Hanging out with Missoula's The Whoopass Girls, a band composed of three members (all male) and one roadie (also male), it's immediately clear that as a unit they all march confidently, if somewhat spastically, in the same musical direction. Until you ask them what their image, or band message, might be.
"Message?" says drummer CJ Tingler. "I have a message!" He raises a finger, certainty in his eye, and says, "Jedis cannot stop bullets."
This platform is not shared by the rest of the crew. A heated discussion follows over the limits of mystical powers wielded by the warrior monks of the Star Wars franchise, at least as they relate to slung lead.
"Bullets travel faster than Star Wars lasers," Tingler says. "Star Wars lasers travel slowly."
No amount of force fields or mind control acumen can prevent a Jedi from going down in a hail of lead, he explains.
"What do you think?" Tingler asks. I'm at a loss, rendered not only speechless but also lacking an opinion, which is a rare thing. I may be the grizzled old rocker among young up-and-comers, but when it comes to dispensing wisdom on this topic, I am clearly no Obi-wan Kenobi.
If this exchange seems like a random conversation to have when discussing one's band or musical image, it's because it is. The Whoopass Girls are far removed from the traditional. Unlike old-school rockers who had their dreams of musical glory coaxed to life via the pages of slick industry mags like Creem or Hit Parader or Circus, these guys had other stimulants. Like science fiction. And video games.
"I originally started playing guitar because I was playing a lot of Guitar Hero," Uhl says, "and I thought, 'Hey, I can do that.' Then I started getting into alternative music and I'm like, 'Maybe it doesn't work like that.' So it was Guitar Hero . . . and this guy named Kievan. He was my arch enemy. He saw me air guitaring and said, 'You can't play guitar.' So I proved him wrong. I guess."
Uhl, who also sings and writes the material, and bass player Forrest Bauer are products of the Frenchtown school system. Initially rivals in high school, Uhl and Bauer shared enough musical interests that they eventually came together in a band. They immediately started writing and recording their own songs, scoring a cassette release overseas of a "very raw" recording called All for Nothing, which they did with a single mic in Uhl's basement. Soon after its release, they saw Tingler playing in another band at a show and the trio hit it off. He was added to the lineup.
Their current release, Headacher, recorded in a day at Club Shmed in Missoula last fall, is a perfect showcase for their sound. The seven throat-blistering tracks swirl with more energy than you might expect from these young dudes who are a bit bleary on a Sunday morning. Like so many recordings these days, the album is available as a free download on Bandcamp, but it will also be released via cassette on an indie label overseas.
"According to WikiHow, [the recording] was supposed to take us four days," Bauer says with a laugh. "But we're poor, so we did it in one."
"Even with all the mistakes in it it's still almost too good," Uhl says. "I think we might not be as good as it sounds like we are."
Tingler says the music is for people who "want to listen to sad songs they can dance to." This is uptempo stuff that marries the pop punk of the '90s with screamed, angsty vocals and breakdowns born in the oughts. It doesn't really square up with the happy-go-lucky demeanors of the guys making the music, but maybe for the sweaty kids flailing about during their shows, that's the point.
As for guns and Star Wars and magnum stopping power, I still don't have a clue.
The Whoopass Girls open for the Menzingers at the Palace Tue., Feb. 12, at 9 PM with Buddy Jackson. $8/$13 for ages 18–20.