Issue #119: Frenching The Bully by The Gits

June 25, 2018

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Frenching The Bully by The Gits
Released In 1992
Released By C/Z Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Erin Calvert

If you have yet to listen to Frenching The Bully by The Gits, you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself and that tired old Nirvana t-shirt in your closet. Unabashed poser grunge fans rejoice as I am here to enlighten you on Seattle’s arguably catchier and more talented “grunge” band. Now you may be thinking, “I’ve got a Nirvana t-shirt, a Soundgarden beanie, and I know at least two songs by Alice In Chains — how have I not heard of The Gits?” Let me explain, but first, please excuse me while I change my tone here as it’s no longer appropriate. The Git’s lifespan was drastically cut short by a brutal tragedy.

On July 7th, 1993, Gits’ lead singer, Mia Zapata was brutally beaten, raped, and murdered in the central district of Seattle. The murder went unsolved for decade until Mia’s murderer was eventually found and convicted. Mia was undoubtedly a huge loss for music — her talent, energy, and dynamic presence was admired by hundreds of thousands of listeners worldwide despite the band’s relatively short lifespan. Understandably, the tragic loss of Mia caused the band to respectably disband in late 1993 and naturally the gruesome and unresolved nature of Mia’s murder took to the news and brought the surviving Gits members a sort of fame that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Unfortunately, the band would go on to become more widely known for Mia’s shocking death instead of their musical contribution to the world and sadly, the fiercely poignant music The Gits had used to set the Seattle underground ablaze in the early ’90s fell somewhat to the wayside.

Here at Off Your Radar we pride ourselves in returning the spotlight to music that truly deserves it. The artists that have yet to sell a million copies, the albums the mainstream turned their backs on, the songs that are just so good you have to listen to them again, and the humble break out moments that made music legends what they are today. Now, I can honestly say that out of all the albums I’ve ever even thought of writing about for Off Your Radar, The Gits 1992 release, Frenching The Bully has to be the most warranted. Now to resume my more obnoxiously giddy tone from the start of this piece; let’s talk about The Gits!

Frenching The Bully was an album way ahead of its time, and to call it a grunge album does it no justice whatsoever. Although its ’92 release set it right on the cusp of the grunge peak, The Gits brought so much more to the music scene. Within this one album, The Gits showcased their diverse range of influences from punk to jazz to good old rock ‘n’ roll, flaunting their otherworldly ability to make those iconic grunge tones sound like so much more than their simple constructs. To their credit, they even had a good handle on how to make it in the post-hardcore scene before it had the chance to break its name in. So, although The Gits may have “fit the bill” for a grunge band at the time, they promptly ripped their plaid toting oppressors a new one by making an album with more bite and personality than even the most deranged music divas (and I’m not just talking about Courtney Love).

The Gits made something original with this album where all other “grunge” bands just seemed to make a mess. I happened to discover this album on YouTube of all places (don’t judge me). It just materialized after another less memorable album had eventually fizzled out and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I had to abandon whatever I was doing, rewind the video, and listen closely. From the first 38 seconds of “Absynthe,” I knew that this band was unhinged and ready to melt my face off but I wasn’t sure how yet, and then she hit me with a right hook that changed the layout of my face for the better. That’s right friends — I’m telling you now that Frenching The Bully is an all-natural alternative to pricey plastic surgeries.

The only appropriate word I can think of to describe Mia Zapata’s growly vocals is mesmerizing. They seem to have their own gravitational pull. Once I started listening to The Gits, I couldn’t stop. Live tracks, demos, album tracks, anything! In short, my fate was sealed as a Gits fan and yours will be too once you hit play. Did anyone else here that maniacal laughter? No? Just me? Okay. So toss away that awful Nirvana t-shirt you bought off Amazon in the 7th grade and tattoo these words to your bare chest, “I ain’t worth nothing if there’s no perspective.” Welcome to the fold, my child, for thou art now a Gits fan. Look don’t get the wrong idea by that Old English phrasing. It’s not a cult per se… You won’t understand until you hear it and my over-excited brain can barely find the words to describe it, but there is something truly extraordinary about this band and this album in particular. It has an uncontrollable energy to it that is both highly combustible and ridiculously contagious. So if you think you’re ready to hear thirty minutes’ worth of cathartic, heart pumping convictions from four very talented and emotive musicians, then you need to get your hands on this album and hear what grunge era probably should have sounded like.

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

A true punk rock force that cut its cavalier teeth in the cresting land of grunge.

From the front seat of a taxi, I twisted around, cigarette dangling precariously out the window, and smacked the knee of a stranger. “Hey!” I yelled, trying to get the redhead’s attention. Wailing, apologizing for being so drunk and she’s so sorry, I look to her friend, the sweet woman with her arm around the other’s shoulders, the one I’d been so recently dancing with in the blue-black back room of the bar, the one I was going to take home before her friend careened into view. I’d gotten the cab to drive us all home after it became evident the friend needed watching over, and this woman looked at me with eyes that said for certain she knew why I was angry. “Hey listen — you remember this night,” I told the redhead who would obviously forget, “because women need to watch out for women. Stop crying and be grateful it’s me taking you both home safely.” Annoyed but understanding of the folly of women younger than me, I turned back around comforted at least that they didn’t have to walk the two miles home alone. That same shared understanding of being female colored my listening of The Gits this week. Encased in the lyrics is a familiar and undeniable anger, frustration at ex-lovers and ex-friends and the falsity people present themselves with, but there’s this eloquence in the phrasing that pushes these songs out from the ferocity of sound presented by the band and makes the album stand out from other punk and riot grrl of the surrounding years. In my younger years, one of the draws of riot grrl was the simplicity of the anger in the songs; it was easy for me to project my own abusive father and shitty boyfriend and relentlessly felt misogyny into those lyrics, screaming out my truth alongside theirs, but these songs feel more personal to the band than they could to me. Witness to the band’s experiences, I’m pulled into the music but can’t bleed all over it myself. Mia Zapata’s voice, too, that snarly but still clear, almost smooth, tone asks me to do more listening than thinking — I’m here for her even while I’m shaking hips and raising fists all over my living room, lost in my own dark memories and those of which she’s singing.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

Being a (hardcore) punk record, Frenching The Bully was an easy one to get into for me. Musically, it’s a goddamn blast end-to-end, and even has some fun surprises (i.e., the jazzy breakdown in “While You’re Twisting, I’m Still Breathing“). Even the production is great — it’s full but just a bit brittle, much like Terry Date’s work with Pantera. But the star of the show is, of course, Mia Zapata. Her attention-grabbing howl is fantastic throughout. She sounds like she’s perpetually on the verge of losing control, like she’s constantly fighting back a nervous breakdown with just her vocal cords. And her complete lack of subtlety perfectly mirrors her delightfully acerbic lyrics. Zapata has a gift both for succinctly expressing a complex idea (“When you’re looking at pain, you’re looking at truth”) and for venom (“Have fun with Prickface ’cause you sure fucking blew it with me”). Even when she’s simply being standoffish — as when she declares that the only way she’ll listen is if she has another shot — it’s funny and relatable. I was especially struck by the multiple mentions (discussions?) of mental health, though. Perhaps the album’s most arresting line is, “There’s nothing worse than hating yourself / And parading around like you’re somebody else”. The entirety of “Second Skin” seems to address this issue, as well, but I couldn’t get over that stunning couplet from “Wingo Lamo.” We’re getting ever closer to making talk of internal struggles in such a naked fashion mainstream, but it sure wasn’t in the early ’90s. Hell, in that capacity this record was 25 years ahead of its time.

Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That

I wasn’t that surprised that The Gits were together for several years before making their debut album. Not only were they a tight unit, but each member had a distinctive personality. Bassist Matt Dresdner, for example, had a wiry, distorted attack that grinds beneath the guitars of Joe Spleen (not his real name!), adding more edge than bottom. And when I say “guitars” in reference to Spleen, I’m noting the fact that he seems to take the Sex Pistols approach to punk rock (in the studio, anyway) where layering two or more tracks of six-string power is not only acceptable but de rigeur. Drummer Steve Moriarty is always in the pocket but knows when to up the chaos quotient to keep things exciting. And then there’s Mia Zapata, leather-lunged but never screaming, a bluesy contralto who always seemed to have more in the tank. In fact, were she not cruelly taken from us in a senseless murder, I can see her going on to make a confessional singer-songwriter album, or going the indie-folk route like Ani DiFranco. But enough pie in the sky nonsense — Zapata would have laughed in my face — let’s just recognize a 90’s punk classic for what it is: a furious blast of energy and rage — and songs — that time could not dim even if it tried its worst.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Mia Katherine Zapata: August 25, 1965 to July 7, 1993. Thank you for your contributions to music.

Ah 1990s indie punk. The first thing that comes across on Frenching The Bully is the delicate way it steers new listener impressions about The Gits, against the first engagement with the album’s sound quality. The Gits’ 1992 outing carries more audio clarity than say, a complete shoestring garage recording where levels aren’t measured and some clipping is just part of the package. Yet, it is just imperfect enough to sound like a mostly locally active band. (Note the mildly too-high-in-the-mix frenetic kick drum throughout opener “Absynthe.”) Still, it also comes across as a group that pounds enough pavement to afford better audio equipment and work with someone who knows their way around a mixing console, even if it’s not a big, flashy, production. The payoff is that Mia Zapata’s articulate, Pat Benatar-esque, “I give no sh-ts” singing style is clearly heard and able to be fully grasped — words, dynamics, sheer vocal power and all. Of course, the looser toned, chromatic bass line at the introduction also on the opener, followed by a subsequent interlude of rolling toms, more bass, and strikingly bright lead guitar, shows that the rest of The Gits musicianship gets its time to shine as well; clean and crisp enough to hear drum rings, finger slides, and pluck reverberations from thick metal strings. The short runtime but spunky quality of Frenching The Bully‘s tracks is great for revving up the emotional state of any setting: workout time, long road drive, late night study break, or who can leave out a lively city bar? (If you own a whiskey bar that is anything other than flat out formal in its decor and mannerism but aren’t playing “Another Shot Of Whiskey” over the sound system, it’s only because you didn’t know the song existed, right?) The album doesn’t run through without contrast in flow and tempo intensity though, as tracks like “It All Dies Anyway” and “Second Skin” play out more even keeled, with swinging, easily followed downbeats generated from basic four count kick to snare drum patterns and power strums respectively. The album is loud and full of ferocity but consistent enough not to feel musically unhinged or aimless. It’s definitively punk rock but exudes just a glimmer of restraint enough to come back to thoughts of artists like Pat Benatar, Heart, and powerful but (only slightly) neater classic rock.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

The Gits are a band that I’ve heard about plenty of times, but very rarely has it ever been about their music. I completely understand why — the gruesome details surrounding Mia Zapata’s murder, as well as the 11 year wait before the case was solved, aren’t something to really gloss over when their name comes up. But neither is the band’s music, if you ask me. Often times The Gits are labeled as a grunge band, but other than the fact that they had relocated to Seattle around the same time that grunge bands really began to make waves, there’s very little that The Gits have in common with the genre. I’d say that they’re more indebted to West Coast punk rock. The instrumentals of “Slaughter Of Bruce” and “A” could have easily been lifted from any of Bad Religion’s Suffer (or No Control) (or Against The Grain). Even the flow of Zapata’s voice on “Second Skin” is similar to any of Greg Graffin’s on those classic albums, while one of the album’s heavier moments, “Here’s To Your Fuck,” recalls Black Flag when they still played hardcore. Of course, and this follows in the same steps as any great punk album, the music takes a backseat once you start paying attention to Zapata’s lyrics and her delivery of those words. “Spear And Magic Helmet” stuck out to me in particular: cutting right to the chase, calling out a shitty dude for his shitty actions and shitty personality, all while taking its title from an old Bug Bunny cartoon. That’s a winning formula in my opinion… other than, you know, if the subject of the song hadn’t existed in the first place. It sucks that Frenching The Bully and The Gits didn’t catch the same kind of mainstream acclaim as their peers, because this is exactly the type of album that A&R reps needed when they were searching for the next Nirvana.

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

I got it immediately. This is a timeless record. It’s one of the main benefits of the raw, bare bones approach to punk music — because it’s simply guitar, bass, and drums, this record from 1992 could have just as easily been produced in 2018. Before this week, I was only tangentially aware of The Gits through some conversations with the proprietor of one of my local record shops that slants heavily toward punk and metal. So as an outsider, there were a couple of things that hit me right away about this record and the group. I mentioned the timeless nature of the sound, but there’s also a versatility that, I bet, goes unnoticed by most people. I was struck by the traditional rock sound of “It All Dies Anyway.” With the strong female lead and unrelenting energy, this could easily be a classic Fleetwood Mac record. I was also thoroughly impressed with the lead singers’ vocal ability. She sings with such power and ferocity, but she doesn’t have to scream it at you. That type of controlled rage adds such gravitas to every track, but especially “Another Shot Of Whiskey” and “Second Skin.” In fact, I would be really interested to hear her perform an acoustic set, if anything like that exists out there on the internets.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

I’m kind of old, right? I mean, maybe not to everyone, but in the seeming eternally renewing youth playground that is the music scene, I feel pretty ancient a lot of times. Here’s the current example of how ancient I feel: I remember reading about The Gits in fanzines when I was in high school. Mia Zapata was still alive and well, the band was still a going concern, and the zine that was hyping them the most was Flipside, which gave me an idea of what they’d sound like. Flipside, unlike the other big punk zine of the era, Maximum Rocknroll, had taken a positive at-least-there’s-good-music-on-the-radio-now attitude toward the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy, continuing to give positive (and often smarter and more in-depth) coverage to the bands they’d always covered back when they were still on tiny indie labels. As a seemingly unintended consequence, they took on more of an “alternative” vibe in those days; it was rare to read about straight-up punk bands in Flipside in the early ’90s. If they dug The Gits, I could expect the band to be more like a harsh, punk-influenced alt-rock band than a straight-up punk band. I never found out for sure, though, not back then; for whatever reason (probably that I still had to pay full price for everything I wanted to hear back in those pre-download days), I never checked out their music at the time. And then Mia Zapata was murdered, and it cast a pall over the whole thing, as well as snuffing out The Gits’ career right at their breakthrough moment. So believe it or not, despite remembering hearing all sorts of great things about them at the time, I didn’t check out their sole non-posthumous LP, Frenching The Bully, until it came through as our OYR pick for this week. I soon discovered that I’d been right expecting this Flipside-endorsed band to be more “alternative,” as we called it then, than straight-up punk. I’d also been right in expecting there to be resonances between the music of The Gits and that of other female-fronted heavy rock bands making waves at the time — L7, 7 Year Bitch, et cetera — all of whom were taking a feminist approach to playing louder and harsher music than anyone from the older generation had ever expected women to create. But there’s another aspect of their music, which I would trace to their presence on the early Seattle scene, before Nirvana blew up and everything changed. I hear traces in their sound of that late-’80s post-hardcore college rock sound that was common on labels like SST and Homestead as well as The Gits’ home, C/Z Records. Don’t think of Nirvana or Mudhoney here; think instead of less famous bands like Skinyard, The Leaving Trains, and even pre-Pearl Jam band Green River. This influence gives an interesting additional resonance to their fiery punk-influenced feminist alt-rock; I hear a more contemplative edge subtly showing through Zapata’s furious vocal attack and Joe Spleen’s ripping guitar rage. It brings a melodic undercurrent to songs like “While You’re Twisting, I’m Still Breathing” and “Slaughter Of Bruce.” The faster, angrier tracks — like “Insecurities” and the Blue Velvet-referencing “Here’s To Your Fuck” — still bring the punk rock energy that you would expect from a raging feminist band of the era, but there’s a lot more going on here. And as good as I expected it to be, this is even better. I let a variety of things convince me to sleep on The Gits for 25 years; today, hearing Frenching The Bully now for the first time, I regret it. Don’t make the same mistake I did — don’t sleep on this album.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

The Gits’ sound is notable for its layered focus, with parts and melodies able to blend into the harmony or grate against it, all the while supporting Zapata’s truly legendary vocals.

Brody Dalle’s raspy wail on the debut album by The Distillers changed my relationship with female-fronted punk rock. Sure, I wholly embraced her primary influence, Courtney Love’s game-changing work with Hole when she came along. Sure, I was a fan of The Fastbacks’ eye-opening Zucker. I credited everything both of them did, however, with the ground broken by L7 and to some extent the burgeoning and mercifully brief but still influential Riot Grrrl movement. Grunge and punk were comforting genres in their whiplash do-it-yourself aggression but aggression and rage is obviously not exclusively male territory and though the gender-gap in the genre is at least remarkable, these women hit you in the face with that fact on a regular basis. Punk, hardcore, and later grunge provided an antidote to the status quo musically and sometimes politically which later grew to include themes revolving around general emotional turmoil and relationships. Punk didn’t remain the territory of aimless anarchy alone. But there was a mote in the eye of that scene. Women in front have played a role in the development of punk music that, like most of women’s influence throughout history, doesn’t seem to get the note it deserves. While The Gits appeared early in the development of the grunge scene, their debut LP was a groundbreaking hardcore punk masterpiece largely due to the combination of tight punk music production and that unrelenting angry snarl of Mia Zapata. If that isn’t enough, she couples it with a masterful ability sing melody when the occasion calls for it. The train to my particular heart rides on a boxcar rhythm and Steve Moriarty’s fierce drumming propels Zapata’s voice throughout the record and partially on “Second Skin.” “While You’re Twisting, I’m Still Breathing” lifts a giant middle finger on your behalf to everyone you ever dated then hated while stopping mid-stream to really pound the rage home with a bass breakdown and guitar solo. It’s literally a crime that the band never reached mainstream success despite the fact that this album rivals the best punk has had to offer in the years since. It’s the sort of record you want to lift up and show everyone who may have missed it. How could we have missed this?! But we didn’t miss it. We were tragically deprived of it. Every minute of this 13 song beatdown, Joe Spleen winds out hardcore blast riffage, Matt Dresdner plods along career-making basslines and Zapata gives everything she’s got to that mic. They left it all on the studio, and it’s audible in every track. Frenching The Bully is the fast, aggressive and excellently produced punk record you probably never heard. They clearly don’t give a fuck what you think about it now. But I do.

Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage

I was listening to this album while I walked to meet friends before a show in Washington D.C. tonight. The venue is one that has decent neighborhood parking, so I had taken my bag, triple-checked the signage, and clicked the “Lock” button on my key fob about 26 times (just to be sure I didn’t forget). Normally, I make this walk with a little bit of trepidation, but tonight, I was listening to The Gist as I walked down the street. I wasn’t feeling nervous or apprehensive though — I was simply invincible. Clever and snotty and invincible just like this music. That’s what I’ve always loved about the genre. Truly great punk music can make you feel unstoppable. And Frenching The Bully is truly great punk music. The music is dynamic and varied, which avoids the pitfall of an album full of same-sounding punk songs. And then there’s Mia Zapata. Her voice is so amazing and lovely to listen to. You can hear the snarl and the sneer and that’s all I ever want to hear in my punk singer’s voice. This album should have been in my collection long ago. I love it so much.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

This is a dizzying and dazzling punk rock fete, one that checks off everything for me. It’s full of dissonant catharsis while still providing dozens of melodic nuggets that are surprisingly dynamic. There are plenty of moments for fun guitar hooks, but also those whirlwind moments where the guitar locks in step with everything else around it like a cyclone being unleashed at whim. In that regard, I absolutely adore “Another Shot Of Whiskey,” a song that shifts between verses of wandering tangents and a solitary stance of a chorus. It reminds me of a marching band line where a group of people scatter aimlessly before perfectly uniting in a single line. In the song, at the front of that line is Zapata’s caustic posture, supported perfectly by every sound behind her, but in an overbearing sense as Zapata is surely formidable enough to tower over a listener in her own right. But when the band locks behind her, pushing that sonic cyclone out as fast and strong as possible, it becomes colossal in your earbuds, making The Gits a band you know would sound just as mesmerizing in your sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s basement as in a 2,000 seat amphitheater. I can hear moments that borrow from the grunge explosion that happened around this time, but those moments seem more like a friendly shout-outs mid-song to their contemporaries setting the world on fire, as opposed to inclinations or desires. Honestly, the urgent fervor of The Gits’ sound should instantly distance itself away from grunge, and in being frank, any comparisons to that genre are just lazy generalizations from people either unaware or blind to the fact that great music was made in Seattle in the late ’80s and early ’90s that wasn’t grunge. (Just like Detroit produced some fine rock music in the ’60s and ’70s, and Memphis in the ’50s had much more to offer than rockabilly and country). Of course, Zapata is the star here with acerbic lyrics that bounce back and forth between humor and outrage so flawlessly that you know every song and lyric is rooted in both. Though Zapata’s career was sadly short-lived and The Gits status of ’90s icons remains blurred, you can feel the legacy of their music today in a very vibrant scene full of galvanizing females singer-songwriters backed by powerful guitars and drums, so full that it’s useless to list them out… though I’ll throw out White Lung and Screaming Females as good starting points so you have at least some guidance. What piques my interest most about hearing Zapata in today’s music is the “how?” Are these newer bands picking up old cassettes or re-issued CDs at a local store and falling in love like we all did this issue? Or is there a trickle-down effect where this electrifying 1992 release influenced a 1996 masterpiece that influenced at 1999 treasure and so-on and so-on until we reach 2018. I’d like to imagine it being the latter, because then the full power of Zapata’s legacy can be felt, in the direct inspiration and indirect guidance that all truly greats have supplied with their music.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Let Go by Nada Surf
Chosen By Guest Contributor Kay Hanley (of Letters To Cleo)

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Hannah Angst, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Chelsea Kostrey, Steve Lampiris, David Munro, Drew Necci, Jeremy Shatan, & Darryl Wright

Logo By Matt Klimas


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