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It’s All in Nasty Fun

Natalie Nichols is a regular contributor to Calendar

Getting too close to Hollywood hard-rock band Betty Blowtorch may be hazardous to your health. Not to mention your hair.

A pair of stunt people learned that the hard way while shooting the female quartet’s pyrotechnic film debut in Touchstone Pictures’ upcoming summer comedy “The Bubble Boy.” The band performed its tune “Hell on Wheels” on a giant stage, surrounded by KISS-style explosions and four stuntwomen-dancers wielding real blowtorches.

On cue, the singer-bassist kicked each flamethrowing dancer off the stage. But, she recalls, “I caught fire to one girl’s hair.” Bianca giggles, slightly abashed. “She was crying, man. She was so upset, and it wasn’t even too bad.”

In keeping with the Betty Blowtorch style, the band members won’t reveal their real names or ages--beyond saying they’re in their 30s--and have adopted noms de rock that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

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One name that can is Sharon Needles, and the guitarist chimes in, “But, dude, she had hair down to her [bottom], and half of it [was gone].” They crack up with laughter.

The other injury occurred, Bianca continues, when the band’s record label liaison pushed a stunt man offstage for the same scene. “He broke his ankle,” she says. ‘They carried him out on a stretcher. We were just, like, killing the stunt people.”

Fortunately for the fans who flock to see Betty Blowtorch strut its kinda serious, kinda satiric stuff at such clubs as the Dragonfly, Al’s Bar and the Garage, the band isn’t quite as hard on audiences. Well . . . some guys might disagree, considering the sexually charged gauntlet Betty throws down with its debut album, “Are You Man Enough?”

Recently released by the L.A. indie Foodchain Records, the 15-song collection of brazen, funny and brazenly funny punk and metal-flavored tunes demonstrates why Betty Blowtorch won an LA Weekly Music Award as best punk/hard-core band last year. Now garnering attention from local media and national music magazines, the group will join the Warped Tour for several dates in July, and it’s the subject of a documentary being shot by underground filmmaker Anthony Scarpa.

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Although the album occasionally sounds a sober note, as with the raw, angry divorce anthem “Love/Hate,” songs such as “Size Queen,” featuring rapper Vanilla Ice bragging about his favorite body part, reflect the group’s focus on having as much nasty, dirty fun as possible. Yet the players muster enough earnest fury to make them a force to be reckoned with.

In terms of attracting fans, Bianca says, being female has advantages. “People wanna come see chicks with guitars, rocking. Girls get inspired, and guys think it’s sexy or whatever.”

But on a corporate, record-label level, she notes, “even in 2001, it’s still considered a novelty. When you sing [about subjects] that guys have sung about for years, all of a sudden it’s like, ‘These girls are X-rated porn.’ ” Rather than, say, merely party animals.

Although they obviously get a kick out of working the chicks-who-rock angle, the women don’t consider themselves a novelty act. Indeed, none was even looking to join an all-girl group when Betty Blowtorch formed in 1998.

Most of the lineup had been in the mixed-gender, more punk-oriented group Butt Trumpet, whose 1994 album, “Primitive Enema,” was criticized by the Parents Music Resource Center after a mother protested what she called its “audio porn.” When Butt Trumpet disbanded, Bianca spent time in the Humble Gods and Needles in the indie-pop band Bobsled.

Betty Blowtorch scored a star producer, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses fame, for its 1999 Foil Records debut EP, “Get Off.” He agreed to work with the band after attending one of its early practices.

The star power got even headier at the following week’s practice, when McKagan brought guitarist Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. One band member “came running out to the parking lot,” recalls Bianca. “She’s like, ‘Steve [expletive] Jones is here!”’ Urging calm, Bianca strolled into the studio and coolly exchanged hellos with Jones. “Then we went into the back,” she says, “and we were going, ‘What do we say? What do we do?’ It was like, now Duff was old news.”

Which perhaps proves that the women’s first love is pure punk rock. Yet Betty Blowtorch draws less from such old-school influences as Black Flag and more from such high-school favorites as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper and AC/DC--the better to vamp it up with solo flourishes and outrageous onstage behavior.

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Still, Bianca says, the group isn’t completely straightforward about wanting to return Hollywood to its ‘80s-era glory, as the campy power ballad “Big Hair, Broken Heart” hilariously implies.

The quartet would probably be satisfied with attracting a few more hot male hangers-on, instead of “girl-band geeks,” as Needles puts it. “Guys get the better groupies,” she grouses lightheartedly.

Adds Bianca: “That’s because we’re intimidating....But we’re not up there being pro-feminism. We just happen to be women who got together and clicked.”

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SPEAKING OF WOMEN GETTING TOGETHER: Chick Singer Night is new in town, but the woman-oriented showcase, held the first Tuesday of every month at the Mint, is a spinoff of an ongoing, 13-year-old Chicago event established by award-winning songwriter and Pepperdine voice faculty member Lori Maier. Open to novices and pros alike in any pop genre, the program is designed to foster mutual support. “It’s not about who’s the best,” Maier says. ‘It’s for women to get together and share their music and experiences with each other.”

The July 3 lineup includes eclectic pop-rock by Chaille Percival, who appeared on the “That Thing You Do” soundtrack, plus soul-pop fusion from Libby Lavella, who has performed with Seal and others. To be considered, send a CD or tape, and a brief biography to Chick Singer Night Productions, P.O. Box 6173, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360.

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* Chick Singer Night, July 3 at the Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. (323) 954-8241.

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