Spinanes: Suddenly Very Visible : The Portland-based duo, which will open for Liz Phair at the Palace, offers another vital female voice in rock.
Fans going to the Liz Phair concert at the Palace on Thursday will be primed to hear one of rock’s vital new female voices--but they might be surprised to find another one opening the show.
On “Manos,” the debut album by the Portland-based duo the Spinanes, singer-songwriter-guitarist Rebecca Gates stakes out a territory somewhere between Phair’s candid confessionals and Polly Jean Harvey’s blistering broadsides, crafting bittersweet-sounding songs that are, in her words, “about people being together and not together in various ways.”
Gates, whose voice and guitar are backed by drummer Scott Plouf, has mixed feelings about the persistent issue of women in rock, especially the recurring media build-up of yet another round of female artists.
“I do have a sense of being a woman’s voice,” she says, “but I don’t have a sense of being part of a new wave or a new trend--'the women who are saying it like it is.’ I think that women have been doing that for a long time, and I think that it’s really condescending to every year have it be, ‘Oh, the women are finally doing it.’
“I’ve read interviews with L7 where they say, ‘We’re not gonna talk about being women, because we’re just rockers.’ But I definitely think it’s important for me and what I do that I am female. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t feel like it would be moot for me to get on stage.
“I mean, if I was a white suburban boy and I just wanted to talk about stuff and I couldn’t really present anything new, I probably wouldn’t get on stage. I’d probably just play in my bedroom. Being female is what initially gave me strength to feel like I had anything to say that other people would want to hear. . . . The reason why I thought we should bring it out of the basement is because I’m female, and because I think girls and women need to see other women doing that.”
And the Spinanes are suddenly, and unexpectedly, very visible. The unheralded album, on the Seattle-based independent Sub Pop label, recently hit No. 1 on the College Music Journal’s radio chart, a spot reserved in recent months for prestige acts with major-label affiliations, including Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Tori Amos and the Ramones.
Gates worked at college radio stations, record stores and distributorships before easing into performing with her friend Lois Maffeo, now a prominent force in the Northwest’s feminist rock scene. That background has helped give her an even perspective on the initial success of the Spinanes, who strive to remain firmly rooted in the grass-roots values of the rock underground.
“In a way we don’t think about the charts and that kind of stuff. We can’t, because it would affect what we do. . . . I’m just happy that enough people like it that we can continue to do it.”
Still, the higher profile presents new kinds of choices--for instance, do they keep touring while the record is doing well or get back to Portland for a break?
“It kind of interferes with your life a little bit more,” says Gates, who will be touring Europe for six weeks instead of relaxing in Portland. “It is a little bit new to have to think about that stuff.”
But Gates figures she has it easy compared to the demands on a hot item like Phair. “I don’t really know her, but I can’t even imagine what she’s going through. Well, I do know they just went down to the Bahamas to record. I was like, ‘Hey, maybe we can (do that).’ ”
So the ambitions don’t remain so modest after all?
Says Gates, “Well, maybe it’s just ambition for no phone calls and some sunshine.”