Thanks to people like John Cougar Mellencamp, heartland America is a big deal in pop music now. But the Lazy Cowgirls, four refugees from the small town of Vincennes, Ind., say they'd rather forget it.
"I hated it there," says vocalist Pat Todd, 31. "You can tell certain people don't belong in certain places. None of us had anything there. It was a big zero. We had to go someplace where there were chances."
And ironically, he adds, their chances often improve when people find out about the band's origins.
"It's so stupid," he says with his broad accent. "It doesn't really matter (where the band is from) but it's kind of a plus now. It shouldn't be--you're either good or you ain't any good; it's that simple.'
In Los Angeles' rock 'n' roll scene, things are never that simple, and for that reason the Lazy Cowgirls' buzz-saw blend of rock and punk comes across like a breath of fresh Midwestern air.
The Lazy Cowgirls (there's no special meaning to the name, says Todd, adding, "It was such a cool name, I knew that had to be it") arrived in Los Angeles in a red-white-and-blue refurbished church bus in late 1981. After a series of false starts and personnel changes--one that had bassist Keith Telligman going back to Vincennes to recruit drummer Allen Clark--the band started playing regularly in 1984 (guitarist Doug Phillips completes the lineup). Without a record or a strong following, however, only a few clubs would book the group. And ignorance about the band's style--prompted in part by the name--led to some odd mismatchings.
"People want to pigeonhole you here or there without even really hearing you," says Todd. "And with our name we're just asking for it. Right after we started playing, all that country-punk thing started happening. And we don't have nothing to do with that. We once played a gig at FM Station with the Hollywood Hillbillies and the Screamin' Sirens. You can imagine. . . . "
Now audiences are getting to know what to expect from the Lazy Cowgirls. At an Anticlub show recently, the band's set was highlighted by a small crew of punks doing an interpretive slam dance in front of the stage, a response that fit the physical rush of the music.
Despite the name and the band's home--only a few hours from Mellencamp's small town of Bloomington--the Lazy Cowgirls have merged Midwestern garage and urban punk, following a path blazed by the Stooges, the New York Dolls, MC5 and the Ramones. It's real rock roots music, a chain-saw sound that bridges the gap between headbangers and skinheads. It's also the sort of music that rarely breaks through to mega-bucks.
"Nobody plays this kind of music for money," Todd says. "I don't know why some of the bands we like labor under the delusions that they'll be popular. Like the Ramones--they're a great band but great bands don't sell billions of records anymore. We frequently make $40 or $50. Sometimes we don't even stick around to get the money."
But the Lazy Cowgirls' prospects are improving, thanks partly to the release last September of a red-hot debut LP (produced by Chris D.) on Enigma Records.
"All of a sudden people are starting to buy the record and aren't asking to get in on the guest list," Todd reports. "Everybody here wants a free record and wants to get in on the guest list. I guess we're starting to get more popular."
Although things are looking up for the Cowgirls, the group still hasn't made it to headline status, but that doesn't seem to bother Todd too much. After all, he says, the opening acts are usually more interesting--and more real.
"People miss the good bands and come for the bands that are really overrated. Most of the big bands are really cliched and boring.
"You know, here we are from this hayseed type place and we come here and I thought there'd be all these smart people, above the norm. And there are some. . . . But mostly it's the same idiots as there were there. There are just more of them. And there's so much fake Hollywood flash--fake surf bands, fake punk bands, fake '60s bands."
And how are the folks back in Vincennes responding to their native sons' efforts in Hollywood?
Says Todd, "People that know us and are hip really pull for us. But for a lot of people it's like a million miles away. It's like a war in some other country."