The Assault of the Valkyries

Punk-rock goddesses batter Seattle’s eardrums with their debut record.

On a typically miserable, rainy night, I meet the Valkyries at the Chop House, a practice space on Capitol Hill across the street from the Wild Rose. The Valkyries, who play loud, fast punk-rock songs with a sharp metal edge, do not seem like the sort of band to worry about a little thing like earplugs. But that's the first thing Valkyries frontwoman Stevie Barile and I talk about: that in a 15-by-15-foot windowless box, even the most hardcore rock star really needs a pair. Ten years after my mom started razzing me about wearing earplugs to shows, I'm beginning to see her point. I thought I'd brought some. But old habits die hard; as usual, I've left the little bastards at home."Do you want us to turn the amps down?" Barile asks me. "It gets really, really loud in here." "Yeah," Ginnie Ko, the drummer, chimes in. "Maybe you should stand in the hallway." I shake my head no. "I can take it." Because when it comes to crusty punk anthems, too loud is better than not loud enough—something I realized after trying to listen to the band's early demo recordings on an iPod. No matter how high I cranked the volume, the dinky thing just wasn't capable of doing justice to the band's wild live shows.Two songs in, the band's lyrics, scribbled on pieces of notepaper, flutter off the amp they're sitting on. During the search, Ko finds one old piece of paper behind her drum set. It's spattered with blood. "What's that from?" I ask. Joanna Carney, the bassist, grins. "Stevie hit me in the face so hard it gave me a bloody nose. Don't worry, it was an accident!" she adds, grinning mischievously. "Besides, I got her back." Barile pulls up her sleeve. There's a fist-shaped bruise on her bicep.It's only when the band stops playing that I realize how loud it actually is in the practice cube. Everything sounds fuzzy, and my ears are already ringing. And yet I can't hear Barile's voice at all. "Yeah, we have a shitty PA," she says. It's no matter; once you've heard her voice onstage, you won't forget what it sounds like. Having only seen the band twice—once at a sold-out Bit Saloon show and once at the now-defunct King Cobra—Barile's chops are all her own. Hoarse, gritty, and unapologetically raw, her howl is the stuff punk-rock legends are made of. It's standard for vocalists to write their own lyrics, but that's not the case here. Everyone contributes, but Ko writes most of the lyrics and arrangements, and guitarist Casey Dickson writes her own riffs. "I add the pizzazz," Barile says. She's joking, but it's the truth: While Dickson's an accomplished guitarist, she eschews braggadocio in order to concentrate on her playing. It's Barile who brings the swagger.So it's surprising when, once the band tops off their practice with a badass up-tempo rendition of "I'm on Fire," I find out that Barile is not the band's first vocalist. Nor is Carney their first bassist. By now, Ko, the band's co-founder, is the only original member left. When the Valkyries first formed two years ago, Ko explains, the band's punk-to-metal ratio was more heavily skewed toward metal. "When our first guitar player, Alison, was in the band," Ko says, "the riffs Alison would come up with were completely different. The whole sound was completely different." But Dickson, who wears a Johnny Thunders shirt, constructs challenging riffs that have more in common with upbeat proto-punk than with a pounding metal axe attack. The band's fierce tunes still wink at campy '80s hair-metal kitsch—their practice space is decorated with a sizable Guns N' Roses poster. But the metal influences come inseparably partnered with a crass, unfiltered basement aesthetic and—so long as the crowd gets good and drunk—one of the craziest live shows you're likely to witness in Seattle.When it came time to start working on their debut album, We Always Win, the Valkyries decided to take the punk-rock route, looking to harness some of their live energy. The band recorded their nine-song aural assault at Studio V with the assistance of recording engineer Johnny Vinyl. Like the band itself, the album sounds raw, unfiltered, and barely mixed. In fact, it might've benefited from a little more mixing—Ko's drums and Barile's vocals could use some extra volume—but the point wasn't to put out a perfectly polished album. "The main goal for our album was to make it sound like we do live," Barile explains. "No filters. Just raw, man." Ko goes a little further: "It's hard to find people who can record you the way you actually sound, and in my opinion we're definitely pretty strong as a live band," she explains. "I wanted someone who could capture the energy of it. Not someone who would be like, 'Uh, that's a half-count off.' With every take, Johnny would be like, 'That sounds good. That sounds great! Do you guys like that?'" While We Always Win isn't a perfect replication of the group onstage, it's the next best thing—and it's definitely a step up from the band's previous demos.Even though it's increasingly common to see ladies dominating punk and metal, all-female punk bands still come off as something of a novelty in the mainstream, where success tends to ride on what a band looks like just as much as—if not more than—what they sound like. Even the Gossip isn't quite exempt (I mean, Beth Ditto did pose nude on the cover of NME). But the Valkyries don't seem to care much for fashion, and they're not using sex to sell their music, either. Which isn't to say the Valkyries aren't totally hot, because they are. But they're also just as gloriously uncouth as any other male-dominated punk band—in the middle of practice, Barile informs all of us that she's got something in her throat. "I'm, like, coughing up chunks," she says. "They feel like dry rice chunks. Does that mean I have worms?" "That's gross," Ko says. "I don't know. I hope not." "I guess it could be chunks of my throat," Barile muses. "Like that's so much better," Carney says. Mmmm. Now that's sexy.sbrickner@seattleweekly.com

 
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