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Getting Wet for the Wett Stilettos: a Pinto Stiletto interview

21 June 2015

All photos from the Rickshaw, Vancouver, by bev davies, May 2015

Mediocre photo from Lanalou’s (with previous bassist): Allan MacInnis

Bandmembers above, left to right: Pinto, Nadja, RC, Zig

The first time I saw the Wett Stilettos, a little over a year ago, I paid them no mind. I’d gone to Lanalou’s – a small, but much-loved, Vancouver punk rock restaurant – to see Bones in the Hallway, a one-off tribute to the Forgotten Rebels, featuring former Spores frontman (and Hard Core Logo cinematographer) Danny Shmanny making a rare return to music. I love me some Spores – maybe the most under-appreciated punk band in Vancouver’s history, whose best material – shot through with punk politics, but also often involving horror movie imagery and/or the consumption of LSD – was subject of a CD retrospective on Sudden Death Records a few years ago, News, Weather, and Spores. Anyhow, Danny’s band, though headlining, went on early; there’d already been a Husker Du tribute (Huskee Dudes, a solo act from Gnash Rambler) and a Gun Club tribute (Sex Beat, featuring Tim Chan from 64 Funnycars and now China Syndrome, a solid Vancouver power pop band). By the time the Wett Stilettos played, I’d already had a most satisfying night. They did make some slight impression – female lead singer RC Guns sings quite literally from the hip, twitching it in time to the music – and the whole thing seemed a credible return to old school American punk rock (kinda like the Dead Boys, but, say, cross Stiv Bators with Charlotte Rampling from The Night Porter for RC). But I’d had enough, so I snapped a couple of pictures, made a note to check them out again, and after a few songs, left to catch my train.

The second time I saw the Wett Stilettos, they were opening for legendary Vancouver garage punks the Furies at the Fairview. The Furies are one of the very first punk bands in Vancouver, maybe THE first, unless you count the Mt. Lehmann Grease Band, and I try to see them whenever I can. Leader Chris Arnett is like a back-to-nature Lou Reed, and one of the greatest guitarists the city has produced, in a very loose, shoot-from-the-crotch, shit-I-came-unplugged-again kinda way; but as great as his performance was, the Wett Stilettos were the evening’s epiphany, just boiling over the edge of the stage (the words “cocaine” and “washroom” appeared in some of their stage banter, so maybe that had something to do with it). It was a real forehead slapper: I walked out on these guys? But they’re GREAT!

Third time I saw the Wett Stilettos, opening for Death Sentence at Funky Winkerbeans – booked by wendythirteen of the former Cobalt, at the skeezy, sleazy heart of the Vancouver punk/ metal scene – with apologies to Doug Donut, the Wett Stilettos were the draw. (Though it was fun to finally see Doug sing “In Flames” from behind the drum kit; for reasons unclear to me, he’s made to seem like he’s not the singer in the video for that song!). The Wett Stilettos’ songs, it turns out, were strong enough that I recognized them from the one and a half previous times I’d seen them. Shot some video (of “Scissors” and “Ballwalk”), and decided that I hadda do something to support them, because jeez, they deserve it. Too many great Vancouver punk bands are going unnoticed outside this town these days! (How many of you have even heard of the Little Guitar Army, f’rinstance? Check their video for “30 Watts to Freedom.” Alas, they’ve since broken up).

So: on the occasion of the release of the Wett Stilettos’ first CD, here’s an interview with leader/ guitarist Pinto Stiletto, with photos taken from a slot the Stilettos won to play in front of a hard rock return from Bif Naked at the Rickshaw, in May 2015 (you can see my inferior pics of that night here).

So why call the band Wett Stilettos?

Initially I was thinking “Stilettos” because I just really like the idea of stilettos. I like the fact that it refers to both a knife and the shoes, right? But there was already a band called Stilettos, so I’m like… “something Stilettos, something Stilettos.” (Pinto adds as an afterthought that an ex-member named Gillian was the one who actually started him on this road… if I understand his comment correctly!). [As for the name Wett Stilettos,] it’s just complete nonsense. Phonetically it sounds great, “Wett Stilettos.” But if you wanted to make sense of it, you could. That’s kind of the idea – people can run with their imagination as to why the stiletto is wet. Is it a knife-stiletto that’s wet with blood, or is it the shoe-stiletto that’s wet? Because of a puddle you stepped in, or is it a puddle of blood? Who knows?

Why two Ts? So it’s distinctive on Google, or…?

Uhh, I get a little bit OCD with symmetry, and the “wet” with one T didn’t look right, so… (laughs. Note that their first album is called First Cutt, as well – also with two T’s).

So what are your influences? I listen to you guys and I think, Dead Boys, Nervous Eaters, Pagans and bands like this – 70’s old-school American punk.

I mean, musically, this is kind of interesting for me to look at, at this point in time in my life, because Wett Stilettos’ sound is an influence of the previous bands that I’ve been in. I started out with the Saddle Sores in the mid-1990’s, and the Saddle Sores were a cowpunk band, so we had country/western mixed in with the Sex Pistols. That was our sound. So there was a punk influence there. And from there, I went to Crystal Pistol, which was more of a Guns’n’Roses sleazy side of the spectrum, still with some punk influences a bit – that I never really heard, but other people said were there. And then after that I was into the Bonitos, which we called punk rock’n’roll, with Billy Hopeless (formerly of the Black Halos). And with the Stilettos, some of my friends who have known me throughout the years have set, you know, we hear a bit of Saddle Sores in there, we hear some Crystal Pistol, we hear some Bonitos. So it’s all just come together that way. So my influences are kind of internal, as far as the Wett Stilettos sound is concerned.

Okay. It’s cool that it ends up sounding very 70’s. It wasn’t designed that way.

No, it wasn’t by design, it’s just the music that I hear in my head. I just sit down and come up with the riffs, and I usually have a vocal melody that goes with it. I write songs from a singer’s point of view, as opposed to a guitar player’s point of view. This is really hard for some guitar players to understand, the song is not about the guitars, it’s about the vocals, it’s about the vocal melodies. That’s what people really remember, so I write from a vocal perspective. And I needed to find the perfect sound, and RC’s band, 69 Guns, was opening up for one of the Bonitos shows, and I watched her perform, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, she’s the one, I need to get her for this project – she’s such a versatile singer that there’d be no limitation as to what was presented to her.’ Which was not always something that I was privileged to have in the previous projects I’d been in – there were some very distinctive styles of vocals, and that can be liberating, but also limiting in ways. But RC can do anything. It’s amazing.

I’m curious about Crystal Pistol – you guys played a Nerve Magazine boat cruise where someone tripped and hurt themselves and sued the magazine, didn’t you?

Absolutely. I got handed a court order before a show. Somebody walked up to me, and they said, “are you Pinto?” I said yep, and they said, ‘You’ve been served!’ We all got served!

Where did that end up?

Well, I don’t know the exact scenario. I know that it never got pursued. I just gotta say, there’s more than one good reason, besides vanity, to have performance names, as opposed to using your real names, right? Comes in real handy when you’re crossing a border, comes in really handy when people want to sue you.

Have you always been Pinto?

Yeah – my last name usually goes with the band that I’m in. Right now I’m Pinto Stiletto. When I was in the Bonitos, I was in Pinto Bonito. For the past three and a half years I’ve been Pinto Stiletto.

Were you Pinto Pistol at some point?

No, in Crystal Pistol I was just plain Pinto. And the guys even wanted to shorten that a little bit and just call me Pint.

Ha! All right. So I want to ask about a few songs. Just in terms of song titles, “Sister Fister” is really striking. Where did that come from? I can’t make out the lyrics.

First, I should mention the very important fact that the birthplace of the Wett Stilettos was at the old Iron Road Studios, that’s where I started hanging out and looking for people that wanted to join this madness with me, partner up with me on this. And it must have been about three in the morning, we’re hanging out at Iron Road Studios, and we’re just sitting around having a few drinks, and RC tells us, “I just had the craziest weekend, I fisted this guy!” (Note: RC would like me to add here, “maybe mention I was drunk and had never done it before. The guy asked for it so I thought why the hell not. Lol.”) So I just took a few minutes to come up with some chord progressions, and “Sister Fister” was the title. She just ran with it – she ran with the lyrics and it all came out and we got a verse and a chorus, and it was all done in about fifteen minutes.

I’m relieved to know that it’s not about fisting your sister.

No, not at all – it’s like Twisted Sister. A “Sister Fister” is a sister who fists. We’re not saying it’s RC, but…

I want to ask about “Scissors,” too – it’s got such a great hooky riff, how did you write it?

“Scissors” was an interesting one, that’s riffs I had kicking about when I was still involved with my previous band, and I threw it around – it’s one of the songs that didn’t work with the other band at all, but I had this riff and I had this chord progression and I had an idea for the chorus, the lyric was just there: “I don’t want to fuck you anymore.” It phonetically fit in there, but I had no idea what the song was about. And one of the nights when me and RC were kicking around and going over some tunes acoustically, we’re talking and relating, and she told me about this relationship she was in. I was blown away and fascinated by the story she was tellin’ me, and I said, “fuck, that’s the song! That’s what the song is about. So we sat down and we put her story into a lyrical form, fit it to the music, and that was it.

Again, I can’t make out a lot of the lyrics, so – why is it called “Scissors?”

Well, the title… I can’t talk about that. It’s too personal to RC, pertaining to a particular relationship with someone… I’ve already said too much.

Okay.

We’ll let RC deal with that!

Are there other songs we should talk about on the debut?

I love them all, you know. The environment where we were in had a lot to do with where the themes came from. Iron Road Studios was in the heart of East Van, surrounded by transgender prostitutes. We were just breathing and living that environment, so you have songs like “Ballwalk” and “Douchebag” – it’s just drenched in that whole seedy side of the town.

What is a ballwalk, exactly? – like, tucking your balls between your legs and walking, or?

Yeah, or you put on some really tacky stilettos and some guys are into thing of having their balls stomped on…

Ohh. I haven’t heard of that one before.

Look it up! (Laughs).

Thanks for that image, Pinto.

No worries.

Speaking of Iron Road, I know that Little Guitar Army and Piggy both had jamspaces there, and some people have said that Wett Stilettos owes a bit to the LGA… Did you have much interaction?

Well, I mean, everybody met in the hallways. You go to your little room, and you do what you do in there, and then it gets too hot, and there’s no oxygen left, so you come out for a breather or a smoke or whatever and everybody meets out in the hallways, in the lounge area there, and you end up rubbing shoulders. And I wonder about that – I wonder if subconsciously all the music you hear through the walls ends up influencing what’s going on in your room.

Okay. So, there’s lots of sex and drugs on the album, are you guys all partiers, are you devoted to the rock’n’roll lifestyle?

Well, it’s always been a part of it, it’s never not a part of it. When we first started, getting to know each other, there was a lot of that, it was what was there and what was on our minds. But that’s not necessarily where we are now, things have changed and I mean – 80% of the second album is already written, and it’s actually purely political, because that’s where my mind is right now, things that concern me and I’m consumed by at this point in my life, all the political crap that’s going on with the state of the world. You’ve got to be honest about what you’re thinking about, what’s important to you. We haven’t extracted the party side of it, it’s still there, it’s just not what’s on my mind.

What kind of themes are you writing about?

Well, I was involved in the demonstrations in Burnaby to stop the pipeline from going through, and everything going on there – it’s all oil related, oil and greed and big corporations. You try and stay away from it as much as you can, but it’s a disease that creeps closer and closer to home until you don’t have a choice but to face it and start dealing with it. That’s kinda where I’m at right now: we can’t avoid these issues anymore. I remember 20 years ago, talking about the environment, it was still important, but it wasn’t so close to home. I mean, there was an oil spill in English Bay, what the fuck! It’s real, man, it’s not somewhere remote where you read about it and try to get involved, it’s right here in our face. It’s unavoidable.

[Pinto asks me at the end to reaffirm the importance of “Nadja our wicked drummer and of course Zig” to the spirit of the band…]

http://wettstilettos1.bandcamp.com/releases

 

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