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In her first year at Harvard, enterprising guitarist Amy R. Klein ’07 began a poster campaign across campus to solicit interest in a fresh and dangerous idea she had, an all-grrl Harvard punk band.
It was not an auspicious beginning. “I had two responses,” she laughs, “one from a boy.”
Undeterred, Klein would continue to scour the campus for other female undergraduates similarly vexed by the prevalence of men in Harvard’s rock scene. By her second semester, she had put together the five-piece band that would become Plan B for the Type As.
Future violinist/guitarist/vocalist Irene S. Choi ’07 and drummer Shirley L. Hufstedler ’07 were fellow compers for Record Hospital, the underground rock program on student radio station WHRB. Klein met bassist Tessa B. Johung ’07 through a mutual friend. The fifth member of the band she found close to home: her roommate Karima M. Porter ’07 agreed to sing and play guitar, although she had never before picked up the instrument.
Klein says the five women’s foremost goal was to “inspire a degree of confidence in young women on campus.” The band members say they were bothered by the absence of women in rock groups at Harvard and wanted to bring a new dimension to the campus scene.
Having found kindred spirits and armed with a do-it-yourself can-do ethos, the first-year quintet set about practicing and writing songs. But progress was initially slow.
Strapped for rehearsal space, Klein and Hufstedler engaged in some preliminary practices in the Weld laundry room. Future practices were similar guerrilla affairs, a lack of money and equipment leading the band towards unorthodox solutions.
Choi recalls how the band adapted to the absence of microphone stands: By taping their makeshift microphone to a Harvard-issued floor lamp. The band members had cheap instruments and small practice amps, and Choi says the first time she actually held a real microphone with the group was at their first show, a performance in the Quincy Cage that was, in Hufstedler’s words, “a total bomb.” The show was plagued by broken strings and other assorted equipment problems. At the time Porter had been playing guitar for less than a month, a fact that she says made the experience “very interesting.”
The band members insist that these initial difficulties served only to bind them closer together. They speak of their beginnings now like war veterans. Klein calls the first show “a formative moment. Everybody came together.” Knowing what they were up against, the band members redoubled their commitment to the group, vowing to procure some decent equipment and to rehearse more often and more intensely.
The songs kept coming. Originally centered on simple three-chord punk riffs, Plan B songs quickly evolved rhythmically and melodically, pushed along by the band’s formal musical training. Klein says that the writing process has been increasingly collaborative as the band has gained experience and confidence.
Plan B takes its artistic cues chiefly from the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s and all-woman punk-hardcore bands like Team Dresch, but each member has her own very different tastes, ranging from funk to Pantera, and consequently their songs vary stylistically. Lyrically the songs are abrasive and confrontational, and Plan B performs them with an unabashed rawness that makes them more immediate and affecting.
In the interest of not forgetting the songs they’d written, the band entered an on-campus studio in the middle of finals period to lay down a primitive demo. On a whim they submitted said demo to local nightclubs.
“We weren’t expecting anything,” Klein says. But they soon found themselves booked for a gig at the famed Middle East club in Cambridge, a venue for indie up-and-comers from across the country. Klein also contacted the Ladyfest festival, a non-profit annual event dedicated to supporting women artists. Incredibly, Plan B’s simple demo won the five sophomores a spot on the bill this weekend in New York City, where they will be playing alongside musical idols like the Butchies, the Gossip and Le Tigre.
The band’s first major off-campus test took place Monday at the Middle East. Playing on the small but comfortable upstairs stage, the quintet played for a respectable number, many of them friends from Harvard. The band played seven songs, all of them fast and energetic. Choi played electric violin to good effect. Porter and Choi chiefly split vocal duties, with Klein singing backup.
The audience responded to the music, swaying and bobbing along. Predictably, the band at first appeared a little tight, still adjusting to the professional stage. With more experience, their stage presence ought to develop naturally. Fans mobbed them as they left the stage after playing.
As they prepare to head to this weekend’s Ladyfest, where they will likely be the youngest band to perform, Plan B have tried to uphold a tough schedule of five weekly practices. They have found a regular practice space in Winthrop House and have upgraded much of their equipment, all the while trying to balance band commitments with schoolwork.
“You get back from your rock star moment and it’s ‘Oh no, I’ve got a paper to write,’” Klein says.
The band members say that they have found increasing support from other student bands and are looking to make the scene more welcome to other would-be upstart groups. Johung says Plan B would like to foster a “better network of equipment sharing” to counter what was their greatest problem when they began, hopefully spurring more groups to form.
“Punk’s a great thing on campus,” Klein says. “It’s a good social thing. Kids don’t have to drink, they can just have fun and jump and be crazy.”
“We just hope our example will inspire other girls to pick up guitars,” adds Hufstedler. “Something is happening.”
—Staff writer William B. Higgins can be reached at email@example.com.
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