Sarah Kirsch: a guitar hero of Bay Area punk scenes

Throughout the history of Pop music, there have been many famous musicians who started out as members of other bands; Dr. Dre  was a member of the dj group World Class Wrecking Crew before starting a solo career while Eric Clapton honed his guitar skills as a member of Cream in the late 1960s.  There were also many examples of this in the punk rock scene during the 70s as well; Marky Ramone was the drummer for Richard Hell’s Voidoids before replacing Tommy Ramone of the Ramones.

One of the most prolific if  not necessarily well known was  Sarah Kirsch. Starting out as the lead vocalist  for Bay area pop punk band, Pinhead Gunpowder, Kirsch moved on to become a fixture in the Berkley California scene.  She played guitar in many pioneering emo and post hardcore bands from the area such as Navio Forge, Fuel, and Torches to Rome. Her style was something of a contradiction:  sparse, yet driving  much like  Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho or John William’s Jaws orchestration. Her guitar ramps up the tension during refrains while also allowing lyrics to flow. This is best heard in Navio Forge’s  As we Quietly Burn a Hole Into.. from 1993; songs such as “Yellow and Fed”  and “Weaponizing” display the urgency of Kirsch’s playing and the sparse way she deployed  her guitar.She had different styles too- Kirsch delivered a chugging pop punk riff on Fuel’s Monument to Excess and whipped up a fuzzed blur of fury on Torches to Rome’s 1995 demo. Her sound was very flexible and she was committed to capturing the style of a record.

In a way, Kirsch embodied the ever changing face of  punk during the 1990s-  it went into a variety of different directions with emotional hardcore, pop punk, and post hardcore. While there were many arguments about ideology and record label ethics, all of these offshoots were full of passionate people who made music they wanted to hear. Sarah Kirsch was no exception and  kept making music up until her death in 2012 from lukeima. She’s the guitar hero of the Bay Area who deserves to be heard at least once.

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