Although she kicks ass in a ’70s-obsessed rock unit called Thunderpussy, guitarist Whitney Petty’s past doesn’t sound littered with empty Jack Daniel’s bottles, cheap speed, and smoking Marshalls.
When reached in her adopted hometown of Seattle, the southerner notes she ended up in the Pacific Northwest after answering a help-wanted ad on the Internet. Landing a job with a Seattle company called Cruise West, she was employed as a deck hand, working on boats that often traversed the B.C. coast.
“When I quit that job, I got a job on a private yacht, and spent almost three months docked in Vancouver,” Petty says. “The owners were off the boat, but the crew was still onboard. We were right by that amazing park on the water—Stanley Park. It was a great gig because I was getting paid to live on the boat, so I didn’t have to pay rent. I could spend all my money at the bar, hanging out in Gastown.”
Eventually, though, she realized she was probably meant for more than a life at sea.
“I was a glorified boat washer, but I’d always travel with my guitar,” she says with a laugh. “Finally, one of my captains said, ‘You might be wasting your life—why are you on this boat? You clearly want to play music, so maybe you should stop being a deck hand and go start a band.’ ”
Petty would, but not before logging time as a guitarist with Deerhunter (founder Bradford Cox asked her to join), and then sliding behind the kit to anchor Seattle blues-explosion duo the Grizzled Mighty. But it’s Thunderpussy that’s finally made her feel like she’s, if you will, captain of her own ship. Capturing ’70s lightning in a bottle has been the mission of the quartet, which includes singer Molly Sides, bassist Leah Julius, and drummer Lena Simon. Singles like “Stuck” and “Badlands” showcase the band’s obvious affection for all things dazed-and-confused, while “Welcome to the Disco” is retro boogie gone tribal. The dark and grungy “Thunderpussy”, meanwhile, operates as something of a mission statement with “My peach is getting ripe—open up and take a bite.”
“The idea behind Thunderpussy is simple—it’s kind of embedded in the name,” Petty says. “It’s like this powerful rock ’n’ roll entity that’s drenched in female energy. Thunderpussy has had this meteoric rise and I feel kind of like we’re along for the ride, but definitely like I’m steering the ship.”
The exposure has indeed come fast and furiously, with an appearance at Sasquatch and glowing words everywhere from the Stranger to tastemaking national outlets like Noisey (highlight sound bite: “a shit-kicking quartet”).
“I want people to recognize Thunderpussy as a band and a brand name,” Petty says. “When you see our band, our logo, our merch, or our stickers, I want you to think ‘That’s a party,’ and if you go to a show, you’re going to have a really good time. We’re in the old-school-rock category. That’s what Molly and I especially really love. Our favourite band collectively is Led Zeppelin. Then there’s Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, and, from the cool female-fronted vocal angle, there’s nothing like Ann Wilson from Heart.”
As for Thunderpussy live, Petty may have spent a lot of time on boats, but she’s not interested in standing there like someone raised on yacht rock.
“If you’re putting on a show,” the guitarist says, “you should be getting a crowd’s energy up to where you, like a rock vampire, can suck out the vortex of their love and then spit it right back at them. That’s what we do.”
Thunderpussy plays the Red Room Ultra Bar on Thursday (June 18).