Back in 2002 we got a chance to interview Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde, during which we asked her more questions about Bob Seger than we probably should have. The original post is still up on the Internet Wayback Machine. – Ed
Nada Mucho: So tell us about the new album.
Johnette Napolitano: It’s the best album ever made by anyone, anywhere. I expect this album to cure cancer and facilitate peace in the Middle East.
NM: Excellent. It has been more than five years since the last proper Concrete Blonde album. Why the hiatus prior to Group Therapy?
JN: It’s been eight, actually, and it wasn’t a hiatus, we truly never intended to work together again, and I still don’t know why we decided to exactly. Something truly cosmic threw us together again and we must be out of our minds and therefore belong in straightjackets.
NM: Same personnel involved this time around?
JN: Well, Harry (Rushakoff, the band’s long-time drummer) is back in jail so that didn’t last long… but we have Gabriel Ramirez from Maria Fatal on drums and he’s like family, and a monster of a drummer. I think we’re better (and so do a lot of people) than we’ve ever been. Jim Mankey and I started the band together so we’re stuck with each other, but we’re happier now than we’ve ever been. We feel solid and secure enough to be thinking about the next album. It’s nice to be able to have a fucking beer with your drummer and not have to worry about whether it’s gonna fuck up his piss test or trigger some heroin thing. It’s great. We love it. We jam like crazy and are all on the same page for once. We trust each other. I’m done with that drug drama, that crap: heroin is not a disease, it’s a fucking choice. We’re not 20 years old and after a while you realize there isn’t a whole lot of time to get it right – you have to get it right NOW. We’ve got it right and then some.
NM: Are you ever tempted to toss out another radio-friendly pop gem like “Joey” just for shits and giggles?
JN: We just write what we write. The fact that “Joey” was a hit came completely by surprise; our songs are our songs and, believe me, if I could deliberately organize another hit like “Joey” I would, and not for shits and giggles, either. “Joey” pays my mother’s rent to this day. That was the last vocal on that album and I had to write the words in the cab on the way to the studio. I knew I had a lot to express in that song and it was very painful to do so. I put it off until the very last minute. There are a lot of our songs I think are worthy of that attention, by the way. Lou Reed said if he could Brisbane Gabos Groovy Drumswrite a hit, he would, but he doesn’t know how. There is a lot of machine behind a hit. I mean nobody disses John Lennon for “Imagine.” That wasn’t exactly underground.
NM: Similar to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”, there’s a nasty urban legend about “Joey” that it’s about Joey Ramone. Any idea how that started? And by the way, what’s your favorite urban myth?
JN: God, I have never even MET Joey Ramone. Who knows how this shit gets started? God rest his soul, but that song was about Wall Of Voodoo’s Marc Moreland, who passed away this year, and was a great influence in my life. I think of Marc every day – a talent absolutely not of this world, and I am grateful to have had the experience of creating music with him. I can’t believe that Joey Ramone thing. Whatever.
My favorite urban legend? Kentucky Fried human fingers and rats and things like that. That was always going around when I was a kid. Or that McDonald’s uses worms in their burgers instead of beef. That may very well be true, actually. Cheap protein.
NM: You mentioned you’re headed for Brazil. Is the trip band-related or otherwise?
JN: We’re doing four shows and are very excited about it. Very. One of the reasons I wanted to be in a band was to see new places, cultures I wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. They’re very cool down there. We’ve been doing a lot of press – they’ve been trying to get us down there for a long time. We’re beyond thrilled.
NM: We’ve actually had several other musicians tell us they love playing Brazil because the crowds are just nuts, which probably won’t be the case when you play Bumbershoot, as Seattle fans seem to be more apt to stand with their arms folded and nod their head in time with the drumbeat at best. Regardless, what can Seattle fans expect from your live show?
JN: A little of everything, the best we can do. And we’ll probably kick everybody else’s ass with one hand tied behind our back.
NM: Nice. Speaking of your live show, what’s with the mime?
JN: He’s a Butoh artist, not a mime. Butoh is a very unique form of Japanese dance that was reactionary to the nuclear bomb (You know about that, right? Back in the day?) and it’s extreme, specific, and deep. We scored a half hour performance for Don McLeod, our friend and Butoh artist. Like I said, it was deep, so I won’t bother to try to describe it here – I can see we’re in no danger of getting too deep. I’m so bored shitless with the standard ‘rock show’ and I find American culture to be a bit anemic. We always try to turn a person on to something that turns us on – something different – and people seem to get it and like it. I, for one, am tired of being dumbed down to. Even the President calls me a “consumer.” I’m not stupid and I don’t think our audience is, either. I treat our audience as I would want to be treated: I think people are starved for meaning and content. Go figure. But then again, I’ve never seen Sex in the City, so who am I to say?
NM: Do you get a lot of fans wanting to play “Vampire” with you?
JN: Yes, and I love that groove. Jim’s developed a very weird Eno-ish intro and Felix, our superfoxy soundman, plays a little of the sampled record and… well, shut my mouth! But I dig that song, or I wouldn’t have written it in the first place! I had no idea it would establish us as a Goth band, though I don’t really feel we are. Hell, I can sing Patsy Cline if I want, but you know, like I said, bless the little vampires, bring ’em on, happy to have all the Bloodletters. But I obviously hate a band bigger than a three-piece so it’s all I can handle playing with Concrete Blonde. It has taken years for us to react/instinctively know, expect… flow as a unit, as a single organism. We’re finally doing it, so that’s where we’re at and there’s not much room for anyone else.
NM: What prompted you to get involved in producing other artists in the first place? Which have you most enjoyed working with?
JN: Maria Fatal, Terri Nunn of Berlin, Los Illegals… Danny Lohner from NIN (although he’s definitely the producer in that gig). I haven’t worked with anyone else in awhile because it’s a lot of work. Artists are a pain in the ass (I should know, I am one) and that’s why those guys get the big bucks. I feel more inclined to work on my own art and music these days. I’m a serious Flamenco student and dedicate whatever creative energy isn’t going into the band to Flamenco. But we are doing a track for a tribute album of music by Agustin Lara, a Mexican legend, which is being put together by Maria Fatal’s Ernesto Ramirez.
I’m also a semi-geek and love my computers and the art of recording…
NM: What’s your favorite drink? Can we buy you one?
- Sangre de Toro (Blood of the Bull). A very good wine from Spain. Affordable and reliable. Or, modified, you can have a Benicio del Toro con Sangre de Toro, which is looking at a picture of Benicio del Toro while drinking Sangre de Toro. An excellent mix.
- Heredura or Patron tequila, straight up, room temp. But we can’t even afford to buy that for ourselves.
- If I’m not feeling well, or scratchy in the throat: a Bull’s Eye, which is a few inches of Tecate, Corona or Negro Modelo with a hefty shot of Tabasco sauce. Great for the throat. But Tabasco straight is best and beer makes me fat, so I don’t drink it much.
You don’t need to buy me anything, but thanks for offering. It’s on the rider. I’m a rock star, you know.
NM: Oh we know… So how does it feel to contribute to the sordid dream of Hollywood that makes it difficult for young attorneys to concentrate on their briefing because they can’t stop daydreaming about running from their wife/kids/mortgage payments into the arms of a Hollywood bar where they’ll stumble into you or a reasonable 2:00 a.m. substitute thereof?
JN: Uh… wait, I have to read that again… OK. Well, I was born here, so the Hollywood I know isn’t the tourist Hollywood. I think dreams are healthy, and not necessarily sordid… but then, I don’t get out much here. Much less to bars. I like the weather, proximity to my pad in Baja California, the cultural diversity, the history and it’s just home, you know, so I’m too close to it to have that perspective. And if you go down to Hollywood Boulevard on Halloween (one of my favorite things to do) the population is 100 percent Latino, so I’m not really in that world… but I hear all that shit goes down in New York, too. Oh! And Washington D.C. I think that’s what you meant… yes, D.C. makes Hollywood look like a dairy farm, I’m sure. As a matter of fact, they’re here, ‘advising’ people on what films to make. The Hollywood I know is a different place, and there was a time when artists who were exiled from their own countries came here to express their art. The ‘20s were an amazing era for Hollywood: I actually see a more positive side to the potential here, and just choose to stay away from all the crap.
I live in a house that was once Mary Pickford’s dressing room, an impoverished Canadian who grew up to form United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks and was a pioneer in film, and at one time the most famous woman in the world. Hollywood is America, and people come here for opportunity. There are many places in the world, still, where women cannot speak, let alone create and express themselves: and no one should be criticized for ambition unless it hurts or deprives others. I think there are just as many scumbags in medicine, law enforcement, the military and every other profession as there are here, whatever people do.
For the record, though, I have never dated an actor. I have no idea why I needed to say that but (dating an actor) just seems like trouble.
NM: As a follow-up question, don’t you love the song “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger?
JN: Nothing personal, but I can’t stand Bob Seger. He’s not from here, is he? Obviously hung out in the wrong part of town.
NM: I think he’s from Detroit actually. Speaking still of “Hollywood Nights” isn’t that part cool where he goes, “He saw that face and he lost all control”?
JN: Don’t know it, but that’s a shame. Self-control is very important. I do remember he sang (bellowed) a line: ‘she had two points of her own, way up high’ which is some of the fucking worst writing ever, ever, ever, and someone should’ve cut his tongue out for that. Oh my God, I can’t believe you made me think of that, it was hideous, and I don’t know that I can go on.
NM: Sorry about that. Go ahead and take a few minutes of “me time”, then we just simply must know – do you ever hang out with any members of the Silver Bullet Band?
JN: You’re kidding, I hope?
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