Rock 'N' Roll High School Not Just A Punk Song

Learning institution dedicated to training hard-core musicians has been visited by Fugazi, Sonic Youth and Rancid.

The first time the Washington, D.C.-based hardcore pioneers Fugazi

visited Rock 'n' Roll

High School in Melbourne, Australia, they met an aspiring, pre-teen

rock

'n' roller named Miranda De'ath.

The second time Fugazi visited the school, three years later in 1996,

Miranda -- now a teen-ager -- was drumming in the indie-pop band Midget Stooges, who

have opened for the likes of Massachusetts indie guitar-rockers Dinosaur Jr.

Just another graduate of Rock 'n' Roll High School.

"It's like a clubhouse with tons of instruments, and people there to

help

you figure out what to do with them," said Fugazi vocalist Ian

MacKaye, who has paid a visit to the one-of-a-kind school solely

dedicated to churning out professional rock musicians. "It's a pretty

amazing thing for kids to have. And the really great thing is that 95

percent of the people playing music are girls -- really young, teen-

age girls. I thought that was really inspirational -- really cool that

that was happening."

While Melbourne has been called the Seattle of Australia because of

its

gloomy weather, the potential impact of its rock scene soon might

prompt a comparison beyond meteorology.

Located in a nondescript building in inner-city Melbourne, Rock 'n'

Roll High School, which took its name from the

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Ramones/Rock_N_Roll_High_Sc

hool.ram">Ramones classic (RealAudio excerpt), has garnered

enough of a buzz to inspire the likes of Sonic Youth, L7, Rancid and

Sebadoh, in addition to Fugazi and Dinosaur Jr, to stop in during their

tours of the Land Down Under and check it out.

Formed in 1990, the rock school is a musical community of sorts,

where 180 musicians -- mostly female -- are learning their trade

and industry smarts as well as forming bands and having fun. Ages

range from 8 to 30, but as one official

description put it, "The average RnRHS student is 17, female and into

her

art."

Sarah McKeown is the epitome of a RnRHS student. These days, the

19-year-old is playing bass and guitar in the grunge group Sheraw,

one of 30 bands currently at the school. But that's not all.

She's also, temporarily, running the joint. "It's kind-of a breeding

ground for women to go on and hopefully do good things in rock

music," McKeown said from Melbourne. "It's getting a lot of chicks

and a few guys into rock for the right reason -- music. It isn't about

getting signed or having a hit."

But the record dealing at RnRHS has already begun -- and yielded

results. It all started in 1996 when Bay Area ska-punk band Rancid

paid a visit to the school. The group's leader, Tim Armstrong, was

given Vol. 2, a RnRHS compilation CD, as a momento of his visit.

He took the CD, which contained Litany's song

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Litany/By_Myself.ram">"By

Myself" (RealAudio excerpt), home to the States.

It subsequently made its way to Time Bomb Recordings, which

signed the band. It was the first deal between an RnRHS band and a

U.S. label.

"It could have been anyone on Vol. 2 -- they were all amazing

songs," said Litany's drummer, Stephanie Bourke, who founded the

school. "Sometimes I wish it wasn't us, so we could stay at the

school."

In fact, McKeown owes her temporary position as the school's head-

honcho to Litany's record deal. These days, she's sitting in for Bourke

while Litany are on tour promoting their debut, Peculiar World

-- the group is appearing, this week, as part of the all-women Lilith

Fair.

Bourke said that while RnRHS is focused on turning women into

confident and

accomplished musicians, it isn't necessarily aimed at conventional

success in

the rock world. "None of us think we're going to make it," she said.

"We just rehearse and go to each other's gigs and drink beer and go,

'Hey, chicks in rock!' "

Litany's record deal was a significant development for RnRHS, as well

as for the rock world in general, McKeown said. "Litany are the first

Australian all-female band to get picked up by an international

label," she explained. "It's really

important to change the boundaries of what female musicians can do

in

Australia."

Rock 'n' Roll High School released its third compilation CD, Volume

3,

last month on its own label, RnRHS Records. Mixed in Los Angeles,

the album

features 20 cuts from such RnRHS bands as Sheraw, Bindi, the Midget

Stooges, Tuff Muff and Snotrag. The school spent three years making

the

album, with the bands Fed Ex-ing tapes to Bourke while Litany

recorded in

the U.S.

RnRHS, which accepts "virtually anyone," McKeown said, is funded

primarily

from the students' lesson fees, which run $15 for a half-hour lesson

and

$25 for an hour. On the odd occasion when a grant from a

government agency comes through, the school uses the additional

revenue for recording, local touring and other "stuff we usually

couldn't afford to do," McKeown said.

"There's really nowhere else in Melbourne -- let alone the world --

where you

get such a high level of support for being a female musician and

where you

can be surrounded by a group of really motivated, strong people who

believe

what they're doing is important to changing the future of rock," she

said.

"I can't really equate what being at RnRHS has meant to me as a

musician

and a woman," McKeown said. "I've never felt so motivated or

conscious of the fact that I'm involved in a revolutionary

organization which reflects so much of what I think is important."