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Members include James Canty, guitar; Steve Gamboa, drums; Michelle Mae (born Michelle Mae Orr), bass, vocals; Ian Svenonious, vocals. Addresses: Record company--K Records, P.O. Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98507, phone: (360) 786-1594, website: http://www.kpunk.com.
Combining an unabashed love of 1960s R&B, soul music, punk rock, and forward-thinking politics, Washington, D.C.'s The Make-Up created their own set of rules dubbed Gospel Yeh-Yeh, or, as the All Music Guide called it, a "self-styled liberation theology." Through this life regime, as well as with their highly energetic and participatory live shows, not to mention their grasp on synchronized mod fashion, vocalist Ian Svenonious, guitarist James Canty, drummer Steve Gamboa, and bassist Michelle Mae were at the forefront of the '60s inspired rock revival that started in the mid-90s indie and punk scenes.
The Make-Up sprang out of a number of collaborations involving Svenonious, Canty, and Gamboa, who were all active members in burgeoning Washington, D.C. punk and hardcore scene that birthed Dischord Records, the label owned by Fugazi's Ian McKaye and his former Minor Threat bandmate Jeff Nelson. The first project between the three came in 1988, with the formation of their anarchist-punk quintet Nation of Ulysses. Featuring Svenonious on vocals and trumpet, Canty on drums, Gamboa on bass, and guitarists Tim Green and Steve Kroner, the band created radical manifestos and assembled a tongue-in-cheek, but no less serious political agenda---one that would crop up in some form during the inception of The Make-Up. An example of this kind of propaganda can be found on the Nation of Ulysess section of the Southern Records website, where the band's "background" is explained. It reads, "The Conservative Nation of Ulysses (conservative refers to a reserved manner of dressing and acting) is a violent and rejectionist group operating out of the Washington, D.C. area who seek to 'wreak their vision on the world' through the medium of music. Despite fiery condemnation by both liberals and the right, and a virulent campaign waged by the media and by parents' groups, their aggressive campaign seems undaunted, and schoolyards now more than ever chime with the chant: 'Ulysses, Ulysses, little flower, beloved by all the youth.'"
The band released a wealth of material, including a self titled 7" as a split release between K Records and Dischord, and included songs on compliations from Kill Rock Stars, Simple Machines, and Tim Kerr. They also released the Sound of Young America EP on Dischord/K in 1990, The Brith of a Ulysses Aesthetic EP in 1992 on Dischord, and two full length records--13-Point Plan to Destroy America on Dischord in 1991 and Plays Pretty For Baby on Dischord in 1992. Kroner left the band before Nation of Ulysses was to record their third album, but the remaining four members set forth anyway. However, the band broke up before the record was completed. In 2000, six songs from those sessions, as well as some live tracks, were released as The Embassy Tapes.
Following the break up of Nation of Ulysses, Svenonious, Canty, and Gamboa were at it again with their new band Cupid Car Club, M.P.. Svenonious was again featured on vocals, but this time Canty came out from behind the drums and manned guitar. In a similar fashion, Gamboa took on the drums, a different instrument than he had previously played in Nation of Ulysses. Kim Thompson, who would later go on to play in a bevy of groups, including Skull Kontrol, Delta 72, Apehouse, and Sweet Heat, played bass in the band. Their only release came in 1994, a four song 7" called "Werewolves" on Kill Rock Stars.
After Cupid Car Club, M.P. dissolved, Svenonious, Canty, and Gamboa continued playing together, forming the short-lived project The T.A.M.I. Show. Then, in 1995, the band drafted bassist Michelle Mae Orr (she later dropped the Orr), who previously played in the Frumpies and was also a member of Witchypoo, to form what would be collectively known as The Make-Up. In a 1999 interview with the Weekly Wire, Svenonious explained the motivation to start The Make-Up. "Our last band, Nation of Ulysses, was a political party. And this one, it's based on gospel. Political people as well as performers have had a habit of retreating into the church. We go there because the church is not subject to the whims of the pop marketplace." Their first release came in the form of the 7" "Blue is Beautiful" single on their own Black Gemini Records. Setting a trend that would follow them throughout their career, the band's second and third releases were also 7" singles, one with the Meta-Matics on Black Gemini Records and one with Slant 6 on Time Bomb Records. In 1996, they released another single, this time on K Records, called "R.U.A. Believer," which featured a remix by Dub Narcotic Sound System on the B-side.
While the band was busy releasing singles, they were also experimenting in free form and improvised songs at their live shows instead of writing a full-fledged album. To document this, the band's first album was a live one, entitled Destination: Love LIVE! at Cold Rice, released on Dischord in 1996. All Music Guide explained, "Where most bands focus on writing tight songs or ambitious musical interludes, the Make-Up create music where the style is the substance. They're about sex, energy, and the underground, and all of those gel into a dynamic record."
After issuing a 7" single in Japan on Time Bomb Records in October of 1996, The Make-Up returned in Februrary of 1997 with another live album entitled Make Up After Dark. The album runs through a similar form of the bands improved gospel-rock that they displayed on their earlier releases. In a review of the album, the Online Daily of the University of Washington said, "The Make Up After Dark is full of ecstatic screams of 'Baby,' 'Can I hear you say "yeah"?' and just plain 'All right!' If you didn't know it, you'd swear that the four members of The Make Up had stolen the soul from James Brown himself." They went on to say that, "One of the highlights of After Dark is the amazing vocal performance that Svenonius gives on 'We Can't Be Contained,' which grows from a simple bass-and-organ riff into a powerful testimonial that asks "the children" in the audience to "just reach out their hands." It's got classic-rock soul to it (not to mention a little bit of Al Green) and might be the most powerful moment on the album."
After a number of singles, tours and two live albums, The Make-Up finally issued their first proper studio album, entitled Sound Verite, on K Records in March of 1997. Produced by Calvin Johnson, owner of K Records and the man behind Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic Sound System, the album sports a cover that is similar to Love's Forever Changes---a band with whom The Make-Up were often compared. Of the actual music on the album, All Music Guide said, "Songwriting isn't one of The Make Up's specialties---very few of the individual songs stand out---yet their overall sound is frighteningly energetic. The brittle production makes Sound Verite sound as if it would break in two at any moment, especially since the band keeps pushing themselves forward at a blinding speed."
The Make-Up released two more singles in 1997. The first, issued in October on K Records, was "Free Arthur Lee," a song promoting the release of Love singer Arthur Lee, who was jailed in 1996 for shooting off a gun in the air during an argument with his neighbor and illegal possesion of a firearm (he was released in 2001). All City Records also released a single in December for the song "Wade in the Water." The band's song, "Hanging Out in Somebody Else's World," was also featured on Dub Narcotic's compliation called Selector Dub Narcotic, and released on K Records that same month. 1997 also saw The Make-Up being cast as the subject of filmmaker James Schnieder's tour documentary called Blue Is Beautiful, which was released by Dischord in 1998.
In March of 1998, the band returned to Dischord and released the In Mass Mind album, which was also released under their own Black Gemini Records imprint. Produced by Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrma, All Music Guide said of the collaboration that, "As evidenced by the album's warm, detailed sound, the collaboration is a perfect fit, bringing just enough polish and focus to the Make-Up's music to make it even more powerful. 'Black Wire Pt. 1,' 'Drop the Needle,' and 'The Joy of Sound' show off the group's dynamic, theatrical side, while 'Earth Worm,' 'Do You Like Gospel Music,' 'Time Machine,' and 'Caught Up in the Rapture' are atmospheric and soulful, further explorations into the band's widening sonic territory."
The summer of 1998 also saw two more singles from The Make-Up. They released a split 7" with the band Lung Leg on Sourthern/Vesuvius Records in June and the "U R My Intended" single on K Records in July. After more touring commenced to support In Mass Mind, the band didn't release any material until almost exactly one year later. But, instead of a new studio album, The Make-Up did their rabid fans a favor, collecting all of their hard -to-find singles on one album. Entitled I Want Some, and released in March of 1999 on K Records, the album included tracks like "Pow! to the People," "Blue is Beautiful," and "Free Arthur Lee" on CD for the first time.
A few months later, The Make-Up returned with another studio effort called Save Yourself. Released on K Records, the album garnered some of the most positive reviews The Make-Up saw in their entire career. Pitchforkmedia.com said, "Save Yourself stubbornly eats from the salad days of rock and roll, specifically the late '60s, as contemporary music continues to spin toward sardonic Pro-Tools pastiches. The album can proudly stand next to the Rolling Stones' Between the Buttons in even the baldest, pony- tailedest guitar shop employee's collection. Raw and clean with a touch of psychedelica, Save Yourself punches the perfect buttons with devilish effeciency." Popmatters.com said, "Save Yourself is funk, it's soul, it's gospel, and it's all wrapped and sealed with the most decadent, sleazy kiss you've ever received. Get it, turn it on and get turned on, and find out just how hot Gospel Yeh-Yeh can get."
The positive reviews, however, couldn't keep the band together, and they soon split up following the release of Save Yourself. In an interview with Seattle weekly The Stranger, Svenonious said, "The Make-Up's form of presentation was getting redundant because it was getting copied too much. It needed changing or stopping, so we stopped!" James Canty went on to play in an early incarnation of the Pharmacists, a band headed by Ted Leo (ex-Chisel member, who also guested on Save Yourself). He played guitar on the EP Treble in Trouble, released by Ace Fu in 2000 and on the Pharmacists first album The Tyranny of Distance, releaed by Lookout! Records in 2001, and he later started the two-piece band French Toast in 2001 with Fugazi and All Scars drummer Jerry Busher. They released the Bugman EP on Arrest Records soon afterwards.
Svenonious and Mae continuted playing together after The Make-Up's breakup, first as the project Weird War, a band that included Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux, as well as Jessica Espelenta and Steve McCarthy. A self-titled release was issued in 2002 on Drag City, but the band dissolved when Hagerty left to pursue a solo career. Svenonious and Mae then recruited Six Finger Satellite/Golden guitarist Alex Minoff to form the Scene Creamers. They released I Suck on that Emotion for Drag City in 2003, but were forced to change their name due to a legal battle with a French graffitti artist collective. They reverted back to Weird War and released If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em on Drag City in January of 2004.
by Ryan Allen
The Make-Up's Career
Group formed in Washington, DC, 1995; released first 7" singles on Black Gemini and Time Bomb Records, 1995; released live album Destination: Love LIVE! At Cold Rice, on Dischord, 1996; recorded first studio album Sound Verite, released on K Records, 1997; contributed to Selector Dub Narcotic, 1997; released video Blue is Beautiful, directed by James Schneider, 1998; released In Mass Mind on Dischord, 1998; released singles compilation album I Want Some, 1999; released Save Yourself, 1999; disbanded; members went on to form and join other groups, including Svenonious and Mae in Weird War, and Canty in Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
- Selected discography
- "Blue is Beautiful," Black Gemini, 1995.
- "Trans-Pleasant Express," Black Gemini, 1995.
- "We're Having a Baby," Time Bomb, 1995.
- "R.U.A. Believer," K Records, 1995.
- "Substance Abuse," Time Bomb, 1996.
- "Free Arthur Lee," K Records, 1997.
- "Wade in the Water," All City, 1997.
- "Pow! To the People," Southern, 1998.
- "U R My Intended," K Records, 1998.
- Destination: Love LIVE! At Cold Rice Dischord, 1996.
- Make-Up After Dark Dischord, 1997.
- Sound Verite K Records, 1997.
- (Contributor) Selector Dub Narcotic K Records, 1997.
- In Mass Mind Dischord, 1998.
- I Want Some K Records, 1999.
- Save Yourself K Records, 1999.
- Blue is Beautiful (directed by James Schneider), Dischord, 1998.
- The Stranger (Seattle, WA) November 7, 2002.
- Tucson Weekly, July 12, 1999.
- French Toast DC, http://www.frenchtoastdc.com/ (March 17, 2005).
- "K Records: The Make-Up," K Punk, http://www.kpunk.com/makeup/ (March 17, 2005).
- "The Make-Up," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 12, 2004).
- "The Make-Up Record Review," Online Daily at University of Washington, http://archives.thedaily.washington.edu/1997/040397/970403make.html (March 17, 2005).
- "The Make-Up: Save Yourself," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/m/make-up/save-yourself.shtml (March 17, 2005).
- "The Make-Up: Save Yourself," PopMatters.com, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/m/makeup-save.shtml (March 17, 2005).
- Southern Records, http://www.southern.com (December 29, 2004).
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