Singer Mikki (pronounced "Mikey") Lunda cuts straight to the chase. "If you're gonna name your band Fagrag," she says, "you have to have balls."
The members of Fagrag—Lunda, her boyfriend Gerrod Silva, keyboardist Isaiah Lara and drummer Mat Cote—are funny, articulate and by no means shy. They're not worried about offending people. In fact, they might be disappointed if they offend no one, but that's not likely to happen.
According to the band, Missoula's college radio station, KBGA, adopted the well-intentioned policy in summer 2009 of referring to it as either "Homosexual Rag" or "F-rag" in response to concerns about using the word "fag" on air. It's a slippery slope for the radio station, which might have to answer to the Federal Communica-tions Commission (FCC)—in the form of fines—if even one listener complains. And such unwanted FCC attention can derail an entire station.
Still, bands are fiercely protective of their names, and if anything the nonsense terms "homosexual rag" and "F-rag" sound more offensive than the original slang. Even if the station had come up with a better synonym for the name, they would be forced to choose a definition. Options run from "Alternative Lifestyle Publication" to "Socially Significant Handkerchief" to "Manpon." These are all fine band names, but they are not Fagrag.
Lunda remains a fan of the station, but she was offended by the arbitrary renaming of the band.
"They can bleep shit, you know?" says Lunda, who works as a barista at Butterfly Herbs. "I would be less offended if they were bleeping it."
Eventually the KBGA controversy blew over, but it begs the question: Why stick with a problematic name? Well, because this is rock and roll. Shaking people up is part of the fun.
"Fag" is a term in transition, proudly usurped by the gay community but still taboo in mainstream culture. Whether a person can wield the term "fag" without offending depends on that individual's level of comfort with, and sense of acceptance by, the LGBTQI crowd.
At a recent show in a very small town, bar staff and patrons achieved a kind of self-hypnosis against discomfort by pronouncing the band's name "fah-grahg."
"It was like don't ask, don't tell," says Cote.
A name like Fagrag forces people (if they acknowledge it at all) to examine their assumptions. On the other hand, it's just a band name.
"It's so hard to name a band that once you do it you want to stop thinking about it," says Lara, a University of Montana student in the media arts program. "We did it without really knowing if it was a good idea or not, but there's that level of detaching the signifier from the signified. When someone calls you a fag, the reason it's insulting—in their mind—is that it implies that you are a homosexual. If you are, in fact, a homosexual, then at a certain point ...," he shrugs.
Fagrag—in which "more than half the members are gay," according to Lunda, and one is female—may have encountered more resistance in another place, at another time, but luckily they're safe to be brash, frank, funny and musically bold within a strong community like Missoula.
Community support partially explains the ease with which Fagrag came into being, but only combined with the innate talent and sensibilities of this group, not to mention their affinity for one another.
Cote, who sells vintage clothes, moved to Missoula eight months ago, met Lunda and soon found himself in a band, planning a West Coast tour.
"I knew we were going to be instant best friends," says Lunda.
Lunda and Silva already had plans for a band, and the three of them found musical common ground, including San Francisco noise band Coachwhips and New York No Wave acts like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.
"We totally clicked on music—that kind of frantic, lo-fi, just fun, fun band was what we met on," says Cote.
Lunda's feminine but fearless vocals define Fagrag's sound. Lydia Lunch is clearly a touchstone, but, while Fagrag is not especially melodic, it is no surprise that Lunda and Cote also site the B-52s as an influence. Even in the experimental strangeness of guitar wails, galloping drums and Lunda's punctuated screams, you can hear the undertones of a party band.
Lara, usually a drummer, was recruited to play keyboards, and the band took off, mounting a tour with a newly purchased van, borrowed equipment and a handful of finished songs.
So far the band has thrived on minimal planning and fewer expectations. For now the future holds a new album, which, like the band's debut CD, will probably be recorded in Lunda's 1971 Buddy-Style Mobile Home, which houses Lunda, Silva, dachshunds Willy and Vienna, a third roommate and a cat.
"We do the recording ourselves, we do the mixing ourselves, we do the packaging ourselves, and when you do it yourselves, you get what you want," says Lunda. "You don't have to worry about stepping on some sound engineer's toes."
Adds Cote about the band's DIY engineering sound levels, "If we want it in the red it goes in the red. Just let it go in the red. Don't be such a pussy."
Fagrag plays the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZAAC) Saturday, Jan. 9, at 8 PM with Hologram Pants, At Home in the Cosmos, Julie and the Wolves and Petra Core. $5.