Eighties Punks Meat Joy Reminisce After Landing in Austin for Reunion Dates

Triple homecoming shows around their 1984 LP reissue kick off tomorrow

A performance shot from the Meat Joy archives (courtesy of Meat Joy)

The nearly four-decade story of Meat Joy, the genre-bending early Eighties quintet returning to Austin for three homecoming shows this week, is one of happy accidents.

Choosing a suitable name to epitomize their punk-folk fusion and improvisational onstage antics proved no exception. At a tucked-away Highland neighborhood Airbnb acting as their homecoming base camp, the freshly reunited group’s five members – Mellissa Cobb-DeMille, Tim Mateer, John (Perkins) Hawkes, Gretchen Phillips, and Jamie Spidle – dished on the joy of found treasures in early-Eighties Austin.

“I was a textbook stocking clerk at the University Co-Op around the time when we were looking for a name, and I would leaf through books that I was interested in,” explains Cobb-DeMille, also a former vocalist/guitarist for Austin indie groups Black Spring, Stick Figures, and the Delinquents. “I found a book with Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy, an off-Broadway performance.”

“Off, off, off-Broadway,” interjects Mateer.

Schneemann’s boundary-pushing visual art – full of blood, nudity, and brutally honest depictions of sexual politics – served as an artistic catalyst for the young group, who shared the same urgent need to push the bounds of genre and gender. Less a punk band than an artistic collective, the fivepiece fused dance, visual art, and left-of-center musical experimentation into transfixing live performances.

Their first homecoming show arrives tomorrow – Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 4pm – at End of an Ear. Catch them for free at the South Austin record shop or at queer mainstay Cheer Up Charlies the next night – Thursday, Oct. 19 at 7pm – with an opening performance by elusive folk experimenter Edith Frost. On Saturday, Oct. 21, the group concludes their romp through Austin with two sets at the arty Museum of Human Achievement’s 7,500-square-foot showroom. From cozy vinyl retailers to spacious warehouse dance floors, the band’s choice of venues is as eclectic as the group themselves.

“What we really wanted to do was be nonbinary. In a certain way, punk can be seen as pretty binary, and we were not the slightest bit interested in that.” – Gretchen Phillips

“We never thought of ourselves as a punk band – if even a band – because we did more than the music,” explains Hawkes, visiting his former Austin stomping grounds from his current L.A. homebase. “There weren't a lot of punk bands playing the acoustic shows that we would do regularly at that time.”

“What we really wanted to do was be nonbinary,” adds Phillips, whose long list of musical pursuits includes Girls in the Nose, Two Nice Girls, and the Gretchen Phillips Experience. “In a certain way, punk can be seen as pretty binary, and we were not the slightest bit interested in that.”

Last Friday, the group re-released their previously out-of-stock self-titled 1984 debut album via Bandcamp. Despite its unpredictable fluctuations in genre, an undeniably punk ethos ties a unifying string between the group’s one-and-only full-length, creating a time capsule of twentysomethings uninterested in appealing to mainstream musical palates.

Take “Another Pair,” a mathy, deceptively upbeat declaration of wanting better for yourself and your loved ones set to jagged electric chords. Penned by Cobb-DeMille from the perspective of a sleazy suitor in pursuit of Spidle, the track relies on cathartic humor to assuage the all-too-familiar wounds of objectification: “But there's another pair of breasts on the other side of town/ They're bigger than yours so I gotta fool around.

Just three songs down the tracklist, listeners find themselves in a new world. Landing midway between earnestness and self-deprecating camp, “My Heart Crawls Off,” a grief-stricken acoustic rumination on queer heartbreak, sees Phillips wax between lust and disgust for an ex-lover. Amidst self-pitying sobs, the songwriter can’t help but find the humor in her heartbreak: “Y’alll have probably gone so far/ That she's seen that mole on your knee.”

Gretchen Phillips on guitar during a Meat Joy show (courtesy of Meat Joy)

Unfazed by nostalgia, Hawkes reflects on the enduring force of Meat Joy’s musical output: “They’ve lived in me the whole time. I’ve wanted this [reunion] to happen, not right after the band broke up, but for the last 25-plus years. When we play the songs, they still really sing to me.”

“This band’s songs are my favorite,” agrees Spidle, whose percussion prowess also benefitted fellow Austin DIY gem Buffalo Gals and alt.country outfit Cowboy Nation. “It’s my favorite band I’ve been in, and I never really forgot the songs.”

At their live sets, hand-decorated physical copies of their debut release will be available for purchase, alongside a retrospective book of archival photographs and interviews. Though fairly tight-lipped in regards to what to expect from their upcoming performances, their track record of onstage anarchy and DIY goofiness sets expectations high.

“The thing is, Meat Joy wants to do what Meat Joy wants to do – anytime, anywhere,” Phillips says. “That’s just the truth – we always just want to do our thing.

“I mean, give us a fucking warehouse space, please, we will do a thing. Do you have a record store that has a little tiny corner that’s two feet by two feet? Great, let’s fit five people in there!”


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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Meat Joy, Mellissa Cobb-DeMille, Tim Mateer, John Perkins, John Hawkes, Gretchen Phillips, Jamie Spidle

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