SHAFTDRIVE with the Falls River Fiends and Scuzzy at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (January 18). Tickets: $6. 416-532-1598.
i'm sitting in shaftdrive's jamspace in the middle of the fashion district. The tiny room the band shares with another outfit reeks of mildew and sweaty boys and is wallpapered with flyers from past shows and posters of topless biker babes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The room is dead. Then they pick up their instruments, and the vibe does a total 180.
It's like they've been possessed. Soft-spoken Laura (aka Dethgrl) emits a demonic growl like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, a Gibson flying-v guitar slung over her shoulder. Larissa wages a ferocious assault on her drum kit. Nancy's low-end bass rattles the walls and nearly knocks a lamp off the table. Shaftdrive rock hard on their CD, but the band's eardrum-shattering intensity is mesmerizing in person -- and this is just a rehearsal.
Earlier, we're hanging out in the crusty pit of Sneaky Dee's. In front of me, pints of lager share the table with sparkplugs and motorbike tailpipes. It looks like a Hell's Angel's wet dream. The women of Shaftdrive have just celebrated Christmas.
The quartet paint themselves as hard-livin' motorbike-ridin' babes who down Jack Daniels like it's Evian and piss in your front yard. A conversation with Shaftdrive is rife with stories of partying hard in seedy clubs and high-speed highway cop chases.
"So many chicks are afraid to make noise," muses guitar/vocalist Anne. "I think a lot of what attracts people to us is the novelty of seeing four girls who can actually play their instruments being loud and angry onstage. There are so many four-piece guy bands out there that being a girl becomes an advantage. And we'll promote that 'cause it means more promoters or record-label people will be curious and pick up our album."
"Or if they don't like the music, then they can just stare at us," laughs Larissa. "So you win either way."
Their self-titled debut album, recorded with Gerg Dawson and Steve Donohoe at Deadly Venom Productions and released independently, dropped in November. On the back cover of the CD (available at Rotate This and www.shaftdrive.cc), the ladies glare out with eat-shit-and-die expressions. They're nobody's old ladies, that's for sure.
Shaftdrive play vicious hardcore rock. But underlying the massive, crunchy guitars, the songs are meticulously constructed. Listen to the speed metal-punk fusion on Get Away, with its syncopated drums and complex riffs, or the clever sample of gasoline alley dialogue from an old film at the beginning of Red Line Rev.
The foursome formed Shaftdrive two summers ago in response to what they describe as the limp-wristed rock 'n' roll plaguing Toronto. But they've been playing together for much longer than that.
The ladies first connected a decade before that, at a Lunachicks show in New York City.
They did their time in a slew of bands, including 6X and the girl-punk group 38-Calibre Kitten, which they think was crappy but did actually show their potential, before settling into their current turbo-charged testosterock groove.
Pre-Shaftdrive, all their music came out pretty much punk. They still can't explain how the band became a metal outfit. Laura's the group's sole metalhead.
"I've always been a total headbanger," Laura grins. "Like, I think I went to every single metal show that ever came to town. I saw AC/DC three times, Iron Maiden three times, Black Sabbath four times. All the typical big metal bands, all the Maple Leaf Gardens sorta shows. I had all the T-shirts, the posters."
They're the furthest thing from Lilith-fairy acoustic folk. And they're sexy without resorting to bootylicious bumping and grinding onstage. Their eyes light up when they start talking about trying to recruit an all-girl biker posse. It all smacks of hardcore grrrl power. But stay away from the f-word.
"Certain words are like triggers for people's imaginations, and "feminist' is one of those for me," Larissa shudders. "If a shy teenage girl sees our band and it makes her do something empowered, then that's great. But I don't necessarily think that's a feminist statement."
Laura gives it more thought. "I think it works for some people. For a band like Tribe 8, that's their thing. They're really into feminist politics, and more power to them, 'cause they've done a great job of promoting that in their actions and in their lyrical content. But if we're going to promote anything, it'd be motorcycle riding!"
The band refuses to rely on a gimmick. Kittie have clawed their way into the press as pubescent screamers, and the Donnas have the tight T-shirts/Ramonettes thing going. Sure, Shaftdrive work the bad-girl biker image, but they also live that life. Nancy works in a tattoo parlour, for example, and Larissa pays the bills by repairing motorbikes.
A few nights later, Shaftdrive gear up to play the opening of a new club, OPM Den, near Spadina and Dundas. The middle of Chinatown is a weird place for a metal show, and the space is even weirder, more like a dim sum buffet than a boozy rock joint. The lineup is equally bizarre: poppy punk groups share the bill with angsty Haydenesque acoustic acts. The bar is packed with a crew that ranges from eggroll-munching glam scenesters to hiphop heads. The band looks nervous.
Shaftdrive's the last act of the night. By the time they go on, everyone's exhausted and the stage is wrecked and the floor's littered with broken bottles and sticky lager residue from Cheerleader's earlier over-the-top set.
The electric energy of the jam I witnessed a couple days earlier isn't there. The set stops and starts, marred by a shitty sound system and their unfamiliarity with the borrowed gear. But you can tell the bad girls are having a blast onstage. The crowd eats up their act. They flash metal signs during the hard-rockin' riffs, pogo along with the drum solos and roar when Laura spits beer at them, rock 'n' roll-style. And all of a sudden I spot a hardcore punk kid next to me. All piercings and leather, he's headbanging so hard it looks like his mohawked cranium's gonna go flying off and roll through the beer on the floor.
The ladies are philosophical when they leave the stage. They blame the flawed set on a few too many beers and technical difficulties. But everyone had fun, right?