“Is it too early for a wine?” Phoebe Taylor wonders. It’s Monday evening in Melbourne, and the Bitch Diesel bassist is enjoying a nice glass of red with her three bandmates. Even guitarist Ruby Koomen — who has broken both of her arms in a BMX mishap — can still manage a toast with her bright blue cast. I’m in New York, where it’s 7:30 am, so I skip the Cab Sav. Besides, I’ve got a nasty hangover. “Oh, we never get hangovers,” Phoebe says slyly over a glitchy Skype connection.
According to Urban Dictionary, the raucous punk quartet’s name is slang for super-cheap white wine. “Anything that comes out of a box, really,” Ruby clari es. “One of the rst times we all got together to jam, we ended up drinking a box and a half,” drummer Ashlee Pierce confesses. “I’d say it was about seven liters of wine all together,” notes Phoebe. “And it was only the three of them at that point! I wasn’t even in the band yet,” Ruby says. “We’re not big drinkers,” Phoebe jokes, taking another sip.
Liquid courage helped get the band’s ball rolling, but Bitch Diesel has talent and tenacity that far exceed its bar tab. With a sound rmly rooted in glam and garage rock, Bitch Diesel can shape-shift from sludgy Stooges-esque basslines to fast-paced, frenetic energy. Standout cut ‘Manager’ (which Ruby says she wrote in spiritual commune with the late Joey Ramone) invokes the kind of charged-up power vocals that shape The Runaways’ canonical ‘Cherry Bomb’ and L7’s incendiary ‘Shitlist’.
These hard-rocking sonic touch points are American, but Bitch Diesel’s distinctly Aussie sense of humour is what sets the band apart. And, according to Ruby, “Melbourne is the rock ‘n’ roll centre of the universe,” anyway.
Emily Manning: How did you form Bitch Diesel?
Ashlee: We were all going through our own issues, but at the same time. Some of us were going through break-ups, others left full-time jobs. We were all falling out of whatever we were falling out of, and we fell into each other.
Phoebe: See you later corporate life. It’s time to live out our teen dreams. Our forgotten youth resurfaced.
Ruby: All the girls I wished I was hanging out with when I was 18 just appeared when I was 29. It was like an ugly duckling story for all of us, and then we found our tribe. We were the geese in the duck pen, and now we’ve found our… other geese?
You guys each have a name: The Falcon, The Stang, Silver Skidmark, The Charger…
Phoebe: They’re all really iconic bogan-mobiles, or that’s how they were considered in the 80s. Now, they’re cool again: super bad-ass and really fast. They’re our alter-egos when we jump on stage.
Ruby: I was the last to join the band, but the first thing I got was this sick jacket the girls made me that says ‘The Stang’.
Rhia: We didn’t have songs yet, but we had jackets.
Ashlee: We knew our aesthetic, let’s just say that.
Phoebe: We wrote this funny, tacky, bogan song. I was so stoked, like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard or done in my whole life! I’m ready to play a gig!” So I started booking heaps of shows.
Ashlee: We had one song down and she booked our first show. We had to fill 30 minutes!
Rhia: It was a mad hustle to get together that show, and it bombed.
Tell me about the photo where you’re all riding on a Rat Fink limo. Where the hell did you nd that car?
Phoebe: I woke up in the morning way too early, walked outside, and it was the first thing I saw. I was floored. Bloody stretch limo on the side of the road. I was just gonna get a rap squat photo of myself with it, but it was too good, I couldn’t hog it. It was this really crap car cut in half and welded back together. An old Dodge Falcon, I think.
Rhia: We swung the boys at the Auto shop a slab of beer, and they let us take it for a ride. Ruby wasn’t in the band yet but —
Phoebe: I edited her in the photo. Don’t worry.
There’s another picture where you’re all in a red convertible in leopard-print onesies…
Rhia: Ash and Phoebe have a costume label called VoVo, and they made those leopard suits for the shoot.
Ashlee: We were in such a rush making four jumpsuits, we didn’t actually test the fabric — it was one-way stretch. So we all had to squeeze those on. Everyone suffered from massive camel toe. Really bad.
Phoebe: We kept our legs crossed.
The suits remind me of Poison Ivy from The Cramps. Who shapes your sound or style?
Ruby: I’ve based my life around Joe Strummer, but I usually let these guys boss me around when it comes to getting dressed.
Ashlee: That Poison Ivy vibe was definitely an influence. When I first joined the band, I was so nervous about being on stage. Phoebe was like, ‘Just take on a persona. Become someone else when you’re on stage.’ That’s something I’ve really tried to stick with, and in a way, the costumes and nicknames are a component of it. It’s a way of pushing ourselves out there and being what we want to be — of expressing ourselves in a more far-out way.
How does your writing process work?
Phoebe: We’re a socialist band.
Rhia: Generally, I’ll start with a riff or a chord progression and play it until everyone finds their part.
Ashlee: Then someone will go and write lyrics for the song on their own, come back, and we’ll talk about what’s sitting well.
Rhia: Ruby’s brought a lot of her songs already fully formed to the table though.
Ruby: I was writing them as a teenage girl waiting for my witches to come to me! I always played with boys when I was growing up, and none of them would let any of my songs go through. Then I met these girls and they made me feel rad about myself.
What’s your dream car?
Phoebe: That Rat Fink Ratmobile! The day that we did that shoot was the last day of that car’s life. We had it for one hour… but we really dragged that out. Afterwards, it got completely refurbished. They removed all of the heart and soul and character of the car.
Rhia: Honest to god, it remains in our dreams forever.
Words: Emily Manning
Photography: Freya Esders
Originally published in Oyster #112