It was a chilly April day in central Pennsylvania, when the Hazard County Girls drove their van through Amish country on the way to their next gig. As the van bypassed a family in traditional horse and buggy, drummer Sharon Heather, peering out from under the black hood of her sweatshirt, extended a stiff pinky and index finger of one hand, and, making a serpent-like face, shot the classic heavy-metal "devil horns" out the window. "The people in the buggy looked at us like they didn't know what was going on," says guitarist/vocalist Christy Kane.
On a mission to spread hard-ripping rock to New Orleans, the nation, and the universe at large, the Hazard County Girls have toured almost incessantly since the release of their debut album, Never No More, early this year. With its dark guitar riffs and thundering drums, the album sears through stories of betrayal, revenge, and punishment. Though not lacking in melody or drama, it's a series of original, heavy-rock epics that wouldn't sit well with the faint of heart. But as the Girls tear up and down both coasts, they boast overwhelmingly positive reception ... with a few bouts of creepy lechery.
"Of course there have been weird moments," Kane says with a sinister giggle, "but for the most part, it's been awesome." Having just finished a short regional tour opening for cello-rock band Rasputina, the Hazard County Girls have played gigs with a motley slew of established acts, including punk forerunners Agnostic Front in Colorado, a wrestling troupe's "Sunday Night Smackdown" in Seattle, and even hip-hop's First Amendment heroes 2 Live Crew, a double-bill that Kane calls "senseless."
Being an all-female band with a name that evokes images of rednecks and roadhouses, the Hazard County Girls often find themselves in bizarre situations -- like on a double-bill with a Baton Rouge frat band called Beer Pressure. "They were nice people," says Kane, "but that's just not our scene." Oftentimes, the Girls complain, misinformed articles in local papers draw them crowds of "grey-bangers," their own term for middle-age men seeking young, "Girls Gone Wild" types in Daisy Duke cut-off shorts. At one show, when an unsuspecting older man asked if the Girls were scared being in a room full of men, bassist Jennifer K replied, "Uh, no, because I never go anywhere without my ice pick." In other words, let's not forget that "hazard," with one "z," means danger.
K, the quietest Hazard County Girl, was the last to join the trio when it solidified its lineup in May of 2002. Kane and Heather had met at a party thrown by local rock bassist Sean Yseult, owner of rock 'n' roll dive bar The Saint and former member of White Zombie. After the duo worked out several original songs, Yseult wrote the bass lines and even recorded a demo with them. But Yseult's own current band, Rock City Morgue, kept her too busy to become a full-time County resident. When the band's second bassist, Katie Campbell, was courted away by Georgia-based sleaze-rock band Nashville Pussy, K joined up, and a bona fide concept gelled.
While Never No More is a notable debut that shows gallons of gleaming raw talent, it has its quirks and inconsistencies. Produced by Ramones associate Daniel Rey and recorded at the Truck Farm Studio on St. Claude Avenue, the album reeks of Kane's overarching creative vision. Wearing dark, antique, doll-like clothing to accent her tormented demeanor, she cites gothic bands such as the Birthday Party as her strongest influences. Heather's pile-driving '70s metal beats and K's menacing acid-rock bass work accent Kane's vocal drone and train-like, driving guitar distortion for an uncompromising wall of sound. As Kane wrestles through vengeful dirges such as "You Know Why," her voice turns from a bittersweet bell to an angry wail buried deep in the song's ominous bass riff. "Did you think that I would come home again?" she sings. "Never! Never no more! You know why."
Songs like this can reach incendiary intensity at the Girls' live shows, which have improved immensely through incessant touring. "Our chops are way up," says Kane, "so the possibilities of what we can do are expanding." Lately, their sound has morphed into something even darker and heavier than what they started out with, a newfound sound they call "metal Eastern." Based on exotic-sounding scales, new songs like "Roller Coaster" and "Monster" are minor-key punk-rock style scorchers spiked with aggressive instrumentation.
Notwithstanding their hard-rocking image, the Hazard County Girls are extremely appreciative of their growing crowd of local fans. "We love it," says Heather. "It's great to see people air-drumming and guitaring to us."
"And there's lots of headbanging at our shows," adds Kane, who likes to bake cookies for the audience -- with black frosting.
- Danger -- Hazardous material: from left, drummer Sharon Heather, singer-guitarist Christy Kane, bassist Jennifer K.