The Avengers were on stage Saturday, July 13th, 2019
Founded in 1977, legendary San Francisco Avengers were one of the first female-fronted punk bands in the US. Here’s a Q&A with singer and songwriter Penelope Houston.
Since the Avengers just played a show together with the Dils and the Alley Cats, how is sharing the stage with these bands after so many years?
It's always wonderful to see my friends play. Those songs live inside you waiting for a moment to burst forward. When the Dils played I had to stand on the side of the stage and sing alone, just as I did 40 years ago.
Back in the 70s, what was your idea of punk rock?
We were just making music for our friends and trying to cut through the haze of indifference and bloated pomposity of 70s rock.
Can you remember the very first rehearsal with the Avengers?
We did a couple shows in a warehouse that were just covers. Hit Me with a Flower, Pissing in a River, I Wanna Be Your Man, Substitute...
Thinking about the very first punk days, which were your favorite punk bands and why?
Dils, Patti Smith, Pink Section, Mutant’s. Because their songs got stuck in my head for life.
You supported the Sex Pistols in San Francisco: what was your opinion about them before seeing them live and did you see their split coming after that show?
Everyone was very excited to see them but they seemed tired of it all. I can’t say I saw their split coming.
How did you end up recording a bunch of songs with Steve Jones? Back then, did you like those recordings and do you still enjoy those songs?
The Pistols tour manager became the Avengers manager and set up the recording with Steve Jones. I don’t remember what I thought of the recordings at the time... We did end up changing some vocals on it. I always enjoy singing the songs.
Why did the Avengers stop playing after a couple of years only at the end of the 70s? And how did you end up playing with Joel and Luis from Pansy Division twenty years later?
The band broke up in 1979 because our first guitar player Greg had quit the band. We had a new guitar player and it was a little different sounding and then other people in the band decided to do other projects so we stopped. Years later when Lookout! Records was going to release an album I put together called Died for Your Sins we decided to re-record three songs that had never made it onto tape from the late 70s. I’d met Joel Reader when working with Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day and asked him to play bass on that recording along with Danny Panic from Screeching Weasel. We use Danny for the first record release party and a couple shows after that, but then I switched to Luis who was a friend of Joel‘s. That turned out to be a great fit and we been playing together for over 15 years.
How did you shift from playing punk rock to recording acoustic folk songs?
After the Avengers broke up I did various things, worked in some films with the Screamers and then started writing my own songs and was inspired by Tom Waits, the Violent Femmes and Leonard Cohen.
Your top 3 favorite folk artists?
I like to listen to the Decemberists, Virginia Dare, Chuck Prophet.
How do you feel playing songs like We Are The One and American in Me or Corpus Christi after so many years? From your point of view, do they still sound impressive to the younger audience?
Those songs have a life of their own and are still relevant politically today in the US.
You went through Reagan and two Bush: how is living under Trump government? Is he worse than them?
Trump is worse because he’s a wildcard and you never know what he’s gonna do. He’s not really a conservative, he’s just a rolling dumpster fire. The others were at least predictable.
If you should explain to a XXI century teenager what punk rock means, what would you tell him/her?
I would tell her that it means freedom to be whoever you want and to create your own world with your friends.
When you started playing, would you ever imagine to become a punk icon?
I don’t think I thought in those terms, but I’m proud of what we did and I’m proud of the songs that we wrote and when I’m singing them now I feel them just as intensely.
The Avengers interview
Taken from Punk Rock Raduno 4 fanzine - 2019