By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by James BunoanAnyone who tries to tell you about Squab has to start with a hesitant "I don't know." It takes a few breaths just to get an adjective or two: Squab is intense, says Jen, bassist of local band Resist and Exist, who saw them at probably their first show at Koo's in 1997. They've got a little bit of a dance thing going on, but it's also dark, says another Jen, this one the drummer for Radio Vago, an LA band that has shared tons of shows, a few tours and a recent split single with Squab. Yeah, adds Adrienne, singer of Radio Vago. Dark, but danceable at the same time. ("Like a disco when the power goes out?" we ask). Even their manager, Kat (a sometime contributor to this paper), can't pin them down. "They're great, but where do we put them?" she asks. "When I book shows for my own stuff, even I don't know where to put them."
It's hard to fit into local music when you're doing something different, says Jen from Radio Vago—hard for bands that aren't doing something ordinary. And Squab aren't just out of the ordinary—they're practically alien, a million trends removed from whatever's selling bad booze at the boner bars.
They're out—that black triangle Chris had stickered on her bass was a Nazi designation for "socially unacceptable women," the female equivalent then and now to the reclaimed pink triangle. They're total art—besides the two-drummer Tracy-and-LaDawn thing, they've got a skirmish line of samplers, keyboards and digital triggers, as well as the collage aesthetic to make it sing. They're smart and funny—summed up as much by the sex-positive "HOW TO FUCK YOURSELF" pillowcases ("On the front, it gives you a little . . . diagram," says Jen from Resist and Exist) they used to sell as by their unabashedly raw lyrics, which keep the personal next to the political just as they keep the choruses next to the verse. They're women who dress and act and play music absolutely and exactly how they want—the first time anyone ever saw any of them in dresses was at LA's Ladyfest last month, and they did that as a joke ("LaDawn was playing her drum in boxers with her skirt hitched all the way up," says Tracy, "and someone was like, 'It's so nice you guys dressed up!'")
And pretty much as long as Squab has been a band—from the years when Chris had a mohawk and wasn't too long out of her oi band Madcap Youth—they have always been just off-center of everything. It's frustrating, they say, right up until they start playing music.
"I don't think we even know somewhat how we're kind of on the outside," says LaDawn. "We're not writing to . . . We just play what comes out. What sounds good, when we're like, 'Oooh, yeah, damn!' We entertain ourselves!'"
They talk about band practice like every other band talks about snorting coke off strippers' asses—the same hungry glint in the eye, the same giddiness, the same instant clarity of purpose. LaDawn laughs a little as she explains the three-hour practices where Squab just zones in, dogpiling ideas until it all melts into what they want. But by the time she has finished the thought, she's not laughing at all.
"It's better than any drug, any—well, some sex, but any drug," she says. "I'm serious. Sometimes it just takes it to a whole new level. And you're like, 'Ooh.'"
"We practiced on my birthday," says Tracy. "That's what I wanna do. I don't wanna go out to party or go to dinner—I wanna practice. It's not a discipline thing—we want to be there."
They're an astronomically unlikely foursome—it took years to get to this finally feels-right incarnation, playing out as a harder, punker three-piece until they met LaDawn (there's a great lost Squab album somewhere back in 1999—of course, there's a great new Squab album being written in 2002, too). And they've got that kind of to-the-bone bond that makes the best bands—it's so strong it's contagious.
"The typical LA following is very fickle—they go along with what's big," says Radio Vago's Adrienne. "The cult following will go to any show regardless of where it is—they know way too much information about you. And there's definitely a Squab mob."
"They just all have so much character," says Jen from Resist and Exist. "Their chemistry together—yeah, some bands you see are good musically, but Squab has something special."
* * *
It's the contrasts, Tracy says. She's the sidetracked tennis pro who was such a bad little kid she got her parents evicted—she also looked like Ricky Schroeder before she hit puberty, fueling a hellish Disneyland experience where about a hundred girls asked for her autograph. "If I was a boy, I would have lost my virginity that day," she says. "It was the worst thing ever in my life!"
Chris was the eight-year-old Siouxsie fan who befriended Tracy at Moreno Valley High out in the 909 and spent her youth skateboarding to the record store and scamming Germs jackets off boys.
LaDawn got successfully petitioned to strip the Confederate flag from her Antelope Valley high school mascot after getting graduation announcements with the stars and bars. "I'm not sending that to my grandma!" she says. "Are you out of your fucking mind!" After two death threats, the NAACP thought she needed a security escort to work.
And Rosy—from the outer desert, just like the rest—says she was the hermit, from preschool-era Disco-Duck sing-alongs for her parents to playing guitar in her room in high school.
It was some serious destiny that put them together. Here's proof: LaDawn went to a march in 1993, like years before she'd even see the then-three-piece Squab at a queer women-of-color conference at Cal State Long Beach—Squab would then and will still play anywhere anyone asks them to, if they're down for the cause. And at the march, she took a picture, and front-and-center in the picture is Rosy, looking right into the camera like she's one of LaDawn's best friends. ("We were like, 'WHOA!'" crows LaDawn.)
"We've been trying to find ourselves, and now we have," says Tracy. "So it's like . . . go nuts!" she adds. They've been through the heatflash shock of playing their best show ever—for hundreds of newly minted adoring fans at Ladyfest SF—and their worst—"For the Five Dudes Posse," says LaDawn—back home in SoCal not 18 hours later. But they've also put out their first label-backed release—the split with Radio Vago on Dionysus—and are working on an EP (recorded by no less than Radio from dyke-punk big-noise band the Need). They're supposed to play England and Australia—hey, all anyone had to do was ask. Don't get it wrong, warns LaDawn—they love where they live. But they also love what's on the outside, too.
"To get a reaction from people who don't know someone you know, who didn't go to school with someone, who never even heard of you—they just happened to be there, saw you, and were like, 'Damn!'" says LaDawn. "There's no history attached, no strings. Just what you see is what you get, and they liked it. It feels good."
VISIT SQUAB AT WWW.SQUABMUSIC.COM.