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The Dirty Little Heaters


Grace Slick fronting X? Janis Joplin sitting in with the Germs? Think smaller and closer to home.

Durham's Dirty Little Heaters--drummer Melissa Thomas and guitarist/vocalist Reese Gibbs--take the two-piece concept to another dimension. If you're thinking a sound similar to another local two-piece, Melissa Swingle and Laura King's The Moaners, you need to rethink your position. "We're like the difference between night and day," says Thomas.

The Heaters hit it hard: Thomas swings a heavy set of sticks that'd be right at home in big beat classic rock.

"Recently at a show a guy said, 'You're like a third cousin of Keith Moon,'" Thomas recalls. "And I said, 'Well, that's kind of an over-the-top compliment.' Maybe he had a couple of beers."

Thomas cites a wide range of influences, from The Ronnettes and Hank Williams to Joan Armatrading and Weezer. And even though the music has a punky undertone, Thomas says she never really put on a punk record and played along with it.

With Gibbs' '70s style rock guitar power chords and big-mama-blues belting, backed by Thomas' powerful percussion, The Dirty Little Heaters get a lot of post-show testimonials from stirred up attendees.

"I think it's so funny because I don't ever remember going up to a guy in a rock band and saying, 'Man, you sound like Elton John,'" Thomas says, laughing. "At the end of a show, we must get half a dozen people saying, 'You sound like Ann Wilson from Heart' or 'You sound like Janis Joplin. Holy shit! I loved it.'"

"She's got that thing," Thomas says of Gibbs' vocals, "and people like to eat it up."

The Moaners are fans as well. First paired on a bill for the Durham Music Festival, The Moaners were standing outside the club when the Heaters started playing. They came running in, and the duos have been friends ever since.

"Melissa really loves Reese's voice," Thomas says, "and we kind of asked them jokingly, but seriously, 'Hey, would you do a seven-inch with us?'"

Even though The Moaners are under Yep Roc's wing, Thomas--who runs the new Durham label 307 Knox Records--says they are open to the idea of putting a Moaners song on one side and a Heaters tune on the other.

In addition to her percussive duties with the Heaters, Thomas was the chair for the area's first Ladyfest, held in Durham this past October.

"The roots are from Seattle within a group of women and men who thought, Let's get some artists--some visual artists, maybe some dance troupes and some rockers--during the ending of the grunge era," Thomas explains. "Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre and a couple of names in visual arts jumped on board."

The festival wasn't incorporated as a non-profit, but it was established as a template for any city simply to pick it up and do. The two-night Durham edition took place downtown with panels, workshops and a slew of bands--six the first night and 11 the next--playing in venues all over town.

But the Heaters are starting to spread their roots beyond Durham. The Janis Joplin-Moaners buzz has earned interest in the Heaters from all over the country, from Vermont to Detroit and New York City.

"We're a little overwhelmed with invites to play," Thomas says. "That's a good thing."

And as excited as they are about their new-found popularity, the band has enough savvy to realize that their real work is just starting.

"We're also looking to tour as much as we can in the summer," Thomas says. "The thing is, we gotta pay our dues."

The Dirty Little Heaters' EP, Got It?, is out now on 307 Knox. The band plays Saturday, May 6 at 305 South in Durham with Bang Bang and at The Brewery in Raleigh on Friday, May 12 for Mamapaloozza.

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