Wildcat Rose is a country band with rock & roll bite… or is it the other way around? Born in the taverns and rock clubs of Seattle, Washington, the group straddles the line between rootsy twang and guitar-driven bang, looking to rhinestoned icons like Patsy Cline for influence one minute and revved-up rockers the Cramps the next.
It’s a mix of glamor and grease — country music with claws, inspired by the rebels of Nashville’s old-school elite. Leading the charge are singer Joanie Havoc and guitarist/songwriter Skky Phoenix, both of whom were fronting their own Seattle-based bands when a shared show at Darrell’s Tavern brought them together in 2016. At the time, she was a rockabilly singer with a larger-than-life stage presence, raised on the sounds of country music, early rock & roll, and punk. He was a garage-rock guitar hero who’d grown up in Kurt Cobain’s old stomping grounds of Aberdeen, inspired by his hometown hero to pick up an instrument and hit the stage. The two were a natural match. Havoc and Phoenix began collaborating immediately, writing new songs that explored country music from amplified, rough-edged angles. When it came time to add some bottom end to the band’s sound, they reached out to bassist Kirsten Ballweg and drummer Aimee Zoe.
With Ballweg and Zoe completing the group’s coed lineup, Wildcat Rose got to work. They quickly became the go-to opening act for nationally-touring acts who, like Wildcat Rose, mixed country influences with something harder. They played with roots-rock icons the Blasters. With cowpunk champions the Hickoids. With Lavender Country, who’d become the world’s first openly-gay country band during the 1970s. Together, those gigs helped sharpen Wildcat Rose’s stage show: an electrified combination of glammed-up, vintage country and down-and-dirty rock attitude, reminiscent of everyone from Dolly Parton to Iggy Pop. More importantly, the shows helped shine a light on the band’s original music.
Wildcat Rose specializes in classic-sounding songs about the modern world. They write about their home — the Pacific Northwest, capable of overcast gloom and lush beauty in the same breath — while putting their own spin on the classic country topics of love, loss, lust, and the restless urge to hit the road. Theirs is the sort of wild, rule-breaking country that might’ve gotten the band kicked off the Grand Ole Opry during the mid-20th century, and they wear those rebel stripes proudly, blurring the lines between genres along the way. After all, when Havoc and Phoenix trade harmonies during one of their signature, show-stealing duets, it’s hard to say whether the moment evokes the cosmic-country couple of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons or the punky pairing X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka.
Fueled by weekly shows, the 2018 release of a well-received EP, and a collaborative songwriting approach that takes into account the bandmates’ versatile influences, Wildcat Rose is in full bloom. This is their season. May the season be long.