Silverfish's edgy style was even too much for MTV

May 07, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Let's get one thing straight right from the start: Silverfish is not for listeners who like their music laid-back and low-key.

Quite the contrary. Because the Silverfish sound isn't just loud -- it's also rude, uninhibited and in-your-face, mixing mosh-pit aggression with the ear-shredding dissonance of underground rockers like Sonic Youth. Things get so loud, in fact, that singer Lesley Rankine says she sometimes has trouble hearing herself sing. "If the club has a crap P.A. system," she laughs, "I might as well just be sitting in the bar half the time."

Back home in Britain, this seemingly lethal combination has earned the band a dedicated (if slightly deranged) following. But here in the United States, Silverfish is finding it a little more difficult to get the word out. Naturally, some of that is because there's so much more ground to cover in America, where a coast-to-coast club tour can last months and still miss entire states.

But there are other factors at work, too, some of which leave the band seething with frustration. Take MTV, for example. Although the group's American label submitted a video for the Silverfish song "Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal," MTV refused to air it because the chorus included a three-letter slang term for breasts.

It isn't just that Silverfish wanted to be seen on the channel. "I mean, I want as many people as possible to hear our stuff," Rankine says. "But it's such a waste. Aerosmith and Whitney Houston are on constant rotation -- what are they thinking of? These people don't need any more attention!

"When you think of how many bands there are, and how many diverse types of music, it's like they've not got a clue. I think they do music in general a total disservice."

What really rankles, though, is the suggestion that Silverfish was snubbed not because of its music, but because of the breast reference. "I mean, you can show as many as you like, but you can't say the word," she sneers, over the phone from a tour stop in Atlanta. "It's pretty pathetic, really."

Sadly, the band has grown used to that sort of sexist double standard. For instance, when Silverfish first started playing in English clubs, some members of the audience refused to believe that Rankine, in her T-shirt, jeans and oversized Doc Martens, was of the feminine persuasion.

"People couldn't believe that I was a woman, you know?" she says. "I mean, I've been standing at gigs next to a poster of myself, and people still wouldn't believe it!"

That isn't as much of a problem these days, but Rankine is still appalled at the way women in rock bands -- particularly bands as hard-hitting as Silverfish -- are perceived.

"We're touring with 7 Year Bitch," she says, "and the other night in Miami this guy comes up to me and says, 'Hey, this band's really good -- they're all dykes, yeah?

"You know -- 'There's no men in the band, so they must be dykes.' And people just assume that, because I'm a woman in a band with three guys, I've got to be sleeping with at least one of them. Being in a band, especially a band that gets any sort of success, really teaches you just how ignorant people are."

Fortunately, such ignorance is more the exception than the rule among Silverfish fans. "I usually get a really good reaction from audiences," Rankine says. "I think a lot of audiences are sick of seeing stereotypes, like nice, sighing little girlies, or whatever. They're surprised at the way I am onstage, and they really like it, you know?"

Silverfish

When: 10 p.m. Sunday.

Where: The Rev, 1818 Maryland Ave.

Tickets: $5.

Call: (410) 685-4665.

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