"WE'VE BEEN listening to Neo Boys for two years now," says the band's bassist Kt Kincaid, feigning exhaustion. Neo Boys aren't new. But they are hugely important in Portland's music history, an all-female punk band that formed in 1978 and helped create an entire scene for weirdoes and malcontents.
Listening to the new double-LP compilation Sooner or Later (out October 15 on venerable K Records), it becomes apparent that the importance and influence of Neo Boys goes far beyond Portland. "Part of me was like, 'Why would anyone want to listen to this?' It was so raw," says Kt, who, along with her former bandmates, culled countless hours of tape for the compilation. "But hearing the progress, I was pretty impressed."
The other women in Neo Boys are all gathered in Kt's living room—sort of. Her sister, Neo Boys vocalist Kim Kincaid, is there. So is original guitarist Jennifer Lobianco. The distorted voice of guitarist Meg Hentges is on speakerphone, and drummer Pat Baum comes to the room from Mexico via Skype on a laptop. Those physically present are drinking wine, while everyone gets caught up and talks about the band's early days.
There wasn't a lot happening in Portland in 1977 when the Kincaid sisters formed their first band, Formica and the Bitches. They were an anomaly. Rock bands—let alone all-female ones—were few and far between (they rattle off a few names like Terror Wrist and the Products). As the Kincaid sisters phrased it in a speech given in 2011 on the opening night of the Oregon Historical Society's Oregon Rocks exhibit: "In the late '70s, Portland was repressive, conservative, and teeming with rednecks."
The Kincaid sisters, along with Lobianco, put out punk-rock newsletters hoping to create a buzz in Portland, mostly so that traveling bands could see it as a viable stop. There were house parties, a lot of times without bands, where kids would hang out and listen to records by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. "Youth was a big part of saying, 'Fuck it, let's do this," Kt says, taking a sip of wine. But there was more to Neo Boys. Kt continues, "Kim didn't sing about boys. [Female groups] were all about boys up until then. She sang about what was going on in that circle, and injustice."
You can find that in Neo Boys songs like "Give Me the Message" and "Rich Man's Dream," the latter of which appeared on the Lost Girls 1977-'82 comp put together by K's Calvin Johnson. Johnson is also responsible for Sooner or Later, which chronologically captures the four-piece's evolution from their ramshackle early live shows to their jangly, more refined, later material. (Hentges, who replaced Lobianco on guitar in 1980, receives a lot of credit for shaping those songs.)
Among the album's 45 tracks are demos, live cuts, and a couple of studio recordings, including a 7-inch from 1980 recorded by the Wipers' Greg Sage, and their 1982 Crumbling Myths EP. The entire package of Sooner or Later—the music, the liner notes, the photos—offers a revealing snapshot of Portland in the late '70s. To outsiders, it may have seemed like a phase. But to those involved, what they were doing was important—even if they didn't know just how important it was at the time. "I think it's a great historical document of the band," Kim says. "Doing this project—hearing people say, 'Yeah, I snuck out of my room to see Neo Boys'—that's when you realize the impact it had."
The members understandably get visibly emotional talking about it now. Kt sums up Neo Boys' place in history succinctly: "We were one among many women that changed what women could be in rock 'n' roll."