One of the perks of this job is that you occasionally get to talk to people who you’ve long admired from afar. Wednesday morning was one of those times, when I spoke with Christina Marrs. She’s one of the founding members of the Austin-based Asylum Street Spankers, a band I listened to while attending UT nearly every Wednesday night at their standing gig at the Electric Lounge (R.I.P.)
On Friday, she and the five other full-time members of the Spankers will play the Granada Theater, mixing a cocktail that’s equal parts traditionalist and tawdry. You’ll rarely see a band that can seamlessly slide from a heartfelt Gospel standard to a song like “I’m a Bear in a Ladies Boudoir.”
Here’s what Christina had to say about what you can expect on Friday:
I’ve been searching for years for the right way to describe the Spankers’ music, and I don’t ever feel like I can get it quite right. How would you describe it?
Christina Marrs: We have similar problems. I’ve been doing this 15 years, and I still have trouble describing it to people. There’s just no convenient, three-word catch phrase. I like some things that a couple of reviewers have come up with. One was “post-modern jug band.” I really liked that. Another was “punk-rock vaudeville.”
Well, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only person who has had that problem.
C.M.: Oh, no – I face similar problems all the time. “So what’s your band like?” Uh …
The band has always had a split personality – part traditionalists and part sinners. Have you found over the years that fans prefer one side over the other?
C.M.: I think that’s part of what sets us aside from a straight-up novelty band. I think our fans like that we can be reverent and irreverent in the same show. … We’re not afraid to use humor and be bawdy, but it’s not all just one giant joke.
On your myspace page, you say that you have a very low tolerance for “idiots and drunks.” That must be tough for someone who performs in a lot of clubs and bars?
C.M.: [Laughs] Yeah, it can be kind of a challenge sometimes. I don’t drink – I quit drinking about 10 years ago. And it’s hard to deal with certain people when you’re sober and you’re at work! I find that especially if there is a particular annoying person stalking me throughout the evening, I’ll have to lock myself in the green room until everyone’s gone home.
I’ve always wondered where the band’s name came from.
C.M.: Asylum Street refers to Guadalupe here in Austin, which is also known as The Drag, and it’s the main quarter that goes right in front of UT here. If you look at a really old map of Austin, you see the city center, and then way, way out on the outskirts, north of town, is the insane asylum, which, of course, is now called the state hospital. And the street that lead out to it is what is now Guadalupe. So it was referred to as “Asylum Street.” Actually, it might have been “Asylum Avenue” – I’m not sure now – but Asylum Avenue Spankers just didn’t have the same ring. But we started out busking on that same street. The spankers part refers to an old musicology term that refers to a “spanker” as being someone who can play their instrument vigorously or with skill, as in, “Spank that bass!” or “Spank that guitar!” Anyway, that’s our story.