Amid the purple-walled ambience in the über-hip living room of her apartment in a dicey Hollywood neighborhood, Blowtorch bassist/vocalist Bianca Butthole curls up on a leopard-print sofa. She's in bare feet, cutoffs, and a tank top, and her prominent tattoos are as bold and colorful as her offstage personality is retiring. Reminiscing about a decade on the L.A. scene, the soft-spoken singer doesn't lament the trials of being estrogen-dominated rockers -- drummer Judy Molish, guitarist/vocalist Sharon Needles, and guitarist Blare N. Bitch round out the band -- but she's very much a realist. And Butthole has found the answer to the band's new album title -- Are You Man Enough? -- to be, in most cases, a resounding no. Not from their legion of fans, but from the testosterone-fueled members of the music biz who can't seem to get their minds (or their money) around the idea of four women in a revved-up Johnny Thunders-meets-Buckcherry combo with a wicked dose of humor and a bawdy Runaways-style panache and insouciance.
Betty Blowtorch has already established itself as a press darling, and its members are thrilled with their deal with Foodchain Records and with Man Enough, their debut album, produced by Matt Hyde (Monster Magnet, Porno for Pyros). They'll be featured in the Disney (!) film Bubble Boy, and have a documentary pending by Anthony (Being Regis Philbin) Scarpa. Still, Butthole is eager to move to the next level. "We need a manager," she says, "really bad. But because we're a hard-rock girl band, nobody wants us. Nobody. I'm hoping and praying this band gets to a level of some success," she adds as tiny dog voices yip behind a closed door and car alarms resound from a nearby street. "Of course, I want more, but if we could get to the halfway, some success, then I could tell everyone to fuck off -- all those people who say, "We'll never make money off an all-girl rock band.'
"Betty Blowtorch is probably going to be my last band, so I'm going to get as many good memories as I possibly can before I hang it up," smiles the girl who brutally, but with much humor, wails her heart out on songs from "I Wish You'd Die" ("slowly," no less!) to the more serious and personal "Strung Out" to "Big Hair, Broken Heart," a song jokingly dedicated to Lita Ford. "If [Blowtorch] doesn't take off after a few years, I told my friends, shoot me if I'm up there [when I'm] 45 years old, trying to do rawk. Somebody tell me to wake the fuck up and get a job and a life. I'm not delusional. I have a backup plan."
An L.A. native who grew up in North Hollywood, the then-teenager used to ride her moped over the hill in the early '80s for punk shows at the Starwood and the Whisky, but she didn't gather the confidence to start her own band until the early '90s. That band, Butt Trumpet, "was about revenge," she says. "This guy I was [dating] was very negative, so it was such an awesome reward when I was headlining the Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia -- it was almost sold out, and he was front and center."
Ironically, Butt Trumpet struck a deal with EMI just as the lineup was essentially breaking up, though the group managed to release one album, Primitive Enema, before it truly imploded. ("A big band and a big fizzle, all in one year," observes Butthole.) Needles, Bitch, and Butthole regrouped as Betty Blowtorch in 1998 and recorded an EP with ex-Guns N' Roses nice guy Duff McKagan producing. The bassist is but one of the band's many musician supporters, though again, Butthole notes, "doors really aren't open for women in rock -- still. Pop, no problem. It blows my mind. It's sick. Thank God for Kittie, at least. While they're not my cup of tea musically, at least they're hard and heavy."
Speaking of hard, Vanilla Ice guest-raps on "Size Queen," another of Betty Blowtorch's honest and loving odes to sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll ... and, of course, penis size. Butthole sighs as twilight settles around her living room. "I can't get a date in this town because I get up there and sing about size," she says. "Why do I write songs like this -- I'm totally cock-blocking myself!
"People don't even know what a marshmallow I am," she smiles. "I come home and bake cookies, sit in my bubble bath. I'm just a dork." Maybe so, but she's a dork with Johnny Thunders vinyl, a vintage car, and purple toenails who sings, "We're a bunch of horny fucking bitches and we've got something to say to you! We're in the band. All we want is a one-night stand."
The girls can't help it, notes the frustrated homemaker. "I like songs that are fun. We all contribute to lyrics; it's pretty well-balanced writing-wise, like "I Wanna Be Your Sucker' is about Sharon [Needles] being a booty-call girl. We bounce off each other. My emotional life is not really on this record. I wallow on my acoustic guitar in my bedroom to myself," notes the bassist, whose one serious song, "Strung Out," is about a painful relationship with a junkie, a lifestyle she too once embraced.
"Live [playing] is my catharsis," she admits. "I feel like I have a lot of inner rage that I don't know how to express, because actually I'm a very passive person except when I'm onstage." Onstage and on Are You Man Enough?, the entire band shines, musically, vocally, and lyrically, with funny, sweet songs like "Dresses" (about the band members' distaste for them) fitting nicely next to "Part-Time Hooker."
"It was such a pleasure working with Matt Hyde," says Butthole. "This is the first record where we had more than $700 and we found out what preproduction was. Matt is a real stickler with timing. We played to track every day for like nine hours. He was our drill sergeant. But it was really good for us, and he got us, our humor. All our songs are real, all true. They're sincere and real-life, with humor. Even if it's the tragic broken-heart song like "Love/Hate,' there's still that humor. We just can't help it. I would love to be the female David Lee Roth."
After the present summer tour, it's business as usual for Betty Blowtorch, with day jobs ranging from work at a Melrose clothing store (Butthole) to a position as vice president of the Hollywood-based duplication house Lightning Dubbs (Molish).
And though Butthole has fielded other offers ("I was asked to audition for Hole. Their label called me like five times last year, but I was like, "Nah. I know too much. I'm not goin' there!'"), she's happily cast her lot with her Blowtorch sisters. While the foursome would be happy to jump on the coattails of like-minded lineups, including Monster Magnet or Buckcherry ("Wouldn't Josh and I make a cute couple?" grins Butthole of Buckcherry's tattooed Todd), those bands are trying to grab onto bigger coattails themselves. So Betty Blowtorch's most recent gambit was to hit the road with another down 'n' dirty buzz band populated by fearless femmes fatales. "We sent Nashville Pussy a blond strip-o-gram, because we wanted to tour with them in Europe," explains Butthole. "We haven't heard back yet. I think we'll just be sending out a lot of strip-o-grams this year," she concludes with a resigned grin. "At least until we get a manager!"