The local press had started paying attention to us. The articles began in smaller, independent rags like the SF Sentinal and the SF Weekly. It was the first time any project I had ever played in had received press, and the attention fed the already steamrolling momentum of the band. By late 1990 and we were spending most of our time together – rehearsing, recording, flyering, gigging, etc – anything and everything for the band. We were all in romantic relationships of one sort or the other, but our first priority was evident.
We forged tight friendships with each other and shared the same basic goals. In addition to my strong bond with Shaunna, I had become very close to Wanda and Linda. Linda felt like a little sister to me and, however needlessly, I felt protective of her. In the early days I would hunt her down at one of her numerous girlfriends’ houses to roust her off of the couch and bring her to practice. We all looked out for one another. Wanda and I loved playing together and we had a mutual crush going on that added fuel to an already fiery rhythm section. There was musical affection abound.
We were competitive people but I never felt any competition within the group. We did, however, always try to blow the other bands on the bill off of the stage. Not our friends’ bands, but the numerous national acts that frequently played in San Francisco’s club scene. Soon we were headlining, and opening our eyes to the bigger picture.
A lot of bands think that getting signed is the answer to their problems. In reality, it can create more problems than it solves. It is the first step of many, the beginning of a road that could land you somewhere less desirable than where you are standing. It can break up your band.
We had been broke long enough and managed to survive pretty well so we felt we wouldn’t be swayed by the offers until we found one that felt right. When you got nothing you got nothing to lose. But when you have something you have plenty to lose. And in the music business you can lose a lot more than money. You can lose your integrity. The music can lose it’s heart. A lousy A&R guy can fuck up your record. A bad producer can rip the soul right out of your song. Your heart and sweat and tears can sit on a shelf in some record company’s storage closet for all eternity. We eventually watched it happen to some of our friends.
In September we finally got into Slim’s, a popular venue owned by Boz Skaggs. Our first gig there was opening for Firehose and within a few months we were headlining our own sold out show.
4 Non Blondes “Train” 110890 from christa hillhouse on Vimeo.
Our friendship ran deep and we had genuine affection for each other. That said, we fought at times. As the buzz got louder and the stakes ran higher I remember feeling outside pressure. We hired a manager named Kat Sirdofsky, a rock enthusiast who’d experienced some local success with the bands Death Angel and Vain, and had once managed Tex and the Horseheads. We wanted to get signed but had different ideas about how to do it and what we were willing to sacrifice to get there. I felt that Kat and I were from two very different worlds and hers was very straight.
This was back in the days before KD Lang was out of the closet. There were no openly gay performers in mainstream music. Being gay became an issue as we got farther from what was our core audience and moved closer to the big time. The big straight time.
I am quite certain that Kat would have attempted to replace me had I not been such an integral part of the band musically. We never really got along, and the longer I knew her the less I trusted her. We were from different worlds – she was slightly hip, attractive and seemed comfortable shmoozing the suits. I won’t lie; that whole scene was something I found agitating. I just wanted to play music. I had never really considered being on MTV; it had always seemed other worldy to me.
Our sights weren’t set on an independent label, we wanted a major label deal. As we started seriously pursuing a recording contract, Kat voiced her opinions about the look of the band. Outside of the hipness of San Francisco our marketability was questionable to her. I recall getting really angry when Kat approached me personally and said that I should “tone down” my appearance. During a heated argument one evening at rehearsal Linda said she would “put her hair in a bun if she had to; anything to get signed. Then, when we had secured a contract, we could do what we wanted.” There was pressure placed on us because of the way we looked due to the fact that we were dykes and it literally made me sick to my stomach. It seems silly to me now because I know in spite of our youth we were all too sure of ourselves to really change for anyone. We have each steadfastly remained, if anything, true to that fact. But it did fuel some heated disagreements.
During the fall of 1990 we appeared in The City magazine. The photographer, Christiana Ceppas, captured a beautiful photograph.