October 15 — “I’ll Take You Down” by Autoclave


If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “I’ll Take You Down” by Autoclave (1991, from the album Autoclave)

Autoclave was a short-lived all-girl punk rock band from the Washington DC area. They released a couple of EPs and one full length album before the members all moved on to bigger things.

  • Frontwoman and bassist Christina Billotte would later form Slant 6, who put out two records between 1993 and 1995. She played in a couple of other DC punk bands as well, including the east coast carnation of Bratmobile. That experiment didn’t last long, and the rest of the gals went back to Olympia.
  • Guitar player Mary Timony would later have quite a bit of success in other bands. She replaced the folkie Mary Lou Lord as the front of Helium in 1993 after Lord refused to play electric guitar. That band became pretty huge in indie circles. Timony also had a pretty decent solo career and is now playing guitar in Wild Flag alongside Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney
  • I’m not sure what ever became of guitar player Nikki Chapman or drummer Melissa Berkoff. There is a woman named Melissa Berkoff who is an accomplished professional motorcycle racer and who also recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I don’t think this is the same Melissa Berkoff who played drums in Autoclave.

Anyway, this band Autoclave only lasted for about half a second. I’m not sure that I would describe their album as anything other than average. It’s not even really a proper album so much as it is a collection of the two EPs that they released plus a couple of extra songs. I think that tonight’s song is pretty special.
This is that song:
“I’ll Take You Down” by Autoclave

For the record, there are two different versions of “I’ll Take You Down” on the collected works “album”. This is the second of the two. It’s a little quicker than the other version, and I like it a little better.

They use a lot of time changes, and if you wanted to be a stickler, you would be right to call what they’re doing “math rock”, but I really don’t like that.

I really like Billotte’s vocals on this song, and almost immediately, we’re treated with the signature Mary Timony bending of notes at the 0:10 mark. I also like the “watch your back, asshole” message:

I’ll take you down, I know I can
but I’d rather wait ’til I understand
knowing where to go is just as good as knowing where to stay
I’m feeling high, I don’t know why
can’t be the scared look in your eye

I’m not messing with a woman who says that she’ll destroy me right now for no reason, but would rather wait for the right reason. Of course, alternately, she could be saying that she’s going to ask questions first and shoot later. Still, though, this comes off as a warning. At least that’s what I get.

At beginning of the song, she says “I can’t tell. How do you feel?”. Then later, she says “I know now how you feel”. Scared. That’s how I feel.

It should be no surprise, given the time (early 1990s), the place (Washington, DC), and the scene (girl-punk), that this is an easy game of “Six Degrees of Jenny Toomey”. In this case, it takes three steps to get from Autoclave to Jenny Toomey:

  1. Christina Billotte (Autoclave) was in The Casual Dots with Kathi Wilcox.
  2. Kathi Wilcox was in Bikini Kill with drummer Tobi Vail.
  3. Tobi Vail was in My New Boyfriend with Jenny Toomey

Until 1997, the only Autoclave releases were a 7″ EP and a 10″ EP. In 1997, Dischord Records compiled that stuff along with two other songs into an “album” that is usually called Autoclave. Officially, it’s called Combined. You can order Combined directly from the Dischord web store, in digital or CD formathere.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

One response to “October 15 — “I’ll Take You Down” by Autoclave

  • Richard Ledford

    Your comment that Autoclave was only an “average” album/band is I think far off the mark. Only based on the outstanding quality of the studio mix of this album does this it stand out as far above the normal. Not since I heard my first Captain Beefheart song “Pachuco Cadaver” has a band knocked my socks off like Autoclave. Mary Timony is a guitar goddess and Cristina Billotte does some seriously good vocals. The intricate compositions and arrangements of this album stands the test of time, growing better with every listening, even 20+ years later. -Armadillo

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