The best rock 'n' roll is often played with the sense that the musicians making it understand that it's inherently a ridiculous effort—but they do it with balls-to-the-wall intensity, anyway, as if they were sharing an in-joke with the audience. If you don't get it, no one is going to be able to explain it to you.
Ruyter Suys, lead guitarist with the band Nashville Pussy, agrees that although her group seriously rocks, it never takes itself too seriously.
"It's our mission to rock—quite simply, to kick people's asses," Suys says via cell phone from a tour stop in Seattle. "It's a higher calling, so to speak, not to make it sound too pretentious."
Suys' husband, guitarist and lead vocalist Blaine Cartwright, puts it another way. On the title track from Nashville Pussy's 2009 album, From Hell to Texas, Cartwright sings, "I was born to die in a rock 'n' roll band / Always sounded like a hell of a plan / From hell to Texas in a beat-up van / Why can't you understand?"
Nashville Pussy, based in Atlanta, is on the road with the notorious punk band Dwarves, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The two groups are co-headliners on the current tour, which brings them to the Rialto Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Also on the bill will be Tucson bands The Besmirchers and Retard Riot.
Suys says she met Cartwright in the mid-1990s when she saw him play with his former band, the cowpunk outfit Nine Pound Hammer. By 1998, they'd married and formed Nashville Pussy; the name was inspired by a line on Ted Nugent's album Double Live Gonzo. They had three drummers in six months before settling on Jeremy Thompson, who has been with the group ever since. The group has seen several women rotate through the bass position, but Karen Cuda has held down the bottom for the past seven years.
"She's the record-holder," Suys says.
Nashville Pussy has always featured two men and two women, and that's by design, according to Suys.
"I think it is a good formula as far as energy onstage, especially sexual energy. I think we balance each other out, definitely, and there is something up there for everyone to lust after."
The audiences also seem to be equally balanced, she adds.
"It's actually been fucking great lately. On this last tour, in front of me at my end of the stage, there were tons of chicks in the audience, hot women of every shape and size. When we started out, nobody would've thought a band named Nashville Pussy would be about women's empowerment—but we could rock the shit out of Lilith Fair. I mean, rarely do people get to see chicks who rock like us, and now we are seeing tons of girls at our shows. ... More and more, girls are coming up and telling me how strong I make them feel."
Gloriously greasy and sleazy, Nashville Pussy's over-the-top rock is inspired equally by punk and metal, among other influences.
"That's sort of the contrast. I mean, Blaine is the punk, and I'm the metalhead. He taught me about the Ramones. ... I got him back into pop-hard-rock like Zeppelin and Ted Nugent," Suys says.
"It took me a while to come around to AC/DC," she continues. "I was more into Metallica, Slayer, stuff like that. But once I got (a Gibson) SG, the same guitar Angus (Young, of AC/DC) plays, I understood. I was really into the blues, and I realized that's where they were coming from, too. They were able to take something as simple as the blues, make it complicated, and then turn it around and make it simple again. I thought that was magic."
Blues is one of the other elements that Nashville Pussy incorporates into its music, as well as rockabilly, soul, country, funk, glam and '60s girl groups.
"We steal so much shit, it's crazy," Suys says. "I mean, there is even Al Green in our stuff, and Johnny Cash, as well as AC/DC and Motörhead. But that's all rock 'n' roll."
The secret ingredient in the Nashville Pussy recipe is that the band tries to please itself, she says.
"Playing music is not masturbation, like they say. It's more like making love to thousands of people at once. ... You have to get your shit off, and if you are lucky, other people will want to watch. That's how the energy goes. It's the closest thing to an orgy with your clothes on."
Although Cartwright handles the snarling lead vocals, Suys contributes inimitable background wails, which she likens in her infrequent blog to the sound of a "slavewoman having her baby taken away from her."
Licensing Nashville Pussy songs to films and TV shows has provided a nice secondary source of income for the band. For example, "Come On Come On" is featured in the opening credits of the movie Good Old Fashioned Orgy, in theaters now. Their tunes also have appeared on the soundtracks of TV shows such as Entourage and The Sopranos.
"We still get a bunch of mystery checks. There's nothing better than when a TV series gets sold in Denmark, and we get a little taste. And then there is a DVD box set of the show? Um, yay!"
Nashville Pussy is beginning to write songs for a new album, but first, they have a few other offerings for listeners, including a newly remixed reissue of From Hell to Texas, including a bonus live disc of tunes recorded in concert earlier this year.
Cartwright also has a side project, The Kentucky Bridgeburners, which is anticipating the release of its debut album around the holidays. Suys says, "It's called Hail Jesus, and it's his gospel album—but gospel like it would be done by Nashville Pussy."
Suys also is playing guitar with the latest version of the metal act Dick Delicious and the Tasty Testicles, which includes members of Mastodon and Brutal Truth. Its new album, Vulgar Display of Obscurity, was released this week.