Janis Tanaka playing with Jackson Saints for the Eddie Jennings Benefit. Photo Credit - Jeff Spirer
What do Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebreak, Joan Jett, L7, Melissa Etheridge, Linda Perry, P!NK, Pagan Babies and countless other bands and artists have in common? Long Beach native Janis Tanaka has played with them all. The list is so long, in fact, that in this rather epic interview we really just scratched the surface of her career. Still, you'll get a glimpse into her journey which led her from Long Beach to touring the world.
Tanaka, by the way, will be sitting in with Toaster Music this Friday during their monthly residency at the Expo Arts Center as part of the First Fridays Long Beach art walk in Bixby Knolls. Also joining them is celebrated local percussionist, Gabriel 'Slam' Nobles. Full disclosure: I am a member of Toaster Music, but I've been waiting for ages to interview Janis, whom I first met when we were classmates in Poly High School's PACE program.
Long Beach Post: Growing up, did you have music in your home?
Janis Tanaka: We had a lot of children's records, 350 when we decided to thin them out. They pretty much all had songs and some were just songs. My sisters and I and now my nieces can sing so many, still. We also went to Camp Fire Girl's camp where all you do is sing camp songs because they can keep you at the mess hall table the whole time and out of trouble. We sang a lot of rounds and harmonies at home. We had a nice piano that my parents had just so we had a good music base because that's what you do for your children.
My middle sister could play well; she's seven years older than I am. I'm not sure if my oldest took lessons. I took lessons for about six months when I was five, and then the music teacher moved away. Since that was the only music teacher in California, that was it for my piano lessons. I got an acoustic guitar in elementary school and took folk guitar from Laura Weber on PBS. Mom had sent away for the book that went along with the show.
Mom and Dad didn't play. Well, Mom played something. Silver Bells, I think, and she knew two lines of post-war pop songs.
Did you participate in elementary school music programs (band, or choir?)
I played violin in the elementary school orchestra, that must have been before fourth grade because it was before I changed schools. They ran out of a piano player and I was the only one who said I could play piano. So I played piano in the John Muir Elementary School Orchestra for a while. We had some music thing in fifth grade. Choir? She had an autoharp and we did songs with harmonies in a number of languages.
I love the autoharp. It has that harp sound but is more rustic and raw than a classical harp in all ways, tone, use, feel, not that I don't love classical harp! It has an easy feeling, sort of similar to how Steve Martin says banjo has a happy feeling. I have a fancy auto harp with a lot of buttons which each hold a chord. When I play it, it actually feels sort of jarring and takes a little time to get some finesse.
Did you continue with guitar?
I was learning. I was terrible. I think I could play 5 songs and had decided that for any folk song, I could transpose to A,E, and D and forgo playing the G chord because it hurt. Just out of high school, I took a couple lessons from Melissa Etheridge who was a friend of a friend, and she said I had to play G. I was perturbed. She used to play at the Que Sera all the time and they haven't changed out that disco squiggle behind the stage for 35 years. I love it.
How did you decide that you wanted to play in a band?
Well, I had that before I started being more dedicated. Dedicated is the word, as opposed to serious, because it doesn't imply that I wanted to play for life or that I wanted to play for a living. I just wanted to play. I was going to shows a lot. I used to always push to the front because, otherwise, I can't see, plus, it is way better. At the time I didn't know the sound wasn't better there, but I don't think I cared; the energy was there.
It's always sweltering at the front of a happy crushed crowd. I used to love the Dancing Waters because that had that waterfall behind the band and the front of the stage was cooler. I do not do well in the heat!
I went to see The Blasters and DOA and four other great bands for some benefit. Usually, the bands there weren't that big that I know of. "Six bands for six bucks!" The waterfall was broken! It was sweltering. Dave Alvin was sweating on me which I thought was pretty cool. But it was hot. I looked at the musicians all night, listened too of course, but I saw something in their faces. I wanted to be there. It's a kind of concentration, connection and probably one of the billion uses of love that have never been used. I didn't know what it was, but I thought, "I want to feel that!" And I also wanted their water and the space that they had because I was crushed. The water would have been amazing.
How did you make the transition from audience to stage?
I had been practicing those five songs on the classical guitar I had, and would go to that store Guitars Afire. I'd look at the electric guitars and wonder what the hell they were, but try to look knowledgeable. I was driving home to Friday Dinner, capitalized because it's a family must. I hear, on the radio, that there's a contest to win an electric guitar. I get home and tell mom that I have to go out again. "But dinner is almost ready!" Thinking fast I said, "I have to take so-and-so homework." "oh, Okay." anything for school! Yay. I went, put my info in the box, and drove home. I decided that, if I won that guitar, I would practice and practice and practice and get in a band. If I didn't, I would quit because I hated practicing. I won it. That guy at school who was in that metal band was pissed off and said I didn't deserve it. But I did.
It's a 3/4 scale Cherry Red Dean Flying V with one pick up. It's super cool. I changed the pickup so it didn't sound like a give-away 3/4 scale guitar and have played it with The Reign of Liquan, Our Lady of Napalm, and The Gault, but I'm pretty crappy on guitar. Chords = AAAARGH! to my left fingers.
I used to go up to any musician that I thought was great and ask how long they'd been playing, at least 10 years, and do they practice, they either said, "yes, all the time," or "I did a lot when I first started." A bunch of us started a "band," but I know I didn't know how to play with anyone without instruction. That was fun, but not a band.
The summer after graduating High School I took some guitar lessons from Ron from Lakewood. [I forgot his last name.] Great guy. Sold me his roland amp. He would show me stuff for hours and we'd get stoned. I finally told him he could only show me stuff for 30 min because that was all I could take home. I'd take in songs and he'd show me how to play them.
Where did you go to college, and what did you study?
I went to UCLA as an Electrical Engineer major. I loved the way the electrical maps look. I had read A Canticle for Leibowitz and had this ironically religious feeling for circuit diagrams. This is ironic because one of the points of the story was that holding these sacred, especially when you don't know what they are, is ridiculous. It seemed like some of the monks in that book were patterned after that group that hid behind the rocks outside of Alexandria. You can only imagine the gilded and flourished Circuit Diagrams. I always meant to be able to read them, but never did. I should start. It looks like a lot of fun.
At UCLA, I also took extra classes, like UCLA Choir, or Chorus, a super cool class on German Expressionism, and Upper Division Poetry. Not sure why I took that poetry class. I was always bad in English classes. They were 'translated' to me by [a high school friend] Ira Rothstein. I don't think he knew he was tutoring me, just that I was annoying.
I qualified for a sight reading weekend. That was thrilling. A couple of composers and a few LB State University student composers would put their stuff in front of us and we'd sing it twice, then move on, and then sing it in concert the next day. One piece was so cool: Just these weird squiggles that was experimental music language. My first tour was with the UCLA choir. We went to San Francisco.
Calculus class was glowing. Maybe I wasn't eating well. I was running low on that food card. I did a great job making it to the end of the year, though.
I had a nervous breakdown that I didn't tell anyone about. I doubt it was really UCLA. I was just having a hard time in general. You search for reasons and you name it and name it and name it and it's really none of those things. I think I would have had a hard time anywhere. I just didn't really leave the dorm room. I just stopped going to classes.
Was this new?
My wallpaper talked to me as a child. That was weird. When I was in my crib I could watch tv programs again on the ceiling. That's just a memory trick, but walls would breath, roads would wave, and things would glow. There would be geometric patterns and sometimes people and bugs.
You know when you do something and the cat freaks out and gets low on the ground really fast with the paws out? Sometimes it feels like that. Sometimes it's just interesting and I can enjoy it. Sometimes it's very disturbing and I try to share this and that never works.
For a while I was having time parallels where I would be somewhere and something in my past would be happening at the same time. It was difficult to carry on a conversation. If you've seen Gods and Monsters, it was like that. You can't really talk about it. My science sister says I have an optical thing like my mom. I had a room go absolutely white and everything stopped, the teacher, the kids, froze and everything else was white.
How did you go to shows?
Before my folks let me use the car, I'd take the bus. I'd call RTD and the lady would give me all the instructions: Take this bus this direction. Get off on this intersection. Stand on the Northwest corner and catch this bus. Get off here. Get on there. Get off here, and walk this way. It took about 3 hours to get from Long Beach to clubs. Then, I'd have to ask some stranger if I could stay over because the buses stopped at 9:30 or 10pm. I'd just lie to my mom. I loved going to shows. When I was at UCLA, I'd take the bus down Sunset and then hitch-hike back. That's when there were a lot of hookers on Sunset.
After the breakdown, I came home and went to Long Beach City College for a year, taking drawing and physics and lit classes. Then, since I'd been pen-paling with Jeanie M. We decided to meet. We were sending postcards. She liked pen pals and had a few prison pen pals.
Just to clarify, for those not in the "know," who is Jeanie M.?
Jeanie M. had been in this cool band in her teens called A Happy Death, an existentialist punk band of teenage girls. She also was photoging everywhere, as she's a photographer. That was her mannequin series days right before her roadkill days which started around 1983. She then started taxidermy art way before the craze, and then gave taxidermy lessons, and I don't know what else. She's a busy gal.
So I flew up to San Francisco one weekend and, at the time, I liked pink and she liked pink. [The color.] Her friend was in the dorms with me and all their friends mixed us up. We were both Asiany, loved gogo dancing, had a lot of pink things, rosaries (which we had to discard after Madonna) and they said we were both obnoxious.
She met me at the airport on her sweet Vespa Rally and she was all in pink and I was all in pink. She said, "Oh... You like hot pink," and I said, "Eh, you like pastel pink," but we are still friends to this day. It was a great weekend. We went and saw Echo and the Bunnymen and I had more new friends at that show than I'd ever had down here in LA, so I moved up. The venues are smaller, the bands would talk to me up there where they really didn't down here, there was a good school. It was nice. Not hot. Not hot at all.
I was still having a lot of issues but they just fit right into my routine. Not sleeping for days then sleeping for days. Still seeing halos and other things. I always have. It's just a thing. You can add it up. You don't have to tell me and I don't have to tell you, do I?
The Reign of Liuquan was the first band for me, Carmela Thomson, and Michael Dillow. It was Jeanie's second. In Liquan at first, we didn't play very well, so whoever made up a song usually made it up on guitar so had to play guitar for that song. We changed instruments a lot.
Mel [aka Carmela], the bass player, was a bicycle messenger so a lot of bike messengers came to our shows, and the cigar guys by Jeanie's work came and threw cigars and a great time was had by all. A few people decided that it was a bit of a psychedelic experience and added that to the mix. Very fun times.
Jeanie and Mel had Vespas. I had sold mind down here and had a little motorcycle. We would strap the guitars and whatever drums we could to them and stick Michael in a taxi with the amps and drums and complain that we had to pay $5 for that. We played the Mab, Sound of Music, CW... That was so fun.
So, was Liuquan your first official band?
Yes, but I had tried to have a band with my friend's friend down here in LA. She wanted to play bass and said she hadn't known what a bass was and that her friends made fun of her. So I didn't let on that I hadn't known until then, either. I knew what a flugelhorn was, but not an electric bass. She once ran after Leif Garret to tell him he was lame and then came back in love because he was such a nice guy.
We all went to see Richard Hell at the Roxy. He fell off the 3 foot stage onto his back like an insect. Didn't miss a note. He looked around, noticed that he was on the ground, and then got up and got back onstage.
My aunt once took me to Latitude 2000 because the Harmonica Rascals were playing. I really liked harmonica at one point in my elementary school life. It was a group, there was a main guy with the melody harmonica. He was also a little person, non-proportional, with a plethora of dark blue jokes. There was a bass harmonica player and two rhythm players with the harmonicas that play two tones of a chord. It was great. and very embarrassing. He blew up a balloon and put it on the end of the harmonica creating a high pitched drone and then played a bag pipe tune. Clever. He probably said "pussy" that night. That's how embarrassing that was. I was about 8, or 9, or 10. I probably shouldn't have been in there but who cared back then. You know: Smokin' and drinkin' during pregnancy. Different times. Plus, I loved harmonicas. [laughs]
As for Liuquan, Carmela got into a better band, Short Dogs Grow, which is a great band, and toured around. Now, she is a micro biologist and, last I heard, I think she started her own genetic engineering company.
What happened next for you?
Well, Erik Meade came over with a flyer and said, "Look, these are all your influences. You should call these guys and get in their band." I don't remember who those influences were. The flyer said they needed a bass player and a drummer. I called and said, "I play bass and drums." They had just gotten a drummer so I went in three days later and "tried out" on bass. I borrowed Mel (Carmela's) bass and played it for three days and did okay.
They had just come from Oregon. That was [the singer from Hole], Kat Bjelland, Diedre Schletter and me. Jennifer Finch had been playing bass with them in Oregon when they were called... something else. We were called Pagan Babies which had to do with what the nuns were telling [the singer] to donate pennies to while she was in the padded walled asylum that she escaped from. But I don't really know who [the singer] is. We were just in a band.
Janis Tanaka, Kat Bjelland (Later Babes in Toyland), Diedre Schletter. Circa 1985 - Courtesy of JT
When [the singer] didn't make it to practice, or was 3 hours late, Kat said she had some songs that she wanted to do that were harder. [The singer] had said she didn't want to go harder. Pagan Babies was a sort of Cocteau Twins sound, very pretty, a little eerie and ethereal in a folky way. The heavier stuff we did with Kat was basically Babes in Toyland material. I think about 3 or 4 of the songs went to Minneapolis with her.
Kat was great. She played crazy chords and said she'd just move her fingers around until it sounded good. We'd go eat at Delta's Fried Depression Dough where you got a huge fried dough with cinnamon and sugar on it and bottomless coffee and a table covered with paper and crayons for $1.50. The potential for fun was already there.
The woman whom I do not know was way more savvy and ambitious than I and told me that, if I didn't know what the editor of the Esquire looked like, I was riding on her coat tails. I learned the word "schmoozing" from her. I think she invented it. Which is possible. I should be so ambitious, maybe. Eh. I should. Eh. I should.
One day [the singer] came to practice and me and Kat and Diedre were playing and there was drama. They went outside and she left because Kat wanted to continue with the hard stuff. She went away, and so did her trust fund. Kat didn't make enough to cover all the stuff that had been taken care of for her before, so that ended and she moved to Minneapolis with big dreams that panned out after some difficult times. I considered moving with her. I had planned on living somewhere for two years to experience seasons. Every so often I would think about her and she would call me the next day. I haven't seen her forever. I'm not great at keeping in touch.
Anyway, I decided not to move. I mean, the two of us would go to this burrito stand because it was cheap and get a chicken burrito which was rice and chicken skin. I did not have the money or plan to make a move.
So, then I think I played in a band called Sandwich King with the infamous Erik Meade, and Anna from The Boneless Ones. I think we broke her. [Sorry, Anna.] After that, Erik and I started hanging out at the Chatterbox: "Rock and Roll, Snake Bites, Pool Table, No Art." We stayed there for 3-5 years.
We started playing with his brother, and Brent [Hoover], who was a bartender there. We practiced in the basement and about once a month Alfie [Kulzick] would come down and ask if we wanted to play -- the Chatterbox put on amazing shows. We'd say, "No. We're not ready." The Chatterbox is to Cheers what Gwar is to The Muppets, plus Bagel Dogs. She finally just penned us in and we ended up playing. We played there a lot and then played some other places and a good time was had by all.
A Jackson Saints show was great: Friends, friends, peers, friends and other friends and rock, and Smarties. Lots of Smarties. I threw them out at Liuquan shows, also. Once I threw out root beer barrels because I love them but Alan told me that they hurt so I went back to Smarties.
I had a bag of root beer barrels when I was playing with Fireball Ministry and we were opening for Andrew W.K., Anthrax, and The Locust. I put one on Andrew W. K.'s keyboard because he's a sweetie. During his set, he saw it, and grabbed it, and held it high in the air. "Here. is a. delectable. piece. of candy. The first person who can tell me the capital of this state can have this candy." Way better than what I'd imagined! I share until everyone looks horrified and says, "Oh no! No more of those." That's true.
So, you were talking about Jackson Saints...
Jackson Saints, Credit unknown
I can't say enough about the Jackson Saints. I'm sort of at a loss of words. I love playing the set to this day. We had so much fun and fought like passive aggressive cats and dogs. The Chatterbox... Jackson Saints... wahhhhhhhhh! I actually have so much emotion right now. We just played a "reunion" show for a Chatterbox reunion show. It was so fun!!! It was our home away from home. We actually moved so we'd be around the corner from it. That's where we went after the 1989 earthquake and everyone was there. Well, a LOT of people. It was full.
Jackson Saints was a group effort. We wrote almost all the songs together in the room. Well, maybe songs got brought in but we all worked on the arrangements and parts and had barbecues and we toiled over the set lists. We toiled. It had to be like a story: A beginning, a middle, and an ending. You start, get bigger, have a little dynamic valley, then hit hard again and crescendo out.
When did you switch over to Stone Fox?
Stone fox started after and during the Jackson Saints. Erik had a friend who was in this basement band. They sounded hilarious. I told him I wanted to join. They had a singer, bass player and two guitar players. Great! I said, I want to be the third guitar player. I didn't play well so it would be fun. I went to the basement and they were amazing and really funny. I asked Eben Schletter to drum with us and we were a band!
Stone Fox, Photo by Jeanie M.
I didn't think we would be out of the basement right away, but we got a show at a venue beyond our scope because they all worked there. We used Jackson Saints equipment because there wasn't really any to speak of, and Erik and I loaded it in and packed it out. The flyer said Totally burnt on it. I ended up as the bass player. Brent came in as drummer and Stone Fox kicked a lot of ass.
Stone Fox also wrote the songs together. Kim and Jorjee worked on some together. Songs were brought in. But I think we essentially worked on them together and worked out segues and drank a lot of coffee and also laughed a lot. The practices in the basement before the show took about 3 hours before we actually were all there to practice. It was like the Pagan Babies. I think about that, now, and it seems ridiculous but we'd all wait for someone and say practice starts at 6pm, it would end up starting at 9pm.
Stone Fox got to tour. Jackson Saints got to go out of town but we couldn't figure out how to book outside of SF. Jorjee was great at that. I didn't believe her. She had said she was working on a tour with Cherry Poppin Daddys, and it just sounded like bull shit.
Kat had just come over to talk to me about joining Babes in Toyland as the bass player and wanted me to see them play. I loved them, but I was not really sure about touring for a month or two. What do you do about money? Some people put their stuff in storage and come home and couch surf. I was too worried about not having a home and a job. Plus, I had Jackson Saints and Stone Fox and how could I leave that?
So I said, "no," though I would have loved to play with them. I was all antsy and pissed off about something, probably not believing that a tour wouldn't be for sure a few months out. [laughs] Boy, did I not know anything. I don't know. Stone Fox did something that pissed me off and I said, "If Kat called me tomorrow, I'd go." and I woke up the next day and the phone rang. It wasn't Kat but it was an offer to try out to do a tour with Tommy Stinson from The Replacements. So I said yes. Kat was pissed, and I felt badly, but how do you say, "Dude, I'm superstitious." That was my first tour, with Tommy in his band Bash & Pop.
There was an equipment van and the passenger van. We went across the country and back. Tommy's a great performer. He had a song about his little girl that was a good one to feel emotional to. He'd been around all these places so often, he'd just fill me in on where I was and what was going on. I had never been past Texas before.
The best show was in Boston. One of Tommy's old buddies was there, and his band was opening. He and Tommy were like puppies meeting each other again and just got all hopped up. So, Tommy was all riled up and attacked the show. The Boston crowd went nuts. He and the audience were yelling at each other between songs, jokes and heckling and joking heckling. It was funny. And then we hung out with the promoter, maybe Steve, and there were some shenanigans with a banana... then we all took photo booth pictures and lost track of each other until the morning. That tour was 1993 and we were just in front of all that flooding.
So, what happened with Stone Fox?
We still had our first CD out with Piece of Mind. Linda [Perry of 4 Non Blondes] got us a two week tour opening up for Joan Jett because Linda is a mover and a shaker. We were getting a new pressing and it did not come through in time for the tour, and we had 31 cd's which ran out at the first show. Bummer.
It was so fun. Kenny Laguna, Joan Jett's manager, asked if we'd sing back-ups back stage and that was such a thrill. We would sing along with the chorus and then have to back off the mic super fast because we were laughing hysterically because it was so fun.
So, we spent a lot of time with Linda Perry. Once, we were recording and Linda wanted me to try out some back ups. We made everyone leave because the back ups weren't what we would usually do. She said, Try this, and I'd do it. And we'd crack up because it was so wrong for the song. Then she'd say, Try this, and I'd do it. And we'd crack up because I did not pull it off. We did that for half an hour and came out and the band looked like they were going to hear something spectacular because we looked so happy. Nope! Got nothing.
She can be a lot of fun, but I never really spent that much time with her. She can go the other way a lot as well. [laughs] We were going to record our second record with her label. She told us to just pick whatever studio and whatever producer we wanted to. Everyone got so excited. I said, "Come on. When it comes down to it, she's going to say, 'You're recording here and I'm producing it.'"
So I went around with Kim Pryor, who is a nerd in the best sense of the word, and had a list of studios and producers that would be amazing to work with. She and I visited 5 or 6 studios. That was fun. They're all so different. One did mostly movie sound and had a zillion different ways to revise the acoustics of the recording room, using mahogany shutters (maybe not mahogany), golden thread cloth clouds to hand from the ceiling (maybe not golden), velcro muppets to add or subtract from the walls, etc.
We visited one on Sunset in LA. It had 4 or 5 different areas to record, and had been an important studio for a long time. Every drum area had a sort of drum alter. Who ever designed it believed in this conical area over the drum set. One of them had a huge drum stick at the back and the conical part was laminated wood. It was beautiful, and sounded great. There was a spiral staircase in the lobby and everything in the lobby, staircase included, was mirrored. The men's room was lava rocks and the women's Victorian porcelain style. We sat down and talked to a few producers. And then Linda said we were going to record at Coast and she was going to produce it. [laughs] There's a lot of sort of waiting time when you're recording. We tried to bleach my armpit hair at one point and, one day, Kim's girlfriend brought around a 14" diameter hamburger. mmmm
I haven't listened to it for a while but it's a good record. The one before it is, too. We'd recorded that at House of Faith with Bart Thurber. He recorded just about everybody in the bay area. Not a hyperbole. He did 2 sessions a day... I think. Maybe it was one. like 10am to midnight. He would only have carrots so he could keep his mind clear.
Jackson Saints were supposed to record there but someone punched someone in the face, which wasn't usual for us, and I think the punchee was okay to go but the puncher was against it, so we didn't. Too bad. I still have a piece of the wall from that place.
So when Linda was working with P!NK, Erik Meade was hanging out with Linda a lot. He played me this tape of the songs they'd been writing and I liked them right off. I don't like very many things right off. Usually, I have to have a couple listens to see how I feel. So, when Linda called and asked if I wanted to do that, I knew what it sounded like and knew that I liked it. so great great!
P!NK [aka Alecia Hart] was R&B. That's why I was surprised that I liked the songs Erik had played for me. So, she was going from R&B to pop that leaned toward rock, pop rock. Erik is a really great guitar player, by the way, and can run up a cliff like a goat. He's from Marin, and was never very good about not getting his skateboard stolen. I always had mine so he'd pull me home when he didn't have one. [grins]
How did you get the gig?
The bass player was this super rad bass player. He's very slick and his tones are perfect. He, keyboardist Jason Chapman, and drummer Mylious Johnson had played together for a long time, but the band did not sound 'rock' enough. Linda said she said, "You need Janis Tanaka." Thank you, Linda. That was right when I was playing with 6 bands or s,o and was playing well. Good timing.
I don't know how people do those promo tours. That one was a month and a half, 28 flights and 4 of them were over 10 hours. The first show was weird because it was with all acts that sang and danced with a troupe of dancers to a DAT. I'd never seen that before. I saw a video of Leesh [Alicia] on the tour, before, doing that. She's pretty amazing.
The tour manager at the time was telling me that it was like she, Alecia, had done this in a past life. She hadn't performed with a live band before, but was flawless on the first show. I always had the best seat in the house.
The first bit of it, we were in swanky hotels and they didn't have the per diems yet, and I was broke, so I'd go up and down the halls and pick off the discarded room service trays. The hotels were often in the middle of nowhere, and room service is expensive! [laughs] Punk rock, I suppose. They had some swanky discards. It s not like I haven't done that before. When I moved to SF, sometimes at shows when I wanted a beer, I'd just drink a discard. [shrugs] No money.
On the Missundaztood Tour, we were playing sheds. That would be like Irvine Meadows. They were all called The Verizon. All across the country.
How did it feel to play in these larger venues?
Distant, but circusy. You're around the band and crew everyday and there are lots of high jinks that I did to other people. Sorry other people. I tried to make them kind, but I think I failed a lot. The best one that tour was when Suzi was testing the mic. Her chucks were untied, and the shoe laces were all over the stage. I pointed at them and said to the sound man, "If only we had a staple gun." "I have one!" he said, and dug it out of a crate and snuck over and stapled her shoes to the stage.
The first tour I was on was like a 'band' band. Leesha was part of the band, and we did a lot of stuff together. Band sponsored activities [BSAs]. [laughs] I went up in the St Louis Arch on a Stone Fox BSA. You usually have a BSA when everyone is getting so tired and cabin fevered. You see the same people every day, all day. You travel with them, you're back stage with them, on stage with them, in the elevators with them, deciding what you all want to eat with them, sometimes sharing rooms with them depending on the tour. You go to bed late, wake up early, wait in the lobby, wait in the airport, sit on an airplane, sit in a taxi, sit in a car, wait back stage.
Were the 8 bands you'd left understanding and supportive?
I quit a few. Some didn't take it well. It's not like I didn't love playing with them. Hammers of Misfortune hung on, and I would actually come home from tour for a few days and go in and record the second album. John Cobbett had the bass lines. I told him he should just play them and he said no. It's not like I could be that fluid. He was writing them out in tablature while I was playing and then would have the next page as I finished the first. It was kind of nuts, but so fun.
Erika Stolz played bass and sang before me. She's great. Her band now is Dirty Excuse. She was in Lost Goat during this period though. We played together with Ivy McClellan in Our Lady of Napalm. We all agreed to do the band because we knew it was the only way we'd hang out together, and we wanted to hang out together.
When the first tour with P!NK wrapped, did you know that you'd be called back again?
Well, I quit because the rock band I was playing with was doing well, and touring, and at the time I felt like a part of the band and was moving back to So Cal so I could write with them. Also, my dad had died and I could be closer to my mom and spend time with her.
I was looking forward to working on songs. I don't really write but I like to arrange and collaborate. It was one of the things I really loved doing with the Jackson Saints and Stone Fox. But the first time I thought up something, it was actually a good little spicer-upper. I liked the band's songs. They were like pop Black Sabbath. I made up this part that worked to go from the bridge to the chorus or something. They said, "That isn't even in 4/4. How am I supposed to play that?!" And that was that. So I went back to play with P!NK.
Was this next tour substantively different?
The circus had gotten bigger. I was really looking forward to being back with the band. I loved playing with them. It took a while to get used to each other that first tour, being from different worlds, but I loved hanging out with them and playing with them, but of course, you can't ever go back. The band didn't feel as much like a band, like a pack. There were dancers who toured with us [big smiles].
There were moments when I felt very out of my element, like when John Entwistle died and one of the keyboardists at the time didn't know who he was. Granted, I didn't know who a lot of her revered musicians were, either.
On that second tour, you met Craig Allnutt, the man who eventually became your husband. How did that happen?
Oh, that was great. He was the lighting director and production manager, sometimes both, sometimes just one depending on the leg of the tour. We met in front of the BBC because that's where the band was meeting up with the crew. I had an indescribable feeling. The kind that feels like you've just time traveled a zillion years and back, then you stand there and shake yourself off and wonder what just happened. It was more like confusion.
Then, he invited me over on a day off to watch The Mighty Boosh and we laughed so much and that was it. We were secretly inseparable. You don't really want people to know. It's a small town.
Matt Nathanson was opening for P!NK. He was doing a solo acoustic show. He was hilarious. I'd go to the side of the stage and Craig would be sitting on one side of an anvil case. I would sit on the other and we'd watch the show together and pretend like we didn't know each other. After a while, I'd just go sit at the lighting desk with him after sound check, which wasn't very sneaky, but that was later.
He was the lighting director, so after sound check, if he had time and the venue was interesting, he'd show me all the weird tunnels full of wires and the cat walks in the rafters. We'd spend days off going to museums and eating lobster and champagne and yelling, "Fine wine and cake!"
Basically, Craig died from being hit on the head by the ground. Here, you can register an expression that is disgusted with anguish in the brows and the corners of the mouth and the pursed lips with eyes boring into the past in a still inward vibration buried in ashes that are oddly oily and show up on airport x-rays as a dense and suspicious mass.
How did you get hooked up with Femme Fatale?
Femme Fatale, Photo courtesy of the band
Femme Fatale is an 80's... would you call it metal-hair? What is Poison and Motley Crue? Singer/leader Lorraine Lewis and keys, drums, two guitars, and me/bass. We all happen to be of the female gender, picked on purpose to be a pretty awesome chick band. Athena Kottak, Katrina De Vito, Courtney Cox, and Nikki Stringfield, respectively. We've been playing headlining shows and genre festivals. Is that the LAMEST way to describe them? People travel from around the world to go to them.
We've also played two of the Monsters of Rock cruises, and are slated for October 1-5 in 2016. That thing is fun! I wasn't sure about going on a cruise. It has a great crowd, great bands practically 24/7, pools jacuzzis, [laughs] It is a giant, crazy, sea-going rock limo. If I'm not playing or sleeping, I'm watching bands or playing in the water. Very fun.
It a weird way, just walking onto the ship felt like the 80's. I'll tell you, though, I still think I'm playing with and for friends, and am shocked to realize I don't know them. I guess I'm still nostalgic for the old SF clubs where everyone already knew I was a kooky, will-kick-tables-over-for-a-laugh kind of gal. It's also weird when I'm the nuttiest person in the room. I always felt pretty tame in that crowd. anyway, if I do something nutty, it's a to-do when I thought it was a momentary lark.
There are a number of stages and, every day, there are a number of shows on each stage. You get a list of who's playing where in your cabin in the morning like a Daily. There's an amazing world champions air guitar thing that Craigums, friend, participates in. He put out a single. It has no grooves. [One of my favorite instagrams.] So, the cruise is fun and amazing and you can see a zillion bands and run around in the sun.
There were a bunch of rockers standing knee-deep in the water, the beautiful, clear water. Don't rockers swim? Realizing that they actually wanted to get in, I saw my chance to do good and be bad at the same time. My favorite!! I ran down the shallow water and splashed about 50 of them. Fun.
I went up to gal who looked sort of ashamedly timid knee-deep in the world and said, "Do you want to get in?" She said, "Yes." I said, "Okay, we can do this! We can do this together!" We were both laughing and she thanked me later. [laughs] I suppose, years later, it's always odd thinking you want to do things that you used to just do without thinking. That beach was gorgeous. There were a lot of red lobster rockers, probably the goths who snuck in. I got to see Loudness for the first time and it blew my mind. I saw Saxon, Lita Ford, Tesla, Dio Tribute, Faster Pussycat, Charm City Devils.
How did you get the gig?
Oddly, I'd been not playing very much at the time. I was and am playing with Winterthrall, which I LOVE because they are brutal and have great songs and great people. They play death metal / black metal from the frozen tundras of Orange County. Heavy. Great players. I play with drummer Rob Alaniz, guitarist and singer Steve Nelson, and guitarist Josh Standifer. Compared to at one point, working a nine to five and either practicing with two bands after or playing a show every night plus weekends, I haven't been playing at all.
I have friends here in LA who live nearby and also have kids. I'd been lucky enough to watch my friend, Jessie's girl, Sofia, since she was three. She's so fun, and actually got me through some hard times. I would watch her and also met a friend of theirs, Lisa, and watched her little guy, Aidan. So I knew Lisa. She asked me one day if I felt like joining another band. Oddly, I was just thinking I needed to. I needed to play more. Thought it would be great to play with a bunch of people in a garage for a while. That was Femme Fatale. Shocker. I don't know how many people they tried out. So lucky! They rock, they're crazy, they're fun, they're gorgeous. Double happiness!
You've recorded a series of songs under the name Harvey Proudfoot. Can you tell me about that work?
He hasn't done that much. He's not that prolific. He came from one of the compartments, one of those places that wants to share, but doesn't. Also, I have a sort of counterpart. There. I don't really know what. I know everyone is going to say "big invisible rabbit," which I've never seen. [laughs] But I haven't seen that, and that's not what came to mind. I'm terrible at making up names.
When I was little, aged five to nine or so, there were a lot of boys, a LOT of boys, who would say that their dad was 1/4 Cherokee. They had all been told by their dads. Always Cherokee. And they were very proud of it, rightly so. It was a sort of a thing, like Pink Elephants. I only remember one of the boys and I don't know him anymore. One of my friends told me this as an adult. I told him my story. He thought about it and found out that there wasn't any Cherokee in their family that they knew of. That's all. I think, for some reason, a lot of dads liked to tell their kids they were 1/4 Cherokee. Just like "getting" a kid's nose or something. It just stuck with me.
Harvey is 1/4 Cherokee. He's kind of crotchety, a realist, and has some kind of east coast accent, and is shy to the point of agoraphobia.
Did Harvey come first, or the songs?
Oh, Havey is definitely making the songs, but hasn't been that productive, so I'm just going to gather some stuff and post it like the dead letter box. Brent Hoover started a song workshop based on the Immersion Composition Society's principles. He used to write a lot, wrote some Jackson Saints songs, wrote some Stone Fox songs wrote songs in a lot of other bands, wrote a whole album of Hair Metal spoofs. I think he also worked on Unholy Cadaver (Hammers of Misfortune) very early, way before I even heard them. So, sitting down and just spurting out whatever, without editing too much. That's where they come from.
What about the production?
What about it? The non-existent production? The production is like a monkey driving Sputnik. I have odd tastes. Jorjee always said I had a psychedelic flare. We had a gal join the group for two times, and she listened to them and said, "I GUESS that's a song." [laughs] Her stuff was very polished and could be probably sold very easily.
I think it's okay to put a sound from this grouping with a sound from that grouping. For instance, goat toenail percussion with what could be a trance beat, because mostly, I'm not good at separating genres anyway. Howard Moon in Mighty Boosh accidentally calls himself a genre spanner, [laughs] and that's what I am, too. (Spanner means dumbass.)
It needs to be emotional. I love switching parts and switching emotions like a sunrise cresting, or a flock of crows flying right by your ears, or driving under all those overpasses where the 110, 105 and something else meet. I like waves, the sight and sound and feel, the feel of a wave swelling and crashing or swelling and turning into flat, calm water.
The intro can be soft and melodic, the the verse will be hard hitting and slow because I like the change. It's surprising, and then you can settle into the new beat because it's new. It's abrupt. And then it can have a pause or be startled into something arpeggioed and introspective. Just a bunch of thoughts floating around and interrupting each other, organically.
When you look back at your career, how do you feel?
Shocked. Sometimes I feel like I made up how much fun it was, and also how tiring and emotional it was, and how I did so much and how am I not doing all that much now. I would barely believe my own memories if little moments didn't come back so vividly, and if things like the Chatterbox reunion and Jackson Saints reunion didn't happen. I don't really hang out with that many people from then. So it's like this, spinning legends in front of the fire in a cave.
A lot of people will say, if someone wants to create, to never discourage them. I used to always be so excited when people would talk about wanting to play music. Then I got a lot of people coming up to me and saying they wanted to play bass like me and I'd say, "DO IT!!" I even gave away a couple of bases, and showed some bass lines. After touring for a few years, people would come up to me and say they wanted to do what I did and I'd say, "Do it if you HAVE to." [laughs]
The Expo Arts Center is located at 4321 Atlantic Avenue. Toaster Music, with special guests Janis Tanaka and Gabriel 'Slam' Nobles, will play three 30 minute sets, at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00PM. You can follow Winterthrall on Facebook, and learn more about Femme Fatale at LorraineCafe.com.