Although I.U.D. is wary of the girl band pigeonhole, their debut LP, The Proper Sex, fits directly into the badass woman lineage these two femme fatales are obviously experts about. The album cover art alone—a Sparks redux in which one band member goes girlie and topless while the other wears pants, button-up shirt, and tie—proves that these two seasoned musicians are natural heirs to a post-postpunk, liberated lady heritage. The duet, comprised of Liz Bougatsos or “Lil’ Pickle,” from Gang Gang Dance, and Sadie Laska, “Mr. Egglesby,” who plays with Growing and Extreme Violence, are modern females to the max: each has multiple jobs and bands, and exhibits visual art in gallery circuits. Their new noise release, barring Bougatsos’s lush, distinctive vocal style, sounds completely different from their other bands. Inspired by industrial music and metal, the six tracks on The Proper Sex are about a girls gone wild aesthetic tamed by structure, constructed from sampler processing and Sadie Laska’s steady backbeats. Laska’s establishing sounds provide a platform for Bougatsos’s melodies and roto tom quick-drumming. The Proper Sex feels slightly Goth like most of Gang Gang Dance’s recordings, maybe due to Bougatsos’s vocal similarities to Siouxsie Sioux, yet reggae and hip-hop samples increase I.U.D.’s danceability factor. Some tracks, like “Glo Balls,” have synthesizer beats that give their sound a No Wave sensibility. “911” could almost be an early Sonic Youth song.
I.U.D. has been garnering serious attention for their sexy set-up: two girls with drum kits facing each other, while Bougatsos howls, moans, and screams and Laska twiddles sampler knobs between beating her kit to a pulp. Richard Kern recently shot them in bondage gear. In I.U.D.’s world, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. A single breast marks the center of The Proper Sex on vinyl, so when you set it on the turntable, you poke through a nipple. Far from porn soundtrack, however, the whole project challenges sexual conservatism and conformity, as did its predecessors—Raincoats, Delta 5, Liliput, Slits, Throbbing Gristle, and many more. I.U.D. feels like advanced feminism—the kind that rocks, the descendent of the kind Dan Graham wrote about in his seminal essay, “New Wave Rock and the Feminine,” in Rock My Religion.
This interview took place in Williamsburg, after the three of us decided Lower East Side cafés were too crowded and drove across the bridge for some privacy.
What’s up with a band named after birth control?
Liz: We’re inspired by ugly things. It’s just birth control, but for some reason it really seems offensive.
Sadie: We wanted something punk and a little gross.
Liz: Not trampy, but grotesque. At first we thought, “Eud,” E-U-D, like “ew.” Something German. Also, I.U.D. has periods between the letters to detract from the birth control thing. We don't want to be a Riot Girl band.
Sadie: We're not about tampons.
Liz: Even though we're girls, we don't play on that.
Are girl bands an old idea?
Liz: Yeah. I think it's irrelevant.
Sadie: It used to be such a statement. Now maybe you don't need to make that statement.
Liz: Sadie and I respect what we do. It has nothing to do with our gender. The whole moon-woman thing doesn't validate you as a good drummer. Just because you're a woman who can howl at the moon…that mentality is really boring for us.
Sadie: We don’t want to separate ourselves from the greater community or to be an “other”.
Liz: Oh, here comes that girl band.
Sadie: There's nothing revolutionary about that.
Liz: The noise scene is dude/male-dominated. But if Sadie were a dude, I would still play with her. For example, at Thurston Moore’s No Fun, there was one girl out of thirty-five noise bands. I was the third girl in the whole thing, besides, like, Kim Gordon in the basement selling seats. It's a very male-dominated scene. Like Wolf Eyes, and their cassette tapes, and this whole GO GET IT early Andrew W.K. ideology and all this GET FUCKED, PARTY stuff.
Kim Gordon is the big exception, then?
Sadie: That's why she's so inspirational to us. When I was young, she was the woman in rock.
Kim Gordon and Kim Deal.
Sadie: Completely. If there's a cool chick playing music, I can play music. It's not about being in a female revolution.
Remember the Slits cover for Cut? They were slathered in mud, monster-style. So Amazonian and berserk. Are you going for that? When I first saw you play, I thought of post-punk female bands that would switch places on stage, with your two drummers facing each other.
Sadie: Facing each other just makes sense, because we’re playing with each other. I do a lot of fills. We structure our sets around our songs, and then leave room mid-song for fills.
Liz: We need to see each other. What we're doing requires us to be together, making eye contact, hand signals.
Sadie: We have samples and vocals that structure the songs, but from there we improvise.
Liz: It's really feisty. Our live shows depend on our mood. Our sets are volatile, testy. Touchy-feely.
You both play so many instruments, but what are your histories as drummers?
Sadie: I played guitar before I started playing drums about five years ago, in D.C. My boyfriend at the time taught me to play a couple songs. I liked it, and kept on playing.
Liz: I’ve played drums in Gang Gang for a while. But in Japan, I saw some different drum set-ups. We're both big Boredoms fans. And I think that actually influenced the formation of I.U.D. Even visually…but our formation may come more from No Wave. ESG inspired me when I was younger.
Sadie: We were both really into No Wave stuff ten years ago, when we first moved to New York.
Liz: We got really into Die Hard. We would almost mimic bands directly.
Sadie: We had a stupid nostalgia.
Sadie: We were just full on. Liz did a band called Russia. We did a band called Actress, and I was in a band called Neon France. All very No Wave. We dressed like it. We made movies.
Liz: Then I went to Japan. I toured with Yoshimi, from Boredoms, and her band, OOIOO. All the band members in OOIOO have different bands, and they are mostly drum bands. One night I went out in Tokyo to see them all. I go for any outfit of Yoshimi's. On the plane home, I thought, “Wow, drumming.” So I asked Sadie if she’d play with me. You need to drum with somebody you have a relationship with.
How do you build a song with two drum kits and a sampler?
Sadie: You go to practice, you turn on some samples, and then it's kind of obvious what works. Then we play the drums and sing.
Liz: I have to have something to write a melody to. We gravitate towards really heavy, industrial sounds.
Sadie: We want it to be aggressive, loud, and clattering.
On the album, you sound like howling wolves: wild, natural. Yet you’re making industrial music. Wasn’t industrial music originally about making city sounds?
Liz: Yeah, yeah. Well, Neubaten were rebuilding a crushed city. They were about urban decay and the sounds building structures, metal, and angst. Early Joy Division too.
Do you drum to release tension or are you trying to capture tension, or both?
Sadie: It's a bit of both for me.
Liz: For me, it’s more of a release. We have a really good time when we play. It makes us both super happy and we feel better when we do it. It's like therapy.
Sadie: That's right. It’s therapeutic.
Liz: We're always smiling when we play.
What about vocals, Liz? I can make little lines out on The Proper Sex, but your vocals are famously cryptic. Are you singing real words, imaginary words, or is it all about processing? I never thought of Elizabeth Fraser in relation to you until recently.
Liz: Sometimes they’re sounds, but they're usually words. I write melodies, then I'll apply the words, or vice versa. It's a Bollywood thing. When I write vocals or melodies I'm kind of mountainous or curvaceous, and it's hard to find words that fit in there. The ultimate goal is to have some structure.
I really love Elizabeth Fraser. I've been doing this for ten years now, and she's the validity behind “I don't understand what you're saying, so is it good music?” People are always saying to me, “Chinese! Gibberish!”
Tell me about the song, “Daddy.” Are those cymbals in the beginning? I love the way it gets muffled.
Sadie: Oh yeah, the crash. That song has so many layers. It's a studio thing. That first sample at the beginning that you hear slowing down, actually plays throughout the entire song. We open it up, and close it again, so that it's adding this whole layer and then disappearing again.
Liz: It's this effects thing, like a CDJ.
Sadie: I really wanted to make a record that we couldn't do live. Really processed, like take our drum sounds and make them sound like horns. I wanted to develop our live shows to sound like what the studio producer did for us, mechanically.
Liz: We don't have any hang-ups about live versus recorded. We made samples in the studio that we play now at our shows. It's backwards.
So you didn’t use real horn or bells?
Sadie: There are some bells and a few horns, actually. There's a carnival horn and a bullhorn.
Bullhorns can be funny. I like that your music has a sense of humor, especially when industrial music is notoriously heavy-handed. Can you talk about humor?
Liz: Playfulness is important. It opens you up to making better music, because you're not rigid. I act goofy and laugh and make a song, rather than break my brain open and over-think something. I just can't make art like that.
What about art practice? Like Sadie’s painting of the sunburned lady riding the banana, is it?
Sadie: Oh, “The Peanut.” [She’s riding a peanut.] My painting process is pretty heavily guided by accidental things, experimentation, and being playful. I like to spill things on my paintings. They're kind of silly. But it doesn't mean I don't take art seriously.
Liz: I said to Sadie, “We have to make a MySpace page. Pick some images.” And the first image she comes up with is this fucking guy sucking on a fake penis and, like, a witch.
Liz, your artwork is really humorous too, the altered found objects. I’m thinking of the posters where you glued braces onto the ladies’ smiles. Does serious art bug you?
Liz: It bugs me out.
Sadie: Life's too sad.
So you make work to cheer yourself up or to entertain yourself?
Sadie: Yeah, definitely.
Liz: Yeah. But I make work to survive as well, and sometimes I can't believe I can be so light about heavy things. For example, my equipment just got burned. I lost everything. My next art show, in Athens, is going to be about that. What other way can I turn that devastation into something? It’s the only way I can get over it. Glue it to the floor, spray paint it gold, put a mic on it, and, like, glue all these fluorescent dildos out the window. That's how I'm picturing it.
Does making work out of the travel experience help to process touring? Do you love traveling?
Liz: I do, I love it.
Sadie: You're addicted to it.
Liz: I don't have time to have a studio, ponder making things, or to stare at my work. Whenever I see something I seize it.
You’re a nomad.
Liz: Yeah, I do feel like that has a lot to do with my moods. That’s how I came up. I was on a plane when I decided I wanted to play with Sadie.
Sadie: Look at your clothes. [Liz is wearing a tunic.] You collect things from all over the world. Your music is like that too. Special little treasures.
What are your band roles? Sadie, are you the grounded one since you control the sampler?
Sadie: That is how we started. Liz plays the roto toms, to do rolls and fills on. They're lighter. They have a steel rim, and a lighter head, usually plastic. As opposed to a conga, which usually has animal hide. Roto tom is a very light-feeling drum, like Sheila E.’s.
Liz: It's like a marching band, almost a lighter snare.
Do you two use a lot of snares?
Liz: Sadie is a snare girl.
Sadie: I'm more of a traditional kit, hi-hat and snare. It's about keeping a tempo. Liz works around the drums. We do it together.
Liz: We organize the beats that we play together. And I just got congas. I want to build a bigger kit that is more standing-based, so I can play in the round, facing Sadie.
Sadie: I'm a little high from the coffee.
The song “Mary Un-Margaret” has a marching band sound. Can you talk about that song?
Liz: I can talk about the title.
Sadie: In the studio, we merged two separately recorded drum tracks to make that song. It's one of the more interesting songs on the record. It’s hectic and crazy sounding.
Liz: The more I think about it, the more I want to get back into the studio as soon as possible.
Sadie: More than anything else.
So what about the song title?
Liz: Oh, Mary Margaret O'Hara is a folk singer from Canada that I'm really into. Her melodies changed the way I've thought about singing. I was trying to re-create some of her melodies on our record, but they weren't…like hers. That's why I called it Mary Un-Margaret. I love Linder Sterling too, the U.K. performance artist. Her band was called Ludus, and she dated Morrissey. She showed up to get signed covered in raw meat—and this was, I think, after the Slits? She scared everybody, and never got the deal. Some band, Stranglers or something, were doing a Peel session, and one of the guys drummed on her album. So she snuck into the studio and recorded her own band on their time.
Can you both talk about juggling projects a little? You're both in, like, ten bands and you have fourteen jobs. I'm amazed by your productivity.
Sadie: I'm not making any huge leaps. It’s not like going from construction work to musical projects. The projects aren't so far away from each other that I can't get into different headspaces. Without gallery jobs, I don't know if I'd want to make visual art as much. I don't like the way idle feels. We only had five days to make this record. Limited time and budget forces you to make decisions.
Liz: When you're recording without money involved, and you have limited time, it can make the situation real caustic. You can't relax and put it off.
Sadie: But I'm so glad we made the record. I've never felt so free.
I like that you were both so busy when you made The Proper Sex that you titled a song, “Girls Just Wanna (Time to Have Sex).”
Sadie: We were so stressed out.
Liz: We needed to have sex but we didn't know how. Actually, that ghetto song that I tracked in the beginning is called “Time to Have Sex.” It’s a cover.
Your band is sexy. But why is it that the second you put two females on stage drumming everybody thinks…
Sadie: You are going to take your clothes off. The one band that really took on that role was Tribe 8. They would just show up, rip off their clothes, take out a dildo, and start humping each other. At feminist conventions. And be like, “Fuck you, have my baby, bitch,” and then screw each other. They were all lesbians, and their music was the sickest music ever.
Drummers get sweaty. They really use their bodies.
Sadie: That's the main part of it. Sex has always been a topic amongst us.
Liz: I studied it in college.
Sadie: Liz was interested in women and the history of sex.
Liz: Same sex couples.
Sadie: I was interested in androgyny. I dressed like a boy for years and had real short hair.
Liz: I always thought sex was the root of humanity, and now I see it as happiness. Bring it on!
Sadie: I'm gonna go out and have sex right now.