Sister Axe – Post Punk’s Family Tree

If anything, one of Punk’s greatest legacies was not even the music that followed, but its insistence that girls should, and could be in bands too. By the 1990s a whole musical sisterhood had started to grow up, and because of this new proliferation, it was no longer as uncommon to see girls playing, writing, and producing music, as well as being cited as an influence on even younger up and coming artists. Girls found a foothold in post punk thanks to the punk pioneers who went before them.

For most it was still a case of starting from scratch, learning on cheap guitars and making it up as you went along, but starting early, and most noticably in the U.S. a post punk girl family tree started to form, based around two sets of sisters.

Donnelly & HerschBest friends Tanya Donelly and Kristin Hersh, who were at school together from the age of about eight, were suddenly promoted to real life step-sisters when Donelly’s father married Hersh’s mother in the 1980s.
Tanya and Kristin were both bought guitars as teenagers, and started to write their own songs, co-founding their band Throwing Muses at the tender age of 15. Initially calling themselves Kristin Hersh and the Muses, they completed the line up with Leslie Langston and David Narcizo, who’s first drum kit came with no cymbals, so “no cymbals” became his thing. Releasing their debut single in 1984 on their own jokingly titled “Blowing Fuses” label, they had a college hit with their next offering “Sinkhole”, before becoming the first US band on the UK’s 4AD records. “I signed with them because Ivo was funny and goofy, and that was about it.” – Kristen Hersh.
So much for our precious illusions about the aloof 4AD!

Yearbook Kelley and KimMeanwhile, at about the same time in Dayton Ohio, identical twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal were growing up on diet of hard rock and radio favourites, until a friend of Kelley’s started making them mix tapes which introduced them to the charms of the Sex Pistols, The Undertones and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The tapes became their lifeline.
As teenagers they formed a folk rock band named The Breeders, with Kim becoming the main songwriter as it’s said, she found it easier to write songs than to play covers. By the age of 17, they had bought microphones, a tape recorder, a mixer, a drum machine, and speakers, turning their teenage bedroom into their own private recording studio.
In 1986, a musician wanted advert in the Boston Phoenix caught Kim’s eye,
“Band seeks bassist into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary. Please – no chops.” Apparently Kim was the only person to call them, and using Kelley’s bass, she became a pivotal member of the Pixies.

The success of albums, “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle” saw the Pixies go from the indie underground to something more mainstream, and each release was followed by a packed touring schedule, one that included opening for Throwing Muses during a tour of Europe in 1988. After two albums and amid growing tension within The Pixies, Kim instead saddled up with Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya to form, or maybe re-form The Breeders. It was only fitting then that Kelley later joined the band on lead guitar, and the band released the irresistible “Canonball” in the mid nineties which became an MTV hit.

In 1991, Donelly also formed the band Belly, while Hersh has remained with Throwing Muses, but has interspersed her band output with solo projects, all increasingly on her own terms – she recently told
“”Because we differ from the recording industry ethically, we had been asked to dumb down our product so many times. I have been asked to act and look like a bimbo so many times and I just decided, ‘I’m not going to turn my back on my music. I’m not going to turn my back on women.’ We’re morally bound to not participate in the traditional recording industry because we disagree with it. So we continue to play music, which has nothing to do with the music business.”

Brothers in bands were already common place, Everlys, Jacksons, Osmonds, but in the aftermath of Punk, girls seemed more inspired to step up. The great thing about growing up with a musically like-minded sibling is that you always have someone to learn and play with. When there’s two of you, you’ve got someone on hand to encourage and inspire you, plus you can have all the endless after lights discussions about band names, imaginary future artwork and even someone to share thoughts on exactly how you should stand.



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