Certain singers' voices tell their story before you even begin to hear their lyrics. A trembling, stuttered presentation warns of a life spent drowning in broken hearts and lost hopes. An old man's blues demeanor can tell of hardship turned to hardened determination, and a voice that grinds its words like a trash compactor--well, that's the domain of Wendy Case, the frontwoman for Detroit's best answer to Cheap Trick, the Paybacks.
Case's rough-hewn pipes are made of the special ingredients few women in mainstream rock have possessed--aside from giants like Joan Jett and Janis Joplin. Case has a voice that shows she's lived it before she even tells the stories--a masculine-sounding, grainy style that belies her easygoing demeanor with a closet of old skeletons. "If indeed a voice is born of lifestyle, than I probably did about everything to my voice that you can do," she explains with a hearty laugh. "I think it's just a case of living long enough and throwing enough energy into living and that's reflected in what you do, how you present yourself, how you think, and even how you sound."
The Paybacks have proven their longevity with a mix of pop hooks that launch out between hard rock riffs (stemming from the band's love of both Alice Cooper and the Cars) and Case's lyrics, which stride past tough chick stereotypes into a world of older-and-wiser honesty.
"For me [songwriting] was a matter of maturing--not just musically, but as a human being, living through all of that and arriving right side up and making enough sense of it to write songs about it," she says. "I totally had to grow into it, though, because I think the only time you really being to show any great evolution is when you begin to tell the truth, not just to your audience or to the people you're trying to attract or inspire but to yourself."