Pansy Division has one goal down, one more to go.
The first was achieved in 1992 when guitarist-vocalist Jon Ginoli and bassist-vocalist Chris Freeman, longing to live in a world where a gay rock band could exist, formed the punk ‘n’ pop group. Six albums later, including the recently released “Absurd Pop Song Romance” (Lookout!), they have set their sights even higher.
“Now our goal is: Why not be the first gay rock band to have a No. 1 hit?” Freeman said recently. “That’s a powerful thing to go for, because that would mean there’s a really big change in the world. That’s what we’re hoping for, but we want to do it on our terms. We’re not willing to lose control what we’re about in order to do that.”
There may not be a No. 1 hit among the new album’s 14 tracks, but that’s unimaginative radio’s loss. Pansy Division is funny, evocative and refreshingly honest. They’re at their most compelling on “The Best Revenge,” telling others “It doesn’t get you anywhere to wallow in your own despair, ’cause happiness is the best revenge.”
“Along the broad scope of Pansy Division,” Freeman said, “when you’re young and you’re figuring out you’re gay and everyone’s pretty much telling you you’re going to have a crappy life, you’re going to be unhappy, so we sort of had that slogan as Pansy Division that we’re going to be out there celebrating and being happy and having fun shows, rather than the dour Morrissey aspect. Life is what you make it, and if you want to have fun, have fun with it.”
Pansy Division’s popularity has been on a steady climb since its 1993 debut album, “Undressed,” and a subsequent tour opening for Green Day. Freeman, however, noticed things tapered off with their last LP, “More Lovin’ From Our Oven” (1997).
“It didn’t seem to sell very much,” he said. “We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on promoting the record, but we did tour on it.
“A lot of people know we’re gay already. At this point, after six records, people have heard about us and they know we’re the premier gay male rock band, so now we don’t have to shove it into people’s faces anymore. It’s enough for us now to try and speak for as many people as we can in the human experience rather than the singular thing. In the past, our songs have been shocking; we were out for the shock, at first.”
Pansy Division always has been bare-bones punk rock, but it developed a pop edge when drummer Luis joined in 1996 and guitarist Patrick Goodwin was added a year later. Producer Steve Albini also gave “Absurd Pop Song Romance” an infusion of spirit and hook-sense.
In 1992, Freeman wasn’t sure Pansy Division would work at all.
“We started in San Francisco playing to modest crowds,” he said. “It was really strange, our first goal was, ‘Let’s play in a straight rock venue,’ and we were really scared. We thought we were going to get beat up. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We became successful in San Francisco, and we started selling tapes of what became our first record on Lookout. We were documenting the sales; we sold so many cassettes to this store, so many to that store. We went with Lookout because they had the money when we wanted it. It was really a crapshoot.
“The band has survived this long because Jon and I are tenacious. We’ve almost broken up a few times, but we just keep looking at each other, saying ‘This band deserves to exist because the fans want it,’ not so much because we’re interested in being huge stars. I don’t necessarily believe in destiny, that we were supposed to exist, but it is sort of weird that way. It’s worth it, for some reason.”
BWF (before we forget): Join Pansy Division on the Web @ www.pansydivision.com. … The Pansy Division album discography – “Undressed” (Lookout!, 1993); “Deflowered” (1994); “Pile Up” (1995); “Wish I’d Taken Pictures” (1996); “More Lovin’ In Our Oven” (1997); “Absurd Pop Song Romance” (1998).