Makeup Punk

On the surface, the Eyeliners are almost too good to be true. The band consists of three sisters, picturesque brunettes who favor leather jackets and skirts and who can command an audience just by showing up.

When Gel, Lisa and Laura plug in and punk out, they become every wayward schoolboy's wet dream. Gel's guitars are fuzzed out through punctuated riffs at Motörheadian velocity. Lisa's bass spits out beats like a Gatling gun, and Laura's drum work and vocals keep everything rooted in reality. Her declarations of rock and roll independence, delinquent love affairs and punk-rock pride are somewhat believable. But even more credible is her sensible musicianship. She keeps things concise, catchy and, at times, somewhat anthemic.

The sisters aren't just pretty faces trying to be punk's answer to the Dixie Chicks. The outfit is part of an indie-label punk resurgence. Alongside similar-minded acts like the Groovie Ghoulies, Screeching Weasel, the Lillingtons, the Queers and others, the Eyeliners adhere to a punchy power-pop sound. This is evident on the band's recent effort, Here Comes Trouble (Panic Button). The LP rolls along traditional punk lines with simplified lyrics, basic arrangements and a penchant for speed. The well-rendered result is energetic, fun and supremely likable.

"When we're writing songs, there's almost a telepathic connection that happens," says 23-year-old Gel. Such is one of the benefits of working with siblings. "On tour we get along real good because we know what buttons not to push, or in some cases to push if we wanted to," she says. "A lot of bands have trouble when they go on tour because they're often in a confined space, traveling in a van. But we grew up together, so we know what it's like to be around each other constantly. It helps that we all get along."

The band started in the unlikely punk-rock town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Gel and Lisa began learning the guitar as teenagers. "We just learned by ear," says Gel. "We'd work together to learn things and trade off, teaching each other what we just learned. We tried to copy stuff off the radio, but I found a transcription of "Johnny B. Goode' in a guitar magazine and forced myself to practice night and day until I knew it." Oldest sister Laura joined in the music lessons nearly a decade later. In little more than one month's time, the sisters thought they were ready to start a band.

They formed Psychodrama in 1995. Undaunted by the fact that other bands shared that name, the sisters released 500 copies of a DIY seven-inch record. They all sold and earned the band favorable reviews in the local press.

The name change was inevitable, and in July 1996, the band became the more female-oriented Eyeliners. Since Albuquerque had only one club, the Eyeliners started gigging along the West Coast, particularly in Los Angeles. Acceptance came more easily from liberal Californians. Hometown crowds sometimes didn't know what to make of an all-female band.

"We do really well there now," says Gel. "But we couldn't get on a bill with a national act unless it was another all-girl band. When we started playing in L.A., people were more appreciative. Maybe it's because they had the Go-Go's and the Bangles out there."

In 1997 the band released its first LP, Confidential, on Sympathy for the Record Industry. Again, sales were brisk. Confidential sold 10,000 units.

With tons of touring and an underground buzz under its 24-inch belt, the band landed an opening slot for the Avengers in Berkeley, California. The gig bolstered the sisters' confidence. They were received warmly by the packed house and sold all of their merchandise.

Although the Eyeliners were gigging like crazy, the band wasn't recording much. Prior to this year's Trouble, the band's last release was a seven-inch single, "Rock-N-Roll Baby," in 1998.

In August 1999 the band traveled to Indiana to begin work at the punk-pop factory of the '90s, Sonic Iguana Studios. With the genre's prolific producer Mas Giorgini at the helm, the sisters commenced to create some good Trouble. Giorgini played the results for some clients, including Panic Button honcho Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel. The Eyeliners were eventually signed.

"Mas played it for Ben since they were going to work on some Screeching Weasel stuff, and we got this e-mail from him that said, "Ben Weasel, who hates everything, really loves your record,'" recalls Gel. "That was a big honor for us." The timing was right considering Panic Button's distributor, Lookout Records (home to numerous other punkers), had recently inked a deal with Sony's RED Distribution.

Lisa, Laura and Gel are part of a package show, the Lookout Freakout Tour, along with the Mr. T. Experience and American Steel. The Eyeliners are just one part of the tour, but the girls don't really look at themselves that way. They've come too far to think of themselves as anything but the main attraction.

"It helped that so many bands helped pave the way," says Gel. "We were the first all-girl band in Albuquerque, so we really had to prove ourselves. But we did, and we got people coming to the shows. We worked hard to overcome that stereotype."