Whoever thought a band calling itself Black Pussy could be controversial?
Not singer-guitarist Dustin Hill, apparently. When he bestowed the Google-unfriendly name on his stoner-rock project three years ago, he swears it wasn't for shock value. To him, it was simply the perfect fit for the songs he was writing at the time. It sounded, in his words, "sexy and '70s."
"It's very Tarantino-influenced," says Hill, 41, who, with his long blond mane, mustache and fur-fringed coat, could've just stepped off the set of Jackie Brown. "If he was going to have a band or make a movie about a band, it'd be called Black Pussy." Hill didn't even consider that people might find it distasteful, but then, he admits his mind works differently than most. "I sit in a very isolated spot compared to [the rest of] humanity," he says. "Words do not offend me."
Nonetheless, for some in the Portland music scene, the name is an insurmountable impasse before the group's music. But Hill isn't about to rebrand now, not with a new album out. And anyway, he says he's gotten more love for this band than any he's ever been in, not to mention more merch sales.
"I'm not going to change the name because I'm afraid it'll hurt my project," he says. "I've committed to it, because that's what artists do: They commit to an idea. It's not about trying to be successful or trying to make money, it's about the idea. We build on the idea, and if it fails, it fails. But I'm not going to change it because a tiny percentage of the population has an issue with it."
Black Pussy spun off from Hill's other band, the heavy-psych foursome White Orange, in 2012. A prolific writer—the walls of the band's practice space are covered in strips of cardboard scribbled with titles of dozens of unreleased songs—Hill envisioned the project as a repository for whatever music he happened to be gravitating toward at the moment. Over two albums, Black Pussy has established itself along the same spectrum of black-light desert rock as Kyuss and early Queens of the Stone Age, with a sound placing as much emphasis on sticky melodies as bong-water-soaked riffs. Its latest record, Magic Mustache, adds keyboardist Chief O'Dell to the mix, lending a stratospheric lift to the psychedelic swirl. While the tone is as lascivious as you'd expect, it's more playful than sleazy, with lyrics couched in sci-fi imagery ripped straight off the side of an airbrushed conversion van.
"It's a celebration of freedom," says guitarist Ryan McIntire. "There's no negativity with what we're trying to do."
Still, the band's name has proven to be an obstacle. While touring with Kyuss offshoot Vista Chino in 2013, Black Pussy was prohibited from playing the Disney-owned House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif. At a show last year, the Portland soul-punk band Magic Mouth, whose frontman is African-American, called the group out from the stage, blasting the moniker as racist and misogynist. The band has attempted to circumvent such accusations in its official bio, pointing out that "Black Pussy" was the working title of the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," "a blatantly anti-racism tune"—though Hill admits he learned that fact only after coming up with the name. Hill says if anyone has a problem with the name, he'll hear them out, and would even consider changing it if the argument was persuasive enough. He's yet to be convinced.
But with the band preparing to make a national push for Magic Mustache, it's fair to wonder: If the name threatens to turn off listeners before they even hear the music, why hold onto it so fiercely? Hill, though, has dug in his heels. The way he sees it, haters are going to hate, for one reason or another. So why compromise?
"Even if it was a different band name, people are always going to talk shit about your songs or how you look or this or that," he says. "You can't have self-doubt. It's an idea, and you're going to battle for it. A lot of people aren't going to get it, and a lot of people are. But once you start doubting it, you're going to hurt the art."
SEE IT: Black Pussy plays the Kenton Club, 2025 N Kilpatrick St., with Mos Generator and In the Whale, on Saturday, Feb. 28. 9 pm. Free. 21+.