An Arizona native who wound up in Olympia, Washington as a result of attending nearby Evergreen State College, singer/songwriter Lois Maffeo had been a scene fixture there before starting the band that bears her name. (It really is a band — she’s been known to refer to it as “The Lois.”) She’d sung on the Go Team’s “My Head Hurts” with Calvin Johnson, done a girl-punk radio show on KAOS-FM, been in a short-lived band called the Cradle Robbers with future Spinane Rebecca Gates and, most notably, been half of a group called Courtney Love, a name she made up with a onetime Portland, Oregon roommate who also found a use for it. Maffeo’s duo with drummer Pat Maley (who now runs Olympia’s Yo Yo studio and label) recorded three charming 7-inch singles. Even after a move to Washington DC, Lois remains a guiding force in the Northwest love-rock world.
The first Lois album, Butterfly Kiss, is very much in the Courtney Love mode, with Maffeo strumming an acoustic guitar and singing in her lilting near-lisp, backed by drummer Molly Neuman (borrowed from Bratmobile) and, occasionally, bassist/producer Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants fame. The songs are simple but lovely. “Valentine” has become something of an indie-pop standard; the single “Press Play and Record” is charming and sassy (“I’m the most terrifically bored girl the world has yet to see”).
Strumpet introduces electricity to Lois’ guitar, and has a few more guest stars on bass: Donna Dresch (Team Dresch) and Codeine’s Stephen Immerwahr, who duets with Maffeo on “Wet Eyes.” The record is dreamier than Butterfly Kiss, with at least two Lois classics: the blithely witty title track (“You say I’m walking around like I own the whole place/Well I do”) and “The Trouble With Me” (“…is that I’m trouble”). The highlight, though, is the final track, an a cappella cover of the Zombies’ “The Way I Feel Inside” — perfectly heartbreaking and perfectly adorable.
The cassette-only Lowrider contains live performances from a couple of San Francisco shows. In addition to songs from the first two albums, Maffeo resurrects Courtney Love’s “Uncrushworthy” and “Highlights” and “Long Time Gone” (the B-side of “Press Play and Record”), joins the Spinanes for their “Hawaiian Baby” and offers another a cappella cover: the Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma”!
Sometime around 1994, Lois toured with Amy Farina, a drummer under the only occasionally fortuitous impression that she was John Bonham. The Shy Town EP couples the title track (from Bet the Sky) with four Ian MacKaye-produced songs recorded by the rock-out lineup (relatively speaking) of Maffeo, Farina and bassist Juan Carrera: two new ones, plus the former B-side “Page Two” and Courtney Love’s “Hey! Antoinette.”
Bet the Sky is a welcome return to acoustic wimpiness, featuring another new drummer, Heather Dunn (ex-Tiger Trap), and Fugazi’s Brendan Canty (with whom she subsequently formed a duo and made an album) playing a little guitar, harmonica and organ. Though it contains fewer instantly memorable songs than Lois’ other records, the album does have some of Maffeo’s best lyrics (the hook of “Charles Atlas” recalls “I loved the boy who kicked the sand/Long before the arms made the man”) and some beautiful, assured singing.