Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano (Part 2) On Social Media & Peter Criss
Today Rocks Off continues our discussion with Concrete Blonde's bassist/lead vocalist Johnette Napolitano. Part One of our interview can be found here.
The band will perform at Fitzgerald's this Sunday, October 30, with Girl In a Coma.
RO: In talking about cultural differences between America and many other places I'm always struck by how immediate we are. You're talking about these Chinese people singing songs that have been passed down for generations, and I can only think how we're going to be be singing commercial jingles when we're old people because that's where we're headed.
JN: In fact we are, it'll never be the same again. When you look at all that stuff in China and you look at things like that and you hear the songs like that, the old people doing it: they didn't have TV, they didn't have shit like that. My power failed last night. I have this whole checklist of things to do and my power failed. I have an oil lamp, I have an acoustic piano, I have an acoustic guitar, you know? And half of me goes, all right! It's party time.
RO: But how can you watch Jersey Shore if the power's off?
JN: [Laughs] Well, exactly. But it's astounding how many people really don't have that. They're totally helpless and don't know what the fuck to do. I lived in Mexico quite a while, and very few people that I know in my life are capable of coming down and knowing how to live with a water tank, and knowing how to live without electricity. Very few people know how to do that, and that's how all the groovy stuff happens, basically.
RO: In previous interviews, you've always talked about the importance of art and of artist's contributing to political dialogue, and I was wondering if that perception had changed for you in today's -- how should I put it -- unpleasant political climate?
JN: Well, when is it pleasant?
RO: It just seems more adversarial. Like it's been magnified, I guess.
JN: I'd say "polarized." And it's actually been there for a while, it's just that it's really on the table now, you know? It's just, in your face. I think, and I still maintain and I always have, that as a citizen you have the right to your opinion, and that's what's supposed to be so groovy about this country is that you're supposed to be able to say what you think, and sometimes that's a good thing sometimes it gets you into trouble even though there's supposed to be free speech.
Yeah, it's nasty, whatever. I was thinking of volunteering at the polls this time, just to make sure, because especially out here it's like, it's the Wild West [laughs]. And this election's gonna be real Wild West, so I kinda thought that would be an interesting thing to do. Hi, neighbor! And out here, you can check in online or whatever, but the old people, they don't want to know about this computer shit, they have their newspaper in their hand, they want their paper ballot and they want it now, you know? I think that would just be a really great day. And you get paid! [laughs]
RO: Your presence is spread out quite a bit online: you've got your MySpace page, you have your own home page, the band obviously has its own home page, but you've been very selective in parceling out information about yourself...
JN: We're terrible. But there's something to be said about dignity, and we don't seem to have any and that's kind of a shame, because I kind of admire certain cultures for that. Generally, it's the people that have the less of anything that have the most dignity. I think like, the talk shows, the Jerry Springers and the Oprahs, started the whole 'get your whole family on TV and air your dirty laundry for $200 - and a hotel room." And it's been downhill from there.
I'm very wary about all that stuff, you know. I don't want the tail to wag the dog, but I think it's all really fucking great. I love Twitter, and one of the reasons I like Twitter is, I'm out, walking around by myself and all that, it's a really good thing for a single woman if you're by yourself to let people know where the fuck you are. I think that's a great thing. But for us it's really valuable, a very useful thing. And now that you can synch up Twitter, you can synch up MySpace...when I first got into the MySpace thing I'm like, spending two hours a day on this social media bullshit and I'm so burned out from being in front of the screen and typing, that I just wasn't' writing anything. I get up early and I'd walk away at 9 from the computer and I wouldn't want to sit down and write at all. I was all blown out, my words were gone from blogging and shit. So I kind of reined a lot of that stuff in, but now that you can synch it up we can try and get it working a lot better.
And there's a lot of fansites, and I've been really bad about that because: #1, I really appreciate when somebody likes us that much but #2, it's just like, you're so co-opting my identity and I've had to be really hard ass about a couple of them, and tell them, 'you really can't represent yourself as me, you've got to not to do that.' So, you know, that's been annoying because people don't know it's not you. I think there's two 'me's on Twitter, I know there's a couple copy blogs on MySpace. I want to work with people, not shut them down but you can't go out saying that you're me, it's not cool. So whatever, it has its own set of problems, but you're talking to a huge fan. I couldn't live where I live if it wasn't for the internet and technology and the fact I can send files and music and all that sort of stuff. It's awesome.
RO: But it does have that double-edged quality. You are, I think, much more of a private person online than many musicians or artists, and that mindset has shifted in less than a generation.
JN: I was just gonna say, because I'm old enough to know, Senator, that it will bite you on the ass if you send a picture of your penis on the internet. You're talking about a lot of younger people that aren't aware of how it works, really. They're just too young to understand that you don't want to be doing, that this person on the net might not be who they say they are, and that is not necessarily a photo of them. I mean, even with reality shows, there's a very fine line with reality, if indeed there is any at all with that in this point in time, I don't think they're aware of the damage yet.
I mean, just now, who just hacked everybody's cell phones?
RO: Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp.
JN: It just gives people stuff to think about. I mean, everybody knows where you are every minute of every day if you have a cell phone, that's just the way it is. So it's kind of like 'forget privacy' at all, everybody's reading everything on the internet, you just basically don't have any, it's just not there. So the sooner you just accept that fact, live your life, do whatever.
[brief intermission where we discuss options for monitoring Rocks Off's children]
RO: My teenagers are going to read this someday and go, 'You did what?'
JN: [Laughs] My father would have [monitored my every move], if we'd had it then.
RO: In addition to the music, and I read at some point you were getting into sewing and dancing.
JN: Yeah, very much, yeah.
RO: And your book, Rough Mix was realeased earlier this year on Amazon and on your web site. Do you have any plans to follow that up?
JN: I do, and I liked that format so much, it suited me so well. But that's the way it is, drawing a bit, sewing a bit, I got my tattoo license now so I'm doing that. I just feel life getting shorter and there's so many cool things to do that I have to calm myself down sometimes because I'll overcommit myself and then I'll start getting frustrated if I don't do what I said I was gonna do or whatever, so I have to really rein myself in a lot. During down time I'll start all these projects and then I won't have enough time to finish them or they'll all gang up on me at the same time.
One of the things my dad tried to get me to do was slow down with things, and he was right. And since he's passed away, it's interesting, I've gotten into the stuff that I was really into when my dad knew me, like when I was 9 and 10 years old. Basically before you could drive [laughs]. All I was doing was in my room drawing and sewing, you know? That was it, and that's who my dad knew. He didn't know the rock star person, that totally was a foreign concept to him. He had no idea who that was or what that was about, even though he bought me my first guitar when I was 9. So it's just kind of like been this whole returning to what was it before any influence before anything else? What was it when you were a little kid and you got up and the first thing you wanted to do? And I find very much those are the same things.
RO: Your earliest passions, as it were.
JN: It isn't music all the time, you know? But the balance now; the history we have, the catalog we have, the musicianship that you only get when you play all your life, the musicianship is just the best its ever been in this band, in any incarnation of it. Now it's fun for us, you know? We're gonna get an RV, we're gonna shoot a lot of footage, come back, get out lighting guy who's one of our favorite guys to work with, when we can afford him, it's gonna be a particularly nice stage for Texas, for Halloween, it's gonna be really fun, and that's what it oughta be.
And we've always been lean as far as the way we do things, you know? We're a three-piece band, we've always been pretty tight with the way we do things. We came out of that punk/DIY thing, you know, in L.A. in the 80s so whatever fluctuations happen in the industry, frankly, do nothing but help us. Yeah, we'll do a single and we'll make money from the vinyl single on the road, which is great, because we need that. And then the single, whatever, it'll make its way onto the internet and people can download it, and the people who want real records can have real records. Afterwards we'll go to CD Baby where we sell some stuff and we like working with them, you know. It's really great, because it used to be: you're at this one company and you have this one record and you're hanging everything on it but it's not coming out for a year, by then you want to do something else entirely and you gotta wait for everything to catch up, you know. It's not really a natural rhythm as far as art goes, in my mind.
So this is a great time for us. We're happy.
RO: Last question: can you give us an idea what to expect on these dates? Are you going over your entire catalog? Are we going to be hearing some new stuff?
JN: Well, we don't want to do the same reunion set that we did a couple summer ago, that's for sure. We're gonna play stuff that'll make people happy, but we've got quite a few new things now that we want to start playing what we didn't do on that tour. We changed up the set a bit since then, so you'll hear stuff that'll make you happy, but you'll hear new stuff too that stands up. It's a rather seamless set and...we haven't decided on Halloween costumes yet. But there have to be different ones for the three different cities, that's the only thing I insisted on. So that's kind of a priority right now [laughs].
RO: Something else to add to your checklist.
JN: Yeah, absolutely. Because you can't do the same thing in every city, it'll ruin the surprises. We have to be conscientious. KISS has been ruled out already, because the guys just don't want to do it.
RO: Well, there's only three of you.
JN: That's neither here nor there [laughs].
RO: You really only need Paul and Gene and Ace.
JN: Peter Criss! I like Peter Criss.
JN: Well, you have to have Gene.
RO: I guess you could skip Paul. The star thing is kind of...meh.
JN: I do prefer Peter Criss. And he sings "Beth." That's such a cute song.
Concrete Blonde plays with Girl In a Coma 7 p.m. Sunday at Fitzgerald's. Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview.
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