Indie alt-rock band My Sister Jane in October of 1991.

Who The Hell Do These Women Think They Are?


Who the hell do these women think they are? In this land of patriarchy, My Sister Jane have, ahem, the balls to write an anti-large family anthem called “Pain in the Middle.” Other times, they mock the Gospel (“Begat, Begone”) and even suggest the floundering of the god protected American dream (“I’m America”). This is the land of Zion. By all that is righteous, these five gals out to be cooking meals for all the male rock bands in town, not trashing Adam and Eve and the emptying of the soul pool. What is going on with these women? Well, it’s all a part of the wild and unexpected world of My Sister Jane, a hodgepodge of grade school humor, rigorous and sometimes silly individualism and a lot of musical diversity, not to mention talent. Slowly, over the course of two and a half interesting years, My Sister Jane have earned themselves the spot of Salt Lakes City’s premier alternative band. Although some might argue such is like distinguishing the biggest cow chip in the pasture, it’s hard to knock the perseverance, humor and dedication of these five Salt Lake Persons. By both passively accepting the notice which comes with being a novelty, all female band and naively standing by Salt Lake as a decent rock community, My Sister Jane keep moving in a positive direction.

“Caprice [cigarettes] are for sissies and women,” say guitarist Trace Wiren, trying to explain to the bassist Sally Shaum why the local convenience store didn’t carry Shaum’s brand. “They had Buckhorn and Marlboros,” laments Wiren. Sally shrugs, content with the off brand she’ll have to smoke prior to tonight’s gig at the Dead Goat Saloon. “These will be really awful and I’ll have to quit.”

The banter between the two is just a polite form of concert jitters. Tonight’s the first in a long weekend of shows at the Goat, the first after a summer vacation spent recording and relaxing. “It’s like coming back to work,” says Shaum. It is prove it or lose it time for My Sister Jane. After two and a half years spent building a solid local following and the release of a long awaited debut cassette (self-titled), all five sisters of Jane seem ready to move forward. Like it or not, the rather unventilated back room of the Dead Goat is where this trip to better musical days will begin.

Drummer Julie Leuders and percussionist Shelley White work at setting up their portion of the stage. White looks like a confused den mother, while Leaders is the band’s strong, silent type. Her stoic nature is only reinforced by her country western background and commentary upon the likes of Gram Parsons and Lyle Lovett. “I don’t like any of those men,” she says, cracking a slight smile. Multi instrumentalist Martha Bourne, who one the show starts will prove to be the catalyst for the band, sits in the back eating Hunan. Wiren and Shaun mill around, sitting and then standing, nervous energy spent unpacking her harmonicas and all sorts of odd instruments.

The five women of My Sister Jane are an odd bunch, brought together by a haphazard series of events, and who now seem more perplexed than anyone as to what kind of music they play. Wiren and Bourne were involved in a North Carolina group called Blues In Your Shows. During 1988’s Great Peace March, White met Wiren and both became members of Wild Women for Peace. Once back in Salt Lake, White, Shaum, Bourne and Wiren ended up in a band called Cowgirls Kinda. After a few more changes (like the decision to lose their drum machine), Leauders was recruited and My Sister Jane was formed.

It is an eclectic mix of personalities which is reflected in the music and the band’s choice of cover material, which ranges from Led Zepplin to Pasty Cline. The group’s debut cassette features elements of blues, folk, soul, funk, even gospel harmonizing and jazz like tempo changes. On the tape, there is no foundation, no common denominator or focal point. It is as if Wiren, Shaum and Bourne (who write the majority of the songs) are still mining influences, unsure themselves of what the hell they’re doing, but still happy with the result.

My sister Jane is a mix of some great ideas performed professionally and others which are at best half baked. One of the tape’s best tracks is “Three,” which offers one of Shaum’s best bass lines and some very nice guitar work. It is also one of the tape’s most propulsive numbers with Bourne’s sax spurting while Wiren sings about “headaches and heartaches in all shades of blue.” When it all clicks, heady songwriting, emotional singing and the willingness to let the rhythm section really hang loose, My Sister Jane succeed on a grade scale. Other times, however, when the band’s inherent silliness gets the best of them, the arrangements (such as the vocal overdub on “Begat Begone”), can be as irritating as the Andrew Sisters even though the educated mayhem of the Roches was more the intent.

More often than not, though, the tape works, possibly because of its lack of focus. I mean it isn’t easy faulting a band whose best song, “Pain in the Middle,” is a hilarious diatribe on Utah’s infamous number of children per household. While the music chugs away in an odd bluegrass/rock mode, Shaum belts out, “Save us from large families!”

The members of My Sister Jane are themselves rather confused on what they think of their own music. All seem to agree that the tape is a little too mellow, falling into a “lite” rock category which hardly suits the band’s exuberance. “The hardest thing for me is reconciling our music versus other people’s music,” says Shaum. “Each member is interested in different sounds,” she says summing up the group’s wonderment over exactly what they’re trying to do. In order to present both sides (My Sister Janes ARE somewhat mellow) the group plans to hit the studio as soon as possible to record another cassette of their more aggressive numbers.

On stage at the Dead Goat, it’s a sloppy first few songs with Bourne declaring, “This is our sound

check.” The band sputters a bit but by the time they tackle Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” all is well in the land of eclectic. The music has an edge missing from the tape and the band shows a willingness to stretch it out, coming across like a mutant child of Jerry Garcia and Joni Mitchell.

It is Bourne who really shines on stage, her Jerry “the beaver” Mathers persona clashing with her obvious talent and smart ass wit. If anyone leads My Sister Jane, it is her, playing guitar, sax, mandolin and flute, attempting to galvanize the diverse players. When she does, which at this point is a little over half the time, My sister Jane Earn their Recognition. When it all works, these five rather fashionless persons are capable of becoming more than simply Salt Lake’s best local band.

For more from the SLUG Archives:

Record And Tape Reviews: September 1991
Television: August 1991