Return of the Pandoras
Guitar slinging, garage rock shouter Kim Shattuck is rock ‘n’ roll’s penultimate bad girl. Lanky, gregarious and boundlessly talented, the Glendale resident doesn’t candy-coat anything, never runs from controversy, and her role as both an unvarnished truth-teller and untamed show stopper is refreshingly genuine.
The latter quality got her fired from alterna-supergroup the Pixies, while the former, as leader of her long-running power trash trio the Muffs, has elevated her to international cult goddess status. But Shattuck got her start, 30 years ago, in the Pandoras, a long dormant and much cherished Los Angeles favorite, and the group is currently undertaking a hotly anticipated resurrection, comprised entirely of former 1980s Pandoras.
The Pandoras were always a certifiable phenomenon, going back to 1983 when founder Paula Pierce first started the band. Although lumped in at the time with the low-impact Paisley Underground scene, the Pandoras’ mix of savage garage snarl and provocative va-va-voom presentation qualified them as a ferocious anomaly.
Pierce traded in a hyper sexual, weaponized rock ‘n’ roll persona that was shocking for her feminist-infuriating stance and image; her confrontational tease-o-rama stage banter inspired a legion of slightly unsavory male fans, all of whom were devastated when the 31-year-old Pierce dropped dead from a brain aneurysm in 1991.
“We’ve just done one show so far, a little warm up for the tour, in San Diego,” Shattuck said. “The fans did show up, a lot of them aren’t creepy. I don’t know, maybe some of them are pervs, I can’t say. People who like girl bands are really different from regular band fans. We were all cracking up, saying ‘Oh, this is really going on!’”
“We’ve got me on lead guitar and vocals — I am taking Paula’s spot — because someone has to do it; Melanie Vammen on keyboards, she’s playing the vox organ, and also sing a little and plays harmonica and tambourine — she really shakes it. She makes the best sounds. Karen Blankfeld on bass and harmony — she’s doing a great job in my old spot — and we have Sheri Kaplan, from the late-‘80s lineup, on drums.”
“Sheri’s really the reason we started up again,” Shattuck said. “A couple of things aligned: Sheri, Mel and Karen got together to play a party. Then I got fired from the Pixies, and I had more time to do fun things and we all started jamming. I thought we sounded pretty good and started saying, ‘Let’s do a show, let’s do a record. It just came back together, and one thing led to another — even though I was sworn to secrecy for awhile!”
Tumult, disagreements, firings and drama had always enveloped Pierce and the Pandoras and Shattuck’s desire to resuscitate the band engendered a whole new round of it. Susan Hyatt, who had briefly been a member of the Pandoras in the late-’80s, was drafted by Kaplan as singer for that initial party reformation but after Shattuck returned, Hyatt started up her own version of the group, the 21st Century Pandoras, initiating a short season of bitter competition.
“I was in Europe with the Pixies and saw a video of that party gig and it drove me crazy that Susan was doing it,” Shattuck said. “She doesn’t have the voice for it ... She runs through people pretty fast, alienates people, starts something and doesn’t finish it. An interesting girl — and I mean that badly. The fact that she is moving to Nashville is startling, but I say, ‘Don’t let the door hit on your way out!’”
Now the Pandoras, with a forthcoming, newly recorded EP of lesser known Pierce compositions, are preparing for a full-scale return. “We’re going for it, playing at Burger Boogaloo festival up in Oakland on the Fourth of July, then we’re flying to Minnesota to play a big garage show with the Lyres, Europe in September and New York for some shows on the way home,” Shattuck said. “We will play in L.A. but probably not until November. All the clubs we want to play here are all filled up on the weekends with dance music. I guess that’s how they make their money, but that’s not my thing. I hate dancing. So there just isn’t any opportunity because of all the dance music — it’s the L.A. clubs’ fault, not ours!
“I really don’t know what our draw is, it’s kind of scary. In Europe we have some festivals and some clubs. We are going to get down to it and get sweaty and sticky. I like clubs, I like sweat, I like people right up in my space. That’s what it’s about, to really rock out.”
“We’re having a great time. There’s a lot of laughs, no pressures. And we love it.”