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Patsy Gelb on bird love, rock ’n’ roll, Portlandia and starpower DNA

Patsy Gelb could spend all day with birds.

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Patsy Gelb could spend all day with birds.

"Conceived on tour, on the road to Berlin. Eagle spirit adorned in Lake Tahoe during our wedding ceremony," says papa Howe Gelb of daughter Patsy, songwriting frontwoman of glammy power-poppers Patsy's Rats. "Her blazing blue soul woke me up on Court Avenue just prior to birth. She survived being born six weeks premature in Hollywood. Learned to dance at Pappy & Harriet's [a storied joint near Joshua Tree] just a few years afterwards. Basically, raised by wolves. Her stepmom showed her the ways of the old country. Not Hank Williams, foo'. Denmark. I assisted with the Hank part."

Other strands in Patsy Gelb's musical DNA come from her gifted mother Paula Jean Brown. In '84, Brown became the bassist for The Go-Go's and then co-wrote "Mad About You," the huge (Top 10) Belinda Carlisle's solo hit. Brown has also toured with everyone from Steve Wynn to Sparklehorse.

So, yeah, the trajectory, as sequenced in her DNA, is clear. Patsy Gelb was, um, born to rock, as they say.

And Howe wasn't overstating the bit about the wolves. Patsy elaborates, "The first five years of my life I lived with my dad in Rimrock [California]. Then we moved to Tucson, so I could go to school and make friends with human children. Up until then ... I learned everything from a small pack of dogs that I ran with in the desert."

Patsy's Tucson childhood was spent running around barefoot in the barrio, catching lizards, playing with neighborhood pals and swimming at night. She first dabbled with a recorder in grade school, and later studied violin.

Life with the old man wasn't so bad. "Even though he's always been a touring musician, we spent tons of time together, camping and fishing. We played chess, drew together, watched gross cartoons and traveled about in a [Plymouth] Barracuda in 100-plus degree temperatures with no AC."

Patsy developed a love for music and birds from a tender age while touring with her pop. "Music was all around me," Patsy says, "as long as I can remember. There was music equipment set up around the house that I would play. I used to sit on the floor of the stage and draw pictures of birds while they played a show." She adds, "Birds are the coolest. Someday later in life I'll be working at some wildlife rehab center in the middle of nowhere and spend all day with birds."

The old man expands, "At age five when she really didn't wanna go to sleep at bedtime ... she hit me with seven improvised tunes hoping to negotiate staying up. I happened to record her set and actually released one on our major label debut. You can find Patsy's 'Bird Song' on Giant Sand's Glum album (Imago, 1994)."

Fads aside, during 10th grade at Tucson High Magnet School, Patsy fell in love with Lou Reed, Patti Smith, the Ramones and Leonard Cohen. "Things really went up from there," she says. "It was the most exciting feeling. When you're so young it feels like it might be the most important thing in the entire world."

Upon graduation, Patsy attended the University of Arizona, "for a couple years as an art major," before transferring to Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, in 2008, scoring a bachelor's degree in fine arts.

Now 30, Patsy Gelb works a day job as on-set costumer for IFC's TV sizzler Portlandia.

"Today, I'm inside an office building in Portland where I have been spritzing water onto Fred Armisen's armpits all morning." Patsy divulges, "This is our final season."

By night, in her rock 'n' roll outfit Patsy's Rats, her voice is both vulnerable and commanding, and she takes after foremother Suzi Quatro, and, perhaps, Holly Beth Vincent. The Rats formed "two or four years ago ... it's hard to say," with guitarist/vocalist Christian Blunda.

"Christian and I are the core members. It's our project together. Wherever we go we make the band happen. We use a different rhythm section based on where we want to play."

Patsy's Rats' discography includes a self-titled album released on the mighty Burger Records in 2015. "We have singles too," Patsy says, like a total fan of the form. "'Rock 'n' Roll Friend' came out in 2016 on La Ti Da Records and 'Burnin' Honey' on Dig records also in 2016."

"The song 'Rock 'n' Roll Friend' was written for our friend who passed away in a motorcycle accident in 2015," Patsy says. "Mikey Hodges (aka Pop Zeus) was a super special person and amazing songwriter. You can find his music online. All the lyrics from 'Rock 'n' Roll Friend' are ripped from songs that he loved. The song and video attempt to evoke a certain good feeling that he seemed to carry and spread wherever he went."

Patsy's Rats music also been included on the Green Room soundtrack. The killer indie (and critical fave)—starring Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots—centers on a punk band trapped post-gig in a gnarly neo-Nazi bar. Initially, Patsy was hired as a crewmember to work pre-production as an expert punk rock clothing maker and distresser. "Our band played the wrap party along with the Ain't Rights, which was the punk band from the film. After we played, the director Jeremy Saulnier wanted our tunes in the movie somewhere."

To add to their resume, Super Fan 99 Records have announced a movie themed release inspired by Sofia Coppola films. Patsy's Rats will cover "More Than This," Roxy Music's lushly atmospheric classic from Coppola's Lost In Translation (2003). The comp drops in July.

"We have a couple new singles soon to be announced, coming out on Wink and Spit Records and Dirtnap records," Patsy adds. And late summer or fall should see release of a Patsy's Rats collection called Singles, on Bachelor records.

As for the future, "We will most likely relocate to L.A., once winter threatens its return." The Rats also hope to tour Europe, to support the band's Singles collection, in the fall. "We have a short West Coast tour surrounding the Burger Boogaloo Fetisval [July 1 and 2 in Oakland, California]. We're super excited to play this festival, with so many great bands including NRBQ, The Buzzcocks and Iggy Pop."

What about Tucson? She ever going to move back? Patsy reflects on growing up here: "It was so great. The time in the desert with the dogs ... There's a hypnotic draw to it when I'm away. I never want to leave when I visit. Tucson is filled with so many people I love so much. I will return one day ..."


More by Xavier Omar Otero

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