By Adam Lovinus
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If Gore Gore Girls' Amy Gore is a bit of a bitch, can you blame her? She's managed to put together an all-girl roots-rock band in her native Detroit, only to have it fall on largely deaf ears there. Which is why if the Gore Gore Girls want to go-go, they've got to do it on the road, living out of a van and keeping their '60s girl-group wardrobe, boots and all, clean.
"Touring isn't a cakewalk," she says, struggling to maintain cell-phone service while driving through Montana just days into the band's latest tour, opening for fellow Detroit dark horses Electric Six and Toledo glam rockers We Are the Fury. "We go through a different lineup every record and tour, it seems," she says. "Gore's a high-maintenance band. In just boots alone, this band'll put you into debt."
Certainly, she and her bandmates—sister Marlene on guitar, bassist (and sometime Detroit Cobra) Lianna Gore and, for now, drummer Cathy Carroll—have their shtick down: '60s girl group in which the backing band calls in sick, so the girls pick up the gits themselves. "I didn't want to do a jeans-and-T-shirt band," Amy explains of their high-heeled brand of artful roots rock.
And that's a fine-looking pair of axes. "We work closely with Gretsch," says Amy. The geetars are Gretsch Falcons, that most prized of hollow bodies, the same kind favored by Ted Nugent. Amy has a bunch; sis plays a prototype not yet in production. They're so pricey she has them on her homeowner's policy back in Detroit. "We're total gearhead geeks," Amy admits. "We have a crossover audience with the guitar-geek realm.
"It really hasn't been a struggle to be taken seriously as musicians," she adds. "Either you can play or you can't, and touring the way we do, there's no choice. It's hard to get a group of real musicians who are willing to work this hard because just doing it sometimes is its own reward. I mean, besides the White Stripes, nobody's making money." And even the White Stripes aren't living in Detroit anymore.
For a Detroit band to make it nationally, it needs a shtick. If you're a rapper, be white, hate your mom, say you live in a trailer park—better yet, wear clown makeup. If you're garage rockers, lie about being siblings, play Montgomery Ward guitars and dress like a Swiss flag. If you're Gore Gore Girls, you wear the Nancy Sinatra getups, but you still rock out like your underwear has a dickhole in it. "The whole Motown thing was based on style—Martha Reeves still hangs out with the charm-school lady who taught them all how to dress and wear gloves and get out of a limo," Amy offers. "There's nothing wrong with being stylized and having an image, but we've outgrown it."
She may be right. On Get the Gore, their latest on Chicago's Bloodshot label, fun lo-fi romps such as "Fox in a Box" appear, but there's more going on in the spooky-good "Loaded Heart," with its bridge as shiny and beautiful as the Bigsby ones on their Gretsch Falcons. "You Lied to Me Before" is still on that '60s-kitsch tip, but Amy sings it as if she were Courtney Love circa Live Through This.
Get the Gore channels Amy's love-hate with her hometown, and there's plenty of that. "The logistics of us being from there is just circumstantial," she says. "You can't choose where you're born." But they were born there, a place where Motown, P-Funk, MC5 and the Stooges set the bar high. "There's a standard there that you either rise up to or you go home." The G-Girls have risen to that standard, even if the rest of the city didn't quite rise with them.
"Detroit's a fickle place," she says. "In the mid-'90s, it was like this Southern town where everybody was gone, so we were left to our own devices." Though the Gores came out of the Detroit garage explosion (which, in retrospect, was really more of a backfire), "We never fit in. We played with the Dirtbombs and the Cobras, but we never had the success locally they had. We actually have more success on the road."
They've gotten more love from Little Steven than the local papers; he plays them on his Underground Garage radio show and invited them to New York to play his garage-rock festival. Success may not be on their terms all the time, but it is success.
"We're a genuine punk-rock-roots success story. We didn't win a reality show. We don't have Sharon Osbourne managing us. But good things happen out of nowhere. We got a tour with the Cramps!" She pauses—or is that just the phone breaking up?—then sighs, looking over an anonymous expanse of Montana. "I'm just looking to have a good time and play guitar." Nothing bitchy about that.
Gore Gore Girls perform with Electric Six, We Are the Fury, Chance and the Pressfire at The Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Fri., 6 p.m. $13.50-$15.