Gretchen Phillips: A legacy in lezzie music
While this is probably showing our age, we want you to know about lesbian musician Gretchen Phillips, who was a trailblazer for being out and gay on the music scene.
Singer-songwriter Phillips– known for her humorous and topical songs– managed to show how it was like to be gay in the 1980s through her band, Two Nice Girls, and her music.
More importantly, she’s become an inspiration for other, younger indie pop sensations like Le Tigre, The Butchies, and Pansy Division.
Gretchen Phillips: A life in music
Born in 1963 in Galveston, Texas, Phillips grew up in Houston in a family of musicians. After graduating from the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, she moved to Austin in 1981 where she was in a band with Sara Hickman.
At that time, the Austin punk scene was in full roar, and she was inspired by local gay punk stars like Biscuit of The Big Boys and Gary Floyd of The Dicks to represent “lezzie rock.”
Vowing to put the “sex back in homosexuality,” Meat Joy shared the stage with bands like The Butthole Surfers and The Meat Puppets.
Phillips later formed two different all-girl bands in 1985: Girls in the Nose and Two Nice Girls.
The latter, with their acoustic sound, became an Austin favorite with a loyal audience that was both gay and straight.
After playing at the first SXSW conference, they got signed up by Rough Trade Records to produce their first three albums, which included the original song, “I Spent My Last $10 (On Birth Control and Beer).”
With these albums under their belt, the group toured the US, Canada, and England, and won awards like the Austin Chronicle Music Awards and the GLAAD Media Award.
Gretchen Phillips makes her own path
With Phillips willing to experiment more with her music, she released “Welcome To My World,” a combination of spoken word and music.
She formed the Gretchen Phillips Xperience (which also had go-go dancers) but moved to San Francisco and began performing solo.
But after two years, she headed back to Austin and formed the band Lord Douglas Phillips. In 2000, she combined with New York’s David Driver for the fag/dyke duo of Phillips and Driver.
Likewise, she decided to come up with a country/gospel band called The Gretchen Phillips Ministries.
After living in Paris, France for six months in 2004, she worked on her next solo album and then reissued the first Two Nice Girls albums on CD.
After a few more bands including a Joy Division cover band, she came up with an album full of original disco anthems for middle-aged queers.
Gretchen Phillips & her legacy
Currently, Phillips’ three decades-worth collection of video recordings of her shows, reviews, and news articles, and fan mail are now part of the Cornell University Library’s Human Sexuality Collection
Brenda Marston, curator of the Human Sexuality Collection in the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, said: “Imagine a time long before Ellen DeGeneres came out, when hearing a woman sing a love song using the pronouns ‘she’and ‘her’ was a big deal.”
“While many women were looking for subtle clues that lesbians existed, Gretchen and her bandmates were outrageous and emphatic, not coy, about lesbian love. Their lyrics opened doors for people, and their audiences discovered community at their performances,” Marston said.
Phillips’ collection ranges from her 19881 arrival in Austin’s punk scene to appearances at the lesbian haunted house of Killjoy’s Kastle in Toronto in 2013 and LA in 2015.
It also includes digitized recordings (more than 63 hours) of her performance from 1980s to 2016.
Speaking of her band, Two Nice Girls, Phillips said: “We were kind of critical darlings. It’s interesting to see what the women journalists had to say, but also what the guys had to say.”
While Texas Monthly once called her a “fringe legend” in 1999, we’re betting that Phillips’ place history is now assured.