Rebirth/Return, the debut full-length album from Austin punks Pleasure Venom, shoots through your mind like a machine gun-loaded freight train. This is a cruel reckoning, armed with stun bombs of truth. This is a 10-track assault that destroys the senses and unleashes an unbridled flow of righteous rage.
Centered around the gutting vocal power and stunning stage presence of Audrey Campbell, the band has been playing on the Austin stage for more than eight years. After releasing a string of great EPs and singles, they have gained national popularity and placed at festivals such as London’s Loud Women Festival, South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. They toured with Garbage and were the opening act for Bikini Kill.
On stage, they evoke catharsis with drumming, screeching guitars, and Campbell’s apocalyptic shrieks.
“A big part of my performance is just leaving it all there like I’m a puddle of sweat when I’m done,” says Campbell.
Curious? You can hear their brilliance live at 5:00 pm on January 20 on Waterloo Records (600 N. Lamar Blvd.) as the band brings noise to the next release of The Drop.
The Drop is our monthly live music series produced by American-Statesman and KUTX 98.9 FM and hosted by Waterloo Records. The show is for all ages and is free.
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Punk is attitude
Growing up in Houston, Audrey Campbell first realized how music could drive emotions in black Baptist churches. She was touched in spirit and soul.
“I may not have known what was going on, but I knew the music made me feel something,” she says.
By the age of 11, she had learned to make music. At school she played the trumpet, and later the French horn and baritone. She credits the breath control she learned while playing brass instruments to lay the foundation for her immense vocal power.
It also kept her out of trouble.
“I sincerely believe that music saved my life,” she says.
The child of immigrants from Jamaica, she grew up hard. Money was a struggle. On her street, she has witnessed how structural racism and poverty create a pipeline from school to prison. She was determined to take a different path, go to college, break out of the trap. Music was a beacon that illuminated her path.
“I really think about it because I have friends who are locked up,” she says.
Campbell’s parents were music lovers. Her father liked The Clash, in addition to the reggae of his homeland. Her mother listened to everything from Nina Simone to David Bowie, whom her parents first mistook for a black man.
While her high school friends were into Aaliyah, Campbell loved jamming Nine Inch Nails. She may not have been part of the punk scene, but she says, “I feel like punk is more of an attitude anyway.”
She personified bold directness of form and shameless self-expression. “I don’t think it has to do with the mohawk or spikes or anything,” she says. “I think it’s Little Richard’s punk rock. You know, he’s black in (mid 20th century), dressed in clothes, made up and (expletive). … What could be better than punk rock?”
“I have a lot of anger”
Since the band’s inception, Campbell’s vocals and drummer Thomas Valles’ brutal barrage of beats have cemented Pleasure Venom. Rebirth/Return features the debut of a line-up featuring guitarist Chase Dungan and bassist Jordan Emmert. This is a winning combination.
“(Chase) is probably the strongest guitar player we’ve ever played with. And I feel like only Jordan can really keep up with him,” says Campbell.
The album is a resurgence because “we literally look different” and a comeback because it’s been over three years since the last EP, she says.
During the hiatus, the group struggled with the coronavirus pandemic and emotions caused by police violence against black people. A political climate that included rampant disinformation, normalized racism and homophobia, and the recent Supreme Court ruling to sentence Roe v. Wade formed the backdrop for the writing process. It was a tough time, says Campbell.
“I want to resist people who try to tell me to shut up (expletive) about how I feel,” she says. “I know there’s been a lot of anger on this record for me.”
In the lyrics, she relied on vivid images. “Life is in our throat / Choke,” she screams at the opening of the album “Behind They Eyes”. Her voice explodes during “Wings Under Us/Scorched to the Fingertips” in “Pardon”. The brilliant single “We Get What They Deserve” is a loud rebuke to rising fascism. The video shows a regal Campbell adorned with a crown and scepter. She claims her throne as footage of Ku Klux Klan rallies plays behind her.
“I hate that we are still talking about anti-Semitism, racism. I wish we were just more forward-thinking,” she says.
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“I don’t think I’m a politician. I think I’m just black’
As a black woman in Austin’s predominantly white punk scene, Campbell often felt isolated. She’s been through “so many weird microaggressions it’s not even (expletive) funny,” she says.
According to her, some clubs offered the band ridiculously low guarantees; other clubs refused to book them, saying they were too political, a characterization Campbell dismisses.
“I don’t think I’m a politician. I think I’m just black,” she says. According to her, the band never played at political events or told people how to vote.
Despite resistance, Campbell will not back down.
“I’d rather you know clearly where I stand and how I feel about things, because I’m already going to be politicized no matter what, being a black woman in punk rock,” she says.