Why was Gretchen Phillips voted into the Austin Chronicle’s 2000-2001 Music Poll Hall of Fame? Let’s see. Her choice to put a lesbian point of view front and center in her songs has been cited as an inspiration to such indie pop sensations as Le Tigre, The Butchies and Pansy Division. Her bold and creative use of Casio presets has been cited as an influence on Austin’s own foul-mouthed music sensation Hug. And, very arguably, where would Riot Grrrrl be without Meat Joy, her seminal first band, which artfully combined sexual politics with lots of humor?
Yes, her twenty-four years in Austin have been well spent. A Texas native, Gretchen moved to Austin in 1981 after finishing up three years at the prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston where she was in a band with Sara Hickman. She immediately fell into the flourishing, incredibly creative Austin punk scene. Emboldened by the unapologetic and sexy outness of such local gay punk stars as Biscuit of The Big Boys and Gary Floyd of The Dicks, she decided to forge a path of her own in the hitherto underrepresented genre of “lezzie rock.” Flanked by her wonderful gay and straight, male and female band mates and vowing to put the “sex back in homosexuality,” Meat Joy, released a “…stinging, springy assault on sexual warfare that has to be heard to be believed” according to New Music Express, Oct. ’84. They purchased 1500 blank album covers and with the help of the Austin community hand decorated every single one. They shared the stage with such acts as The Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Sun City Girls and The Meat Puppets. As much a performance art troupe as a punk or even folk band, after winning Best Avante-Garde/Experimental Band in the Austin Chronicle‘s 1984-85 Music Poll, they, of course, broke up.
Saddened but free, Gretchen quickly formed two different all-girl bands in the summer of 1985. Girls in the Nose was the more rocking, electric outfit and Two Nice Girls was the more acoustic. She devoted equal time to both bands, but Two Nice Girls captured Austin’s heart more quickly. Aided by the enthusiastic support of Mark Pratz (who then ran the Continental Club) and Austin Chronicle columnist Michael Corcoran, they built a loyal audience both gay and straight.
When invited to play at the very first SXSW conference, they initially balked because of lack of payment. Fortunately they got off their high horses and ended up having a great show at the Hole in the Wall with The Wagoneers. And then, as if in a dream, Two Nice Girls was signed by Rough Trade Records as a result of that first SXSW.