Just Your Average Teenage Girl Who Got Shot in the Face For Speaking Up Against the Taliban
I interviewed venerable rock 'n' roller Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde a few weeks back for this short piece, but she had so much more to say. (She's a bit of a charming motormouth.) Q&A is after the jump.
You can catch 'em tonight at the Star Theater.
MERCURY: How are you?
JOHNETTE NAPOLITANO: I’ve got a bit of a flu, which I never get. I was just watching everybody drop like flies over the holiday season, and I never got it. But now it’s getting even and I have it. If I have one week off to have the flu, it’s this week so I’m lucky that way.
What have you been doing lately?
We rehearse in LA on Sundays. I don’t live in Los Angeles, I live in Joshua Tree which is about two and a half hours away if you drive it right. I’m in the high desert—it’s great. I got two horses for New Year’s and one of them is an albino. They’re both rescues because I’ve been working horse rescue all summer at a rescue ranch. There’s a lot of animal rescue people in the high desert. They are stunning—I’m looking out at them right now. It looks like they’ve always been there. Last night was a full moon and True, that’s my white horse’s name, was glowing under the moon like a frickin’ unicorn. It was blowin’ my mind. [Laughs.] It’s really awesome, I feel like I’m dreaming.
Have you had horses before?
No, never. I was in the city and I wanted one, but we lived in the city and could never have one. When I was able to move out of the city, I was always touring too much to be able to stay home. So this is the first time in my life I’m settled in a place where I have plenty of room for them. I make it a point to not be away from home for more than a week out of the month.
How has living in the desert influenced your music?
Saved my life! It’s the best place ever. It’s really good on every possible level. You can hear yourself think out here. It’s gorgeous and it’s a healthier place for me. It’s really special.
Are you working on a new Concrete Blonde album?
We don’t think in terms of albums anymore. We just did a 45, a white vinyl single, and it was so cool. We were in the studio, threw it down, got out the master the next day, at the same time uploaded it for digital. It was like straddling two planets, you know? We got the box of singles when we were out on the road in Texas around Halloween. It was great, because it was that feeling like, “Wow, we made a record.” I hadn’t felt like that in a long time, even though I’ve made music forever and I’ve been working on a lot of things over the years. But it’s not the same as holding a slab of vinyl. We’re selling it on the road, so we’ll have that with us. We like the idea of doing these short runs and customizing the set for where we are. But we can’t think in terms of albums, because it’s just not relevant anymore. It just seems impossible to do anymore. I appreciate an album as a work, I’ve made enough of ’em myself, but it’s not quick enough. I could never go back to being that slow about things. It’s just too slow.
The new song “Rosalie” on that single is lovely.
Thank you very much. “A Ghost” is the B-side. The cool thing about those songs, is that they were picked and recorded to be on vinyl. “Rosalie” I wrote on the first night at my cabin in Joshua Tree on the porch. It’s like an old cowboy song from the ’40s or ’30s. It sounds so cool on vinyl because you can hear the clicks in between the spaces on the arrangement. The B-side, another ghost song, sounds like early ’80s West Coast punk, which, of course, we like. So that sounds great on vinyl, because that’s what the early punk used to do. They all came out on vinyl first. So that little single is a very satisfying piece of art for me.
What was the reason for getting the band back together?
We just did China and it was really funny because—it was awesome for one thing, unbelievable—the paperwork was insane. On the paperwork, it asked what do you do for a living, basically, and you have to agree that whatever you do for a living you won’t do [in China]. It was very strange. Gabriel [Ramirez Quezada] is a special education teacher. James Mankey is an electrical engineer. I just said “editor,” or some bullshit. To get back to your question, the band just comes and goes in our lives, when it suits us and we’re inspired to do something, we do it. It has a more organic place. At this point it’s not “breaking up” or “coming together,” everybody’s got enough space to do what they want. And we do what we want to do. We know our audiences now, we’re going all over the world. We’re going places where there’s no pre-conceived notions of the band. That really makes us happy, we like that. For places like China, this is the first incarnation of the band they’ve ever seen, and we like that. We come and go and do what we want. As long as we have fun, we’re good. A couple years ago we did the Bloodletting reunion thing, and we were coming off stage and looking at each other and going, “Jesus Christ, that was great, man.” That’s a cool thing to do after being together for so long, there’s nothing in the world like being together for a long time. It’s a good thing about getting old.
What are people’s pre-conceived notions of the band?
Well the Chinese asked me that, and I said, “I don’t give a fuck, because I’m not responsible.” I know there are so many that if I really paid attention to all of that, it would be like you were reading about 15 different people. So I can’t really pay attention to that. When I was younger it used to concern me, but now I really don’t care. It’s liberating, you can never be free or know who you are if you give that much of a shit about what people think of you ever.
What songs are fans always anxious to hear?
Some fans are really interested in what evolution has taken place. Whoever wants to come for the ride, that’s great. And whoever doesn’t, there’s a million other bands out there that can satisfy whatever it is you need.
This is goofy, but can you tell me a little about your interest in vampires?
Oh come on. Oh, seriously. That record [Bloodletting] is 20 years old. The books that were out at that time were Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. I was spending a lot of time in New Orleans at the time and that was the flavor. It was metaphorical for a lot of stuff that was going down in my life. It wasn’t a really happy time. So that’s it. It got so silly. People were leaving teeth in my dressing room, and I’m like, “Fucking people, come on.” It was so silly.
But having said that, David J., who is a fucking vampire from Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, and a very dear darling friend—we just finished a collaboration of three tracks, that are vampire tracks, called Tres Vampires. It was with a DJ called Shock in LA. They’re really amazing. They’re very creepy. They’re vampire duets.
David J. is working on a book about Bauhaus that makes Spinal Tap look like nothing. Bauhaus makes Spinal Tap look like seasoned professionals. And I say that with a lot of love, but oh my god, it’s a trip.
So anyway, vampires… come on, whatever. It’s kinda funny that they’re so hot now, I told David that people like their vampires younger now and they don’t wear much black. Anne Rice, oddly enough, lives about 45 minutes away from me, down in the lower desert. Her last book was amazing. It’s about a return to her childhood in New Orleans, her Catholic roots. She’s an amazing fucking writer. The book is just incredible—every leaf in New Orleans she knows and describes. So oddly enough, she lives an hour away.
Well, thank you for talking with me.
Thank you so much, and have a happy new year. All right, sweetheart, bye.