FOREWORD: ‘Nother hard luck childhood story to success. This time, it’s formerly poverty-stricken Fabulous Disaster axe grinder Lynda Mandolyn. Struggling in Detroit to maintain sanity, she moved through a few rock bands before starting up Fabulous Disaster in San Francisco. Fat Mike of NOFX rightfully called them one of the best punk bands he’d ever witnessed. I did this phoner with Lynda prior to the release of ‘03s red-hot punk soiree, Panty Raid! Unfortunately, the band could never top that guileless bohemian gem. ‘07s Love At First Fight fell short and by the end of the year it was all over. But the memories are great. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Growing up on the tough streets of Detroit, future Fabulous Disaster guitarist Lynda Mandolyn was the youngest of five children. Abandoned by a now-deceased father at age eight, her mother struggled in the workforce after a 28-year marriage dissolved. Encouraged by the Motor City’s thriving music scene, Mandolyn led all-girl band Inside Out before moving westward to San Francisco in search of better exposure.
Initially, Mandolyn and drummer Sally Gess (then on bass), placed an ad for a singer, found Laura Litter, and put out ‘98s metallic high octane 7″ single, “Dyke Fight Tonight,” as Piston. They then met Mr. Nancy “one drunken night,” creating one-off all-girl band Female Trouble for an informal 9-song, 15-minute set at a local Bottom of the Hill show. After quitting their respective bands, these kick ass chicks formed Fabulous Disaster, releasing ‘01s adolescence-bound debut, Put Out Or Get Out on Fat Wreck Chords spin-off, Pink & Black, which urgently hurled cheap truckstop retro-punk at leather-clad denizens with a charming naïveté shining through even in the loudest, most furious moments.
Less than two years hence, Fabulous Disaster return with the startling Panty Raid! Improved rhythmic propulsion strengthens the impact of blistering hard rock chants like the bubble-gummy “Next Big Joyride,” the betwixt “Pain Kill Her,” and the shotgun blast “No Stars Tonight” (with its rollercoaster organ adding keen new wave sheen). The pummeling fast food fury of “My Addiction” nicely counters the heartbroken lullaby, “Nightliner.” By teasing the shimmered candy-coated bop of ‘80s post-punk femmes the Go-Go’s, the Bangles, and the Waitresses with the frenetic riot grrrl righteousness of snotty ‘90s gutter-punks Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, these tattered, tattooed tomboys are more rad than fad.
On the side, Mandolyn paints dark-colored collages exposing her obsession with UFO’s, aliens, and obscure pin-up girls. Though partially hung over prior to an upcoming European Deconstruction tour with NOFX, Bouncing Souls, and Boy Sets Fire, she found time to discuss the benefits of analog recording, the present Frisco rock scene, and voyeuristic fetish obsessions.
The contrast between harder and softer rock seems more profound on Panty Raid!
LYNDA: We all feel the songwriting on Panty Raid! grew by leaps and bounds from Put Out Or Get Out. We’ve gotten better as players. Sally is a madhouse drummer. Live, she beats the shit out of the kit. We also like the way Panty Raid! was recorded in analog instead of digital. That might adhere to punchier drums and bass. I don’t think digital captures the live feel of guitar-bass-drums as well.
Did producer Alex Newport (At the Drive-In/Sepultura) suggest going analog?
He’s been a friend of mine forever. I always wanted to work with him but I didn’t know if his m.o. would allow him to work with a band like Fabulous Disaster. But he saw us and loved us and said, “I’d love to do this. The thing is I don’t ever do anything in digital.” He had a cheap place in San Francisco to work at. He said it might take awhile longer, but it’ll sound a lot better. He had many great ideas.
What kind of ideas?
Mostly guitar stuff. Little pieces here and there we came up with – guitar melodies I wouldn’t have thought up. He also had a great ear for harmonies and made sure we kept perfect key. Fat Mike (of NOFX) was amazing helping us vocally on Get Up, but Alex helped out, too.
How’s the current San Francisco scene?
I love Hellfire Choir – three girls and a guy. Unfortunately, they don’t play out much because the lead singer just had a baby. When I moved here from Detroit in ’95, the punk scene was amazing. It was explosive. Then, in ’97, we started getting these stupid yuppies moving in and rent went sky high. All these assholes moved in next to clubs that were open for 20 years and had them shut down. We lost a lot of great clubs. But when the whole dot com thing crashed, everyone moved out. So the scene’s rebuilding. There’s stuff to do every night of the week here.
What was it like growing up in Detroit?
It was pretty fucking gloomy. But luckily the Detroit music scene is great and prepares you for anything. I started an all girl band at 16 called Inside Out. We were together 8 or 9 years. We played the Midwest, Canada, and New York’s Pyramid Club. We did a “Peel Session” overseas. We grew up with Demolition Doll Rods, Kuru – which is a laughing disease, the Gories, and the Colors. I just ran into my old friend, Pat Pantena (ex-Colors), who’s now in the Dirtbombs. It’s great that the Detroit scene is exploding now with the White Stripes, Sights, and Soledad Brothers. It’s not my cup of tea, but I’m happy the spotlight is getting shined on them.
What’s this about Fabulous Disaster being involved in the “fetish” and “biker” scenes?
I think we’re more into the fetish scene. The biker scene’s a bit of a myth. Fat Mike started that rumor. (laughter) There’s a lot of sex clubs out here me and Mr. Nancy frequent. It’s more like dressing up and playing the part.
Is it like New York’s Plato’s Retreat, where orgies crowd the floor?
It’s different here. That might apply more to gay men’s bathhouses out here.
Why? Are lesbians less risqué?
Fulsom Street fare has their share. But I’m not gay. That’s a rumor too. I’m straight and proud of it. We’re getting sick of all that lesbian crap.
Supposed lesbian bands like Sleater-Kinney, Tribe 8, and the defunct Team Dresch seem to have a more abrasive rancor than Fab Disaster.
You think they’re harder than we are?
Sure. Your songs have candy-coated centers akin to the Go-Go’s and Bangles.
I think you’re right. But we’re heavy hitters too. Someone said we’re an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Lyrically, you deal with lighter concerns – bad teen relationships and skidmarks on the heart.
Revenge on somebody – totally. But we’re not looking to rip someone’s throat out. There’s always an underlying darkness in our lyrics.
Will you do a video?
A friend of mine is working on an animated video for “Next Big Joyride.” I saw the drawings and layout and it looks awesome. We may do four or five videos. My husband does video stuff. Our friend who works for Boeing does videos and wants to do one. There’s a possibility of Bryan Archer from Fat Wreck Chords doing one. He did the Mad Caddies and can do good videos for cheap budget.
Any ideas what the next album will sound like?
Not sure. I had a weird fantasy that the Descendents’ Bill Stevenson would produce the next one. He likes us. He’s a fan.