Local Current Blog

Germaine Gemberling reflects on her time in Smut

Photo by Ben Clark

The year is 1984 and the Minneapolis music scene has officially exploded. I am a St. Paul girl going on 13 years old, growing up by Macalaster College listening to WMCN radio station kick out some serious Twin Cities talent and catching the 94B bus downtown to attend every all-ages show possible at First Avenue.

The first concert I attend is the Replacements. And hanging out at Northern Lights record store, I am flipping through vinyl regularly and reading Maximum Rock and Roll.

The friends I’m making are a bit older and the warehouse parties with “live” music I’m attending would host an introduction to some amazing local bands: Run Westy Run, Trip Shakespere, the Clams, the Widgets, the Suburbs, Husker Du, Babes in Toyland, Zuzu’s Petals, the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum and Golden Smog. I can’t get enough! By then, I knew: I had to front my own band.

Dawn Miller and I were conspiring and making plans for our all-girl punk rock band, that we eventually formed in 1989. We met Germain Walseth and Krissy Johnson, and together it had been determined what our places would be in the band. I would be the singer, Dawn would play guitar, Germain would play bass and Krissy would play drums. And just like that, we all went out and bought our instruments, got a practice space and started a band.

  1. Listen Smut, “Alone”

At the time, I was working at the Upper Crust, which was a coffee shop/cafe directly across the street from Twin/Tone Records on 26th and Nicollet. It was where I would meet every hipster that ever walked the earth.

Our first practice space was at the Pagan Warehouse in downtown Minneapolis, located behind the old Greyhound bus station. Many Minneapolis bands practiced there. It was there that we would start writing the songs that we would be playing out and later recording.

We were inspired by the Clams, Babes in Toyland and Zuzu’s Petals, not only because they were women who could rock as hard as the guys, but they also encouraged us to play our music. They invited us to their parties and there was a feeling of camaraderie.

Photo by Glen Jones

Eventually, SMUT would play our first high-profile show, opening for Babes in Toyland and Zuzu’s Petals in 1991 at an outdoor Mother’s Day music festival at the U of M.

We started out DIY and put our first single out in 1991 with the help of Profane Existence, which was an underground alternative publication/record label.

In June of 1992 we signed to Lori Barbero’s label “Spanish Fly” imprint with co-founders Tom Duclos and Jeremy Grosser on Twin/Tone/Restless Records. It was our lucky break; they really helped us get out there.

  1. Listen Smut, “Symphony #1”

Eventually Estelle Thielen replaced Krissy on drums and we had a new batch of songs. Our music was getting airplay, we were regularly gigging and making records, and I still wasn’t 21.

We had been playing the 7th St. Entry and the Uptown Bar since 1991, getting our chops down and learning how to ask for what we needed from our soundman without being too annoying. With a band name like SMUT and being all female, people were curious and we had a good following because of it.

We were still teaching ourselves our instruments and perfecting our craft. Self-taught and never limiting ourselves, we were determined to get better. The local press and media gave us decent exposure and Spanish Fly would help us take it to the next level.

I am so grateful to the wonderful people and strong women who inspired me along the way: Lori Barbero, Cindy Lawson, Laurie Lindeen, Linda Pitmon, Michelle Leon, and Kat Bjelland. I am happy to call them friends and occasionally still get to see them rock.

I like to believe we were all part of something very special at that time.

Hear Smut and their peers today at noon on the Local Current stream as Andrea Swensson celebrates the women who rocked the 1980s and ’90s in the Twin Cities. And find recent music and news about Germaine Gemberling on her website.

Photo by Glen Jones