read on for a Q&A, conducted via email, with Johanson and Fixx on the Deep Throats’ fallout with Epicenter, activism on behalf of sex workers, and collisions with new ideas, scenes, and peers alike.

What was the germ for starting Deep Throats? What spiritual and musical dynamics brought the trio together and leant it power?

Sugar Fixx: I was living in the Mission, $200/month rent with a drum set in my room. I taught myself to drum, and Tracy wrote some songs…We had just been banned from the local punk all-volunteer record store/community space, Epicenter. We felt excommunicated. We were shoved out forcibly, by police, for “intimidating people,” “vandalism.” …Tracy and Roxy and other freaks were all blamed for my behavior, which was tagging “punk boys rape.” Everyone tagged all over Epicenter, and “frat boys rape” was a popular one at the time, [so] mine was in reply to that one. They said it was a direct attack on the men. I would go there and make out sleazily on the community couch, zine reading area, just because. This was another thing they didn’t like. So, we were banned by cops from our scene and so we made our own scene.

We were all unemployed, except for some random sex work or telemarketing. Tracy was in art school. That’s when we met Annie Rexic, the first bass player who mattered. She was really good, but a really hellish drunk. We wrote songs and tried playing out, but we had no scene except the sex work scene; we did a few benefits for those causes with other sex-worker bands. We were serious. About our music. But no one really seemed to like us for a long time. I played standing up back then, and played in heels, so some thought we were some gimmicky thing, but that was just us. My drum stool was a small vanity throne with red velvet cushion. We drove a ’64 Caddy looking for a place to play. We would blast Black Flag. We set up and played at BART, and played in laundromats, restaurants, liquor stores, unplanned, unannounced–that’s how we met Chris [Johanson].

Chris Johanson: I was the last in a series of bass players, so I can’t speak to the start of the band. I was drawn to the band’s energy because it was ritualistic and chaotic. When I joined I believe the funk r and d part of the band turned on as Sugar [Fixx] and I gelled into a rhythm. Section. I always felt we were making fucked up magic. I felt Tracy [Lourdes] and Sugar were saying no to the fascism of the square world, the heterosexual, [and] the very notion of normal. I identified with rejecting everything too. Our friend Rainy had started S.C.U.B.(Society For Cutting Up Boxes)–lots of things like that were floating around.

Tell me about the Music Scene as it surrounded Deep Throats. Did the group feel it was a part of a distinct set of groups, or pushing back against prevailing trends?

Chris Johanson: The music scene was very interesting at the time. There were great bands intersecting and not crossing paths. Hickey was unbelievably poetic. So smart and caustic. Ovarian Trolley were like the sound of witch sex. St. Andre and Troll. Floating Corpses. Many great groups. Deep Throats were not a part of anything at first. Later more bands happened that had some similar stylistic interests. Because of sexual harassment from the straight world, the macho Latino vibe around 24th street, lots of things created a need I think for the gnarly aggression the band had. It was beyond queer/straight/new gender language issues to me. From my lens it appeared it was like aggressively claiming personal space with a can of mace. This is from my male perspective and as someone who was playing with them because I loved what was happening with them and wanted to groove with them.

To what extent did Deep Throats intersect with the worlds and scenes of visual art in the city at the time?

Sugar Fixx: The last vestiges of homocore, the murals in Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley. Riot Grrl meetings in the Northwest in ’92,’93 brought my zines, “Hag” and “Funeral”, to distribution networks. Zinesters like Nomy Lamm, Kathleen Hanna, the “Snarla” girls (Miranda July and Johannah Fateman)—we all became friends and pen pals. Anarchafeminism was soon antiquated as we discovered intersectionality from bell hooks. When we met M. Lamar we began to play more dramatic music. More drama from a queer/bi lens and being biracial and criminal class were some of the themes in my writing/comics, then my music. The art scenes in the Mission were DIY and accessible. We played many benefits for galleries like Balazo. Drugs also fueled the art, but we never made drugs a subject of our songs. Chris would throw his bass up in the air really high and hard and one time…I think it cracked his head? Definitely cracked the bass.

We had rumbles many times, for many reasons. Usually had to do with Tracy getting threatened by jocks in the audience. Once on our first tour with Chris we played a spaghetti joint in Eureka and some punk kid was right in front harassing Tracy for looking like a faggot/girl (and these were not stage outfits; Tracy always dressed this way, regardless of playing a show, and she still does) and after several very tense moments, Tracy grabbed the kid’s face and stuck her tongue down his throat. Without missing a beat. It became a super hot make out sesh and the kid is hella gay to this day.

Chris Johanson: Because we were nice people we played and checked out lots of different scenes. We played many benefits for sex workers and housing rights causes. The garage rock Purple Onion scene, the elegant gay art scene around Scene/Escena, the DIY art energy of the art happening at the time; Four Walls and Yerba Buena Center for the arts had us play. But to tell you the truth, I think we were too bent and on our own trip to have appeal. It was very aggravated magic. For Tracy and Sugar and their spiritual connection I felt this was not a project but an action of magic as survival. It was taxing magic too. I’m glad that some other bands that came later who had opened for us found more success (whatever that is, I still don’t know) like Erase Errata. We were too fried and alienating to connect with the increasingly hostile San Francisco. I’m glad the freaks connected with us and I hope we made people also very uncomfortable.

What was it about conditions in San Francisco in particular that bore on the group? John Dwyer’s press release by-way-of misty-eyed recollection pegs Deep Throats as a piece of the city’s initial allure for him; what do you make of that in hindsight?

Chris Johanson: When John moved there it was still a cheap city. A place where freaks could go and repair their wings. A place for blossoming. A place you could space out and barely have a job. That is almost completely gone. People say it’s always hard and talking about being nostalgic. But I always think there is something cool happening. And it’s not happening there or NYC anymore because capitalism has killed those cities. Those places are off limits to free people unless you have rent control or figured out a building. The reason I am excited by hearing these recordings is that it’s an artifact from people that I felt were freaks from a space that this could happen. There are many nice places where this is happening now and that’s great. It’s just not happening in yuppy pastel vanilla type A competition survival of the fittest San Francisco.

And just let it be known that When John moved to town he turned me on to the new wave of post hardcore art damage that was happening in providence when we were painting houses together. [John Dwyer’s pre-Oh Sees band] Pink and Brown was a fantastic blend of terrifying and hilarious. Those were volatile shows. Deep Throats played one time with [another one of John Dwyer’s pre-Oh Sees bands,] Coachwhips at Kimos with BARR it was a rad show. Fantastic gay bar scene.

Sugar Fixx: The city was cheap back then. So roving misfits settled here. Itinerant dandies and divas took a liking to us. We showed love and no one was ever turned away for lack of funds/glamour. My huge Mexican family was at many shows. The kids even sang backups on the record. I didn’t even know how to play wen I began playing with the Deep Throats. But I learned.

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