Anyone who saw Minneapolis retard-rockers Cows in their heyday remembers former frontman Shannon Selberg. He was the guy walking around the bar before the show with mousetraps dangling from his ears, cigarette butts woven into his scraggly goatee and a deflated Little Oral Annie sex doll strapped to his back. Throughout Cows' 14-year career, Selberg was always the center of attention, leaving audiences of cud-chewing hipsters agog with his steely-gray seriousness and stage antics that were part Elvis, part epilepsy. But after Cows' demise in 1998, it looked as if Selberg would be put out to pasture, remembered as another noise-rock novelty.
So Selberg moved out to New York in pursuit of an acting career, but within months of Cows' exit, he'd already shacked up with another group. "I was finding that it cost money to go to auditions," says Selberg, "and I didn't have any money." So fronting a band seemed like the next logical thing to do. He met up with Norman Westberg, formerly of Swans and Foetus, and The Heroine Sheiks launched, with their first record (1999's Heroine Sheiks (We Are the)) being the last formal release on seminal indie imprint Amphetamine Reptile Records.
But even with AmRep scaling back, leaving them without a label, things still looked promising. Soon, a deal with Rubric Records materialized and after two releases (Rape on the Installment Plan and Siamese Pipe) under their belts Selberg and the Sheiks were gaining a bit of exposure. Of course, that's when the bottom fell out. "Last fall, we were booked to do this big tour. But the drummer broke his eardrum and ended up having to quit music, and the bass player only wanted to play with that drummer ..." Selberg trails off. "It's hard to keep people focused `in a band` in New York. Everyone's looking to get a step up to something bigger . ... But this new unit, everyone just wants to get out on tour."
It's immediately clear from listening to the recordings that this is indeed a more musically centered outfit. "After the Cows, I came to the realization that indie rock was about every musician for themselves; everyone's always trying to show off. It sucks the sex right out of music. In this band everyone has a simple part now it's more about dynamic."
Since he's the only original member, Selberg's oddball eccentricity runs throughout the Sheiks. Although lyrically it's less disjointed than his work in the Cows, Selberg's style has given way to manifesto-like ruminations on what he calls "the blind spots in behavior."
"What interests me is the stuff behind the persona `people` take in public," he continues, "the things people wouldn't cop to to their friends. You know, like the guy who everyone says does a great job at work, but all the time he's thinking about picking up a hooker."
Even though on tour with Gibby Haynes, the future is a little bleak for the Sheiks, yet Selberg remains relatively upbeat. He's got enough new material for a new album, but things don't look good for another Rubric release. The label offers no tour support or publicity. "Our label was supposed to hook up with a major distributor, but instead they were taken over by a heavy metal label," he says matter-of-factly, "and the heavy metal label doesn't like us."