Bridging the gap between the ’70s and ’80s in Portland, and taking care of whatever business needed taking care of on the nascent punk scene, the all-female Neo Boys—composed of sisters Kimberly and Kt Kincaid, drummer Pat Baum, and a rotating series of guitarists—fixed their place in countercultural history. Their career retrospective Sooner Or Later came out on K Records last year, and the Kincaid sisters gave a presentation at the “Oregon Rocks” exhibit of the Oregon Historical Society in 2011. The former members took questions over email. (Very special thanks to Sarah Cass and Eric Williger)
Seattle Star: Did you grow up in Portland? If not, where did you grow up?
Jennifer Lobianco, guitar, 1978-1979: I was born and raised in Washington DC but I got my bachelor’s degree from Portland State University.
Carol Steinel, guitar, 1979-1980: I grew up in a very small town, and then a slightly larger town, in Kansas. I moved to Portland shortly before joining the Neo Boys in 1979. I was 22 when I met Kt, Kim, and Pat.
Meg Hentges, guitar, 1980-1983: No, I was born in Chicago and grew up in the Midwest.
Pat Baum, drums, 1978-1983: I was born in Michigan, but moved to OR when I was 5 and grew up in SW Portland. We moved to NE Portland, Irvington area when I was 11, where I attended Fernwood Grade School, Metropolitan Learning Center and graduated from John Adams High School.
Kt Kincaid, bass player, 1978-1983: Yes, I grew up in Portland although my sister & I spent 2 years in the hell hole known as Hazel Dell, Washington, in our pre/earliest teens.
Seattle Star: What are your earliest memories of Portland? I noticed that the Kincaid sisters referred to it as repressive, conservative, and “teeming with rednecks.” How did the city grow and change as the years went along?
Jennifer Lobianco: I came to Portland in January 1974 to attend college, I co-hosted a gay talk show on KINK-FM and was active in Portland’s gay community.
Carol Steinel: I’m queer, and had been out (at least as out as you could be in 1970s Kansas) for some years before I moved to Portland. I made my first home in the Northwest neighborhood of PDX, which was, at that time, funky, happening, and low-rent. As a queer who had “made it out” of the Midwest, Portland didn’t seem conservative to me at all, and any “rednecks” I encountered were so tame by comparison to the people I’d grown up around that they barely registered on my internal “uh-oh” scale.
I will say that I had a few weeks visit in the Castro just before coming up to Portland, and I did note that PDX was conservative by comparison to that environment (where open pot-smoking was common in the cafes). That said, to my 22-year-old fresh-from-the-prairie self, Portland was a place where I experienced my first real liberation and was able to relax into some form of authentic self.
My background was in theater, and through the friend who first encouraged me to come to PDX, I met and fell in with the Storefront Theatre crowd. I met friends of the Neo Boys at a party in the West Hills, and they were the ones who recommended me as a possible guitarist for the band.My most powerful memories of my early experience in Portland are the perpetually wet and glistening nighttime streets of the Northwest neighborhood, the hodge-podge (and sometimes dodgy), second-hand-but-fabulously-decorated rental digs of various actors, artists, and musicians that I hung out with (Eva Lake, Rick Young, Leigh Clarke-Granville, etc.).
I’d use the word “Bohemian,” but I recognize in retrospect that we all trying pretty hard–yet the scene I was part of wasn’t really “hippy” either. At that time, Portland felt much smaller–it was a city figuring itself out, I think, and because of that, a good place in which to be young.
I lived in various parts of Portland until 1998, generally just staying ahead of the gentrification. The Northwest neighborhood where I’d first lived and played was unrecognizable (and unaffordable) by the time I left the city.
As the years passed, my sense was that the city sort of “grew up and got a job.” In some ways, this was good — in other ways, it wasn’t. I think a large part of my choice to leave (I moved to Port Townsend, Washington in 1998) was that Portland’s un-self-conscious peculiarity had morphed into a kind of studied eccentricity by the time I left.
Meg Hentges: My earliest memory of Portland is from the day I arrived, in 1979. As soon as I crossed the city limit I saw a huge black bear dart out of the woods towards the highway, then turn around and run back into the trees. Never having been to Portland before, I thought that meant bears were on the loose all around town, and I lived in fear of them. But I never saw another one.
Pat Baum: Portland was a great place to grow up in, it was/is full of great parks, libraries and lots to do. The group of people who came together to eventually form an arts and journalism and music, scene, later called punk, were disillusioned with a post-hippie Portland, which by 1977, was pretty redneck and hostile toward anyone who looked, thought and acted different.
Kimberly Kincaid, lead vocals, 1978-1983: Yes, I grew up in Portland. Some of my earliest memories are having dinner at the Chinese restaurant “Republic Café,” shopping for school clothes at Lloyd Center, going to the Rose Festival Parade with my older brother & sister, and swimming in the summertime at Blue Lake Park. These are a few of my earliest landmark memories of being a child in the city. As a teenager, living in the city in the 1970s, the addition and upgrades of the public transportation was a big change. I took the bus everywhere! Never bothered to get a driver’s license during my youth.
The neighborhood I lived in during my teenage years, was a section of the city where the housing and apartments were for lower income residents, elderly people, transients, abandoned warehouses, & industrial warehouses. Presently, the neighborhood is one of the most affluent. The area was one of the first in the city to be gentrified.
Kt Kincaid: The first thing that popped into my head as far as earliest memories was the Portland Zoo & red zoo keys shaped like Packy the elephant–you’d put them in boxes at the “exhibits” & when turned, they’d tell you something about the animal you were looking at. Of course in retrospect, the place was atrocious–tons of cement, small cages, feeding marshmallows to bears, penguins swimming in an outside pond covered in green slime.
I’m not a big fan of zoos even today, but as a kid I just loved seeing all the animals, although I do remember feeling really sad seeing the big cats pacing in their tiny enclosures & wanting to let them out.
I also remember loving downtown at Xmas time–tinsel across Broadway & tinsel candy canes on the lampposts. All the shop windows were elaborately decorated, it was a great treat to see what people would come up with–real thought and talent was put into many–Meier & Frank was always especially wonderful plus they had Santaland and & the monorail!!!
How did Portland change? Well, it did and it didn’t. On the one hand there really have been positive changes made that were troubling to me as a teenager. The gay community has gained significant strength and respect (not to mention safety), independent artists & writers receive greater support (well at least some) with more places to showcase their talents, more women have taken their rightful place as community leaders, and music as a multifaceted form of artistic expression has been given legitimacy, offering those wishing to pursue it greater opportunity. I think these are all great things & in regard to them, I wouldn’t want to go backwards by any stretch of the imagination.
On the other hand, there is the “other Portland” that many [people] living in renovated houses of the inner city and eating in one of the countless overpriced restaurants feel uncomfortable discussing while getting their mani-pedi. The number of incidences of brutality & murder at the hands of Portland police are unforgivable except, unfortunately, by the Police Department. The enormous population of homeless people has and continues to be one of the worst in the country while employment opportunities, affordable housing, and mental health resources continue to decrease. The number of human trafficking victims is the 2nd highest in the nation (or 3rd depending on what you read).
White supremacy groups still huddle together in their Neanderthal caves, loading guns, only now they’re smoking meth, further fueling their hatred–out of sight, out of mind, I guess. I could go on but won’t. If I started on gentrification, I’d use up all your space–the most livable city? Well I guess for some. But you get my point. Although I love my hometown in many ways, it’s the elitism & hypocrisy that still get me. 2nd verse, same as the first–with a brand new shade of lipstick.
Seattle Star: What were your earliest musical memories and music favorites? How did they influence you?Jennifer Lobianco: I grew up listening to classical and musicals, I was a theatre major and involved in community theatre and performance art, in 1975 I was in the Portland Company of Hair.
In theatre class I read Artaud’s The Theatre and Its Double. I learned about guerrilla theatre from Ramparts magazine. I was aware of Chris Burden, the Cockettes in San Francisco, Karen Finley, Kipper Kids, Ze Whiz Kids with Tomata du Plenty [later of the Screamers], and Portland’s own TuTu Band. [But] I really only did one piece ever and I don’t think it went over very well.
The director [of Hair] asked me to audition, I think, because I was dancing in strip clubs at the time so that worked well. I had seen the musical before at the Aquarius Theatre in San Francisco. They gave me a small solo part but really I’m mostly into harmonies so I was a part of the tribe, there were a lot of great Portland musicians backing us up.
Carol Steinel: Not exactly a memory, I suppose, but, I’m told that I sang before I talked. My mom was cleaning house while she thought I was sleeping in my crib, and heard my baby voice slurring out “Catch a Falling Star” (the theme song of the Perry Como Show, which I must have overheard a thousand times). Heh-heh. She reports that it kind of creeped her out.
My artistic tastes have always been ridiculously eclectic. My dad was a music teacher, and his mother, an accomplished pianist with a musical education. I was exposed to a wide variety of music throughout my childhood, and learned to play a number of instruments. In my family, that was just part of the deal.
As for favorites, I have a soft spot in my head for old-time bluegrass and hill music, Gershwin, Al Green, very early Beatles and the White Album (but not everything else), Bernstein, Bowie, Patti, Rundgren, Laura Nyro, the Roches, Jacques Brel, Joni, Leonard Cohen, and corny ’50s musicals. I warned you.
In terms of influences, I think Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro probably had the biggest influence on my song-writing, and Bowie had the biggest influence on my desires around performance. During college, I would pretty much drop everything to drive long, long, long distances to see Bowie in concert. I’ve never performed with that level of pageantry, but Bowie’s level of engagement with the audience–his desire (and ability) to take them somewhere–was always something I wanted in performance.
Meg Hentges: My earliest musical memories are of my grandfather playing his fiddle. I loved the sound. He was a big influence on me, I always wanted him to be proud of me. He taught me the basics of chords and scales. He loved recording, had all kinds of interesting microphones, drum machines, and tape recorders. That got me curious about the recording process and determined to get my own equipment. When I was a kid I liked any band I saw on television, really. I watched the Grand Ole Opry, the Porter Wagoner Show, Shindig!, Where The Action Is…
Pat Baum: We were a musical family and lived next to a large rambling college campus, with tons of events and films. I remember the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Stones and protest folk singers like Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. We had a great record collection and something was always on the turntable, and us kids collected 45s.
Kimberly Kincaid: My earliest memories of music are from watching old black & white movie musicals from the 1940s on the TV with my mother when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I loved the costumes and sets. I associate these musical memories with love and comfort. ‘Til this day, I find nothing more comforting then an old B&W.
Kt and I would listen to Frank Sinatra’s Sinatra At The Sands when we were pretty little. We would pretend we were performing at a night club. We memorized all the lyrics on the record and would sing along–a hair brush served as a microphone and a mop as a dance partner.
Dusty Springfield, The Beatles, and a K-Tel soul music compilation were parts of our repertoire as well. Listening to music and singing was always a part of childhood.
Kt Kincaid: I remember my mother listening to women like Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Doris Day while she was cleaning the house and Kim & I were playing. She’d sing along, and had a beautiful voice–it was comforting. I continue to love women vocalists of that time period although I’m more drawn to women like Chris Connor or Anita O’Day than to Doris or Judy–still adore Ella!
We were also fortunate to have older siblings who introduced us to artists like the Beatles & Bob Dylan. The Beatles were great fun for kids–I remember seeing Yellow Submarine at the drive-in & loving it–both the music & illustrations.
Bob Dylan was more fascinating to me though–his words painted stories & seemed to capture what was going on in the world of my teenage brother & sister who I idolized. Although I grew up watching the atrocities of the Vietnam War on the evening news, I was too young to really understand. Through Dylan’s music though, I could feel the call for & excitement of rebellion & change.
Also, through my older sister Kristin, I was introduced to women like Aretha Franklin, Bobbie Gentry & Dusty Springfield. Strong, earthy, and vibrant, these women were a far cry from Doris and like Dylan seemed to exemplify a rebellion, each in their own way, that again, I felt more than understood.
The fact that they were women & women were part of this strange new world, was exciting to me as of course I could identify with them more closely. I would say they were among my first heroines and I still love them all to this day!
Seattle Star: What lead you to start playing music?
Jennifer Lobianco: I took violin lessons in grade school, sang in the church choir, played piano and folk guitar for fun.
Meg Hentges: I can’t remember wanting to do much else when I was young. Music was all around me. My grandfather owned a bar, there was live Irish music all summer.
Carol Steinel: See: Dad was a music teacher. Probably that, originally — but my foray into guitar was independent (and divergent) of his influence.
Pat Baum: Well, there was a rag-tag collection of instruments around the house, including a guitar, ukulele, piano, clarinet; I’d always wanted to play the drums. My brother on piano and I used to jam and even wrote a few simple songs when we were 8 and 6, respectively. I had a practice pad and bongos, which I mounted by shoving them into a chair and some pot lids for cymbals.
Kimberly Kincaid: What lead to actually playing music, instead of ‘pretending to be playing music’ was the punk rock movement and childhood friends. Kt. and I played in the band Formica & the Bitches in 1978 with two of our dear childhood friends Kiska Von Schiller & Andrea Lafayette. Jennifer joined later.
I played drums with Formica & the Bitches. The first shows we played, I played a cookie tin because I could not afford a drum kit. Later on, after a couple of shows, I somehow talked my father into buying me a snare and kick drum. I attempted to learn the drums during the brief duration of F&B. I wouldn’t exactly say I was a drummer. Kiska & Andrea moved to London, and I moved to vocals, Pat Baum was recruited as drummer, and Jennifer played guitar that first year the Neo Boys formed.
Kt Kincaid: For whatever reason, I didn’t connect with most of my peers when I was a teenager or in general, the music they listened to. Somehow I found two other girls, Andrea Lafayette & Kiska Von Schiller, and along with my sister, Kim, Andrea’s sister, Lora and a neighbor, Dee Dee Morin, we built a protective fantasy world that centered around rock and roll. We “wrote” our own rock opera, pored over every rock magazine we could lay or hands on, begged, borrowed or stole records, particularly if the artist appeared androgynous, and dreamed of having our own band.
But I would say there were two incidents that lead me to actually move from that dream to reality. The first was finding Suzi Quatro, a woman who rocked not only as a singer (the role) typically assigned to women if they wanted to be in a rock band) but as a powerful bass player as well. I played her first two records on my 8-track over & over–she gave me hope, maybe you didn’t have to be a boy after all!Then seeing pictures in the back of Hit Parader of the Ramones, Sex Pistols & Patti Smith. It was as though I found my people–I know that sounds corny but it truly felt like that. Then after hearing them, I knew it was true. Anything was possible, no matter who you were or how trained or untrained you might be as a musician. The desire to express yourself was all you really needed–it was exciting! Shortly after, Kim, Andrea, Kiska and I formed Formica & The Bitches making our teenage fantasy a reality, and our friend Dee Dee was playing drums in a band called the Products.
Seattle Star: What was your first instrument? How did you buy it? How did you go about learning to play?
Jennifer Lobianco: Very first instrument was harmonica, then accordion, my mom and dad taught me.
Carol Steinel: My first instrument was flute — which I kind of despised. I wanted to be a drummer, but when you’re the band teacher’s kid and every fifth-grade boy in school wants to be a drummer, you have to take up something else. After drums, I wanted trombone, but my arms were too short (I’m a shrimp at four-foot eleven and three quarters). So, I took up flute, with the long-term goal of playing piccolo, which seemed somehow cool. I got moved around a bit in band when dad needed to fill in a section, so I learned to read music on a number of instruments.
But flute wasn’t really my first instrument — and I didn’t buy it — it was supplied to me by parents.
My first instrument was guitar, which I learned on my own at 14, with help from my best friend (who is now a fairly well-known blues singer — Kelly Hunt). I learned chords and strummed along with her to folk songs, learned some Joni tunings. All of this was away and separate from my music-ed family, and I generally played guitar by ear (I can read and follow chords, but cannot read note-for-note on guitar — I suppose I could learn, but I haven’t, and probably won’t).
This was considered a bastardized form of musical ability in my family, and I relished that a bit. Guitar belonged to me, and my first was actually my older brother’s crappy classical. I asked my parents for a guitar for every birthday, Christmas, or other gift-giving occasion from the time I was 14, but didn’t get my very own until I graduated from college, when a friend gave me her twelve-string Martin (and granted me permission to sell it and get something else if I didn’t like it.)
I traded it for a steel-string Yamaha — a nice guitar which I had for many years.
The first instrument I bought for myself was the baby Rickenbacker (possibly a knock-off) that I played with the Neo Boys (purchased from Fred and Toody [of Dead Moon] at Captain Whizeagle’s).
Meg Hentges: My first instrument was a nylon string guitar in the shape of Mickey Mouse. It was a gift. When I was 13 I bought my first electric guitar, a Sears Silvertone. It was another year before I saved up enough money for the matching amp. Actually, that was a great amp–a little 10 watt Silvertone with reverb and tremolo.
I learned to play by trying to copy Buddy Holly and Ventures records.
Pat Baum: My first “real” instrument was the clarinet, my Dad had been given an old metal one as a gift when I was 7, and I took to it. I got a slightly better one and continued playing until I was too cool, at about age 12. I still play and think it is a great instrument, so versatile: classical to jazz and klezmer and everything in between! Later I longed to continue on the drums, and shared a house with a roommate with a drum set and used to jam along to records when no one was home.
Kt Kincaid: Bass guitar was my first instrument (like Suzi!).
At first, the kids involved in trying to create a “punk” scene in Portland shared instruments to a great extent. During Formica & The Bitches, we practiced at a house where those who were also creating bands lived together. The first bass I played belonged to Mike King, I think. I don’t think I even had my own bass until the Neo Boys and not even at the beginning.
The first one that was my own, I paid cash for after saving $$ from my job. It was a shitty Japanese one that sounded just awful but it was all i could afford. Later, I think it was pat who found me “Mr. Mo” (the wonderful Mosrite bass, I was lucky enough to play in Neo Boys) in a hock shop. I think it was $50!
I can’t claim to have really learned to play bass properly. I had an instruction book that taught me what notes were where. But I’ve never been very good at learning practical things from books & the majority of the time, I just made up what sounded good to me, brought it to the band, and said here’s a new song, especially in the beginning.
Jennifer did bring in a couple, but I just figured out how to play what she was playing–there’s no bass line on them, really. Same was true for the guitar parts until Meg was our guitarist. Generally, Jennifer & Carol were simply playing what I was playing.
We didn’t really understand parts. It wasn’t until Meg joined & taught me this magical thing called scales, that I really started understanding the instrument & its role in the structure of a song. I have to admit, I still felt more comfortable bringing in a bass part as the framework for a song but when Meg brought one in, the challenge of creating something separate & complimentary was helping me grow as a musician. She taught me a lot!
Seattle Star: What lead you to punk rock? What outlets and distribution networks did Portland have for punk rock at the time?
Jennifer Lobianco: I published a music magazine in Portland and corresponded with other mags on the west coast including Twisted, Chatterbox, Search and Destroy, Slash. During the time I was in the Neo Boys I co-published a newsletter and was the domestic independent record buyer at Longhair Music and later worked at Renaissance Records with Joe Carducci importing independent records, where for a while Neo Boys practiced and even played there once.
I came from Longhair Music with its focus on classical and soul and rock, but I had connections with the domestic independent labels, so Renaissance Records welcomed me into the fold. Joe was my go-to guy for sure on politics, he was not the most social guy because that wasn’t really what he was about, he was studied (as was also said about me I suppose) but not to a fault. Joe was more than patient with me as I struggled to understand the different ideologies and subcultures going down a continent away. He introduced me to groups like Plastic People of the Universe and Crass, and he set out papers like Sniffin’ Glue, Melody Maker, and NME on a bench in front of the window for everyone to sit and go through, I interviewed Joe once with my cassette recorder, I still have the tape somewhere.
Carol Steinel: My one-and-only-ever boyfriend boyfriend (during college, after I’d been out as a lesbian for a couple of years) was a Bowie fanatic–hence all the driving–and he introduced me to Patti, the Ramones, and Brian Eno. We were both theater majors at a small college in Kansas, and the music was a revelation.
I loved that it was transgressive at its root. Natural, I suppose, since my very existence in a tiny town in Kansas was transgressive.At the time, though, I never imagined that I would play punk rock. I kind of fell into the Neo Boys gig — they needed a guitarist after Jennifer left, and I could play guitar (although the style I played was not at all punk, and I had to learn barre-chording on the fly when I joined the band–I’d also never played an electric guitar ever before the Neo Boys). Just watch me in any of the existing vids — I’m watching my hands the entire time.
The truth is, I was barely aware of “outlets and distribution networks” at the time. I was just there playing music, being young, and haunting the soggy streets with my angst. There were venues–The Earth Tavern, the Long Goodbye, etc.–but to my mind, the “distribution network” was very much person-to-person. Greg Sage [of the Wipers] was probably the person who had the greatest drive to get the scene more exposure.
Meg Hentges: For me it started with listening to music coming out of New York City. I’d grown up on Lou Reed, was a huge Patti Smith fan, and was a fan of the New York Dolls and Television. One of the first “punk” records I ever heard was Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation. I think [Voidoid] Robert Quine was a great guitarist.
Pat Baum: I was lead to it by my anarchist spirit which my father instilled in us from a very young age. It seemed like a perfect outlet for my ideas and energy. I was more of a “doer”, and was called on for all kinds of stuff, besides my drumming, so my talents evolved to be mostly technical, like photography, sound, recording, and instrument repair.
At the time we had to create almost everything, in order to rehearse, record, play live and promote ourselves. It was DIY in its most basic form. If you wanted a scene, you had to make it, and we had the opportunity to make it on our own terms.
Kt Kincaid: There were no outlets or distribution networks for punk rock at the time except those that we created ourselves. I’m not meaning for that to sound facetious or arrogant. It’s simply that very few people even knew what punk rock was–it was just beginning, really. Even the word punk felt like a label imposed by those who didn’t understand. Things like outlets and distribution networks just didn’t exist yet, especially in the small town that Portland was at the time.
As far as hearing recordings by bands outside Portland, at first we had to talk record stores into buying the records & then they would only buy one or two. The first one there got the record. Because there were so few of us, that person could easily share–meaning we would get together and listen to it or take it to Mildred’s Palace [a queer-friendly underage disco] and ask the DJ to play it. There, we’d sit through countless disco songs until our beloved record would be played & we all got up and danced–it was great.
Later, the owners of some record stores started ordering more. Renaissance Records in particular saw the value of this new form of music and made it possible for more of us to get our very own copies of records–that is, if we could afford them, since most were imports and more expensive. But you could hang out and listen if you didn’t have the cash. Eventually, Thor Lindsay, who had been in a local band, the Psychedelic Unknowns, opened up Singles Going Steady, making the music even more accessible.
As far as playing our own music was concerned, most of those who were involved acted together in one way or another. We played in basements. We played in rehearsal spaces. We had short-lived clubs of our own. But mostly, it seemed like we were always trying to talk someone into giving us a space to play, often lying about what we were doing–oh, just a little folk show. We persuaded a couple of bars into allowing underage shows for a while. We rented halls out all over town (there used to be quite a few closed ballrooms) for at least one night or until we were asked not to come back. Friends who were going to college secured performance halls for us & a couple of art galleries would occasionally allow us to put on shows.
When we did manage a place to play, whatever bands were together often performed together, sometimes with as many as ten on a bill, since there was no telling how long it would be until we could find (or afford) another place.
These shows generally received little or no mention by the press–not even a listing. So we relied on posters and fanzines to get the word out around town. Also, because the “punk” scene in general was still very small, when “punk” bands from out of town came to Portland we usually hung out and exchanged stories, perspectives & ideas. We offered mutual support if we liked each other so I guess that was a little like a network.
We recorded our own records but as far as distribution goes, it meant going to the library. They used to have phone books there for major cities around the country. I remember going to the record store section in them one by one, writing down their addresses or phone numbers & then calling or sending them a letter asking if they wanted to buy our records. Needless to say, it wasn’t very effective but we didn’t have/know any other way.Seattle Star: What were your favorite punk rock artists and albums, and why?
Jennifer Lobianco: Patti Smith, Slits, Wipers, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Zeroes, Avengers, and the Screamers, because they were poetic and yet offbeat at the same time.
Carol Steinel: Proto-punk? New York Dolls–Too Much Too Soon.
True punk? The Ramones–particularly the debut album, but maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.
New Wave? Talking Heads–Fear of Music
Why? I think I tended to gravitate to bands and artists that simultaneously took themselves very seriously, and weren’t afraid to be goofy.
Meg Hentges: I liked Television, Joy Division, Young Marble Giants. But I usually bought singles, and I usually bought 7-inch singles by local bands.
Pat Baum: I liked Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Television and The Buzzcocks, X-Ray Specs, and James Chance.
Kt Kincaid: Sorry, but I hate to play favorites. There were & still are many, many punk rock artists that I love both locally and internationally, sometimes for very different reasons. I just can’t pick.
Seattle Star: How did the Neo Boys first get together? Where did the name come from? Did the band grow out of Formica and the Bitches?
Kt Kincaid: Yes, Neo Boys grew out of Formica & The Bitches. As I mentioned earlier, Kiska (Formica) & Andrea were teenage friends of Kim and me. Jennifer had been writing as a rock journalist here in Portland. I had read & admired her work but didn’t really know her as she was quite a bit older than us. Truthfully, I was kind of surprised when she asked to join a band with a bunch of teenagers, but we liked her so welcomed her in. The band was very short-lived. Still, it afforded the four of us the opportunity to live out our teenage dream of playing rock and roll together.
It was great fun, but when Kiska & Andrea left to experience the punk scene in London, I think Kim and I wanted to be more serious about what we were doing as far as music was concerned. She wanted to write & sing, instead of drum and we met Pat who wanted to play drums instead of clarinet. Jennifer decided to stay with us, at least for awhile, and so things fell right into place quite naturally.
Neo boys is taken from the poem, “neo boy the son of a neck rilke” by Patti Smith. [Smith’s lines] “The word art must be redefined. This is the age where everyone creates,” seemed just right not only for the scene we were involved in, but as girls within that scene.
Pat Baum: A poem by Patti Smith, which we wanted to read at our [recent] event, but realized it said the N-word numerous times and felt it was no longer appropriate as a representation of what the Neo Boys embodied.
Seattle Star: How were Neo Boys songs written? Who was in charge?
Jennifer Lobianco: Everything was put together at rehearsals, we rehearsed every night, no one seemed to be in charge, I guess.
Carol Steinel: When I was playing with the band, they already had an established stable of songs, but when new songs were written during my tenure, generally, someone would bring the outline of lyrics or concept for a song and we’d collaborate on it. I think I only made the initial pitch for one song. Generally, Kim and Kt drove the process.
Meg Hentges: The songs were written in such informal ways it’s tempting to think they just sprung up organically. Usually Kt would come up with a riff, Pat would listen and start to play along. I would puzzle over it, maybe try a couple of chords or melodies.
I wasn’t very adept at improvisation, not the in-tune kind. Sometimes I would have to go slowly over the notes with Kt until I could hear something that would fit. Kim was always writing–I remember her sitting on an amp, drinking coffee, deep in thought with notebook and pen.
And no one was ever in charge.
Pat Baum: Lyrics were written by Kim and in the early years KT and Jennifer would work on the music, then I would add the drum part. When Meg joined the band, it was a collaboration between KT and Meg. Who was in charge? No one was in charge, it was a true collective effort.
Kimberly Kincaid: Pat, Kt. & I were learning our instruments, writing songs and practicing, even when we did not have a guitarist.
The process of song writing varied with each guitarist. When Meg began playing with us, all of us, as members of the band, really understood and respected one another, both musically and otherwise, and that mutual respect gave way to freedom within the realm of music and expression.
Kt Kincaid: Usually, either Meg, Jennifer, or myself would come to practice with the musical framework for a song (I don’t think Carol ever did), & play it a few times. Then whatever guitarist hadn’t brought it in would start to play along. Pat & Kim would listen. Then Pat would join in and Kim would listen as we played it a few times. Then within the next day or two Kim would bring lyrics she thought would go with the song and start singing, making them fit.
There were deviations but in general that’s what we’d do. No one was in charge. No one ever said, you should play this or that. No one ever said you should say this or that or sing it in a certain way. Even if I had been the person who brought in the original framework, I always felt that how it actually evolved into a song was pure collaboration–we did it together.Seattle Star: How did the band secure its first few gigs, and what was the crowd reaction?
Jennifer Lobianco: We only played all-ages shows so we played where we could, everyone involved in the scene came up with places, the crowds were so diverse I never knew what to expect, everything from artists to bikers.
Pat Baum: We had to create our own spaces to perform and do all the publicity. There were no promoters back then for local bands. In the later years, the Alternative Arts Association ran various clubs and would host show by local or out-of-town bands. It was run like a collective, with participation from band members and fans. Everyone had something to contribute, and that is how it was able to work. No one got paid, but making money was really not an objective.
Kt Kincaid: It’s all kinda blurry, because we weren’t working completely alone. Meaning, if we figured out how to secure a room we’d share it with other bands, and if another band secured a room, they shared with us. So I can’t remember who secured what.
I think Pat might have talked someone into letting us put on our first show in public, Black Flag Day, at Lewis and Clark college. We played with the Fix, Ice 9, and the Products. We played at revenge club early on which was a collaborative effort.
By “crowd,” you are probably talking about 25 people at most–remember, this was quite underground. But I always felt we were very much supported & encouraged by our small community and our performances were always met with enthusiasm and respect. Occasionally people from the established rock scene would come to a show & snigger, but they didn’t really matter at all to us.
Seattle Star: How did being one of the few all-female bands on the scene affect your reception and perceptions? How did the band’s approach relate to feminism? Jennifer Lobianco: I didn’t think much about it except that I thought that women’s voices should be heard, I’d spent the summer of 1977 in Hollywood and saw women play in the Germs and Bags and X.
Carol Steinel: I had the sense of a wide variety of reactions/responses to us–both from audiences and other bands on the scene. There’s no doubt that there was always some quality of being a “novelty” as an all-female band, but as an out lesbian, I wasn’t dealing with inter-band romances as some of the other members were, so I think my awareness of those reactions was different.
Some of the other musicians seemed to me to go out of their way to treat us equally. Others seemed to value us for our novelty (and the resulting possible draw) while still viewing us as just a “girl band” (and therefore, not serious).
One gig does stand out for me in terms of this–we played the Oregon State Penitentiary (I’m thinking with the Bop Zombies?)–and there was this weird dynamic that I hadn’t anticipated–when we got up to play, it was obvious that the inmates were jazzed that there were women on stage. But the moment we started playing, it became pretty clear that we were not the chicks they were looking for. This might have been the first time that I was so keenly aware that I was a woman playing in a man’s arena.Meg Hentges: By the time I arrived on the scene in Portland, there were already several all-female bands and lots of mixed gender bands. I never thought of an all-female band as any more strange than an all-male band, it was just another variation. It felt completely natural to make music with other women. I was so fortunate to find these three strong women to create with.
Pat Baum: We didn’t want to draw attention to that, we hoped to be treated as the same as the boy bands. How did the band’s approach relate to feminism? In our belief for equality and justice for all.
Kt Kincaid: Punk was initially, at least in part, a rebellion against the established rock order, and this included how women had historically fit into it. Women could be sexy (according to the male paradigm), cute, sultry, or ditzy and this was only if they were a singer, certainly not a drummer–how could you see their legs behind a drum kit? They could sing about, oh let’s see, men–how they loved them or how they were victimized by them. Of course there were exceptions, but very few, it seemed.
Obviously by choosing the name Neo Boys we didn’t want our gender to be an issue. We didn’t want to be limited by those roles mentioned above in any way–those clichés were for someone else’s generation. Instead, we just wanted to be ourselves, express what was on our minds, which didn’t happen to be boys, and rock in our own way.
If you liked us that was great, but we didn’t want to be liked (or despised for that matter) just because we happened to be girls. We wanted to be judged on our own merit as equally as one would judge an all-boy band and nothing else. I still feel that way.
Again, I felt that within our small community we were absolutely accepted based on what we were trying to do musically. I felt great support there. Plus, there were so many other women involved, it wasn’t like we were the only ones playing instruments–we may have been all-girl but we were certainly not the only girls.
Gender truly didn’t seem to matter & it was really great! However, there were times when we ventured beyond our scene with a less than warm reception. Always billed as an all-girl band (urg!), I’m afraid we were disappointing to those expecting a performance based on tits and ass.
Seattle Star: Who came up with the idea of publishing punk rock newsletters? What were these called, how many were printed up, and what sort of content did they feature? How did people on the scene receive them? Were they successful in attracting touring bands to Portland?
Jennifer Lobianco: The newsletter I worked on grew out of the music magazine which had a print run of 2000. We tapped our friends from up and down the West Coast and interviewed musicians and artists and Xeroxed it and gave it away at shows. It seemed like everyone liked them, we used the date of the show as the name of the newsletter like 12-24-78. Randy Moe and Reed Darmon both went to art school so it looked pretty good, we copied as many as we could afford
Kt Kincaid: ‘Zines were created by a number of people, it was no one person’s idea. It was a relatively, cheap means of communication that focused on encouraging people outside our small circle to come to local shows, listen to punk rock music (really, it’s not that scary!), attend local alternative art exhibits, and participate artistically in our community in any way they wished.
As I mentioned, local mainstream press like Willamette Week either dismissed or lied about punk and alternative press like JD magazine seemed preoccupied by scenes outside of Portland. In order to reach out to people, ‘zines were created pretty much out of necessity.
Some of these were: Magazine X, Boom, Revolting Teenage Press, Noize, Paranoid Press, & AZ. They were most often made collaboratively. They contained interviews, poetry, record & local concert reviews, stories, comics, artwork ,and a list of upcoming events in Portland that people might want to check out,. They always cried out for contributions. We wanted people involved!
They were “published” by Xeroxing them in small runs of about 50 (you could always Xerox more if you ran out) and distributed by hand at shows, to high schools, to strangers in downtown Portland, and to some local record shops. No, they were not successful at attracting touring bands, but that wasn’t really their intention.Seattle Star: Who organized the punk rock house parties? Which houses hosted them? Did live bands ever play? How crucial were they to the scene?
Jennifer Lobianco: The house parties were very important, there was no charge for them, space was limited, a perfect place to hear upstart bands.
Pat Baum: There were apartments scattered all over SW and NW, and there was a house in Laurelhurst and one on 12th and Lincoln or Grant, where the Neo Boys used to practice.
Did live bands ever play? Sometimes but we had to be careful of Portland noise ordinances, which were strictly enforced in those days.
How crucial were they to the scene? They were crucial as gathering places, we did have formal meetings in the early days for organization purposes, later people found their roles, i.e. promotion, journalism, poster making, poster plastering, etc.
Kt Kincaid: Yes live bands played at house parties that were organized or just happened, at the houses we lived in, usually with several people. Any place to play was crucial.
Seattle Star: What venues existed for the scene at that time, and what were they like?
Jennifer Lobianco: Revenge was the first actual venue I remember, then a lot of rented halls, then the Long Goodbye where Tony the owner figured out how to do all ages shows downstairs.
Carol Steinel: When I was playing, the Earth, the Long Goodbye–we played a local senior center, and if I recall correctly, a Christmas tree somehow ended up being thrown through an amp at that gig.
The Earth is the venue I remember best (and I attended the most concerts there as a spectator as well). It was largish and always a bit gritty. Transitions between bands were very informal, as I recall, as one group left the stage and another went on. This was the case for most venues we played — the scene was informal in terms of stage-to-audience interaction.
At the Earth, I remember the audience as being less kinetic and more attentive–lots of silent standing.
Pat Baum: Some were practice places turned mini-venues (Red’s Studio) Others were rented halls in universities, labor halls, Norse, Odd Fellows and other fraternal organization halls.
Kimberly Kincaid: The ‘punk’ scene in Portland was a youth movement. Fanzines, house parties, shows, formed spontaneously and ended spontaneously. Anyone who wanted to make something, do something, whatever it was, just did it. The small group of people who were involved in the “scene” supported it. House parties for a time, served as the only way to hear local punk bands, and hangout. “Happenings” were spread by word of mouth.
Most of us were under 21 and Portland only had a bar scene. Though, there was an underage gay disco [Mildred’s Place] where we could go and be ourselves. The D.J. would sometimes play a few punk records at the end of the evening. We had the dance floor to ourselves to pogo and thrash around.
It wasn’t until people within the scene started to take charge and get creative with where to host shows for bands to perform to a larger audience. Hitting up colleges, art galleries, community centers.
A collective arts organization was formed and a building was rented in downtown Portland to house a performance space for bands, an art gallery and practice rooms for bands. It was called Clockwork Joe’s. Those who wanted to participate could and those who did not…didn’t. People made their own choices of their level of involvement.
Around this time period there was “The New Arts Center” which lasted a few weeks. A few West coast punk bands touring through Portland at the time played there. And there was Noise club in northeast Portland, it had the longest run staying open as a club.
These times were all pre-hardcore punk days, and under-age venues. It was not a bar scene. It wasn’t until later, a couple of bars and promoters could see they could capitalize on the scene and allowed “split shows” of under 21 & over 21 audiences, or act as the responsible party to promote a show, for a slice of the pie.Kt Kincaid: The venues that existed were Revenge Club, Community Arts Center, Urban Noize, Friction, and Clockwork Joe’s. Again however, short-lived by most standards. All but Urban Noize were run collectively and all were all-ages venues. The ones I was involved in were places to live, work, practice, play, hang out, see great art, hear fabulous bands, discuss ideas & exchange opinions. They were in cool old buildings that no one wanted–most are gone now.
Seattle Star: What was the most challenging part of being a Neo Boy, and how did you respond to that challenge?
Jennifer Lobianco: Playing the guitar was the hardest thing for me, especially when I went from the Silvertone to a Mustang, I practiced all the time.
Carol Steinel: For me–learning to play in a completely different style. I loved punk, but had never played it. My guitar performance background was bluegrass and folk. I always felt a bit out of place in the band, and had the sense that I was scrambling to keep up.
It must have been a difficult transition for the rest of the band, too, because I followed Jennifer, who had established a certain sensibility of the guitar role in the Neo Boys. Stylistically, I wasn’t really a great fit for them, and I think we all knew that. It’s why you don’t hear much about me. No worries–I’m realistic about it, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
I think, too, that my age difference and cultural background was a challenge. I was older than KT and Kim, and at the time, it felt like I was much older (at 22, four or five years feels like a lot). As a newcomer to the Northwest, and to life in the city, I was definitely trying to look/act cool enough to be doing what I was doing. How did I respond to that challenge? Pure bluffing. Not that I knew this at the time.
Meg Hentges: It’s hard for me to think of any of it as a challenge. There were songs to write, guitars to string, tunes to record, people to contact, shows to set up, shows to play, shows to attend, posters to glue. I liked it. Life wasn’t perfect, I certainly caused myself plenty of painful problems, but I was young and dumb and sometimes ignorance is the key to adventure. Being in Neo Boys was a great adventure.
Pat Baum: It was getting decent gear, finding a place to practice and finding places to play, promoting them, and of course, the cops.
Kt Kincaid: Trying to remember what happened 30 years ago–ha ha. I’m doing my best. Sorry.
Seattle Star: What lead to the various lineup changes?
Carol Steinel: I left the band after I had problems with a member of another band that we’d been double-booking with. My recollection is that I quit in the back of an unheated panel van on the way back from a gig in Seattle. In all honesty, I was a bit of a drama queen back in those days, and sitting on top of a chilly amplifier probably didn’t improve my communication skills.
Pat Baum: Jennifer left and it was very difficult to find a replacement. The guitarists we had before Meg were not really compatible with our style and values. When we finally found Meg through a mutual friend, we knew she was what we’d been looking for.Kt Kincaid: Oh, different things: Different perspectives, irreconcilable differences, and desire for change–in that order.
Among the small group of kids initially drawn to punk in Portland, there was a burning desire to be heard from and to expose more kids to punk rock. Many of us felt that the best way to do this was to join forces and form a collective. Each participant would share their talents: art, music, writing, labor, organizational skills, even age, since a lot of us were under 18 and couldn’t sign rental agreements. And anyone who was even remotely interested in punk was welcomed with open arms at the time.
Kim, Pat, and myself were enthusiastic about this & embraced it wholeheartedly–in our minds, all were our comrades. Jennifer did not share our enthusiasm. She told us if we participated, she would leave the band. The three of us chose what we perceived to be a cause over the individual.
I’m not saying we were right and she was wrong. Recently she told Kim & I [that] it was certain individuals involved of the male persuasion that she objected to. And in retrospect, there were times when at least one of these tried to exert more control than many felt comfortable with. But there was always a vote for decisions made, so it didn’t have to be so.
On the other hand, the cooperative did manage to accomplish a lot together that I’m not sure would have been possible at the time if we had been scattered. We managed to bring some touring bands to town, opened our own clubs, built our own practice hall, housed an art gallery, put on countless shows (which meant people working without pay to organize, promote, secure a space, do sound, and work before, during and after each) and recorded records including, a live album of those who were participating at the time. No one involved did these for themselves, they did it for the whole & the scene actually did grow.
As far as Carol leaving was concerned, she just came from a different background then the three of us. She had been an acoustic folk guitarist & I don’t think she ever felt comfortable or interested in being part of the scene we were trying to create. In her favor, she did always come to practice and was always a good sport in learning new songs. But she didn’t contribute songs (although she did write lyrics for one), didn’t go to shows or work to promote them, either ours or those of others. It felt like she was always separate from us.
I know that doesn’t seem like it should matter, but at the time it did. Our values clashed. In retrospect, I think we expected too much from her, especially me, truthfully. When she took the side of an-out-of-town club owner who had guaranteed to pay us & then did not, we were outraged. Looking back, I’m sure she was just trying to smooth things over, but to us, it felt like a betrayal—oh, the follies of youth!
We went about 9 months without a guitarist after that. It was very difficult to find another woman who played electric guitar (& we were certain that was what we wanted this time). There were a few, but they were in their own bands by that time. Still, the three of us practiced every single day. Then a friend met Meg at a community college & she asked him if he knew anyone looking for a guitarist. He gave her our phone number. When we met & then played together, it really did feel like she was everything I had been dreaming of. It turned out she was!
Seattle Star: What have you done and where have you gone since being a Neo Boy?
Jennifer Lobianco: After leaving the band I lived in Hollywood and worked at the phone company there, then I came back to Portland and worked at the local weekly paper, I did research for a couple of books including Melissa Rossi’s biography of Courtney Love and I was Gus Van Sant’s housekeeper for a while.
Carol Steinel: I grew up and got a “regular job,” too, just like Portland (social work at the Housing Authority of Portland)– after about a decade of that, I became self-employed as a Jill-of-All-Trades under the business name “Renaissance Woman” doing everything from writing grants to building houses. I’ve remained self-employed ever since. In terms of performance and music, I performed stand-up comedy and music with success during the late 80’s and early 90’s–you can find some of my old stuff from that period on YouTube if you’re so inclined. I did political and social humor, some in response to anti-queer crap in Oregon, and apparently, was funny enough to tour and make it into a book called Revolutionary Laughter.
Since the mid-90’s, I’ve been a spiritual teacher and counselor. Currently, I’m back living in Kansas (which I never imagined would happen) caring for my aging parents.
Meg Hentges: I moved to Austin, Texas, and joined a band called Two Nice Girls as a guitar player. I began writing songs with my partner, Jude O’Nym. She is a bass player and poet. We recorded an EP and an LP for Tim/Kerr records, and an LP for Robbins/BMG.
Since moving to California we’ve been recording music for www.tinytop.bandcamp.com. I’ve taken up kayaking and photography.
I’m so happy with the new Neo Boys Sooner or Later LP. I think it’s really good, I love the artwork, the song choices. It’s a great tribute. Thanks to everyone at K Records!
Pat Baum: I live in Mexico and work with young people on environmental projects, like habitat conservation for endangered sea turtles, and protecting the natural beauty of the Baja Peninsula. I also write screenplays and play ukulele.
Kimberly Kincaid: Once the “hardcore punk” become more prominent on the scene, I really lost interest and started listening to a lot of reggae-dub and older Country-Western music. Music will forever and always be a huge component of inspiration in my life. Presently, I am exploring the many different genres of Latin music.
Kt Kincaid: I’ve been to Paris—that’s all that matters.