(CBS Seattle) — I don’t remember exactly when or where I was when I first heard Girl Trouble music — but I do know it was the song “My Hometown,” (arguably the band’s most well-known tune — a Link Wray-coated ode to Tacoma). I do, however, remember the first time I saw the band perform live and it will be something I never forget.
Patrons who were scattered around a lonely Seattle dive bar in 2008 immediately darted towards the stage as soon as frontman Kurt Kendall appeared under the lights and began walking over to each member of the band, causally giving them a handshake. Girl Trouble wasn’t even a measure into the opening song before a spontaneous go-go dance party erupted around me. All I could see from behind a sea of flailing arms and hips was a giant sign on the stage that read, “Now Playing: Girl Trouble.” In no time at all, the band magically transformed a room full of bashful and motionless Seattleites into the Pacific Northwest version of a fanatical crowd on American Bandstand. At the climax of the performance, the six-and-a-half foot tall Kendall was shirtless, letting his epic beer belly glisten in full view, tossing out Dollar Store toys to the crowd.
It was the same story for the next dozen or so times I ventured to one of their shows — no matter the size of the audience or the sound guy’s expertise, each performance morphed the local venue into a dance-off sensation. (I am sure the band might argue otherwise — with a 30-year history, there had to have been a handful of bad environments.)
You can get away with saying the sound is simple: a spell cast by punk pioneers The Cramps’ is clearly inescapable for the quartet when you crank any one of their LPs, however, the more potent flavors in the Girl Trouble stew are from regional icons of the 1960s DIY, rambunctious “dance hall” scene: The Sonics, The Wailers, The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc. And, the four-piece has been known to strip down R&B classics (check out the cover of The Spaniels’ “Rockin’ Good Way”).
Girl Trouble has been combing the Puget Sound region with infectious beats, wildly-catchy riffery and matchless live shows since 1984 with many friends, fans, fellow bands who can recount the band’s 30-year history. But it’s hard to argue anyone would be better to document the three Girl Trouble decades than Isaac Olsen, the nephew of drummer Bon Von Wheelie (Bon Henderson) and guitarist Big Kahuna (Bill Henderson). Olsen, a promising young film director, has been close with his aunt and uncle for all of his 28 years, making his latest project Strictly Sacred: A Film About Girl Trouble, as genuine as it gets.
“It’s a subject matter I have an unlimited access to, so I chose it mostly on that principle,” Olsen said by phone. “When I was kind of at a lull in between projects, and I thought ‘what could I start mounting now.’ The Girl Trouble documentary just seemed like the thing to do and they were about to be 30, so I thought, ‘hey, let’s do it.'” Olsen’s dad Tim is also the producer of every Girl Trouble LP.
While a nonchalant mindset can be detrimental to a group after several years, Girl Trouble’s “we don’t care what you think” attitude may have been the key to the band’s longevity.
“They’ve survived and come out the other side of many trends they weren’t apart of,” said Olsen. “Just the fact that if you stick to your guns for 30 years and never compromise in the least bit — that really says something. I think you’ll always be relevant if you believe in what you’re doing, you keep doing it and you don’t get disheartened or sidetracked — I think that’s really inspiring for people.”
Trends are probably the easiest obstacle the four have avoided when compared to the nightmare they faced a few years ago. In 2010, Girl Trouble was sucker-punched with a $25,000 defamation lawsuit from the company Gorilla Productions, a booking agency operating under the “pay-to-play” structure, which requires bands to pay to perform via purchasing tickets in advance and selling them to fans directly. Bon created a website (and group) in opposition to this system, neverpaytoplay.com, which Gorilla Productions later claimed had invaded privacy and inflicted “emotional distress” on the company’s employees. Thankfully a judge dismissed the complaint. Olsen said after the lawsuit Bon chronicled the entire mess on her site.
It’s just one of the many “adventures” Girl Trouble has endured, and Strictly Sacred is here to provide the story for everything else. In the film you’ll notice only a handful of people outside of the band appear on camera for interviews. Olsen said he only wanted to talk with people directly associated with the band. Nevertheless, expect great commentary from K Records owner Calvin Johnson, graphic artist and designer Art Chantry as well as singer-songwriter Neko Case, who used to dance on stage with the band before embarking on a successful solo career.
“I think people will be surprised to see how close [the members] really are as people,” Olsen said. “I think people will be shocked by that, by how much of a family it really is.”
–Chris Coyle, CBS Seattle
Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble appears at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on Monday, May 26 at 5 pm and at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, May 27 at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $12.
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