The Pocketknife is mightier than the sword

The residents of the Pocketknife, aka, local bands Baby Guts and Kitten Forever, are musicians, egalitarians and girls, in that order

Haily Gostas

For the hundredth time already, Laura Larson is not an angry person.

Despite what so many of her interviewers and Isaac, that one radio listener hailing all the way from Alaska’s freezing bowels (“What could have happened to make you so mad?” he inquired in an e-mail), have a habit of implying, the pint-sized ringleader of raucous feminist punk rockers Baby Guts isn’t a tantrum-thrower screeching to hear her own voice.

Baby Guts & Kitten Forever (w/ Pussy Pirates, Hey There Cowboy, and the Vignettes)

WHEN: Thursday, August 9, 10 p.m.
WHERE: Big V’s, 1567 University Ave. W., St. Paul
TICKETS: $5, 21-plus, www.bigvs.com

“I don’t think I am, at least,” the actually very affable singer-guitarist claimed, curling up on the couch-strewn porch of her Uptown house-venue hybrid, the Pocketknife. “I mean, there’s a lot to be pissed about right now, but isn’t that the point of being in a band? It helps you release everything.”

Anyhow, those critics are probably just nervous, quick to peg because they’re shaking in their boots at the thought of a forward-thinking female – my, how very brazen! – piloting a pack of equally open-minded men (bassist Taylor Motari and drummer Zam Zam Goswitz) with three chords and an assaultive set of vocal chords to boot.

Listening to just the first few opening shreds of Baby Guts’ 20-minute debut EP “Gasoline” is like allowing an army of anarchistic-feministic attitudes to smash a bottle in your face. Either that, or like a cage match that pits acid-tongued punk-rock air raids, sludgy grunge at 10 times the tempo, and, hell, the apocalypse against one another, making them headbutt for the last case of beer. No matter which way you spin it, Larson’s one hard-hitting broad who, like the best of ’em, is on to something worthwhile.

Pocketknife housemate Liz Elton, the singer-songwriter for the equally awesomely named drums ‘n bass dance-thrash outfit Kitten Forever (of which Larson is also a member), is in the same league of aggressive, progressive females, and she’s just fine with openly fuming over the state of things through her so-cute-it’ll-tear-your-heart-straight-out-your-chest music.

“Kitten Forever is definitely an angry band, even if we don’t seem that way,” she said. “Personally, I’m pissed about a lot of things – overt masculinity, the abuse of gender roles and everyone that has issues with fat people.”

Larson and Elton (along with Motari, Goswitz and Kitten Forever’s cymbal-crashing Corrie Harrigan) jump-started and now help maintain the Pocketknife space for all those reasons and more. Since last April, the house has stood for the promotion of a more unique punk community citywide, first and foremost by discouraging any sexist, racist, homophobic ridiculousness and second by encouraging girls to seize hold of their own musical projects and thus get what they have to off their chests (which you shouldn’t be staring at, by the way).

“We seem to have established a reputation as the ‘girl house,’ and sometimes that hinders people,” Larson admitted. “But I’ve found that the people who don’t want to come here are usually the ones we don’t want anyway. It’s that simple.”

To her, those “people” are certain members of the Minneapolis music scene who unfortunately still need their fair share of eye-opening.

“The whole thing is too violent and too misogynistic,” she continued. “Houses have shows where people just beat the shit out of each other in basements. We want everyone to feel accepted, no matter what their race or gender, even if they don’t have all the opportunities in the world.”

And more often than not, they don’t. It seems there is still a general hard-to-swallow stance on girl-centric rock bands, even today and even despite a slew of tough-as-nails trailblazers like Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, The Slits, PJ Harvey, Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip. The common trap of “Do you want to be seen as a woman in music or as a serious musician?” begs yet another question: What makes a “girl band,” exactly? And why are so many forced to choose between those two categories, both deserving of equal respect?

“I want to get to the point where people don’t notice anymore,” said Larson. “Because it’s not a gimmick. Just be in a band! Who cares?”

While Kitten Forever formed with an all-girl lineup in mind, Elton asserts that it doesn’t make or break them as women or musicians. “But I get why it’s a defining characteristic,” she admitted. “I definitely give them more attention.”

Larson follows suit, claiming that it’s important to support and promote the design until initial reactions are “Wow! That’s a really cool band!” followed by “Öand it’s all girls,” not the other way around.

“Feminism to me is just about equality,” Larson said. “Ultimately, women should be equal to men and I’m not sure why they’re not. We’re all human beings.”

But neither is Larson nor Elton so idealistic to think that a distant ambition can be reached without ongoing struggle.

“I’m all for equality, but clearly it’s not that easy,” Elton said. “The focus needs to be on the empowerment of women, and if for the time being that means that, in some respects, women are seen as better than men, fine by me!”

The Pocketknife “house” bands are one of many little musical revolutions seeking to enlighten without being overbearing, the new riot girls (and boys) hoping for their platforms on which to be paid attention, all while refusing to compromise their glass-shattering sound.

“I remember listening to bands like that when I was 16 and how important they were to me,” said Larson. “I want to return the favor and be a positive influence to younger girls with the same idea.”

Funny, because the name Baby Guts translates as “infant courage,” though the cringe factor definitely doesn’t hurt (sans the fact that Larson is often approached with dead baby jokes, which make her shudder).

What it means to represent is how every bit of combined strength counts, no matter how seemingly small the contribution. If you’ve got something to be angry about, or if you just want to make music without having to explain yourself, plug in and bare your teeth. They need you out there.

And the origin of Kitten Forever’s moniker?

“How cute is a kitten before it turns into a cat?” squealed Elton, a major feline enthusiast. “Once we make it big, we’ve decided we’re going to invest in stem cell research to keep kittens that way forever. Forget feminism – that’s our No. 1 goal!”

Turns out even supposedly livid ladies have a great sense of humor.