Music

Still Rock Stars

Maggie Vail Tests out the Big Bangs Theory

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MAGGIE VAIL just finished a set with Hurry Up, her scrappy new rock band with the Thermals' Kathy Foster on drums and Westin Glass on guitar. It was everything a rock show should be—fast, raw, fun—and there's little doubt that this motley trio has been touched by Vail's former band, Bangs.

Bangs are a small but important piece of Pacific Northwest rock lore, releasing three albums on Kill Rock Stars (KRS) in their seven-year lifespan. Things came to an abrupt end in 2004 when guitarist/vocalist Sarah Utter moved to Los Angeles for school. With the exception of a few shows in 2010, Vail and her Bangs comrades—Utter and drummer Peter David Connelly—have kept relatively quiet musically.

Not that the members haven't stayed busy. Utter continues to make art, and Connelly still plays music in Olympia. Vail is busy these days as well—so busy, in fact, I began to wonder if our interview was even going to happen. After over 17 years as Jill-of-all-trades at KRS, Vail is now concentrating on CASH Music, a nonprofit that builds open-source web tools for bands and has garnered massive support from the music community.

With Bangs rehearsals appearing on the calendar, revisiting those old songs seems to be a bittersweet endeavor for Vail. "Some of the songs feel slightly dated," she says. "These songs were written when we were in our 20s, and we're now in our 30s. Although the songs about heartbreak could have been written yesterday, at least for me." Vail admits that the Bangs' 1998 debut Tiger Beat has a few cringe-worthy moments, noting flubbed notes and the sorts of flaws musicians manage to zero in on after the fact. But the fact is Tiger Beat—while maybe not as refined as Sweet Revenge or 2002's Call + Response—remains a wonderful snapshot of reckless youth, stuffed to the gills with overdriven guitars and girl-group vocals.

It's no surprise that Vail spent her formative years (along with older sis and Pacific Northwest music icon Tobi) immersed in punk rock counterculture. The younger Vail saw the Ramones and X perform before she was 10. Rebellion meant becoming a cheerleader in high school ("My parents hated it," she says with a smile). Of course, having a sibling in Bikini Kill pretty much seals your fate, and Vail went on to play in dozens of bands in Olympia before joining Bangs as their bassist in 1997.

Now the band is gearing up for a handful of Pacific Northwest dates, and it might not stop there. Vail says things are open-ended, hinting at the possibility of writing songs and perhaps even releasing a Bangs 7-inch. She's also working on her own music, which will find its way onto a 7-inch on the Army of Bad Luck imprint. "It's not terribly far off from what I've done," Vail says. "I kind of write one way, I kind of play one way."

As for taking a (slight) detour into the past, Vail says it's not such a bad thing, adding that it has been nine years since she's toured. "I know there was some drama, anxiety attacks, and the occasional angry outburst," she says of the early days. "But overall my memories are about seeing the world, meeting new friends, connecting with old ones that had moved away, playing with my favorite bands, and living out a total childhood fantasy of mine."

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