To me, the most interesting band to emerge from LA’s late-70s post-punk scene was Suburban Lawns. They were musically more expansive than many of their contemporaries. The band’s repertoire ranged from straight-ahead rock and funky syncopation to herky-jerky New Wave and polyrhythmic art rock.
Several years ago I discovered Suburban Lawns while watching an old videotape of the early 1980s TV program New Wave Theatre. When the band came on to perform their song “Janitor,”I was transfixed by the visage of lead singer Su Tissue—a woman whose stage persona has been described as Little House on the Prairie meets the Manson girls. Singing the verses in a clipped moan, she screeches out something about janitors and genitals in the chorus. Barely acknowledging the camera while grimacing into the microphone, she sounds like she has something in her mouth. Was she wearing braces on her teeth?
Tissue’s detached anti-star presence set her apart from other front women on the scene at the time. Dressed like an elementary-school teacher with a passing resemblance to Crystal Gayle, Su wasn’t hip. Nor did she choose to cash in on her sexuality. Her singing is different from song to song. She can flatly deliver lines and come off as remote, or she can coo and shriek like some wild cartoon character. Yoko Ono was an influence. Her keyboard playing varies from colorful synth washes and textures to percussive piano.
After scouring the Internet for a few years I was finally able to download all of Suburban Lawns’ out-of-print recordings.
Side A of the group’s 1979 self-produced single “Gidget Goes to Hell” was a parody of the entrenched car-and-surf culture of southern California—think “Fun, Fun, Fun” by The Beach Boys as black comedy. A promotional video for the song was shot by Jonathan Demme and later aired on Saturday Night Live, but this would prove to be the high point for Suburban Lawns. IRS Records released an album in 1981 to little national acclaim or notice. The band never flourished outside of Southern California and petered out after a final EP in 1983. Over the years they’ve managed to find a tiny cult audience, but they remain eclipsed by many of their peers such as Black Flag, X, and The Dickies. As overlooked as they are, any reissue of their work seems unlikely.
Su Tissue went on to study piano at Berklee College of Music, and in 1982 she released a modern classical record called Salon de Musique. She was last seen briefly in Demme’s 1986 film Something Wild.
She never followed up with another record or tried to further her career in any way that I can tell. She never gave any details about herself or insight into her working methods, as she never spoke in band interviews. And she apparently prefers to remain anonymous, too. Others in the band have granted interviews in recent years and some have an online presence, but no one is saying what Su went on to do with her life.
I wonder what happened to her. She was a true original.