"That sounds like shit," groans Fluffy's bassist, Helen Storer, as the band's vocalist and guitarist, Amanda Rootes, hits a seriously out-of-tune chord on her Les Paul Junior. While Rootes fusses with a tuner, guitarist Bridget Jones, drummer Angie Adams and Storer pace impatiently about the dank manhattan studio where Fluffy are rehearsing for their second U.S. tour. Moments later, all is well as they rip into "Scream," the first single off their debut album, Black Eye, proving that Fluffy may be the most powerful English import since Altoids. Snarling rabidly like an estrogen-fed Johnny Rotten, Rootes more than holds her own against such commanding Brit frontwomen as Elastica's Justine Frischmann or Sleeper's Louise Wener. But Fluffy's amphetamine-cranked barre chords and '77-era look - torn fishnet stockings, dog collars and suicide-blond dye jobs - have more to do with vintage Ramones and Bikini Kill than with the current Brit-pop Invasion.
"We don't fit in in England at all; we don't like English bands - they're all jangly and wear anoraks," says Rootes, who cites the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks and Elastica as the only U.K. bands she counts among her favorites. "American bands have more balls."
Still, only Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis beat Fluffy 's propensity for controversy in their native land. Thanks to original bassist Pandora Ormsby-Gore's "right honorable" ancestry ("'Right honorable' means you're related to the queen in some distant way," explains Adams), Fluffy found themselves labeled "posh" by the royals-obsessed, class-conscious British tabloids. "We're not posh!" Rootes snaps, rolling her eyes. "My dad owned a pub in London, and I went on the dole when I turned 18." She says the British can't handle the concept of a sexually frank all-girl band named for the lesbian novel Fluffy Butch. "There's articles in the paper about haw I don't wear knickers, and people chant, 'Get your tits out,' at every gig in England," she says. "What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"
Rootes feels the emphasis on Fluffy's looks and sexuality takes away from the band's serious edge. Lyrics like "I gave him head/On his teenage bed" (from "Cheap") might titillate, but they belie a bittersweet darkness that Rootes draws from life experience. "'Cheap' is about when you lose your virginity and feel sort of cheap and common," she says. "And 'Black Eye' is about domestic violence. When I was frowing up, my dad was really violent. I knew it was something I had to write a song about - to get it out of my system."
A television camera crew abruptly halts Fluffy's rehearsal, demanding that the jet-lagged band slog through multiple versions of "Scream" for various angles . It's a small price to apy on the road to becoming the Next Big Thing, though. Since Fluffy started two years ago, they've fulfilled many punk-rock dream: playing at CBGB, opening for the Sex Pistols and Clash producer Bill Price. But Rootes still isn't satisfied: "We want to infiltrate and conquer the masses. It's like, Americans think English music's shit - 'cause it is. We want [England] to gain a little respect that we haven't had for a while."