The Scissor Girls Give Me The Time Of Day!
by Roger Deforest
Throughout the Summer of 2003 I had the rare pleasure of conducting an email-only interview with all four ex-Scissor Girls: Azita, Kelly Kuvo, Sue Anne Zollinger, and Heather Melowic. Like most human beings, they have moved forward with their lives. But these four artists hold a special place in the No Wave music movement and, more importantly, in the raw blood pulsing within many a band that will come and go. They've left behind the sonic no-wave teeth marks for future arty-pants critics to rub with a grimace and then kindly ask for seconds. Okay, so we all know their music was abrasively cool, and we were all jealous of their challenging hair and barely-there outfits to match. But how did the "Girls" see it? Well, luckily they have survived to tell us...
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: So, what were the circumstances which led you to join The Scissor Girls?
AZITA: There was an exciting scene beginning to happen in Chicago and somehow I decided I wanted to learn to play the bass. My friend Heather Melowic in DC had started learning the drums and she decided to move to Chicago. I think we started playing together first, before convincing Sue Anne to join although my memory of this is not too good. I just remember that Sue Anne took some convincing cause she wasn't sure she wanted to play in a band and she maybe didn't even have a guitar. But then her roommate's boyfriend was selling this yellow Gibson SG which Sue Anne had a kind of crush on, I'm talking about the guitar. So she got this nice guitar and that propelled her into the whole thing the way it sometimes happens with a really nice instrument.
KELLY: Uh, in 1994 Sue Anne decided to quit the band. I was in the band Dot Dot Dot at the time, and Sue Anne and I were room-mates. Azita lived in the Apt. below us. We all shared a practice space in the corner of the huge garage connected to our building. Anyway, Sue Anne kept hinting to me that I should take over her spot in the band after she quits. But, due to my commitments to Dot Dot Dot, Az and H asked this guy James to join as their new guitarist. So, they went on a tour with him. About 1 week during the tour, I got a call at work (Copy Max, the place where everybody in Wicker Park had their band posters made, etc.) and Heather says to me that James isn't working out, and if I would PLEASE join the band and help them end their tour. I put down the phone, asked my boss if I could have the next week off, he said yes if I could have somebody fill my shifts, I found someone within 5 minutes, I got back on the phone with Heather and said okay. SO! She says, okay, we're heading to Ann Arbor, so, we'll detour back to Chicago, dump off James, pick you up, and you'll just improvise on your guitar through all the songs in our set.... and that's what I did!
SUE ANNE: Azita and Heather came up to me on the street one afternoon and said, "Come on Sue Anne, you should play guitar in our band." They didn't have a band yet of course, but wanted to start one. I didn't have a guitar and didn't really know how to play. I bought one from a friend, actually I didn't have enough money to buy it. So I went in it halvsies with Damon from Trenchmouth (I don't think he ever played it, not even once, so it wasn't such a good deal for him).
HEATHER: Well, I was living in DC at the time and Azita would come back there a few times a year to visit her Mom and she would always come to the place I worked and say 'hi'. Well, one time she came and I told her that I was planning on moving to Chicago. I also had already started playing drums in DC and found out that Azita was learning to play bass. We talked and decided that I would move to Chicago and we would start a band together. When I got to Chicago she told me about a friend of hers that was learning how to play guitar, SueAnne. So they three of us starting playing together and that's how the Scissor Girls began.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: Who designed the look and fashion for the band?
AZITA: There were never any decisions made of this sort except maybe later, when we got some matching uniforms, and like the sheep heads. But that kind of thing would just happen if someone ran into something cool at a store or something.
KELLY: Well, when Sue Anne was in the band, I think she and Azita shared those duties, but Azita didn't work a job and had more time to get it all done, so she took over in that department as a result. They both went to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with me. So, they're both artists too. But, the band was more conservative looking until I joined, I think. I've always been into wearing wigs and lots of make-up and funny outfits and stuff. So, when I joined, I think Azita felt liberated in the aspect of getting more creative with our "looks". She pretty much dictated what we would do for the band photo's etc. For example, for one band photo she said, "Lets all dress up like Hard-core punk rockers." So, I shaved my head into a Mohawk, and put on black lipstick, etc. Azita would suggest something of an idea to Heather and I, and then we were left to come up with our own interpretation on that idea. Same goes with a song. But, we pretty much all did our own thing and it merged and worked well together. Great minds think alike, doncha know? ha ha. I made fliers for the band too. And, I made music videos for the band, totally on my own. Some of the videos have songs that we played live, but never put on vinyl! I gave tapes of those videos to Atavistic and they never did anything with them. Heather has a collection of all the SG fliers that both Azita and I created.
SUE ANNE: There wasn't a "look and fashion for the band" when I was around. It was about music then, they only had to get funny outfits to distract everyone from the painful fact that I was gone (ha ha, just kiddin' Kelly). I think they hired the costume person after I moved out of town. I was much too grouchy to wear matching uniforms... that's why I don't work in a fast food restaurant. Sometimes for Halloween we would wear costumes, that was always a group decision when I was in the band.
HEATHER: I wouldn't necessarily say that someone designed the look and fashion of the band. It wasn't something that was planned from the beginning. Our first show was on Halloween so we decided to all dress up as demented looking Disney characters. Azita was Mickey Mouse, SueAnne was Goofy and I was Donald Duck. It was alot of fun to play in those costumes and it being Halloween and all. Azita was the one who ended up coming up with the whole SG Research idea. By this time Kelly was in the band. Azita and I were thrift shopping one day and found three navy blue uniforms that must have been for some school. They happened to be the right sizes for all of us so we bought them. We looked for some patch to put on the chest of them and found a really cool skull patch I think at a Army surplus store. Then we had SG Research embroidered on them. This is how the whole SG research look came about.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: How did your compositions evolve? Where did these ideas come from?
AZITA: For the most part, Heather and I would put something together, bass and drums, and the other stuff would come in on top of that. The ideas would come from wherever it is that ideas come from. Who can tell?
KELLY: Well, either Azita would work out a tune with Heather on drums and then I'd come in and come up with a part for the guitar that would fit with what they were doing, or I would come up with a tune with Heather on drums and then Azita would come up with a part on bass that would fit with what we were doing. For example, that's how we created "The Mighty I Am Presence". Azita came up with the Waltz-ish bass part after Heather had worked out her drum parts with the tune I created on guitar. My ideas came from whatever I was reading at the time. I go to the Public Library a lot. I'm a nerd.
SUE ANNE: Hmm. We all worked on parts. We'd bring ideas and write our own parts and make comments or suggestions to others about their parts. Later when I was much more busy at work and school, Azita usually came with a bass part and I would write a guitar part to go with it. Where do any ideas come from? I don't know how to answer that. They just come out. That is the creative process.
HEATHER: Usually we all wrote our own parts. Either we would just be playing around in practice and would hear something we liked and continue with that or Azita would come with a bass line and we would write a song around that.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: At the time of the band's existence, music critics were quick to categorize The Scissor Girls' music as "No Wave". How would you describe it?
AZITA: The term "No Wave" started being thrown around because Weasel Walter was trying to have a revival scene in Chicago and he would put those words on all the flyers and talk about it all the time. This was after the second record ("We People Space With Phantoms") had come out already. Before that, I'd never even heard the term. I'm not a person who uses genre terms to describe my own work. They can categorize it as "No Wave" or Country or Dancehall for all I care.
KELLY: I would call it "Creative and Well-crafted Fine Art".
SUE ANNE: No. Next question. I find "No Wave" too boring and contrived a topic to dwell on.
HEATHER: I don't know how to really describe the music we played. A lot of people were quick to put us in this category probably because they didn't know how to describe our music. We never set out to be a certain type of music. We just wanted to play.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: The Scissor Girls become more and more valued in music and art history as the years pass. Did you feel you were doing anything special or extraordinary while in the band?
KELLY: Only in respect to the fact that we were all women. I'm a Psychology Grad student at NYU. I know the biological differences / gender differences in people's brains. I think The Scissor Girls could do what we did musically, that a band with all men could not do, because we were creative women working together. Women in rock music is still a really new thing. It's extraordinary that any all female rock band exists and survives long enough to record something, let alone get radio play.
SUE ANNE: I expect that any band that is really trying to make interesting music would feel that that are doing something special or extraordinary.
HEATHER: Has the Scissor Girls become more valued? I knew at the time that we were doing something different than what was out there. When we would tour around people either totally hated us or really liked us. We could tell on their faces while we were playing that we were blowing their minds. At the time there were a lot of bands in Chicago doing something different that no one seemed to value until they broke up. Isn't that the way it is a lot of the time?
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: I know it's been a while, but can you share any interesting anecdotes from the recording studios or stage performances?
AZITA: Nothing's really coming to mind. Maybe one of the other girls can think of something.
KELLY: They were all stressful and painful to recall. We rarely played a show to an appreciative audience. I can recall only 2 shows, that had a crowd that really liked us. And, by that time, the band was breaking up and I didn't give a shit if people liked us or not anymore.
SUE ANNE: We played a show once in Baltimore, and Azita was really sick, sicker than she really realized before the show... and so we played the show, but she was really somewhere else. In some zone, really out of it. I remember all through the show Heather and I looking at each other totally confused and mouthing to each other "what the @#*&$ is she playing?!?" It was really insane. She was just playing like mad and we were trying desperately to catch up. I remember thinking during the show that it was the worst show we ever played. Then after the show a bunch of people came up to me saying it was one of the most amazing shows they'd seen. I remember my mouth was just hanging open. What else... I don't know. There are lots of good stories. Making Liz Phair fans suffer physical pain at CBGBs, that was nice.
HEATHER: <no comment>
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: Okay, so the fans are dying to know about the final, unfinished album recorded in 1997. Can you share any facts? And why wasn't the album ever released?
AZITA: I have the titles written down somewhere but I'm in Pittsburgh and not Chicago. The album never got as far as being named. Basically, Kelly quit abruptly to move to New York and there was a rushed session laying down drums and guitar. The other two had lost interest and didn't want to wait around long enough for the engineer to get a bass sound so I just figured I would just do that myself afterwards. Unfortunately the music we were doing at this point was very loose, with lots of improvised sections, and retracking my own parts as an album-long overdub was a horrible experience. Then I had to record all my own vocals, months after everyone else jumped ship. Then I started trying to mix it but just none of it was working out and I was depressed and burnt out. I thought I'd puke if I had to listen to it one more time. I decided to get a friend of mine, the producer Phil Bonet, to remix it. He came over to my house and we discussed it, made plans for after I got back from a short trip I was taking to Mexico with my mom. When I landed back at O'Hare Airport I called my boyfriend at the time who told me right there on the airport payphone that Phil had suffered a brain aneurysm while I was gone and was dead. I never regained any interest in the album. I listened to the rough mixes I'd made right after the first Bride Of No No album came out in 2000 and I decided I was fine with letting it go.
KELLY: One song, that I co-wrote, is called "A-generic". At least that's what I called it. Azita always changed everything last minute, so, if it ends up on a record, it might not be called that. If you want to know why the record was never released, ask Azita and Atavistic records. They are responsible for holding it up. Azita has a list of excuses. Those excuses never seemed to matter on previous recordings, but, whatever. I hope that the tapes still exist! That was some of the best stuff! We played all of that new material at an Intel Music Festival that was all about streaming concerts on the internet. We played with Lydia Lunch at the Knitting Factory in NYC. I know it was video-taped. I have no idea if that tape exists anywhere. It might be the only thing that contains our final songs!
SUE ANNE: The SGs have an unrealeased album? I'd like to hear it.
HEATHER: Is there an unfinished album? The only person who would know anything about this would be Azita. She would have all the tapes and the reasons for it not being released.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: What bands were you in, if at all, before joiningThe Scissor Girls?
AZITA: I had a dumb band in eighth grade that played 2 songs at a school dance. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. It was karaoke, basically.
KELLY: Dot Dot Dot from 1994 to 1995, and Blackgrass from 1995 to 1996.
SUE ANNE: None.
HEATHER: The Scissor Girls was my first band.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: What kind of musical training did you have prior to joining The Scissor Girls?
AZITA: I took piano lessons from the time I was in the third grade till the tenth grade or so. I didn't practice and lost interest.
KELLY: Zero. Well, actually, I was in choir in 7th and 8th grade and got a trophy for singing well at a State contest! I've recently taken Classical guitar and piano classes, so, now I can read sheet music! Hooray!
SUE ANNE: I guess I played some violin in elementary school. When I was 13 or 14 I sold my violin to buy an electric guitar as a little act of rebellion. But I never really played either for real. Just messed around.
HEATHER: I had no formal music training before we started The Scissor Girls. I had started to play drums maybe a few months before moving to Chicago but wasn't playing seriously until we started practicing.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: What musicians have influenced you the most, and what modern bands or musicians are you excited about listening to today?
AZITA: This is impossible to answer, I'm influenced by things, music I hear every day. You can't calculate something like that. You're working on something, you get stuck, you hear something and it gives you an idea of how to solve the problem. Or you digest something you used to want to listen to all the time so completely that you never want to hear it again. I put Gang Of Four in this category. Without any value judgement or criticism of the band or their music. That's just how it goes for me.
KELLY: I love all forms of music. I love Paganini's caprices for violin, I love Dwight Yoakum and lots of other Country Western artists. I'm writing for a new book coming out about music... and I review three of my favorite records: The James Gang - Yer' Album, Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark - Dazzle Ships, and Megadeth- Rust In Peace. Uh, I bought Azita's new solo album ("Enantiodromia"), which I think is amazing. I wish it didn't have the back-up band though.
SUE ANNE: Then or now? My favorite guitar players are Andy from The Ex , Scotty Moore, East Bay Ray and Danny Papkin (Candy Machine). Then I listened to all the classic punk bands and post-punk bands of the late 70s early 80s (do I need to list them? I mean if you are reading an interview with The Scissor Girls, you probably know who I'm talking about). Well of course I listen(ed) to a lot of stuff. But that was probably most like the music I wanted to play. Post-punk and free jazz. I listen(ed) to a lot of jazz. Hmm. Yeah I guess I listen mainly to jazz. Ayler, Shepp, Coleman, that stuff is my favorite, but I like stuff from all previous decades too. And Musique concrète. And, well, now I live out in Indiana so I've been getting into old rockabilly tunes and some rockabilly-ish old country music because, well, it seems so appropriate here in hoosierville. Goes with the scenery. And well actually I listen to the punkest artists from every genre. The punkest klesmer bands, the punkest operas, the punkest mariachi bands, the punkest, most abstract music of any genre is best. Not punks attempting to play these types of music. But the real hardcore brilliant revolutionaries that push the limits of the style of music they are writing or playing. The outer edges. See what i mean? It is really inspiring to listen to revolutionary cutting edge music from any style. But since I live in Indiana and spend 16 hours a day in the lab, I guess I feel pretty out of touch with current bands. So I can't even think of a contemporary band off the top of my head. And on top of all that I'm pretty cynical (see grouchy comment above) and so I rarely go to shows because I just know all the bands will suck. It is pretty hard to impress me... you pretty much have to be revolutionizing a genre. Sad, but true. Hmm. Long answer. Sorry.
HEATHER: Well, I don't get out much so I haven't been able to check out any new bands. What does my CD collection have in it? Lots of 70's punk music.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: On a personal level, what was the most rewarding aspect about being in The ScissorGirls?
AZITA: There was a long stretch there where the audiences were very very enthusiastic. There was this incredible energy at the shows. The room would just be alive.
KELLY: Learning how to play guitar and express myself through music, and travelling the country and seeing places I will never see again.
SUE ANNE: Quitting. (just kidding). Um, doing interviews by email 10 years later?
HEATHER: I really enjoyed touring the country and playing music to kids that had never heard anything like us before. They get stuck listening to whatever is on the radio or maybe the local hardcore band and have no idea that there are other kinds of music out there.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: So, what have you been up to since leaving The Scissor Girls?
AZITA: I started another band, Bride Of No No, a year or so later, and that went on till roughly this time last year. We released two full lengths and played a bunch of shows. I also put out a solo record on Drag City ("Enantiodromia") during that time and now I'm getting ready to go back into the studio with another solo album.
KELLY: Well, I started a band in NYC called Sweet Thunder in 1998. Two members are now in Fischerspooner. Now, I'm doing lots of freelance writing for magazines like Scram. And, like I said, I'm in Grad school at NYU. I recently started to write songs with Mary X-mas in a band tentatively called Sherbert. We've played one show so far.
SUE ANNE: I'm getting a Ph.D in Biology/Neuroscience. (I study vocal production in birds. Bioacoustics. Song learning. Stuff like that). Artistically, I'm working on assembling the first international insect orchestra... but need to save some money to buy this tiny probe/microphone that can pick up vibrations in plant stems (created by insects, like a treehopper) and amplify them... its like a tiny very sensitive geophone. But they are very expensive, and the orchestra is really nothing without the treehoppers so...and, well. That is probably more than you should know anyway.
HEATHER: Well, I am currently working on my Ph.D in Biochemistry. I work 60+ hrs a week in the lab and really enjoy what I do, research that is. I really wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
S-T-A-T-I-C-L-A-N-D: Do you have any messages for your fans?
AZITA: The messages are in the music. Thanks for listening.
KELLY: Be creative! Don't be zombies afraid to dance and cheer at live concerts. And if you think a band sucks, let them know: BOO !
SUE ANNE: Yay fan.
HEATHER: <no comment>
- the end -