Monday, April 6, 2020

Musicians discuss life during quarantine

Richard Thompson live stream concert. (TSHIT photo)

By Andy

While we're stuck at home during these trying times, those domains have become our clubs to watch online gigs, grow closer as families, work on projects that once sizzled slowly on the back burner and create more music than ever before. This is the way it's going to be for a while, and things will advance in a new direction for all of us after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Our hearts are torn for those who have lost loved ones. We're trying to support as many local businesses as possible and help out in our local community the best we can while staying safe.

Things suck right now, but there is hope.

"I think when things get back to 'normal,' they won't be the same. I'm OK with that and I'm not sure I honestly want to go back to the way some things were but more move ahead into the future and make things better," said Vanessa Siberman, an international touring DIY singer/guitarist, producer, engineer, mixer and indie A&R with an artist development label, A Diamond Heart Production.

Currently residing in Brooklyn, NY, Siberman said she's been wrapped up in music by working on new tunes, releases, live streaming and other artists' projects while spreading positive vibes. Her usual remote projects of mixing/production and mastering are still on target. She had planned to hit the open road once again on a pair of tours and had recording sessions on her docket in New York City and California.

"The entertainment industry as a whole has been massively affected and is going through many changes, but also some things are very much still going and evolving," she said. "People are still listening to so much music, reading blogs, releasing songs, live streaming and watching videos."

All the while, there are emotional struggles in our daily lives and we don't know what's on the horizon. Each day is a mental journey like never before.

"I know the whole COVID-19 issue is foremost on everyone’s minds right now. My heart goes out to everyone in solidarity. Be strong. Don’t give in to fear. It will get worse before it gets better, but it will get better," said Fullerton, CA's Alfie Agnew of Professor and the Madman, which has a new album in the works and also features Sean Elliott and former Damned members Rat Scabies and Paul Gray.

Agnew and his crew have been spending their time molding the record into shape and getting the word out about its release. They're thrilled about what they've got on their hands with this recent collection of tunes, which once again are story-driven and tread an eclectic musical path.

"'Séance' is a trip; we want everyone to go on it with us and sonically relive the '60s, '70s and '80s through our lenses," he said. "Hopefully 'Séance' can provide a healthy escape for some from their temporary isolation."

During the quarantine, we are drawn toward tough conversations with family and friends and are also forced to look within ourselves for answers about how to deal with things on a personal level.

Agnew said it's a wake-up call and we need to rise to the challenge. Here's a few of his thoughts:

"Maybe people will learn to grow their own food once again, cook simply for themselves, and regain their health. Maybe people will learn how not to be so dependent on services and disposables and learn to do and repair things for themselves once again. Maybe some can reinvent themselves as the strong, kind, self-sufficient, mentally and physically healthy people they grew up admiring."

Our instruments waiting for a jam session. (TSHIT photo)

Checking in from the UK, Andy Cairns of Therapy? gave a huge thank you on Instagram to all the National Health Service Workers for their vital work during these times.

The band's European tour was pulled and some festival dates have been cancelled as well, Cairns noted, adding in a more important vein, "All of this is nothing, of course, when compared to what people are facing right now."

Last week, Cairns reached out to fans on Instagram by sharing Marshall Records' PMA Playlist via Discovered Magazine: a positive playlist featuring positive people; and a guess-the-riff challenge, which spotlighted Inspiral Carpets' "This is How it Feels," The Chameleons' "Up the Down Escalator" and fittingly, Therapy?'s version of Joy Division's "Isolation."

"I’m trying to play guitar and write every day. Before this happened, we had started writing new material with the intention of recording it later this year and releasing it early next year, and in-between we would play a ton of shows celebrating our 30th anniversary. With most of that now on hold and everyone house-bound, I’m trying to give my days structure," Cairns said.

After rising from sleep in the morning, he'll set off on a run and then return home to immerse himself in guitar playing, bits of lyric writing ("Nothing dates new music like the present day," he said) and arranging in a converted garage at the side of his house that is brimming with an arsenal of amps, guitars, pedals and more.

"If I get stuck, I take a rest and maybe throw on someone else’s music and try and play along to see if I get shake off the slump," said Cairns, who finished off one afternoon session figuring out the guitar solo on the Cars' "Just What I Needed."

Books take over during the evenings, and currently Cairns finds himself in a Manson Family phase after enjoying the blockbuster film "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Current albums he's clawing into are Bruxa Maria's "The Maddening," Casual Nun's "Resort for Dead Desires," Eye Flys' "Tubba Lard" and Rainbow Grave's "No You."

Over in East Palo Alto, CA, OXBOW's Eugene Robinson said he's been social distancing since 1962, the year of his birth.

While writing in his house, in his underwear while listening to Leadbelly (LOUD), Robinson notes that his isolation explanation might seem strange since he clomps onto the public terrain to unleash his music and art.

"I've always identified primarily as a writer and this is a solitary pursuit and I've been bedeviled by, while it's cool finding people who would pay me to do what I do, that they insisted I do it AWAY from my house. This has been a constant and continual battle and one that I stopped fighting 20 years ago. You want my ass at a desk so you can watch your investment in my contribution? OK. I got you. Small price to pay for what you pay me," he said.

The OXBOW howler now has more time to ponder his vocal delivery on the unit's 17 recently recorded songs, which were set to be Robinson-ized in April. That part of Robinson's world will be pushed back until we're given the all-clear, as will any cherished time spent in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu dojo where he's trained since 2012.

Robinson's heaviest sorrow is only being able to visit his kids and grandson outside.

"And my kids? Lights of my life. I miss them with a certain intensity. But two are in their 20s and one is soon to be 18 so they have their own stuff going on anyway. Doesn't mean I miss them any less though," he said.

In the meantime, "I can run, do body weight exercises, jump rope....and for amusement I grow vegetables, load guns...wait for 'the signal.' And do my podcast The Eugene S. Robinson Show Stomper!"

Some of our reading material. (TSHIT photo)

Los Angeles-based drummer and writer Bob Lee -- who's married to my old schoolmate and Los Angeles Beat editor-in-chief Elise Thompson -- has been working full time from home and feels incredibly lucky to have his gig to focus on during the quarantine.

"I entertain myself however possible and try not to get mired in bad feelings," said Lee, who beats the skins for FITTED (with Mike Watt and two Wire members), Kurt Stifle & The Swing Shift, Santa Sabbath and Claw Hammer. "I'm listening to music. Rediscovering classics, getting into old jazz records. If I do watch TV, it's stupid comedy for the most part. I should start getting more into classic cinema; just saw 'The Holy Mountain' a couple weeks ago and loved it. 'El Topo' tonight? Hahaha, it could happen."

Seattle-based Stag guitarist/songwriter Ben London -- Lee's old schoolmate from Antioch College in Ohio -- has delved into his project, Quarantine Songs, where people submit lyrics and he writes and records a song with them in a few hours. Check out one of the tunes at

Heading back to Siberman to put a mental and health perspective on tackling life during the pandemic, she's trying to exercise, stay peaceful, meditate, read and FaceTime with friends, family and loved ones.

"I still feel busy but I feel like I'm trying to take things easy and make sure my well-being is good/calm," she said. "I used to do EVERYTHING at once, which I love, staying busy and just multi-task like crazy. But I would not make a lot of time to check in with my well-being, so I have been doing that and giving myself quiet time."

** The Recording Academy and its affiliated charitable foundation MusiCares have established the COVID-19 Relief Fund to help artists in the music community affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Alice Bag discusses her upcoming album 'Sister Dynamite' and her punk roots / Interview

Alice Bag in Seattle. (All Cat Rose photos)

Text, Andy; Photos, Cat Rose 

Alice Bag and her band busted down the proverbial door from the get-go.

First song, the Bags classic punk rager, "Babylonian Gorgon," lit the fuse of their set at The Queens of Noise Festival on March 7 at the Highline in Seattle.

From there, you know it's gonna be a raucous next hour or so to get your blood boiling and brain on target with crucial messages that propel Alice's solo tunes, along with the stirring "Gluttony" from "The Decline of Western Civilization" film. I joined my brother and some friends at a Hollywood theater in 1981 to witness the premiere of the movie and we were floored by the Alice Bag Band and others on the screen. 

I spoke with Alice by phone a week before The Queens of Noise gig and fired off some questions that the Seattle-based promoters -- which set up this interview -- supplied, plus some of my own. (The Queens of Noise's mission statement: "Supporting women by fostering an inclusive community. Providing a venue for female musicians to unite and raise awareness for women’s causes.")

On to the interview:

** You've got a new album coming out (in April), tell me a little bit about the album and what you're addressing lyrics-wise and what it sounds like.

It's gonna sound more like a live show than other albums that I've made. I think in the past, I really gave myself the luxury of just calling in whoever I wanted. I've been a musician for a long time here in LA, so a lot of my friends play different instruments, so I'm like, "I think I wanna have a sax on this or I wanna have a cello or a flute," so I would just invite someone over to come play on the song. This time, I really challenged myself and thought, "How can I create all these layers, all this depth that I have in my past albums?," but keep it to a four piece, something that's more what I do live. I cheated a little bit because I did play keyboards on it, and I don't usually play keyboards live. It sounds a lot more like a band and it sounds a lot more punk rock.

I'm excited about it. It's kind of a return to my punk roots, even though I feel like I'm always punk, no matter what the song sounds like.

** What do some of the songs deal with?

The album is called "Sister Dynamite." "Sister Dynamite" was inspired by a group of women that I'm working with called Turn It Up, it's an organization of women who are all somehow involved in music, but it's to support each other, to help amplify the voices of women in music. Just getting together and talking about issues that they faced in the past and talking about brainstorming solutions, really made me feel like it was a time of change and that we were gonna create that change. And then I was also inspired by the women who took over the House of Representatives, and I was inspired by the vision of them walking in in their suffragette white suits. It was inspiring for me and I wanna see more of it and I feel like change is on the horizon. So "Sister Dynamite" is this character, this super hero that exists in my imagination, just comes and like is just not gonna put up with being put down anymore.

**That's a great message right there. Why don't you go for one more that really speaks to you.

On my first album, I had a song about my experiences when I first realized that I was bisexual, just feeling guilt and feeling like there was a stigma to it, that people saw my sexuality as being dirty or inferior or sinful. The song was called "The Touch I Crave," and it was just kind of trying to fight against that negative message, but I was in fact chronicling that negative message. I wrote a song called "Switch Hitter" for this album and it really sounds so much more joyful. It's about celebrating who I am, my sexuality and hopefully other people can connect to it and it's just about, "Hey, I'm versatile, gotta accept it."

** And you'll be playing some of those songs at the upcoming show. I'd imagine going throughout the whole career like you always do. You always play your solo stuff and then you do a couple Bags songs as well.

Yeah, I gotta keep my roots in there. There was a time in my life where I really wanted to get away from referencing the Bags, "Oh, that's a band from my past, I don't need to do any more stuff, I'm doing new stuff now." And now I realize that I'm not ashamed of my past, and my past is actually a foundation on which I've built, so I do want to acknowledge where I come from, but not spend all my time in the past. Acknowledge it and move forward. There is some Bags stuff in my set, but a lot of it is newer material.

**Yeah, and that's something that I'm really big on as well is you can't forget where you went, but you've gotta keep moving on, keep evolving and be in the present. That's what my wife and myself, as far as music goes, we like our old bands, but we embrace our new bands just as much. It's very important to do that.

Yeah, you stay fresh and you re-inspire.

** What keeps you going (in music) over the years and still thriving today?

I think I just can't help it. I feel like I always have the desire to write. I know that I have to carve out time to write or I don't feel right. Some people have to work out or they don't feel good, they have to do something. For me, it's writing. If I don't write, I feel like I'm not getting everything out of life that I need. Writing and making music, being in a room and playing with other people, it's an essential part of who I am. If I don't get it in my life, I feel deprived, I feel like I'm dying. Literally, I feel like I'm dying.

** What's the first band or song that you remember striking a chord with you? 

There's a song that I actually started performing it when I was doing readings for "Violence Girl," my book. I did a cover version of a song called, "Monedita de Oro," which means "Little Gold Coin." The content of the song is I'm not a little gold coin, you don't have to like me, I'm not for everybody, I'm not around to make you happy, I'm who I am, take me or leave me. It's a ranchera, so it's like half sung and it's half just belted, something that comes from your soul. I feel like ranchera music is something that's very emotive. So I used to sing this song as a little kid, and my father would encourage me, he loved hearing me sing that and he really encouraged me to have that attitude, to be proud of being an individual. And if that meant being different, if that meant that people made fun of me, it was OK, I still had to honor who I was. The message of that song really resonated with me because I was a weirdo and I did think differently a lot of the time, and I found myself shunned by my peers. I was the misfit. And I think a lot of people who got into the early punk scene were those misfits, those people that didn't quite always say the right thing or say it in the right way or think like the crowd. So I felt like that song, "Monedita de Oro," had a really punk message, but it was from my childhood.

**What really stokes you now? A band or two you wanna mention that brings us into the now?

I've been working with different bands. I produced a couple of bands in the past few years. I produced Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries. They're a band from Fresno, California, small town that isn't particularly known for their music scene, but they have a great music scene and they have a great punk community. And this band, I just remember playing with them one day when I was doing book readings and they were just so original. The lead singer plays xylophone and then she played a box organ and an electric ukulele. I mean, just their instrumentation was outside of the box, and they came out with two backup singers that were holding giant cardboard pizzas and danced around singing a song about having a pizza girlfriend. Their rhythm section was tight as fuck, and I just thought, "This band is really cool, really different, singing their own reality in their own way." That's the most punk thing I ever wanna see.

The other band that I have been working with lately was Fea from San Antonio. They're just amazing, they really inspired my new record, too. Working with them, everything was such high energy, and they have a really fun attitude, they really enjoy living the rock life. It's like hanging out with them is just a non-stop party. And I think that comes through in their music. So when I came home after working with them, I had already recorded some of the songs on the record, but I hadn't finished, and I just thought, "I'm not gonna write any slow songs now after working with Fea, I just wanna make 'em all fast."

**How has being a Latina woman impacted you in music, and how have you seen it change?

When punk rock first got started in LA, I really felt like it was very inclusive, and so I didn't encounter some of the misogyny or racism that people who came long afterwards report. I feel like I was really fortunate that I came into punk thinking that I belong here. Being in a band and playing on stage, I always felt like I had a right to be there, and if anybody tried to tell me otherwise, they would have to deal with me. My book is called "Violence Girl" because I experienced a lot of violence in my household when I was growing up. I grew up in a house where there was domestic violence, so I had a lot of rage in me. So I think when I was on stage, some of that rage might have shown, so people would not typically come up and confront me. Nobody ever made me feel unwelcome. I don't know if it was because they were just really cool people that wanted to be inclusive or because I looked like I would kick somebody's butt if they tried.

** What advice would you give girls who are coming up who wanna be musicians?

I would tell them to find people who are supportive and who are going to be accepting of wherever they are in their playing ability. Whether they're trained, have years of experience, or are just new to picking up an instrument. Don't feel like you have to live up to anybody's expectations but your own. I really feel like it's more important that you say what you have to say than that you master an instrument and follow a certain technique or try and be like somebody else. It's really about the message, it's really about finding your own original voice. There are a lot of people out there that have musical skills, but there are not a lot of people that have your point of view. So if you can remain original and speak your truth, that's gonna be the best thing that you can bring.

** Are your daughters into music as well, are you sharing a lot of your music with them?

My daughters are all into music. One is into opera, which I am not a fan of. I can listen to the music, but I have to admit I don't have the patience for it. I've been to a couple of operas and I found myself getting sleepy. (Laughter) I know, don't judge me, I'm strictly low-brow. 

They're into their own thing. None of them are into punk rock or anything, that would be too much like their mom. They all support me and they'll come to shows and sell merch for me and do that kind of stuff. My middle daughter, actually my stepdaughter, she has a beautiful voice and she likes to write in more a singer-songwritery way. She'll go out and do the occasional open mike and she'll sing backup for me whenever I need a backup singer. We sometimes hang out and I have helped her work on her songwriting skills 'cause she wants to be a songwriter.

**That's great how it all kind of comes home there with the family and helping each other out music-wise and message-wise, too. I'm sure they all got their great path that they're taking and they'll certainly learn from you.

Aww, thank you.

** If you could go to dinner with one person, who would that be?

My husband. There is nobody else I would rather be with. That's why I married him. 

Alice's latest Instagram post: Take #SOCIALDISTANCING Seriously If you want to keep ROCKING.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Female-fronted bands rock for a cause at The Queens of Noise fest in Seattle

Alice Bag in Seattle. (All Cat Rose photos)

Ten strong, women-led bands ripped it up at The Queens of Noise Festival on March 7 at the Highline in Seattle.

The mammoth gig celebrated women rockers and benefited Peoria Home, which provides sanctuary and support for women survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution. For more information, visit

Cheers to Nealan Blinstrub and Caroline Eikenberry -- along with a solid crew -- for organizing this stellar event, which raised $4k for Peoria Home.

MC Reiko of Ichi Bichi led the way during the night, which saw headliner Alice Bag and her band take charge with a raucous set. Also making an impact with their tunes were Ichi Bichi, Itchy Kitty, Klondike Kate, Madame Damnable, Having Issues, Post Rapture Party, Dead On Cue, The Heels and Mallory.

Here's some bad-ass Cat Rose photos from the evening: