Burning down the house

It's summer, 1994, and Pervis is headlining an MCA Records showcase at Trees. Co-sirens Rachael Strauss and Cristina Harrison writhe, high-kick, and caterwaul to the punk-metal rumble of their three male counterparts. "Slut rock," one naysayer snarls, echoing the common kiss-off above the din of a full house. "They're just like L7."

That Rachael and Cristina, both now 28, play up the sexy angle is undeniable. The popular press has called them "rowdy [and] rude" (Fort Worth Star-Telegram); the "dynamic duo of nastiness" (Buddy); and "nymphomaniac praying mantises devouring a million lovers" (Alternative Press) and has repeatedly mentioned the sequins, fishnets, and "micro-minis" adorning these "acid-casualty chicks dressed as titty dancers" (Your Flesh). But while the duo admit that after the band formed in 1991 they "used to hump each other," and they still "do strange things with microphones" and shriek obscenities onstage, sexual histrionics have never been the point. Unlike other "chick" bands such as L7 and Hole, the Pervs are also skilled musicians.

"It got stupid," says Cristina. "In the beginning, when we were all running and falling, that applied. But now we sing more. You have to concentrate." Drummer Harden Harrison--Cristina's husband and the self-described "coot" of Pervis at 31--is a veteran of now-defunct metal crew Rigor Mortis. "You got two chicks up there jumping around and shit; all the guys are gonna dig it," he says. "But that's not why we have them for singers. We always thought that was a hindrance, in fact, as far as people really listening to the music."

"If someone can't see past us two dorks up there," says Cristina, "then he's got a problem." A woman from MCA who was at Trees saw well enough to secure $2,000 for a three-song demo, "knowing good and well she was not gonna sign us," says Rachael.

"She said we weren't hummable," Cristina adds. Pervis went on to release the aggressive songs recorded for MCA as an independent 7-inch; several labels have offered Pervis similarly cautious deals. "We've looked at a lot of contracts," says Rachael. "And it's just a bunch of bullshit"--what bass player Les Bewley, also 28, calls "multiple tomfoolery."

"They want too much control," says drummer Harrison. "Or too many records. Or it's not enough money." Pervis tours constantly and has released a handful of cassettes and records as well as a four-song CD on local label Last Beat. With scant exposure, they've developed a national following and musical maturity; the long-awaited first full-length Pervis CD, NeckOrNothing, will be released this week.

In the Last Beat recording studio in Deep Ellum, Pervis is mixing NeckOrNothing. Though the CD will be released on Idol Records, the band continues to work with Last Beat engineer Ben Yeager; NeckOrNothing will be the first full-length project at the revamped studio.

Yeager is fixed on the breezy chorus to "Vitamin C." "I've got this small demon/It lives in my head/It won't fucking leave me alone," the women sing--rather than scream as they often did on the band's earlier efforts.

"I think we're getting more confident [and] trying to broaden our horizons," Rachael says. "We still like to keep some of that harder stuff where we're balls-out, and then have more...singing."

Cristina reclines on the black leather sofa and buries her face in a recent Vanity Fair reprint of Madonna's journals. "I'm reading about my mentor," she says. "Is that funny? It's very cool not to like her. But I love her. I think I'm obsessed with her. I've actually had a sex dream about her. Can we talk about Madonna in the interview? Just kidding. Oh my God! My band's gonna kill me."

Childhood friends Rachael, a Chicago native, and Cristina, from WYrzburg, West Germany, met in the seventh grade in Bonn. Rachael's father taught at the school where the girls sang in the formal choir. "Can't you tell?" asks Rachael sarcastically. The instructor sat them together because they "sounded better that way," she says, then expelled them.

"For talking too much," the two women say in unison.
"For talking in stereo," says guitarist Eric Schmidt, 29.
"That's where we met," says Rachael.
"And fell in love," says Cristina.

"That's when we used to like each other," says Rachael. "We used to be a lot more alike. She's gone one direction, and I've gone another, personally."

Eric has another theory: "Going on tour has..." But suddenly everyone is yammering about who fights more on the road--the women with each other, or, as the women insist, them in solidarity against the rest of the band. "Shit!" Harden yells. "What the fuck was all the wrestling matches and punches and shit!?"

"Did you not almost just fucking break her neck in L.A.?" Eric asks Rachael.
"I wouldn't say that!"
Rachael compares herself and Cristina to bickering brothers Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes or Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis; the pair have been inseparable since their early teens. Again, they speak in sync: "We're like sisters."

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Alex Magocsi