The Rebirth of Thorazine
Posted on May 4, 2015
May 4, 2015 | by Nate Adams
When Jo-Ann Rogan was touring the country in the ‘90s, she was a unicorn; a woman fronting a hardcore band with metal leanings, awash in a sea of dudes.
“When I started singing in Thorazine, there were no women singing in hardcore,” she says. “We went on tour and I was the only woman for months on end. Now we come back and there are all these women doing it, and it’s great.”
It is true that a number of female-fronted hardcore bands have risen since Philadelphia’s Thorazine has formed, toured, broken up and reformed. In the 11 years between the band’s breakup and reconnection in 2014, women in Rogan’s position have found themselves less and less a rarity. Still, women like Rogan, a mother of two in her late 40s and just entering menopause, might not be finding themselves well represented in the punk music world.
Rogan is hoping to change that.
“Now I have this different platform of ‘I’m an older woman, I’m a mother singing hardcore,’ and, as a mother, you’re told you aren’t supposed to do these things.”
Thorazine formed in 1992 with founding members Dallas Cantland (drums) and Ed Ormsby (bass). The pair recruited Rogan to sing after meeting her while she was tending bar at McGlinchey’s. The band, along with guitarist Elliott Taylor, released two albums in the ‘90s; Uncle Paul’s Dead Squirrel Wedding in 1996 and Vicious Cycle in 1998. They all lived in a West Philadelphia house together. Rogan and Taylor got married. They were, in Rogan’s own words, a family.
Until they weren’t. The band went through an ugly break up in 2003, due in part to Rogan’s own family growing.
“I got pregnant, and that’s why the band ended,” she says. “I was 38, and it was another dream that had to happen, because it was then or never.”
It wasn’t until 2013, when a documentarian started working on a project about the album art for the band’s first record, that the members of Thorazine started talking again.
“We had a really bad falling out,” she says. “Dallas and I had the biggest falling out, and we texted back and forth that month [of the documentary]. It’s amazing, because we used to be so close, and now we have that again.”
The band got back together in 2014 and, after a successful show at The Fire in May of that year, Thorazine was reborn. It was a return that Rogan didn’t expect, and one whose unlikeliness isn’t lost on her.
“No one ever gets a second chance, but we have a second chance to be a family again,” she says.
All-ages shows mean something different now to Rogan. See, when the band plays a 21+ show, Rogan’s two children, ages 11 and 9, can’t come. Rogan and Taylor don’t have much in the way of extended family involved in their children, so if the band goes somewhere the kids can’t, it’s babysitting time.
“For us, all-ages shows are really good, because we don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars in babysitting fees,” she says.
It is fair to say that bringing two children to a bar to watch hardcore probably isn’t quite in line with the traditional view of motherhood. That isn’t lost on Rogan, but she rejects the idea that motherhood has to mean any one thing.
“So many women lose themselves in mothering, and it’s very easy to do that, especially when you have kids with needs,” she says (one of Rogan’s sons has ADHD and other learning disabilities, the other has anaphylactic allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, beef and pork). “If you don’t maintain who you are, what do you do when your kids are gone? Who do you become? There’s this whole crisis. I want to be an amazing parent, but I also want to be true to myself. It is okay to do both and not be judged for it.”
That position of not wanting to be judged one of the unifying aspects of punk music, but it takes on a different shade for Rogan. If much of punk music comes from reaction to being beleaguered, Rogan sees herself reacting to the oppressions of her age and her biology; the 48-year-old is going through the beginning stages of menopause, and trying to redefine what that means.
“I can be menopausal, and I can still get on stage and I can still sing hardcore and lead a band,” she says. “You’re this one person your whole life, but then you cross this border and there is this idea of ‘I’m going to become invisible.’ I don’t feel invisible. I still have a lot to give.”
Even talking about it seems like a taboo to many, she says.
“There is this feeling of, ‘Shh, don’t talk about it,’” she says. “Why can’t it be talked about? Why can’t we talk about hot flashes? We talk about girls and boys going through puberty, why not this? I want to talk about it. It’s real and it exists, and it is as normal as anything else.”
The members of Thorazine would be forgiven for wanting to slow down. Two of the band’s members are over 50. Rogan is on the cusp of the next stage in her biological development. Friendships have been broken and reformed. It would be enough, and no one would bat an eye.
Rogan and Thorazine want more. The band is touring the west coast this August, and has been writing new material they hope to soon record. In a number of ways, things are better now than they were in the band’s heyday.
“I sing better now than I did when the band was first active,” she says. “I used to smoke, but I haven’t smoked since 2000, so my voice is better now. Women’s voices tend to mature and be stronger in their 40s, so I can sing things now that I could never sing before, and it’s awesome.”
“I’m finding parts of songs that I’ve dreamed of but could never sing, and I can sing them now.”