In a career that has run over 30 years that covers music, spoken words, literature, acting and photography, Lydia Lunch has explored the dark side of human nature in various forms and also in different takes. Sure her work at times aint pretty, but in the dark nature of humanity there is also a lot of beauty, and no one does it better than Lydia. Her no wave meets cock rock band Big Sexy Noise which formed in 2009, is possibly her best work yet. Lydia also has a retrospective group Retrovirus playing songs from her back catalogue she never got to play back in the day.
Lydia: Im in Brooklyn, yeah the day is great, the night will be better though. Thanks for getting up so early (For the record it was 8AM Melbourne time)
Munster: I don/t sleep much so its no big deal to be up early.
Lydia: Hello, me too buddy alright great, we/re on the same page with that.
Munster: Retrovirus is your latest project how did that come bout and why did you want to do a career retrospect?
Lydia: well I had written an introduction for somebodys book on t shirts, and I never wear t shirts. The fashion institute of LA wanted to do a show event and I needed to put together a band, and since this was a retrospective of t shirts I thought I would put together a retrospective group. So I contracted Bob Bert whose one of my oldest and dearest friends, who has been in Sonic Youth Pussy Galore and Chrome Cranks. And then Weasel Walter volunteered for guitarist. So off we went then Tim Dahl came onbaord. And we/ve been doing it ever since. Whats interesting to me is that ive done so much music that people ave never heard because a lot of times I would record an LP and never got the chance to tour it. So its interesting bringing new life to the material and making it coherent somehow, and a reflection of my personal dystopia a guess.
Munster: these records you recorded but never got the chance to tour, did you just not get the chance to tour back in those days, were you ever offered to play ATP with any of these LPs?
Lydia: ive released everything ive ever recorded but I just never got the chance to tour. First I can see the concept and when I was doing records in the 70s and early 80s there just wasn/t the chance to tour it, and some of the stuff maybe wasn/t meant to be played live, booking agencies and all this nonsense and i was focusing on spoken word at the time. Some of the material hasn/t even been played live, so it made it interesting to me. And since i ave a wealth of material I can always change what we/re doing. And it brings a different vibe to it all because of the musicians. Its hard to find a guitar player but Weasel volunteered and he could go between a Robert Quine and Rowland S Howard. I mean thats a big call doing these songs. I wasn/t sure we could pull it off but Weasel can do it.
Munster: whats it like playing these songs years even decades after they were written?
Lydia: well whats interesting to me is how much about physical pain and emotional dilemma I mean there is a theme running though this work like there is with most people. But the most exciting thing is songs with a more violent edge. Theres more freedom now and you/re just going by instinct the first twenty years and it just goes from there.
Munster: One of your more recent projects Big Sexy Noise I really enjoyed, how did that come about?
Lydia: I loved Big Sexy Noise too and we/re doing some shows and id love to bring it to Australia. I was doing performances with Kerry Edwards and d Ian White, and Ian White and I were standing at a poetry festival and Ian said we need to start a rock band and I said yeah something Big and Sexy and Noisy and so we went from there. There great footage of us at Bootfest of us online. I wanted to do something that was outlandishly rock kind of mama, and some of the words, which was very exciting to me , which were piss takes of the usual, because its very cock rock, but crack the cock rock (Munster chuckles). Titles like Mother man coming while the bed is still warm and Your Love Don’t pay my Fucking Rent.
Munster: are you a fan noise rock?
Lydia: im not really interested in doing noise rock I consider what I do no wave.
Munster: when I spoke with James Chance I asked him about No wave and he said he was just doing what he was doing and didn/t consider what he was doing revolutionary, whats your take on the birth of No Wave?
Lydia: well the thing about no wave was that every group sounded completely different and it was abolishing the tradition of what inspired us. A lot of no wave came from New York and it was based on personal torcher and personal insanity so the most interesting thing bout it was how diverse it was. Of course you never set out to start a movement when you/re doing something but its a movement in retrospect. A bunch of bands that were unknown where lumped together as they were the most extreme of the genre
Munster: what was James Chance like when you played with him in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks?
Lydia: well James took me in, I was a run away on the lamb and at one point he took me in. He wanted me to do spoken word in New York but there was no vehicle to do it, after seeing the band Mars which is one of my favourite no wave bands I decided to start a band which was mostly instrumental; despite the fact I was doing spoken word. James was running hot while I was doing something cold specific brutal. It was early on I decided he needed to start his own band and shortly after that he started the Contortions. He liked to mingle with the audience, I liked to set up a divide, it was brutal and violent. That lasted ten or fifteen minutes a set and thats all that was needed.
Munster: Do you ave any memories playing with Rowland at the Greyhound?
Lydia: well we did a few tours so I ave no specific memories. We did a few tours of Europe and an Australian tour, it was always a pleasure to work with him. He was so good natured funny and romantic and sweet, just a fantastic musician and human. Every note so perfectly placed. And also working with his brother Harry, that was fantastic every note he uttered forth was immaculate. He had a great scenes of humour we had a great time. Hes very underrated and probably still is but we know how special he was.
Munster: Do you feel hes become more famous and well know since he passed away?
Lydia: that doesn/t always happen in death and if it takes death to happened whatever. But it doesn/t always play itself that way. It takes a long time for people to catch on to anything thats good unless you do the same thing over and over. He has such a great discography but he wasn/t the forefront even though he was an important part of those bands, especially the Birthday Party, everybody wants to know what the singers doing. Whatever (both laugh). Snide. (Munster Chuckles). I love it when you chuckle. Keep chuckling my friend.
Munster: for you my friend anything. We/ve discussed music and spoken word, but you also write and done a bit of acting and also a photographer, is there a medium that you prefer doing your message across?
Lydia: I think its down to spoken word and photography. Music is a machine gun to the form of my words. At the time there was no forum for spoken word at the time, so I curated a lot of shows, and the places we booked we would do it for the first, and sometimes last time at that venue. I think the word is the most important thing, no matter what form it takes, whether its the title of a photo or the lyrics to the song, its all down to what the point is.
Munster: In your book Will Work for Drugs you had a great interview with Hubert Selby Jr and you also did shows with him, for me he was the greatest writer and any of his novels could be the greatest ever, what did you learn from his work? .
Lydia: well there are a few things, his stamina. At 15 he was in the marines and he almost died, his first book took seven years to write, he had to write it twice. He had four of the best novels in the history of American literature when I met him and went on tour with him in the 80s he was working as an accountant at a university or something ridiculous like that. In death hes found fame and fortune at least. His books are bout true experiences thats happened in the depts. of psychotic Brooklyn from the 60s and 70s. Requiem for a Dream is one of the best books and films. It breaks down of emotion, its really a nervous wreck of a book and movie. He just, he told me at one point it took him fifteen years to write one book because there was like a ghost in a hallway that wouldn/t let him do it. So I think the fact the work was so important to him even if he had to write the book in seven years he was dealing with real human emotion and confronting that in a fictional way that was based on reality. Was really privilege to know him.
Munster: he was one of those writers, and I hate it when people say forget everything you know, but he was that guy that made me realize yes I should forget everything you know and do whatever you want.
Lydia: Henry Miller as well. Which is why I love a lot of his books, he could make a run on sentence run for two pages. Literature has always been the most important thing for me and inspires me, and words are the most important thing.
Munster: do you ave any new books coming out soon?
Lydia: I ave a book of essays thats getting released this year which is ten spans, not political more history and creative, im excited to ave it out, its important during these times. Thats whats next. Im always doing spoken word shows, im doing shows with Weasel Walter as Brutal Measures with his improve drumming, we/re hoping to squeeze a show in Australia.
Munster: would you say all your work is autobiographical?
Lydia: I think ive written three fiction pieces in my life so its based on my reality and finding a way to survive knowing other people feel the same or had similar experiences. Im dealing with political, dealing with the expression of the enemy against there bullshit and trying to find, using statistics, not that any number is ever fucking true because who knows where the numbers are coming from but trying to target verbally the way they target us with all kinds of ammo. So its all very personal.
Munster: Do you ave a favourite Fall LP?
Lydia: No I don/t. I liked Mark E Smith but they had one album that went for thirty years didn/t they?
Munster: well not really I disagree.
Lydia: I begged Mark to do spoken word with me for ten years and when he did he was so drunk it was a disaster I was quite disappointed. They were deconstructionists, I liked the lyrics when I could hear them, they were their own genre and I respected them for that.
Munster: what year the spoken word gig?
Lydia: early 90s.
Munster: and in closing whats your favourite brand of fags?
Lydia: (pauses and laughs) well whatever is on sale at duty free I guess. I know there expensive in Australia so I won/t be buying any there thank you very much.
Munster: stock up at the airport
Lydia: I will, I don/t like to promote my vices otherwise this interview would take another page.
Munster: (chuckles) Lydia thanks for…..
Lydia: theres that chuckle again im counting on you Matt for this to be a chuckle filled interview.
Munster: I promise you it will. Lydia thanks for your time.
Lydia: Thanks Matt, go back to bed.
Lydia Lunch Retrovirus tours Oz in June
Wend 13 June: The Tote https://thetotehotel.oztix.com.au/?Event=86939
THURS. 14 JUNE: THE TOTE, MELB..: https://thetotehotel.oztix.com.au/?Event=85538
FRI. 15 JUNE: GoMA UP LATE, BRIS.: https://qagoma.qtix.com.au/EventSeatBlockPrices.aspx
SAT. 16 JUNE: DARK MOFO, HOBART: https://darkmofo.net.au
SUN. 17 JUNE: OXFORD ART FACTORY, SYD.: http://www.moshtix.com.au/v2/event/lydia-lunch-retrovirus/102983