The Degenerettes are an all-girl “queer art rock power trio” whose new release, Bad Girls Go To Hell, includes bass-driven, jangly fuzz guitar sounds and literary, often humorous songwriting – influenced by years on the garage rock, soul, roots, and punk rock scenes – that is earning them quite a following in their home city of Baltimore, Maryland. Here, Rahne Alexander (guitar, vocals, songwriting), Kristen Anchor (drums), and Chrissy Howland (bass) talk to Cherry Grrl and share their story of working hard to bring queer rock to Baltimore and beyond.
Cherry Grrl (CG): You describe yourselves as a “queer art rock power trio.” How would you explain that in more detail in terms of your style and sound as a band?
Kristen: We decided when we put this band together that foregrounding our queerness was politically important, but not necessarily musically important. I mean that we want to be open and matter-of-fact about who we are but also keep ourselves open in terms of songwriting. Rahne’s songwriting approach is less personal or confessional and more from a creative writing bent.
Chrissy: I am a firm believer in the “power trio.” Big bands are great, lots of sounds and voices can really be powerful. But, what really makes a good band is the ability to be great when you’re stripped down. Especially in the kind of music we make – the bass and drums are so important. If Kristen and I aren’t totally locked in with each other pretty much everything will go to shit. And you know, I like to pretend, as a bassist, that I’m the lead guitar player – so a trio gives me the necessary room to pull that off.
CG: Who do you each consider to be your musical influences?
Chrissy: PJ Harvey, 20,000, Johnny Cash, Walker Teret, Snacks, and my dad.
Rahne: I’m a big fan of challenging songwriters like Dory Previn, Harry Nilsson, and Laura Nyro, but I find things to love in pretty much all music and particularly rock & roll – from Big Mama Thornton to the Velvet Underground to the New Pornographers. I really love the queens of country music, especially Dolly Parton.
Kristen: Memphis soul and dirty garage rock. It is funny because I love anything raw, energetic, urgent, scratchy, lofi – the more lofi the better. Rahne likes really well produced studio sound and polished songwriting. So the band is heavily influenced by those juxtapositions.
CG: If you had to compare your style of music and sound to another band who would that be?
Chrissy: Those girls in garages from the 60s. Clair Lane, The Beatlettes, etc. However, Rahne’s lyrics are a little too complex and bizarre for us to totally be comparable to those groups. Our songs are not exactly about “Daddy keeping us away from our bad-boy boyfriends,” etc. Not that I’m dissing those songs – I love them. Women in the 50s were a little limited as far as what they were allowed to sing about, if they wanted to stay on their label. Most of the time those girls weren’t even writing their own material. But the feel is similar, for sure. So I guess it’s ironic that we make “garage” sounding music with such radical subject matter.
CG: What types of topics and themes are addressed on Bad Girls Go to Hell?
Kristen: Mummies, CIA agents, Utz Chips, ladies with big trucks and getting in trouble.
Chrissy: How, when and where to fuck shit up.
CG: How did you 3 come together as a band?
Rahne: The Degenerettes were already going for a couple of years and one night at a gig we were sharing the bill with Chrissy. She told us that she wanted to be in the band, and what she didn’t know at the time was that the old bassist was about to leave for grad school. So I guess you could call it fate.
Chrissy: I made threats of violence. Rahne and Kristen had no choice but to adopt me. Some things in life I know, for instance – whose band better have me playing bass, or else.
CG: What’s behind the band’s name, The Degenerettes?
Chrissy: I think it’s Rahne’s fault.
Rahne: I plead the fifth.
CG: What do you each do when you aren’t performing or recording?
Rahne: I help organize events like the Maryland Film Festival and the Charm City Kitty Club – which is the queer cabaret in Baltimore where Kristen and I met. I also make films and video art and I write for various publications. Kristen is a video artist and curator and runs a non-profit media center at this great venue called Creative Alliance.
Chrissy: Oh God. I think I might most always be performing or recording. I’ve been in the studio for the last 48 hours… working on recordings of my other band – Jack Chick. I play in a lot of bands, make films, perform in variety shows, etc. I’m burdened by this massive boredom guilt. Like I’m supposed to be too smart and productive to get bored so I never stop running around. However, when I do get free time I typically hang out at home: painting, gardening, fort building, trying to will myself into being possessed by Susan Sontag, read (Sontag, de Beauvoir, Freud – as of lately), A LOT of movies are watched on a pretty much daily basis; I burn a lot of incense. I’ve been working for the past 6 months on an installation called “Xanax, Chicken Shit and Amulets – An Illustration of the Post-Modern (American) Female,” paintings, drawings, and sculpture embodied in compulsively compiled and displayed stereotypical Victorian era decor, addressing the modern “female model” as it relates to the Victorian model.
CG: What have been the highlights of your career so far as The Degenerettes?
Rahne: My favorite single night so far was sharing the stage with Pansy Division and the Avengers – meeting Penelope Houston got me tongue-tied and a little bit star-struck. But what’s better than meeting my heroes has to be making friends with other really fantastic musicians and developing friendships. We met Pariah Piranha because they booked us for a show, and now we’re super tight.
We were just featured in a documentary about trans musicians called Riot Acts, and we caught the sneak premiere of that film last month in New York. The film will hopefully make it into some film festivals over the coming months. It’s really awesome to be included in this document, which shows how far trans artists have come. It’s marvelous to see how much is going on, and a real honor to be included as part of that.
Kristen: My highlight is our puppet career – there is a puppet version of the band, and we’ve starred in a couple puppet shows with ZZ Zop! In one show we save them from mid life crisis. The real us also played music for the shows too.
Chrissy: There have been a million amazing, hilarious, and magical moments. But I think I’m mostly just really happy and grateful to have gotten to become such good friends with those other two. I’ve learned a lot from them both. I don’t think there is a single person in the world like Rahne or Kristen.
CG: What are your future goals as a band?
Rahne: We’ve got another record ready to record, and I’m itching to tour again.
Chrissy: Degenerette bobble-heads, our own individual perfume lines… There has some talk about a full length film based on the lives of the Degenerettes, so that will be cool. I’m hoping to play myself.