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Emily's Sassy Lime
Carrie L. Rodrigues
Sassy Punks: When they're not studying or not practicing, the three members of Emily's Sassy Lime hit the road to rock.

Punk is life--except at home--for Emily's Sassy Lime

By Bernice Yeung

THE MEMBERS of Emily's Sassy Lime, a punk trio from Southern California, are experiencing even more name-calling now than they did a few weeks ago--as seniors in high school. Rock critics have assigned 17-year-olds Emily Ryan and Wendy Yao and 19-year-old Amy Yao (Wendy's sister) endearing qualities like "obnoxious," "argumentative," "annoying" and, most damning of all coming from a rock critic, "naively nonconformist."

Despite media assumptions, the three teenagers in Emily's Sassy Lime concoct conversations and music that make strange sense when pieced together. They talk the way they play: beginning and finishing each other's sentences or rudely interrupting each other, creating layers of chaotic, near-melodic noise.

Their live performances reinforce their spontaneous tendencies. They swap instruments like sisters swap clothes, devise set lists just minutes prior to plugging in, even practice between songs. Their sets are punctuated with hurried reminders of chord changes and outbursts like "Whatever, just play."

Insolent and ambiguous, Emily's Sassy Lime has been tossed into the "obnoxious teen" category along with Macaulay Culkin. But it's the clever complexity behind their personalities and music that makes them an enigma--that, and their penchant for habitually lying to reporters from publications like Option and Giant Robot. Their interviews should definitely be taken with a handful of salt.

"We get shit for being annoying ..." Emily says during a group interview before the band's recent set at the "Ladies of Rock" show at the Billy DeFrank Gay and Lesbian Community Center in San Jose.

"... and that we're young, like we're a novelty or something," Amy adds, picking up the thought. "They say we're obnoxious, but why should we shut up? There's no reason to."

"People are always going to think things about you," Wendy concludes, "and you can tell them exactly what you want to try and change it, and they can even say that they believe you, but they probably won't. So it's easier to say, 'Whatever.'"

Just take a close look at the band's name; it's a palindrome, not an inane reference to citrus fruit. The songs on the group's full-length CD on Kill Rock Stars, Desperate, Scared But Social (which builds on their seven-incher, Summer Vacation), are minute-and-a-half punk ditties packed with as much KO power as Hong Kong action heroine Michelle Yeoh.

What the band lacks in technical perfection, it makes up for in women's punk intuition. The vocals are full of fuzzy, delinquent sneering. Abrasive, screeching guitar tracks leave behind ghosts of dissonant feedback that haunt the provocative basslines. They're consciously careless sonic rebel wizards overflowing with the punk DIY ethic.

So where'd they learn to play?

"We never did," Amy shrugs. "We still haven't."

They claim that they didn't even rehearse for the recording of Desperate, Scared but Social. Given the band members' scattered homes (Emily lives in Calabasas, Amy in Pasadena and Wendy in Irvine), spontaneity is the only way to make the band work. In high school, the three had to dedicate most of their time to schoolwork, anyway.

"We barely ever practice ..." brags Wendy.

"... it's so random," continues Amy. "You don't understand. We just go up there and play music."

AT BILLY DeFrank, Emily's Sassy Lime shreds its artistic license. Wendy adopts a pigeon-toed, Courtney Love­like stance at bass. On drum duties, Wendy plays standing up, towering over the kit. Emily handles most of the guitar-and-vocal responsibilities, occasionally switching to bass. She sings with her eyes focused upward, as if concentrating on ceiling rafters, blinking at the light. Amy, possessed by a calmer presence than her younger bandmates, contributes vocals and manipulates the bass, guitar, drums or synthesizer.

Both genders are attracted to the raw punk brawn of Emily's Sassy Lime. Outfitted in thrift-store finery and dyed locks, the adolescent/young-adult fans respond with appreciative punk-rock head nods in time to the music. The band ends its set to chants for "more, more." Suddenly shy and docile, the threesome reluctantly complies.

Despite their tough-grrrl exteriors and the simplistic labels that they've been slapped with, Emily, Wendy and Amy exhibit some interesting contradictions between their music and their home life. As first-generation Asian Americans still under the financial wing of their families, the three must deal with conflicting cultural imperatives. Getting good grades is big in their parents' books; being in a punk band is not. Anchored to their residences by filial piety, they are prevented from practicing (though they probably wouldn't anyway) and must make up songs over the phone.

Meanwhile, their parents continue to emphasize the academic, oblivious to the ongoing operations of Emily's Sassy Lime. "They don't know what's going on," Amy says. "My dad just kinda goes, 'Oh, tomorrow, you guys can play us a show.' And we're like, [heavy sarcasm], 'Okay.' "

According to the trio, their parents pay strict attention to their daughters' scholastic careers.

"It's the Asian thing," Emily interjects.

"It was academics first," Amy explains. "Academics was, like, the key element. Otherwise, our parents would really freak out."

Picking up the conversational baton, Wendy laments, "We've been in jail for a long time. In-house arrest. If we didn't even have good grades, we'd be on, like, I don't know, bread and water."

But the strict academic regimens paid off. Next fall, Amy will be a sophomore at the Art Center in Pasadena, while Emily attends the University of Southern California, and Wendy heads to Stanford University. Plus, their studies helped them escape the familial penitentiaries.

"With academics, we can say stuff like, 'We're going to the library for, like, a few days," Amy confides. "It's a good way to get out."

Though they don't dedicate their spare time to picketing Jessica McClintock outlets, these Asian American females have definite political opinions on feminism and racism. In fact, discussing gender and ethnic issues--where their responses exceed three terse words--is the only time they might actually be sincere.

Because they believe that activism can be a subtle fight, Emily, Amy and Wendy choose more intrinsic battles. They make their rebellious, anti-stereotype statement through the songs they write ("G.U.S.T.O.--G Does Not Stand for Geriatric," "Would-be Saboteurs Take Heed"), their uncompromising attitudes, their refusal of cutesy Sanrio merchandise and by just being in a punk band. And when a fanzine featured the group as squinty-eyed cartoon characters, Emily's Sassy Lime didn't hesitate to express its ire.

"It's just ridiculous," Amy fumes. "It's really stupid, because not all Asians have eyes like that. That's the way they think, so too bad for them."

As politically opinionated as Emily, Amy and Wendy may be, the band rocks on a strictly unacademic and nonpolitical foundation. To the musical triumvirate, developing friendship is more important than constructing a political agenda.

"We didn't create the band to have any kind of theme or anything ..." Wendy says.

"... or to make a statement," interrupts Emily. "We're just best friends."

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From the July 18-28, 1996 issue of Metro

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