EXHUMED: The Return of DA!

DA! circa 1981, courtesy of DA!
DA! circa 1981, courtesy of DA!
posted Saturday May 8th, 2010

Chicago’s nascent punk/post-punk music scene has always taken a backseat in the popular music press. While CBGB’s logos now adorn the chests of yuppies, and most retirees can at least name check the The Sex Pistols or The Clash, if you say Chicago, the response from even audiophiles is typically “uh, Cheap Trick?” [Note: apologies to Rockford residents!] Chicago’s Naked Raygun or Big Black might get a nod, if you’re lucky.

Well, the times are a changing, and the first modern vindication/re-assessment of a vibrant late 70’s/early 80’s Chicago musical landscape for me was a fantastic article in a Chicago punk magazine [Horizontal Action #11 published in 2003] - which detailed the original and outrageous Midwest clubs/outposts of punk/new wave culture like La Mere Vipere, O’Banions, Oz, Ann Arkee, and more. The article made me aware of the great early Chicago bands like Tutu & the Pirates, Silver Abuse, Epicycle, and others who created vital work which was largely ignored by the self-appointed LA/NY/UK purveyors of popular tastes.

Another case for Chicago was made in 2007's well-made and entertaining Regressive Films documentary You Weren’t There: A History Of Chicago Punk 1977-1984. Inspired undoubtedly by the film, Regressive, along with Factory 25 Records have just reissued compiled works of two early Chicago bands, Tutu and the Pirates, as well as the more arty outfit, DA! Tutu is great driving punk rock, and they throw up middle fingers with the best of the “fuck you” style punk bands of the first era. DA! however, in their short lived career [1978-1982] seemed to have higher goals.

Listening to the recent issue of the DA! Exclamation Point LP one would justifiably place DA! in the same musical zeitgeist along with the great post-punk artists such as Wire, Joy Division, et. al. This was especially true on DA!’s earlier recordings which featured the stark drumming of Dawn Fisher. The spring 1981 single features “Dark Rooms” b/w “White Castles,” two perfect examples of the darker, Germanic vibe of the band’s early incarnation. However, the unusually skilled [for the era] vocals and bass playing of Lorna Donley and the cool interplay and snaky harmonic/chromatic new wave guitar lines of David C. Thomas and Gaylene Goudreau give DA! their own unique identity.

DA! seemed to arguably reach a further level of fruition with the addition of second drummer Robert Furem, and his strident precision gave the band an almost (gasp) commercial flair. Fine examples of this era are the 1-2 knockout of “Strangers” and “Next To Nothing” which open up side two of Exclamation Point. In an ideal world, songs of this caliber would have ended up in rotation on MTV, and saved us all from the poofy-haired purgatory new wave would soon become. Frankly, there’s not a dud track on the record.

On May 8th at The Empty Bottle, DA! will take the stage for the first time in almost 30 years, and despite their busy schedules as they prepare for the pending gig, Lorna Donley, David C. Thomas, and [at the last minute] Gaylene Goudreau were kind enough to give Victim of Time an interview:

I’m impressed by the subtleties, dynamics, and complexities in all of your playing. Also, you can really sing Lorna. You’re not merely “shouting with attitude!” What inspired you to sing, and for you to pick up your instruments?

Lorna Donley: I had two maternal uncles that played guitar when I was a toddler. I began begging for lessons around 11 years old so I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music in the early 70s. I started writing songs as soon as I knew a couple chords. I was shy about my singing. I was a huge David Bowie fan.

David C. Thomas: I started playing guitar to get girls. Look how well I did!

Ok, tell me, “why punk?” Back in the late 70’s as a young girl, Lorna you could have tried to sound like Heart. You could have been “cool,” been “popular,” and (ugh) even fit in! How did you both become attracted to a movement which almost guaranteed some form of social persecution?

Lorna: Social persecution sounds like what happens in suburban high schools. But I dropped out of school and was living on my own at 16. Subsequently, I started meeting people in the music scene. Someone got me into La Mere Vipere and I started finagling my way in after that. It was attractive for obvious reasons: it was dark, dangerous, sexy, funny and weird.

David: I had grown up on all of Punk’s antecedents, Stones, Who, Blues Magoos, Standells, Velvets, Stooges, Mott the Hoople, T-Rex, Slade, Sweet, etc., so it wasn’t a decision to become involved in punk, it was a natural progression. Any discerning Rock ‘N’ Roll fan knew this shit was gonna change the world. The Ramones were an explosion, Richard Hell was an explosion, The Pistols were an explosion. I was doing college radio by 1977, a weekly all-punk show on St.Louis’ KWUR. I was playing in one of St.Louis’ earliest punk bands. All my friends were “punks.” Nothing much else mattered. I didn’t make a decision, I didn’t make a choice, I was just living my life. Gaylene and Lorna were much the same. You didn’t make a decision to become punk. Punk grew out of people like us.

DA! live during Busted At OZ recording 1981

What bands made you both say, “I want to do that?” Verbally, lyrically, what bands from the era inspired you?

Lorna: I didn't really see or hear bands and think "I want to do that." I just had these songs that I thought it would be interesting to play with other people. I met some other women who played. Evelyn [Marquis, early DA! member – not on the recordings] had guitars, amps and a space. She had experience playing in bands and was very generous with her time and knowledge. I met Terry Nelson through her when I was about 17 and we became inseparable. He was the music director at WZRD and starting his Sunday Morning Nightmare punk radio show. So I heard lots and lots of new music, as well as well as older 50’s and 60’s music of every stripe - rockabilly, blues, psychedelia, folk, ska, etc. I usually say I got my musical education from Mr. Nelson. So, it is hard to hone in on even just a few bands that inspired me. Lyrically I was intent on NOT writing love songs. For bands of the era I did like the lyrics of, Gang of Four, Magazine, Siouxsie, Joy Division, the Jam and the Stranglers. I also liked lyrics of The Kinks and Captain Beefheart.

David: The reason DA! sounded like it did was not because we were aping other groups of the period, but because we had absorbed the same influences as all the punk bands, we had grown up with all the same stuff, cut our musical teeth on great records like Aftermath, Transformer and Kinks Kontroversy, Raw Power and Too Much Too Soon and Electric Warrior. We didn’t listen to the shit that everyone else was listening to, we listened to groups that mattered, that meant something, groups that had that special magic, groups like Mott the Hoople, The Velvets, The Modern Lovers, Television, 13th Floor Elevators, T-Rex, The Shadows of Knight, Love, The Remains, David Bowie, The Electric Prunes, The Seeds, The Flamin’ Groovies, the list actually goes on and on and on and on. The Dictators and The Ramones and Patti Smith showed everyone how simple it all was and that anyone could do it. If you were plugged into what was happening in ’76 and ’77 there were amazing new bands and amazing new records EVERY FUCKING WEEK! They came out of the woodwork. It was like a plague of angry rebellion and brilliant colors and crazy lyrics and terrific sounds and great sleeve art and guitar SKRONK! Everything was inspiring, and it was like a special club, and only the special people ‘GOT IT’ and hell yes, of course you wanted to do that… Shit, be in a band that ripped it up like that? DA! grew out of that zeitgeist. We weren’t trying to be like Gang of Four or Poly Styrene or The Velvets or Siouxsie or The Slits or The Buzzcocks or Crass or Wire or The Damned. We were like all those bands! We were just like them, in our own way, because we were just like them, in our own way.

I remember in a review of our first single the NME in England said we sounded a lot like The Au Pairs. Ha, ha, we’d barely even heard of The Au Pairs! But when I listened to ‘em, we did sound like The Au Pairs! That was the zeitgeist. Everyone was on the same page.

Lorna, the recent Runaways movie brings to light that women could be scorned or discouraged from forming bands, or even ridiculed for being in a band. Did punk come along, and suddenly it became an asset rather than a liability - being in a band initially composed primarily of women?

Lorna: I never saw a recognizable shift in the way women musicians were perceived while I was in DA!. I'm not sure punk bands or audiences were more accepting of women, as you seem to imply. I'm sure some people thought we were freaks, some thought we were novel and modern and then some people really liked our music and didn't think about it too much. I always felt a little out of place no matter what I did so it didn't matter. Nobody ever ridiculed me for being in a band. Not even my grandfather.

Let’s “humanize” the band! As well as their musical talents and roles, what were they like as people? Intellectuals, partiers, comedians, let us know.

Lorna: I think “partiers” is one way to describe all of us. We had fantastic Halloween parties at the DA! house. Terry [Nelson] says that after we played with The Fall, Mark Smith was threatened with a knife by a topless woman at the DA! house. I went home after that particular gig so I did not witness this. Terry Nelson is a fairly credible witness as well as hobnobber extraordinaire. In his role at WZRD he met dozens of bands in the early eighties.

David, how did you come into the picture? You were in a band with all women! How did you ever manage? [joking]

David: I was one of the luckiest guys in the world.

Lorna: Gaylene [Goudreau/DA! guitarist] was a huge Keith Richards fan when I met her. She had been in a band called Lois Lane who moved to Los Angeles together but broke up. She was the first really passionate musician I played with, fiery. She had such natural rock sensibilities but was always reaching and experimenting.

What were early gigs like? Describe the crowd reaction, the before and after show happenings, the scene, the excitement, the backstage mayhem! Bring those of us who “weren’t there,” back.

David: Please. We were a struggling Art-Punk band in the Midwest. We often played to near-empty rooms. And the occasional packed house. Sometimes we broke shit. And sometimes the singer would get knocked out. Guitars got smashed.

Lorna: Well, as Terry [Nelson] points out in the movie, DA! didn't have an audience. Perhaps we would have developed one in another city or at another time. I'm told there was some backstage mayhem, but I don't remember it. I did like the time we played at Club 950 and Dave grabbed an ashtray off somebody's table and beat his guitar with it. But Dave was always making trouble at 950, setting the stage on fire and stuff.

I’m fascinated hearing about the early Chicago clubs like La Mere Vipere, O’Banion’s, Oz, etc. If you had to pick, which club was the ultimate, and why?

David: They were all shit holes, and O’Banions was the best shit hole ever. Except maybe Tut’s which wasn’t really a shit hole.

Gaylene Goudreau: O'Banion's was the shit. You could go there and listen to the best music and mosh all night. I remember the low lighting, very dark and just like dancing all night, the pogo. It had the atmosphere I loved that place the best.

Was there a philosophical, political bond among the early Chicago punk/post punk participants, in contrast to today?

David: Fuck no, we were almost as stupid then as they are now.

I’m reading the liner notes, and on the thank you list are a lot of luminaries, like Daniel Ash, Husker Du, Captain Sensible, The Dogs, etc. You must have experienced what people are calling “rock star moments.” Share some of these, with us. Do either of you have any good stories you find yourself telling your friends, over and over?

David: These were not “rock star moments.” They were just friends and groups we shared gigs with. Or a cigarette.

Gaylene: The Dogs have been my friends for a long time. I met Ron Wood, their drummer in a bar in Lansing Michigan. We had a thing for a long time. When I moved to CA to start Lois Lane we stayed with them till we got on our feet. We loved their music.

The compilation LP thanks “Alice Cooper for his advice and inspiration.” What’s the scoop on this?

David: That’s Gaylene’s story. I think she swam in his pool or babysat his monkey or something. You know Alice Cooper’s golf partner was Groucho Marx.

Ah yes, Groucho Marx, gotta love him, quite a character in his later years! The film Skidoo is amazing. Gaylene, what’s the scoop on Alice?

Gaylene: When I was in “Hollyweird” I met Joey Zolebeck, the sound engineer for Funkadelic. Bootsy came over one night too. Joey was just moving into Alice Cooper’s house and asked me to help him in to get settled. Now when I was kid I used to risk my life hanging in my brother’s room listening to his albums. I loved [Alice’s] music and played their covers in my band. To be asked to go to his house was very surreal for me, but I was cool about it. I ended up living there with Joey. I partied with Alice and ate dinners with him and his wife. […] He used to tell me all kinds of stuff about the music business, and what happened to his guitar player. I played "I’m Eighteen" in his game room and called my friends and I made them jealous. I was young. He told me to start a band called Lower Lip and he would write the songs for me. I didn’t like the name at all. I was like, fuck that. I was a dumb ass! When I lived in Hollywood I practiced at the Masque. We had a room right next to the Go-Go’s. I thought they were snobby, so I used to fuck with them all the time. Joan Jett used to poke her head in my room all the time. I had this band called The Skirts, never did nothing.

Why’d [1st DA! drummer] Dawn Fischer quit in 1981, any drama there? I love her stripped down post-punk style.

David: Dawn had big tits and the other girls thought she should go. She also never practiced. And she liked Journey.

Ha ha!

Lorna: Dawn really liked some music I just detested; we all detested. Apparently, I didn't know until recently, Gaylene even went to a Journey concert with Dawn to be a friend and try to understand it. I could not, would not, made me physically ill. She was very inventive, but especially as David & Gaylene developed their guitar sound, she was not driving enough.

Dawn’s replacement Robert Furem is really great, very solid. Would it be fair to say he kind of added a commercial edge to the band? I have no problem imagining great new wave songs like "Strangers," or "Next To Nothing" on the radio back in the 80’s, next to a song like say "Never Say Never" by Romeo Void, or Siouxsie and The Banshees, early B-52’s et. al. Pardon my tangent, but please tell us about Bob, and how he added to the band.

David: Those songs WERE on the radio back in the 80’s right next to those other songs. You must’ve blinked and missed it. Bob doesn’t like people to talk about him. And I hope we’re never played next to the B-52s. Play us next to The Wipers, please.

Lorna: Bob was the drummer in Strike Under. They rehearsed in the basement of the DA! House. We loved them so of course we asked Bob to play when Dawn left. Bob's playing created a better setting for the interwoven guitar and layered guitar parts David and Gaylene were doing. He added greater dynamics to the songs and made them less baroque and more neo-classical.


What do you consider DA!’s major accomplishments? The single was great. Judging from my reaction, the 1982 Time Will Be Kind EP was aptly titled! What do you feel most proud of, on every level?

David: We never killed each other. We still basically like each other. And we were a great band. And we made a couple of good records.

Lorna: I'm amazed at the good fortune knowing one another at such an exciting time. We really were playing and writing our hearts out and creating our dreams together. Meeting Terry, Timothy Powell and George Kapoulas who encouraged and promoted us was so fortunate.

Why did the band break up?

Lorna: Gaylene says that seeing DNA changed what she wanted to do with guitar. That might have been the beginning of the end for DA! I think she felt there wasn't enough room in our rock format, song structure etc. for her to explore her guitar playing. That said, it is ironic that she ended up playing straight up hardcore for umpteen years. I think she's the one that pointed that out to me recently.

David: We broke up because that’s what bands do. Lorna was later in a number of bands including Silent Language, HDT, The Veil. […] Dave was in a number of bands including The Interceptors, Terminal Beach, A Mason in UR, The Purple Sherpas, The Veil. Bob was in a number of bands including Trial By Fire, The Interceptors, The Sapphires, The Rocket 88’s. Dawn disappeared. Oh wait, Dawn was in The Ama-Dots for awhile. Then she disappeared.

Gaylene: After DA!, I moved to NYC, started a band called Bag People, recorded a 45. I have music upon request. We played various shows with bands like Sonic Youth, Birthday Party, The Swans, Lydia Lunch. Ted was our drummer from Prong. Then I started a band with Manon, Maggie and Janis RIP and Lee Marie RIP called SCAB which later became Bloodsister. We toured with the Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, The Casualties, Warzone, Virus, Chris Nantz from Cop Shoot Cop, Gang Green, Murphy’s Law, made a punk compilation called Montreal Vs. New York, bunch of bands on there. Recorded our debut album with 99 Records and had it in the record store window at CBGB's where I worked as a waitress. Was a punk extra in Sid And Nancy, Ishtar, Outrageous Fortune, Hannah And Her Sisters. I had a rat on my shoulders and Woody Allen made me take it off, my rat Glue cause he stuck to my hand and lived in my shirt. I love rodents to this day, just buried Snoopy and Rodney my rats, R.I.P. Moved to Santa Rosa with my kids, started a band called Eat Me never really went any where, did a few shows locally. Moved to San Diego. Noisegod - we played a lot of shows with] Exploited, DK, Vibrators, Peligro, just cut an album to be released soon.

How and when did modern re-interest in the band, happen?

Lorna: The movie You Weren’t There was really the catalyst, I think.

David: We had the foresight to make a video of our single back in ’81 and somehow Joe Lasurdo and Chris Tillman saw fit to include it in their movie, and interviewed Lorna. They’re crazy, and then they insisted we should make the records available again. Somehow Joe and Chris convinced Factory 25 to put the record out. We thank them for their fortuitous lapse in judgment.

Band Name
DA! Secret History feature by Steve Krakow as published in the Chicago Reader

You’re giving away ORIGINAL copies of DA!’s only single [Dark Rooms/White Castles 7” Autumn Records] with early online purchases of the reissue, rather than selling them on ebay! Is this an anti-materialist statement, or are you merely insane?

Lorna: Uh, yeah, it’s insane I guess! [laughter] They are really beautiful things, there aren’t that many people who are really going to appreciate them. It’s a nice token, for people who are interested, y’know?

David: We were gonna make an art car out of ‘em, but we could never figure out what glue would work best. Or afford to buy a car we could intentionally fuck up.

What is the DA! lineup for the May 8th gig at The Empty Bottle? I heard it’s Bob on drums, but will Dawn show up?

David: None of us may show up.

How are the rehearsals going?

Lorna: The rehearsals are magical! On some levels we are exactly the same people but…it’s amazing, it’s so wonderful to play with these guys again. We’re much mellower. This just doesn’t give us enough time to start to fight.

You guys used to fight? No way!

Lorna: Well, let’s put it this way, poor Dave is playing in a band with a couple of his ex’s! [laughter] So it’s kind of wacky. Two kind of really strong, headstrong women too! Sometimes it’s the girls against the boys now. It’s like Gaylene has four kids now, she’s not about to take any shit! [laughter] She can see it coming.

Is DA! ready to take on the world again, or at least play a few more shows after this?

David: No. Unless the rest of ‘em want to. And somebody wants to give us money. I’m sure after this flurry of minor excitement is over it will all crawl back into obscurity.

Lorna: We would consider more if it was feasible. To do them, would be another story. Gaylene’s living in San Diego, so um, we did talk about the possibility of doing a beach blanket bingo surf’s up DA! party in San Diego! [laughter]

Sounds like a good time! Final question: In all honesty, do you think the artistic merits of Chicago’s punk/post punk music scene are fairly assessed by the mainstream music press? As members of the original Chicago vanguard, how do you think Chicago stacks up, in “the big picture?”

David: I honestly couldn’t give a shit. Honestly.

Ha ha ha!

Lorna: What’s missing for Chicago is a book, one book, one well written book, maybe kind of slightly scholarly.

Thanks a lot Lorna, David, and Gaylene. I’m looking forward to seeing DA! May 8th at The Empty Bottle!

Check out the DA! music video for "Dark Rooms" from 1981, right here...

Check out the DA! music video for "Next To Nothing" from 1982, right here...