Women In Comfortable Shoes - "Last $10" (1992)
You're listening to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and tonight I'm bringing you a very special interview with one of our lesbian music legends. Her name is Gretchen Phillips. This artist has been so prolific, and with music touching so many genres, that if you were driving down the queer music highway it would say "Gretchen Phillips, Next Five Exits." In the mid-80's she had the distinction of forming two groundbreaking bands at the same time. The groups were Two Nice Girls and Girls In The Nose, and while they were not the first all-lesbian bands, in my opinion they were the first to put a lesbian point of view front and center in their music, and to take that music into the mainstream.
You're listening to the biggest hit of Two Nice Girls, with the delightfully infectious title of "I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer." But that's not their recording in the background. The song's been covered a number of times, by artists as far away as Australia, and the one I'm sharing with you is by an Arizona duo with the very fun name Women In Comfortable Shoes. You'll hear the Two Nice Girls version later in the show.
But let's back up a bit, Gretchen's a Texas native and in 1981 moved from Houston to Austin, and immediately fell in with the Austin punk music scene, forming the mixed band Meat Joy, whose music did its part to get "lezzie rock" to the public. After that band broke up, in 1985, Gretchen formed Two Nice Girls and Girls In The Nose. In 1991 Two Nice Girls won one of the first GLAAD Media Awards for positive portrayals of homosexuality in music, and in 2001 Gretchen was inducted into The Austin Chronicle's Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame, becoming the first openly lesbian performer to achieve that honor. And the music of these early bands has been credited with being influential to the Riot Grrl music scene and acts like Le Tigre and The Butchies.
The group Two Nice Girls split up around 1992, which gave Gretchen an opportunity to pursue solo work in a variety of genres, and to also record with others under such group names as The Gretchen Phillips Xperience, Lord Douglas Phillips, and Phillips & Driver. Before we get started with the interview I want to mention that there are actually two versions of this show. The radio version has the constraints of time limits and also FCC regulations regarding some of the music. And also, well, Gretchen gave me many more terrific answers than could fit into an hour show, so having an internet version also allows me to include much more of the, I think, very interesting interview. If you visit my site while you're listening, you can follow along with the playlist and see photos of the recordings and artists she worked with. That's at www.queermusicheritage.com.
On to the Gretchen Phillips interview.
How did you get started playing in bands?
Well, my first band was at the Renaissance Festival, the Texas Renaissance Festival, so I got started playing when I was 12, and I just always wanted to be in bands, and really dreamt of being in bands, and since that first one was an all-girl band, and then my second one in high school was as well, it just kind of came out of a sense of what just something I always wanted to do
Where did you go to high school?
I went to high school at High School for the Performing and Visual Arts here in Houston
Tell me about your high school band.
My high school band was Sara Hickman, who has gone on to do a lot of music, Julie Prejean, who's also doing a lot of music, and Julie Robbins, now Julie Campbell I don't think she's gone on to do a whole bunch of music. I was the lesbian of the high school band.
And then from high school you moved to Austin
I did, I moved right immediately after graduating from high school. I moved to Austin to be in bands.
How quickly after you moved to Austin did you get in a band?
Ah, six months, yeah, I started jamming with different people. I guess what happened is that I got an electric guitar six months afterwards, and then so I, it was really more, and I jammed with some people maybe about a year. A little over a year was when Meat Joy was formed, after I had moved to Austin.
Was Meat Joy already a group?
No, no, we formed there were some I had been playing with some girls Teresa was my girlfriend. She was on drums. Melissa on bass, and she has already been in a bunch of bands, you know, really one of our heroes, and Skeeter, now going by the name Edith Frost, and we were a girl band and we hooked up with this boy band
Tell me about the song "My Heart Crawls Off"
Oh, well Sara Hickman and I when we were in high school we were listening to pop things, Partridge Family, we didn't necessarily like it but we were listening to it, and one day we decided to write a song as cliché-ridden as possible. So then somehow we did that all through high school; "My Heart Crawls Off," with our band the folk group, and then when I was in Meat Joy we did a lot of acoustic stuff as well, and so we would be rockin' on the electric and making a bunch of noise and then I'd pick up the acoustic and then we would go out to the front of the club and perform some stuff there, and the whole audience would have to follow us to the front of the club if they wanted hear it, and that was a big sing-along
Meat Joy - "My Heart Crawls Off" (1984)
Tell me about the album cover for Meat Joy
Well, there is no single album cover for Meat Joy. We couldn't, we couldn't decide on an album cover at all. It was really a collective that had a lot of difficulty deciding things, like everybody had their, you know, three minutes to put whatever they wanted to do on it, it was all about major democracy, so because we kind of came from a group called Iconoclast where we had been working on a variety of creative endeavors, we had the community decorate covers. We hand-decorated over over 1500. I have a little collection myself and they're fantastic because they are this wonderful document of different friends doing stuff
(thanks to one of my site visitors, Paul, for sending the additional cover scan above right, and the label scans)
and below, another example of a front and back Meat Joy cover (thanks, Jason)
So after Meat Joy, how did you get to Girls In The Nose and Two Nice Girls?
Um, let's see, now Meat Joy broke up in March of 1985. I'd been playing music with Kay Turner with Girls In The Nose for a number of years, but in that summer of '85 we had another woman with a big nose, Betsy Peterson, join us on guitar and stuff really started to come together and started really writing more songs besides just doing our Motown and easy-listening covers, which had occupied us for the three years prior. And then, that was just one thing that was working, then we played at a going-away/birthday party, as a matter of fact I know we did, and to a lot of enthusiasm, and that's all I need, an enthusiastic response and I'm just going to keep riding the horse in that direction.
And the Two Nice Girls oh, Laurie Freelove was a friend of my girlfriend at the time, and so we played some music and we went to a we hung out a lot and we went to a party and Kathy Korniloff was at this party, and at the party there were a lot of guitars and we were jamming, and Korn kept following us from room to room. And we just kind of courted her. She was a little difficult to court, but she played very hard to get, but after a few times she came over, and Laurie and I were already calling ourselves Two Nice Girls and I believe we had actually even done a show as Two Nice Girls at a Chicago women's coffeehouse. But when Korn joined us for rehearsal one day, oh, all of a sudden it was just it went to a whole other place, so we started we just started, came up with our set, started gigging and did very well very quickly. And Girls In The Nose didn't do quite as well quite as quickly, so whoever was doing better was whoever I spent the most attention on, but I kind of divided my time evenly between those two bands for about two or three years
You had two going at the same time?
Oh, yeah, because Girls In The Nose was rocking, we had a drummer and bass and we were more rocking, and then Two Nice Girls at that time was very acoustic and very folky, and I just having two different bands was allowing me to get my needs met, because I had wanted after Meat Joy to get quieter again, like the band I had when I was in high school, and had been doing more folk stuff, and you know where it wasn't difficult to hear the lyrics. The lyrics you know could be message driven, and it didn't require that you were having to go through all the noise. But with Girls In The Nose I wasn't even the front person, Kay Turner is a very great front person, and very captivating, especially after she started worshipping Madonna. That just set her stage show off to a whole other place.
How did the Girls In The Nose get their name?
Well, Kay has a big nose, and she'd been talking to Betsy, her coworker, who has a big nose, and they were talking about people telling them at some point in their life, you would be really pretty if you got a nose-job. And I had been teased for my nose when I went to Hamilton Junior High. I can't remember his name, I blocked it out, but I hate him. And we, Betsy and Kay had said, look, if we ever form a band we should call it Girls In The Nose, and I heard this anecdote and insisted that that must occur, the band must be called Girls In The Nose, in order to women unite, take back the nose, in order to reclaim, reclaim nose pride, the big nose
And Two Nice Girls put out the first album.
Yes, you're right and that album cover won some design award
It's very idyllic.
It's a takeoff of a Maxfield Parrish painting, so that was recorded in '88 and didn't come out until '89 and we recorded the first Girls In The Nose in '89
From Girls In The Nose tell me about "Two Lovers"
Oh, Kay Turner has also been in very many bands. Kay is my buddy, she's 15 years older than I am, and she was in bands in New Jersey as well as Austin, and she was in a band called Mothra, and the Oral Traditions were an accappela group that had all of these choreographed dance numbers and I saw them, the Oral Traditions, at a party do "Two Lovers/Two Altars" with these really great dance moves, so once were in a band I insisted that this be a song that we work up
Girls In The Nose - "Two Lovers/Two Altars" (1990)
Tell me about "Honorary Heterosexual Lesbian"
Oh, "Honorary Heterosexual Lesbian" was some chords I'd been working on and actually Kay Turner and I had written a very mean song about my lover Teresa, that made her cry, and we had to just set that aside for a couple of years. And then I really missed the chord progression and said, come on, Kay, we've got to do something with this, let's try to make something that won't make anyone cry, and we came up with, you know, an homage to all of the straight girls that we know who love, love, love hanging out with lesbians, and they're heterosexual. It's a song for them, they didn't have a song yet.
Girls In The Nose - "Honorary Heterosexual Lesbian" (1990)
And Tell me about the song "Starpower"
Oh, "Starpower" is a Sonic Youth song, and Kay Turner introduced me to a lot of really great music, including Sonic Youth. And we love Sonic Youth so much, and so I'm not even entirely certain how we came to do that cover but you know, if it's going to have those lines, the words "she knows how to make love to me, she knows how to make love," we're going to really relate to that, and actually we would end our set with that, for quite a while
Girls In The Nose - "Starpower" (1990)
Tell me about "My Heart Crawls Off," which was a Meat Joy song.
Yes, "My Heart Crawls Off" you know, one of the things that happens when you're in a band is that you will resurrect songs from a previous band and throw it against the wall and see if it sticks, see if people like it. And because that was a vocal-heavy song Two Nice Girls came up with an arrangement that was really quite good and it's a very very fun song to play. One of the things that's so particularly funny about that song, since we wrote, Sara (Hickman) and I wrote it as a joke, using as many clichés as possible, is when people tell me how much they relate to it, and that they find it really moving
Switching over to the first Two Nice Girl's release, tell me about "Goons".
Oh, "Goons, " you know, "Goons" is just I think your traditional lesbian love song. You love a girl, you love her so much, you write a song about her.
Why the title?
Oh, oh, cause you're goony in love, cause you're just so goony in love
Two Nice Girls - "Goons" (1989)
I have to ask about the Two Nice Girls recording of the Lou Reed song, "Sweet Jane (With Affection)"
Well, there was going to be a "Sweet Jane" contest in Austin at Liberty Lunch, where bands performed "Sweet Jane" and people, some voting body, voted on which was the best version, and I was away, working at Michigan Womyn's Festival at the time and Korn and Laurie said we want to do this, it will happen right when you return. And when they were working on "Sweet Jane" Korn noticed it was basically the same chords as Joan Armatrading's "Love & Affection," so they interwove them. So we performed and some other band won, although we won the popular vote, they won the official vote. And we actually were signed to Rough Trade on the strength of that song. Our manager at the time, Jim Fourat,
JD Doyle & Jim Fouratt, 2000
played it for Geoff Travis and he fell in love and he signed us on that song. And we tried recording it in the studio a couple of different times and it never was as good as the version that people know, which was live, on KUT, a radio station in Austin. And Rough Trade was counting on this being the single, the breakout single for Two Nice Girls, and then two months prior Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane" who knew that some Canadians were going to do an acoustic that was going to catch on to the degree that it did, and we were scooped, we were absolutely scooped by the Cowboy Junkies
Two Nice Girls - "Sweet Jane (With Affection)" (1989)
Tell me about the "Like a Version" album.
After the first Two Nice Girls album came out, and it took a long time for it to come out, because we recorded at Willie Nelson's studio, in Perdenales Falls, and when we were through with our basic tracks the IRS locked it up for failure to pay taxes which was the beginning of all those tax woes, and we were right in the middle of that, and so all the time that we had, you know, blocked out we couldn't use and studios, you know, book months in advance, and so we were up a creek, you know, very much so. So we had to go in and out of all of these different studios and eventually between Christmas and New Year's mixed on the Austin City Limits board and so it came out a few months later than we than it was initially scheduled to be released.
And Laurie Freelove decided that she really didn't want to tour, and we knew we were going to be touring a great deal so she quit the band after we played Kerrville that May of '89. And we put an ad in the Austin Chronicle and Meg Hentges answered the ad. So we got her, and she did the tours and everything was going really well and we wanted to record another album quickly, but we didn't really have a whole big body of work with Meg yet, but we had the covers that we had always done live, or just the things that we were interested in doing, because I'm so interested in covers. "Like a Version" is definitely one of my favorite records that I've ever done. I really loved it. We did it in the same studio that Girls In The Nose recorded our first album in, and we produced it ourselves, and I really, really, really love it
Now, any of you who know the chronology of Gretchen Phillips and Two Nice Girls know that their break out song was "I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer," but we're going to get to that a little later in the show.
From the third Two Nice Girls album, tell me about "Let's Go Bonding"
I wrote "Let's Go Bonding" initially in a rehearsal, a Girls In The Nose rehearsal. I came up with the chords there and we did an early version, Girls In The Nose did, of "Let's Go Bonding," but basically Two Nice Girls did with that band it crystallized faster, and that became also kind of a set closer, certainly a rocking song we would do towards the end. I love disco. Disco, I love Disco makes me feel so gay. Disco makes me so happy, I love dancing, I love wah-wah. I loved the girl I wrote that song about, crazy in love with her, and "Let's Go Bonding" is you know, once again a song about being surprised that love is working out so well, which is pretty much a recurring theme, and that I'm really happy and wanting to be able to you know spend some time. I was on the road all the time. I didn't really get to spend as much time with that girl as I would have liked, so you know, let's have some time together, let's go bonding.
Two Nice Girls - "Let's Go Bonding" (1991)
Regarding your comment about disco, I can see that in the next year you recorded "Rock Your Baby" with the group Poi Dog Pondering
Yes, Poi Dog Pondering was a very popular band at the point and we kind of came up the ranks together in Austin and the first time I saw Poi Dog Pondering all they were doing was disco covers. Frank Orrall, who is the charismatic leader was on drums, he wasn't even singing and it was Abra Moore and Bruce Hughes singing one disco cover after another and were great. Cause really, you know, if I had a disco band I'd be in heaven, and so I loved them. And we had a big show with them at Liberty Lunch and we did "Rock Your Baby" and we did "I Want to Do Something Freaky To You." Do you know that one? Love that song. So we did disco songs with them and they got asked to do that compilation and so they asked us to join them.
Poi Dog Pondering, with Two Nice Girls - Rock Me Baby (1992)
And that was Gretchen Phillips and Kathy Korniloff providing backups for the group Poi Dog Pondering, and that can only be found on a compilation of cover called (are you ready?) "20 More Explosive Fantastic Rockin' Mega Smash Hit Explosions!" released in 1992.
Tell me about "Princess of Power"
"Princess of Power" I also wrote in a Girls In The Nose rehearsal, now that I think about it, I came up with those chords in a Girls In The Nose rehearsal. I just played a lot more electric guitar with that band. Um, same girl, same love, same new love and wanted to write a song that was kind of like "My Heart Crawls Off" in terms of really inane lyrics in order to .sometimes if you're having a hard time with songwriting there's this game that can play where you write if you have a little writer's block, you just write the stupidest stuff you can think of. You know, just go stupid, if you're going to be critical of it, like "that's stupid, that's cliché," well, just go in that direction. And so that's kind of what I was doing with that song, because this woman had so much power over me, and because this was like before Xena. She Ra really was a kind of iconic powerful force that really played a role in my life. I don't know how to explain it. We didn't have the human being Lucy Lawless yet, we just had the animated She Ra, he-man, everything, so that's just a song with, you know, with the dumbest lyrics I could come up with
Two Nice Girls - "Princess of Power" (1991)
I have a version by 5 Star Music Makers
Oh, oh, okay, that's my own remember when I was telling you about "Set Your Poems To Music" where you send in well, I sent in to a bunch of different companies the lyrics to "Princess of Power" and 5 Star Music Makers was the company who said that it showed potential well, they all said it showed potential, if the company still existed, but they were the least expensive, so I went with them, with my plan being to send it all of the companies and have all of them set it to music. But I had to stop with 5 Star Music Makers because my rent money ran out, but I ended up with a cassette that was recorded just on one side, just in one channel, on the left side. And it's a man playing, it sounds like a Fender Rhodes but melodically, and I don't think he knew my version, I would be very surprised, melodically it's kind of eerily similar to the one I came up with. She Ra, princess of power, you're my precious princess of power. She Ra, that's right, he doesn't say She Ra, he says SheRa, She Ra, princess of power, so it had this minor descending thing very similar to mine
5 Star Music Makers - "Princess of Power" (1994)
Tell me about "The Queer Song"
"Queer Song" I wrote "The Queer Song" a million years before Girls .no, no, no, every band, all bands did it, Girls In The Nose did it, Meat Joy did it, Two Nice Girls just happened to be the ones who recorded it. But before Meat Joy, when I was first playing with SufferJets, I wrote that song, about Teresa Taylor, about my young punk love. And so I wrote it in '82, and you know that was something that I was able to bring to Two Nice Girls that was, you know, along with "Last $10" and "My Heart Crawls Off" songs that already existed that were pretty good. So "Queer Song" is you know about homophobia and about how it's hard, and love will certainly, certainly get you past however bothersome homophobia might be. You can be afraid, and you know it's okay cause I'm so in love with you anyway
Two Nice Girls - "The Queer Song" (1991)
Okay, we're still in 1992, and you did a duet with Kathy McCarty on "Across the Great Divide - Songs of Jo Carol Pierce"
Well, Kathy McCarty, my old friend Kathy McCarty, she's my buddy, and Jo Carol Pierce, she was my buddy, and both of us wanted to do the same song, so we just, we just did it together. It's a great Jo Carol Pierce song, she's an amazing writer, really an amazing writer and it was such a pleasure to get to work with Kathy
Kathy McCarty & Gretchen Phillips - "Blue Norther" (1992)
That was a little bit of "Blue Norther." Time for a very common question, why did Two Nice Girls break up?
Two Nice Girls broke up for a lot of reasons. It was hard for us that Rough Trade went bankrupt and that we weren't then signed right afterwards, which we really expected would occur. And emotionally getting sort of label rejection to the extent that we did I mean, there were some labels that were sort of interested, but I think it hurt our feelings, you know, we toured all the time as well, we did a tremendous amount of touring, and that was growing wearying.
And, um, there was tension in the band, also I think partly because of my desire to do more weird stuff, the part of me that was still you know in love with the stuff that I had done in Meat Joy. I mean, weird is just the word, sonically weird kind of bucked up against, you know, some members' perception of something that would be, you know, more palatable or be more successful. And so that was sort of an artistic difference, but also people just kind of grew apart, and that was a very, very fun and close band, a tremendous amount of fun and very intellectually stimulating. The conversation we had in the van were really, really, really good. Everybody was really smart and had a lot to discuss about lesbian culture.
But we weren't getting along, which definitely can happen and we worked on it a lot. We basically had been a band that had been in, you know, couples counseling practically our entire incarnation. So hotheadedly once on the road it was like, you know, "I'm so tired of this I just want to quit. Okay well quit then, why don't you just quit then. Well, I'm gonna quit. Well, okay I think you just should quit. Well, let's just all quit. Okay, well, yeah, man, I'm quitting. This is it. Okay, this is it, this the last tour, this is it, this is it" and then I think rather than I feel it's kind of two ways, you know I wished we could have worked it out a little better and had been a little nice and a little less hotheaded about it, but that's how we were, you know, we just were, we were very passionate, at all times, so
Did any good songs come out of all that angst?
No. It was just too painful. It was too painful. I mean, I at that point in my life I had never been with anybody for seven years, you know, I was 28 years old when that band broke up, you know, and I didn't move to San Francisco when I wanted to because I wanted to be with my band and be with my girls, you know, and for us to do this thing. And it was very, very hard, emotionally, and I was really mad at one of my band members, who I'm not mad at now, but it took a long time to get over it. So, I didn't write any good songs out of it, it was just too, too painful, really.
time Meg Hentges started doing her own material
Yeah, Darcee was in Girls In The Nose, and Meg and Darcee and I right after Two Nice Girls were in this group called Blobbie, and that was totally improve. And we really would just get high and make songs up, and I have a bunch of cassettes that are so great, of that, and that was another thing that was a little difficult with Two Nice Girls was that we weren't particularly improvisational, and that kind of danger is important to me, and I felt like eventually we were playing it pretty safe, and
You really needed some creative risk
I really needed some creative risk. I love, I love that musically, subject matter wise, venue wise, something. Meg had those songs, a couple songs Two Nice Girls had done had a bit of a risk. Oh, "Heaven Sent" is on a subsequent one. So, out of Blobbie we started working on Meg's songs, and then she go signed by an old friend from Portland. She had been in a band called the Neo-Boys before she joined Two Nice Girls and I had their record so I was familiar with Meg's work already when she joined. And it was great working on that record with Meg. I really like it.
That cassette has the first version of "This Kind of Love."
Yes, that cassette has the first version of "This Kind of Love" that her record guy he heard that, that first version on the radio in Austin at South By Southwest, and signed her on the merit of that
Do you remember the first part of that song?
every high school in the Midwest the queers are at the bottom,
I think that's the next part
Meg Hentges - "This Kind of Love" (1999)
I just love that song, that was "This Kind of Love" by Meg Hentges. She recorded it twice. The first time was with the help of Gretchen and Darcee, on her 1992 cassette called "Tattoo Urge," and the later version you just heard, was from the 1999 CD "Brompton's Cocktail." That song won the GLAMA award for Out Song of the Year, and the album won Rock album of the year.
Above, Gretchen accepting for Meg one of her GLAMA awards, in NYC, April 2000
After the breakup of Two Nice Girls, your first solo work was "Welcome To My World"
I worked on "Welcome To My World," which is very Casio-based stuff, one summer, the summer of '93 when I was living in New York, and also in New Jersey. Very kind of classic you've got your four-track, you're in somebody's New Jersey basement, you know, running through their effects, getting high and making stuff up. And I had there's stuff some of the, some of the in-between talking and interstitials I wanted to put on "Chloe Liked Olivia" that ended up on "Welcome To My World" and that was a source of friction was that other people, including the producer, were appalled at the notion, whereas it made some of us laugh our heads off. So, that was "Welcome To My World" was a cassette that I handed around to my friends really just as a sort of "I'm trying to learn how to work with my four-track, and this is this funny thing I've done" and people kept urging me, including some radio people, to release it. So then, I put it on cassette and hand-decorated every, every cassette cover
They're all different?
They're all different. Probably not 1500, probably less than 1500 but at least a thousand. Some I manufactured eventually cause this was a big seller. And one year "Welcome To My World" won the best #2 best cassette in the Austin Chronicle Music Poll, and the same year Meg Hentges won #2 best, I don't know, best album or something I was really pleased with our work.
Describe it musically
"Welcome To My World" is a bedroom recording, like the bedroom recordings that I made when I was a teenager living in the Heights (in Houston) with my recorder where I would record something in the left track and then go back over it and record it onto the right, where I could to that separation. It was just it's just silly craziness, with the theme really being about sin in excess, something that I was very interested in at the time. The costs what are the wages of sin? What does it cost you? And also I was very interested in how, how these are portrayed in an exploitative manner by porn magazines. I'm reading from porn books from there. I'm also taking little bits from exploitation movies where I just held the microphone up the television and I recorded it off of there. And I'm just setting it to music. It's about sexual deviance, and the most heartfelt song on "Welcome To My World" is "The Penetration Solution" where I outline my, my theory of the world being divided into sticks and holes. And sticks are what you want to be, and a hole is definitely a lot worse than a stick. And a hole is the degraded one, and that I don't think that's true. And we were actually in Two Nice Girls we were going to do a concept album, "The Female Penetrator." We were really into this whole, you know, and I still continue to be into this belief that the world is divided into sticks and holes, and that's a theme that I work and rework over and over again
Gretchen Phillips - "Treacly Brit Pop" (1993)
How about "How Lesbians Get That Way"?
Oh, "How Lesbians Get That Way" is text from, you know, a book about female perversion I'm reading from that, and then I'm acting it out, with my own surprise ending, that was not actually found in the book ..they stay that way cause it feels so good
Gretchen Phillips - "How Lesbians Get That Way" (1993)
Another song on the Gretchen Phillips Xperience album was "Pease Park," and it appeared again in 1995 on the various artists compilation "Outloud," as a live version, tell me about that song
Let's see um well, after Two Nice Girls, I really returned to one of my first loves, which is Casio presets. I love, and have always written songs on either the little demo song that comes with the Casio, or Yamaha brand, but primarily Casio, and all of the other rhythm patches that you hear, that are called country & western, or disco, or rock-4-4, or waltz, or whatever. And so the band that I had, my first version of the Gretchen Phillips Xperience, cause that's what I would always say in Two Nice Girls, "The hell with you, someday I'm going to quit this band and form the Gretchen Phillips Xperience." And so I had to basically use that name, after threatening to do it for so many years. And that was me on guitar and Andy Loomis on Casio.
And "Pease Park" why did I write "Pease Park"? There's a book called "Lesbian Psychologies" where she has a chapter, there's a chapter, it's actually an anthology, but someone has a chapter that we discussed a great deal in Two Nice Girls, about why lesbians tend to be serial monogamists, and why is it that gay men can have affairs, and can trick, trick around and fuck around and it doesn't necessarily bust up a primary relationship that they could be inside. And she basically says that she thinks it would be a good idea if lesbians were to be more like gay men. So "Pease Park" is my song in response to that challenge, or a question it's really a series of questions, pose to a gay man, and ending with "do you think it's something dykes should do too?"
Gretchen Phillips Xperience - "Pease Park (live)" (1995)
In 1995 the act became the Gretchen Phillips Xperience, with a recording entitled "Do You Ever Wish For More?" from that one, tell me about "Gretchen Phillips Says Yes"
Well, remember when I was telling you about this "Set Your Poems To Music"? which I Love so much. On most of the compilations that have come out, or a lot of them, there is one song called "Jimmy Carter Says Yes" that is a really nice disco song and once when Joan of Arkansas went on a retreat, to Arkansas, we were listening to "Set Your Poems to Music" and someone in the band, and other people seconded it, said "Gretchen, you should run for President and this should be your song, cause you really have so many opinions, and you think that you know how everything should be. You should be President and, we should do this song, we're gonna do this song, 'Gretchen Phillips Says Yes.'" Eventually I brought that into the new Gretchen Phillips Xperience, as the name of that incarnation, with Jo, the singer from Joan of Arkansas and Meat Purveyors on second guitar, and Thor on drums, and Andy Loomis on bass and keyboards.
Gretchen Phillips Xperience - "Gretchen Phillips Says Yes" (1995)
KPFT is in pledge drive this week, so I had to trim this edition of Queer Music Heritage down a bit, to allow more time for a little ever-important pitching. So if you enjoy this kind of programming, please consider calling in with a pledge. But my Internet listeners can hear the complete original show, plus several additional minutes of the interview, as I do not have the same time constraints when I upload shows to my website. And this is a good time to invite you to check out my site, at www.queermusicheritage.com. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, now in its new time every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
****Part Two ****
Gretchen Phillips - Hello, Darling (1998)
That song was from the Gretchen Phillips album "Songs To Save Your Soul."
I see a musical change between "Do You Ever Wish for More" and 1998's "Songs To Save Your Soul"
Yeah, there is, isn't there? Ah, between "Do You Ever Wish for More" and "Songs To Save Your Soul" I moved to San Francisco and I started playing solo for the first time, and I started really getting into country music because I missed, because I missed Austin so much, living in San Francisco, at that time a land of what seemed to me to be extremely boring metal-influenced lezzie rock. So I was writing country songs and covering country songs that I had not liked when I was young and was coming to reclaim, or claim, actually, for the first time. And I just found myself country, country, country, country. And of course I'd touched on country in a parodic manner before, with "Last $10," but country kind of suits my voice, actually. So, I wanted to do an EP, and have something available in time for Michigan (the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival) and Terri Lord said we could do it at her place, and it just kind of popped out "Songs To Save Your Soul," which is a companion piece really to "Welcome to My World" in terms of it being a kind of song cycle about redemption. You know, the soul's journey to sort of pondering why am I here, and loss and loneliness over to a move through redemption through lesbian sex, which is, you know, a really old theme of mine
Can I hear about "I Can Hear the Angels Singing"?
"I Can Hear the Angels Singing" is in interesting song because sometimes I write on the piano and then play it on the guitar, and that's a song that I wrote on the piano. And I it's a very favorite lesbian love song that I have written because sometimes I get bogged down with my worries and I forget that if I just engaged in some lesbian sex I'd probably feel a whole lot better. And you know everything would just look a little brighter, and I'd kind of have a better handle on stuff and I'd know what to do next if I just had some lesbian sex. And so I noticed that there weren't a lot of gospel songs that are about this form of redemption that I really believe in, you know, that works for me over and over and over again. And so I kind of wanted to write a gospel song, well, I did want to, and that's what came out yeah, a gospel song about how important it is engaging in lesbian sex, and how good it's going to be for you
Gretchen Phillips - "I Can Hear the Angels Singing" (1998)
By this time Lord Douglas Phillips was kind of in existence
Yes, by this time Lord Douglas with Terri Lord, who engineered "Songs to Save Your Soul" as our drummer, and Darcee Douglas, with whom I played in Girls In The Nose, and Blobbie, and Meg Hentges band, which I always wanted to be called Meg Hentges and the Benches, incidentally, but she wouldn't go for it I have to say that that's such a stupid name, Meg Hentges and the Benches, I'd wish she'd done it
Was "Yesterday When I Was Young" before Lord Douglas Phillips?
Yes, "Yesterday When I Was Young" was the first recording that Lord Douglas Phillips did and Rebecca Radisch who was one of the people who released that "Forever Dusty" LP asked me to do it, and picked that song, you know, requested it and so that was the first recording that we did, and then we had Lord Douglas Phillips had a lot of really great originals and "A Taste of LDP" only has three on there. We had another, we really had an album's worth of stuff, but we broke up before we were able to record all of that
Lord Douglas Phillips - "Yesterday When I Was Young" (2000)
From Lord Douglas Phillips recording tell me about "A Couple to a Few"
"A Couple to a Few" is one of those things where you say at a party "I went from a couple to a few you know, that would make a good classic rock song, and then that song actually got written
A couple to a few partners?
Yeah, a couple to a few partners.
A couple to a few drinks?
A couple to a few drinks is actually what it is initially referring to, and then it just kind of moves on through, other couples, other fews.
Lord Douglas Phillips - "A Couple to a Few" (2001)
In 2001 on the compilation "Calling All Kings and Queens," there's "Eau de Lesbianism," is that just you?
Yeah, Yeah, that's just me. "Eau de Lesbianism" I really, really love, too. That song is basically about a kind of it's a love poem. I wanted to do a spoken word love poem, and you know, I just .I mean, you catch me over and over, I'm just basically trying to say the stupidest stuff I can come up with you always ask about the real they're the crowd-pleasers oh, I really loved it. You know how there's that kind of I even tried to do it in that poet voice, you know, where it doesn't ever go down. You know, I saw you there, the moonlight in your hair, the way you made me stare, and then again you know, I don't know if you go to poetry readings but there is a certain way of reading poetry that is problematic for me, as a person who wants to have a little punctuation within what I'm hearing. And so I kind of tried to do that a little bit, and I just I just got crazy with it, you know. Much of my music is honestly is just a stream of consciousness-craziness, and that is an example.
Gretchen Phillips - "Eau de Lesbianism" (2001)
"Seitan Is Real"
Yeah, "Seitan Is Real" is about the forbidden music, gospel. You know, being a lesbian and being interested in I'm interested in the radical teachings of Jesus. When I lived in San Francisco I really got into Elaine Pagel's books about "The Gnostic Gospels" and the origin of Satan. You know, I'm a Texan. My people have been in Texas for a really long time. I grew up going to church, I fought against it. Certainly in the punk stuff that I did we talked about Jesus quite a bit, but really in terms of sort of the oppression that Christianity can inflict on homosexuals, on lots of people, but certainly on gay people. And I found myself, and with Jo Walston, listening to the Louvin Brothers' beautiful, groundbreaking album called "Satan Is Real." This country gospel, song after song that is just amazing, and amazingly fun to sing, and amazingly fun to sing with Jo Walston. And so to me it's really once again the kind of creative risk that we were talking about, the kind of not particularly it was scary, it was scary to be a lesbian singing gospel, but the crowd, people love it, and they would ask for more and Gretchen Phillips Ministries, we has a great following, and a lot of people really dug it. And it made a lot of people uncomfortable as well, but a lot of people really said "Yeah, yeah, yeah"
And there's the creative edge
And there's the creative edge that I need, and the thing is that, you know, really what Jesus had to say was radical and wonderful. The way that it gets misused and misinterpreted is ridiculous, but what he had to say is very wonderfully challenging.
Gretchen Phillips Ministries - "Old Camp Meeting Time" (2002)
We're up to 2003 and the album "Togetherness" by Gretchen Phillips and David Driver
Phillips & Driver - "Day After Day" (2003)
What inspired that recording?
Well, Phillips & Driver .Dave Driver and I had been playing music when I would go to New York, and actually he came and visited me once and we did a show in Austin. For a number of years, after quite a few girl bands I realized that to me what felt like the next frontier would be a dyke-fag band, because I'd done lesbian bands, and there's a way where lesbians and gay men don't hang out, and don't necessarily work together. There's all of this stuff that we don't do, we have two different bars and that's problematic to me. And so way back in '94 I wanted a dyke-fag band and then come, I don't know, '99 I want to say, Dave and I started to work together and we just had such a nice vocal blend and we share musical sensibility to such a great extent. And Phillips & Driver, that first album was very much inspired by the Linda Ronstadt albums from the '70s when: here's Buddy Holly song, here's an Elvis Costello song, here's a Wendy Waldman song just kind of a queer take on the canon is what we wanted to do, like this is how these queers are interpreting the music canon, as far as like the really big songs, like the Bad Company and the Badfinger songs
From the album, tell me about "Lesson"
"Lesson" is an old song the Two Nice Girls used to do. It's written about the first Gulf War. Two Nice Girls never recorded it, but we did do it live, especially on our last tour, and that you know, I didn't ever think I was going to live to be 18 years old, and then I didn't think I was going to live to be 24, and there was absolutely no way I was going to live to be 30. I just how could that happen, it can't happen. And so I was very in love and realizing that I cared to be here in this world, that it wasn't about leaving for me anymore, and I was kind of starting to put down some roots and that I was kind of really beginning to care to live, and I found that prospect extremely frightening, extremely terrifying, and essentially that song is about coming to grips with daring to care.
Phillips & Driver - "Lesson" (2003)
One of David's songs, I really like his version of the song "secretly"
Yeah, I know, he has this wonderful instrument that's like the Casio version of the autoharp called the Omnichord, and so that's the only instrument on there besides the trumpet, so I play the Omnichord and he plays the trumpet. And he listened to that song once when he was in a car and realized "oh, I really want to do this," and I think he did a great version, and that's certainly one of the songs I'm most pleased with. I love the Phillips & Driver album. I really am extremely pleased with that one, and "Like A Version." I love my cover albums so much.
Phillips & Driver - "Secretly" (2003)
to interject some rock & roll history, Jimmie Rodgers had the
original hit with "Secretly,"
I love the description
from the website of "Could It Be Magic"
Yes, [laughs] that's absolutely true, because, you know, I'm really not that insincere of a performer. I'm actually a very, very sincere performer and a sincere person, and I don't sing songs if I don't like them, and if I don't want to. And there's nothing, there's nothing lyrically suspect about "Could It Be Magic." It was just where Barry Manilow was in his career at that point. I was hard to believe that anything but schlock was coming from him. It's based on this Chopin piece, and, and that is beautiful and when I saw him on "The Midnight Special" he played a long break in the middle and busted out the Chopin, and, he has a really big nose, and you know what, he reads really gay. And I was a kid and I was very prejudiced and I was won over completely by the end of that song
Phillips & Driver - "Could It Be Magic?" (2003)
Of what song that you've recorded are you the most proud?
Well I think it changes all the time, you know, it really does. I really, really love my body of work. The album that I'm the least interested in and really the least pleased with is the album that is the most popular thing I've ever done, which is that first Two Nice Girls (album). I feel that in a lot of ways it got away from me, sonically, and it doesn't sound like the way we did live, and I would have liked an album with a little bit more grit. But that's the one I've sold the most units of and I think, you know, I think "Last $10" is a great song. I think "Goons" is a great song. I think stuff that's going to be on my new album are excellent, excellent songs. And I also think that I've done some really great covers
Okay, you're going to be on the Letterman show and he's going to play one song
And I'm the one that has to decide? It just depends on my mood. Like I suppose you're asking me this minute, this day, what am most proud of? Maybe I wouldn't think of it in terms of pride, but I would think of, what would I most want to listen to now? Because my because I'm so whimsical. The only reason it's so varied is because of my attention span. As soon as, as soon as I go into one thing, and somewhat master it, then I want to do something else. That's just how it is for me. I love "Pease Park." I love "Pease Park," I love that song, there's no where is there a song like that? But you can't play that one on the radio, okay. I had to say that one, didn't I? And I love "Sodomy." I know "Sodomy" I'm not playing on, but help write that song, I think that one's really great. Um, I love "Goons." "Goons" is great, let's just say "Goons."
And where's Pease Park?
Oh, it's in Austin. It's a park where guys trick in Austin. I used to introduce the song by saying that I'd been asked by I'd been asked by PBS, they were going to do a special on different parks, beautiful parks around the country, around the world, and that I had been commissioned to write about an Austin park, and that this was the song that I had written about a very lovely park in Austin called Pease Park. And I have had I can't tell you I have made some good friends because that was at the beginning of the conversation, and we moved into real friendship with different, different guys who have talked to me about like, if I played the song in New York, let's say, and they'd be like, "Oh, yeah, I remember Pease Park, and then they'd tell me some story about Pease Park
What would say it is about the Austin area that made it such a fertile area for lesbian bands?
I think that we that we really encouraged each other. One of the things that happened was, yes, before I was playing there was a band called Whoom Elements, that was a three-piece kind of a punk band, and the drummer was straight, but the two guitar and bass were lesbians. Ah, Nancy Scott was already on the scene when I went there. There was Transact Theatre where I was able to see a lot of really great local lesbian artists. For me, because there was already so much lesbian art already going on, and I understand that when I don't know if it's Gay Liberation Front, or if it's the other group that came out after Stonewall, because you know they splintered and they had two different names. But they went on a kind of a sort of a proselytizing trip across the US, made their way to San Francisco, and I just don't remember if it's GLF or the other group, but they stopped in Austin, and in Austin they worked on, you know, people's activism, and the story of gay activism in Austin is very old. We had a really great photo exhibit once at Gay Pride that had all of these wonderful pictures from the early seventies of all these gay groups, and stuff, and I didn't really realize that because I came out here in Houston, where we had Montrose and Westheimer and all of that was very well established. And there was women's music radio on KPFT when I was growing up, so I was just used to hearing this stuff. And then the fact that I went to Michigan, right away when I was young meant that I was hearing a wide variety of lesbian music, not just women's music or folk music, but also rock and funk
When did you start going to Michigan?
In '82, when I was 19, and that made an enormous impression on me. So I think the fact for me at least, because a kind of lesbian music was already established in the town, it was quite easy for me to move into that space. I didn't have to think very much about it. I did think whether or not I wanted to be Out when I got out of high school musically. I knew I wanted to do music but I was scared, for about a week I was on the fence about whether to be closeted or not. I hadn't been particularly closeted in high school, but I was now going to embark on my career. And, what's it called, "World According to Garp" is a Robin Williams vehicle and in it his mom is a feminist who gets gunned down, really for her outspoken views. And I'm just a total like .I mean, I didn't think I was going to make it to 30 because of course I would be assassinated for the important things that I have to say and because of the threat that I am to society's, you know, mores. And so I was nervous, like you could get really hurt if you are this Out, as Out as you want to be, and as Out as you want to be about sex, because that was very important to me, for there to be sex present as well as, you know, lesbian love feelings. So, I just grapples with it for about a week, and then said, "hey, what are you living for? I mean, what are you living for?" And then, I never looked back. I wrote "The Queer Song," and I never looked back.
What other openly lesbian rock bands were visible in the late 80s and 90s?
Bands that I don't remember the names of, not anybody big, cause when we went on tour we certainly played with our share of, you know, singer songwriters, but sometimes we played with bands, and there were bands that were playing at that time, at Rhythm Fest, and there were bands at Michigan absolutely, there were, but who were they?
My point is, that as I was researching you for the last week or so, I got to the point where, gee, was Gretchen and her bands really the first openly lesbian bands as a form?
You know, what I did was certainly on the heels of different rock bands I saw at Michigan, you know, I mean I saw bands that were varying degrees of Out at Michigan, but we knew that they were lesbians. I mean, even Joan Jett, I mean you just look at her and, okay, here's a dyke. I certainly didn't invent anything, you know, I don't think I did because there was all of this stuff that inspired me that inspired me before, there was so much stuff in punk. Yes, there weren't a lot of bands for us to go on tour with, that's for damn sure, cause we woulda. You know, we played shows with Phranc pretty frequently; that was a real soulmate of ours. It didn't feel like to me that we were doing anything that new cause I'd already for so many years done Girls In The Nose, and already for so many years done Meat Joy, and already for so many years had seen, you know, had seen stuff in Austin. But I do think that when we went, judging by the response, and the very positive response that we received on tour, and the positive, you know, sales of our record, we were at the forefront, because there were all of these other girls that we played with who were closeted at the time
what part does religion play in your music?
Oh, I don't know that religion per se, I don't think, I don't know that religion does, but I would say that my kind of spirituality, which is something that has always been very present for me. You know, I was taught that God is everywhere, and Jesus is this way for me to sing about a man I love and a man who I think is smart and I think is kind and I think is doing good things, and is somebody who's important to me. And I have tons of male friends, and we used to have a song in Two Nice Girls, called "Manlove," that we never recorded that I will definitely try to put on our bonus tracks, find a good version of it and put it on there, and it was a very controversial song. And the first time we played at Michigan, on the night stage, we performed it and it created quite a furor, but all I ever wanted was to perform a song about loving men on that stage. I really that needs to be said, this is part of the whole thing for me, the whole reason I'm in this is to change people.
I'm interested in propaganda. I'm interested in a song that gets stuck in your head, that you may or may not agree with lyrically, but you can't get it out of your mind. I try to write pop songs that go down pretty easy, so the same way that you don't mean to be singing "under my thumb is where my dog just had her day," it's such a great melody that there you are. I want for you to be singing my lesbian song, whether you agree with it or not, I'm interested in propaganda and I'm really, really interested in a propaganda that is about activism, that's about that's why I love "Lavender Country" [the 1973 openly gay c&w album by the group by the same name] I love Lavender Country linking gay rights
with other human rights, and also singing about the sex part. Liberation is enormously important to me, but it's liberation for everybody. I want a liberation for every single person gay, lesbian, straight, bi, transgendered, celibate.
You know, I want for everybody to be able to have what they want, and I think the world is big enough to accommodate that, I really do, and I think there's something magical, absolutely magical about music, and about the community that is formed when we have live performance, and the feelings that we have when we listen to music at home alone, cleaning, whatever, the soundtrack to our lives the song that was playing when we fell in love, the song that was playing when we broke up you know, all of these ways that it's .I can't believe that I get to do music, that I get to do something that I consider holy work, because of its wonderful, it's vibrations, literally vibrations. When I sing with Dave and the timbre of our voices and you know, I'm just riding that, and it's like this wonderful way of getting to, you know, be with him and mate with him vocally and make this other thing, which is you know our blend. Same thing with women, same thing with your electric guitar, whatever, I just it's very, very important to me, and I think that music is always part of the revolution. I want to be part of the revolution, I want to be right there at the middle of the revolution
In 2001 you won an Austin Chronicle musical award and induction into the Hall of Fame
Yes, yes, I was thrilled. When the Austin Chronicle music awards first came out, in, I don't know, I want to say '83, '82, '84, something like that, way in the early days of the Chronicle, they had this Hall of Fame, and you had to be performing at it for 15 years, and I was like "I'm getting one of those someday, I am definitely getting one of those, I have to, because I care so much about Austin and because I'm doing this for the rest of my life." And, so, I've won different awards. Meat Joy won, Two Nice Girls won, I've won, you know, for different bands, but I hadn't won as an individual
It's a vote?
It's a vote so then different people are nominated. I don't know how many, 7 maybe, and then the people of Austin vote on who the winners are. I'm very, very proud of that
What do you think your contribution has been to queer music?
I think my contribution to queer music has been putting a focus on sex inside of homosexuality, a kind of humorous take on what it means to be lesbian, but also also very sincere I think that my desire to be creatively frightened and sort of uncomfortable is a real contribution, something that I think is very, very important, is for me to be edgy, in a way that I may not even understand why I'm doing it, but I need it to be challenging. I think that it was very, very important to me when I was younger to provide for young queers to not feel so alone. There's so much more gay representation today than there was, you know, in the 80's, it's very, very different, and I think that I played a role in busting into a certain kind of mainstream, being on the frontlines at that period of time in terms to an access to media that was available, and people getting to see it's not that hostile of a reception. My bands have never really received a hostile reception at all, and I think that that emboldened other people to give it a try, that it wasn't necessarily going to be that scary, and I have wanted to provide anthems. I've just wanted to provide songs for people who are coming out, people who have been out, people thinking about their community, people thinking about the world to provide, anthems to provide the songs that can accompany their lives, that can be with them as they go through their life, that they can hum to themselves, or have it show up unbidden in their mind that perhaps make them feel not so along
Where are you going musically next?
Well, my new album, entitled "I Was Just Comforting Her," I am so pleased with. I think this is a great lesbian album, the likes of which have never been heard, really. But I have I don't get to put out this new one until I re-release the old stuff, so nexty next next next for me is re-releasing Two Nice Girls, re-releasing Girls In The Nose, re-releasing Meat Joy, and getting my website to where you can just order that stuff from me and purchase it that it's not hard to find, or you have to get it off of eBay or you have to take our word for it that it's great music but you just can't find it. So, I really, really want to put my new record out when it's done but I don't get to do it until I've done this re-releasing. Also from a marketing standpoint I'd probably get some free press when I re-release this stuff cause people will remember it, cause I get an email a week from somebody saying, "Where can I buy some Two Nice Girls?" I get an email every seven years saying "where can I buy Meat Joy?" But I do get an email a week saying "where can I buy Two Nice Girls." I want to have Two Nice Girls, at least the first one, out by Christmas, in time for Christmas.
You've said the new one will be called "I Was Just Comforting Her"...tell me about that title
"I Was Just Comforting Her"? Oh, that's about what the young what you say when you get busted, when you get busted with some girl. That's a classic line, unfortunately a line of denial I was just comforting her
Get your hands out of there
But it comforts her (laughs)
Tell me about the song "In Case of Rapture"
Ah, I got so mad after, you know, after we invaded Iraq, to see this bumper sticker that said "Blessed is the country whose God is the Lord." What does that mean? I cannot believe, I cannot believe the conceit of that, and I hate the bumper sticker "In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Abandoned," so if you're stuck behind me you better pray to your God that you don't ram into me. Is this essentially what they are saying. I hate that so much, it's just a song about how much I hate that
Gretchen Phillips - "In Case of Rapture" (2005, demo)
Please tell me about "To the Lady C"
Oh, "To the Lady C," that is, you know, just a continuum of "Let's Go Bonding," and "Goons," "I Can Hear the Angels Singing," a lesbian love song, the lesbian love song about I enjoy it but surely it's so scary to have this much fun. I am a Texan after all.
Gretchen Phillips - "To the Lady C" (2005, demo)
Those two songs are from the next album by Gretchen, to be called "I Was Just Comforting Her," and she let me play those clips if I promised to tell y'all that they are just rough mixes, giving a very early peak at the next album.
What question should I have asked you?
Well, obviously you should have asked me if I'm a lesbian first or musician first, I hate that question so much; I used to get that all the time in the 80's. You should ask me who's not the nice one I yi yi. God, I hate that one. Oh, Lordy, what should you have asked me? Well I got to talk about what I care about, and that was good, and what I'm trying to do with this whole thing. Oh, you didn't ask me about my relationship to Houston in my lesbianism, because it was very specific for me. I came out in Houston, I first went to gay bars in Houston, and I listened to somebody's, I don't know, lesbian radio show, I don't even know who it was, you know. I just want Houston to know how much Houston is inside of me and tied in with my lesbianism in my music because it's so early, because it's so young and it was such a crucial and informative time. And you know what, I used to DJ occasionally for KPFT, that was really great. Sometimes somebody would call me up and say "I can't do this, can you come and do this" different DJs and I got to do that. Oh, and Ed Badeaux, he had a crazy show, he had a really crazy show on there, he played me when I was in high school. He's the first DJ to ever play my stuff, and he was on KPFT, had a show called "Night Song," I want to say. And that was like '76, when I was in junior high, he was playing me
Do you have any reflections about your career?
You know, I think that there's been sort of a change in my music, in terms of a kind of hungry desperation and driven-ness that took place when I was in Two Nice Girls up until that time, and it kind of coinciding with my being with Ann and being very comfortable being at home, and having to work on stuff about myself that I never worked on when I was working that hard on music. I know myself right now so much better than I did ten years ago, and I'm not scared of me in the way that I kind of was, you know, and I'm certainly not scared to be alone with me, in a way that I really kind of was. But in that period of time right there music is always very important to me but in terms of it as a career, you know, I'm curious about doing things in different ways and I know people who get really wrapped up and really upset about they didn't make that much at this show and blah blah blah and stuff. I've been that way before, it doesn't make me happy, you know. My stuff is radical, and especially now that I'm not playing music with people who are saying "how can we make this a little more pop and a little more mainstream?" Left to my own devices it is really quite challenging and not everybody's buying it, they're just they're not.
And that's fine with me because I have to do what I want to do, but it doesn't sell in quite the same way, nor am I really marketing myself in quite the same way. Also, my hair's prematurely gray, so I don't look like a really cute 23-year old anymore. Stuff has shifted, you know, things have really shifted but my music is I think at least as interesting as it ever was, and my desires to sort of reformulate, you know, how I do music is very, very strong. So I have tons of friends my age who certainly don't support themselves by music, but they release records and they go on tour and they do stuff and they're still doing music. That's the main thing, is all these people who don't do it anymore who are such geniuses, that breaks my heart. They got that mortgage, and then they weren't seen on the stages again.
Now, I've got one more song to share with you, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and to thank Gretchen Phillips not only for the wonderful interview, but for providing some of the rare tracks to me. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me . And I wish you would. My website, of course is at www.queermusicheritage.com. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
Okay, the perfect way to end this show is with her most famous song.
How did you come to write the song "I Spent My Last $10 On Birth Control and Beer"?
Oh, well I wrote "I Spent My Last $10" when I was in Meat Joy actually, and I brought it to that band, and they really weren't interested in it, which I thought, "okay, well, I'm really sitting on a goldmine here so if you want to be like that, be like that." And I brought it to Two Nice Girls immediately and of course it was very popular right off the bat, once it started being performed.
I said literally at a show to my bandmates prior to during sound check "I just spent my last $20 on birth control and beer" because I was on the pill for my spotting, my sort of hormonal problems, and I also drank a lot of Busch Beer, and I had spent my last $10 on birth control and beer, and I when I said that I was like "that sounds like a country song, I gotta write that song." Which I think all the time but I don't necessarily act on. But that song really came came right through me. It basically just kind of wrote itself, I have to say. I wrote it while I was driving around for a job. I always have these jobs where I have to be in the car a lot. It came out pretty much fully formed. "I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer" did very well for Two Nice Girls, in terms of a lot of college radio play, you know, and people and also being a sing-along.
And also, that is a lesbian song with a man at its center. And because there's a guy, because it's over and over and over again about this guy Lester, then all these guys feel included. And they love a lesbian song that's kind of starring them. So I think that that's the secretly largely to that particular lesbian song's success. And the fact that it's a sing-along and people do enjoy the audience participation. But it's a very sad song, I mean, it's really about a kind of view that I had that heterosexuality is just largely ah messed up. And I don't really like to sing it now. It's not a song I like to sing because it's really pretty mean.
So, I remember I was asked to sing it once when I was doing a solo gig in, I don't know, North Carolina or something, and she said, you know, you really do have to sing that, and she was paying me pretty well so I was like, okay, and you know, I'd just met a fellow at a restaurant, and had said please come down to the show. I quite liked him and he came and I started singing that song and he really had this sort of struck he had a sort of stricken look on his face. He didn't know it, he was a young guy, he wasn't familiar with it, and you know, what I like about "Last $10" is when other people sing it. My favorite thing about "Last $10" is hearing other people singing it, ah, Women In Comfortable Shoes, their version, the Australian Gay/Lesbian Chorus doing it, singing at a campfire at Michigan where I'm not even really singing it and Bitch and Le Tigre, and the other girls around me, are singing it because they know it, the way that it lives in other people's voices is preferable to me right now to my own version.
Girls - "I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control & Beer"
Spent My last $10.00 (On Birth Control and Beer)
I was a young girl like normal girls do
did not drink, I did not smoke I did not say "goddamn"
was June 1983 when Mary Lou and I did part
my last heartbreak nothing made me more sick
of course, for a woman to love a man she must also love to booze
there's certain thrills that lesbian love simply cannot supply
And, check out this fun "Lord of the Rings" parody of "Last $10"