Over three years ago, Tessa Byrd grew restless in her life as a business-owning CPA and decided to revisit her short-lived career as a punk singer, which she'd abandoned in high school. At the same time, rock drummer Andi Cuba, having earned a degree in social studies, was looking for bands on Craigslist. Today they play together in Tricounty Terror, a loudly talented, endlessly rowdy band that boasts an all-female lineup.
"I met the widest range of random people," Cuba says of her search for bandmates. "There was one couple in the middle of nowhere in some backwoods Texas town, and their arms were just covered in track marks. I pretty much ran out of there." She and Byrd eventually met, as Byrd puts it, "while kicking down a fence," and it was band at first sight. The band grew to include Cera Johnson on bass, and Kelsey Wilson and Erica Pipes on lead and rhythm guitars, respectively.
While the group isn't particularly feminist — "We don't have a message," says Cuba — the all-girl lineup has remained rigid. "Female musicians are hard to find, and we've had a lot of guys who've wanted to join, but that's not an option," says Byrd. "You don't see a lot of successful all-female bands, and that's what we're trying to be." As Cuba puts it, "We wanted an all-girl band that's really actually good, not just a gimmick."
Byrd is clear, however, that the band is steadfastly nonpolitical, and that the members themselves don't even discuss their own views with one another. "I just like the camaraderie; I consider these girls my best friends and sisters. Like the other day where I fell on my ass on the road and broke my foot. I'm not embarrassed in front of them."
There's no "pretty in punk" quality to Tricounty Terror. (They're not a baby dolled-up band, screaming venomously in tiaras.) But even though the members don't attempt to exploit their womanly charms — except in having the wonderful business sense to invite online-dating-site suitors to meet them at their shows — they don't play them down either. "Promoters have a hard time placing us," Byrd says, describing what actually sounds like an opposite all-purpose value. "We've played with hardcore, metal, punk and stoner rock bands."
While punk culture has comically trickled down from the Sex Pistols to Blink 182, and from Vivienne Westwood to Hot Topic, the local punk scene in Dallas stays strong. "Punk bands are easy to start up," says Byrd. There's not exactly a local riot grrrl movement, but there are abundant isolated clusters of talented hardcore female musicians. Byrd, Johnson and Pipes had come from punk bands, but they took on more of a metal sound, particularly after recruiting Wilson.
"Sometimes people associate us with Bikini Kill, and that's cool, but they're very different," says Cuba. "You don't see guys in a metal band being compared to the Sex Pistols." They see themselves as more in line with the Runaways — but, as Byrd points out, "They were 16, and we're grown-ass women." The group has just signed on with Extreme Management Group in New York, and are seeking a label for their completed yet unreleased debut LP, which was produced by Rachel Bolan from Skid Row.
The band recently took off for a weekend tour on a disturbingly early Saturday morning, playing charades to pass the time and making a near obligatory stop at a casino. The scene in the car evoked an improvised Woody Allen dialogue, overlapping with natural absurdity as one discussed an upcoming funeral over the phone and the others loudly expressed worries about forgetting essentials like weed and vitamins. Despite much talk, no drug use materialized, though drinking did start at 9 a.m.
In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, they headlined a show at The Tavern, a dark bar that doesn't "take any plastic, but there's an ATM," with an atmosphere that vaguely recalls the cantina scene in Star Wars. They filled up the venue nicely, though it sweltered with testosterone and an audience member was overheard saying, "Holy shit! They're fucking women," with (at best) neutral curiosity, before getting lost in a crowd of head-banging snobs, who appeared to quickly get over their shock and initial skepticism.
Byrd has a tough-talking Southern drawl, and she used it to full effect on the crowd: "We're from Dallas fucking Texas," she spat. "We've been accused of being witches before, so be careful who you call out. You never know when it might be true." They certainly made Dallas fucking Texas proud, playing from the heart, soul and crotch.
In New Orleans they wreaked havoc in the halls of the Dauphine Orleans hotel, just by being. Their voices seem to carry naturally and, even in a city that sees it all, people still asked every few steps whether they were part of a band. At a historic restaurant, the sophisticated diners looked over with disapproval at their vulgar language, while the fancy waitress transformed from professional to a cussing punk fangirl in the course of the interaction.
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The Saturn Club, which is in a corner so shoddy they were advised to act as locals, made a perfectly apt locale, a gloriously shabby hole-in-the-wall with a black cat wandering about. They followed "Dem Nasty Habits," a mask-wearing metal band that had a bloody mannequin head with feathers lying on the stage floor. Still, Tricounty Terror out-metaled and out-punked them.
Johnson, who's like an angel-faced Sid Vicious, is clearly the wild card. Following a dispute with her band members (and a man in the crowd) over her volume levels, she spent the entire show in a rage, with her back to the audience, and it somehow worked well. While the others kept their cool, Johnson's none-fucks-given attitude kept the band's punk element genuine. It was a gloomy day to begin with in New Orleans, as a shooting that wounded 16 people had just taken place in a French Quarter park. Byrd's screams bounced from all walls and Cuba was manic, while Pipes and Wilson shredded demonically.
The band will suck you in. They can convert anyone to a follower — except for the interstate highway cops. After Wilson joked that they should change their name to Tricounty Terrible Drivers, they got a ticket for speeding. Despite being a band with no message, Tricounty Terror inadvertently represent what many girl groups like the Spice Girls wish they were: a true display of female badassery that embraces all types of women, be they mothers, lesbians, sexpots, tomboys, professionals, rebels or anything in between.
"We're not going to let anybody or anything hold us back from seeing how far it can possibly go," Byrd says. Then she adds with a laugh, "We're a force to be reckoned with. Don't be fooled by Southern charm and pretty faces."