Mandy & The Risk

Mandy & The Risk (originally just The Risk, and, then at the end, just The Risk) formed in 1984 in Austin, Texas.  When they weren't attending class at the University (well, the four who were students; no one really knew what slightly older front man Zeke Swanson's deal was), they practiced covers of current radio hits (and oldies, from the late '70s to 1982) in a rented storage unit in East Austin.  (On any given night, one could hear everything from blues to metal to country emanating from behind the corrugated roll-up doors of various units at the facility, which seemed to have more bands seeking cheap, unairconditioned concrete-wall rehearsal space than regular storage customers.)

The band, which featured far more enthusiasm than talent, never really gigged.  (Some recall a Halloween party in a dorm cafeteria at which they played for about an hour, including a recognizable rendition of The Cars' "Shake It Up," but the recollections are conflicting.)  The band seemed to disband almost as soon as it formed.  A catalyst seemed to be when singer and tambourinist Mandy Martin (who typically was more focused on Alpha Chi Omega activity) had the idea to put her high school and freshman-year journals to music.  The guys were on board, mostly because none of them could write lyrics and basically the only way to gig consistently in Austin in 1984 was to be a crack cover band (they weren't), to play any kind of blues (they didn't) or to have really killer original songs.  It turns out that's what they had in Mandy's journal entries--literally.

Over the course of two months, the band crafted what became their self-recorded and self-produced storage unit live-to-cassette recording of Passion Trap, consisting of 11 of Mandy's "stories" put to music.  (The guys had little trouble mimicking the jangle-pop and new wave sounds that were prevalent at the time, although they admittedly copped some progressions.)  Zeke even painted an album cover to shop around to record companies along with the cassette, but there were no takers.  "Too dark," said one.  "Unpleasant," said another.

With their originals project a bust, the band briefly resumed working through their collection of covers in the shed.  One Tuesday night shortly before the 9:30 p.m. "lights out" (when management abruptly cut inside power to the units to prevent troublesome all-night jams), the band heard a loud bang on the metal door and a shout of "Police!"  What?  At first they thought it was a request (they almost had "Demolition Man" down), but it was quickly apparent that the demand was from the A.P.D.  Rolling up the door, they were faced with drawn weapons and an instruction that everyone hit the floor, which they abruptly did.  (One guitar neck snapped, and drummer Brad Slough broke his hand when he neglected to let go of a stick.)  Swanson assumed it was drugs, but quickly realized that could not be the case (the music was not that groovy).  Bassist Marvin Keplar thought it might be ASCAP.  It turned out it was Mandy.

The band (quickly reverting to The Risk) did not learn until days later that Mandy Martin was in fact Rebecca Stubblefield, a (very youthful looking) 32-year-old former legal secretary from Los Angeles.  It turns out that Stubblefield had changed her identity and moved to Texas following a disturbing series of events (many chronicled in her private journals).  Fortunately, no one actually was  badly injured as a consequence of Stubblefield's California exploits, but there was a fair amount of property damage.  It was unclear why Stubblefield had chosen to risk (hah!) blowing her cover by insisting on singing originals regaling her exploits (most of which were imagined, but still).

The Risk broke up after another month of half-hearted practicing.  Certain members kept with the music; others took up more promising activities (including macramé and club lacrosse).

Stubblefield was released from prison in 1991.  She moved to Seattle, formed a country-folk band (Becca & The Why Not) and recorded an alternative version of Passion Trap.  Despite the dark content--maybe because of the dark content--the album became a huge underground hit.  The members of Soundgarden were known to listen to it before gigs for inspiration.