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From The Catalog: #OV049 – Helen Back and Str8-Razors’ ‘Self-Titled’

Published on 12.24.23

This ‘From The Catalog’ is about probably the SECOND most pivotal record in our catalog. The MOST pivotal, we covered in our first installment, which was the first record we released, the 500$Fine ‘Forward’ CD. But this record was the first record we released by a band that I wasn’t directly related to: IE, this record opened up the label to act more like a actual label. It took almost fifty releases before we did that.

The record was the self-titled release by Helen Back & The Str8-Razors.

The year was 2016. I was driving my kid to school, and on the way back, and out of nowhere, I got a song stuck in my head. The oddest part was I hadn’t heard the song in years, maybe 11 years. And I never actually had a real CD of the record in the first place, just a safety copy I had made back in 2003 when I mastered the record. So upon getting home, I looked for the record on Spotify, Amazon, ITunes. And all I could find were a few songs on YouTube, and that was it. This frustrated me because the record was amazing. So I reached out the band member who had hired me to master it, and soon we re-released it on OVOLR!.

The first time I heard Helen Back and The Str8-Razors, the 2-track was brought in to me for mastering via their guitarist, Chris. He, and the band, were from Philly. They had found the website for my mastering studio via the internet. I think he mentioned seeing the speakers I had in my studio on the website, a pair of crazy expensive mastering / hifi speakers, and realized I probably wasn’t fucking around. So he came down and gave me a shot.

When we started playing back the material, I was taken back. There are two elements to the Razors: The music, and Jimi. The music, is amazing… early sounding garage punk / rock that screams The Stooges, The Mc5, but with their own sound to it. And every note and flourish perfect in a way that EXCITES you. The band always excites you. It’s rock, so you can see what their doing, but as a listener, you cheer them on to take it there, then when they do, and they do it AMAZINGLY, it’s just an awesome experience. A blend of perfection and rawness that is rare. Usually, one is traded for the other. I’ve never encountered another band that could combine the two as well.

And then there was their singer Jimi, or ‘Helen Back’, as he is known when in costume with The Razors. When The Razors play, Jimi is in drag, and it’s a whole different persona. And so that hard-edged rock sound, that just crushing sound, has this beautiful, but gender bending vocalist on top it. It just sounds like rock n roll is supposed to sound. Like punk is supposed to sound. It calls back to a time when both rock, or punk, challenged everything. And in the early 2000s, it challenged a lot. As a straight male punk it made me UNCOMFORTABLE. And that drove me to listen to it more. I knew nothing about drag. I knew nothing about questioning the rules and boundaries of gender. And in 2003, this wasn’t done inside a culture that was largely accepting of one’s gender differences or had a conversation about it. So this was done in an aggressive and war-like way. It was part of a long tradition of communities that had to fight for their space to exist, with very little support, and with very much counter-aggression from larger society. And it mesmerized me. And as I listened more and more, it became the most awesome, most punk thing I had ever heard. My friends would play me a new punk record, and I’d play them this. It was amazing. And it illuminated something that in culture we had not yet really touched on, at least in my neck of punk rock. And it NEEDED to be touched on. It needed to be explored. This record made me grow as a human being.

So when I was sitting there a decade later, searching for those songs, I was searching from a world that had changed to accept these things, and I wanted to hear the music of a band that did it before the acceptance, and did it anyway, with beauty.

The record itself is informative in it’s own right, with half the tracks being originals, the other half being covers. Some of them I knew, like ‘Head Kicked In’, or Eno’s ‘Needles in The Camel’s Eye’, but some, such as the Modern Lover’s ‘She Cracked’, or ‘Achin’ by The Plugz, both of which are AMAZING covers, introduced me to the existence of those bands. And the beauty of the Razor’s covers, is that they make each song their own. Jimi, or Helen’s personae just permeates the lyrics, and they come out as an original Str8-Razors’ song.

My favorite tracks are probably ‘Celebrity Killer’, ‘Brunch’, or the last track, ‘Str8-Razor’, which is both an exercise in rock style similar to The Clash, as well as a call to a time when punk was less about fitting into a genre, and more about being a place to explore.

To this day, I am an Evangelist for this record. For a few years, every Friday, I would share a Str8-Razor’s song on the OVOLR! Instagram. To me, it is that good. And it still holds up today.

So if you have never listened to it, I invite you to put some time aside, and sit down with it. Play it through. You may just end up loving it.

– Gary Llama