Angelique X decided against "True Love" at the last minute. Instead, the lead singer for the Oakland band Venus Bleeding went for "Rawk" and "Roll." The tattooed words splay across the tops of her fingers á la "Love" and "Hate" on Robert Mitchum's hands in the movie The Night of the Hunter. "It's my life's purpose," she says, wrapping the "Roll" of her right hand along a pint of pilsner and taking a polite sip.
The zaftig 29-year-old chanteuse is soft-spoken and doll-like, despite the kaleidoscopic ink work that covers much of her body. She has nearly twenty tattoos adorning it, from the flaming "immaculate heart of Mary" sandwiched between her breasts, to the full set of silver wings covering her back. She has the Bettie Page regalia as well: the bluebird of happiness, a flaming matchbook, skull and crossbones, and a "lady luck" horseshoe tattoo. Each design has a story, like the tops of her arms, which are flanked with his-and-hers pistols, one on each side, with the word "Mom" over one and "Dad" over the other. "These are the exact same tattoos each of my parents have," she says. "They remind me to stick to my guns."
No one would ever say that Angelique X doesn't stick to her guns. She sticks to them so doggedly that, for ten years, she has remained loyal to her band, Venus Bleeding, despite mixed reviews, member turnover, the lack of a record contract, and myriad other disappointments. If ambition were bankable, Angelique and her bandmates would have their own Lear jet by now. "I don't know, I've just always had this feeling that I was destined for something," she says.
Angelique has possessed this drive for at least a decade, ever since she and the band's future guitarist, Denise Archibeque, sat in a backyard patio in Modesto and plotted their future. "She asked me, 'So, how far do you want to go with this?'" Angelique recalls. "And I was like: 'All the way. All the way. Superstardom.' "
Most superstars seem to have at least one thing in common: They never gave up, and they never let self-doubt overcome them. That dedication characterizes all of the long-term members of Venus Bleeding, and certainly Angelique. But unlike the stars profiled on VH-1's Driven, the bandmates are only halfway there; they have the drive but not yet the fame.
They have played the Fillmore, the Great American Music Hall, and the Bottom of the Hill; they have opened for the Fixx, the Fuzztones, and Gene Loves Jezebel. Local-music wrangler Nadine Condon called them "the new, modern Heart" in the San Francisco Chronicle, and Sarah Quelland wrote in San Jose's Metro that "when it comes to unsigned female rock bands that kick ass, Venus Bleeding is at the top of my very short list." All four bandmembers get together to practice up to two times a week and plot ways to promote their two self-produced CDs, 9 Volt and Dye and Fakelore.
But the members of Venus Bleeding have watched acts that opened for them move up the ladder of success more quickly, while they have remained behind waiting for their big break. It seemed to come in 2001, when readers of the SF Weekly awarded Venus Bleeding the title of "Best Rock Band." But the honor didn't alter their future in the way they had hoped.
If a band has been together for ten years and still hasn't "made it," is it realistic for its members to believe they ever will? Usually, musicians who haven't met with the success that they desire haven't done so because their ambition exceeds their talent, dedication, or business skills, and some observers of the local music scene would say this is Venus Bleeding's problem. But Venus Bleeding has a marketable look, a fairly distinct sound, and tons of energy. Lesser talents have pushed many other bands to the fore, such as this year's winner of the Grammy Award for best new artist, Evanescence.
One thing's for sure: Venus Bleeding is not the next big thing. In many ways, the story of this band is the story of most bands. They've worked their asses off. Spent a lot of cash. Recorded two CDs. Played tons of shows. And yet they can't see to get anyone's attention.
If the eyes are a window into the soul of a person, then perhaps the Web site is a window into the soul of a band. Venus Bleeding's opens with a Flash animation intro of the band's name filling the screen and then receding, as in the opening credits of Star Wars. Once the scarlet red letters have assembled in the middle of the screen, they shoot back at the viewer one by one, all to the sound of a hard guitar riff. A cartoon drawing of two punky females appears, one of whose boots rests atop a giant striped billiard ball. Then they disappear and the words Venus Bleeding return, beckoning you to "Enter." Once you are in the site proper, the entire screen shakes like an earthquake, eventually subsiding into a photo of the band. Run your cursor over any of the icons on the screen, and women scream in various pitches. An 8-ball follows your cursor wherever you lead it, leaving acid-trip trails behind each movement.
The "Biographies" section indicates that Venus Bleeding originated in Modesto in 1994, but is now based in Oakland. The band began in Modesto's café scene, where poetry readings and spoken word drowned out the sounds of soy milk being steamed. Angelique, who goes by the name of Angel, wrote poetry back then, and performed it whenever she could. Denise began showing up to see her. "I became a fan," the guitarist recalls.
Eventually the two became friends, and started putting Angel's words to music, just goofing off in a practice space next door to another Modesto band, Grandaddy, that finally broke out big last year. From there, they hooked up with other like-minded women: Sonya Westcott on bass, Sandy Powell on drums, and Justine Miller on electric violin.
"They were never afraid to do their own thing," recalls Conan Neutron, an old Modesto crony who is now guitarist and vocalist for the East Bay band Replicator. "We used to go see them play at Izzy's, a motel out by the freeway. They were pretty good. ... I had no frame of reference; I still didn't even know music until I moved to the Bay Area. But there was always a lot of promise in what they were doing."
The band has described itself as a mix of metal, punk, goth, and indie rock, but, at least for its earlier stuff, Condon's comparison to Heart wasn't too far off. It was a hard-driving beat with some solid and not-so-solid hooks and a strong female voice at the helm. When the band played live, the soft-spoken Angel became a female Freddie Mercury.
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