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I interviewed Nina Antonia for Venus Zine back in 2007. Her writing has been a huge influence on me. She has been a music journalist in Britain since the ’80s and wrote an amazing book called The Prettiest Star in the mid-’00s. It is about her experience growing up in Britain during the ’70s as a fan of Glam and Punk music, which I could really relate to, and she weaves her tale with the story of Brett Smiley, who is an underrated Glam Rocker, that was destined to be the next David Bowie, but whose career did not turn out as expected. It is quite a gripping story! I interviewed her not too long after that book came out, and got to talk to her about the book, as well as other people that she has written about such as the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders (she wrote two books that have to do with Thunders, one about the New York Dolls and one about about his career) and Peter Perrett from the Only Ones.

Nina Antonia

Glitter in the Gutter: a legendary music journalist talks about the impact of Glam Rock on her life and the not-so-glamorous aspects of her writing career

By Bess Korey

Nina Antonia with Brett Smiley

Nina Antonia with Brett Smiley

In her recent book, The Prettiest Star: Whatever Happened To Brett Smiley?, legendary British music journalist, Nina Antonia, parallels her personal memoir with the biography of musician Brett Smiley. Smiley’s all too brief shot at fame as a Glam Rocker in the mid-’70s and subsequent fall into despair and addiction when things did not work out as planned, is brilliantly interwoven with Antonia’s tale of being a young music fan growing up in Liverpool, England.

Antonia’s life was changed forever by the burgeoning Glam Rock movement and the musicians with whom she was able to identify with from that scene, including the New York Dolls, their guitarist Johnny Thunders, and, of course, Smiley. The book spans a 30-year-period, chronicling the ups-and-downs of life faced by Smiley and Antonia, and ending on a high note when their lives intersected in the early 2000’s. During that time, they finally met in person, and Antonia played an important part in getting Smiley’s lost 1974 Glam Rock album, Breathlessly Brett, released on RPM Records.

Her early interest in the Dolls and Thunders led to her being the first person to ever write biographies about both subjects: The New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon and Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood. She is known as an authority on the Dolls because of that and appears in a recent documentary, New York Doll, about the Dolls’ late bass player, Arthur “Killer” Kane. She has also written, The One and Only: Peter Perrett, Homme Fatale, on a founding member of the pioneering British Punk group, the Only Ones, and she has had articles published in renowned British music magazines, such as Mojo and Uncut. Antonia has certainly come a long way from being an unhappy little girl who used her daydreams of the Dolls, Thunders, and Smiley as an escape. In the following interview, which was conducted via e-mail during March of 2007, she candidly discusses her journey.

Bess Korey: In The Prettiest Star you mentioned that when you were trying to find a publisher for your first book, Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood, one of the publishers you showed the book to had the gall to tell you that women shouldn’t and can’t write about music. The lengthy resume that you have created as a music writer since then has certainly proved him wrong. Was that the only time that you have had to deal with sexist behavior in the publishing world or have there been other instances over the years as well? Also, do you think that people have become more accepting of female music journalists since the ’80s, or does it seem to you like women who write about music are still made to feel like they have something to prove? 

Nina Antonia: Throughout my time as a Rock n’ Roll writer, I’ve often had to deal with sexism, so the first incident which you mention, from The Prettiest Star, was kind of a precursor. It’s not quite as bad [now] as it was in the ’70s. But I’ve watched as male contemporaries in the same field have been offered the opportunity to make a decent career, while I’ve had to scratch [out] a living.

In the music press there is still the sense that the male voice, in print, at least, is the most authoritative. In the UK, there are usually one to two women writing for each Rock magazine, if they’re lucky. This is the quota filled. I have to admit, however, that I’m also not “one of the boys.” I don’t hang out at the pub with the guys from whatever Rock mag, and this also goes against the grain, as do the bands I’m usually associated with.

The most infuriating incident I encountered was from an American writer, a woman; which made it all the more galling; who was writing a book about women in Rock n’ Roll and contacted me about two years ago with a query about ’70s groupie glamour queen, Sabel Starr. I was as helpful as possible and let her know that I did the last interview with Sabel in my New York Dolls book. Ironically when the book came out, the journalist sourced a male author, who hadn’t actually spoken to Sabel, and totally ignored the Dolls book. I got a teensy thanks, which was lost in the footnotes.

I can’t say whether people have become more accepting of female music journalists, because I can only answer from my own experiences. On a more positive note however, I do get lovely feedback about my books from lots of guys so the “fault,” if there is one, lies within the media’s attitude, not with the Rock reader.

From what can be gathered in reading about your life in The Prettiest Star, you’ve never been reckless or self-destructive like the musicians that you choose to write about. Why do you think that you have such a strong desire to write about the dark side of Rock n’ Roll? And does writing about such things help you stay grounded?

I suppose you could say I was emotionally reckless and self-destructive in some of the relationships I embarked upon, but as a single parent I had to learn to survive as well. I probably have a strong desire to write about the dark side of Rock n’ Roll because it reflects something in me, an echo of my childhood, which fashioned my outlook on life.

Also traditional success stories are pretty boring, I’d rather write about the authentic: people who have had to struggle yet triumphed by getting their records out against the odds, people whose lives are real. I hate high gloss, air brushed perfection and MTV homogenization. Authors like Nelson Algren, John Rechy, and Jean Genet influenced me, because they understood the poetry of the gutter. I am grounded because I’ve had to be to pay the rent.

How would you describe Brett Smiley, and the effect he has had on your life, to people who have not read your book? 

The Prettiest Star, which is both Brett’s biography and my autobiography, is, amongst other things, a reflection on the ephemeral quality of pop music. As a Glam phenomenon, Brett was as fleeting as a snowflake, which gave him and the music a magical quality. He was the Greta Garbo of teeny-pop; elusiveness can be a great quality.

The “imaginary” Brett character belongs to my early teens. Brett Smiley of today is a very different person; much more earthy, as is his music. I perceive him like a figure in a fairy story, someone remembered from another lifetime, whilst wishing the real Brett all the very best with his future endeavors. Besides, he is very much concerned with the now, as well.

What inspired you to write a book about Peter Perrett of the Only Ones? 

Peter is like a modern day Baudelaire. If you don’t know Baudelaire’s work, it’s incredibly contemporary in its jaded cynicism, yet it has a timeless, morbid beauty to it. Perrett and Baudelaire also share the same predilections for dissipation as well. Perrett is one of the most anti-establishment people I’ve ever met; he refuses to live within society’s rules. Peter is a truly mythical figure, I once described him in an article as being the “Syd Barrett of the new wave”; there is a lot of mystique surrounding Perrett that continues to exert a fascination over people.

The Only Ones’ music is kind of baroque, grandiose almost. It’s the sound of opium dreams and car crashes, refinement and chaos. The Only Ones have just reformed and are going to be playing gigs this summer in England, so I may update the book.

Even though you’re a female writer, you’ve chosen to chronicle the lives of male musicians, as opposed to female ones. Does gender play a role at all when you choose the topics you want to write about?

The two female artists I would have most wanted to write about were Debbie Harry and Nico, I think they are both wonderful and, indeed, I’ve done sleeve notes for a Nico CD. However, I always write about artists who have largely been under the radar, in terms of media coverage. When I wrote about the New York Dolls, they hadn’t yet reformed and hit the comeback trail, but that’s a bit of a tangent. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t think there was a need for me to write about Debbie Harry or Nico, as there were perfectly good books already out about both of them. It’s not an issue of gender either, it’s always been about whose work and style moves me.

Which book do you like best out of the four you’ve written, and is that the one you enjoyed writing most?

Johnny Thunders; In Cold Blood is the one that means the most to me, because it was my first book and entailed a lot of struggle. I put my soul into it and got to work closely with Johnny, who was my Rock n’ Roll hero. It’s also the book that I get the most feedback on. Johnny captured a lot of people’s hearts and In Cold Blood is an authentic document. It originally came out in 1987, first editions can cost quite a lot if you can find a copy. I only have one left. It was revised and updated a couple of years ago and it’s the new version, available through Cherry Red Books, that is still in print.

Nina Antonia with Crooked J

Nina Antonia with Crooked J

Are you working on any new books or projects right now?

I had a difficult experience with the last book I tried to get off the ground, which was going to be an alternative look at Glam. At this stage of the game, I’m too weary to fight for what should be obvious, i.e., a decent advance and a reasonable timeframe for writing a book.

Right now I’m concentrating on managing a band called the Skuzzies. Their front man, Crooked J, is my partner. If I’m going to write about any band at all, it will be the Skuzzies. They have the grimy allure of the city after midnight and incorporate everything I’ve ever found inspiring in music and literature, whilst being totally themselves.

When you were younger, could you have ever imagined that your life would turn out this way? Does the fact that you have been so involved with the lives of your heroes seem surreal to you at all, or does it just feel normal now? 

In my early teens I spent most of my life in daydreams, as this was preferable to real life. My dream was to meet Johnny Thunders. I suppose my dreams came true but of course things never turned out in the way one anticipates. Life is bittersweet, as were my experiences of getting to know Johnny and writing his biography. His life was far from perfect, as was mine, but it was still the realization of something very special and finding creative fulfillment is rewarding.

Writing Too Much Too Soon was a completely different experience, it was more of an elegy to the original New York Dolls, a fond goodbye. To answer your question, I don’t think I could have lived my life any other way. My books gave me a voice that would otherwise have gone unheard.

This is the uncut version of an interview that appeared on Venus Zine’s website during December 2010, and features additional questions Cherry Vanilla answered that did not appear in the Venus Zine interview.

Interview: Cherry Vanilla

The ’60s and ’70s music scene legend talks about what inspired her to write her new book, Lick Me, raves about the realism of Mad Men, and shares some recollections of her times with Andy Warhol and David Bowie.

By Bess Korey

Cherry Vanilla’s autobiography, Lick Me: How I Became Cherry Vanilla, was released during November 2010, and it is a no holds barred account of her life and career during the ’60s and ’70s. During those decades, she was a successful “Mad Woman” in the Advertising industry; collaborated with Andy Warhol and was one of his Superstars; had a personal relationship with David Bowie while she was doing PR work for him during the Glam Rock era; and had her own music career as a Punk Rocker during the mid-late ’70s. All of these achievements and more are covered in Lick Me, and she touches on some of these milestones from her life in the following interview.

What inspired you to write a book about your life story at this point in time?

The kids who are in the rock scene now have so many more worries than I had when I was young.  There’s so much fear in the air.  There are real threats, of course, but also I think the government keeps us all in check by making us fearful and promoting the fact that they are our big protectors.  George Bush and Dick Cheney really used this tactic a lot.  I wanted to promote a bit of fearlessness, at least about art, activism and sexuality for them.  And for the older folks like me, I just wanted to remind them of the wild good times we had, when things were not so scary as they are now … make ‘em count their blessings for having had such a fabulous youth and rejoice in the fact that we’ve survived.

Was it tough for you to write about so many personal things that happened to you, and since you name names, did you worry at all about how people may respond to the book?

It was extremely cathartic to write about so many personal things, but also extremely painful at times.  I’m a very practical person and I move on fast from failure, tragedy and the like.  But all of the hurts and feelings I had buried so long ago came to the surface once again and had to be dealt with in a much deeper way once I started writing about them.  But then, of course, remembering all of the fabulous rock & roll nights I’d had, the extreme joy of getting so close to the music and the musicians I loved, really made me feel so extremely lucky.  I mean, for a little Irish Catholic girl from Queens, I certainly had some rare and incredible experiences.

As for worrying about what anyone might think, I had to put that out of my mind and try to tell the absolute truth about every encounter and every situation, no matter what.  I think that as long as you strive so hard to portray things as they actually were … and it was all so long ago … I don’t think that people should have any reason to get upset.  And even though I reveal so much about myself and my innermost feelings, embarrassing moments and such, I really tried hard not to reveal too much personal stuff about those in the situations I describe. I mean, I might tell everything about how fabulous it was to be in bed with David Bowie, Kris Kristofferson and the like, but I would never discuss the size of anybody’s penis or those kinds of tacky details.

Do you watch the show Mad Men, and if so, based on your experiences of working on Madison Avenue, do you feel as if it is a true representation of what was going on in Advertising during that era?

Oh my God, they got it so right, I can’t believe it!  It’s exactly as it was.  They even mention Rattazzi’s restaurant, where I had my first poetry reading.  And what a reminder of just how fortunate I was!  I mean, I kind of knew that women had a hard time in that world, but I somehow just didn’t think that it applied to me.  I was so naïve, and that might have been my saving grace in a way.  I just assumed that if I did my job well and got along with my co-workers, that I would be rewarded with responsibilities, raises and positions befitting my work ethic and my talents.  And I think that naïveté kind of saved me.  I just seemed to sail through the obstacles and I became one of the very few radio/TV producers and casting directors on Madison Avenue at the time.  The only thing they haven’t covered thus far in Mad Men is Fire Island and the LSD scene, which was very big with all of us Mad Avers at the time.  I am waiting to see that episode.  Maybe they will lift one from my book.  Or maybe I could help them write one.

Do any of the female characters on Mad Men remind you of yourself back then?

Well, I see a bit of me in all of them.  Peggy certainly captures the advancements I made career-wise, but I wasn’t as dark or dorky as they portray her in the show.  Looks and attitude-wise, I was much more like Joan.  But I was more independent and ambitious than she seems to be.  I certainly wasn’t like Betty.  I didn’t want to be anybody’s wife or girlfriend back then.  I wanted to be free to screw around all I wanted and to pay my own rent and my own way.

How do you feel working on Madison Avenue influenced your later career and your time doing PR work for David Bowie?

You know, what we did on Madison Avenue was paid advertising.  It was the corporate world and it’s where I learned the methods and the rules of promotion.  But when I started doing PR for Bowie, what thrilled me most was discovering how much press coverage one could actually get for nothing via public relations. And that’s when I learned how to combine them both.  I remember when the great fashion critic, Mr. Blackwell, put Bowie on his Worst Dressed Female List.  I saw that as a great opportunity to make a very inexpensive radio campaign out of it, which was then written about and talked about so much in the press and in important social circles, that we got ten times our money’s worth out of it.  We didn’t really have huge amounts of money on hand to promote David back then; we just made it look that way to the public.  And it was not only my advertising experience that helped me with that, but also the experience I had gained in promoting the underground films and plays I did with my friends.  It was so much more challenging to get the word out on something when there was absolutely no budget to do so.

What was it like working with Andy Warhol?

Warhol gave me belief in myself as an actress.  He was always so encouraging and so full of praise.  He used to tell me that if Hollywood would only recognize what he called “the real stars,” meaning the ones he chose, like me, that we would once again have a golden age of movie stars, like he felt we’d had back in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.  He believed that stars were born stars, not manufactured, and that one only had to have the insight to recognize them and then put them in a setting and scenario where they could shine as themselves.  My favorite moment with him was when I auditioned for him in order to get the title role in his play, Pork.  And instead of him making me read a scene from the play, as most playwrights would have an actress do, he just chatted with me about TV commercials and asked me to sing a hymn from catholic school.  I sang “Dear Lady of Fatima” and he loved it.  And I got the part.

Do you have any memories from your time with David Bowie that you would like to share?

Well, my favorite memories from my time with Bowie are the ones from the Ziggy Stardust concerts on his early US tours.  They were so groundbreaking and amazing, and so entertaining.  I really feel so lucky to have gotten to attend so many of them.  But, of course, getting to have sex with him that first time, after the concert in Boston is probably my most favorite memory of all … that and the many nights we stayed up talking till dawn, when he was at the height of his cocaine period.

Were you involved with the Feminist Movement at all during the ’60s and ’70s?

Not officially, though I felt I was a natural feminist all of my life.  I wasn’t afraid to do anything a man could do, socially, sexually and career-wise.  I felt I broke down a lot of barriers, opened a lot of doors and did away with some major taboos.  I earned my own money and paid my own way.  And I can’t remember ever letting anything stop me from doing something I wanted to do or accomplishing something I wanted to accomplish because of my gender.

Even though you weren’t officially a Feminist, do you feel as if the Feminist Movement affected your life as a businesswoman and performer?

Of course, and I feel it affected a lot of women’s lives that followed.  I wonder if there ever could have been such commercial entities as a Madonna or a Lady Gaga, if there had not first been the more underground female characters such as myself.

Cherry Vanilla in 2010.

Cherry Vanilla posing in 2010.

What influenced your decision to emerge from behind the scenes in the music world to the forefront as a performer?

The Sex Pistols are what got me to go to London in 1977.  I had been into both American and UK rock groups for years and years – all of the big ones … Beatles, Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Leon Russell and the like – but when I heard the Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK for the first time, there was an energy in it that I just could not resist.  I sold everything I owned and got on a plane to London almost immediately.  I just had to see what was going on over there.

I have always had such a strong desire to demystify things, to find out what it must feel like to be everything from an ad exec, a DJ, an actress, a PR lady and so forth … it was only natural that I would want to demystify the rock star thing.  I was in the music business already, and it was the ultimate music biz role.  I wouldn’t have been satisfied had I not gotten up there in front of the drums, the amps and the guitars and found out what it actually felt like to spill your guts out to an audience and control the energy in the room … and to try and raise it to a fever pitch, without it getting completely out of control and causing mass chaos.

Do you think it’s easier to be a woman in the music business today than it was in the past?

Not necessarily. I think it’s hard being in the music business today no matter what sex you are.  There’s a lack of focus on any one form, the lack of a movement of any kind, a trend.  It’s the long tail thing created by the web.  Instead of a hundred artists selling millions of albums, it’s millions of artists selling hundreds of albums, or tracks, as is more likely now. Mick Jagger said an interesting thing in a recent interview and that is that musicians all through the ages never really made tons of money … but there was that one window in time in the sixties and seventies when groups like his were able to become extremely famous and extremely rich by making music.  But that time seems to have come and gone.  Now a musician is just lucky to be making a living at all by way of his or her music.  There are, of course, the Lady Gagas and the Atomic Toms who come along now and then.  But most of their success is based on a gimmick, not on the music.  And even they are not racking up the sales like a Michael Jackson or a Mariah Carey once did.

How do you feel that you’ve changed the most since the ’60s and ’70s?

As an artist, I am no longer about glitter, glam, sex and seduction.  And I guess the same can be said for me as a person.  And that’s probably a good thing at my age.  Once I lost the desire for sex, I, of course, lost the need and the desire to seduce.  And that changes everything about one’s attitude, motives, conduct and style.  I feel so free now … free of the need to be sexy, seductive and in fashion.  I am what I am and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem. I’m happy to be in my wrinkled 67-year-old skin and confident in my talents, accomplishments, personality, experience, loyalty, integrity and dependability.  I’m at that point in life where I can say exactly what I feel and what I think, without the fear of judgment or rejection.  As an artist, I’m still financially very insecure, but I understand that sort of comes with the territory and I accept it.  But socially, I am way more secure than I ever was when I was young and hot.  My aim was always to convey a relatable truth of the human condition through my art.  But there was a time when I felt it also had to be a little bit shocking.  Now, I just feel like I have to strive to tell the truth.  It still may shock some people, but I am in no way consciously trying to do that.  I’m just trying to inform and relate.  And I think that’s the goal of most artists, young or old, then or now.

What projects are you working on now?

Currently, I am giving my all to promoting my book, Lick Me. I spent two years writing it and I would like to see it get into the hands of as many people as possible.  I’ve been traveling around the States, doing readings, signings and interviews.  I’m hoping someone will want to make a movie of my story, and that I’ll be involved in that.  And I’m beginning to think about my next book, the one that will continue the story from 1977 to present.  Mostly though, I’m working on staying healthy, so I can accomplish all of these things.  And that’s the most important project of them all … for all of us.

An edited version of this story appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Girlistic.  Some of the information in this version, especially pertaining to ’70s Female Glam Musicians, has been recently updated.

The Sirens and ’70s Female Glam Rockers By Bess Korey

***

Part 1- A Brief History of ’70s Glam Women

Platform Boot

The genre of ’70s Glam Rock, despite all it’s gender-bending and female posturing, was still inherently a male-dominated movement. The trinity of Glam consisted of David Bowie, T.Rex and Roxy Music, and they are known for pioneering the genre, and for being influential on many of the groups who came thereafter. But there were many different factors that influenced the movement, which remain both known and unknown, and these elements go back to way before the 1970s; Oscar Wilde, Hollywood Glamour of the 1920s-1940s, ’50s Rock N’ Roll, and the ’60s Warhol Factory Scene, to name a few. The latter element having one of the greatest affects on the feminization of the male musicians in the scene. Warhol Superstars like Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, whom also happened to be Drag Queens, proved as models for this feminization, and both were immortalized in Lou Reed’s Glam Anthem, “Walk On The Wild Side.” Jackie Curtis, who was light years ahead of his time, represented the glitter in the gutter aspect of Glam that would later be portrayed by the New York Dolls, and other groups that wanted to be glamourous on a junk shop budget. But Jackie also was said to have an influence on Bowie’s high-brow glam image as well, especially since he had bright red hair and wore glitter make-up before Ziggy Stardust did. Candy Darling represented old time Hollywood Glamour, and could even pass for a ’40s screen siren in her photos. Unlike Jackie, Candy wanted to live her life as a female and pass as one, where as Jackie was all about androgyny, and acting out the gender of which he felt most comfortable being that day. When he was female, he played that role in a campy, over the top way, and was never interested in passing for a real female. The feminization of the male musicians of the Glam movement mixed the styles of Candy and Jackie, but had Jackie’s attitude. Even though they were fine with dressing like females, they didn’t actually want to be that gender.

What about the flip side to all this gender-bending; the female musicians that dressed butch, and/or took part in the movement. Well, as most people know, there was Suzi Quatro, and she played an important part in the scene. She didn’t wear make-up, always wore pants, and exhibited behavior, which at the time, was considered quite male, including; playing the bass, writing her own songs, and being very raunchy on stage. You have to remember that during the early ’70s the idea of a female playing an electric musical instrument was seen as an anomaly. Even the bass guitar, which later went on to be thought of as a more so feminized instrument, was still seen as a male plaything. So the fact that Suzi knew how to play it, and did so in a very sexual way, was seen as very revolutionary for the time. Suzi is often remembered as the only female that was part of the Glam Rock scene, but the truth is that she was not the only female participating, she was just the most well known.

There were women behind the scenes, like Angie Bowie and June Bolan, who each played a hand in shaping the images of their famous husbands. After all, the best way for a man to learn how to dress female would be from a woman. And it is very possible that there were other image makers in the scene who were female as well. As far as other female performers go, there were quite a few, and unfortunately most of them have been forgotten, which could have to do with the fact that Glam was a male-dominated movement, and could also be attributed to sexism towards female performers causing inaccuracies and omissions from the annals of Rock Music history.

Fortunately, there are some websites out there, like Glam Rock Bear (which was one of my favorite sites, and is sadly now defunct), Crazee Kids Sound (which has a page dedicated to Glam Girls here:  http://crazeekids-music.blogspot.com/search/label/*glam%20girls) and ’70s Invasion (which features all kinds of music from the ’70s, but specifically mentions female Glam Rockers here: http://www.angelfire.com/vt2/70sinvasion/page4.html) that remember these female Glam performers, and pays tribute to them. Performers such as: Noosha Fox (of the band Fox), Dana Gillespie, Lynsey De Paul, Bobbie McGee aka Gladys Glitter, Zenda Jacks, Kristine Sparkle, Fanny, Bonnie St. Claire, Cherry Van Gelder-Smith and more. As an American Record Collector, I have had much difficulty finding music by most of the above artists. There have been some recent re-issues by some U.K. labels that I have been able to get my hands on though, like Kristine Sparkle’s Devil Woman, which was put out by RPM Records within the past few years, and Cherry Red Records recently re-issued Fanny’s Glam album, Rock N’ Roll Survivors. So there have been some efforts in recent years to get the music of some of these women out there, but in general, their music and information about them, can be hard to find. (Like I said, I am in the U.S., so this is my experience from living there, it may be easier to find music by some of these artists in other parts of the world. I do know for a fact though that finding information on the web about some of these artists can be difficult, so I stand by that statement).

Unlike Suzi Quatro, a lot of these female performers expressed themselves in an extremely feminized way. Instead of dressing butch, they played up their femaleness, but in a drag way, which can be seen as gender bending within itself. Here you had females dressing like males who dressed like females, and in the process, putting yet another twist on traditional gender roles.

Part 2- The Sirens

Sirens Band Photo

The Sirens circa 2007

35 years after Glam Rock first made its mark on the world, a group from Detroit, Michigan, called the Sirens, are putting a long overdue female twist on the typically male style of music. Since their inception in 2000, The Sirens have toured in North America and Europe, including a record breaking tour of Serbia which lasted consecutively for over 2 weeks, and made them the first U.S. band ever to play that many shows there in a row. They have released two albums of Glam covers, their most recent, More Is More, during early 2007. The current line-up of the group includes: Muffy on vocals, Melody Licious and Miggy Starcrunch on guitars and backing vocals, Miss Lela on bass and backing vocals, and Malarsh on drums.

During the Spring of 2007, I was able to sit down with  Melody Licious for a chat at a favorite hometown hangout of hers called The Belmont. Licious wasn’t a founding member of the group, but still feels as if she has helped to carve out their sound. She says, ” A bunch of Detroit rock chicks got together [including vocalist Muffy, as well as some current and former members of the Gore Gore Girls, which is a band that Licious was also involved with] and they wanted to do a ’60s Girl Group thing, and they started doing that around 2000. Fast forward 7 years and now we’re this Glam Rock Powerhouse. Muffy loves Girl Groups, Glam Rock, and Fashion. She is a fashion genius and Muffy is the Sirens. The band started out wearing awesome outfits and doing covers of groups like the Shangri-Las and the Shirelles. I got asked to join the Sirens in 2001, and I told Muffy I wasn’t going to join the band unless I could bring my metal zone pedal with me. I brought a metal sound to this ’60s Girl Group type of scenario, and that kind of made it a lot heavier.”

On More Is More, Licious’s metal influence can be heard on quite a few tracks.This is especially apparent when they cover, “1-2-3-4 Rock And Roll” by Girlschool, whom themselves were not a Glam band, but were influenced by the genre’s sound, as were some other metal groups. Not surprisingly, Licious chose for the song to be on the album and it is one of her favorite tracks that they do. “Hellraiser” by Sweet, which is also on the album, would be another example of a hard rocking Glam song that later went on to influence metal groups, like Girlschool, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue. There is even a hidden track, which includes a very tongue-in-cheek cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me”, so throughout the album, they not only acknowledge Glam itself, but what preceded it and what it has influenced as well. They give a shout out to their hometown of Detroit’s musical roots by covering the MC5’s “High School.” They show off their pop sensibilities when they cover the Bay City Roller’s “Saturday Night”. Keeping in step with the earliest incarnation of the Sirens, they pay homage to the Shangri-Las, whom have long been known as an influence on Glam, especially on the New York Dolls, by covering their song, “Right Now Not Later”. A nod is also given to the musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch, which like the Sirens’ themselves, is a modern day take on the ’70s Glam Rock sound. The varying styles of the covers they choose, from radio friendly pop to harder rock, enables the group to show off their versatility as instrumentalists, as well as in Muffy’s vocal style. Her vocals are able to walk an androgynous line when she evokes the raw, grittiness of Noddy Holder [from Slade] to sounding pretty and feminine like Mary Weiss [of the Shangri-Las], and she is able to find a balance between those two very different singing styles.

The Sirens original intention was to be an all-female band. Licious says, “At one point the Sirens had three guitar players, a bass player, a singer, and a drummer, all female, and all from Detroit. That was around early 2003. One of the guitar players kind of wandered off, so then it was five girls for awhile, instead of six. In 2005, we got asked to go to France for a tour, after our first album came out, which was self-titled. It was produced by Michael Ivans who was the bass player for the Flaming Lips, and was put out by Get Hip Records. We toured France, but our bass player couldn’t go because she had a baby, so we got this guy in the band [Malarsh who started out playing bass for them, then switched to drums]. Muffy had one requirement for him. She said, ‘You want to join this band, I got two words for you, Cod Piece.’ Once we let a guy in, and Muffy totally dressed him up in a gold leather jacket, chest hair ablazing, with a cod piece, and 7 inch platform boots, it just changed the tone of the band completely.”

Muffy’s fashion expertise comes from her line of work which she does outside of the band. She is the Visual Design Manager for Neiman Marcus in Detroit, and is known across the country for her work with the company. She has taken this fashion know how and has applied it to the Sirens’ extremely over the top and campy Glam Rock look, which is very apparent on the cover of More Is More. Muffy thinks up the bands’ costumes for their gigs, which are different for every show they play, and usually have a theme to them. The spectrum of costumes includes everything from gold lame and platforms, to the Un-PC Indian look, which is inspired by Sweet’s performance of “Wig Wam Bam”, to being covered in flames like Slade, to looking like characters from the movie The Road Warrior, to being Glam Rock Mechanics.

In regards to the fact that the Sirens’ only play cover songs on that album, as well as the preceding one, Licious had this to say, “We play the songs we want to play, we put our time and energy into making a good show, and looking and sounding good, and entertaining a crowd. Where as a lot of bands put all their energy into songwriting [instead]. Jazz singers, Blues singers, even Pop singers, nobody bats an eyelash if they don’t write their own songs, in fact it’s almost expected. But with a Rock band, if you don’t write your own songs, you’re considered either a fake or just a cover band, but I think that in the nature we do it, much like the Detroit Cobras, our style precedes the fact that we don’t write songs. We choose to focus [instead] on our musicianship, our stage shows, our costumes, and having fun.”

Licious is in her late ’20s, so she doesn’t remember the ’70s. Many things have changed since that decade, especially in regards to how people view women musicians, but in certain ways, they’ve stayed the same. She says, “When I was growing up [in the '90s], being a woman musician, you were limited in who you could be influenced by [in terms of other female musicians]. And now I’m really glad that people have [more of] a choice, like you can decide between Kittie and the Donnas. When a girl band does good it no longer turns into a feature article just about how they’re chicks. But I’m still waiting for the female versions of the Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin. I don’t know if it’s the marketing, if it’s the women [musicians] not having enough confidence in themselves, the record labels thinking it won’t sell, or the public not wanting to believe it, but women have been playing music for decades, and I don’t understand why there hasn’t been an all-female band that has been held as highly as those guy bands. Female Rock Gods are few and far between. You have Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde. But where’s the female Keith Richards or the female Eddie Van Halen? Women can play just as well as men, why aren’t they considered Rock Gods?”

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