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11 Sep 2015

Mighty, Loud and Controversial: Black Pussy Returns to Town for a Date at Bar

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Black Pussy. Black Pussy.

The name Black Pussy has gotten the group in question in a lot of trouble.

However, when the band takes the stage, it’s all about good times and rock ’n’ roll. The group is returning to the desert for a performance at Bar in Palm Springs on Friday, Sept. 18.

Hailing from Portland, Ore., Black Pussy is one of the hardest-working bands in America. The psychedelic rock sound the group has labeled “stoner pop” is mighty and loud.

During a recent phone interview, Dustin Hill talked about the origins of Black Pussy.

“I was in another band I’m still in called White Orange, and that was a very huge sound,” said Hill, the band’s vocalist/guitarist. “When I was starting Black Pussy, I recorded the first record by myself, but as I got the guys together, I thought, ‘I want to keep it mellow.’”

However, the band did not stay “mellow.”

“As it’s progressed, White Orange has taken a back seat, and I think some of the White Orange ideas have come into this project, because I’m the writer of both,” Hill said. “We’ve added a lot more speakers, so it’s just kind of evolved over time. Adding the organ and piano, we’ve added more bass frequencies, which means the guitars have to up their tone. It’s just turned into this giant wall. It’s not very loud, in a sense. We push a lot of air, and that’s the neat thing about this project. It’s not just 200-watt Orange guitar amps. ”

Hill said the hype regarding Portland’s music scene is legitimate.

“For sure, it does live up to the hype. I’ve been here long enough, and we’ve been here long enough that we’re truly a part of the Portland scene,” he said. “The Portland scene goes back to the ’70s, but I’ve been here 16 years, and I feel very much a part of a Portland scene. That’s what brought me here. I lived in Seattle, and that scene was getting overrun with the explosion of grunge and the whole ’90s scene, so it got watered down with out-of-towners. I came down to Portland, hung out for a week and checked out bands, and I was pretty blown away by the creativeness. … It’s slowly starting to get watered down now.”

Gentrification has started to erode affordable housing—and, therefore, the music scene—in some cities, including Portland. Hill, in part, blamed one person.

“I’m really disappointed in Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney doing the Portlandia show, because it has fully exploited our scene,” he said. “Now it’s reminiscent of Seattle in the ’90s. It’s still here. None of the old-school bands have left, so it does still exist. But I feel the watering down happening as we speak, and it’s really frustrating. … The whole Portlandia intro is true: You could only work a couple days a week; rents were cheap; you could rent commercial spots and jam and live in them and do all of that. That is gone now. This is the beginning of the end. … That’s going away because of the trendy-yuppiness moving here now, so the galleries become more elite and more of a trendy thing versus an artistic thing. It’s like any other town: Once it gets hip, then comes the gentrification, and that’s the way it is.”

It seems like Black Pussy is always touring. Considering how much equipment the band members take with them, and how many cities in which they play, their nonstop touring is quite an impressive feat for an independent band.

“We wouldn’t be able to tour if people didn’t support us, but we embrace a lot of the old-school ideas from the late ’60s and early ’70s on the way to be in a band, which was you always had to be on tour,” Hill said. “That’s how you gained fans and how you built relationships with promoters and venues, and you just can’t do one tour a year. In the true sense of being a musician, you make a record, and you should be on the road. Early Rush, they’d make a record, tour for nine months, go back home, make another record for three months, and go tour for nine months. The same with KISS and all those early bands.”

Now, as for the controversy surrounding the band’s name: Once you get past the … um … “other” stuff you’ll find when you Google the band’s name (we recommend adding the word “music” or “band” to the search to avoid said other stuff), you’ll find lots of articles about the pressure put on venues to cancel Black Pussy shows, claims that the name promotes misogynistic behavior, and stories about the name and its not-so-obvious meanings.

“I like to say this: It’s connected to whatever you want it to be connected to,” Hill said. “When I came up with the name, I thought it was a great name. I was looking for something kind of sexy-sounding and ’70s, and those two words came to me. I looked up the two words, and the words are ambiguous. It has the marijuana meaning, the black-cat meaning, and multiple meanings. It allows someone to be creative in their mind when they hear those two words. It doesn’t just mean something. There’s no reason for me to put a definite meaning on it.

“I do know this: When I thought of it, I wasn’t thinking of a human being or their genitalia. My mind doesn’t work like that. ‘Black’ doesn’t always mean human or person. There’s a lot of meaning to it. It’s utilized in a lot of rock bands. The same with pussy. … We’re light-hearted; we like to have fun, and we’re out to make some good rock ’n’ roll. … We definitely promote marijuana. Most marijuana-smokers are pretty mellow and peaceful people.”

In March, African-American feminist and activist Sara Haile-Mariam wrote an article for HuffingtonPost.com titled “There’s a Rock Band Called Black Pussy—And That’s Not Okay.” She wrote that “a band of white guys from Portland are running around calling themselves ‘Black Pussy’ with no consideration for how that registers in the mind of a black girl who has actually been reduced to that by a stranger.”

Hill claimed Haile-Mariam was being a hater.

“The haters are the people who take offense to it. They remind me of the new fundamentalist religious movement that was against rock ’n’ roll in the ’80s and ’90s,” Hill said. “That’s what crazy religious people do—they take on artists. She has a responsibility as an artist herself, and that’s what I would tell her.”

Black Pussy plans to keep on rolling. The group just released a new EP and is once again out on tour.

“We just dropped a new EP called Where the Eagle Flies, and Magic Mustache came out earlier this year, so that’s two new records for the year,” he said. “We’re going to be touring for two months … and there might be one little tour at the end of the year, and then a (trip to the) studio to make another full-length. We work hard, stay focused, do the art and the work—and we like the work. We really enjoy all the aspects of being in a band and making records.”

Black Pussy always tries to schedule a show in the Coachella Valley—the birthplace of stoner rock and desert rock—during their tours.

“Whenever we play Palm Desert or Palm Springs, we definitely feel that vibe, and we have a lot of bros there like Brant Bjork and the Kyuss dudes,” he said. “We know War Drum, and Waxy, and we did a show with Fatso Jetson. Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson is definitely the dude who inspired everyone. You can basically hear Josh Homme rip him off—in a good way, and in his own creative way—but a lot of the way Mario plays guitar, you hear in Homme’s playing. … When you play shows there, they aren’t packed, but when you’re in any of the hometowns that are the birthplace of something, it’s not what you’d expect. It’s not ripping with stoner-rock fans and shit like that, but it’s relaxed, and it’s a small scene.”

During Black Pussy’s last area show, at The Hood Bar and Pizza in the spring, Hill was sick with a cold.

“I was so sick,” he said. “Hopefully, this time around, I’m on my game. I feel like I owe you guys one for that show at The Hood.”

Black Pussy will perform with War Drum and Ape Machine at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 18, at Bar, 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-537-7337, or visit www.facebook.com/Barwastaken.


Editor's note: The Independent received this email from Sara Haile-Mariam shortly after this story's publication:

My name is Sara, I sing and play drums in a rock band called Music Bones.

I was surprised to find myself mentioned and improperly identified in one of your articles today. I was never contacted by your reporter. Statement from my band below.

"Rock and roll was founded by a black woman named Sister Rosetta Tharpe. As far as we're concerned, leveraging your band name to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy isn't very rock and roll. It is our artistic and human obligation to say as much. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ "

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