Christina Billotte Of Slant 6: ‘I Wanted To Make A Record Where Every Song Was Good’

By Brandon Gentry

Christina Billotte (center) fronted D.C. band Slant 6 in the early- to mid-'90s.
Christina Billotte (center) fronted D.C. band Slant 6 in the early- to mid-'90s. Charles Steck

In 1994, D.C.’s Dischord label released Slant 6’s debut LP, Soda Pop*Rip Off, a collection of jagged uptempo anthems delivered with urgency and anger by guitarist and vocalist Christina Billotte, bassist Myra Power and drummer/trumpeter Marge Marshall.

A prime example of early ’90s D.C. post-punk, drawing on hardcore, power pop, surf, garage and the then-flourishing riot grrrl scene of the Pacific Northwest, Soda Pop*Rip Off is a vital entry in the Dischord catalog—and a key benchmark in D.C.’s larger post-punk scene. On Oct. 14, a vinyl reissue hits shelves, and Bandwidth had a chance to talk to Billotte in advance of the occasion.

Bandwidth: How do you feel about Dischord’s reissuing Soda Pop*Rip Off on vinyl, 20 years after its initial release?

Christina Billotte: I’m glad that they’re doing it. I’m glad that people still like it, and still feel like it’s relevant.

soda-pop-rip-offI thought it was pretty forward-sounding when it came out. I listened to the album for the first time in a while last week, and I was pleasantly surprised by how relevant it still sounds. When you listen to the record now, what are your thoughts looking back on it?

I like the fact that they remastered it. I remember recording it, thinking it sounded great and then getting it back [from the mastering] and saying, “Why does it sound so thin?” The remastering is great. It’s more like the way it was meant to sound, the way it was actually recorded. [Dischord releases] used to go to Southern Studios [in London], and get mastered there, and they had a particular style. And it sounded different from the actual recording.

In terms of lacking a lot of low end?

Yeah, definitely. And they gave it more of a Crass kind of sound, not what we wanted—a high-end, thinner sound.

When you listen to the two albums today, how does Soda Pop*Rip Off compare to your last record, Inzombia?

I like the songs on Inzombia, but that album was recorded kind of unfortunately. We were trying to compensate for Soda Pop*Rip Off’s coming back from the mastering sounding so thin, so we mixed Inzombia in a really weird way. Even Ian [MacKaye] was finally like, “All right, just do what you want.” And we did, and it still didn’t come out how we wanted it to, because we didn’t realize that it was the mastering that was the problem. So Inzombia is less sharp than I would have wanted it to be, and that has a lot to do with the way we mixed it.

The recording of Soda Pop*Rip Off kind of emphasizes the surfier aspects of the album.

A lot of it had to do with the guitar, the sound that comes from the Silvertone, which has two individually hand-wound pickups. And we were listening to all kinds of music, surf music was definitely in there. And stuff I was listening to in high school, which was definitely some punk surf stuff.

I was listening to The Wipers constantly. Myra was always listening to The Ramones. Marge was not so much in to punk music. She had gone home to England, and gotten into ’60s stuff like Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. I’d say everything I listened to up that point was mixed in there. Rites of Spring and The Faith were two records I listened to a lot. I’d been listening to The Beatles since I was 3.

Was Slant 6 the first band that you were playing guitar in? You played bass in Autoclave and Bratmobile, right?

I was never actually in Bratmobile. I played drums for them [at one live show], and may have played guitar on a recording. I played bass in Autoclave [with Mary Timony, Nikki Chapman and Melissa Berkoff], and when I started playing guitar, I pretty much played guitar like it was a bass. I wanted to make it sound a little thicker, so I would double up the strings.

“One night, we were at Tastee Diner with everyone and Steve Gamboa was there. There was a Nation of Ulysses show the next night, and he was like, ‘I dare you guys to play tomorrow.’ We said, ‘We don’t have a drummer,’ and he said, ‘I’ll play drums for you if you play tomorrow.’ And so we practiced with him all the next day, and played that night, and it was horrible.”

How did Slant 6 come together?

I had a couple songs that were sort of formed when I was playing with different people, and people kept telling me I should play with Myra. I was playing with Heather [Melowic], who later played drums in The Scissor Girls [with fellow Washingtonians Azita Youssefi and Sue Anne Zollinger], from Chicago. She was living in the same house as me, learning to play drums, and she was friends with Myra, so the three of us got together and played months before Slant 6. Then Heather moved to Chicago, and Myra and I started writing songs.

One night, we were at Tastee Diner with everyone and Steve Gamboa was there. There was a Nation of Ulysses show the next night, and he was like, “I dare you guys to play tomorrow.” We said, “We don’t have a drummer,” and he said, “I’ll play drums for you if you play tomorrow.” And so we practiced with him all the next day, and played that night, and it was horrible.

After that, Rachel Carns (from Kicking Giant and The Need) started playing drums for us, and then she decided to move to Olympia, Washington. But me and Myra drove cross-country and picked her up, and then toured back from Olympia to D.C. with Nation of Ulysses, in a Datsun B-210.

It seems like you and the Nation of Ulysses were both drawing on some of the same garage rock sounds, the Nuggets-esque ’60s garage punk stuff.

That stuff would always show up on mixtapes that everyone would make for each other. The Gories were a big influence. The Breeders were a big influence. “30/30 Vision” was definitely inspired by The Breeders.

Blondie was also a big influence, as you can see by the shoes I was wearing on the cover of Soda Pop*Rip Off. I’d listened to Blondie since I was a kid. I would go get their records, and listen to them hundreds of times, over and over again.

After Rachel moved back to Olympia for good, we played with James Canty [from Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists] for a few shows. Then we met Marge, because both Myra and I worked at the same restaurant with her, Food For Thought [the Dupont Circle café owned by the father of Black Cat owner Dante Ferrando], and we asked her to play drums. She said, “I don’t play drums, I play horn,” and we asked her if she would ever try playing drums. After she got back from living in England for two months, she said she’d do it. And after a few months we recorded the 7-inch.

At Inner Ear with Ian MacKaye?

The first single [1993’s “What Kind of Monster Are You?”), Ian was out of town. So we recorded with Don Zientara. Don’s really easy to work with. He’s like, “OK, just go in. Play it. Now, put these headphones on. Play the same thing again.”

And Ian of course, I’d known him for years, so it was really easy to work with him.

Did you guys record live, all in one room, or was there much multitracking and overdubs?

We’d do one full band recording without vocals, and sometimes I’d go back in and play the same exact thing over on guitar, to double up the guitar track.

Did you feel more comfortable in a live setting, or in the studio? It seems like D.C. could have been kind of an intimidating town to play, since there were so many good live bands out there.

I guess I didn’t really think about it. There were good shows and bad shows. Sometimes I felt like hiding under a table afterwards, and sometimes I felt great. I wasn’t really intimidated. Everyone was friends. There was competition, but it was the kind of competition that would make bands better. And I feel like that atmosphere made the D.C. scene what it was: friendly competition. Everyone was supportive, everyone played shows together, everyone hung out together constantly. You wanted to impress your friends.

“I remember having a conversation with Ian MacKaye before we started recording, and I said, ‘I want to make a record like this Kinks record! Every single song is good!’ And he kept saying, ‘Well, you know­­­­–’ And I kept saying, ‘You know what I mean?’ And finally he said, ‘That’s a greatest hits record.'”

What are some of your favorite tracks from Soda Pop*Rip Off?

I remember having a conversation with Ian MacKaye before we started recording, and I said, “I want to make a record like this Kinks record! Every single song is good!” And he kept saying, “Well, you know–” And I kept saying, “You know what I mean?” And finally he said, “That’s a greatest hits record.”

So anyway, my objective was to make a record where every single song was good. Sometimes I hear the lyrics and I cringe, but I can’t say any songs are better than the others. I liked playing all of them live. I never felt like, “Oh, we have to play that song again?” And I’ve had that feeling in other bands.

Did you take anything from Slant 6 into your subsequent bands, Quix*o*tic and Casual Dots?

A formula for doing things. You write with the people you’re playing with, and when you write alone, you write with their aesthetic in mind. But it really wasn’t that conscious. [With Slant 6], I wanted to do something more straightforward than Autoclave, more danceable. But when I look back it, it’s not, really. Slant 6 was major-key songs, with regular timing and more energy. After that, with Quix*o*tic, I wanted to do something genre-less, I used more minor notes. And Casual Dots was major again.