The Dollyrots' Kelly Ogden tackles the Screeching Weasel fiasco: 'It should not erase his whole career because he lost his mind one night'
"One OK thing about being a front girl in a rock band is I can punch anyone I want," Ogden said. She was joking, of course, attempting to make light of one of her most embarrassing punk rock moments. At a gig about seven years ago, Ogden didn't take too kindly to a male heckler near the foot of the stage. "When I kicked a dude in his face with my boot, everyone cheered. I am not proud of that, but sometimes you lose your cool."
Shock and dismay, however, were what greeted the lead singer of Screeching Weasel when he lunged into the audience at an unruly female fan, bringing an instant end to the band's March 18 South by Southwest performance in Austin, Texas. After a 50-minute set in which Ben Weasel (lead singer: Ben Foster) mocked the venue, SXSW, the media and the audience, he was hit with a cup full of beer or water, pelted near the eye with ice and spat on by a female fan near the front of the stage. Weasel lunged into the crowd, and when one of the club's female owners attempted to break it up, he turned on her as well and was quickly led away by security, which ended the performance.
The fallout from the sudden end to Screeching Weasel's Austin performance was nearly immediate. Within hours of the concert, clips of Weasel's actions went viral, and days later his bandmates quit, at least for the time being. Yet as Weasel's friends and peers have taken efforts to distance themselves from the artist, one kind of voice from the punk rock community has been noticeably absent from the discussion: a woman's.
There aren't many tougher than Ogden, who as lead singer of local pop-punk act the Dollyrots has long been scraping by outside the mainstream. Having released just three albums in 10 years, the Dollyrots are warhorses when it comes to touring, and in 2010 opened for the likes of the Buzzcocks and -- you guessed it -- Screeching Weasel. Additionally, the band's first album, 2004's "Eat My Heart Out," carried the Panic Button stamp, a label that had been co-founded by Weasel (Panic Button had been sold to Lookout Records by the time the Dollyrots signed).
"He made a really huge mistake, and he’s really stupid for doing that," Ogden said. "I was pretty mad at him for a few days. Then I looked on Twitter and I was like, ‘Wow, this is out of control.’ Violence is never OK, especially male-on-female violence, but that said, Ben has always supported females in the scene.
"Our first album did come out on Panic Button," Ogden said. "We’ve played shows with him. His public persona is pretty jerky, but I do not truly think that he is a lady-beating misogynist; otherwise, I would be a lot harder on him."
Not that Ogden is being exactly easy on Weasel. She was in Austin for SXSW, but as her band played at another venue at the same time as Screeching Weasel, she did not witness the scene. Yet she said most of her friends opted to see Screeching Weasel, a band that rarely tours and just released its first album in 11 years, "First World Manifesto."
"It stinks," Ogden said. "I feel really bad for the girl. I feel really bad for everyone involved. I feel bad for my friends who were at that show who were dying to see Screeching Weasel play, and then saw [the altercation]. That’s not very fun. I’d be angry if I were there. But this should not erase his whole career because he lost his mind one night. I will still listen to his records and if I see him I will not punch him."
A number of bands who were to play at Chicago's Weaselfest, a three-day celebration in late May to commemorate Screeching Weasel's 25th anniversary, have dropped off the bill. One act went so far as to pledge to never again be associated with Screeching Weasel. The Dollyrots were not booked for Weaselfest, and Ogden concedes she'd be in "quite a pickle" if her band had been scheduled to appear.
The Dollyrots, who recently released a snappy third album in "A Little Messed Up," opened for Screeching Weasel when the band performed in Los Angeles last fall. It was an unusual Los Angeles sighting for the suburban Chicago band, one credited with bridging the gap between the urban unease of the Ramones and the day-to-day boredom of Green Day. When Ogden was asked by Pop & Hiss if she had an opinion on the SXSW incident, she said she had been mulling a public statement, and requested a few days to collect her thoughts.
"I hope I say the right things for young girls and young girls who love him and are heartbroken over this," she said. "I wouldn’t want to downplay it.
"I don’t think a guy can ever hit a girl, ever," Ogden continued. "When that happens there are far more repercussions than if a guy hits a guy or a girl hits a guy. It stinks, but it has to be that way for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with music."
For her part, Ogden cites the moment her boot hit the face of a male fan as one of the dumbest moments of her career. The audience member had been heckling her and making lewd facial gestures, and Ogden let adrenaline overtake professionalism. "He was doing that for the entire set, and I just lost it. I kicked him in the face and everyone thought it was awesome. Then I felt really embarrassed."
"It’s a funny thing, especially in punk rock," she continued. "I’ve been in pits where I have been bashed by dudes. They were barreling at me and they didn’t care, and I knew they were coming and I was like, ‘Yeah!’ It is a little weirder than someone walking up to you at a restaurant and spitting on your plate and then you just punching them. This is all real confusing. If I thought Ben was a terrible guy, and he abused women, then I wouldn’t be cutting him this much slack. This is not a habit of his."
Weasel's act of stupidity, Ogden said, should not be confused with an act of misogyny. "He lost his cool. He did something bad, but I don’t think he’s a bad person." If asked, then, would Ogden consider touring again with Screeching Weasel? The band leader took a moment before she answered.
"In a while," she said. "I think so. Yes."
Photos from top: The Dollyrots; Screeching Weasel in Los Angeles in 2010. Credits: James Jeager; Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times