When Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley invited The Rondelles to record for his Smells Like Records label in 1998, there were typical grumblings from a few older and more established Burque bands—no names please. After all, they pointed out, Juliet Swango (guitar, vocals), Oakley Munson (keyboards, drums, vocals) and Yukiko Moynihan (bass) were barely out of high school.
Gripes like, They haven’t paid their dues, or, Someone must be sleeping with Shelley made the rounds but the truth was many local “punk” musicians had never taken the band seriously. This despite three years of experience already under The Rondelles’ belt, having formed as 11th graders. There was the obligatory homemade demo tape (my copy was recorded over side A of a bootleg Guns N’ Roses cassette) plus two 7-inch releases on Grime Records and Teenbeat, as well as a cut on a Pocket Protector Records local comp. As if that weren’t enough the trio backed Jet Jaguar (Brad Beshaw, proprietor of local trash video/book store Wavy Brain) as the final lineup of his wonderfully goofball sci-fi band Luxo Champ.
All the griping was just sour grapes if you ask me. Listeners loved to gyrate to catchy pop tunes about infatuation with math geeks and unrequited crushes on boys who’d rather watch television. The lyrics were as sharp as the sound was raw. Swango played a guitar with four strings. No, not a “four-string guitar” but one that only had four strings. Munson stood and tapped a snare and high hat with one drumstick and with his other hand plunked a keyboard barely better than a Toys ”R” Us special. Moynihan was just learning bass. The time signatures were off-kilter and the vocals weren’t always in tune but that was nothing new 20 years after punk had thrown the rules out the window.
The critics who called The Rondelles “riot grrrl” were confused while the ones that made comparisons to The Go-Go’s were just lazy journalists. It was simply lo-fi teenage pop with pointed barbs about romance lurking beneath the fun.
After The Rondelles relocated to Washington D.C. in 1999, Albuquerque didn’t hear much from the trio. Opening for Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney, a European tour (with an expanded and heavier lineup) and recording for Teenbeat and K Records kept the band busy.
By 2001, however, The Rondelles were no more: Munson moved to New York and formed the rock n’ Rolling Stones combo The Witnesses. Swango was back in Burque by the end of 2002 fronting the wham-
When Munson’s soulful Puddin’ Tang gigged here in 2007 The Rondelles sans Moynihan played a minimally publicized reunion set with Pablo Novelas (The Dirty Novels) jumping in on bass. Not even every member of The Foxx recognized Swango when she showed up in a black wig to cover her short, blonde hair. Munson completed the follicle follies by slicking down his huge post-Albuquerque fro. The two looked much as they did in high school and had just as much fun.
This past summer, the band reformed for a pair of shows in New York City. If I had any sour grapes it would be that The Rondelles couldn’t pull off a show here as well. But since I got to see the trio about the time they were getting fitted for caps and gowns, I have no complaints.