A playfully subversive new wave pop band with a sharp, arty edge, Suburban Lawns enjoyed an impressive burst of popularity for their catchy yet angular melodies and the sometimes deadpan, sometimes antic vocals of vocalist Su Tissue, who sang of various aspects of contemporary culture ranging from computer dating and UFOs to the Supreme Being.
Suburban Lawns was formed in Long Beach, California in 1978 by two students at the California Institute of the Arts: Sue McLane, who took the stage name Su Tissue and handled lead vocals and keyboards, and William Ranson, also known as Vex Billingsgate, who sang and played bass. After the two began working up songs, they brought aboard guitarists Frankie Ennui (born Richard Whitney) and John Gleur (real name John McBurney), and drummer Chuck Roast (aka Charles Rodriguez). Suburban Lawns soon began making a name for themselves on the Southern California club circuit, and in 1979 the band self-released their debut single, "Gidget Goes to Hell" b/w "My Boyfriend." The A-side's satiric title and lyrics earned it plenty of airplay on stations willing to spin independent singles, and filmmaker Jonathan Demme made a low-budget music video for "Gidget Goes to Hell" that gave Suburban Lawns a nationwide audience when it was aired on Saturday Night Live. As the group's profile rose, they earned one of the ultimate signs of hipster credibility on the California alternative scene, an appearance on the cover of the iconic punk 'zine Slash. A second single, "Janitor" b/w "Protection," appeared in 1980, was also a modest success ("Janitor" was inspired by a conversation Tissue had at a party where she asked a man how he made a living, and she mis-heard "I'm a janitor" as "oh, my genitals"). The continued success of Suburban Lawns led to the band signing a deal with I.R.S. Records
, who issued the group's self-titled debut album in 1981. While I.R.S
. had nationwide distribution through a major label, A&M Records
, the album sold modestly, and during the sessions for follow-up EP Baby, Gleur parted ways with the group. Baby was released in 1983, and not long afterwards, Suburban Lawns chose to disband. Ennui and Billingsgate briefly led an offshoot group called the Lawns, and Tissue, who went on to study music at the Berklee College of Music, cut an album of solo piano pieces, Salon de Musique, before dropping out of the music business. Tissue generally stayed out of the public eye, though she played a small role in Demme's 1986 comedy Something Wild. In 2015, Futurismo Records
issued Suburban Lawns, an anthology that featured the self-titled 1981 album and the 1983 Baby EP in full. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi