PHRANC INTERVIEW BY JEFF HO
Let’s talk about your art first.
I did a show at the Craig Krull Gallery called Swagger and it was all about survival, so it was semaphore flags that said, “Come Out” and “Closet Case” in code. The Laguna Art Museum has the one that says “Come Out.” The art is made out of paper. A paper life jacket will really save you, right?
Wait. This one is a real wetsuit.
Yeah. That one is a real wetsuit, but I’m going to make a beavertail out of paper. Don’t you think that would be cool?
Yes! I’ve wrecked all of my wetsuits.
I’ve got another wetsuit that I wear. O’Neill did this anniversary edition about five years ago, so I got two of them because I knew they wouldn’t last long. One is all ripped and one is almost pristine.
I made the mistake of only getting one. I was getting in it one day and put my arm through one of the sleeves and ripped half of the sleeve off. I was like, “I’m still using it. I don’t care.”
This is my favorite wetsuit. I don’t like to wear long rubber when I go out.
“Surfing has been a constant. It really ties me into the survival thing. It’s kept me alive and connected. My spiritual thing is with the ocean. The ocean has influenced everything since I was a little kid.”
Okay. Let’s talk about this show you did at the Craig Krull Gallery?
It was bathing suits, semaphore flags and dresses. These were dresses I was forced to wear when I was a kid, so I made these dresses out of paper.
They were dresses you were forced to wear?
Yes. My aunt and uncle had this dress shop, so they used to have me come over and try on the dresses and I just hated them, so the piece I made for this show was this beautiful red dress and it was called “Red Dress (Please Don’t Make Me Wear This)”. It was the centerpiece of the show. The lifejackets were on the side walls and there were some other things from when I was a kid. There was a vitrine with my first pair of baby shoes and my first pair of combat boots, so it was both ends of the spectrum. Ed Ruscha bought the combat boots. So this is what I do. When I’m not singing, I’m making stuff out of paper.
That’s cool. How did you meet Craig Krull and start showing your art with him?
Well, that was my fourth show with him. My first show was all nostalgic beach stuff with flippers and bathing suits and blue and red rafts, like those inflatable canvas rafts, and kickboards. There were P.O.P. trunks and I did this P.O.P. pattern. That was the first show about eight years ago. I met Craig when I was bagging groceries at Ralphs – a highlight of my life. I had my Phranc name tag on and people would come through the line and say, “I have your record!” I’d be like, “Thanks.” It was so humbling. Then this guy comes through my line one day and says, “I’m a big fan of your work.” I was like, “Really? Are you an artist? How do you know about my work?” He said, “I’ve been following your artwork. I have an art gallery over at the Bergamont. You should come over and see the gallery and say hi.” At lunchtime that day, in my Ralphs uniform, I went. I had my portfolio in the back of the car, so I just zipped right over there. He was like, “Oh, that was really fast.” He showed me the gallery and he was really nice. We talked about art, became friends and developed this dialogue. About two years later, I had that first show. Part of it is luck and part is perseverance. People used to tell me, “Always have your portfolio in the back of your car. You never know when you’re going to meet somebody and show your work.” I had this show in New York and it was a thing where a friend called and there was a gallery in New York and they had these artists curate other artists. My friend, Ann Magnuson, who is an actress and musician, called me and said, “Do you want to have this show? I’m curating it. It’s a place called CUE Art Foundation. It’s a non-profit art foundation, and they do people’s shows and make them a catalog.” So I had this catalog when I went to see Craig Krull because I had done this show in New York. I started sewing before this show, so that was my big thing. Everything is sewn, all of the paper. I started with my grandmother’s machine and now I have three. At first, I didn’t know how to sew at all. I failed sewing class three times. Then my Nana left me this machine, and one of the mothers at my daughter’s preschool taught me how to sew. It’s a Singer Featherweight and it’s totally portable. It’s a little workhouse and I can sew anything on it. It just smells good. It smells like my grandmother. When you plug it in, a little light bulb comes on. This is the machine that started it all.
How old is this machine?
It’s from the early ‘50s. It’s a great machine. I could sew everything on this machine, but I sew on painted paper and the paint flecks get stuck and I didn’t want to trash the machine, so I upgraded to one that’s a little more industrial and heavy duty. I still sew on my Nana’s machine occasionally.
I noticed you have a Blick collection of acrylic paint.
I love that paint. That is a matte Liquitex that they stopped making, but it’s not Blick paint. That’s just a Blick stand that I found in the trash at Blick. It fits all of my paint, so I recycled it. The Liquitex paint is so good, but they stopped making the matte. The great thing about the matte is how flat it is. You don’t have to put anything in it. It’s just flat rich color. It’s bitchen!
There are some guys in Culver City that make paint. Maybe they can make you a matte paint. They have a pearlescent matte finish. So you were working with somebody downtown when you first started making art? Where was that?
That was at the Woman’s Building in the mid ‘70s. That’s where I learned how to silkscreen and I did all of my songwriting. That was the Feminist Studio Workshop. That was an early launchpad of feminist art back in ’76, ’77 and ’78, down on Spring Street.
How long did you work down there?
It was probably four years. The Woman’s Building moved from downtown across from MacArthur Park to Spring Street in ’75 and I was there until ’78. That was my version of school because I dropped out of high school and went off to be a lesbian in Venice. I dropped out of Venice High and got involved politically and came out.
When did you come out?
I came out in ’75. I was 17.
That was the same year that I had the Zephyr shop.
Yes. Look, we’re still here, Jeff.
Yes! So the Woman’s Building was a learning place.
It was a public center for women’s culture and they had an art education program and they taught printing, performance art, consciousness-raising and writing. Women came from all over the country to do this program, so I did that for two years. It was founded by Judy Chicago, Arlene Raven and Sheila DeBretteville. It started at CalArts with the Feminist Art Program and then morphed into the Woman’s Building and Feminist Studio Workshop. It was at the beginning of the feminist art movement, so it was cool. Then I went from there to punk rock. I went up to San Francisco because I thought I would meet more lesbians there. I tried to get a job as a printer because I was trained on the offset press from the Woman’s Building, but there was no work. My friends had given me the address of these women artists up there and they introduced me to people. They took me across the street to this loft where four punks were living and I was like, “Wow. This is cool.” I started hanging out with them and I went to shows and the Avengers were playing. Everyone was going to the Art Institute, and the only job I could get was being a nude model at the Art Institute. This was during the birth of punk rock, in ‘76 and ‘77, before the Sex Pistols came. It was the Mutants, the Avengers, Crime and all the San Francisco bands.
How long were you in San Francisco?
Not even a year.
How did you get into playing music?
Well, I started playing as a kid. Both of my grandparents played instruments. Both of my grandfathers played violin and guitar. When I was nine, I got to take guitar lessons, but this teacher that I had was an Italian guy that would show up in a three-piece suit and he had a baton that he would hit against his hand and keep time and it was so un-fun. It was not my idea of a good time, so I hated my guitar lessons, but I learned how to play guitar. I learned the chords. Then I had this hippie teacher after that and it was cool. I love folk music and Broadway music, but I didn’t listen to rock music until Patti Smith. My friend James turned me onto Bowie and Patti after I’d been to San Francisco. The exciting thing to me wasn’t really the music. It was the people that were politically active, singing and being creative. In Venice, the people I knew in high school weren’t doing anything. Everyone was so apathetic. I played my guitar on the front lawn of Venice High.
That leads to the first band you were in.
My first band was Nervous Gender. After I came back to LA, I didn’t know anybody here in bands, so I would go out to clubs by myself. I’d put on my little suit and tie and lean against the wall and try to look cool. I didn’t know a soul and I was a total geek. One night I was leaning up against the wall at an Avengers show and this guys walks up to me and says, “Do you want to be in a band?” I said, “Yes. I’m dying to be in a band!” He didn’t ask if I could play an instrument or sing. I guess I looked right because he said the band was called Nervous Gender. That was it. I was off to the races.
So the band was already formed?
The band was already forming. It was Edward Stapleton who is still in Nervous Gender today. It’s gone through a bunch of different line-ups. It was Gerardo Velazquez who is not with us anymore, he died of AIDS, and it was Michael Ochoa. It was three gay men and me and it was all synthesizer music, which I knew nothing about, so I just went with it. I was mainly the singer and I learned to play a little bit. Back then the most experimental music in the punk scene was the Screamers, so we were leaning that way, more than hardcore. We were more experimental.
Do you have any memories of that first show with Nervous Gender?
I have some memories, but I was pretty drunk when I played with Nervous Gender. We had a good time and it was all about the costumes and the performance and the songs. It always looked and sounded really amazing. I think the first show we played might have been at Lace. The second show we played was at Club 88 and then we played at Hong Kong Cafe a bunch. We played all over. I have to say, in Nervous Gender, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was on stage screaming. I wasn’t writing the songs and I wasn’t playing them a lot of the time. I was just singing them, so it was a totally different experience for me. The lyrics were totally misogynist and here I come from this big feminist background and now I’m in this band that is completely the opposite from anything I thought I would be a part of, but I was in a band.
Did you get into another band after that?
After that, I was in Catholic Discipline with Claude, Kickboy Face, from Slash magazine. He was the lead singer. Robert Lopez, who went on to play in the Zeros and is now El Vez, played the keyboards. Craig Lee, who wrote for the LA Weekly and was in the Bags, was the drummer, and Rick Brodey was the bass player. Catholic Discipline was different for me because I was playing electric guitar for the first time. Craig Lee had a Rickenbacker, which was an amazing guitar. I had never really played electric guitar before, so I was concentrating on playing. I wasn’t the front of the band, so that was completely different, and we wrote all of the music together. Claude wrote all of the lyrics, but the band made the music, so that was a different experience being the guitar player in the band.
How long were you in that band?
It was a year or two. I wasn’t in those bands for very long. It was going from being a friendly, community-driven scene to a real aggro, macho scene. Then I started playing solo in 1980.
Did you go back to playing the acoustic guitar?
Yes. That’s how I became Phranc, the All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger.
“It’s the do it yourself thing. If you don’t do it yourself, no one is going to do it for you and that is the punk rock principle that I find is still true today. Artists that are truly inspired aren’t going to wait around for somebody else to do it for them. They take the initiative to get up and say “I’m going to do it whether you like it or not. This is who I am and this is what I’m going to do.” That’s punk rock.”
When did you start writing your own music?
I was writing my own songs, but I wasn’t playing them. The song that really got me to go solo was “Take Off Your Swastika.” I wrote it on an acoustic guitar so you could hear the words. That was the big transition for me because I was still in the political arena of punk, but I chose to go acoustic so you could really hear the content. That’s also when I came out on stage and identified as a Jewish Lesbian. I wouldn’t have the identity that I have today if I hadn’t grown up in that feminist movement and had that strong foundation of knowing who I was. I came to punk rock with that. It wasn’t like I discovered who I was there. I evolved and I could take my personal experience and make it political. I could come out on stage and be who I was. I was able to sing about political issues and I sang about a lot of funny stuff too. My songs addressed current events in folk style, like a talking story. I was also singing about women like Martina Navratilova, or singing a song about the famous coroner, Noguchi. All of my music was reflective of what was going on around me. I always say punk is just fast folk music. Music can capture a political moment or a current event and keep it forever. It’s multigenerational and it can go through eons and tell the story forever. If you look at the Sex Pistols and you hear “God Save The Queen” and you look at that time period in England, that song is the perfect capsule of what was happening politically in the early punk days in London.
That’s true. Can you describe the punk rock philosophy as it relates to your life and how you see it in the LA scene?
The punk rock principle of DIY is still alive and well today in most artists that you see, especially in young punk rock and zine makers. If I had waited for somebody to make my first record, Folksinger, it probably would have never gotten made. I saved money from teaching swimming and lifeguarding, and I knew what I wanted to make. Craig Lee and Ethan James from Radio Tokyo Studios took me in there and I made my record with $1,200 that I had saved. I was fortunate that Gary Stewart from Rhino Records had been watching me play all these years at clubs and, when I had my record made, he said, “Oh, I think we’d like to put it out.” So they licensed it. I didn’t get a record deal until Island Records in 1989 when I Enjoy Being A Girl came out. Once again, I spent my own money, did my own packaging and made my own record and then shopped it around from label to label until someone put it out. It’s the do it yourself thing. If you don’t do it yourself, no one is going to do it for you and that is the punk rock principle that I find is still true today. Artists that are truly inspired aren’t going to wait around for somebody else to do it for them. They take the initiative to get up and say “I’m going to do it whether you like it or not. This is who I am and this is what I’m going to do.” That’s punk rock.
Yes. It is. How did you meet Alice Bag?
I met Alice because I would go see the Bags play and I was friends with Craig. I used to watch Alice sing and I was so in love with her. She’s awesome. It was exciting because of the women who were in the front of bands then, like Exene and Alice and Dianne from the Alley Cats and the early Go-Gos’ and The Eyes. It was exciting to go out. It’s still exciting to go out, if I can get out.
I love going to watch bands. The last band that I got to see recently was Mike Watt.
He’s something! You can’t get enough Mike Watt.
Mike Watt, Hellride, the Missingmen and the Minutemen. You don’t know what it’s going to be.
You don’t know what version it’s going to be, but he’s not going to have his shoes on and he’s going to play for two hours. It’s jaw-dropping every time to see Mike Watt play. He’s pure inspiration.
Yes. Okay. We talked about music and now I want to talk to you about surfing.
Everybody knows the music stuff, but they don’t know my surfing stories. We should have gone to Malibu. We could have gotten in the water. I have to give you one of these Goofyfoot posters. That’s Malibu First Point and it’s not Photoshopped.
You took your guitar out there?
Yes. It’s a thrift shop guitar and it did get wet. That was a 9’ 11” Greg Liddle and I am a goofyfoot.
I love it. Thank you.
Goofyfoot came out on Kill Rock Stars in ’95. I hooked into these younger riot grrrl bands and I wanted to make another record. In between, when I Enjoy Being A Girl came out and all my other albums, I was surfing. I learned to surf in Newport at the Pier when I was nine. My mom signed me up for Parks & Recreation surfing classes.
They drove you to Newport?
My grandparents lived in Newport, so I was in Newport in the summer. I did Red Cross swimming class and then I did Parks & Recreation surfing class at Newport Pier on these giant old Hobies. That’s how I learned to surf, and then shortboards came along. In ’86, I had Dean Edwards make me a 7’6” board at Natural Progression. I had it for two weeks before it was stolen. He made me that board when NP was on West Channel and he had a shaping room right across the way. I’d keep going and trying, but I was never good at shortboarding. Then I got a 9’6” and my life changed. I’d go out at Malibu and I got my sea legs again. Kimo, this guy that lived in the parking lot in his little red truck for the longest time, was really nice to me and gave me all these pointers. I kept surfing every day until I got good enough and I’ve been surfing ever since. Surfing is the best because, when you leave land, you leave all the shit behind. I was dealing with a bunch of shit. My brother had died and I was really depressed. One thing that made me feel better was going surfing.
It does something to the spirit.
It’s just you and the ocean and the waves.
The minute I leave land I’m good. Surfing has been a constant. It really ties me into the survival thing. It’s kept me alive and connected. My spiritual thing is with the ocean. The ocean has influenced everything since I was a little kid. I was 30 when I started longboarding again and now I’m 63, so it’s been the past 33 years.
Was there anyone in the surfing world that you looked up to?
When I was younger, I didn’t see many women surfing, but, when I was older, I sought them out. I always wanted to see Joyce Hoffman and Linda Benson. They were surfing when I was a kid and I hoped to meet them. I read the stuff about surfing women like Joyce Hoffman and Linda Benson and Jericho Poppler. Did you know Joyce Hoffman?
I’ve met her and I’m friends with Jericho. Joyce was from the ‘60s generation and Jericho was a younger firecracker grom.
I never got to meet her, but I watched the Calhoun family too and I love reading stories about them.
That’s really great. Okay, now I want to talk about your next art show.
I’m starting to work on new art right now, because I have a show in Boise, Idaho, a year from now. The other thing I’m working on is Phranc Talk, which is my multimedia memoir. I sing and tell stories and then you see all of these old pictures. I’m working on telling my story and singing and producing the whole thing, so it will be a one-woman theater show. There are clips of me from the Woman’s Building when I was super young and then you see me in the pictures of Nervous Gender. Then it’s my first concert and then you’ve got punk rock. It’s got the flyer that I drew for Club 88. The Phranc Talk show includes all of my records and there are photos of me and Morrissey with our shirts off.
How did you end up touring with Morrissey?
I first toured with the Smiths when my first record came out in 1985. I opened for the Smiths on their last tour and then I toured with Morrissey twice after the Smiths. The only way that I got any of those shows was because he called. My booking agent didn’t do anything. All of the great shows, where I got to open for people, were because the artists asked for me. It’s cool.
That’s the best. They liked you.
Yeah. It’s a great thing when artists support other artists. Then I did Hot August Phranc, which is me in drag doing a Neil Diamond tribute, at Grand Performances in downtown LA. El Vez (Robert Lopez, my old friend from Catholic Discipline, and The Zeros) was the other half of the show. We both performed as ourselves and then came back as our alter egos. After Robert and I did “I’ve Been Everywhere”, there was an intermission and I came back as Hot August Phranc and he came back as El Vez. We first did that in ’94. Goofyfoot came out in ’95 and Milkman came out in ’98. Then I was the All-American Jewish Lesbian Surfing Tupperware lady. I was the top-selling Tupperware lady in the country. I was on the Donny and Marie show selling Tupperware. I wrote this song called “Tupperware Lady” and I sang it on the Donny and Marie show.
You were on the Donny and Marie show?
Yeah. I was on with George Hamilton. It was really insane. Donny said, “Phranc was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Now check this out. Back in the ‘80s, she was a punk rocker, and she has five CDs out, but these days, she has become one of the nation’s highest-earning Tupperware sellers. Here she is, the Tupperware lady herself, Phranc!” I sang, “I’m your Tupperware Lady, yeah, you can buy it from me, it’s got a lifetime guarantee, against shipping and breaking, cracking and peeling, so if you’re feeling like you’re a square, get yourself some Tupperware from me.” Marie asked, “Did you always sell Tupperware?” I said, “No. I just started selling Tupperware and I love Tupperware because I believe it improves the quality of everybody’s life.” Donny says, “We’ve got some here. Tell us about Tupperware. I have these. Tell everybody what this thing does.” I said, “Well, this is perhaps our most versatile product and it’s called Rock N Serve. It’s made of the same material as the Space Shuttle, and it goes directly from the freezer to the microwave. All you do is you take it out of the freezer and lock the steam vent and place it in the microwave for reheating and it’s got these four little feet on the bottom so the microwaves can shoot underneath and cook evenly. The handles always stay cool.” Donny said, “Do you see what’s happening here? She is really a great sales person. Phranc, you’re still singing, so why did you decide to do this?” I said, “Well, over 20 years I have been performing all over the world and I have a great time, but I have a family now. I have a three-year-old daughter and a lovely partner and I like to stay home more. I don’t like being on the road all the time. With Tupperware, it’s flexible. I sell it whenever I want, and what’s the first thing that people do when you say Tupperware? They giggle and say, ‘I need some.’” Donny said, “That’s great.” It goes on and, as the show cut to commercial, Donny was singing, “I’m Your Tupperware Lady.” [Laughs]
Yes! Donny and Marie Osmond. I love it!
I was really good at selling Tupperware, but then people just thought of me as the Tupperware lady. People were like, “You’re the Tupperware lady.” I said, “Yes. I’m Phranc.” They were like, “You’re the Tupperware lady. I was at a Tupperware party with you.” Today, people still come up to me and say, “I was at one of your Tupperware parties.”
That’s incredible. I wanted to ask about the guitars that you like to play the most.
My guitar that I play is a Martin 00-18 from 1968. That’s the one I usually play and that’s the one I’ve had for many years. I’ve had it since I was 18 because my guitar that I bought at the pawnshop downtown with my grandfather was a Gibson J-50 and it was stolen when I lived in Venice when I was 17. My friend at the Woman’s Building said, “I have this guitar and since you play and your guitar got stolen, why don’t you just use it?” She brought me this Martin 00-18 and that’s the guitar that I play.
That’s really nice. Okay. Here’s a question. What is Club Scum?
Club Scum is the nightclub that Rudy Bleu and Hex-Ray have in Montebello. It’s a queer/POC club and it happens once a month. It’s the best music, performance and videos and it all takes place in this tiny bar on the last Friday of every month at Club Chico. It’s a men’s gay bar in Montebello. Rudy helped create that space and developed the club so that queer POC people would have a place to go. When I walked into that club, it felt so good. It was like walking into a great club in 1985. It had all the great vibes and everybody was dancing. At midnight, there’s always a live performance. That is really cool. Rudy was on the panel at the Vans Black Rainbows in Venice.
One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is the Vans Black Rainbows show.
The Vans Black Rainbows show was cool. They called me for that out of the blue and asked if I wanted to do it. They said, “We’re talking to Rudy, and Penelope Spheeris is going to moderate and Henry Rollins is going to do it.” I thought, “That’s cool they’re talking to Rudy because he’s an entirely different generation and he’s really active right now and he grew up in punk rock. That’s the way to make it really contemporary.” The panel spanned generations and races and having Drew there, who is trans, it covered more than the usual punk rock panel. That was exciting to me, so I called Rudy and said, “Are you going to do it?” He said, “I’ll do it if you do it.” I said, “If we all do it, it would be interesting because it would create a dialogue that we wouldn’t usually have.” That’s what I thought was really cool about it. I loved your installation too. I loved the Vans Black Rainbows pop up and I thought it was the coolest thing. I loved the way the whole room was designed. I just loved the whole thing. I grew up with Vans in Newport because Vans was the only place you could take your fabric and get your shoes made. All of the moms would wear these shifts in the ‘60s and they’d take their fabric and sew their shifts and they’d take their fabric to Vans so they could have matching shoes to go with their little sundresses.
They are still doing that today with the custom-made footwear.
Yeah. Now they have the online thing where you can make your own shoes. Back in the day, all the young moms had their dresses that they sewed and they had their matching Vans. This was before Vans was the big skate shoe.
It was a cultural thing. It was a skater thing and they had the mom thing too.
They should do a mom thing with Vans. It would just blow up. They should talk to me. That would blow up wouldn’t it?
“After I came back to LA, I didn’t know anybody here in bands, so I would go out to clubs by myself. I’d put on my little suit and tie and lean against the wall and try to look cool. I didn’t know a soul and I was a total geek. One night I was leaning up against the wall at an Avengers show and this guys walks up to me and says, “Do you want to be in a band?” I said, “Yes. I’m dying to be in a band!”
I bet it would. Penelope asked a question at the Vans Black Rainbows panel about how you spot a real punk rocker and you said, “You can see it in their eyes.” What’s your take on the punk rock look?
Well, everybody does their hair wacky now, even the ladies in Beverly Hills. Back in the day, Posers was the only place you could get Manic Panic to make your hair bright blue or bright pink. I had white hair. The punks were the only ones that were doing crazy colors in the hair and then it became so popular that everyone has colored hair now. Is that a punk look? What’s the difference? A Sharpie on a t-shirt, a safety-pin, some boots, a bandana, hair gel, studs, a leather jacket, combat boots, bondage pants – it’s all punk rock. We can talk about the mainstreaming of punk rock fashion. Are you a poser and just putting on bondage pants for the weekend or are you wearing them all the time? Is it a real safety pin or is your t-shirt ripped and the pins are holding it together? Are you being cool and creative or did you buy it already ripped and pinned together? Remember NaNa with the Creepers. You wore those didn’t you, Jeff?
You only wear Vans. You’re a purist.
Yes. The Vans Black Rainbows panel talk included the idea that you have to be angry to be a punk rocker. Are you angry and what makes you mad these days?
Yes. I’m angry. I’m still angry.
Are you? You don’t seem that way.
I don’t walk around angry, but there are things that make me angry and inspire me to create. When I look at the world, I feel helpless when I can’t change something, so I think, “What is the way I can change something or am I angry enough to do something about it?” I think about ways to use my anger creatively to direct attention to something, like kids in cages or the new concentration camps. Every time I sing “Take Off Your Swastika” it applies and I wrote that song over 30 years ago. So if I sing that song again, am I angry? Yes. Am I singing about the same shit? Yes. I’m singing about oppression and injustice. Does that stuff still make me angry? Yes. It does.
Good answer. What is the dividing line between being angry and using violence to affect change?
I don’t think violence affects change ever. I don’t believe in guns. My brother was a victim of gun violence, so I feel really strongly about that. I feel like anger and protest and visibility works. I don’t think violence is an effective tool at all.
I agree. Punk rock has always been about taking a stand against the mainstream.
Yes. I think it’s always been about the punk rock underdogs. The other thing that was interesting about the Vans Black Rainbows panel was that a lot of us that were there are older and we have the experience of living through it and we can share about it because we’ve been there. When I was young, the thing that attracted me to punk rock was that everybody was young like me, but the people that helped me a lot and were part of the feminist art movement when I was 17 were all older. What made me really feel and identify with punk rock was that they were angry and they were creative and I finally felt like I fit in. Now that I’m older, I’m still friends with most of the friends that I was friends with back then, and I think a lot of us still have the same spirit and motivation and inspiration. I identify with the ideal and it’s the same ideal it’s always been. I played a show with Alice Bag called Turn It Up about gender parity and focusing on women and gender in music. It was at the Echo and there was this young band called The Groans. They were all 19 or 20 and I loved them and identified with them and I’m a lot older than them, but it was that same energy, and that same smart, angry, political music. That is something that’s in your heart no matter how old you are. Seeing this young punk movement that still has that same core of anger and inspiration and dedication and political commitment, that’s all the same.
When you first started playing music in L.A., was it hard to find clubs to play?
Has it gotten any better over time?
No. Now there are no clubs to play on the Westside. There was Club 88 and the Music Machine and you had the Whisky, the Roxy and Gazzarri’s in town. You had Zero Zero. They’d rent places like Baces Hall and the Lithuanian Center on Melrose. Then there were a few clubs in Silver Lake. Now there is Silverlake Lounge, The Echo, and Echoplex. There’s McCabes, which is a guitar shop and I love playing there, but it’s not a club. There is Alex’s Bar in Long Beach and there are big places downtown like the Mayan Theater and the Regent. There is Plaza De La Raza once in a while. There’s Zebulon in Glendale. Those are about the only places to play now, but there wasn’t that many places to play back then either. It’s always hard to find clubs to play in. Back then there was the Hong Kong Cafe, Madame Wongs and Club 88. What did you think of the Vans Black Rainbows panel?
I thought it was very interesting and there was a lot of stuff that was said that I didn’t know. It touched on topics that I didn’t really think about like the subject of there being a separation of the LGBTQ community, as far as the punk scene goes. Was there anger in the punk scene between punks that weren’t LGBTQ against punks that were?
Well, there wasn’t a lot of us with queer visibility back then. I mean I was out and Nervous Gender was pretty queer and the Screamers were pretty queer, but as far as individuals and artists that were really out, there wasn’t a whole lot. There were the aggro bands like Fear that would spout homophobic shit just to get everybody angry. Other than that, there was that whole macho thing that fueled up. If you watch The Decline of Western Civilization, it starts out kind of mild mannered and ends up in an ugly kind of fury at the end. It’s an interesting documentary, and I didn’t see it for years. I was surprised when I watched it 30 years later. I was like, “Oh my god.” I didn’t remember until I saw it that it started out so mellow and ended up so crazy. It wasn’t rampant and there wasn’t a big homophobic anti-gay thing going on. Everybody co-mingled together pretty well. There were little scenes and nights and bands that maybe were homophobic, but most of the time, I think everybody was on pretty much the same page.
We talked about this a little bit but you said on the Vans Black Rainbows panel that the punk movement has always been fueled by youth, yet legacy punk rockers still have a big impact and voice. What progression do you see happening with the different generations of the punk rock community and musicians?
Well, it’s really good to have the interaction with Rudy and Drew and Ray at the Vans Black Rainbows panel and to be able to have a discussion about things and why we identify with punk and what things we have in common and what fuels us. It’s like why did Rudy create Club Scum? It was to have the space. If the space isn’t there, you make it. That’s punk rock. That’s do it yourself. It didn’t exist, so you create it. It’s interesting to have an intergenerational discussion like that panel so that you can share that experience. I did what I did because nobody was going to do it for me. I felt compelled and passionate about playing my “Take Off Your Swastika” song, so I decided I was going to play acoustic and that’s the way I went. Rudy says there was no place for queer people of color to hang out, so he created Club Scum so now we have a place to go where we can have community and share ideas and have fun and listen to music. I think most of it is about creating community. I mean look at the skate world. Look at the surf world. It’s all based on community. That’s where everything meshes together. It’s that feeling that you have when you’re with your people. It’s the feeling that you get when you go out to a club and you see your friends or when I go to the beach and I’m out in the line up with my friends or when your friends meet at a skate spot and just hang out and skate. There is this huge queer skate scene now with Jeffrey Cheung and it’s cool. It’s this feeling you get when you’re with your people and that’s called community. That’s what I had at the Woman’s Building and the Feminist Art Movement. I’m drawn to community. I’m a loner and I do a lot of stuff by myself. I like to create alone and I like being alone, but I love being with my community. Wasn’t it cool to be at the Vans Black Rainbows show?
“Look at the skate world. Look at the surf world. It’s all based on community. That’s where everything meshes together. It’s that feeling that you have when you’re with your people. It’s the feeling that you get when you go out to a club and you see your friends or when I go to the beach and I’m out in the line up with my friends or when your friends meet at a skate SPOT and just hang out and skate.”
Yes. It was really cool.
That’s what it was all about. It was sharing that skate and surf and music community. That’s why people come to see that stuff. They want a piece of it. They want to participate. They want to have that feeling. They want to be a part of it. Most people don’t go hunting for it. They go to work and come home. A lot of people don’t have community in their lives. They have community at their job, which is not a community. That’s work people. That’s like Happy Hour and that’s different. The people that came to see that Vans Black Rainbows panel want to be part of the community. Community goes across everything we talked about: art, music, surfing, and even Tupperware. When I went to Tupperware, it was such a trip.
That’s a community too.
Yes! It was a women’s community. When I started, it was just like it was in the ‘50s. I got in before everything went online. Everything was done by hand. It just got wrecked, the minute it went online. When I got in, it was old school and so cool.
Did you enjoy those Tupperware parties?
I loved it because I was doing a show in a living room. I was myself and I’d talk and I got to meet all of these people that I would have never met. They’re talking to me and I’m the Jewish Lesbian Folksinger. I’m introducing myself and I’d come out at the Tupperware party and I’d sing a song and they’d all laugh. If you get people to laugh, that’s the whole thing. When you introduce yourself as the All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger, people are going to laugh because, come on, who does that? So you just crack people up. The minute you get people to laugh, you crack them open. Then you can talk about anything and it seeps in. Tupperware was this great magical thing and I made a lot of money and I got three cars from Tupperware. If you sell enough, they give you a car, so I got my first new car ever from selling Tupperware.
What kind of car did they give you?
My first brand new car was a bright red Dodge Neon sedan. I never had a brand new car. I had only had old station-wagons. Then I got two Tupperware vans. Who would ever think I would drive a mini van? It’s great. It’s like driving a couch. I had two kids, so it was awesome. The kids loved it. It was so cool. It was the greatest job because you could do it whenever you wanted. It’s made for women to be independent individuals and create your own routine. I had a great time and made a lot of money. You had no idea we were going there today, did you?[Laughs]
I had no idea. [Laughs] I still have more questions about Vans Black Rainbows .
Ask me more. I loved it and I loved that I got some Jeff Ho Zephyr Vans shoes. I called Vans and asked if I could get two extra pair because I have these friends, two teenage boys, and they live in Nashville. Truman is your biggest fan. So I called Vans and said, “Can I get a pair in size 12 and 13? They found them and called and said, “Come and get them.” So I got them and mailed them to the kids for back to school and they went to school in their brand new Jeff Ho Zephyr Vans shoes and new Vans socks. It was so meaningful to them.
That’s so cool. I had no idea. I’m so happy that you got some.
Are there are any left?
There are some that say Zephyr on both sides and some that say Jeff Ho on one side and Zephyr on the other side.
They have those cool little ghosts on them too. I love them.
I’m so glad. Do you do any mentoring to younger musicians?
Yes. I love talking to people and people that are younger and, if I can be of any help or inspiration, I am certainly happy to. I was mentored by many wonderful artists, and I wouldn’t be here if people hadn’t helped me and shared with me. I feel like passing it on is an important part of the tradition.
What is your best advice for educating people or making people aware of issues that are important to you?
Find out what you love and follow it. Find people that do what you love and talk to them. If they’re willing to talk to you, there’s mentorship. If you find people that you really love and admire what they do, it’s great. There are so many artists that I love and that I’m finally meeting and I’m like, “Oh my god, I just want to hear what kind of paint they use or how they work and what they do.” It’s like you, when you first started shaping. Who were you looking at and what boards did you want to shape and how did you learn to do it? You gotta find shit that you love. Sometimes when you’re young, that’s what you need. You need to find that little bit of history and people that are interesting to you. It’s cool to be able to talk to somebody and have that connection. I’ve had the chance to meet some people for like five minutes and I’ve been like, “Wow. That person is cool.” It’s a real bummer when you finally meet someone you’ve always wanted to meet and they’re a real asshole to you. Most of the time, it’s not like that. Most of the time, it’s inspiring. You want to know if they’re still doing what they do and do they still love what they’re doing. That’s really inspiring, don’t you think?
Yes. It is. Okay. I want to go back to the Vans Black Rainbows panel discussion about the Black Flag show at Polliwog Park. That was a groundbreaking event and it made me think of this. Is it more effective to go to a place like a public park where the audience may have less awareness of punk rock than to remain exclusively in the punk rock community?
I think it’s always great to go out into uncharted territory. That was what I got to do when I was on the Smiths tour and the Morrissey tour. I got to travel all around the world and come out as myself on stage everywhere. When you tour and reach these communities and play some little club or some huge place, you’re out of your element. You’re in their element and there’s a great power in touring. That’s how you build everything with your band, even as a solo performer. You have to get out of your comfort zone and hit that stage every night and go out and carry your message. Staying home and playing the same clubs, it’s limiting. For the past 20 years, I’ve stayed at home because I was a parent. I’ve traveled, but not like I did before when I was a free spirit and could go on tours. Soon I will be doing that again and be able to travel and go. I’m going to take Phranc Talk into theaters and small clubs and colleges and schools. I think there are a lot of places it can go because it talks about art and music and punk rock and individuality and creativity.
Nice. Are there any musicians that you want to give respect to or that you have modeled yourself after?
One of my big influences is Alix Dobkin. She was a Jewish Lesbian folksinger that I saw perform when I was 17 and I was like, “That’s what I want to do.” I saw her and then I saw Patti Smith and then I saw Alice Bag. There were peers around me and people that were icons performing that I listen to like David Bowie and Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith.
Let’s talk about making money to survive as a musician. It seems like you have to play a lot of shows to see financial gain now. Is that the case for you and your peers in punk rock and folk music?
It’s work. If this is your job and this is what you do full time, then it’s your job. To sustain yourself, you have to figure out how to make money doing it, and it can be really difficult to do. I remember when everyone was having the conversation like, “Oh, that person sold out. They’re on a major label and they’re playing all these big shows now and they’re rich.” I’m like, “Uh, a few people got rich, maybe, but not most.” I got to perform on a few big stages and I didn’t make that much money. I made more money than a lot of people and I got a record deal, so I had income, but I think that’s possible for everybody if you persevere. I think that anyone that is totally dedicated can make a living doing it. You might not make a ton of money, but you can survive. If you believe in what you’re doing and you keep doing it, I think you will be successful. You have to keep doing it though. You can’t just stop and then do it a little bit and say, “It’s not working. I’m done. I’m not making any money, so I’m just going to quit.” If it’s what you love doing, then you’re going to do it, no matter what. I’ve bagged groceries at Ralphs. I’ve sold shoes. I’ve sold Tupperware. I’ve done all this stuff so I can do what I do. Sometimes I sell artwork and I’m doing great. You get those windows where you get the big job and you get some money and you do great. I’ve had big jobs and I’ve had no jobs. There are very few people that have one job that stays steady forever. Everyone goes through ups and downs. My experience is that I’ve done well and I’ve struggled and then I’ve done well and then I’ve struggled. Right now, I’m doing good and I’m very grateful.
You’re working on a book, so let’s talk about the written word. Do you believe printed content still makes an impact?
I think that printed works and reading is still super super important. I put a little library in my house, so I can go into a room and it’s only books and I’m very excited about that. To be able to listen to records and read books, it’s heaven. It’s very cool. There’s this new upsurge in zine making now, which I think is exciting because it’s handmade and it’s telling stories. It’s art, cartoons and the written word. I went to a zine fest in Culver City this year and it was very cool. Written stuff is great. I just bought the Beastie Boys book. They beat me to the punch. That’s exactly what I’m doing. The book that goes with Phranc Talk is a big fat volume that has the artwork and my art catalog and stories and interviews with people and personal anecdotes and photographs and it’s live performance and music. Phranc Talk is like the Beastie Boys show.
Did you go to the Beastie Boys show?
I wish that I had. I found out too late. It was directed by Spike Jonze, so it didn’t happen by accident. That was a directed show. That’s what Phranc Talk is. What I love is that the Beastie Boys are telling the story because they are missing a member. It’s really great that they can tell his story and tell their story and be a little sentimental. I think that opened the window for them to be able to share at that level. I already had Phranc Talk lined up and done, but they got there first. That’s okay. It shows that it’s a viable format. It’s a great story-telling format and it can only be improved upon. I feel like having a book is important because it stays with you. You can go through it and it’s fun to look at the pictures and read the stories.
Nice. What is the message that you’d like to share with everyone?
Find what you love and do it. Don’t let anybody stand in your way. That’s punk rock.
This was amazing.
Thank you, Phranc. You’re great. Thank you for doing this interview for Juice.
Thank you. I’m honored.
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