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Sunday, 14 June 2015

MEET A MELANIE

A very nice interview with 
MELANIE VAMMEN
of the PANDORAS, the MUFFS, and the LEAVING TRAINS
by Angelo Ruggiero


I have always had a weakness for all-female rock bands. One of my favorites, even now is the 1960s garage revivalist band the Pandoras, from Los Angeles, CA. 

Following an energetically rough 7” EP, the Pandoras issued in 1984 their debut album, It's About Time, a real masterpiece of the garage genre. However, the band’s original line-up dissolved soon after the album release, remaining vocalist/guitarist Paula Pierce, as the only original member.


Shortly, Paula put together a new version of the band, including Melanie Vammen on keyboards, Julie Patchouli on bass, and Karen Blankfeld on drums. Featuring this line-up, the band recorded the Hot Generation single, which is my loved Pandoras record. This is because of its great sound, but maybe since it was the first record by the band to feature Melanie Vammen. In fact, she’s my preferred member from the band’s second formation. Melanie is so cute and agreeable that I could not resist to ask her some questions, to which she gently answered. 

Melanie grew up in Fountain Valley, Orange County, California, and joined the Pandoras in 1984. Well, I've always been interested to know if the Pandoras were Melanie’s first band and how come she met Paula.


“Yes, the Pandoras were my first band. I was 17 years old when I joined,” replied Melanie. “I joined the Pandoras in June of 1984. I already knew Paula from the 60's garage scene I hung out in. She had asked me in the past and asked me again if I knew how to play keyboards. This time, I said I could play a little piano. She had me come try out at Rich Coffee's (Unclaimed, Thee Forgiven) house. I played "Hot Generation", "High On A Cloud" & "Haunted Beach Party". After, she asked do you want to join the Pandoras. I of course said YES! A couple of weeks later we recorded our single “Hot Generation”/"You Don't Satisfy” at Silvery Moon Studios with Greg Shaw and Gary Stern,” described Melanie, on the recording sessions for the single. 
“While recording the Miracle Workers showed up from Oregon and hung out. There are a few photos from this session.”


The Hot Generation single was released on Bomp! Records in late 1984. I own the pic sleeve version with silver labels. The A side is a great remake of a song by the Sunsets, a terrific surf band from Newcastle, Australia. The Sunsets' original version was composed by Lindsay Bjerre, and appeared in the Film Soundtrack "The Hot Generation" surf documentary, released in May 1967. The B side, ”You Don't Satisfy,” penned by Paula, is a killer garage tune that easily could have been the A side.


Julie Patchouli quit the Pandoras in the Spring of 1985. Her substitute on bass was Kim Shattuck, who joined the band in July of 1985. During the winter of that year, the reformed line-up recorded Stop Pretending, considered by many as their best album.


Melanie’s prime instrument in the 1980s was keyboards, but I was curious to know when she started playing guitar. “When I started in the Pandoras, my main instrument was keyboards. I also knew how to play Clarinet,” said Melanie, “Later on, in 1989, I started teaching myself how to play guitar. I would watch them play and that's how I picked it up.” 

After a withdrawn album for Elektra to be titled Come Inside, and more changes in the band’s line-up -Blankfeld was replaced by Kelly Dillard, and soon later, the new drummer was Sheri Kaplan- the Pandoras started taking a new direction in sound toward hard rock and metal. By July of 1990, Melanie departed from the Pandoras. She was the longest-duration Pandora other than Paula. 


In September of 1990, Kim Shattuck also left the band and started the Muffs together with Melanie. The original line-up for the Muffs consisted of Kim Shattuck on vocals and guitar, Melanie Vammen on rhythm guitar, Ronnie Barnett on bass, and Criss Crass on drums.



Since the only songwriter in the Pandoras was Paula, Melanie’s first ever composition was during her tenure with the Muffs, “My first song I ever wrote was “Eye To Eye”. I co-wrote it with Kim when we started the Muffs.” In 1992, Melanie took part in the amazing single by White Flag, “Don’t Give It Away”/"Out In The Streets", providing harmony vocals. 


Melanie left the Muffs in 1994. Later on, she joined the Leaving Trains appearing on the albums Smoke Follows Beauty, Emotional Legs, and Amplified Pillows
“I co-wrote songs with Falling James when I played in the Leaving Trains," said Melanie.

"After that, I had another band, Pointy Kitty with Sherry Koko Puder and Dennis CarlinI. I co-wrote all the songs.”





Currently, the Pandoras have reunited, and Melanie Vammen has joined them on Keyboards. The other Pandoras participating in this reunion are Kim Shattuck on lead vocals and guitar, Karen Blankfeld on bass, and Sheri Kaplan on drums. The first show with the new line-up configuration is due to take place on June 26 at the Casbah, in San Diego, CA. This will be the Pandoras’ first gig since 1990. 
Then, they’ll play at Burger Boogaloo on July 4, 2015, at Mosswood Park, in Oakland, CA. Next, on July 25, they will rock the Battle Of The Garages at Turf Club, Minnesota. European Tour dates announced on the Pandoras Official page.




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