A seminal influence on Northwestern indie rock (and especially on the riot grrl movement), Vancouver's Mecca Normal was the bridge between female post-punk primitives like the Raincoats and the Slits -- not to mention Patti Smith's punk poetry -- and the more explicitly political, feminist noisemakers of the '90s. Lo-fi, amateurish, and decidedly minimalist, Mecca Normal was essentially a duo, with occasional studio help; vocalist Jean Smith (also a poet, novelist, and painter) declaimed her stream-of-consciousness, aggressively topical lyrics over guitarist David Lester's clattering cacophony. Their prolific partnership lasted over two decades, during which time they earned a reputation for fiery concert performances and enjoyed stints on some of the era's most notable indie labels, namely K, Matador, and Kill Rock Stars.
Smith and Lester formed Mecca Normal in Vancouver in 1981, at which time both were working in design for print media. After several years of rehearsing, the duo made its first home recordings in 1984, and completed its first album in 1986; simply titled Mecca Normal, it was released on the band's own Smarten Up! label and sold chiefly at live shows. It helped lead to a friendship with Beat Happening frontman and K Records honcho Calvin Johnson, who signed the band for its 1988 sophomore effort, Calico Kills the Cat. A stream of albums on K followed, including 1991's Water Cuts My Hands, 1992's prettier and more subdued Dovetail, and 1993's Flood Plain. 1993 also brought Jarred Up, a compilation of the band's singles for various indie labels over the past six years.
Mecca Normal subsequently signed with Matador and debuted with 1995's well-received Sitting on Snaps, which featured musical involvement on drums and piano from New Zealand producer Peter Jefferies. Smith and Jefferies formed a concurrent side project called 2 Foot Flame, which released two albums over 1995-1997. Jefferies stuck around for the next two albums, 1996's The Eagle & the Poodle and 1997's more acoustic Who Shot Elvis?. Mecca Normal subsequently went on hiatus for a few years while Smith and Lester pursued other creative activities; in 2000, Smith signed to Kill Rock Stars and issued her self-titled solo debut. Mecca Normal returned in 2002 with The Family Swan, also on Kill Rock Stars. Album number 13, The Observer, appeared two years later, along with a spring tour of both U.S. coasts. Shoplifting joined them for the East Coast dates. ~ Steve Huey