Music

Music was the center of my life for almost two decades and yet it has not appeared in my bio for ten years. I left it out because of shame and bruised feelings I had about the things I had tried to do and failed. I failed to say what I meant to say; I failed to shake off the self-consciousness that kept me from being totally free on stage; I failed to be successful in ways that the world would recognize and deem cool. 

By the time I made my first record in 1995, I had been writing songs and playing in clubs for almost ten years. I had opened for The Ramones and Faith No More in Europe and stood on street corners playing guitar in the snow all through the Eastern Bloc, Turkey, and Europe. I don’t have any existing recordings from those years—they were all on cassette. This means I was about 105 in music years by the time I was 25 and playing music in Seattle in the 1990s and 257 years old when I stopped playing music in my early 30s. 

Issy Feldman (bassist) and me in a bathroom when we opened for The Ramones 1990. 

An interview I did years later about being a woman in music and Seattle in the 90s for These Streets 

Bell – the mid 90s

I moved to Seattle in the early 1990s and formed a band called Bell. We made records in the gap between CD and digital and were not famous enough to be collectible on vinyl. Someone uploaded a song to YouTube. Another stranger uploaded our first record, A Clear Sense of Beauty, to a back-alley archive of the Internet. They also kindly scraped off what I imagine was a bargain basement sticker on the cover. https://archive.org/details/cd_a-clear-sense-of-beauty_bell_0/disc1/01.+Bell+-+Loose+%26+Unsubdued.flac It very mid 90s but my daughter says it’s her favorite of mine. 

https://tinhouse.com/fuck-90s-nostalgia/

I had mixed feelings for many years, but mostly frustrations with my own songwriting. I loved everyone in the band.

Susan Rea with Buttercup (our van), which Mojo Nixon redubbed “Butterball”

Bell made two records, an EP and two 7inches. We did five west coast tours and two 45-date national tours. We played with The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, John Doe, Sleater-Kinney, and many of the great regional bands at the time. We lived in our van (a bread truck named Buttercup), toured like humans, and made friends all over the country. 

The Pinkos

In 2000, I formed The Pinkos with Steve Moriarty from The Gits. We both loved being in The Pinkos but out tenure was cut short by bi-polar episodes, alcoholism, hours of union organizing, and the end of several chapters in both of our lives. 

I noticed recently that Steve, like me, had deleted his decade in Seattle music off his bio. I’ll have to ask him about that he next time I see him. 

Lost Years

I didn’t write songs for years after that. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I gave away all the posters and records and pictures and only picked up the guitar occasionally to play covers for friends or kids. I did end up toying with it about ten years later, writing songs and playing a few shows, but it’s still a confusing area of my life. The best songs I ever wrote have not been recorded and I doubt they ever will be. 

Nitebrite

In 2006, I was talking with friends and we were bitching that the goth we grew up with – Bauhaus, Joy Division, Tones on Tale, Spacemen 3, Love and Rockets—had been supplanted by “velvet-gloved fairy walkers in Victorian brown” and was all background music for the opium den. 

We joked that we should form a band and called Nitebrite, write “PAIN” on a Lite-Brite, and bring it to shows. Our first records would be numbers with decimal points because nihilism, but our 4th record would be our sellout record, More About Japan with the crossover hit, “Some Kinds of Geisha.” 

It was a shit-talk, but I took it as a dare and booked a show at a club for three weeks after that conversation without the three of us ever having played together. The week I booked the show, I sat down to write our hit Some Kinds of Geisha and other tracks on our sellout record, More About Japan.

In the meantime, the drummer posted nonsense to the local Internet goth communities claiming that we were “Portland’s only true goth band.” We had thought it would clearly be understood as a joke since we didn’t exist. But, you know, goths. Heavy on eyeliner, light on humor.  We were excised from inception. Our Behind the Music videos (here and here) were also gravely misunderstood. 

Nitebrite also has 3 rules: 

  1. A 1:1 ratio of practice to live shows 
  •  Never more than two verses, ALWAYS 2 guitar solos 

See: Salem radio show

Beyond how we came to the band, we were musicians and loved what we were doing. The band wasn’t the joke, the idea that we were expecting anything out of it was the joke. Old and beleaguered, the framing freed us of expectation. When we play out, which we do every couple of years for no reason, we tend to play at Dinosaur Jr. volumes, unheard of by contemporary audiences, another relic of my generation in music.