Bridget in Alaska, 2008. Photo by George Kuhar
How cool is Bridget Cross? She was the bassist for Unrest, the king of all early-90s indie bands, plus she was in Velocity Girl and Air Miami. If you cared about underground music in the 90s, she’s already one of your crushes/heroes. Bridget played bass like a brightened translation of Joy Division. The songs that her bands did were unbelievably catchy, like the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie filtered through the DC punk scene. It’s absolutely crazy that Unrest’s final LP, 1995’s Perfect Teeth, is out of print now. It’s one of the best albums of the 1990s.
Since the heyday of her indie-rock life, Bridget has moved to Alaska, climbed mountains, worked on glaciers, and spent time in the clink after leading the cops on a high-speed chase with her ex-boyfriend, who had just stabbed someone. Punk rock!
In 2005, Unrest reunited for one single solitary show. Bridget was inspired enough by that to complete something she had been considering for years: a solo record. The other two Unrest members, Mark Robinson and Phil Krauth, began taking turns recording parts for Bridget’s new band, Maybe It’s Reno, and after a final session in Texas with members of soul-punk group Basin Street the songs were finally ready.
The new record is awesome. Bridget’s voice is so distinct and full of magic, and it never feels like a lost Unrest record. These are songs for right now!
Bridget doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone so I stayed up late and called her at her home in Alaska, which might as well be all the way in Alaska. She picked up the receiver halfway through her answering-machine greeting (it plays the theme music from The A-Team) and we had the following conversation.
Vice: You were just a teenager when you first played in Velocity Girl, right? How did you get started playing music?
Bridget Cross: Well, my whole family is super-musical. One of my sisters is a professional oboe and English-horn player in the Army Field Band. I played trumpet but I didn’t like it. When I got to high school I wanted to play bass but I didn’t get one until I was like 17 or 18 because my parents were like, “Hell no, you’re going to play trumpet and like it. You’re not going to be in some rock-and-roll fantasy!” I remember arguments like that with my family. I was like, “But no, really, I’m going to New York and playing a real show!” and they were just, “You are not taking the car!”
There was a time when you were so busy with Unrest and then Air Miami, but suddenly you vanished. It was shocking and also a little bit confusing.
My memory’s kind of fuzzy about what happened that made me behave in the way I behaved. I know that I was pissed off all the time, and there was lots of weird drugs and freaking out. I sold everything and went to the desert one time. It was when the Hale-Bopp comet was coming toward the earth. Do you remember that? Those people in the Nikes killed themselves and thought they were going to meet the spaceship that was in the tail of the comet?
I went out there and I didn’t even know there was a comet. I was just this freaked-out person for many years, I think. I went to South Africa, but I ended up in Alaska. I thought I would leave Alaska, but it didn’t happen. I forget what the question was now.
You still live in Alaska?
Can you see the Northern Lights there?
I actually saw them last night for the first time in a long while. It’s incredible, I’ve seen all kinds of colors bursting into flames, like purple and red and green. You can feel it, and sometimes you can hear it. That’s the thing I realized about why I had to come here. Although I lived in the city for 30 years, I always wanted to be somewhere beautiful. I remember walking around DC year after year thinking, this is beautiful, but I want to be somewhere really beautiful.
Do your new Alaskan friends know you play music?
Kind of, but it’s still just this weird thing. It’s a tough situation to be in, to have this identity as a music person—even though it wasn’t a huge identity. In the small circle I was in, however, I was legit. Up here when I say that I used to play music, people say, “Oh cool, you want to come to the bluegrass festival and jam?” I ended up in a Christian rock band briefly and they were all, “Yeah, God gave me this guitar solo!” They ended up kicking me out, of course.
Unrest in 1993. Photo by Pat Graham
Rumors abound that you went to prison in Alaska because of your boyfriend. Did that really happen?
Yeah, I did get in trouble and I did go to prison. But I didn’t do anything that bad. It was a huge learning experience. I mean everybody knows that cops lie and that prison is corrupt and the system is poisonous but it’s another thing to actually experience it firsthand.
After my dad died I kind of flipped out. I ended up with a South African man on this crazy string of adventures. We were living in Skagway, Alaska, which has maybe 700 people. And the South African ended up completely losing his mind and having a meltdown from being a brown man in this town. He became very frustrated and he ended up stabbing somebody in a bar. And nobody saw it, which apparently is pretty common with stabbings.
All anybody saw were these arms locking and then the South African ran out of the bar and I ran after him and he was like, “We have to get out of here!” When the cops caught up to us, they had a gun on him and a gun on me—the whole bit. I said to the cop, “Is that really necessary?” And he kicked me to the ground and put a gun up to my head. It came up later in police reports that he said, “It appeared that Ms. Cross wanted me to shoot her.” I’m pretty lucky to be alive because I was in the middle of nowhere, flat on the gravel, with a gun to my head that was held by a fat cop who hated me.
What did they do to you?
I thought I was going to get released but the next thing I know I’m on a plane headed to Juneau, and they’re like, we’re taking you to Lemon Creek. I thought, that doesn’t sound so bad. Lemon Creek Correctional Center, that sounds like it’s warm and lovely. But there’s no lemons there, I’ll tell you that. It’s a maximum-security prison. And then 9/11 happened and everything kind of shut down. And then Christmas came and apparently lawyers don’t work during the holidays. I didn’t get out for five months. I was being held for hindering prosecution in the first degree because I drove the getaway car that didn’t get away.
Didn’t you want to leave Alaska after you got out?
I kept looking for some reason that this would happen, some higher reason other than I had just committed a crime and gotten arrested. I thought maybe it meant I was supposed to be a lawyer, a public defender. So I got another degree because, being inside, it’s astonishing the stories you hear. Alaska incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere else in the country. We’ve only got 600,000 people living in the state, and there are seven major prisons.
I don’t even know what to say.
I’ve got a record about it. I’m going to write a prison record.
Let’s talk about your new album. Have you wanted to make this record for a long time?
Yeah, but I didn’t know how to do it. And then Unrest had a reunion in 2005. I wanted to figure out some way that we could all play together again, even though I knew it wouldn’t be possible. So, I thought, well, I’ll lay tracks down and Mark and Phil can play on it.
Had you been writing songs this whole time?
Some of the lyrics were written as far back as 12 years ago. But I laid down the majority of the stuff in December of 2005 with Mark, when I was on the East Coast visiting my family.
What’s next for you?
I have a really big thing that’s coming up. My significant other, George, he needs a kidney. He had kidney failure in October and it’s been pretty wild I gotta say. He has this crazy hereditary disease and it happened a lot sooner than we thought it was going to. So I’m going to give him a kidney. I’ve already done this insane battery of tests, like mammograms and pelvic exams and 14 blood tests and two 24-hour urine tests. And I passed all of that. Now I have to go up to Anchorage and they’re going to give me a CAT scan where you have to roll around in that donut-shaped machine for like an hour. Anyway, we’ll be going through some major surgery and I can’t really think past that. But if all goes well, George and I have been thinking we want to tour in the fall.
A band that was made possible by kidneys.
I want to play live and I want to tour and I want to try and make music into an active part of my life again, whatever way I can. And even though playing with Mark and Phil is wonderful and so exciting to me, it’s not going to happen [laughs]. Just logistically and realistically, Phil’s an English teacher, Mark has his own band and a wife and two young boys and a full-time job, you know?
But you’re not going to put this record out and then disappear again?
No, I don’t want to disappear. I don’t want to.
Maybe It’s Reno’s self-titled album is out now on Teenbeat Records.