Goin’ to the country

A change of scenery and new lease on life for local musical trailblazer Trish Howard

The Empty Gate frontwoman Trish Howard down on the farm.

The Empty Gate frontwoman Trish Howard down on the farm.

Photo by Carey Wilson

The Empty Gate demo-release show, Saturday, July 30, 9 p.m., at the Maltese. The LoLos and Pink Bandana open.
Cost: $7
(includes swag bag)
Maltese Bar & Tap Room
1600 Park Ave.

Trish Howard (née Rowland) has been a part of the Chico music scene since 1985, when she got her start as vocalist for an influential band of musical misfits, Vomit Launch. Howard’s legend as a gaminesque frontwoman was cemented with that seminal punky proto-indie-pop crew that put out four albums and toured the country often over the course of seven years. There have been other bands since then—Charm Fueled, The Repeat Offenders—but it’s been a long musical dry spell for Howard.

After a life-threatening illness, a change in careers (from realtor to horticulturist) and a move across the county line, Howard is back in the spotlight, performing in self-described “dance, goth, punk, pop” rock band The Empty Gate with local singer/songwriter Mark Zempel (bass/vocals), husband Robert “Mad Bob” Howard (guitar/vocals), drummer Matt Coogan and keyboardist Gregory Spont. The band will unveil its debut recording during a demo-release show this Saturday, July 30, at the Maltese Bar & Tap Room.

The CN&R recently visited with Howard at her idyllic Double Happiness Farm in Los Molinos—where she lives with her dogs, cats and Bob—to talk about her musical evolution.

What inspired you to get another band going?

I was finally ready to attempt playing music again! The bad taste had mostly left my mouth, I felt strong enough, and Mark Zempel proposed the thought of working together. We share a musical vocabulary. It’s been a total joy.

What took you and your husband so long to start a band together?

Bob and I met about 17 years ago at a show that the Transexpistols opened for The Repeat Offenders. Bob and I have wide-ranging musical tastes, which we can usually agree on. I was a punk in high school, and he was a metal head, so that’s different. [But] Bob and I didn’t start this band together; Mark and I did. Bob is in the band because our guitar players either didn’t work out or moved away, and Bob was willing to try! We pretend to not be a couple whilst doing the band thing,

The Empty Gate has a sound informed by 1980s alternative music, much like your first band, Vomit Launch, an actual ’80s band. How would you compare the creative processes between the two?

It’s so interesting that people reference the ’80s and ’90s with The Empty Gate. That’s not intentional. Vomit Launch grew organically, and this band is doing so as well. It’s just a different starting point. We don’t have any preconceived “sound” we’re aiming for. We all write our own parts and try to put the puzzle pieces together. That being said, maybe the musical style is somehow imprinted on me. Maybe it’s similar to an abandoned thing always recognizing the face of its rescuer.

You withdrew from performing for quite a few years and during that time moved from Chico to Los Molinos. Has the change in lifestyle/setting altered your approach to music?

The change in setting has definitely influenced my lyrical content. A bigger jump, though, is being a cancer survivor. For years I hadn’t found the right people to be in a band with; that’s pretty crucial, like being in a marriage.

After coming down with a case of invasive breast cancer, I was too weak and out of it to write music for years. I’ve had over six major surgeries, and am on strong receptor blockers for chronic pain. Because of all of this, I’ve had an opportunity to really attempt to winnow out a lot of useless things, like some self-destructive behaviors—self-loathing, guilt, blame, all of that awful kind of smothering crap we drag around with us. It’s been a total sea change.

Lyrically, I really let my mind go and see where it takes me. All of this is enhanced greatly by the beautiful, peaceful place where we live.

It’s a tremendous gift to be in this band right now. The Chico music scene has never been better—there are so many amazing bands to see! It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.