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There have been gay musicians hidden throughout rock music history, but Pansy Division when began in 1991 in San Francisco, they were the first to be so boldly open about it. Founded by guitarist/singer Jon Ginoli and soon joined by bassist/singer Chris Freeman, with the intent of forming a gay rock band, Pansy Division blew the closet doors open.
Raised on a diet of 60s pop and 70s punk, their sound was suitably crunchy and catchy as hell. They wrote in-your-face lyrics, but did it with a sense of humor. Not only did their music and stance defy stereotypic norms of rock musicians being openly gay, they also broke gay cultural stereotypes that rock wouldn't interest gay people.
With album titles like Undressed and Deflowered, and song titles like "Bill & Ted's Homosexual Adventure," their bluntness and humor stood out amidst the '90s alterna-rock scene. Says Chris Freeman, "there was a lot of gay culture we couldn't relate to, so we tried to invent a place for ourselves in it, an alternative for other queer misfits." Having had the experience of being ostracized by other musicians for being gay and by other gays for being into rock, “we tried to turn our alienation into something positive,” says Ginoli. “Instead of being depressed about it, we tried to make music that would make us—and our audience—happy. We could laugh about it, so we put that joy into the music.”
Beginning in 1993, they put out an album a year for six years on Lookout Records. Their music caught the attention of former Lookout labelmates Green Day, who took Pansy Division on tour for a couple of months in 1994 at the height of the mania surrounding their breakthrough album Dookie. Says Ginoli, ”When we started our band we thought we’d be playing our music to people in their 20s & 30s who were gay or gay-friendly. Suddenly we faced thousands of high school kids each night, an amazing opportunity we never expected to have.” The response was decidedly mixed, but their popularity soared.
Pansy Division toured and recorded almost non-stop during the 1990s, along the way recruiting a permanent drummer (Luis Illades) and a lead guitarist (first Patrick Goodwin, now Joel Reader).
1998's Absurd Pop Song Romance was a departure from their earlier work, a more serious album both lyrically and sonically. The 2003 followup album Total Entertainment! (for a new label, Alternative Tentacles) found a happy medium between the broad humor of the early records and the more (dare we say it?) mature approach of the previous album. In 2006, they released a 30-song career overview titled The Essential Pansy Division.
2009 was a good year for the band: their most recent album That’s So Gay was released, raucous and raunchy as well as being serious-minded. With some of their catchiest and most rocking songs ever, it’s loads of fun without being ironic or cynical. 2009 also saw the release of a documentary film about the band, Pansy Division: Life In A Gay Rock Band, which played numerous film festivals worldwide and came out on DVD at the same time. Finally, Jon’s memoir Deflowered: My Life In Pansy Division hit the bookstores, of his stories and experiences in the band.
Since then the band released two digital-only archival releases, but with band members living in 4 cities on 2 coasts, gigs have been infrequent. However, in 2015 the band played its first East Coast shows in 6 years, and is working on their new studio album Quite Contrary for release in Fall 2016, which will coincide with the band’s 25th anniversary.
912 Red River Street
Austin, TX, 78701