Chico punk diva Shelby Smith is an ultra-beautician by day, screaming Saint by night
Power and wealth need slaves.
That’s what the letters mean behind one of Chico’s most talented and best-known punk bands, PAWNS, fronted by vocal wildcat Shelby Smith, a.k.a. Saint Anne. Smith’s aggressive vocal style falls firmly in a tradition of melodic punk female singers like Eve Libertine of Crass and Exene Cervenka of Southern California favorites X.
“Growing up, I took jazz voice lessons and still try to incorporate that into my singing,” Smith tells me from inside the hip confines of her day job, the Ultra Beautician beauty salon, a colorful business resembling a John Waters film set. “My stage name, Saint Anne, is like a play on some Catholic saint of children or something and Satan—whatever, I just thought it sounded cool.”
Lounging on the store’s fabulous, ‘60s-style rounded sofas, watched over by a masochist-looking Ken doll in a decorated bird cage, Smith and I are discussing notions of punk in the current age of global consumerism and 15-second fads.
“Punk is pretty well digested into the mainstream,” notes Smith. “It’s become this stylish trend now … like finding studded belts at Mervyn’s. One time, on tour in Corvallis, we saw a guy on the road with blue hair and thought he might help us, but he was just some dumbass on a cell phone who looked disapprovingly at us—you just never know.”
Her main goal with making punk music, Smith explains, has always been to be true to herself and address the issues she can affect in her own life.
“Just trying to be a free-thinking individual and not blindly follow the pack is a big part of it,” she says. “I recently went back to college as a 27-year old freshman to re-educate myself and get a keener sense of history. … [Classes] will probably help out with the lyrical material too.”
The band, which includes Smith’s husband Sean (a.k.a. Ray Dehated) on guitar, originally began in the early ‘90s with some high school friends in the bedroom community of Aptos outside Santa Cruz. Heavily influenced by classic ‘80s punk from the likes of Crass and the Dead Kennedys, the group played fast-paced, politically oriented songs attacking common punk targets like commercialism and cultural conformity, while maintaining a satirical edge in their expressive live performances.
Moving to Chico in the late ‘90s, PAWNS was quickly recognized as a potent new group capable of bringing the house down performing abrasive songs like “Human Economy” and “United We Fall.” Fans began turning up in droves to see them play venues like the Main Event (now Mr. Lucky).
Smith views the local punk scene as similar to Santa Cruz’s because it is musically fragmented and so many groups are “zip code bands"—having no ambitions to play outside their own area. Always a proponent of taking the show on the road, PAWNS founded its own private, local rehearsal studio known as the DIYRG (do-it-yourself rock garage), which became a sort of unifying force in the local punk community—giving friends a place to practice, meet visiting bands and exchange contact information for future gigs. Although it was not meant as a venue, word spread and some major shows went off before the band was forced to pull on the reins.
“Now only the people that should know about it do,” Smith says.
She explains that PAWNS chooses to tour a lot because band members like to meet new people as well as sightsee around the country.
“Traveling is a great way to broaden your experience while doing something you love,” she says. “Although it is sad how every town has the same staples when you pull in: the Wal-Marts, the Targets, the McDonald’s, etc.”
With the release of the upcoming album, Rabble on the Move, the group plans to conduct a brief West Coast tour around the holidays in its new Ford van—hopefully saving enough money for an extensive East Coast summer tour to follow. However, PAWNS prefers to save its explosive local performances for special occasions, so fans should be on the lookout for an album release party in the coming months.
“Actually, all our shows are pretty spectacular," Smith says, flashing a dangerous smile.