Vice Girls

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"You. You. You! Do you know that bad girls go to hell?" So intones an authoritative but creaky male voice at the start of Fabulous Disaster's first proper full-length, Put Out or Get Out (Pink & Black). The San Francisco quartet's answer to that sampled query is "Down the Drain," a barreling pop-punk onslaught sweetened with impeccable harmonies that are typical of the all-girl outfit. "An iron fist in a velvet glove," bassist Mr. Nancy calls it. When I spoke to the band, they were in their van, en route to a tour stop in Detroit, hometown of guitarist Lynda Mandolyn. "My family's coming tonight," said Mandolyn, "and a bunch of friends and press and stuff. It ought to be pretty cool." Her folks are supportive, she says, which may be surprising when you consider the band's leather-and-fetish scene image. But, like the band's music, the tough exterior masks a sweet center. Mandolyn and I spoke twice, and both times, chunks of the conversations were spent apologizing for talking over one another, due to bad phone connections. The Fab D rhythm section is tightly relentless in its 4/4 assault, and Mandolyn's guitar work is brutal. Lead singer Laura Litter's lyrics inevitably center on relationships — violent, unhealthy, cruel relationships, but visceral, human relationships nonetheless.

Mandolyn's voice complements Litter's Joan Jettish leads with just the right amount of sawdust in the honey. The band is rounded out by drummer Sally Gess. These three, plus male guitarist JCX, played together previously in Piston. "(Piston) were together till '98," Mandolyn recalls, "when we met Mr. Nancy and we formed Fabulous Disaster as a side project. ... We just wanted to do our own thing, write more of the music, and just kind of get an all-girl thing going, too."

When Mandolyn, Gess and Litter all moved, separately, to San Francisco in 1995, its queercore scene was thriving. The city went through a counterculture slump in the late '90s, with dotcommers overrunning the Bay area, rents skyrocketing and artists being pushed out to Oakland and other outlying areas. Fab D humorously address the issue in the anthemic "Rich Bitches in Volvos," but Mandolyn says that, with the collapse of many e-businesses, the area is finally bouncing back as a haven for alternative art and lifestyles.

Just don't expect the quartet, whose sexual preference varies from member to member, to be a poster band for queercore's resurgence. "We kind of wanted to stay separate from that," says Mandolyn. "We're starting to get a lot of questions about sexual preference. ... You know, pretty much our music comes first, so we'll leave it at that."

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