Amanda Rootes, the aptly named platinum blonde who fronts the English punk outfit Fluffy, has something important on her agenda. She reveals, “We’re just about to get our wigs done.”
Do any of you punk-rockers have a problem with that? If so, you’re hereby instructed to share your feelings with vocalist/guitarist Rootes and her fellow Fluffs--bassist Helen Storer, guitarist Bridget Jones and drummer Angie Adams. But should you be so bold, prepare yourself for a scrap. Rootes, you see, believes that there’s nothing wrong with her particular approach to popular music--and she’s prepared to deliver a very specific response to anyone who disagrees. “I’ll tell them to fuck off,” she vows in an accent so thick it needs stirring. “And if I meet them, I’ll punch them in the fucking face. Goodbye.”
As these comments imply, reports about Rootes’s colorful use of profanities are not exaggerated. Speaking from Storer’s London apartment, she makes the Jack Nicholson character in The Last Detail seem like Miss Manners by comparison; she’s never used an expletive she didn’t like and seems to believe that such terms gain power by repetition. But if her approach to verbal intercourse seems like an affectation, it’s one that provides a key to the racket on Black Eye, Fluffy’s debut long-player. The musicians thrive on the contrast between their stylish exteriors and their songs, which pay tribute to the most scabrous brand of Seventies punk. But fortunately, they’ve got the sonic moxie to back up their poses. On first listen, “Hypersonic,” Black Eye’s lead single, seems like little more than a novelty: The ditty is a love song to a vibrator, with Rootes barking out lines such as “Gotta thrust further, gotta touch the cream...Need to get higher where I can’t be found.” But in the context of cuts like “Cosmetic Dog,” a slap at supermodels, and the domestic drama “Husband,” such juvenilia becomes an end in and of itself. Produced in diamond-hard fashion by Clash collaborator Bill Price, the CD is snotty, rude and genuinely moronic in all the right ways. Of course, it’s also something of a nostalgia trip for aging slam dancers: Like so many acts these days, Fluffy pretty much reproduces vintage punk rather than attempting to use it as a jumping-off point for new adventures. Rootes, however, refuses to apologize for this tack. When asked what response she would offer to reviewers who accuse Fluffy of doing nothing more than recycling riffs originated by the Ramones and the Stooges, she replies, “That’s a great compliment. Thank you very much.
“I guess our influences are twenty years old,” she concedes. “But we’re girls of the Nineties, and that’s why we’ve taken it over on our own. Isn’t everything like that? You always take whatever you’re into to the time that you’re in and repackage it and put it in an album. That’s just what people do. What’s the big fucking surprise about that?”
Besides, Rootes claims, all the music coming out of England these days is retro to some degree. It’s just a matter of what’s being copied. “You’re not really allowed to be a rock band in England these days,” she says. “Rock doesn’t really chart here, so you won’t be played on the radio. They’ll only play you if you’re a pop band or an indie band--there’s just so much indie-schmindie bullshit.
“Eighties pop killed rock. With all of these soap stars who got turned into pop stars, people just got used to listening to very boring shit, and that hasn’t really changed. Now they’re just listening to a rehash of the Beatles and the Stones--a really second-rate, shit version. Maybe it’s from people in England being in the war and having to make do on rations--maybe that’s why their tastes got used to bland things. But it just seems like they’re not ready to deal with anything else.”
As Rootes tells it, her fondness for the music of the Sex Pistols and the fashion sense of the Seventies-era glam movement made her the odd-woman-out during her formative years. “I never fit in when I was first going to clubs in London,” she reveals. “I would go, and I would be looking very glamorous and like I was really into rock music. But I’d be surrounded by people who were like, ‘What is this shit?’”
Adams had gone through many of the same experiences--and after meeting Rootes at the London design school both were attending, the two began writing songs together. Shortly thereafter, they recruited Storer and bassist Pandora Ormsby-Gore (later replaced by Jones) and began performing live. The dates created only a moderate stir in England, but the buzz was loud enough to attract the attention of Tom Zutaut, a Geffen Records expatriate who had a deal with EMI to run his own label, dubbed the Enclave. The 1995 Fluffy EP 5 Live became the Enclave’s first release, and Black Eye, issued in the next year, was its first critical success.
Not that everyone has fallen for Fluffy. Some scribes have dismissed the band’s style as shtick and have charged the four with using their gender as a marketing tool--an accusation that really gets Rootes’s blood flowing. “That’s the press’s fucking angle, not ours,” she snaps. “And I think it’s a sexist thing. I mean, we’re into glamour and sex, but so were the New York Dolls and lots of other bands we really love, and they were never told that they were just selling their records purely because of their gender.” Others have taken Fluffy to task for Rootes’s fascination with alcohol, a topic that pops up again and again in songs like “Technicolour Yawn” (“Woke up in a bed of vomit...Don’t tell me what I did last night”), “Scream” (“I’m not as drunk as I seem”), “Dirty Old Bird” (“Drunk again”) and the self-explanatory “I Wanna Be Your Lush.” Rootes, whose living quarters during her youth were directly over a bar owned by her parents, chalks up such complaints to cultural peculiarities. “In England there’s a different view of drinking,” she remarks. “In America, if you drink, people think you’re an alcoholic and that you should go see a therapist. But in England, everybody drinks. You get your wages on Friday and you go to the pub and you drink until you fall over and vomit. That’s the way of life in England--that’s not glorifying it. And, I mean, these things happen, and we should be able to talk about them. It happens every day--even nice kids like to go out and get a bit pissed and then have sex and puke. That doesn’t seem shocking to me.”
Moreover, Rootes points out that many of her references to such behavior appear in negative contexts. Her chief example is “Cheap,” in which she sings, “I gave him head/On his teenage bed/Didn’t want to/But I never said.” She notes, “That’s about a loss of innocence when you’re a young teenager. I lost my virginity when I was fifteen, and I remembered that afterward I felt really cheap and like crying. I guess I did it too young because of pressure from friends and stuff. I think that’s pretty common--a lot of young girls and guys are forced into having sex really young, and that’s a real shame. “But I just put that into words because I felt that way. I don’t want to be a role model or anything. My mom’s always telling me, ‘You’re going to have girls following you all over and doing what you’re doing.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, God.’ That’s too frightening, because if it was true, I’d have to start being very responsible.” She guffaws. “And I’m totally irresponsible. I try not to think of the big picture too much, because if you do, you either become a bit of a wanker or you just become completely paranoid and sit in a corner rocking and mumbling to yourself, ‘Kiss your mother, kill your mother, kill your mother.’”
Although the performers aren’t presently plagued by legions of adolescents dressed exactly like them, Rootes acknowledges that the act has already assembled an American fan base filled with “loads of young girlfriends” as well as “cool old people who, I guess, were around when punk was around the first time.”
Some less pleasant folks have also joined the parade. “We’ve got a couple of, like, serial killers after us--I’m not saying where they are, but they’re these stalker types who are pretty weird,” Rootes comments. “And then there are others--you know, people in the audience who piss me off. Nothing happened the last time we came to Denver, because I was too drunk; I was very well-behaved, because I was trying to make sure that I didn’t fall over. But for a couple of weeks before that, I was getting into a fight every night, usually with some old, obnoxious guy who was friends with the promoter or some old cunt who would stand in the audience and waggle his tongue at one of us. That’s usually what will set me off. If someone throws a beer at me, I immediately get violent. And if they make some kind of sexual innuendo and show no respect, I do the same.”
“The last fight I had, I think, was in Toronto, this asshole threw a glass at our drummer. So I said to him, ‘I’m going to fucking punch you if you don’t fuck off.’ But then he tried to squirt beer at me, so I lost it. I leapt off the stage and started punching him and the security guards had to come and rip us apart.”
More brawls like this one and the foursome may even win over those punks who view Fluffy with suspicion. But by the time true believers decide to jump on the band’s wagon, Rootes says that they’ll already have been left behind. “We’re probably going to sound a lot different on our next album,” she says about the followup to Black Eye, which she hopes will be in stores just after the first of the year. “We’ve kind of all gone back to our fifteen-year-old goth roots. Our favorite band right now is Monster Magnet, and we’ve been listening to a lot of Bauhaus, too. And we already look a lot different than we do on the album. We’re getting a lot of Marilyn Manson fans these days.”
No wonder they need new wigs.