Piefight is a band that is about so much more than just the music. It’s what they represent. The original band members started out as volunteers and parents of campers at the Portland nonprofit organization Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls (RNRCG). Inspired by the sounds and energy of camp, the original band members formed Piefight in 2011 and released their debut EP, Ripe, in 2013.
Last year they received the RNRCG AMP award for musicians who inspire girls and women to amplify their voices above the clamor of social injustice. Guitarist Leah Nagely Robbins explains, “We all have supported camp and its mission for years- from being board members (keyboardist Susan Yudt and bass player Kim Meyers) to doing web stuff and volunteering. We’ve played showcases for the girls’ camp and the ladies’ version of camp – reminding everyone that you’re never too old to start a band, and whatever you create – keep doing it.”
And that’s the thing, they are showing the way, not just for girls, but for women of all ages. Portland’s bar music culture is somewhat dominated by all-male bands and cliquish hipsters. So sometimes people don’t know what to think when they walk into a pub and see a group of five middle-aged women rocking out, unabashedly not trying to be anyone other than who they are. The surprised bar goers are at first amused and puzzled, and then they sink into the groove, stereotypes fade, and they join Piefight in rocking out.
Three of the Piefight band members are also moms. Guitarist Leah Nagley Robbins, who has a career as a transportation engineer and Trimet project manager, explains “it’s been great to show my girl that you can do all the regular things and also follow your passion.” Drummer Sarah Stratton works as a public school speech pathologist and is happy that her kids are fans. She says “it’s super cool to have your kids show pride that their mom is in a band.” Kim Meyers, a designer, adds that she is “role modeling that being a parent isn’t all about work and that you can still follow your passion, be responsible, and do something that makes you happy.”
And now for the music- Piefight’s latest release, Guts and Glory, is a six track EP that builds upon their two previous releases but with one major changeup, the addition of drummer Sarah Stratton. (Michelle Panulla joined on lead vocals in early 2014. With her the band solidified their pop noir style on their last EP, This Changes Everything, in 2015.) The five women in Piefight all contribute in songwriting, which results in songs taking different and interesting directions.
The first track, Conversation, kicks off the album with a delightful vocal riff that morphs into distorted guitars, driving bass, and distinct drum parts that show off Sarah’s ability to find the perfect beat for every groove. In this tune lead singer Michelle Panulla sounds a bit like Natalie Merchant.
The album then leans towards pop noir with Beautiful Lies. The third track, Something for Nothing, is a standout track that gallops along with forceful conviction. Half Step starts as a spacious ghostlike tune that could start a séance and then builds to a many layered chorus of voices. Damage goes back to pop noir, but with a jazzy undertone. The final track, Turn it Around, truly showcases the strength of Michelle Panulla’s vocals with an almost Pat Benatar like performance, featuring the lyrics after which the EP is titled, Guts and Glory. The song closes with Susan Yudt delivering a kickass keyboard solo that is the perfect way to the end a great EP, undeniably marking how far this band has come over the years.