Search and Destroy

Illustration by André Mora for City Arts.

Tacoma’s Girl Trouble has legal trouble. Cleveland’s Gorilla Productions, which stages shows for unsigned young bands nationwide, is suing the rock band for sliming Gorilla’s reputation on a Web site called Never Pay to Play. Girl Trouble leader Bon Von Wheelie urges youngsters not to participate in battle-of-the-bands contests like those Gorilla stages, in which the band members are encouraged to help sell tickets. “Gorilla claims it’s not pay-to-play because they don’t require ticket sales,” says one Tacoma musician sympathetic to Girl Trouble’s cause. But “the only way you win the contest is by selling tickets. They dangle the big carrot of a $25,000 record contract.”

Ironically, Gorilla sued the band for “an amount exceeding $25,000” in its lawsuit. Gorilla execs are furious that when one types “Gorilla Productions” on Google, the search term “Gorilla Productions Scam” appears and leads to Von Wheelie’s Gorilla-stomping Web site. “The loss of business opportunity caused by Defendants caused Plaintiffs to suffer from severe psychic injury including headaches, nightmares ... depression and anxiety,” says the suit. “We are a Better Business Bureau accredited business,” Gorilla’s John Michalak e-mails City Arts. “It is our mission to empower bands. We provide a great opportunity for them to showcase in front of lots of new people. ... We find it very sad that a virtually unknown rock band would resort to these kinds of tactics in order to draw attention to themselves.”

Actually, Von Wheelie has long been renowned in punk circles. The band influenced Kurt Cobain, whose song “Pay to Play” refers to the promoter practice at the center of the controversy. And we were unable to find anyone outside Gorilla who thinks Von Wheelie is out for attention. She is a den mother to young bands, and is so moralistic about rock that she cut off all contact with City Arts because, her lawyer says, she was miffed that this reporter referred to him as a “rock star lawyer.” He is in fact a veteran of the band Seaweed. (It’s also possible that he told her to quit blabbing to the press.)

“If a band can bring two hundred people, we pay them one thousand dollars,” writes Michalak. “In our battles the winners are awarded five hundred dollars and twenty hours of studio time.” Jason Springer of Remember Thy Name claims his band sold two thousand dollars in tickets and came in second, winning one hundred dollars. “Gorilla Productions is one of the bigger jokes/scams I have had the misfortune of working with,” says Springer.

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit,” says local musician and writer John Roderick. “But preying on people’s fantasies is not a scam, exactly. It’s a penny-ante business.”

Gorilla intends to cost Girl Trouble many pennies. For legal-strategy reasons, it’s suing them in Cleveland, where Von Wheelie claims Girl Trouble has played to fewer than twenty-five people and basically got paid in hamburgers. That means they could lose more than one thousand dollars for every concertgoer who ever saw them there. •


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