Down with the Sickness
If you’ve ever been to a Hell’s Belles show, you know that all five girls give an explosive, all-girl tribute to AC/DC that becomes their own. But the queen of all that energy is undoubtedly Adrian Conner, who stands in for AC/DC lead guitarist Angus Young: With her flailing blonde dreadlocks and feral demeanor, she prances and convulses across the stage in a schoolgirl uniform, levelling the crowd with her merciless guitar licks.
“That hard, rock-out side of me has pretty much always been there,” Conner says. “I guess I did like one Indigo Girls song. But when I played acoustic guitar, I didn’t really play guitar. When I picked up an electric, I really got taken by Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and loud bands like them. I wanted there to be more detail and technicality in my playing. I’m totally fascinated with trying to make good music on guitar.”Conner has a pretty sweet day job performing in an AC/DC tribute band, but it isn’t her only musical outlet: She’s equally driven to write and perform her own songs in her original band Adrian and The Sickness.”I guess I just have the need to reproduce something I admire so much – to be a part of (original) music,” Conner says. “I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately. I think we’re trying to learn from other people. We hear something that sounds cool, and we want to learn to play it, but then it’s an evolution – we want to create something ourselves. It’s something I have to do.”Adrian and The Sickness takes a page from AC/DC’s four-on-the-floor hard rock and tosses in paragraphs of Sex-Pistols punk, Pixies pop and Donnas sass while Conner half-sings/half-yells bitter lyrics about love, love lost and what happens when you mess with the wrong band of badass chicks. “There’s a lot of Angus (in my performance), because AC/DC laid the groundwork for a lot of rock, but this is even more taxing because I’m running around and singing,” Conner says. “I just get to run around in Hell’s Belles. Playing the original stuff makes it cooler, because it’s scary and I’m putting my own songs out there. But I just have to do it.”Adrian and The Sickness are based in Austin, Texas, and bassist Heather Webb and drummer Nina Singh join Conner onstage. While Conner toplines the band, she says the other members form integral parts of the band.
“I did want Adrian and the Sickness to be all girls, because I work better with women,” Conner says. “(Nina) is the best drummer I’ve ever had – I feel a strong connection with her, and she makes the music sound the way I want it to sound, and I feel that exact same way about Heather. In Hell’s Belles, we’re pretending to be those (other) players, so there’s not that creative side. I feel this is more intimate, and we play what we all think sounds good.”Austin, which bills itself as “The Music Capital of the World,” serves as a natural breeding ground for rock ‘n’ roll, and Conner met her bandmates through hanging out in a tight-knit and musically literate scene.”I think it’s awesome here,” Conner says. “You can play any kind of music and someone is going to like it – but you gotta do it good. It’s all styles, and there’s so many great bands out here. There’s all kinds of people that go out and see music where they might not in other places.”The fertile Austin music community also led to an unexpected breakthrough: Austin native and former Go-Go’s member Kathy Valentine has recently championed the band after a chance encounter and reccomendation from fellow Austin musician Patrice Pike, who competed in the CBS reality show “Rock Star” and is a fan of The Sickness.”I got lucky – Kathy walked up to Patrice Pike in the airport, and when she asked her if she knew of any all-girl rock groups, she named us,” Conner says. “It’s been working well, but we do one step at a time. We’re about to do a new single, and there’s different talk about a reality show or some media placement. But what I really want is for her to produce (the next) album. She’s really nice, and it’s so much fun working with someone who really knows how to produce.”Until they finish recording a new album, Adrain and the Sickness are still touring in support of their 2006 album “Adrian For President,” and they have plans to release a DVD of live concert performances in July.”I just wanted another way for people to have an opportunity to see how good we are,” Conner says. “I think we have a really great show; the more people see it that like it (makes it) worth it.”For the foreseeable future, Conner will continue to balance on a tightrope between her dual musical obligations. She says Hell’s Belles plays at least four to five gigs a month, and she takes Adrian and the Sickness on the road for one and two-week jaunts whenever she can.
“It’s totally a struggle – I just got back from a trip with Hell’s Belles and I’ve got a few hours to prep the van (for Adrian and the Sickness),” Conner says. “Sometimes the workload is never ending, and sometimes there isn’t much work at all; it’s either going crazy or it’s pretty mild. When it’s three weeks straight and you don’t get to see your pet – that part sucks. Everything about playing music is a struggle.”But it’s still the coolest job in the world.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado