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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Psycho Bunnies Are Back!

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In the 1970s a woman fronting a rock band was still unusual enough to turn heads. In Milwaukee, Stoney Rivera cut an especially striking figure with her Asian- and African-American features and a stance as implacable as a warship under full steam. Her singing career began as a high-school student at house parties among the West Side's thriving greaser subculture, belting out '50s oldies. Soon enough she crossed over into the nascent punk scene as the head of the Black Widows.

"I heard the Sex Pistols at a party and I thought, 'Wow, this is awesome!'" she recalls, finding the "scaled-down" model of punk more accessible than the era's orchestrated mainstream rock. Growing up with a deep appreciation for singers such as Etta James, James Brown and the Ronettes, Rivera brought a rooted-beyond-punk sensibility to her next two bands, the Dummy Club and the Psycho Bunnies. The reformed Psycho Bunnies will play their first show in 10 years this weekend.

Both the Dummy Club and the Psycho Bunnies were popular in Milwaukee's alternative scene through the '80s and '90s and also made some noise outside the city. The Dummy Club toured the States and recorded a vinyl EP, Ballad of a Lady Gunslinger, for a Berlin label. The Psycho Bunnies played London several times, toured Europe and released the CD Vampire's Mistress on Nervous Records. Both bands featured an unusually high percentage of women musicians, and membership overlapped. "I started writing different things—darker with a little more angst," Rivera explains of the transition from the Dummy Club to the Psycho Bunnies.

And then she decided to take a long hiatus. "My mother was getting elderly and I was doing lots of life stuff," she explains. "I put my effort into writing instead of performing. I wrote short stories and songs. I had a novel in me that I'm still editing—Welcome to the Black Martini. It's paranormal erotica—dark and fun and sexy." (Full disclosure: One of the characters is based on me.)

The reformed Psycho Bunnies will perform Rivera's new songs along with old favorites from the '80s and '90s. The lineup includes some musicians from the band's earlier incarnations, with Brian Wurch on guitar, Angel Engling on bass and Mick Weber on drums. Rivera hopes to have no less than three CDs ready for her return show, including reissues of Ballad of a Lady Gunslinger and Vampire's Mistress, plus Fallen Angel, a compilation of miscellaneous tracks by the Dummy Club and the Psycho Bunnies.

"It's a different kind of power," she says, contrasting the new Psycho Bunnies with earlier bands. "We're ageless but older. A lot of changes have happened in the world. For women it was so different—you had to hang it up at 35. Now being in your 50s is the new black."

The Psycho Bunnies and Dr. Chow's Love Medicine perform June 11 at Quarters. The Psycho Bunnies are also scheduled for Aug. 20 at Linnemann's.