Valley of the sober slutz
Queer punk duo Slutzville makes feminist anger fun again
Onstage at the Colony, drummer Natalie Thompson sings “fuck you” so many times that her face reddens like a mean tomato. In between Thompson’s yelps, singer and guitarist Jessi Permenter spells out their band name in a playful counterpoint: “S-L-U-T-Z-V-I-LLE.” They spew fury from the depths of their diaphragms. Once it’s done, they beam love at each other with goofy grins.
That’s because these two have made an adorable, married queer punk duo—in sickness and in anger—since they got hitched on the Santa Cruz boardwalk in 2015. But the band’s story began much earlier than that.
When Permenter was in high school in Grass Valley, she scrolled through porno titles with her ex-lover-slash-bassist. That’s how the band name Slutzville, um, sprang up. Since 2003, Permenter has been the only constant in the group, imbuing it with her sense of feisty fun and feminist ideals. She says she’s cycled through enough drummers and bassists that a sizable chunk of Grass Valley’s smallish punk scene can claim former membership.
Fast-forward to 2011, when Thompson’s brother showed her Permenter’s MySpace page, and Thompson said, “I like this chick.” He introduced the two at a show, and they immediately agreed to jamming—but flirted with the idea of more. Soon after, without a practice space, they sneaked their equipment onto a steep hill behind a Safeway parking lot.
“It was awkward,” Thompson admits.
Over time, they tightened up their sound, quite literally. Thompson now has a drum set with a higher register than most, making for snappy beats with a danceable, almost pop-punk sound. But really, she MacGyvered her kit to fit into their sedan. In the place of a bass drum, there’s a floor tom; in place of a floor tom, a high tom.
Slutzville has also streamlined the team: The couple has dumped former bassists who were both bandmates and lovers. Gradually, they say they’ve isolated themselves and developed a DIY ethos that features as the title of their 2014 EP, D.I.Y. or Die. They’ve been burned too many times by bookers who underpay them, by exes who’ve stolen from them, by promoters who ask them to open for less-experienced acts. So, they actually try to DET, Do Everything Themselves, from making their own merch to labeling each CD.
“It’s hard being a female in a band,” Thompson says. “It’s hard being a female in general. You get the shit end of the stick every single time, and you have to constantly fight. And I know that’s why a lot of females have great lyrics.”
Do they ever. Slutzville makes being pissed off sound fun as hell, and they preach social justice with swagger: “I won’t change who I am, / I won’t hide what I think. / I’ll scream till my voice gives out / and take another drink.”
About that drink. After years of heavy boozing, they cut it out last year when Permenter nearly died from a septic abscess. At first, the shock of almost losing her wife made Thompson pound even more Pabst Blue Ribbons per day, but then she had a realization.
“She almost died, and I’m throwing my life away—she was watching me kill myself,” Thompson says. “I want to live for her.”
Permenter grins and whispers, “So sweet.”
Sobering up has shaped them into more professional musicians, they say. Slutzville has been playing a few shows a week lately while penning new material. But when I ask if Permenter feels or acts differently after her health scare, Thompson answers for her: “No! She’s still ornery.”
And it shows in their music. Here’s a nonalcoholic cheers to that.