Can You Dig It?
It's a simmering mid-July Sunday night at Dada in Delray Beach, and Pank Shovel, an indigenous seven-piece rap-metal act, is in robust midperformance. But vocalist Genny Slag is on the couch. Not that she's taking a breather from the brash, rousing amalgam of old-school punk, noisy free-jazz guitar freakouts, and blistering female rapping. She's on the couch as in all over it -- treading over the cushions like an obstacle course, racing across the armrests, springboarding right into an audience member's face to deliver a corrosive couplet.
"I have no reason to be filtered," maintains the heavily inked and pierced Slag. "I have nothing to lose." Why would she? Anything but coy, Slag's built like a Pop Warner linebacker, sporting a badass swagger and Jersey-girl accent that'll slap the senseless silly (or vice versa). Pank Shovel neither pulls nor throws punches, though the rapping is aggressive and provocative, but as Slag is quick to explain, Pank Shovel isn't meant to come across as intimidating.
"We're not trying to be confrontational," she says. "We're just breakin' it down. It might come off as abrasive, but most open-minded freethinkers would listen to what we're saying and agree. I think what we're saying is pretty basic human-rights stuff." Following the show the gregarious, polite Slag cruises over, extends her hand, and introduces herself.
Slag's partner in rhyme, Kristen Kelly, is Slag's ideal foil -- a tall, willowy, strawberry blonde who trades slingshot one-liners with uncanny precision. At Dada, Kelly sways back and forth in a tiny tank top festooned with a single embroidered cherry and rattles off rhymes in her smooth, deep voice while Slag flails around, shadowboxes, and barks commands like a drill sergeant standing on a hot plate. Amazingly, though the duo sports impeccably deft flow and a rapid-fire staccato spray of syllables, the two don't step on each other's toes.
"We have it down to a science at this point," says Kelly. "We had to. At some point we just started doing our own thing, and when it just sort of intersected, we overlapped and it sounded good."
The vocal rants and slam-happy grooves of #1 Car, Pank Shovel's debut CD, are a lot to digest at once, since the album functions as mission statement, manifesto, and infomercial as well as a concise punk-rock ruckus that grows more enjoyable with each listen. The pared-down, tractor-pull punk of "Superhero" puts forth a straightedge sentiment, while the stutter-stop ballad "Evolution" is all philosophical eloquence, a call to arms for listeners of all genders and sexual orientations. The angle of attack is certainly lesbian-friendly, but the group doesn't suck up to the gay-rights agenda for propriety's sake. Pank Shovel's thought-provoking stew invokes the arch militancy of Consolidated without the stridently pro-choice, meatfree political correctness. Tribe 8, a Californian lesbian punk band, is another obvious touchstone. Slag lists her influences as "old-school hip-hop meets 1977 punk rock like Television, the Voidoids, and the Dead Boys. But everybody [in the band] has their own little take on what they think they're doing, musically." A South Florida mosh pit veteran, she captained the teenage terrorism of Slag about a decade ago -- "We were young and wanted to party more than play," she remembers -- and later drummed with the Chihuahuas.
Roughly between Slag and Kelly's extremes is bassist Marissa Mikeo, who composes the framework of most of the band's songs. Marveling at the fact that every member somehow manages to rearrange his or her schedule in order to rehearse and perform, Mikeo says Pank Shovel's musical direction is understandably chaotic. "It's so hard just to even play the songs and get them sounding tight," she says. "It's like six people are ready and the seventh person isn't. It's really hard to get seven people all on the same page." Barely 20 years old, Mikeo is Pank Shovel's youngest member.
Drummer James Washington (also Slag's half brother) says nothing but kicks down a succession of solidly funky beats. Rhythm guitarist Brian Hay, also a man of few words, pauses to interject, "We rule!" Trapped behind a shelf of keyboards, Shannon Lindner likewise appears shy and reserved. It's up to lead guitarist Tom "Shadowmouth" Mestnik -- in his late thirties, the elder statesman of the group -- to add his two cents.
"I just wanted to be a part of whatever Genny was doing," the Colorado native declares. "She's the greatest."
Though he played in hippie bands back home and sometimes looks out of place in Pank Shovel's young, sprightly lineup, the ultra-left-leaning Mestnik delights in schooling his bandmates on both politics and music.
"I always have to say, "You're absolutely right, Tom. I don't know that much about Jethro Tull,'" laughs Mikeo. "And Genny and I are lesbians, but he's always telling us that we're not liberal enough, because we have furniture in our house or we're too domesticated. He's so funny."
In fact, when Mikeo and Slag began dating in 1998, a mutual love of hip-hop like Public Enemy was in the picture, but both were turned off by the misogyny that contaminated so much rap music. And when Kelly was soon recruited and the three decided to make music together, she wasn't sure a hip-hop band what was she had in mind at all.
"I associated so much of it with gangsta rap, therefore I wasn't into that," explains Kelly. "Most of what I heard was degrading women or was very violent."
"There's so much negativity out there with rappers," adds Mikeo. "They all rap about 'hos and drugs and all kinds of negative shit, or they pick on gay people. Our lyrics are very positive and uplifting."
"But a lot of what we say is silly!" Kelly continues. "We're all smarmy in one song, and then on the next we're just being goofs!"
The album's title track illustrates the truth of that statement clearly enough with "My car is a honey-bun./My car has three machine guns./My car is an alligator./My car is a space invader./My car looks a lot like Darth Vader./My car has a gold tooth./My car is asshole proof." When Slag and Kelly take a more serious tack, it may be to bait the uninitiated or unimpressed, as in this salvo from "The Girl You Wanna Fuck": "If you can't say something nice then don't say a word./Sissy soft suckers talking shit it's absurd./Your vision is blurred your ego injured haven't you heard./I never cared if we ever made a buck./Don't care if suckers say we suck./Guess you're shit out of luck./ We're the favorite band of the girl you want to fuck."
The band's name is a steady source of confusion and chuckles. Original guitarist Jack Cook came up with the name, "but he was trying to say Pink Shovel," Slag recalls. "But with his Georgia accent, it sounded like Pank."
"People think they should know what it means," says Mikeo, "but it's nothing. When you search for pank on the Internet, all these pornographic spanking sites come up."
Not that a bit of over-the-knee fun on a computer screen would likely offend the Pank Shovel crew, who don't generally bristle about sexual politics despite being a mostly female group in a boy's-club world. "The women in this band are not passive little novelty parts of the show," Slag insists. "But we don't have a political agenda.... I say what I believe. I'm more preoccupied with writing songs than fighting wars."
And feminism isn't the term the women would choose, either. "I'm a humanist," explains Kelly. "I have my own beliefs, but I'm not concerned with pushing them on people. I just want to play."
"It's never going to work empowering one group, anyway," finishes Slag. "We're saying everybody deserves to be treated fairly."
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