A Conversation with Pseudonymphs

The New Puritan ReView
Minneapolis, MN
December 1991

Exploring the creative process that connects performing artists with writers and readers alike.

[This is pretty much just the pre-edited, raw interview / conversation; most (if not all) of which ended up in the published article, as it appears here.]

I stumbled across this band while working with Pete Davis and Creature Booking. Pete had booked Frightwig for a couple of shows at Seventh Street Entry, and I was showing them around downtown Minneapolis, when we stumbled into a warehouse party, where Pseudonymphs were performing. Immediately struck by the stark intensity of the band’s minimalist onslaught, I decided to keep tabs on this group for a while, until we finally had a chance to hang out one night at their South Mpls apartment, and discuss their take on band life.

Pseudonymphs. You won’t find them in your dictionary, but they might be lurking about in your diary somewhere; between the passion of your first dream come true, and the realization that your dream is in reality a nightmare. A physical encounter with belief backed by the hope of survival. Three women who wisely ignored conventional role models and pursued their individual creativity to its’ limitations. A Minneapolis band that has nothing to do with any prescribed sound or attitude, but recognize the artistic and expressive potential of music as a medium. An independently released cassette titled, “Girls With Balls” sets a brash tone for the first encounter with sisters Julie An O’Baighill [aka JAO] and Carrie O’Baighill, and Ruth Hampton, collectively The Pseudonymphs. Stark and at times brutal, their music reveals a definitive unyielding stance amidst the insanity of our delusion-riddled society. Going one step further into the maelstrom, these three women rock like its’ nobody’s business if they do or not. Quirky, primal, and even somewhat frightening, Pseudonymphs make no bones about the things they see or the underlying truths therein, nor do they make feeble attempts to disguise their concern. Whats more, they hope you’ll like it.

Julie: We realize that we really don’t know how to play all that well. It’s best to start minimalistically, and then add as we go along.

Ruth: The songs are kind of like sculpting.

Julie: Sound sculpture.

Ruth: I think that we do try to complement what each other is doing.

Ruth: I think that when you discover a new medium, there’s a whole glut of things that comes out that didn’t have a way out before. It’s changing as we’re learning more intricacies on our instruments, and also as our lives are changing.

Q Does playing music have much to do with how your lives are changing?

A Carrie: It makes life more exciting. If we don’t play for a while, I become agitated, and harder to deal with. I’m starting to thrive on that nervous energy just before you perform. I get so freaked out by it I enjoy it. I realized the other day that one of my favorite emotions is excitement, and that is one of the most exciting things, just before you go onstage.

Julie: You never really know what’s gonna happen out there. The experience is really different for the band than it is for the audience.

Ruth: Sometimes it does turn frantic. It’s excitement and then if something technical goes wrong, it’s real easy to be right on the edge

Julie: Or, you turn your excitement energy into nervousness, and start getting paranoid, like, “Oh, I can’t play!”

Carrie: Or into drinking energy.

Q Have you played many headline spots ?

A Ruth: Our first shows would be just us – like at art galleries. Friends of ours have art galleries over in the warehouse district, so we kind of had a weird backwards start. It helped a lot, because we didn’t have to start in the bars.

Q How do you make the transition from galleries to bars?

A Julie: People in the bars ignore you.

Carrie: A lot of people in bars just ignore the band.

Ruth: I don’t consider ourselves just a band, so it’s hard to be just the background music.

Julie: People in the art galleries studied us.

Ruth: I think we’re interested in crossing the boundaries of art: performance and message and visual and music, ’cause all of us do other types of art. I think one of our goals is to put more visual and performance type things into it – not relying upon it, but to add to it.

Julie: Facial expressions…

Q Have the other mediums you each work with helped in the presentation of the band itself?

A Julie: Stage presence …

Ruth: Knowledge of how a performance works. There’s an entrance, and you really need to hold the audience. You go through different stages of it – ups and downs – and you leave them with a certain kind of feeling. Its a lot of manipulation really, energy manipulation.

Q Does your awareness of how a performance can be used to manipulate the audience ever cause you to be concerned with just how they are being affected?

A Ruth: Yeah, but that’s not all we’re about. I think it started out more angry, you can definitely pick up on it.

Julie: I think sometimes if you express anger to someone, it helps them release it themselves. They go away, and they leave their anger there at the bar.

Carrie: There’s a lot of aversion to anger; people don’t seem to want to admit they’re angry. You’re not supposed to go over to a friend’s house and start being all pissed off and say, “I had a shitty day …life sucks”; you’re supposed to say, “Oh, hi, how are you doin’?” People always say, “Good”, you know? I think we need in society to provide more outlets for our anger, and this is one of ’em that’s socially acceptable. Living in this civilization can really make you mad – rich people, poor people, everyone.

Ruth: We have this motto, that we wouldn’t be such nice people if we didn’t play such nasty music.

Carrie: It’s a coping mechanism.

Q It sounds as though you’ve transcended your own stance as performers, beyond the element of shtick.

A Julie: Everything’s always new.

Ruth: I think that it’s the only way that it works.

Julie: We try to really feel out the audience a lot. Lots of times we don’t have any idea what songs we’re going to do until we’ve hung out with the people a little bit.

Carrie: We try to leave it open, too.

Julie: We’ll write down one song and slash another song, so we can go either way.

Carrie: You’re jumpin’ up and down and screamin’ and yellin’, and you’ve got a space-y song lined up next, people could get bored by it.

Julie: You gotta leave that open …sort of.

Q What do you feel has been the overall reaction reaction to the group, based on the strength of your cassette, and the touring you’ve done so far?

A Ruth: There’s been a few people that just don’t know what to think. Then there are people who definitely don’t like it, and I totally respect that. I’m almost glad when they have an opinion about it.

Julie: It’s not for everybody. We don’t expect everyone to like it.

Q Do you have many goals set for yourselves at this point?

A Julie: We’re trying to put out a 45. It’s kind of recorded, but …

Carrie: I’m trying to learn chords …my big project tor the next few months.

Ruth: Carrie’s gonna go to school for audio electronics …build amps and stuff.

Carrie: I’m trying to mellow out a little bit more.

Julie: I’m trying to get a grant for visual arts.

Q You’ve already had a taste of touring [with Boiled in Lead in mid-’90], are you thinking about the road at all?

A Ruth: We did a small tour this summer, and totally fell in love with it, but realistically it’s probably gonna be …maybe a little bit next summer.

Julie: But not a real tour for a while.

Q How do you balance the flux of activity with the rest of your separate lives?

A Julie: Most of us will drop anything for the band …in some ways.

Ruth: We’ll be practicing, and then run upstairs and chop vegetables for dinner, and then run back downstairs. We’re pretty healthy.

Carrie: We’re pretty tight, the three of us.

Julie: Yeah, we have activity time together too other than just practice time.

Carrie: I have a child, and that helps to keep me grounded. I think that influences the band. We can’t practice here late at night. I can’t come to practice with a six-pack of beer.

Julie: We practice a lot in the morning. I think most bands practice late, nine to ten at night.

Q So there’s no real danger of the band preventing you from also living out whats considered a normal life ?

A Ruth: It just fits right in; it seems pretty normal to me. It just has to be something that doesn’t burn you out, otherwise you can’t do it for very long.

Carrie: It kind of has forced me to realize that there can be two very different aspects of the same person. I think I’m a pretty good mother, and I like being a mother, but I think I’m also becoming a good musician / performer. I wouldn’t say I’m there, but I’m on my way. I get to express two sides of myself that I like a lot.

Q Given your varied backgrounds in other creative mediums than music, can any of you see leaving the band behind at some point to pursue other interests?

A Carrie: It’s really hard for any of us to think of not having the band at this point. I think we all think that or hope that – we’re gonna be together for a long time. I’m sure well grow and change. I’ve played with other musicians since I’ve been in this band. We all have other directions.

Julie: I made a couple of attempts to get another band together, but that just proved to be too much.

Carrie: We think we can still follow other interests, without having to take a vacation from the band.

Ruth: I think it’s a pretty realistic goal that we’re gonna be together for quite a while.

Julie: We have our fights and stuff, but we’ve learned to talk about it.

Carrie: I think we do pretty good at discussing our problems, as opposed to treating each other weird or something.

Ruth: It’s great that together as a group we can do other things like visual performance; I think that will become a real part of it too.

Q Are you perhaps thinking of employing a more theatrical direction?

A Ruth: Right; maybe not necessarily having our band instruments. One thing we had talked about was having like a guerilla band. Like, having a drum that I could just strap on, and she can build a little Pignose Amp…

Carrie: On my back or something…

Ruth: Right, or even acoustic instruments, or whatever, and just being more versatile. I think the only way you can survive is to be adaptable. One of the motivations was this place in Boston – we get there, we’ve got all our equipment in there and everything, and we go look out the window and the marquee says “ACOUSTIC NIGHT”. We just went, is this a joke or what? It turned out it was “Acoustic Night”, and they had booked it wrong, so we didn’t play.

Carrie: I was very angry.

Ruth: It kind of makes you want to be a little more …versatile.

Carrie: Ruth and I have worked out harmonies for things acoustically.

Ruth: I had done mainly acoustic before this.

Carrie: We did an a capella version of “Free Bird” once.

Ruth: One of the biggest requests around.

Q Have you been confronted with any of the sexist attitudes that run so rampantly in the career field of being musicians?

A Carrie: That’s part of my motivation for going to school for electronics, because I’m tired of having to appeal to men whenever my amp breaks down. A lot of men don’t treat you real well if you go to them with a broken amp. I’m tired of it. There hasn’t been a lot of it; we’ve had more support than the negative.

Ruth: There have been comments about women bands, like, “Oh if they were men and they were doing that, they wouldn’t be nearly as good”.

Julie: In the same way, we can get away with having explicitly sexual songs, that guys – if they sung like that, they’d be called macho or sexist or something.

Q It seems as though part of the problem is that each gender has it’s own vocabulary when talking about specific problems. I can’t imagine an equivalent for a song like “Premature Ejaculation”, for instance.

A Ruth: This friend of ours was really offended by it, and he said, “Well, what if I write a song about she’s such a cold bitch?” It’s like …go ahead! I mean …they’re problems, you know?

Julie: I think in most cases, it doesn’t seem like we’ve been treated better or worse because we’re women. It’s hard to tell, because we’re women, and we don’t know how certain people treat other people.

Q It is unfortunate that the notion of a male dominated social structure is so prevalent, especially within fields such as performance and art.

A Julie: Luckily, there’s a lot of people that have already broken the way for us.

Q Have you ever actually felt that rock music for instance, was ever an exclusively male institution?

A Julie: I used to think that, when I was a kid. That’s why I didn’t start playing electric guitar until I was like …twenty-five.

Ruth: You go to see all these bands, and they’re all men.

Julie: I remember saying I wanted to learn to play drums when I was a kid, and someone telling me it was a guy’s instrument.

Carrie: I always fantasized, but never thought that it could be really true.

Julie: You don’t really have too many female role models.

Q Was it the advent of female role models that led to your becoming an actualized band?

A All: Oh, yeah!

Carrie: I wasn’t even going for guitar playing, I was seeing women in rock as being vocalists. and playing keyboards.

Q Backup musicians, rather than actually having something to say of your own?

A Ruth: You try not to think about it too much.

Julie: I’m kind of glad that we didn’t have more training when we were younger, because it’s made us weird and unique; we don’t know certain chord progressions and stuff. My one brother says every chord progression has already been written – I don’t even know one chord progression, you know? Just play it!

Ruth: It’s not like we’re against learning it, it’s not like were anti-knowledge. It’s just …it didn’t come with time.

Julie: It’ll come as we learn the other stuff. We’ll be developing our own style.

© J.Free / The New Puritan ReView; 1991; 2022