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Female Problems

Funk-rock women in love often run afoul of an uncomfortable truth: Grrrrs and purrs don't mix.

"It's hard to be a girl in a rock band and to write a true love song, as opposed to an angry-love-bitch song," admits theStart vocalist Aimee Echo. Yet on the Los Angeles band's debut album, Shakedown!, she managed to bridge that gap between tough and tender with "Gorgeous," the record's first single. "It took a lot of courage for me to go there," she declares. "I was able to do it, and now I'm unashamed. I didn't want anyone to think I was a sappy girl."

Fans who have followed Echo's career through the '90s as vocalist for now-defunct SoCal band Human Waste Project know that mush is normally not part of her diet. Sappy girls generally don't pierce their bandmates' privates; sappy girls don't perform with bands like Sepultura. While HWP possessed both pit and sex appeal during its short life, theStart has a more retro, even "totally '80s" sound. On Shakedown! tracks such as "Melt" and "Dirty Lion," quirky synth lines recall memories of the early days, when MTV videos killed the radio star.

But "Nemesis" sports a rough-hewn rock surface with a dangerous guitar-and-drum strike, contrasting with the polished pop charm of "Gorgeous," which sounds destined to stir up the seemingly mandatory No Doubt comparison thanks to its bouncy, radio-friendly hooks. Echo's sugary voice often recalls that of Missing Persons' Dale Bozzio, ping-ponging between child and wild. "Melt" opens with a steadfast bass line and blossoms into a ghostly yet vibrant chorus as Echo sprinkles such ear and heart candy as: "And all of my faculties have been removed/And I can't help but to lose myself in you." Where Echo's lyrics once dwelled upon life's dark moments, she now prances around somewhere between gleeful and gushy. Some might compare theStart's sound with the tightly wound gusto of the femme-friendly altrockers of Garbage, though Echo would beg to differ.

"We really tried to stay away from doing anything current," Echo claims. "Obviously you're going to find elements from the past, because when you work with music, you try to find a unique way to do it. And I think we may have succeeded."

With former HWP drummer Scott Ellis in tow, Echo has hooked up with bassist Jeff Jaeger and ex-Snot guitarist/keyboardist Jamie Miller to form theStart. Growing up in Orange County, Echo absorbed her parents' collection of Joni Mitchell and Beatles albums. Next came her own Sex Pistols records and ultimately the Cure. "[When] I found Robert Smith, my whole life was changed. It became a religion," she remembers. Echo lived the typical adolescent dream and parental nightmare: going to keg parties, getting in trouble at school, and later holding the kinds of jobs about which no parent boasts -- like body piercer.

Becoming increasingly disappointed with the Orange County music scene, she focused her attention toward Los Angeles, where she eventually moved. "[Orange County] had turned into a cultural vacuum," she complains. "There wasn't much there for me." Echo made the rounds in the L.A. music scene, singing backup for obscure garage bands as well as bigtime projects like the Red Hot Chili Peppers' One Hot Minute, Coal Chamber's Chamber Music, and Papa Roach's Infest.

But it wasn't until the Human Waste Project formed in December 1993 that Echo stepped into the spotlight -- even though the band members at first would not even consider having a female vocalist as part of the lineup. "They had auditioned 200 male vocalists in a year before they decided that I could try out," she recalls.

Shortly after releasing its 1997 debut, e-lax, HWP got the ax from Hollywood Records, and disenchantment grew within the ranks. The group broke up in July 1998, not long after Echo had announced, just before a show with Sepultura and Spineshank, her intention to leave the lineup. She remembers talking with HWP bandmates Mike Tempesta (now guitarist for Powerman 5000) and Jeff Schartoff (current bassist for Professional Murder Music), who declared their next album would be "the heaviest record we've ever written in our lives." Echo wasn't down with that agenda at all. "I said, "I don't think I want to do the heaviest record.' I was ready to not be surrounded by metal. I was never a fan of metal. I just never liked it. I've always been a punk-rock girl. So I passed the torch. I think the Kittie girls picked it up."

In August 1998 the new band locked itself inside a cabin in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles and didn't emerge until it had new material. TheStart's Shakedown! debut was supposed to surface a year ago, but its release was delayed as business details were sorted out. The band ultimately found a home on Geffen subsidiary The Label. To Echo it felt like a well-earned reward at the end of a long, tough road.

"There's a lot of mistakes that we had made in previous bands and lessons that we learned, so we brought those to the table," she muses. "We wanted to start fresh and use what we had but not rely on it. I feel like we were in music high school before, and we graduated."

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Omar Perez

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