Girls In The Garage:
An Interview with Julie Patchouli of the Pandoras
By Bess Korey
The following interview appeared in the too short-lived, Feminist magazine, Girlistic, during Fall of 2007, and an earlier, edited version appeared on Venus Zine’s website during February of 2007.
In 1984, an all-female band called The Pandoras released their first album, It’s About Time. Twenty-three years later, the time has yet to arrive for The Pandoras to get their due for being such a trailblazing and influential band. Hailing from Los Angeles, California, The Pandoras were involved with the city’s burgeoning Paisley Underground scene, which was at its peak during the early to mid ’80s. The bands in this scene all shared a love of ’60s Garage and Psychedelic music, and revived that sound in their own unique ways. The Pandoras remained true to the roots of the music that they were influenced by, but the fact that they were playing a genre that was male-dominated in the past, as well as in the scene that they were a part of, definitely put a new spin on things. It wasn’t just their sex that made them stand out; they were also an exceptionally talented band. It’s About Time, and their second album, Stop Pretending, were highly acclaimed by critics, and they were the darlings of their local press because of it. Legendary L.A. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer was a huge fan of the band as well, and played them regularly on his radio show Rodney on the ROQ.
The Pandoras were not afraid to be vulgar, daring, and sexually provocative, all of which was considered inappropriate female behavior during that period. Their radical approach, and the fact that during their prime, they stayed true to themselves and to their sound, is likely what left them out of the race to be labeled America’s Sweethearts with The Go-Go’s and the Bangles.
The Pandoras’ story is a rather complicated one because there were many line-up changes over the years. However, there was always one person at the group’s core, and that was Paula Pierce. She remained a band member throughout all of the changes, and was the group’s leader, songwriter, guitarist, and singer. Her tragic and untimely death in 1991 from a brain aneurysm led to the group’s final dissolution. When Paula decided to oust three of the group’s original members, Gwynne Kahn, Bambi Conway, and Casey from the band, and have them be replaced by Julie Patchouli, Melanie Vammen, and Karen Blankfield, it didn’t just lead to drama, it led to an all out war. Gwynne, Bambi, and Casey had been the line-up that played with Paula on It’s About Time. Gwynne claimed that she had come up with the idea for the band with Paula, and because of that, she felt she was just as entitled to use the name. The exiled members tried to start their own version of the Pandoras, but since Paula had written all of the songs, they did not make it very far without her. The supposed antics of the two warring factors of the group, the Pauladoras and the Gwynnedoras, were eaten up by the fans and the local press.
Julie Patchouli entered the group in the midst of the Pauladoras and Gwynnedoras drama. She was the bass player between 1984 and 1986, and she has been kind enough to share her side of the Pandoras’ story.
Bess Korey: How aware of the Pandoras were you before you joined, and how did you become involved?
Julie Patchouli: In 1979, I had just begun collecting records, first Punk and then 60s garage 45s and Pebbles compilations. It was at the Hollywood Record Swap Meet that I met Paula Pierce. We hit it off immediately and talked at length about our love for ’60s garage music. We specifically discussed how stupid it was that NOT one single girl band had ever tried to replicate this sound. She went on to tell me about The Pandoras and how she was breaking that myth with their sound. She told me she planned on revamping the band completely and wanted all new blood in the band. She asked me to come over to her apartment where we began jamming together and I learned all of the bass for the songs. It’s About Time had just been released on Voxx Records. Almost immediately she dumped Gwynne Kahn, Bambi Conway, and Casey from the band. I had never heard of The Pandoras before.
What bands were you most influenced by when you joined the Pandoras?
The bands I loved most were: Question Mark and The Mysterians, The Standells, Chocolate Watchband, 13th Floor Elevators, and Dutch 60’s bands like: Q65, The Outsiders, and Ugly Things. I also looked up to a few women in film, particularly Tura Satana, the tough cookie in a film called Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill. Tura in the film played a Karate chopping, man eating femme fatale that didn’t let men push her around, revolutionary for a ’60s movie and ironically enough was The Pandoras philosophy as well. I am still in contact with Tura today, she loves The Pandoras.
What would you most like people to know about Paula?
Paula Pierce was an amazing person, I will always have a great deal of respect for her. Paula’s gruff and often snotty demeanor was certainly very appealing to me and was a breath of fresh air, because so many girl bands at the time were very girly girl, cutesy pop sounding with melodic and harmonious vocals, i.e. Bangles and Go-Go’s. But, we were not the Bangles or the Go-Go’s!! Paula would write a song for the band and it was written in such a way that it captures you (the listener) and then sucks you in. It was like, you just can’t believe that girls are doing this kind of music. In today’s music, I understand that this is very common place. But in the 1980′s it was unheard of unless you were in a punk band. Personally, Paula was a lot of fun to hang out with, at the same time she was intensely serious about her music and her writing. Paula inherently knew what the public wanted and she gave it, without disappointment.
How would you describe the Pandoras’ sound, especially to someone whom has never heard them before?
So many girl bands at that time were sugarcoated, pop radio music. The Pandoras consciously avoided this stereotype. The Pandoras had sex appeal, i.e. the bikini beach single where we all posed in bikinis standing in front of surf boards on the beach. Our sound is best described as authentically raucous ’60s distorted garage music, at its disturbingly best with a hint of surf musical influence (Ventures) thrown in for good measure. Paula’s vocals expressed that same punk angst and pent up teen frustration heard by our ’60s male predecessors. Her rebellious twangy/fuzz guitar and gut wrenching wails, were the creme de la creme. Paula always expressed that women could sound, act and do anything that male bands could do, but even better. Not only did she express this heavily, she demanded it. We were a rebellion spawned from a millennium of typical girl bands that were too scared to break out of the proverbial cutesy mold.
Do you think that the feud between the Pauladoras and Gwynnedoras was exaggerated by the press and the fans, or was it really as dramatic as people claimed it was?
The feud was propaganda, mostly created by Gwynne. Gwynne clearly intended to take the name, The Pandoras, and sensationalized it to the press. Unfortunately for Gwynne, Paula had already purchased the legal rights. As far as hurting us, The Real Pandoras, it didn’t hurt a thing because we had already established our distinctive sound, released/recorded material, and had a concrete fan base.
Considering that you all were young children during the ’60s, how did you know so much about the decade – it’s music, fashion, pop culture etc?
Both of my parents were young and rebellious in the sixties (my mom-20 yrs. old and my dad- 22 yrs. old). I did not have a typical Leave it to Beaver type family. My dad rode a Harley and loved Steppenwolf, my mom was more of a Hippie type, into Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. My cousin Malu was a Monkees and Beatles fanatic. I remember she had all four of The Beatles Bobble head dolls. I would come over to visit her and we would play 45 rpm records on her little turntable and dance to them in her bedroom. Awww yes, I remember dancing to I’m Not Your Stepping Stone in moonlight was true bliss. So even though I was young in ’66, I was heavily influenced by family. Later on, I began to collect everything sixties, including magazines, clothing, newspapers, books, etc., you name it.
Do you feel the band was respected by your male audience and peers; and was it any easier to be in an all-female band in the ’80s than it would have been in the ’60s or ’70s?
I think overall The Pandoras did earn a certain amount of respect with our male counterparts, however in the beginning we were not taken seriously. We were thought of as some kind of burlesque stage act that happened to play musical instruments. But respect is earned. It certainly was a lot easier in the ’80s than it would have been in the ’60s or ’70s, especially because of the nature of our music. The only one female that I can think of that even came close to our sound in ’60s/’70s was Janis Joplin and that was Blues, not ‘60s Garage Music.
What all-female bands that came after the Pandoras have you enjoyed most? Also, what have you been up to musically since the Pandoras, and how much of a role does Garage music play in your life now?
I have to be honest here, I have not been impressed by many all girl bands until very recently. I love a band out of Seattle called The Hot Rollers, they are very cool with a great stage presence, they do a cover of the Pandoras’ song You Don’t Satisfy that would make Paula proud. They have a website at www.thehotrollers.com. Another great band I recently heard is from Brazil called, The Lunettes. They do a great song called Cherry and I love it! You just gotta hear it! They have a MySpace profile.
After leaving the Pandoras, I joined a band called Out Of the Fire, produced by the famous Bruce Joyner, lead man and crooner of the late seventies band ‘Bruce Joyner and the Unknowns’. I toured with OOTF and played on our album entitled Out Of the Fire into the Frying Pan, also I played bass on a few recordings for Bruce Joyner and The Plantations. These days my schedule is too frantic for playing music. Currently, I am a full-time nursing student, and I also have a ten year old daughter. Maintaining the Pandoras’ website takes a lot of my time as well.
Do you still keep in touch with any other Pandoras’ members?
I am still in contact with Karen Blankfeld, the drummer of The Pandoras. I have contacted Melanie Vammen and Kim Shattuck [who joined the group after Patchouli’s departure, and later went on to front The Muffs, which Vammen was briefly a part of as well]. Kim gave me some feedback regarding the website. The Pandoras have accomplished at least one thing, to encourage all women musicians out there that they can do it, and not to let anyone hinder you in your music and in your life. Being a part of The Pandoras was a milestone for me in my life and my wish is that we influence many bands in the future. I have so much respect for what Paula so emphatically believed in and expressed in her music and in her life. In 2004, I created The Pandoras Official Website, dedicated to the memory and the music of Paula and The Pandoras at www.thepandoras.com and a MySpace Music profile has been designed and maintained by me at www.myspace.com/the1pandoras.