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Cliquey Bitches

Get to know the underground supergroup

Bogart, Bag, and Wolfe; photo by Beth B.

By Tom Reardon, January 2021 issue

Talking to musicians Alice Bag and Allison Wolfe of Cliquey Bitches is like having coffee with a couple of long lost and very smart friends.

These are not just any musicians, either. Bag and Wolfe represent both history and the future as the two continue to create excellent music while pushing the envelope of expectation. If there truly is a feminist movement in rock and roll, these women exude the meaning of leading by example. They are role models for anyone, regardless of gender or genre.

Wolfe’s charming in a way that both disarms and makes you think, “I better bring my A-game to this particular party,” while Alice demands your attention without being demanding. You better pay attention to both because you’re going to learn if you do. In a refreshing twist, too, both are great listeners as rock demigods go, especially those with a pedigree like theirs with over 75 years of thought-provoking, headbanging entertainment between them. 

In short, spending time with two-thirds of the super-trio, Cliquey Bitches, is a treat, a hoot, and a lesson in how to rock and roll.

In our conversations, I talked with Bag and Wolf about many things. Our chats’ primary reason is the release of Cliquey Bitches’ vinyl release of their Scorpio Scorpio EP on Fettkakao Records out of Austria. The other member of the band, Seth Bogart (Hunx and his Punx), was not available for comment this time around, which is a drag because it would have been great to include his voice here. Still, you’ll have to grab a copy of Scorpio Scorpio to hear his garage-y, punk sounding guitar and programming.

You can’t deny the combined power and uniqueness of this EP. It borrows from multiple genres without sounding like anything you’ve ever heard before. Wolfe’s vocals ooze smirky, punk rock sex kitten charm without a hint of cliché over Bogart’s fuzzy guitar, and Bag’s wild surf rock meets gramma’s Wurlitzer organ keyboard attack. Bookend tracks “Caveat Emptor” and “Dude No” will grab onto your brain and have you humming along before you realize that you’re only hearing the song for the first time. It’s a shame this band doesn’t exist anymore, but with the record being released in the United States this winter, you never know what could happen.

Here’s some history on this trio of groundbreakers:

Bogart, a Tucson native who was friends with both Wolfe and Bag before this band formed, has had his own musical success with Gravy Train (stylized Gravy Train!!!) Hunx and his Punx. Bogart is the host and creator of the World of Wonder’s web series, Feelin’ Fruity. His website, sethbogart.com, is truly something to behold, as well, with links to his music and his genuinely original art. You want to check this out for yourself, but if you need a little prompting, consider the words: big, comfortable, fun, and wild.

Bag became part of the punk rock conversation in the late 70s in Los Angeles with The Bags, featured in the classic punk rock documentary, Decline of Western Civilization by Penelope Spheeris (1980). In more recent years, she’s written a killer memoir, Violence Girl, and continues to kick out the jams as a solo artist and collaborator. 

Wolfe is also a prolific singer who has fronted bands like one of the legends of the riot grrrl movement, Bratmobile, as well as and the Sex Stains, Cold Hearts, and Partyline. She currently has a project going with members of Big Business and The Locust called Magic Witch Cookbox, as well, that might have some music for us when the pandemic clears. When she’s not changing the face of music with one of her uber-cool projects, Wolfe is an acclaimed curator of information, podcaster, and journalist who recently helped the Smithsonian (yes, that Smithsonian) with a project to bring the story of the first women’s DJ collective to the museum’s Folklife Festival in 2019.

Our conversations covered a lot of ground, including what it was like to be a Cliquey Bitch and the state of the world today from a musician’s eyes. Here’s what these amazing women had to say:

(Note: while these were two separate conversations, we’re making the executive decision to combine them for brevity’s sake)

So, Allison, before we jump into Cliquey Bitches chat, I just realized Bratmobile did a split 7” with Brainiac back in the 90s. I recently told Echo readers how great Brainiac’s Bonsai Superstar record is in my review column (author’s note: shameless plug).

Wolfe: That was really weird. Bratmobile did our first tour in the 1992 summer with Heavens to Betsy, and we played in Dayton, Ohio, and so we played with Brainiac (who were from Dayton), who, I think, were a fairly new band at the time, and we loved them. They didn’t hang out with us, and they didn’t talk to us or anything afterward. They were pretty quiet, but we were all like raving about them, and they’re probably the best band we played with on that tour before we got to (Washington) DC or New York, maybe.

It was wild, so we were really into them, but we didn’t think they liked us very much because they weren’t very talkative or anything. But then, I think we played our DC show actually like a month later or something, and (Brainiac) just suddenly showed up to our DC show and was hanging around and talking to us, and that’s when they asked if we’d like to do a split 7”. I think it is kinda perfect, actually, because we’re in the same spot in a record store bin, you know, B-r-a and B-r-a.

That’s so cool. How did Cliquey Bitches come about?

Bag: I’ve known Allison for a few years now, and I came out (to Los Angeles as Bag was living in Arizona at the time in 2013) to do a Zine Fest panel discussion, and Allison was one of the panelists. At the time, I was doing the readings for my book, Violence Girl, and I was also really into the stuff Pussy Riot was doing, so I would sing a song about Pussy Riot where I would wear a balaclava on stage when I did my book reading.

I remember showing up early at the Ukrainian center. I remember saying to Allison and the other women on the panel (Drew Denny of LA Record and Charlyne Li of Upright Citizens Brigade), “Hey, do you want to learn this song and perform it with me? I have balaclavas in my, in my guitar case right now” and they said, “Yes.” So, they learned a song in about ten minutes, and we came out and did our Pussy Riot song in balaclavas, and I knew it was like an instant friendship.

Wolfe: Seth was doing this series for World of Wonder (Feelin’ Fruity), and he asked Alice and me to do a skit for one of his shows. [In the skit], we were supposed to be in a band together, so we formed a fake band for the TV taping, and afterward, we were like, “Oh, that was fun,” and then someone said, “We should do this for real. We should try to play together.”

I think at the time Seth wasn’t really playing, and I wasn’t playing either, and Alice, I think, was doing her solo stuff, but I don’t think they were very active at that moment (summer of 2018). We started practicing, and it was just that kind of a project thing for fun.

The songs are so fun and kind of garage-y, with a punk vibe that fits with your collective background. How was it bringing three seasoned front people together to form a band?

Wolfe: Seth has a kind of garage-y musical background, you know, so I feel like that was his influence, and then Alice is very melodic. She’s a very melodic songwriter and kind of poppy, really. I feel like that was kind of the mix.

Bag: I think initially we thought that we would all be like moving around and doing different instruments and having different singers, and it would be a rotating musical experience, but it just kind of cemented into it being me on keyboards, Seth on guitar, and Allison doing lead vocals and that was fine. It felt right, and it worked, so we stayed with that.

I must ask, is it strange to have the record coming out now? You’re both prolific live performers, and we haven’t had live music, really, this year. Any thoughts on that?

Bag: I personally will not play live until there’s some kind of vaccine that I can have. One of the things that brought Cliquey Bitches to a halt was that after our third show, I caught pneumonia. I actually did a show with my own band about a week after I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I was on antibiotics, and I took the last pill the day before we played. When we came back from that show, I had double pneumonia, and I had to be hospitalized.

After that hospitalization, I went in, I had a chest X-ray, and my doctor said, “You damaged your lungs. You cannot do this again.” When you have pneumonia, you have to be very careful about respiratory illnesses because your health is compromised now. So, that’s why I’ve taken quarantine, pretty much, to the extreme. I stay indoors, occasionally go to get groceries, and take little walks in my neighborhood, but mostly I’m in my house or my yard.

Wolfe: It’s been tough for me to feel inspired, or motivated to do, actually, almost anything (since the pandemic began). Music, too, and it’s too bad because leading up to this, I’d started a fairly new project band with Joey Karam from The Locusts and Le Shok and Coady Willis, who played drums in Murder City Devils and Big Business called Magic Witch Cookbox.

Joey and Cody have written 10 songs or something that are just great, and I am just lagging in writing my vocal parts. I think I’ve written lyrics for maybe three of them so far, but they need working out, and we can’t get together now. I think for me, I am just such a social person, born an identical twin, and I’m always used to doing something, you know, everything with someone. I think this kind of isolation and not being able to go to shows and hang out with people very much, and I just don’t feel like I’m having the conversations or the experiences that generally lead to the type of lyrics I write. So that’s been hard, and I haven’t felt that inspired. But I mean, that said, I do keep notes on my phone all the time of little things I think up, and so I should probably try to apply myself a little more. I’m a total procrastinator.


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