All-female trio Grass Widow is rapidly commanding attention in a local music scene that has grown tired of the same old garage-rock racket. A year into the group's existence, after months of courting drummer Lillian Maring to relocate from Seattle, the band has solidified an aesthetic combining ethereal harmonies and sharp postpunk melodies, racking up a dedicated local following just in time for its debut record.
Grass Widow's acute guitar riffs, wound around three-way harmonized vocals, have inspired much affection on the live circuit. Its sound is notably influenced by female '80s postpunk legends like Kleenex, the Raincoats, and obscure Portland teenage-girl band the Neo Boys ("They're probably my favorite band ever," bassist Hannah Lew says). Grass Widow shares a vibe of sonic abandonment with these foundational acts, which were similarly very affected by punk's rawness.
Grass Widow's eerie, interlaced vocals "call attention to our femininity," Lew says, but are juxtaposed against contained feedback. The trio mixes up traditional song structures (choruses and verses appearing only once, or blending together as one), turning the most discordant vocal bits and raucous drum rolls into sing-alongs. Lew, Maring, and guitarist Raven Mahon write songs in the egalitarian way, each contributing equally to melody, structure, and lyrical content. Their live sets radiate this cohesiveness; there are no stars or leads in the band, each of the women evenly singing and playing at once.
The trio set up shop in a Mission Street meat locker late last year. Lew recalls wondering, "Is this any good? Is anyone even going to like this?" They had come from various hardcore punk acts — Lew and Mahon shared a stint in the local act Shitstorm. Shifting course, the women's ghostly, swelling choruses and barbed breakdowns still displayed a hard punk background without the aggression. The band has since created a style in step with other budding offbeat punk groups like Nodzzz and Traditional Fools. All three acts are on ambitious new Bay Area label Make-A-Mess Records, which features "like, all of our favorite San Francisco bands right now," Grass Widow communally stresses.
The band is working on its debut LP, although when asked about a prospective release date, Lew quips, "Well, our record was being mixed by a cat, basically, so within the next couple of months seems realistic at this point." Since the group has only an official cassette recording available so far, its upcoming vinyl is highly anticipated. Recent features in national music journal Yeti, along with a track on its compilation CD, and a spot in the local online punk video-zine Mondovision have only further stoked the eagerness of the band's fans. In the meantime, Grass Widow continues to inject its obtuse postpunk energy into a scene hungry for fresh sounds.