ERASE ERRATA'S POST-RIOT GRRRL, POST-FEMINIST POST-PUNK // The Bay Area quartet creates a new kind of noise.
|Interview Jenny Tatone Photography Jim McGinnis
Sara Jaffe (left) and Bianca Sparta
"This is the happiest band I've ever been in, like totally dancing and fun." Bianca Sparta
PORTLAND, Ore. - Saturday, October 16, 2001
No raindrops splat down on Portland tonight. A crisp fall breeze blows on the unusually dry September evening. It's not quite dark yet faceless warehouses and uneven loading docks slump along the cracked streets of the East Side's "Produce Row" industrial neighborhood.
Cut in fractions by train tracks, the area is vaguely ghostly. But, every so often, it flashes images of what's sure to come: trendy coffeehouses, art galleries and record stores. One such image has taken shape in the form of B Complex the area's first live music venue a minimalist, art-deco joint Erase Errata will play tonight.
After I'm quickly introduced to the Bay Area-based jagged, post-punk four-piece, we're already out the back door of B Complex, walking swiftly toward Nicholas the small Greek restaurant about five blocks away where I'll soon interview them stopping occasionally so Neumu "Depth of Field" editor Jim McGinnis can photograph the band.
"Take a picture of us in front of this van we'll pretend like it's ours," laughs Jenny Hoysten, Erase Errata's lead singer and trumpeter, standing proudly in front of a luxuriously large, silver-and-black Econoline.
The others smirk, shuffle over to the van and stand tall with gravely serious expressions the kind that could burst into laughter at any second as their picture is taken.
Phew, I think to myself, they have a sense of humor one that will resonate throughout our conversation at the quaint, golden-accented restaurant. Conversing with the women of Erase Errata feels more like hanging out with buddies than conducting an interview; the hour or so spent at the plate-covered table sees playful, often sarcastic exchanges among the four girls or, more appropriately, friends. From behind the pizza-sized raised trays of steaming pita bread and various delicacies, I see four street-hip, punk-inspired girls who are just starting out, who are nervous and cynical, intelligent and reserved and, tonight, most of all, just plain hungry. Seriously, most of all they're real and not about to pretend to be anything but. Sit down and talk with them, and you'll find they're not much unlike you or me. That is, if you or I were able to make music as unique as that on their brilliantly broken debut album, Other Animals.
Recorded at X Pulsar Studios in Owosso, Mich., by Colin Dupuis and Norm Druce, whom Hoysten calls "amazing geniuses ... who aren't into post-production and do everything with microphones," the band's first full-length is frantic, screeching and edgy. Hoysten's singing hiccups and pierces atop harsh, repetitive rhythm lines, spastic melodies and raw, thumping beats. Critics have heard the influence of the Gang Of Four, LiLiPut, The Need and Captain Beefheart, among others, in their sound. Erase Errata make fiercely intricate music that demands attention the way fingernails scraped across a chalkboard demand it you can't help but be consumed by this gripping, abrasive sound. Live, they're even more powerful.
Songs by Erase Errata are often the result of sporadic, improvisation while jamming at practice sessions. For example, lyrics are often just words that popped into Jenny's mind while singing -- similar to hip-hop freestyling. They call their approach to writing "ready-set-go." The music is created spontaneously -- whatever the group feels at the moment; thus ready-set-go and play.
They're quick. I don't even see them take their places onstage late that night at the Clockwork Orange-flavored, tri-level club, which reminds you of its warehouse origin with its enormous square brick pillars scattered throughout. Tied incorrectly with its knot off-center, the wrinkled, fat suit-tie Hoysten wears atop her old white T-shirt stands out against the casualness of her Dickies and sneakers. Maybe it's only for fun, for flair, but the tie not thrown carelessly around her neck until just before the show, nor present at the restaurant seems to bring Hoysten to another place where exhaustive realities fade out and artistic passions set in.
Her moves jerky, intense and awkward show a performer who is not slyly charming the crowd with rhythmic grace, but one who, lost in Erase Errata's chaotic, jagged noise and biting words, rouses the onlookers through her own distraught sense of absence. With that "I'm tormented and lost by my own consciousness" artsy disposition, she paces about the stage jerking her entire body like a rag doll to the driving, spastic beats. With her thin, black, greasy chin-length hair lying flat and uncombed its pointy edges barely reach the rims of her thick black glasses she occasionally picks up her trumpet and blows a few pouty toots before taking a break as if drained.
Robust and broad-shouldered, bassist Ellie Erickson stands to Hoysten's right, letting her head of mid-length, shiny, straight blonde hair fall, slamming back and forth to the music with precision. On guitar, Sara Jaffe, with short, brown, wavy locks bouncing from her nodding head, stands wide-legged to Hoysten's left. As she keeps her head down and her eyes on her guitar almost consistently throughout, Jaffe's frail thinness shows through a baggy, plaid button-up shirt that's tucked into loose jeans. Her long thin fingers move with speed and skill as she plays harsh, cutting riffs and impressively intricate solos.
With short, blonde, spiky hair, oversized, black, thick-rimmed glasses, a scooped-neck, fitted T-shirt, and muscular arms wrapped with colorful wristbands, Bianca Sparta sits staunchly behind the drum kit, wearing oversized headphones and unusually close to front stage, pounding out abrasive but dance-y beats.
Onstage, they are a potent, mighty unit, shattering the conventions of rock 'n' roll they become something more than the giggling friends I hung with at the restaurant. Without seeing the latter, I might not have been able to comprehend the former.