A Two Nice Girls Biography
Back in the olden days it wasn't common to hear women on the radio, at least not on rock stations in Texas. You had the few who kept cropping up over and over again - Heart (God bless'em) and Pat Benatar - but the geniuses of the 1980s who were making ground-breaking albums dealing with sexual and cultural politics (The Slits, Au Pairs, X-Ray Spex, The Avengers), and just straight up rock and roll (The Runaways), were rarely to be heard. We fans had to find each other at the VFW halls and other makeshift spaces that we rented for punk shows. We had to make mix tapes of obscure Fatal Microbes British singles for each other in order to hear this good stuff. We weren't really getting it on the radio. And the internet hadn't been invented yet.
Yet the 1980s were a great time for interesting and varied female-fronted bands. There were more of them than ever before. There were also lots of dyke bands that primarily played the women's music circuit. We would go see them at women's music festivals, and theatres and spaces rented out by women's music production companies. These events were very commonplace and well attended, but they were, for the most part, quite underground. Generally, no real mention of them was made in the mainstream press. As a young dyke, it seemed to me that the punk women's world and the lesbian feminist world were rather separate, and I dreamed of bringing them together. There was just no reason the radical lesbians wouldn't want to hear some kick-ass electric guitar feedback. And there was no reason why my punk sisters wouldn't want to hear lyrics as radical as those professing lesbian desire. So I attempted to bring peanut butter and chocolate together.
So, in the summer of 1985, Laurie Freelove, Kathy Korniloff and I formed Two Nice Girls. Yes, there were other bands in other places putting this peanut butter and chocolate together. Two Nice Girls just happened to catch a good wave and ride it for a while.
We actually rode a relatively folky wave, all my punk aspirations aside. We just really loved melody and harmony and wanted to sound pretty while saying radical things. I don't think that just telling the truth about your life should be viewed as radical, but unfortunately it often is. Why shouldn't we be out as lesbians? What did we have to lose? We weren't really in the music business to get rich. We wanted to create anthems for people to come out to. We wanted to put on shows where hot, single babes could hook up. We wanted to provide an unmistakably queer soundtrack for them to fall in love to. We wanted to show men what lesbians were up to. We wanted to paint a picture of a world that was bigger and brighter than the one we were living in. We wanted to say that the emperor had no clothes. We wanted to give everyone a glimpse of our record collections. We wanted to make everyone have a good time with the lesbians, which was perhaps something you'd never experienced before. Those were our dreams of being mainstream. We just wanted to be in the middle of the mix, and not in the margins.
And I guess it took some bravery to be out lesbian musicians at that time, because many of those lesbian performers that you think of when you think of the folky, lezzie music of the 1980s and 1990s were in fact not out when we shared the stages with them. They had their lesbian fans who knew the scoop, but they weren't singing songs about being queer at that point. They came out later in their careers. Two Nice Girls were out all along. We had a stated agenda to: Make Lesbianism As Attractive As Possible and we weren't going to succeed with that goal if we were closeted.
Two Nice Girls got a ton of very touching fan mail upon the release of our first album. We received what were often very long letters from all over the world, describing people's queer lives in various small towns. They told us that our record gave them courage, and the hope that things would change someday and they wouldn't have to be so afraid to just be themselves. That meant everything to us. That was the reason we were doing all this. It's what we were in it for. Well, that, and the girls, of course. We wanted to hopefully make it a little easier for someone struggling with their sexuality to know that they're not all alone and that there were a few dykes in Texas who had their own take on the experience.
Why did we do so well? I ask myself that all the time. I honestly don't know. People just responded to us. We loved making music and we loved putting on shows. We loved meeting people and providing an evening's entertainment. We dreamt of our world domination, our cable TV network, GET (Gay Entertainment Television), our how-to books, our star-studded tours and the many albums we were going to record. In the end we put out two full-length albums and an EP of covers. We toured the US and some of Canada. We played in London for four shows. We did as much as we could and still have fun. When it stopped being fun we stopped doing it. We fell short of some of our dreams and, I suppose, accomplished some things that we'll never even know about. We really had an altruistic mission to make this world a less homophobic place by providing a lesbian point of view that lots of people, gay and straight, could relate to. There was a time, a very different time in the not too distant past when our president never once uttered the word "AIDS", and just the idea of a show called "Will and Grace" or "The L Word" seemed like it could radically alter things.
I do believe that art affects politics. And I believe in the subversion of song. Look no further than Under My Thumb. How many times have I caught myself humming that very catchy little number in spite of the fact that I don't agree with it politically? Doesn't matter, it got inside me. In Two Nice Girls we just wanted to get you humming some catchy queer song whether you agreed with us or not. We just wanted to get inside you.
Two Nice Girls was formed in the summer of 1985. The initial incarnation consisted of Laurie Freelove, Kathy Korniloff and Gretchen Phillips. We all played guitar and bass and whatever else we wanted, and wrote and arranged the songs.
In 1987, The Austin Chronicle held a Sweet Jane contest at Liberty Lunch in Austin. Bands were asked to perform that one number. Our version, which mashed up Lou Reed's Sweet Jane with Joan Armatrading's Love and Affection, came in second place, (first place people's favorite).
Two Nice Girls garnered a nice following in Texas and was asked to participate in the first South By Southwest Music Festival in 1988. We didn't want to because it didn't pay, but they talked us into it. Jim Fouratt from New York City saw us at that showcase and became our manager. He played our live version of Sweet Jane (With Affection) for Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records. On the strength of that one song, Geoff signed us and my dream of being on Rough Trade (home of Weekend, Scrawl, Young Marble Giants, Lucinda Williams, among many cherished others) came true.
We began recording our first album entitled 2 Nice Girls in the summer of 1988 at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio with Lisa Byrd as our producer. Things were going along well until the IRS padlocked the studio because Willie owed back taxes. That was a nightmare. Every studio in town was booked. We had to piece together studio time at the University of Texas, where Lisa worked. Fortunately we were able to squeeze into the Austin City Limits studio and mix the album in the break between Christmas and New Years.
The Cowboy Junkies' mellowed out, slowed down and sung by a woman version of Sweet Jane came out as our record was going to press. It became a hit and we were scooped. Undaunted, we forged ahead.
In January of 1989, Pam Barger joined Two Nice Girls on drums. She and I were already playing together in Girls in the Nose, so it was a perfect fit.
Our first album, 2 Nice Girls, came out on March 17th, 1989.
Laurie Freelove left the band to pursue her solo career in May of 1989. She signed with Ensign records. Check out her releases on Amazon. They're good.
In June of 1989 Meg Hentges correctly answered our ad in The Austin Chronicle and joined Two Nice Girls. She immediately had to learn our set and then go on the road with us in a rented Astro min-van. The first time she ever sang the lead on Sweet Jane (With Affection) was at a very well attended show at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. I think it was pretty scary for her, but she pulled it off. We toured as much as possible for the rest of 1989.
We began recording our EP of covers, Like a Version, in the fall of 1989 at Ben Blank Studios, home of many a beloved musical project.
We toured as much as possible in 1990 and began working on our third Rough Trade release, chloe liked olivia, in the fall of 1990 with Michael Blair producing. Michael was a musician we greatly admired. He produced Victoria Williams' Swing the Statue album and played percussion with the likes of Lou Reed and Tom Waits. We recorded at Arlyn Studios with no interruptions from the IRS. Although I did start smoking again during this project.
chloe liked olivia came out in March of 1991 and we toured a ton to promote it. A scant three months after it was released Rough Trade Records went bankrupt. Needless to say there was not much of a promotional push behind this record. Eventually we were able to buy back the rights to our masters, which we just sat on for many, many years.
In the fall of 1991 we recorded a four-song demo at Ben Blank Studio to shop around to labels. We landed nothing. We started getting discouraged and on each other's nerves.
In the winter of 1992 we decided to break up. We fulfilled all of our already booked engagements and went on our final tour. Our last show was May 30, 1992 in San Diego, CA
All of our releases were manufactured on vinyl, cassette and CD. Eventually, people started selling the CD of 2 Nice Girls for quite a bit of money on the internet. I've seen a copy go for, I'm not kidding, $69 on eBay before. Obviously people were still interested in hearing these songs, but they just didn't really have a good means of finding them. So finally, after years of procrastination, I started working on a reissue of the first album. I wanted to make an attractive object in an era of downloads. I can't stand jewel cases and I like a lengthy booklet and some bonus tracks in a reissue. So, here you have it. An affordable object I myself would want to buy. I hope you enjoy it.
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