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MUSIC : Concert Left an Indelible Mark on Singer : Cory Sipper's Ladybug Garden isn't anything like Clash, and that's the way she wants it.


Remember the Clash? They were the Next Big Thing from a decade ago, offering all the subtlety of those late night 1-900-GET GIRL commercials. The Clash was a noisy, thrashy quartet from Scary Olde England with bad haircuts and even worse attitudes. For some reason, a lot of people seem to hold fond memories of the Clash. Cory Sipper, This Week's Happening Santa Barbara Singer, isn't one of them.

"I saw the Clash at the Arlington Theatre when I was 13 years old, and it was really frightening," said Sipper during a recent interview. "I was in the third row and it was the scariest night of my life. I hid my face in the coat of a guy in front of me, hoping I wouldn't die."

Well, a decade has passed since the Clash starred in Sipper's musical nightmare, and she has her own band now, Ladybug Garden. Not surprisingly, they don't do any Clash songs. The quartet, does however, know plenty of Sipper's songs, which they will be playing outdoors tonight at Hot Spots in Santa Barbara, where expresso is the rocket fuel of choice.

Ladybug Garden consists of Sipper, with that voice as big as all outdoors, on acoustic guitar; Bart Tompkins on drums and harmonies, Ted Stone on guitar and Brandon Amyx on bass. Bands change members like McDonald's changes counter help. Ladybug Garden has had its share of alumni. Tompkins and Stone, the two newest members, used to be in Official Resistance, a S.B. thrash rock band. They're much quieter now backing up Sipper.

"I was doing a solo thing for a couple of years, then I decided I wanted to be supported by other musicians," Sipper said. "Brandon and I have been together for awhile, but we've been through two or three guitar players and two drummers. I think this group is really committed. We've been through so many players, it's nice to find someone who's into it. Now I feel safe and everything's going to be OK. We're all good friends and we care about each other. Just the other night, we all sat around and talked about what we liked about the band. Before, it was stress all the time."

Sipper's songs, while not music to hang yourself by, won't make anyone die laughing, either. Remember the bummer bug ballad from grade school: "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children will burn?" Sipper's songs are equally serious although no one dies, but no one lives happily ever after, either.

"My songs are about a lot of different things, but they always seem to end up with really serious undertones," said the singer. "People think that my songs are all about me, but they're not. Some of them have been written about dear friends. Even when I try to write songs that are happy and fun, they still end up being serious."

Equally serious are the ongoing club wars wherein greedy bar owners compete for the handful of money-making bands, trying to discover and keep for their exclusive personal use the Next Big Thing. Thus, in Santa Barbara, a town with a million bands and a thousand places to play and an army of college students as potential victims, the competition is intense to attract customers to club land.

"There's some really talented people in Santa Barbara," Sipper said. "There's just so many great bands. We just played with Woodburning Project; and I think they're just great. I just heard Twelve Stories and Wasted Tape, another great band. We recently played on State Street at the Filipino Community Center with five other bands, but it cost too much to get in. Nobody has six bucks. I had so many people asking me to get on the guest list."

Among the million or so S.B. bands, a few of them have memorable female singers such as Ginny Benson of Polychrome and Tina Sicre of Twelve Stories. Sipper is right there with any of them. And since singing requires very little initial investment, you too could try this at home.

"I knew I wanted to be a singer by the time I was 10," she said. "I was writing songs when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. I'd spend hours just singing lyrics that made absolutely no sense. I never really thought much about singing; I just sang because I liked it. My mom was pretty musical, and sometimes, I'd sing with her. I'd hate to describe my music as folk, but I guess I have to. Maybe it's power folk or folk rock."

The newly committed Ladybug Garden practices three times per week and plays about three times per month. They have a nine-song tape entitled "Bloom," which came about around the first of the year. Two of the players on the tape are history, and the new band rocks the old songs harder than the taped tunes with some particularly nifty guitar solos by Stone.

"We still sell the tape--I feel good about the songs on it," Sipper said. "Right now, we just want to play more, get better, and maybe find some people who believe in us."

Maybe the Clash will show up tonight. They've got some industry connections, and Sipper can dust off that "Rock the Casbah" cover.


Ladybug Garden at Hot Spots, 36 State St., Santa Barbara, 963-4233. Tonight at 9 p.m. Free.

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