Their name may connote death, but Murder for Girls are doing their part to keep punk rock and riot grrrl alive. This local rock band’s name will surely be bantered about Pittsburgh this summer. On May 5 of this year, the quartet released their debut LP, All the Wishes, a collection of ten original tracks on which unwavering vocals and fuzzy guitar dip and bend around a driving rhythm section. This month, they played the Deutschtown Music Festival. Next up? Ladyfest Pittsburgh, a three-day event spotlighting female musicians.
Only the Best
Their album, the festival appearances—all of it is deserved for a band that for the past three years has thoughtfully cultivated not only its sound but also its image. It began with bassist Jonathan Bagamery wanting to create a group with a diverse lineup, something with both female and male members. He posted a couple of Craigslist ads. Tammy Wallace responded but was a day or two too late; Bagamery had already found a guitarist. He still needed a drummer, so he went Googling—“female drummer Pittsburgh,” he typed. Michele Dunlap, the “Best Female Drummer in Pittsburgh,” appeared on his screen, bashing away at the now defunct Shadow Lounge in East Liberty. He later connected with her via Facebook.
Around that time, Bagamery met Wallace in-person at a concert. They talked, got along great, and she ended up a member after all. An all-female group, save Bagamery, was taking shape. “He made himself a minority,” Wallace, who also sings, said.
Other members have since come and gone, like Zorahna Weslowski, who played guitar and sang on Murder for Girls’ 2014 self-titled EP. The group was limping along as a trio when Stephanie Wallace (no relation to Tammy) was watching the band perform at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville. Something was great; something was missing. “That’s a fucking band that I fucking like and want to jam with,” she thought, introducing herself to the group afterward. She had played in bands before, the rest of Murder for Girls invited her to a practice, and she soon was a member. Simple as that.
What wasn’t as simple was finding a band name. It’s hard for every new band with so many names already taken.
A few years ago, as the group’s lineup was solidifying, Bagamery once again turned to Google. “I actually found a website that specifically listed unused names, and there was something like Band Names for Girls,” Bagamery said. He didn’t choose a name from that website, but it got him thinking: “What are things that aren’t normally associated with girls? And I said, ‘Well, how about murder?’”
He Googled “murder for girls” and found no band had ever used it. They had their moniker. (A runner-up, Tammy’s suggestion, was Truth Lasso, a take-off of the rope wielded by the superhero Wonder Woman. Those snared by her Lasso of Truth cannot lie.)
Murder for Girls doesn’t condone violence by women, or by anyone. Rather, the name symbolizes how things can be “murder,” that is “harder,” for girls. Nowhere is this reality better explored than on the song “Murder for Girls.” “All the wishes / All the dishes, yeah / Got some itches / Since your love affair,” Stephanie sneers over grungy instrumentation, the song’s protagonist suffocating under the weight of domesticity.
Although a myriad of institutions have made things murder for girls, you walk away from this song, and indeed the whole album, thinking these are three women ready to shatter some glass ceilings. As for why a song is named after the band, that was Stephanie’s contribution upon joining. “I feel every band needs a theme song,” she said.
Dunlap, who also sings, praised the lyrics of both Stephanie and Tammy Wallace. That is, once Dunlap finally got to hear them upon the release of their LP. “I can never hear their lyrics [while drumming],” she said. “I was really impressed with their words and what they’re saying. They’re pretty catchy.”
Many song titles share names with celebrities, like “Sofia Coppola.” “I’ve always had that habit of using a director’s name as placeholders,” Bagamery said of working song titles. “With this band, I used female directors. In some cases, the names just stick.” Other celebrities namechecked include Penny Marshall (“Laverne & Shirley”) and Punky Brewster, a fictional television character played by then-child actor Soleil Moon Frye.
Coppola, Penny, Punky, and more, will be played live by Murder for Girls at this year’s Ladyfest Pittsburgh. They have played Ladyfest three times, every year since the festival began in 2014. No surprise, as Tammy is connected to the festival’s origin. In 2002, her former band, Bunny Five Coat, plus other female-dominated groups, performed a one-time show called Vulvapalooza at the old 31st Street Pub. In 2014, Athena Kazuhiro, of Bunny Five Coat and now of Brazilian Wax, used the name for a two-day Vulvapalooza, which Tammy also helped to organize. Rechristened Ladyfest in 2015, the festival now includes dozens of bands spread over multiple venues and three days. A portion of all proceeds benefit the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
Post-Ladyfest, Pittsburghers can expect more performances and more albums from Murder for Girls. They will play Lawrenceville’s RANT festival in August. Tammy was especially keen on new music. “I’m always for recording new albums. … I’d like to do about one a year,” she said. Her bandmates laughed, lovingly of course. True, it won’t be easy: all the members have day jobs. Tammy is a nurse; Stephanie is a pilot; Bagamery teaches at Community College of Beaver County; and Dunlap works in sales and marketing. But this is a band that on a recent weekday night made a 10 p.m. rehearsal in a hot McKees Rocks warehouse office look like playtime—exactly the kind of attitude that ensures they will remain a captivating, energetic act both live and on the next record, whenever that may be.
All the Wishes is out now and available via Murder for Girls’ Bandcamp page. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jason Jouver at +/- Recording in the South Side.
photos and video: Rick Handler
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and loves local music.
This is part one of a two-part story on Murder for Girls. Look for part two after Ladyfest.