Anyone wanting to interview Lydia Lunch needs to have prepared themselves well.
Not only having learned about Lunch's extensive, eclectic and intense career as musician, performer and writer, it helps to have informed yourself about modern feminism; the state of politics in any given country at any given time; the military-industrial complex; the foibles and weaknesses of men; the Beat movement and how it robbed Herbert Huncke of recognition; how Rowland S. Howard was one of the great guitarists and artists of our time; how agonising over the creation of art is avoiding doing the work - in short, come with a palette of conversation, and be prepared to answer a few questions about yourself too.
The American singer, poet, writer and actress is back in Australia with her band Retrovirus in what's described as a 'no holds-barred survey of her musical output from 1977 to the present.'
Lunch says it's the last time she's touring Retrovirus in Australia before she 'returns them to the dust from whence they came.'
'Including music from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy, Queen of Siam, 1313 and Shotgun Wedding, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus marries No Wave, Skronk, Hard Rock and Psych Jazz to create a dynamic live performance which is dangerous, infectious and aggressively sexy,' her latest press release warns.
Having collaborated with musicians such as Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard, Sonic Youth, Einsturzende Neubauten and James Chance, Lydia Lunch has spent decades trolling through the subterranean sick-home black and blues creating a schizophrenic musical legacy which loops from shrill No Wave to bludgeoning Hard Rock, from smoky jazz noir and illustrated word to macabre psychedelia.
With Retrovirus, their task is more monumental. Usually my music is: 'Here we have a concept; the concept is this, it sounds like this.' They have to tackle the multiplicity of my musical concepts and make it coherent. So there we have the Masters, the Sonic Seducers of rock. I'm so thrilled to stand in front of them.Lydia Lunch
I spoke to Lydia Lunch on the phone from New York City, a city she loves, loathes and understands better than almost any other person I know.
We began the conversation talking about the late Rowland S. Howard, the Australian musician and guitarist who Lunch had worked with on the EPs Some Velvet Morning and Shotgun Wedding. Lydia Lunch will be performing in the Pop Crimes tribute shows to Howard later this month overseas.
He was one of the best guitarists on the planet. I would say top one, thank you very much. He was just lovely to be around; just such a pleasure and joy to work with. I loved all the music we did, and all the touring, especially when Harry (Howard, Rowland's brother) was involved. He was like a saint, in a sense. He was ethereal, from another world. He loved women, absolutely loved them.
Retrovirus is an incredibly intense experience, and much of it is down to the relationship between yourself and Weasel Walter. How did you meet?
Weasel Walter been studying what I do for quite a long time. He is a master archivist of No Wave. And I had seen him perform in other vehicles before, mainly on drums. He volunteered; and then once he volunteered and was in Retrovirus, he brought in bass player Tim Dahl, which made a lot more sense.
What's interesting is Tim Dahl wasn't really familiar with my music, but he brings something else, such intensity to it, it's like he didn't need to be familiar with my previous work, because when we met, we clicked so immediately that actually he understood my philosophy. He kind of understood my soul and brought that to the music.
That he wasn't familiar with my history previously wasn't important. What was important is he could bring who-I-am-here-and-now and and translate it into a musical dynamic. So thank you Weasel for bringing him in. It's one of my longest running - what am I going to call it? Longest running projects, because first of all, we can change the music.
Bob Bert is one of my playing partners. I've known Bob (first drummer for Sonic Youth) for 35 years, he's seen more of my shows than any man alive, the poor guy. To me it's the perfect brew of voodoo drumming; of Tim Dahl and his incredible deep-throttling bass mastery; and then Weasel Walter, the only man capable of crossing the guitar lines between Rowland S. Howard, Robert Quine, myself and whoever else has collaborated on the journey with me. I mean, there is there would be no Retrovirus without these three individuals.
It's interesting that we come back to that kind of synthesis that you felt with Rowland, that you have it again here in this band.
What's interesting is I have that synthesis whenever I decide to collaborate. I had it with Big Sexy Noise as well, with James Johnson and Ian White (of Gallon Drunk). We did a lot of great songs, and we toured for quite a while; unfortunately we never came to Australia.The concepts always come before the collaborators; the concept dictates the collaborators.
I've been very lucky with everybody I've worked with, but with Retrovirus, their task is more monumental. Usually my music is: 'Here we have a concept; the concept is this, it sounds like this.' They have to tackle the multiplicity of my musical concepts and make it coherent. So there we have the Masters, the Sonic Seducers of rock. I'm so thrilled to stand in front of them.
I read somewhere you were a huge fan of (writers and counterculture icons) Hubert Selby and Herbert Huncke, but not such a great fan of the 'Beats', of Kerouac and Ginsberg.
You're exactly right - because Huncke was the originator. Like most originators he gets overlooked as the impersonators step in to, you know, to steal the throne from them.
Tell me a bit about tell me a bit about Herbert Huncke because I haven't read nearly enough and I know that you have consumed his entire oeuvre.
He didn't have a lot. It was Diane di Prima, a female beat, who actually published his book Guilty of Everything. The thing about Huncke is, he was a scoundrel. He ran away at 11; he was a criminal in and out of prison; took junk; gave (William S) Burroughs his first shot of heroin; was tricking in Times Square, shooting up with Dexter Gordon and Billie Holiday; brought Burroughs and (Alan) Ginsberg into the Kinsey Report, which was understanding American sexuality at the time.
So that brings us up to Tim Dahl, the bass player of Retrovirus, his band Grid, which is a three-piece improvisational, out, alt jazz group. I did a track with them where I'm reading a conversation that Huncke's having, and he's talking about 'how they would have never been interested in me if I wasn't part of the underground.'
I'm going to let you go because you've got another interview.
Well, maybe wait one second now. Hang on, just hang on. Hang on one minute here. Don't prematurely ejaculate here. I do only have a few minutes. But have we left anything out? Reduce me to one sentence if you need to, but make sure you read my piece on Huncke.
It's a really beautiful piece of writing, if I can say that with any modesty. I mean, you know, I can write beautifully occasionally - and especially to my dead heroes. I'll send you the track with Grid.
Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, with Weasel Walter (guitar), Tim Dahl (bass) and Bob Bert (drums) play the Corner Hotel in Richmond with No Sister and The Frees on Friday February 28. The same lineup comes to the Theatre Royal Castlemaine, Saturday February 29. Tickets available through the venues or Oztix.