The Best a Band Can Get: The Story of Pussy Gillette

A scene veteran and a bass beginner coin the best band name in Austin – and the music's good, too


Pussy Gillette: (l-r) Brent Prager, Masani Negloria, and Nathan Calhoun (Photo by John Anderson)

Masani Negloria tightens her cape. Nathan Calhoun lights a cigarette.

"You suckas better hold your breath, 'Cause we're Pussy Gillette, and this gun's for hire!"

With a snappy snare, Austin's best-named band comes to life.

A leather-clad Negloria – or Blackula, as she's known tonight – fingerpicks a fuzzy bass line and Calhoun, in a skeleton suit, scratches out power chords next to her. Drummer Brent Prager, in a banana suit, supplies the concussive beat.

It's Halloween and Swedish rockers the Hives are about to close out the final night of the Levitation festival. Before the Aughts garage sensations can grace the Mohawk stage, Austin punks Pussy Gillette are here to prime the crowd.

Calhoun keeps it cool – shades on, lips pursed to keep his cigarette steady. Prager pounds away, bangs in his face. Negloria, however, chats up the audience after every song, a bravado in her voice akin to that of a rockstar entertaining a stadium. Little does the club crowd know, this is her first project.

"I didn't know I could do any of this until I actually did it," the singer, 36, says over coffee at Cherrywood, weeks before the gig. "I just had a bass that I would kind of stare at, but I didn't really stick to it."

One day, on a whim, her longtime friend Calhoun – a veteran of Austin's underground whose past projects include Chaindrive and Gibby Haynes & His Problem and currently plays bass in heavy psych melters We Are the Asteroid – invited her to jam. The duo wrote their first song that night.

"I Don't Wanna Be Right," the product of that spur-of-the-moment writing session, appears on Pussy Gillette's eponymous debut album, out November 19. At less than 90 seconds, the amelodic track elephant stomps out the LP, Negloria's yelps piercing through Calhoun's guitar howl. "I got better things to do than sit and lie in bed with you," the bassist sneers.

The band's core pair still emphasize spontaneity when it comes to writing and recording. They put their sprawling, 19-song LP to tape over just three days last March.

"I've been in projects where we labor over things for a really long time and I don't know if they ever come out any better than they do just making it up really quick," Calhoun reasons over a cigarette.

Originally from Pennsylvania, the guitarist began playing in bands as a teenager and moved to Austin in 1990 – drawn by the promise of cheap rent. He met Prager, who also plays bass in deviant punk institution Fuckemos, back then, when Prager was drumming for noise legends Cherubs the first time around. In true punk rock fashion, Calhoun recorded the Pussy Gillette album himself, to a four-track cassette.

Dominated by mid-tempo barn burners, Pussy Gillette specializes in mostly fun, slightly nasty garage rock, the kind that bursts in and out in under three minutes. Opener "2 to 10" is all distortion, while the wailing riff in "Surf City" drives home the track's seaside theme.

Latest sludgy single "Banana" sums up the band's humor well: "I got a problem with you stealing my banana/ And when I find you I will show you the hammer," Negloria threatens. Surely there's a double entendre in there somewhere. Soon enough, however, you wonder if the absurdity is literal: "I got a crunchy lettuce wrap at home/ Just let me eat my banana alone." In the music video, Calhoun and Prager don banana suits while Negloria meanmugs in a purple bikini, wielding a sledgehammer. A fire rages behind them. In keeping with the trio's analog aesthetic, they shot the visual on VHS.

Jokes aside, Pussy Gillette can also veer political. "Mala Noche," which Negloria sings in Spanish, "is just about, you know," the singer pauses, choosing her words carefully. "It's a little darker of a song. I guess it denounces Christ."

"Wow," Calhoun says, laughing. "I just thought it sounded cool."

The growling track comes second only to "Walking Crime" in terms of bite. Where one decries heavenly bodies, the latter rejects secular authority. A condemnation of police overreach, the singer's description of dehumanization cuts through the sonic grime. "They'll find a way to make you feel you're better off dead," she spits over a back-and-forth riff. As the bass rumbles, it all hinges on one line: "You see me as a walking crime, but you're just a pig to me!"

“You see me as a walking crime, but you’re just a pig to me!” Pussy Gillette’s bassist/vocalist Masani Negloria sings on the track “Walking Crime.”

Pussy Gillette released "Walking Crime" as a single in May 2020 in the wake of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, but Calhoun and Negloria emphasize that the song – inspired by the bassist's own experience with losing a friend to police violence – had been written before the summer's surge in protests.

"I've experienced racism my entire life," Negloria says. "So the fact that it's so new to some people, or some people are finally opening their eyes about it, is an interesting thing."

It's clear Negloria would rather let her lyrics speak for themselves than dive deep into her thoughts and experiences with racism. She states the obvious – things need to change – but her muted demeanor conveys an exhaustion recognizable to all Black people.

Calhoun sits quietly as his bandmate discusses the song and its context. But as the conversation broadens, and we discuss diversity in the local music scene, he offers his own perspective.

The guitarist thinks back to the Austin he first encountered in the Nineties, soon after the Dicks and the Big Boys – "bands fronted by gay men and communists," he underlines – made their names.

"There was a strong lesbian scene, people of color were always in bands," Calhoun says. "That's always been a hallmark of Austin. Mixed race, mixed sexes, mixed sexual preferences. They're really prevalent here. And I think a lot of that was lost maybe in the last 20 years."

Suddenly acutely aware of his monologue, Calhoun pauses. "Did I interrupt and take over with my privileged speak?" he asks. "Sorry."

Despite his persistent apologies, Negloria simply laughs. Perhaps she's used to Calhoun's speeches – perhaps she just didn't have anything else to say.

This is Pussy Gillette's core dynamic summarized: while the two come from starkly different backgrounds, musically and otherwise, they exhibit a tight bond and a clear understanding of each other. Negloria is succinct, Calhoun speaks in paragraphs. Calhoun cracks jokes, and Negloria laughs heartily.

This unspoken intelligence informs the duo's writing. Calhoun describes Negloria as the band's driving song force, whose basslines serve as the creative scaffolding of their songs, and himself as PG's nitpicky museum curator, who offers constructive criticism along the way.

"And we don't get mad at each other, which is pretty good," he says happily.

Despite their differences – "Masani likes PROG," Calhoun exclaims – they've been able to avoid band drama, which the music veteran sighs is a "whole 'nother job."

With their first LP in the can, what's next for Pussy Gillette? Tour?

"I was thinking about writing this thing about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid that plays pinball," Calhoun offers.

Negloria cackles. "You could do a whole movie about that."

At least they have a plan.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Pussy Gillette, Masani Negloria, Nathan Calhoun, Brent Prager, Cherubs, Fuckemos, Gibby Haynes and His Problem, Chaindrive

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