Spdfgh

(pronounced Sp-du-fu-gu-her)
Kim Bowers: guitar & vocals (aka Wikky Malone)
Liz Payne: guitar & vocals (aka Rosy Glo, Lou Marvel, Belle)
Tania Bowers: bass & vocals (aka Tania May)
Melanie Thurgar: drums (aka Finnius)

Hailing from Sydney's western suburbs, where they started playing together at Campbelltown High School in 1990, the band were laughed at and not taken seriously at all in their hometown of Campbelltown. " 'Electric Boogie' was the first song I learnt on the guitar," said Wikky and this was to be the first song that inspired the four girls to form the band. After the hurtful isolation dealt out by their home crowd, Spdfgh decided to take their love to Sydney town. "Nobody had any faith in us whatsoever," Mel said in an interview in 1996. "When you're out there in Campbelltown, you're just not exposed to it (the Sydney music scene)." The band members began introducing themselves to the city's groups. Not by playing the venues, mind, but by the novel approach of following other bands around and delivering an impromptu acoustic set backstage or at soundcheck time. "That was our thing," said Wikky. "We used to get our guitars and go 'Hey, Ratcat are playing tonight, let's go and play them some songs'."

"We knew about soundcheck times and how to sneak in to venues," says Tania. "They (the bands) freaked out, I reckon." This was how they got the attention of Half A Cow Records and the band eventually signed after staking out the label at every interesting rock'n'roll show in Sydney's inner west in 1993-4. "I was 'subbing' on the bass with the Hummingbirds and we were in the Tarago on our way to soundcheck and there were these girls all set up playing outside the loading dock at Selinas. They were playing a selection of Hummingbirds and Ratcat tunes, I think." The band first heard of Half A Cow's intention to sign them up via an interview Nic did with UK's Melody Maker where he described Spdfgh as "four girls who wistfully rock!" He also claimed that the band had two Aboriginal girls in their line-up when actually Kim and her sister Tania were born in South Africa, moving to Melbourne when they were children. He still hadn't seen the band play live when he put them on a show at the Annandale Hotel so the Sydney music scene could see the new band in all their glory. "You're taking a huge risk tonight," said one music lawyer, "What if they're absolutely terrible?" Luckily for Half a Cow, the band played a great show - winning over the audience with their soon-to-be trademark onstage giggling, jokes and those ten minute tune-ups of their guitars. Upon signing to Half a Cow, Nic presented Spdfgh with their very own tuner.

Though their initial repertoire consisted of a range of cover versions from acts like Sonic Youth and the Cure, the band credits those Sydney bands that they 'stalked' as a main source of inspiration (The Hummingbirds even getting a special dedication when their debut album came out). An early tape given to Half A Cow was titled "the We Want To Play With Smudge demo" (coincidentally, Noiseaddict sent their first demo to Hac with the exact same title!) and showed the melodic potential of Spdfgh and included a cover of a Breeders tune (who the Spd's got to support a couple of years later). JJJ's Richard Kingsmill graciously agreed to play the band's demo on air, after Tania rang up the station to read out her High 5 on his show one night, taking the opportunity to plug her young band.

Spdfgh quickly proved that they were something to behold on stage as well as on tape. Their name came about kind of by accident when it was conjured up uisng the keys of a typewriter late one night when bassist Tania May was fooling around, going in an almost straight line across the keyboard. Another earlier theory for the band name was when Liz's older brother was studying for a Science exam and had to memorize the molecular structure in a compound. TV Week wrote at the time, "Spdfgh must have the dumbest name in Australian rock. Fortunately, this all-girl group from Sydney are better at making music." And one of the first recordings to be heard was a track called "In Me" (recorded in 1992) that appeared on a cd that came with Eddie Magazine's 'music' issue sometime in 1993.

Originally mining the power-pop vein, as evidenced on their "Grassroots" EP which was recorded (produced by Hummingbirds' Robyn St. Clare and engineer Greg Wales) in late 1994 for a shoe-string budget, which is quite noticable production-wise but suited the band's style at the time, capturing a greatness in its simplicity. While the band were waiting for "Grassroots" to be released, Dirt Records (from New York who had released label-mates Swirl in the US) have the honour of putting out Spdfgh's debut release, a 7 inch of "Nightime" which came out in mid -1994, the song taken from sessions recorded for the "Grassroots" EP.

"Grassroots" was released at the beginning of 1995 and contained 5 tracks intercut with spooky backwards talking. A video was made for the first track "Too Much", which was written by Tania, and contained the classic line, "I've been listening to too much, too much, just too much...Dinosaur!" Fast forward two years to Spdfgh playing at the Public Bar in Melbourne and J Mascis is in the crowd watching the band play whilst on a Dinosaur Jr tour of Australia. Tania belts out the words clearer than ever. Dirt Records released the "Grassroots" EP in the US and Puncture magazine from the US descibed the EP as "the bastard offspring of Mudhoney and The Cannanes." The band quickly gained attention in other countries and early releases included a split-single called 'Gay Pride' (along with Pansy Division, Chumbawumba and others) on UK hardcore label Rugger Bugger which included an early demo record of a song called "Sweet" (Liz on guitar and vocals, also on the Dirt 7 inch).

The band's expanded vision became a little clearer on the stunning "Leave Me Like This" LP (recorded in Autumn of 1995 and released in February 1996) which, while based in guitars & drums, showed a leaning towards hip hop, groove & all things funky. The album was also released in the US on New York-based Dirt Records. Three singles were released from the album "Wikky's Ode" , "Give Me Time" and "The Pseudo Blues". Opening the album, "The Pseudo Blues" was inspired by Billie Holiday and other greats, while the record's second single, "Give Me Time", written by Tania, comes from a similar period. "That reminds me more of old songs from the '40s and '50s," says Kim. "Tania especially is interested in looking back. People are saying retro is from the '80s and '70s, but I've been inspired by old blues and stuff like that. It's starting to come out more. Punk rock's great because it makes you really jump. But the blues is good because you can feel it. We mix the two together." These roots are matched by the album's upbeat moments, including tunes like the happy/sad ditty "Jack", the chop change of "Gun" and the sweepingly beautiful "You Made Me". Other highlights include the raucous "Salt To Pain" and "Blue Angel", featuring Liz's angelic, childlike vocals.

Spdfgh got their songs into some Australian high-profile films with "Steal Mine" being included in the movie and soundtrack album of "Love And Other Catastrophes" and "Hey Freaky Stripper" and "Gun" included in "The Well". The first pressing of "Leave Me Like This" included "Small Mercy", a limited edition cd of an extra 5 songs which was recorded over the hot summer of December 1995 on Nic's four track and showed a more laidback side to the Spds. Another unreleased track, "Hide" billed as Liz Payne And Spdfgh, appeared on the now deleted "Heard It Through The Bovine" Half a Cow promotional compilation along with a re-mix of "Wikky's Ode". On the side, Tania went on a national tour playing bass for Godstar on the ill-fated "Coastal" tour in September 1995 and in 1996-97 Kim became a 'roving reporter' for the popular ABC youth-orientated Recovery programme. Tania also was the cover star for Linda Jaivin's book "Rock n Roll Babes From Outer Space" and members of the band played at the book launch in October, 1997.

With the departure of Liz Payne, Spdfgh had their first line-up change which marked the end of the 'gang mentality' of the early days, when they were a young and playfully ambitious all-girl four piece. According to the press at the time, she was ousted over her apparent disinterest in the band. Like a lot of groups who form when quite young and still at high school, Spdfgh had been through all the usual rites of passage: dodgy gigs, burn-out, the realities of the music industry and the old faves "personal and musical differences". In hindsight, Liz's departure from the band was more a case of all the girls naturally growing up and apart rather than just a simple case of 'disinterest'. "I knew that when we went in to record the album that it was going to be Liz's last involvement with the others and you could feel the tension all the time, a bit like 'The White Album' with one or two members and friends coming in to play on different songs," says Nic, who co-produced the album. "I knew that Liz leaving straight after the album was completed was not going to sit well with Mercury (Hac's distributor) but I didn't want to stop Spdfgh from making a fantastic debut album." "It was just hard the whole time," says Mel of the atmosphere in the studio. "Everything blew up afterwards..." "It signifies a time, " adds Kim. "When we listen to that record now we just go, 'Shit!' We still know the songs are good." "When you go home and think about everything that was going on while we were putting the songs down, it's just like..." Mel lets out a depressed sigh. "All the songs are really reflective of what was going on." "Which is good because now we can look back in our lives, and we've got a record about it," concludes Kim.

When guitarist Liz left (going on to form Rocket with Brad from Gerling and Jamie from Blue Bottle Kiss on drums), recruiting Sally Russell from Sydney band Lustre 4 (Sally wrote "You Made Me" on Leave Me Like This and Tania re-paid the favour by giving a song to Lustre 4 and played bass for them for a while), who played a few shows with the band until her commitments to Lustre 4 made it impossible to continue. Just prior to the release of "Leave Me Like This", a permanent replacement was found in Christina Hannaford, who was discovered when she jumped up on stage at a 'secret' You Am I show at the Annandale Hotel in Sydney. "Tim Rogers said, 'Does anyone want to get up and do backing vocals?', Christina explains. "No one was getting up, and my friends tried to convince me and pushed me up there." The result was a short stint onstage with You Am I, singing the chorus to Barrett Strong's "Money(That's What I Want)." And it certainly made an impression. From there, Chris was initiated into the Spdfgh world, complete with in-jokes, unexplained giggling and inspired rock tunes.

But Christina's stay with the band proved to be short-lived. Her song "Pretty" on the "Small Mercy" bonus disc and additional recording on "The Pseudo Blues" single was all the contributions she made to the band. Throughout most of 1996, despite a resistance to promoting their album by touring up and down the East Coast (standard for most bands with an album through a major), Spdfgh played a handful of shows (the 1996 Big Day Out being a very exceptional show), a JJJ live session and a national tour of Australia with Frente and The Spinanes. "The Pseudo Blues" cd single (the final single lifted off "Leave Me Like This") was released in late 1996 to coincide with the Frente tour with two mixes of the title track and a beautiful re-working of "Wikky's Ode" showed some of the new direction the girls were heading in. Tony Wall and Marc Scully of Gift Productions re-mixed the single. "Just recently I've come into contact with cool DJs and people who just aren't in the norm," noted Kim at the time. "It's just really interesting what you can do musically if you stand back and look."

Incorporating members of the male sex into the band for the first time, Spdfgh began operating more as a collective in late 1996 and into the following year with their very infrequent shows sometimes having up to seven people on stage. With Tania switching to guitar, new boy bass-player Lee Grupetta (ex- The Affected, who had to travel up from Melbourne), and Elise Kelly and Josh Morris on extra guitar and keyboards made this a drastically different but very impressive new Spdfgh. Their final show, supporting Elastica at Sydney's Metro in January 1997, had Kim and Tania in one song out front on the stage, sans guitars, rapping to a new song while squirting water pistols at each other!

Sadly, sometime in early 1997, Spdfgh quietly dis-banded. Kim and Tania toyed around with idea of continuing, possibly under a new name, and some new recordings were made and tapes sent over to producer Mark Saunders in New York for re-mixing but the band and label weren't completely happy with the results. It was all a little too late as by this time Half A Cow had left their deal with Mercury (therefore had no money to inject into the roster for about a year) and the remnants of Spdfgh had decided to move onto other projects. A huge loss to music, Spdfgh were a truly great band who had an original sound and style and were impossible to make comparisons to.

It's now 1999 and where are the girls now? Liz is living in Tasmania and plays and records music with ex-Gerling member Brad. Tania released a solo mini-album on cd under the name of Sunday (titled "Thema", available from Heavy Records, PO Box 391 Glebe NSW 2037 heavy@dot.net.au) and has recently moved to Chicago to start a band with producer Casey Rice. Kim has a new band called Deep In Sound and she also contributed the majority of the music (along with a track from Tania's Sunday project) to Sydney director Neil Mansfield's movie "Fresh Air" and a single was released from the soundtrack called "Hit The Sky" credited to Screamfeeder + Kim Bowers. Melanie has put her drum sticks away, has had a baby boy and married her high school sweetheart Jason.

(thanks to Juice article by Simon Wooldridge, Feb 1996)
 








Half A Cow
Half A Cow Records
PO Box 1100 STRAWBERRY HILLS NSW 2012 Australia
Email: haclabel@mpx.com.au
Phone: +61-2-9705 7014
ABN 93 300 971 980