When a Swedish Avengers fan first called Penelope Houston's attention to a tape of a few songs from the seminal punk band and suggested they be released as a single, the singer was taken aback.
It was not because she didn't expect the request. Rather, she didn't remember the songs.
"One of them I didn't recognize at all," Houston said. "I just thought, 'Wow, this is wild!' Here's this song, and it's a pretty good song, and I didn't even remember it. So I decided to do a little research."
That research turned into a full-blown project.
Later this month, modern punks who never got to experience the Avengers first-hand will get the chance to play historical catch-up when they put out a new album of unreleased material, Died For Your Sins (Feb. 23). The 18-song project includes several demos from the band's '78-to-'79 heyday and a plateful of live cuts.
Within the rock subgenre known as "often heard of but rarely heard," few bands make punk fans as giddy as San Francisco's late-'70s upstarts the Avengers.
In their two-year career, the Avengers released one single. But the
group, which opened for the Sex Pistols at that band's final gig,
inspired such contemporaries as X and the Go-Go's and helped lay the groundwork for the Pretenders, Alanis Morissette, Sleater-Kinney and many other modern rockers.
In addition to demos and live tunes, Died For Your Sins also
features three songs -- "I Want In," "Crazy Homicide" and "The End of
the World" -- written while the group was together and recently
recorded by the ScAvengers: Houston and guitarist Greg Ingram with bassist Joel Reader (the Mr. T Experience) and drummer Dan Panic (Screeching Weasel, Groovie Ghoulies).
"I'm happy when I feel that I've influenced people to start bands, and
I'm always glad when I hear female punk-rock singers," Houston said.
"We were only together from '77 to '79. For me it's just this blip in
With the Avengers' only other album -- a posthumous, self-titled
singles collection -- long out of print, Died For Your Sins marks the first time in years a full-length release by the band has been available outside of musty, used vinyl bins.
"My relationship to the Avengers has always been to songs on tape,
where it's like, 'Oh my God, who is this again?'" said Molly Neuman,
27, general manager for Lookout Records, which is releasing Died For Your Sins. "Or seeing their album in certain people's record collection, and saying, 'I wish I could find this record,' but never being able to."
In addition to working with the label, Neuman plays drums for riot grrrls Bratmobile and the recently disbanded Peechees.
"The singing is so powerful and the commentary was sophisticated," Neuman said. "It definitely has had an impact, and you can hear hints of that influence in other bands."
On the demo take for a blast of discontent called "Teenage Rebel," Houston's vocals and Ingram's guitar duel to see which can slice more savagely through the rumble of James Wilsey's bass and the wash of drummer Danny Furious' cymbals.
The album closes out with a live version of the band's anthemic "We Are the One" (RealAudio excerpt of studio version) -- one of the songs on the original Avengers single.
In between, the ScAvengers pick it all back up with "I Want In," a
fireball of romantic jealousy that will give any modern punk track a
run for its money.
Compiling the vintage cuts took several years, Houston, now 40, said.
Her interest first was piqued a few years ago by a Swedish fan who approached her about releasing a single of the demos for "Teenage Rebel" and "Friends of Mine," after being given a tape of the songs by Furious.
Searching through cyberspace, the singer came across a network of Avengers fans who had traded live tapes over the years.
The Bay Area punk scene from which the Avengers came was small. "There [were] only a couple places to play," Houston said. "It wasn't like now where there are billions of shows every night. When someone played, you were all there. There was a lot of camaraderie."
A decade later, that scene spawned Green Day and Rancid progenitors Operation Ivy.
"The Avengers are the consummate, original San Francisco punk-rock band, a part of local legend," said the Mr. T. Experience's Reader, 22. "But the Avengers record is out of print, so I never owned a copy of it. I was more familiar with the songs from reading scholarly works about the early days of punk-rock music.
"For me, the ScAvengers was an opportunity to learn more about it. And it was fun to see [Houston] revisiting a place in her career."
Houston, who has moved on to a solo career, said the Avengers evoke memories for her of both exhilaration and frustration in trying to get their music out to the public. "Our audience grew pretty fast," she said. "We were headliners within a couple months. Friends of ours would come to town and stay with us, like the Dils and X ... At the same time, you have to think of it in terms of the Knack being what America thought of as new wave."
Wilsey also has gone on to a post-Avengers musical career. After playing guitar for several years with folk-pop singer/songwriter Chris Isaak, he recently formed the Mysteries, an instrumental band he described as "space-age hillbilly stuff."
Houston has kept pace with the modern punk scene, even though such solo
albums as Cut You -- which featured the single
"Glad I'm a Girl" (RealAudio excerpt) -- focused on acoustic
sounds. She's talked to members of Sleater-Kinney about working together, and written songs with Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, who, like Reader, appears on Houston's upcoming solo album, Tongue (March 23).
For Bay Area punk fans who missed the Avengers the first time around, the ScAvengers will play two shows in San Francisco later this month to celebrate the release of Died for Your Sins.