Take in the trash
Reno trio The Shames play quick and dirty punk rock—or, as they described it to a cab driver one night on the way to a gig, “Trashy rock ’n’ roll that you can dance to.”
They certainly have the “trash” element. They recall the New York Dolls in their simplified, accelerated vision of ’50s and ’60s rock. There are also infinite sonic connections between them and the early ’90s strain of riot grrl punk, a consequence of harboring two female vocalists. When guitarist Penny Sillin and bassist Mikie Haley harmonize, one might inadvertently hear Sleater-Kinney.
Playing music so indebted to the past tends to result in accusations of mere rehashing.
“I don’t think we’re rehashing,” says Haley. “We’re bringing together everything we grew up listening to. So it goes from these classics [Otis Redding, Johnny Thunders] to even Morrissey and The Cure and Turbonegro.”
“You know what I hate, though, is when someone says we sound like The Go-Go’s,” says Sillin.
They don’t in the slightest. Women in rock do not produce a singular strain of it. The Shames are not purveyors of defanged new wave, as The Go-Go’s were. The Shames are all fangs.
The band formed early last year.
“Me and Mikie had been in a band awhile back, and we lost touch, but we started hanging out and writing songs again,” says Sillin. “And I had a really great friend Cyril [Beatty, the drummer], and he and I had also played in a band before. I knew that he might be interested in these songs, because the chemistry was just there.”
The chemistry amounts to messy, energetic punk kept in rigid time. The song “Ticket to Jonestown” embodies this—it feels as though it may fall apart for all the fire Sillin and Haley bring to the mix, but it’s held together by Beatty’s no-frills, hard-driven drumming.
“I’ve heard people say this a lot, ‘The emotion that you get from our live shows isn’t something that you see a lot in Reno,’” says Sillin.
“I look at people while we’re playing and it feels so good … to see them smiling,” says Haley.
“We even had a bra thrown at us at a show!” adds Sillin.
There’s also a particular strain of sexism occasionally encountered by The Shames when they play shows, whether from audience members or from the people hosting the show.
“I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, you’re really good for a chick band,’” says Haley. “Cyril isn’t a chick.”
“There are some bands, promoters and club owners who have been supportive of us along the way, and they know who they are,” says Sillin. “Then there are the other rubes who run around making erroneous claims. What we want is for you to decide for yourself, to actually listen to our music and come see our live show.”
Regardless of antiquated animosity from the outside, The Shames, within their circle, are free creative beings.