By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
All four Thursdays in May, the 7th St. Entry will be taken over by legendary transgender punk-glam band All the Pretty Horses. Their founder, Venus DeMars, and her current lineup will be celebrating 15 years of being heroes to many, including those labeled "sexual jihadists" by Pat Boone and other supporters of Proposition 8. Each night will be devoted to one of the band's four studio albums—A.T.P.H. on May 7, Queens and Angels on May 14, Ruin on May 21, and Creature on May 29—with old crewmates doing guest shots.
Considering the number of musical equestrians who have ridden with ATPH, it's safe to say that not everyone will be able to take part. That won't, however, be for lack of invitation. "It was usually mutual when somebody left," Venus insists before relating a mini-history of her storied cavalry at a local Dunn Bros. Though it owes a significant debt to Venus's idol, David Bowie, ATPH's sound is more akin to the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, and other pioneers of punk.
For the first eight months of its existence, the band was a trio consisting of Venus on vocals and guitar, Bill Bailey on drums, and Ed Ford on bass. "Some of the wildness and partying started to take its toll on Billy. So he left on his own," she says. Drummer Matt Batchelor took over, and the band left town to play their first New York shows at CBGB, the Spiral, and the Pyramid Club.
"When we played CBGB, there were three guys in the audience," she remembers. "At the Spiral it was a full house when we got in, but right before us was an art-noise band that cleared the place out. We played for two bartenders." As for the Pyramid Club, they got their largest audience: six people.
"What we didn't know was that New Yorkers don't go to a club because of the club, but because of the crowd and the band," she says. A second New York tour was more successful, thanks to Venus, who booked the band on fetish and LGBT theme nights. This jaunt also featured a new lineup, with Pandora on bass; Tiffany, a.k.a. Johnnycakes, on backup vocals; and Jendeen—who, like Ms. DeMars, is transgender—on drums. Batchelor and Ford left amicably, due to the increasing demands of touring.
New band, new issues. The CD-release show for their third album, Ruin, at the Gay 90's, was the breaking point between Venus and bassist Pandora. "I was pissed off because we had to get out of there by 2 a.m.," she says. "That was when bars closed at 1 and an alarm would go off at 2. It took us four hours to set up and load in, and I was furious because we couldn't get out of there in an hour! We did a good show, but Pandora was upset about it and decided to leave the band."
But their international profile was expanding, thanks to Emily Goldberg's documentary, Venus of Mars. Bassist Eden was brought on, as were dancers Emily and Shannon, whose specialty was the beloved "grinder." As with previous bassist Pandora, Eden would leave after a tense performance, this one at CBGB. "That night, she got very drunk on vodka. She was impossible to understand onstage and she made all kinds of noise on her bass. At the end, she took her bass and broke it. To Eden's credit, that put another notch on our performances in New York. But I couldn't work with her after that."
Despite this, the momentum was still strong and the documentary was blazing a trail through the festival circuit. So another search for another bassist ensued. "We had one person try out. He was from a speed-metal background. He had the classic metal look—long, scraggly hair, goatee, all black leather, shit-kicker boots. He did a good job. I told him I would take him on." Another appealing thing was that he would, in Venus's eyeliner-streaked view, pull the band away from the transgender tag that she felt prevented them from getting more opportunities. "Then, one day, when I was helping [the bassist] load off his equipment, he let me know that he was part of the trans community, and that he wanted to express that onstage!"
However, dancer Emily quit due to exhaustion, while Shannon put down her grinder to take over management duties. This left All the Pretty Horses as a troika—a trans troika—with Venus on guitar, Tempest on bass, and Jendeen on drums. Things went well for a year and a half, but, so sayeth Donald Rumsfeld, stuff happens.
"Tempest and Jen wanted me to go more into the heavy-metal world. But my inspiration for glam is Bowie, T. Rex, not the hair-metal glam," she says. "Our presence was also tenuous, since we had been around so long. We were still playing at no-name clubs, and it started to look like we couldn't pick and choose." In 2005 the proverbial wall was hit. "It just felt pointless to keep going down the road I was going, and the only out I could think of was to take a hiatus. I didn't want to give up on the project, but I needed to put it in deep freeze. We had our last show in January 2006 at the Triple Rock."