Hoochie Mama Get-Down
March 11, 2004
When I first spoke with the Hoochie Mama Get-Down girls, Rose Lazoff, Jane Palajac and Melissa Perkins, we hit it off so well that by the end of the discussion we had all decided to wed one another over coffee and scones and were trying to determine how we will divide my soon-to-be-born child. I instantly loved these women, and that was before I had even heard their music. Now that my ears have been tickled with such gems as “Mad Liberation,” “Dear Prez” and “Bad, Bad, Girls,” I can say without a doubt that I have been transformed into a die-hard fan.
Lazoff fondly remembers dancing around her living room as a child with her grandmother, the two of them shaking it up to the sounds of Macedonian music. This was the catalyst for her love of music, and at the age of nine she received her first real guitar from her parents and had a growing affection for bands such as The Beatles, the Stones and Jefferson Airplane. She says she still loves Grace Slick “...for all her wildness and craziness and, God, that voice!”
Things really began to take off for her when she met fellow music lover Palajac at a protest in the 70s. “It was an instant connection,” Lazoff says. “It was a great time for all of us then, because there really was no original music ‘scene’ and we were just really free to do whatever we dreamed up.”
Palajac and Lazoff have been rocking Fort Wayne for the past several years, performing as The Chronics along with Jerry Miller on drums, but recently they felt the itchings for an all-Estrogen affair, removing Miller and adding Melissa Perkins, daughter of Fort Wayne blues sensation Diamond Lil. The Hoochie Mama Get-Down women were united in one common goal ~ to play on their own terms with self-expression being their primary motivation.
Last year saw the release of Pretty Like A Monster, a rich collection of intensely melodic tunes and powerful lyrics, released under the group’s own label, Rubra Records.
“Cool Rules” starts off the album, Lazoff’s voice pouring out of the speakers like so much thick honey in gentle harmony with Palajac and Perkins. “Johnny” is a good representation of what Lazoff says is the DIY message behind the music. In “Mad Liberation,” a song that Palajac considers her “baby,” the mood of the record takes on a deeper feel as Perkins’ beautifully haunting voice speaks of the “spirit truly being free,” while Palajac supplies a smoky background with her skills on guitar. “Mad At You” is the kind of song you crank up in your car and sing at the top of your lungs, even if you’ll never have a prayer of sounding as sensual as Lazoff when she warns “Don’t come ‘round here, expecting my forgiveness.”
Perkins says that Ani Difranco has been one of her biggest influences, and that can be heard in “Ratficus,” a fast-moving poetic tune that dances with a single acoustic guitar. The biggest difference is that the song seems to be spilling over with the originality and freshness that Difranco’s music has been missing of late. The next track consists of Perkins and Palajac seemingly desperate for someone to be their “French Betty.” When I asked them what exactly a “French Betty” was, Lazoff responded, “Well, did you ever have the feeling that [you] were in another place at another time with another person with a great, big hat that was green and yellow and blue and oftentimes, made fun noises? Well, it’s not that.”
“Dear Prez” expresses Perkins’ displeasure with the current state of government affairs. She says, “It was written as a letter to President Bush in my diary.” The lyrics are scathing and accusatory in a way that is absolutely liberating: “Do you know that you’re the anti-christ? / Though you spout the sanctity of life / Oh, you fight a good clean war / But I’m moppin’ up the blood rushin’ / through my front door.”
This feeling seems to be unanimous with the trio as Palajac says, “Bush has to go” and Lazoff follows up with, “We had better get organized now, or soon it will be too late. I wish people could see how we’re being manipulated to fight with each other, to distract us from [the] issue of losing our rights and being lied to by our ‘government.’” Intelligent women, and they rock. It’s almost too much to take all at once.
The CD closes with “Bad, Bad Girls” and brings Jerry Miller back into the soirÈe along with Monastic Chambers’ Jon Gillespie. This one is exactly as it sounds: a powerful woman anthem celebrating our individuality and our exasperation when society tries to place us in predefined packages. “Bad, Bad Girls” will also be featured on the soundtrack for the film Fish In A Barrel, a Mike the Pike Films independent production.
The most enticing thing about these women and their music is simply the raw beauty of their original lyrics and stunning voices. Listening to Pretty Like A Monster is almost like sitting on their couch and having them serenade all those around them with their opinions and dreams. They’re fresh, they’re new, but, most importantly, they’re real, something that can easily be seen in both their music and in their personalities. This sets them apart from most popular “music” today.
But we haven’t all been made bitter by mass produced boy bands and screamy, bubble-gum pop. There are still some redeemable ones out there, the girls agree. “There’s some cool stuff,” Lazoff remarks. “I’m diggin’ Tori [Amos], of course, because she rocks, and I kind of like Andre and Big Boi.”
The Hoochie Mamas have words of advice for the young musicians out there who are thinking of breaking out. Perkins encourages, “Remain true to your own expression,” while Lazoff jokes, “Run for your life!” and Palajac warns, “Be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices.”
So, what’s next for these lyrical goddesses? Palajac and Perkins are working on some new songs that they plan on taking on the road as soon as possible. Lazoff is staying here and recording a solo album that will feature some mystery guests. When I tried to pry her for more information, she said, “That’s a secret. It will be different from The Chronics and different from Hoochie Mama, as my writing keeps changing as time goes on. It will be fun to do a solo project for once and just make all the decisions, good or bad, by myself.”
Does that mean the end is in sight? Not at all. “We all have different things we’d like to do. Some projects will include each other and some will not ... I can’t imagine not playing music with either Mel or Rose ... on something or another,” Palajac comments. Perkins adds, “We all intend to stay sounding boards for each other ~ but to retain independence is pretty imperative.”
Pretty Like A Monster, along with The Chronic’s self-titled 1996 release and Be Bop can be purchased at Borders or online at www.thechronics.com. And be sure to catch their show on March 23 at Columbia Street West. I know I’ll be there, bearing coffee and chocolate scones.