The last time we talked to Lydia Lunch, we were convinced that she didn't like us very much. This time, we're still not totally sure, but at least we're confident that she's just as kickass and on fire as she ever was. Thank god some things never change.
A notorious iconoclast and legendary no-wave pioneer, Lunch is back living in New York City again after a multi-year stint in Europe, and she's working with a new generation of punks on Venus Flytrap, a digital short in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap and The Mighty Boosh that challenges the record industry's patriarchy and aims to provide a "queer-centric experience" for viewers. "Why are the women always groupies, roadies, singing girl-group femmes, or facilitators to the guys?" the show asks.
We met with Lunch in the East Village and pretty much just let her talk, because that's what you do when you're talking to Lydia Lunch.
Noisey: What brings you here?
Lydia Lunch: You! You brought me here. Well I'm here talking about Venus Flytrap, Adele Bertei's project incorporating all kinds of women from the underground into a series that she wants to do that will be like the female Spinal Tap which has not been done, and I think it's pretty exciting. So that's one of the reasons I'm here right now, at this point. I've known Adele since '77 and I know a lot of the women that have agreed to partake in this, and I think it's just time for something like this. Basically it's just older women schooling younger women about the music industry which, we all know, sucks.
Ridiculous is a great word for it.
I've always considered myself a writer first and foremost so I mean I do music, but I do a lot of other things too. I've never been a part of the music industry. I've always had my own label, released my own stuff, I don't even bother half the time now… I only release stuff for the merchandise table and download, get what you want, because I just don't play that fucking game.
The streaming game?
I would rather give my shit away for free than to deal with the record company that… I mean nobody's interested anyway, so you know I work with Italian and Spanish labels who just print a limited amount of copies for a limited amount of money and whoever wants it can get it and then the rest is downloaded on Bandcamp, that's the way to go. I didn't start doing what I do because I thought I was going to make money from music.
So what then do you do for money?
Spoken word mostly, juggle, write articles, write books, curate shows, art shows, anything but music! But music tours are successful in Europe, I usually tour Europe twice a year. I mean mostly I've been performing in Europe for most of my career.
You prefer Europe, right?
Well for what? I mean I prefer to tour in Europe because you can. You can tour, I can't do a major tour [in America]. I mean A) it's just too big and it's just too difficult. For example, I'm doing a tour with Retrovirus in July, but it's just like from here, Boston, Rochester, Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, you know this circle, which is how we do it. We go to Europe and do 20-30 shows, but here it's just a stretch to get 14 in a row. So I do various other things.
Do you still live in Spain?
No, I lived in Spain for almost a decade and then I was nomadic for the last four years, and now I just settled in Park Slope accidentally for a short time, we'll see how long that lasts, but I mean I don't consider myself bound to anyone or any place. I've lived in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Los Angeles twice, San Francisco, London, Barcelona. I didn't necessarily want to come back and settle here but then again there are people who I want to work with, and it's convenient if I want to go any place else and also I do thrive on what I think sucks.
What do you mean by that?
This country. Yeah. The stupidity that's happening right now. It's a vulgar time, so it's good for me to be here right now. I'm enjoying it. I left New York in 1980 for four years and I came back in 1984 and then I left in 1990 for good because there are other places to live as well this is not the center of the fucking universe. There's great people and great things to do everywhere and that's what I think New York really brainwashes people like they have to come here. And it's almost impossible to even survive here.
It's so difficult.
For the amount of money it costs to live here the services are really fucking terrible. Subway sucks, streets suck, it just doesn't work good, it just doesn't work that well.
How long do you think you'll last here?
Who fucking knows. I don't think that far ahead.
How did you get involved in Venus Flytrap?
I was driving with Adele in LA, and she started talking about it and I just started laughing, so I was like "Count me in!" So that's pretty much it. I mean I have known her since '77, we've done other projects together we've done other music together, we've been in films together in the late 70s, and she's just someone who I've been in contact with and I respect her because she's like I am. We both do so many different kinds of things, and we're stubborn and we're independent and I just think a series like this needs to be done. No biggie, seems natural. We need it! One for the ladies
Why are you comparing it to Spinal Tap?
I think it's a good comparison, or really The Mighty Boosh which I really like which was a British series and had really good music. I love the music in that show, and there's a lot of female comedians coming up now but there's no real comedic thing with this kind of an edge and this kind of people involved as well. I mean that she's been able to wrangle in all these gals is great.
I feel like the closest thing is Broad City.
Well we need to make a few points about the ridiculous and outdated music industry and also just about people's hopes and visions like most of the people that are involved in this, the older gals, we did what we did because if we didn't, our blood would boil over. I have to do what I do, and if your blood doesn't boil don't get in a fucking band, don't become a fucking artist, go into medicine. I tell young musicians, don't do it! It's a fucking hobby, everybody should have a creative outlet but you know what, we need more architects, we need more doctors. And there are really great people out there now. I like Taiwan Housing Project, which has a female lead singer and guitar player. They're out of Philly. Cellular Chaos with Admiral Grey is amazing. Carla Bozulich from Evangalista too. There are a lot of great women out there doing things. There's a lot of good female jazz musicians out too that are kind of on the Brooklyn scene. But it's heartbreaking and you won't succeed. If your intention is to create something, yes please do! But have no false hopes about what it's going to lead to because it's such a crapshoot. It's not slated, especially not this time. It's so homogenized, what's out there.
Do you feel like it's gotten worse?
Well I don't know because I've never been part of the mainstream anyways so to me it's no different than it ever was. It always sucked. People are like "how did you not sell out?" What are you gonna sell? The fuckin' truth? Nobody wants to hear it much less buy it what are you talking about? There is no commercializing this [points to self], what I am. People see the look in my face and they're like "alright, can't convince her to do what I want." Plus for me and even for someone like Adele is like, because we do so many different kinds of things like I can't imagine playing the same kind of fucking album for like three years, I've recorded and released like four records last year, who fucking cares? Only me and whoever might want it on my Bandcamp. No company wants you to be that prolific, they're not interested in that! You gotta play one album for twenty years and if you don't want to then fuck you. It's like you know what, I'm not domesticated.
Do you feel like the people in the music industry are domesticated?
I feel they're just the capitalist cabal. They've got no interest in me, why would they? How are you going to market this? What are you going to market, first of all? Musical schizophrenia? That's my thing but how are you gonna market something…every record I put out sounds extremely different than the one that came before it. It's like, you can't market that, so now I'm doing retrovirus, which is, since nobody's heard my music anyway and i have forty years of it, unbelievable isn't it, I started doing Retrovirus, which is a retrospective, because most of the music I've done I haven't played live anyway.
It's like the way that I work is I'm a conceptualist, I have a concept, then I decide best suits the concept musically, then I usually make an album and most often in the past I wouldn't tour that because there was no reason and then I'd go and do the next thing. But after accumulating all this music, I happen to find the right musicians that could actually reinvigorate these songs and it's actually fun! Because we're doing this really weird shit. And it's great to see, you know, twenty year old girls in the audience knowing the lyrics. I'm just like "how do you fucking know the lyrics? I'm glad you do and thank you very much." Whatever it is I'm happy they're coming and they're there. I can't tell you what I see and what I do, I just do what I fucking do. And that's what I continue to do.
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