Rachel Thoele of Flipper: "There would be times they would get up and play one song, but still it was amazing"
Tom Murphy Flipper with Rachel Thoele performing Sex Bomb at the Lion's Lair 3/29/12
Rachel Thoele of Flipper (due tonight at the Lion's Lair) got her start in the Bay Area punk scene in her first band God (or G.O.D. aka Girls On Drugs or Girls Over Dosed). But the first band she was in that many people got to see was Frightwig, the legendary art punk band from the '80s that was often referred to as "the female Flipper" but really sounded pretty different if just as intense and sometimes scary.
After leaving Frightwig, Thoele became a founding member of the similarly-minded and equally renowned, experimental punk band Mudwimin. During that time, Thoele had become a veteran of the underground scene in San Francisco and she got to see the flowering of creativity as it was happening both as a witness and as an active participant.
In 2009, she replaced the departing Krist Novoselic in Flipper, one of her favorite bands. If you've been able to see Flipper with Thoele you know she was the perfect choice, as she brings her own commanding presence and wicked sense of humor to the band. We had the chance to speak with the friendly and humorous Thoele about her musical life before Flipper and as a full-fledged member.
Westword: How did you become aware of punk rock and underground music?
Rachel Thoele: The last gig that the Sex Pistols played was an all-ages show, and I went there with some kids I was in school with. It was intense, and it completely disrupted my whole idea of whatever I liked, and I instantly fell in love with it. Everybody was super free, and it was just really fun. So that's how I got into it in one day.
My boyfriend, for the summer, went to stay with this band Legionnaire's Disease, when I was fifteen in Texas. And my mother, without having any idea where she was sending me, sent me there for a month. And that was pretty crazy too.
She was an artist, and later she said to me, "You need to learn how to play an instrument because you haven't picked up art." I wasn't then a photographer yet. She said, "What do you want to play?" I said, "Electric bass." So she bought me an electric bass. I thought I was being an asshole. But she bought me the electric bass and sent me to lessons.
What was your first band?
It was called God. Which was also "Girls On Drugs" or Girls Over Dosed." It was all girls -- a sax player, a woman who played two drums standing up, a bass player and a guitar player. Back then, we played similar places that Flipper played, like the Sound of Music. I remember we played an Irish bar and weird warehouse shows. We all lived at this warehouse called the A-Hole on 3rd and Bryant. I guess, at that point, I must have turned eighteen. Just whatever we could get.
At that point, there was a big scene, and there were a lot of collective shows being put on. It wasn't like you were trying to make it or anything. You were just part of the scene of a group of people. There was a collective feeling to the San Francisco scene at that time.
Did you ever play the On Broadway?
I know I did that with Frightwig. And it's hard for me to recollect if God did.
Did you play the Mabuhay Gardens before it shut down?
You know, I think God played the Mabuhay. And I think Frightwig played it when I was in the band, too. They allowed under age people to go there because they served food. I think it was limited to certain nights.
You remember Dirk Dirksen? Do you remember if he had some choice words for you bands or if you got to see him weigh in on other bands?
I can't really wax philosophically about Dirk Dirksen. He was quite a character and super interesting. But we didn't interact. I don't know if he noticed my band. We were so young; we were probably like little kids to him, so I don't remember anything like that.
Were you involved in Frightwig right after God, and how did that band come together?
One of my best friends, Mia [Levin], started it with Deanna [Ashley]. They started it, and they had had a drummer or two already, and they had this woman Paula Frazier in it. So they had two bassists early on, before I think anybody was doing anything like that. They went through quite a few drummers. I was just one of the drummers before they had Cecilia [Lynch], who stuck with them for a while.
How long were you in the band?
I'm going to guess I was in Frightwig for a year, and I went on to start the Mudwimin, and I was in a band called Schrödinger's Cat, Dog...there were lots of weird little bands.
Back then how did people react to Frightwig?
People liked it a lot. Frightwig was infinitely likeable. I grew up in San Francisco, so there were other girl bands and stuff back then. It wasn't that weird. Twelve years ago, I played and this New Zealander came up, and he was like, "I've never seen women play music before!" But back then in San Francisco, it wasn't that unusual. Frightwig was pretty good. We were just really rockin', and hard and we had bad attitudes. It was fun.
Interview continues on Page 2.