Many a punk rock nerd had reason to rejoice last week due to the official re-release of the one and only self-titled LP by San Francisco’s finest punk band of the 70’s, Avengers. Originally released in 1983 four years after the band broke up, the record has languished out of print since then. But now due to the efforts of Water Records you can hear that classic without having to download some cruddy sounding MP3 or dealing with some smelly, ponytailed record dealer type. Hoo-Ray!
We were so ecstatic over the re-release of the infamous 'Pink' album, we called up Avengers vocalist Penelope Houston and rambled aimlessly with her about all sorts of crap.
VICE: The ‘Pink’ album has been out of print for a while now. Why is it finally available all of a sudden?
Penelope Houston: There were a lot of issues with rights and copyrights and things like that. It was a very long, painful process. That’s about all I can say legally. But it’s now all resolved. Yeah!
About ten years ago, I found a copy of the album in a store and I was like "Yeah! I’m gonna put this thing on eBay and flip the shit out of it!" But I opened it up and it had blank labels and I put it on and it sounded like shit. So I guess in all the legal wrangling, some bootlegs of the album trickled out.
There were more CD bootlegs than vinyl, I think. At least that’s what I saw the most of.
Is it some sort of happy coincidence that the Avengers re-issue and your new solo CD came out around the same time?
It was kind of a happy coincidence. I was ready to put out my new album last summer and I was talking to this label in Germany to do the vinyl and they pushed back the release to January. So, around January I started getting my shit together on this side to release it on my own label and it turned out the people that I was using to manufacture my stuff were crooks. It took an extra ten weeks to deliver! The reason is they did everything in Taiwan and I guess they just didn’t pay anyone over there. The tray cards were made out of this fiberboard that was only made in Taiwan and I couldn’t find anyone to re-create it. But I ended up getting something similar and it was fine. And by that time, the Avengers thing was ready to come out and we were ready to tour.
So, it wasn’t really a happy coincidence.
Yeah! After pulling my hair out and having a breakdown, I realized "This is fine. Now people can write about both things." They love to do that. The before and after angle.
I know it well! So, do you find much crossover between your new solo stuff and the Avengers stuff?
It seemed in the beginning, people were either into one thing or the other. But as the original fans of the Avengers got older, they’ve been more open to other stuff. When we re-formed, I think I got more of a crossover than before. I get more people ordering an Avengers thing and a solo thing. So that’s cool.
Do people who actually got to see the Avengers the first time around come out to see you guys now?
A few…they’re in wheelchairs. What I get often is someone coming up to me with their kids saying, "Yeah, I saw you guys in San Diego in 1980!" We were broken up by then and we almost never left San Francisco. I don’t want to call them a liar in front of their children, so I just go along with it. Whatever…maybe they’re not total liars. They might think they saw us.
I think people’s fondest memories are the ones they’ve probably never really experienced.
There’s a medical term for that. What is it?
No..no. But it's weird. It’s like they’ve seemed to unblock things of my past that never happened. In THEIR past!
The bonus disc on the CD re-print of the ‘Pink’ album is pretty great. I never heard those tracks before of the Avengers opening for the Sex Pistols. Were they something that was just unearthed or have they been around for a while?
No, they’ve been around. I’m pretty sure they were bootlegged. The thing with the bonus disc was we wanted to offer as many different songs as we could. I think up to eighteen songs on that disc are different songs than the ones on the actual album. That version of ‘I Believe In Me’ from that show on there is really funny to me. I always made up the verses of that song when we played it and I’m reveling about the Sex Pistols on there.
When you played that show opening for the Sex Pistols, did you meet (the promoter) Bill Graham?
No. Everyone was saying he didn’t like Punk and the only reason he was doing it was because it was the Sex Pistols and no one else in town could have done it. I remember seeing him on the side of the stage calling out and having the emcee for the night—Richard Meltzer—to get beat up. I was shocked. There were five thousand people there. Where did they come from? They certainly didn’t all go to (San Francisco Punk Club) The Mabuhay.
What do you think still attracts people to the Avengers? I’m talking people who weren’t even born at the time you guys existed.
I think at first, its’ the folklore. Like, ‘There was this band…’ and the story attracts them. But once they actually hear the band, I think it’s the songs. A lot of them are still relevant today and they represent this timeless, universal angst. There’s some irony to our songs, but people have taken them as anthemic in some ways and that resonates with people.
Well, the thing that sticks out to me are the lyrics. They weren’t these generic ‘I’m gonna chop up your mother’ punk lyrics.
They weren’t written for shock value. I was pretty earnest. We were trying to break down a shitty aspect of rock that was going on long before us. We did see ourselves as an antidote to that. I was a kid then and I was thinking about a lot of stuff.
I see those lyrics as being sort of a precursor to the hardcore punk thing. It probably gave some kids courage to sing Punk songs that weren’t these nihilistic statements.
I could see that, but I would hope the songs don’t have that ‘preachy’ quality to it that some of that hardcore stuff had. ‘We Are The One’ is one of our most popular songs, but people don’t seem to read that it’s sort of tongue in cheek. I think it has such a anthemic feel that people get swept up in the song and lost the humor of it.