|Photography by Eleonora C. Collini
Formed in Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, The Pandoras were an all-female garage-punk group (often also associated with the Paisley Underground scene) fronted by charismatic, provocative Paula Pierce. Surviving to well-documented controversies and various lineup changes, thanks to four brilliant albums they became a certifiable LA phenomenon, before Pierce (at the age of only 31) suffered a fatal aneurysm in 1991, leading to the official end of the band.
Twenty-five years later, some of the original members decided to get back together to play an handful of shows. With also an upcoming EP of unreleased Pierce’s compositions, the new Pandoras are led by punk-rock shouter Kim Shattuck -who after quitting her job as the band’s bassist, gained moderate success as the frontwoman of The Muffs and more recently as the (now ex) touring bassist of legendary Pixies. She is joined by two other original members, Melanie Vammen on keys and Karen Blankfeld on bass, and new drummer Hillary Burton (honeychain).
I chatted about the reunion with bubbly, friendly Shattuck and Vammen before they played at a Dirty Water Club night at London’s Shacklewell Arms.
How did the idea of getting The Pandoras back together come about?
Vammen: When Kim was playing in the Pixies, an original Pandoras member [Susan Hyatt], who is not in the band right now, had a party for her husband and Karen [Blankfeld], a couple of other ex-bandmembers, our ex-drummer Sheri Kaplan and myself played three Pandoras’ songs.
Shattuck: I saw it online and I really wanted to sing with them!
Vammen: And we also wanted Kim to sing with us!
Shattuck: When I got fired from the Pixies, the girls said that we should get together and do something, which made me feel better and got me my confidence back again, as I was pretty bummed at that time. Initially, we didn’t have any plans at all, we were just having fun playing old Pandoras songs we hadn’t played in years. Then when we started sounding very great, I thought we should really play a proper show and everybody seemed excited, so it all developed from there.
But then, as it’s typical of the Pandoras, the lineup changed yet again and also this time around you all swapped instruments, apart from you, Melanie who have always been on keyboards.
Vammen: Yeah that is true. Our drummer Sheri [Kaplan] who was supposed to join, decided not to in the end, mainly due to anxiety regarding her arm, because she didn’t think she would be able to play night after night, which is a valid concern. And Karen, who was our drummer from ‘84 till ’87, is now on bass.
Why did Karen choose to take on bass duties rather than stick to drums and recruit a new bass player, since you, Kim, moved from bass to guitar?
Shattuck: We asked her, but she said she enjoyed playing bass right now and wanted to do something different. She is actually great at doing pretty much everything she tries!
And how did you meet your new drummer Hillary Burton?
Shattuck: I actually met her online, when I saw that she said something really cool. She seemed to have good taste, she knew how to write songs and stuff, so we started chatting and found out we had a lot in common. I knew she played the drums, as well as guitar and a bit of bass, so when Sheri bailed out last minute, we got her on board.
Kim, how does it feel to now front the band and what legacy do you think Paula left behind her?
Shattuck: For me it is weird, it is like the movie Freaky Friday. There was a super crazy Pandoras fan page on Facebook we were sort of engaging with, and when they were pushing us to get back together, they were asking who should be the new Paula, naming all of us. When they said I should because I was screaming too, I initially didn’t want to do it, but then I gave in. As soon as I stepped in as the lead singer it was a big trip, because I had to learn the lyrics, but when I started doing it I became obsessed with it as it was so much fun. That also made me have more respect for Paula as I realised how hard her role was. I was definitely influenced by Paula in the way I sing, with all the screaming and stuff, but I am being the Kim-Paula….. I am not being someone that I am not.
Were you girls in touch at all after the band broke up?
Shattuck: No, we didn’t talk for seventeen years. We weren’t on bad terms or anything, just we lost touch, which was sad. Then our previous drummer Sheri got us back in touch together.
Vammen: I love playing with Kim, recording, touring together, we have always had a great time!
Shattuck: We also share a similar sense of humour, as we basically laugh all the time…
Vammen: We even pick the same things, like today we got the same eye shadow!
And you weren’t in touch with Karen either?
Vammen: Just a little bit. We had lunch once, when our kids were still very little.
After playing a couple of warm-up shows in the States, you are currently touring Europe and then the States again. How has the reception from the audience been so far? Have you noticed if there is a mix of old and new generations in the crowd?
Vammen: I think there is actually a mixture, which is amazing, as there are people telling us that they had been waiting thirty years to see us playing these songs, but also young people too. For instance last night there were these kids that had heard a radio interview and were screaming “you guys are great, we love you”, but didn’t know our music at all and thought we were actually a new band!
Have you been playing around with the setlist a lot, or just mainly doing the hits?
Shattuck: We are just playing the songs that we like and that turned out other people like too. We only do the things we want to do, as we don’t want to feel the pressure to do something we don’t want to.
How many songs have you rehearsed so far?
Vammen: Around thirty.
Back in the day by many you were considered as part of the Paisley Underground scene. Was there a sense of comradeship among those bands?
Vammen: Not sure if we were really Paisley Underground as that was more The Bangles and Rain Parade….
Shattuck: Yeah, maybe we were a little bit Paisley Underground, though I have always considered us more garage rock/ punk garage.
Speaking of which, what do you think of the contemporary garage-punk scene?
Vammen: Is there still one? I love the opening bands we have had on this tour, and some of them might be a bit garage-y, but I don’t see too much of that anymore. I am also probably not the best judge as I don’t go out much these days, but I still like poppy, garage-y music.
You have been living in Los Angeles for a very longtime. How do you think the LA music scene has changed over the last few years?
Shattuck: It went good, bad, good, bad, ugly then good again. It’s constantly going up and down. There are so many scenes I don’t even understand. You can drive through Hollywood and see a bunch of girls in mini skirts and heels, all stuffed up, channel all over… I don’t even know what kind of music that is, maybe dance music….
Do you go to a lot of gigs?
Vammen: Yeah sometimes, if it is someone whose music we really like. Recently we saw L7 and they were really good. We also like The Manfreds….
Shattuck: And The Magnificients …
Kim, you have been pretty busy over the last few years, with Whooop Dee Doo, the first The Muffs album in a decade, and before that with the Pixies. How was touring with them for those few months? I managed to catch you playing with them at the London’s Eventim Apollo once ….
Kim - That was probably one of the last shows. I had read something in the papers saying that they didn’t want me in the band anymore and I got so aggressive, so probably you saw me at that show. But yeah what made it more fun was the audience, because they are so in love with the Pixies and it was fun to see that and being part of it. I am glad I went through it for the period of time I did, as had I stayed any longer I would have probably killed myself!
And what about you Melanie? What have you been up to in the last few years before the Pandoras got back together?
Vammen: After playing in the Muffs with Kim for a while, I was in The Leaving Trains for ten years. I think the last time I played with them was 2006. Then I had two kids, and then I started hanging out with the girls again till we began doing this.
Originally published on The 405