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Fast And Rude With The Casual Dots

"I suppose I wanted to play music people could dance to," offers singer/guitarist Christina Billotte, when asked about her initial hopes for her latest rock 'n' roll combo, the Casual Dots. Which is probably to imply that her main band of the moment, Quix*o*tic, isn't a place for dancing. In that band, Billotte's influences — girl groups, surf guitar, old soul, horror films — end up coming out in minor-key tunes, over which she and sister Myra hit glowing harmonies. The Dots, however, play the bat a little straighter. Whilst Billotte's particular, idiosyncratic style imbues the band with her unmistakable aesthetic, the Casual Dots' rhythmic rock 'n' roll is more reminiscent of Slant 6, the anglo/art-punks Billotte fronted over two fine albums on Dischord in the mid-'90s.

Slant 6 was Billotte's second band, coming, in her very impressive discographical lineage, after Autoclave, a pre-riot-grrrl turn-of-the-'90s combo fronted by a very young Mary Timony and an even younger Billotte. By the late '90s, Billotte'd joined up with her sister to form Quix*o*tic; but, even as the second Quix*o*tic album, Mortal Mirror, found the combo greeting greater acclaim, Billotte still yearned to indulge in her love of the "project band." And so began the Casual Dots, in an inception familiar to the songwriter.

"I suppose there was sort of a feeling that this was a project band, but every band I've been in has started that way," Billotte says. "Quix*o*tic's first time playing was a project band show. There were about eight acts, and everyone played 1-3 songs. Slant 6 played its first show on a dare from [Nation of Ulysses bassist] Steve Gamboa. Myra and I had been playing a little bit in a practice space for about two weeks. We were at a diner one night and he dared us to play at a Nation of Ulysses show that was going on the next night. We told him we didn't have a drummer and he said he'd play drums for us, thinking we'd never do it. At the time he was the bass player for NOU and hadn't really ever played drums. We said OK, practiced the next day with him and played. It was a total mess."

The Casual Dots were initially going to be a project for Billotte and former Bikini Kill members Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail. Eventually, the combo ended up being Billotte and Wilcox on guitars, with Deep Lust drummer Steve Dore on percussion. "Steve, Kathi, and I had played just a couple times, making noise in the practice space when, in the summer of 2002, Kathi booked a show with Ladyfest DC, and then we wrote some songs," recalls Billotte. "The Washington Post was doing an article about the upcoming event, and wanted the picture to be of us for some reason, so we had to come up with a name fast. Then we remembered 'The Casual Dots' and it turned out all three of us had always liked that name."

The name "The Casual Dots" originally "belonged" to former Bikini Kill guitarist Billy Karen, a reference to some form of offhand graffiti using dot stickers instead of spray paint. With a name in place, the Dots took the transition from project to real band, and a year after their debut at Ladyfest they set about recording their debut disc. Produced by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, the self-titled set finds the trio convening over a set of skeletal rock 'n' roll (although it stops halfway through to let Billotte belt out a beautiful cover of Etta James' I'll Dry My Tears). The album essentially captures a band in its infancy, still forging an identity.

"My favorite thing about the Casual Dots record is the fact that 'Clocks' [which you can currently download off the Neumu homepage under 'Gramophone'] and 'Hooded' were basically written in the studio," Billotte says, referring to the two standout tracks on the album. "We had parts we'd been playing in practice, but I hadn't figured out what I should play to them. Kathi and Steve wanted to record them anyway, so I just played over them, not knowing exactly what I was going to do. I thought 'Clocks' was going to be an instrumental, but then everyone was like 'There's two weeks until we mix, write some lyrics for it.' The whole record was kind of like that. It came together fast, and there wasn't much time to deliberate about it." — Anthony Carew [Tuesday, April 20, 2004]

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