Team Dresch plays goddesslike rock which dissects prejudice, fear and the psyche with all the cauterizing coherence of a laser beam. I interviewed Jody over the phone in August before I had to go to work. I hung up the phone and walked outside into the shimmering heat - about 95 degrees that day if I remember right. It was incredibly still - no breeze, no sounds. It made it easier to think about what Jody said.
The first question I had was about the album title because it seems to allude to the Walt Whitman poem.
Jody: That wasn't the primary reason but that was something we realized afterwards and so we took it into consideration and we thought, "Hey, that works. That meaning's all right. Okay," but that wasn't the initial reason.
What was the initial reason?
J: Phranc. She calls Donna captain. She calls her capitan. She always has, so I was talking to Phranc about the record and Phranc said "You should call it 'Captain,'" and I just thought that it wasn't enough and I wanted it to be a little sexier and I thought "Captain My Captain" is more seductive. Then someone said that sounded really familiar and I was like, "Yeah, it does sound familiar." Then we were like, "I think there's some poem. Oh yeah, that Walt Whitman poem." And then we were like, "Well, Walt's gay and that poem was all right, so that's an okay meaning. We can still stick with this." And so we did. But the real meaning is because Donna is our captain.
I had actually read the poem again and it has a really somber tone and I was looking at a lot of the lyrics and at the end it seems like there's this blinding optimism that seems to say you'll make it through okay as long as you remember who you are, but in the meantime, you're going to have to go through a lot of things to get there.
J: True. So true.
Anyway, I was just wondering about that because I tend to think of albums as complete works, not just collected songs.
J: Me too. Yeah, definitely. The poem and the whole album, it wasn't meant to be the total tone, but the record is really somber too. I mean, there is an optimism, definitely. Most of the songs that Kaia wrote the words to are about being really far away from her girlfriend which is depressing in a certain way, but the songs from me were written at a time when I had been sick and been in bed for nine months and it was the hardest period of my life, bar none. So for me, the lyrics on this album and the whole process of writing it was way more personal. I don't know, personal, that's not what I want to say. It was a much bigger deal than on the other record. Some of the songs on the record I was literally writing to save my life, like I wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning. The one song, "Don't Try Suicide," there was an acoustic guitar next to my bed and I woke up one morning and started singing that song and I was just crying because I couldn't get out of bed. We put it on the record. Things like that, I wouldn't even have necessarily put on the record, but I want to. I want this record to happen and this is what happened. These are the real things for me. Why should I hide these things and write a bunch of other songs that are more contrived? So the songs, for me, were really intense to write.
So it was more of a cathartic experience for you.
I know from some of the clips I've read, you were very depressed, and I was looking at "Don't Try Suicide," and it was like reading a diary entry I wrote a few years ago when I was sick because it's about a lot of the same things - being scared to get out of bed, not knowing if you're going to make it through. Were you thinking about universal meanings, not just depression or death, but about the way people get paralyzed by fear and feel that way?
J: Oh yeah. It wasn't just pure depression. For me, the things I was going through, it wasn't just that I was sick and I knew what was wrong. My body broke down from a combination of so many things. One of them was maybe being manic depressive for years and not dealing with it, but they don't even really know because you can't really diagnose that unless you get on lithium and it works, whatever that means. I'm not taking lithium. There were so many other things too. When I was on tour, my adrenal glands stopped secreting adrenaline, but it was physical and emotional, but I had felt it coming on for a long time. I knew for a long time that I was getting more and more stressed out, more and more overworked, more and more paranoid. There was no way I could separate the way my body was collapsing from the way my mind was collapsing. Finally, I just completely hit rock bottom. It took at least six months to get to where I could get out of bed. I've talked to a lot of people since that have just heard that song and just from the lyrics to that song, and there aren't that many, they've written me and said, "I've been really agoraphobic," or "I've been afraid to leave the house. I have anxiety attacks four times a day." I think it's amazing that just from the seven lines in that song, people relate to it really intensely because so many have the same problems. People even say, "Have you thought about why you got that way?", like not even really knowing what way that is because it's not explicitly stated what was wrong with me or whether I was just depressed. Somebody wrote and said they thought it was because their dad was really afraid of everything and taught them to be afraid of everything and I've totally thought a lot about that myself because my parents are just really afraid of the world. They're super-conservative, the kind of people who check the stove every night before they go to bed. They taught me to be afraid of everything but that wasn't my nature, so it was contradictory, but when you grow up with people like that, it just sinks in. I don't know. I'm not making any sense.
Actually you are. The sad thing is that there are a lot of people like that who teach people to fear everyone and not to be strong and secure and independent and be strong enough so that they don't have to be afraid.
J: Right. My parents, they're the kind of people who think that if I'm a little weird, they're afraid that I'm not going to have any friends. They don't realize there are other weird people now. If they find out I'm gay, they're just afraid that I'm going to get murdered. They don't like to hear about anything I do because they don't take any a risks. A risk, for them, would be going out at night after dark or not living in the suburbs or something, so of course they're mortified, they're terrified for my life at every second and that's just going to sink in.
This is really interesting, because I know a lot of times people shy away from talking about emotional or physical or mental problems they may have had that have affected their health, just because there's something about it which is almost taboo. People seem to want to forget it happened or pretend it doesn't exist, yet you're really open about this.
J: It still is hard for me to talk about, just because the way those things are related, I find sometimes that talking about it makes it come back. In a way, when you talk about something, you're living it. When you conjure up those feeling, they're there in the same way that they were when you weren't conjuring them up so it's a fine line between talking about it and feeling bad and just actually feeling bad. I know at this point that I can talk about it. It might freak me out a little bit, but it's not like I'm going to go back to where I was so it is really hard to talk about it and I think it's really taboo. I think talking about mental illness especially is way more taboo than talking about being gay or anything. I think it's one of the most taboo things left in U.S. society to talk about but I just feel like it's easy for me, at this point, to talk about being gay. It's totally easy. I know it's not easy for everyone, but for me, it's nothing and I know that it helps a lot of people that I'm really open about it and I talk about it but it's no skin off my back to talk about it at all. It doesn't challenge me. It doesn't bug me. It's just a given. Getting letters and talking to people that are dealing with coming out and still living with their parents that have to have way bigger struggles with being gay than I have, even though it's still hard. I mean, my parents don't like that I'm gay and of course I have problems every day or whatever, but I feel like I need to challenge myself by moving on to the next thing that is really hard for me to deal with and be open with and whatever. The way that those people need to find me and maybe write me a letter that says "You're the only person I can tell that I'm gay. I can't tell my friends, I can't tell my family." I need to find people like that to talk to about mental illness. I just see a lot of parallels. It's like if you know you're gay but you've never met anyone who says, "Hey, that's great that you're gay! I think being gay is better." I know there are people out there that would say, "Hey, right on that you're manic depressive! Manic depressive people are generally really smart and creative." Or whatever, just so that you can have a positive self-image. I think being diagnosed, it makes you into a demon. People start reading your moods like you have some kind of meter attached to your body and everything's pathologized instead of just having normal mood swings like regular people do. You just become some kind of demon. I know that I need to find people that are doing a lot of radical political work against the mental health establishment which is so connected with drugs. I mean, fucking half the people I know are on anti-depressants. There has to be something wrong when most people I know are taking some kind of anti-depressant. I feel like even though it's hard for me to talk about, that's the next thing I need to do.
Right. And going back to diagnosing, that's basically just another form of labeling which strips issues of the humanity and people behind it.
J: Right. Yeah. I just think going through the process of being diagnosed is one of the worst things for your self-esteem that can happen and it also it makes something a lot smaller than it really is and so, even for yourself, you don't think about the ways ... I don't know. If someone tells you you're manic depressive, it's too easy for you to look at bad examples of that and say, "Okay, this is what I am. Now I know what I am." Your personality forms around that instead of inventing your own or thinking you can do whatever you want. It's just bullshit. I don't think being diagnosed helps anyone.
It sounds like you're getting awfully close to "Yes I Am Too, But Who Am I Really?" That was the feeling I was getting off that song as well as "Remember Who You," this message of inventing your own identity and refusing to let people tell you who you are. Figure out who you are from what you do as opposed to what people think and say about you.
J: Right. I think things like that, like diagnoses, you can use them as a tool. In a way, it's really freeing to go, "I'm gay." When you realize that, it's like a moment of revelation that's incredibly liberating and, in a way, for me, when the doctor was saying, "Yeah, you're manic depressive," I was like, "Whoa." You can look back at your life and say, "Okay, a lot of things make a lot of sense now that didn't make a lot of sense before," in terms in the way that I act, in terms of the way my body responds to things, etc. etc. You have to be able to use that information and then move on. You can't let it stop you at that point. I just think that it's information and it should jut be used as information. I just tried to get into Canada yesterday. I got in, but the lady talked to me for an hour and a half about being bipolar because I had medicine and she had to know what the medicine was and blah blah blah, and talking about being a hazard to Canadian society and as soon as she saw my medicine, it was jut such as different experience at the border than I've ever had. There were all these people standing around, trying to decide what to do with me, talking about me in front of me as if I couldn't understand them. That was my first experience with mental illness and the state and it was really bad.
You're pretty passionate about it, obviously.
It's interesting that you mention problems at the border because I was thinking about a line from "The Council" earlier - "Let's meet there between the core and the mantle." It seemed like it was suggesting meeting in the cracks of a society which is predominantly heterosexist, but now it seems like it might have something to do with crossing borders or boundaries from, say, one gender identification to another or one country to another or one state of mind to another.
J: I didn't write that line, but I think that's where Kaia was coming from. Kaia's lyrics are usually ambiguous for a reason but I know that Kaia was really thinking a lot. A lot of people had been like, what's the other lyric ... oh, like "Am I butch or femme?/ Can I register?" Yeah, I think Kaia was really thinking a lot about the way people were judging her and pigeonholing her. I mean, forget about being gay. Once you're gay, then people are like, "Are you butch? Are you femme? Are you femme enough? Are you butch enough?" Anything. They do it with punk. Whatever. Everything. I think that's a lot of stuff she was writing about was people putting identities on her that she felt really constricted by.
Right. And then there's the concept of registers in language which suggests that people talk certain ways in certain situations.
I wanted to talk about the attack that happened, I believe after your first show, when that guy found out Team Dresch was a band which had lesbians in it.
J: I don't think he knew.
Okay. The thing is, it baffled me when I heard about it. Why do you think it happened?
J: I think the attack happened because this guy is a total cokehead and he owned a club in town. It wasn't a club that was open on a regular basis. It was like a space and there were a lot of events there, like this lesbian disco that would happen once a month. He'd just rent it out to a lot of different things. There were actually a lot of gay and lesbian events, like more civic type, like the Gay and Lesbian Community Project would have their annual meeting at his space or whatever, but he was totally homophobic and he's had a lot of really bad incidents happen with different dykes that he's totally harassed. He's just a total cokehead and pulls a lot of classic moves like trying to get these women to go home with him and his wife and just being a total fuckwad in general. He was just coming to the club at the end of the night to get beer, pick someone up or score drugs or something. I don't know. He had his big rent-a-car parked in the parking lot and I asked him to move it a couple of times because I had to move equipment and all of a sudden, he just looked at me and started calling me a lesbian bitch because he just could tell I was a dyke and so he was pissed that some dyke was telling him what to do and he just totally want ballistic and was screaming that I was a lesbian bitch. If I had been like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever," and walked away, he probably wouldn't have done anything, but I was like, "Yeah, that's right. I'm a little fucking lesbian bitch so move your fucking car out of the parking lot." He was just like, "Fuck you," but we were screaming at each other and I would not let up. I was just like, "Yeah, I'm a lesbian bitch and you're a cock-having motherfucker so get in your big fucking pink piece of shit and move it out of the way." He got in his car, but he wasn't going to take it because he's just some kind of macho guy. I started walking back in the club and he jumped out of his car and sideswiped me, but really hard, in the head and he had a ring on so it totally sliced my whole eye open and stuff. I just think it happened because he could tell I was a dyke and I was being assertive with him and he didn't like it and snapped. Then when he started being totally belligerent and offensive, I matched him and then he just punched me, but he didn't even come square on. He hit me from the side, like I didn't even see him coming.
From what I understand, that was also part of the origin of "Free To Fight."
J: To a certain extent, yeah, definitely. I have a lot of friends who are self-defense instructors, like my housemate Anna and one of my good friends, Stacy. I think "Free To Fight" would have happened anyway but that added fuel to my fire. I was brainstorming one night. I was just saying, "I don't want to just put out records and bands are going to go on tour. I want to do something else. Even if I only do one thing a year, I want it to be something that's really important. I want to use this medium to disseminate information and fuck with the standard idea of going to a rock club and seeing a band. Rock clubs are public space. They're on of the only public spaces there is and we need to use this base as a way to get information to people because not everybody's going to show up at the Y to take a self-defense class or whatever, but there has to be a way we can get them a lot of information through records." So I was brainstorming with Anna and I was like, "We're doing a lot of the same work but it's just in these different forms. There has to be a way we could do it together." Then we were just like, "Yes! This could really work!" So we started working on it immediately.
One of things I liked about it was that it was really inclusive. It went from punk to indie to rap. Was that something you were thinking about?
J: Oh yeah, definitely. We just wanted it to be about self-defense. I've never identified as punk. I don't give a shit about the punk rock community. I don't know anything about it. I mean, there are people who identify as punk and it really means something to them, including Donna, that I've learned a lot from and I totally respect them, and I understand what they're doing with it, especially K. I think they've done really amazing things with redefining what punk is, but personally, it's never had much meaning to me other than the meaning that it has to people who are close to me and the same with Anna and Stacy. Stacy doesn't even listen to much music. It wasn't even something we had to struggle with. We like all different kinds of music and we just wanted as much different music as we could get because we like lots of different kinds of music. One of the biggest problems with keeping Candy-Ass alive is that the music is too eclectic. As similar as I think it is, people just expect that they're going to come to Candy-Ass and get music by lesbians or by girls. It's almost hard to sell New Bad Things records because people think they're just going to be buying "Free To Fight" type stuff. If I had my way, practically every record I put out would be totally different from another one, but I think it's really hard to do that. So yeah, it was definitely a conscious effort to get lots of different kinds of music. The goal was just to get self-defense to as many people as possible and get as many people's input as possible. That's all we cared about.
I've been getting this sense of diversity from Team Dresch's music. On some songs I hear a bit of jazz, on others I hear blues, sometimes it's more rock, like 70's arena cock rock type stuff.
I was just getting interested in the way all these different musics seemed to be coming together. Is that an accurate assessment of the music?
J: Definitely. I think it's a conscious thing and I definitely think it's accurate. We're aware of it. A lot of the songs sound really different from other songs and some people can deal with it and some people can't, but that's just the way that it is. Donna likes playing metal and whatever, but we could never do just a metal record. We've just all played so many different kinds of music and have been affected so many different styles that it all gets hybridized.
So we're going to have to wait a while for the Twisted Sister tribute album.
J: Yeah, definitely. I think it's going to continue pretty much to be like it's been, a lot of differently styles in one record because Donna is weird. Donna is a really amazing guitar player. One day she'll write this speed metal song and the next day she'll write this song that sounds a lot like Codeine, but they all sound like Donna songs. I think more than almost anyone I know, she writes songs that sound a lot different from each other but still are definitely, unmistakably her style. This other band I'm in, if our songs are different, it's because someone was like, "Let's write a song that sounds like the Pixies. Okay, now let's write a song that sounds like Codeine. Okay, now let's write a song that sounds like this." With Donna, it's more like it's all there and she writes these songs and they all sound really different but they all sound like Donna songs.
Do you prefer one style of songwriting over the other?
J: No. We can't even decide on what instruments to play.
Yeah. I noticed Melissa was about the only one who played the same instrument.
J: Kaia. Kaia only played guitar. Donna and I switched.
Right. You played guitar, bass, harmonica, etc. Donna played bass, guitar, guitar solos. It's kind of cool.
J: On the next record I'll probably be playing drums too which I think is bad because I think we should get a better drummer than me, but Donna seems to only want to do it me and her. I think she'll change her mind. I think she thinks I'm a better drummer than I am.
You also play drums in Hazel, right?
Hazel seems to be quite a bit different than Team Dresch.
Back to the songs, there were two lines from "Uncle Phranc" that really grabbed me. The first one, which I thought goes back to the heterosexist world we live in is "If I go in the ocean/ I've got to know it's the shark's world." First of all, who came up with that line?
What did you intend by it?
J: Well, Phranc and Killer were talking about surfing one day and everyone was going "Aren't you guys afraid of sharks?" So Phranc literally said, "I just figure if I go in the ocean, it's the shark's world and if the shark's gonna take me, he's going to take me." That was just at a time for me when I was like, "Yeah." I just started applying it to every aspect of my life. It was just one of those things that made me really think and I just applied to everything. You're going to die how you live and that's the fucking way it is. You can't stop yourself from doing things you want to do because of the dangers that go along with them, whether it's being in a rock band and having a lot of people know who you are and like actually getting stalked sometimes and beat up sometimes and whatever, or just having a lot of your privacy taken away, or fucking driving in a van with fucked-up people with no seatbelts. That sounds like a little thing but I know so many people that are just so freaked out by it. Just leaving your fucking house. You can't not go surfing if you want to go surfing because there are sharks. If you're going to be alive, you just have to live. You can't just stay in your bed. If you're going to stay in your bed, you might as well kill yourself and that's the point that I got to. I just was like, "I'm either going to live or I'm going to die" and I felt like I was at a point where I really needed to make a decision whether I wanted to live or die. If I hadn't made a decision to live, I don't think I would have lived. I think I would have died. Not even killing myself, I was dying. I felt like I was dying. I lost 20 pounds and I only weigh 120 pounds. I could barely walk. I felt like I had to make a conscious decision that I wanted to live even though it was going to be really hard to get well and to do a lot of the work that I needed to do to be able to function because I wasn't functioning at all and her saying that was pretty much like saying, "You're going to decide to live. You have to make a choice."
There were two other lines and they almost seemed to bookend the album in a lot of ways and go to the heart of what you've been talking about - the line about "emotional blackmail" in "Uncle Phranc" and "Don't kill yourself because people can't deal with your brilliance" in "Musical Fanzine." They're polar opposites I'd say. One of the darkest moments and one of the most hopeful moments. Is that part of what you're talking about?
J: Yeah. They're all so related. I could say the same thing about almost every single one of them. They're just all different ways of saying a similar thing. The about "emotional blackmail," to me, it reminds me most of the "no conscience" song ["My Dirty Hands Are Mined"] because it's just a way people use to have control over you, by saying you're bad because then you're always going to be trying to prove to them that you're good. It's the same thing with being diagnosed. Once you're diagnosed, it's like they're saying, "Well, you're this bad thing so we have to watch you and you could do something bad," or whatever. People do it on every level, any way that someone puts you down and makes you feel bad about yourself so you want to do good so that you won't be bad. Just because people say that you're an asshole doesn't mean you are an asshole, but more importantly, even if you are an asshole, because there's nothing wrong with being an asshole, you can't let them control you by telling you that you're an asshole. I think that a lot of times people tell you that you're an asshole just so they can have control over you because then you'll be kissing their ass so that they won't call you an asshole. I just know that even in the small town I live in, people are always like, "You're a rock star." For a long time, every time I went somewhere I just tried to be nice to everyone so they wouldn't call me a rock star. Then I was like, "Fuck it. I'm not going to fucking go around, acting like a fucking politician so people will like me." So I have to walk into a room and prove to everyone that I'm nice because when I walk into a room people assume before they meet me that I'm going to be an asshole because they think I'm a rock star? I can't live like that. Fine. If that's what they're going to think, fuck them. It takes so much energy to walk into every room kissing babies because you don't want people that haven't met you to think you're an asshole when you know you're not. It's just giving people control over your life for no fucking reason other than they have decided that you're an asshole when they don't even know you. I think that's "emotional blackmail." The flipside is having the inner knowledge that you shouldn't get down on yourself because other people are calling you an asshole because they're probably jealous of the things you're doing.
Right. "Being alone brings courage and strength of mind." I know for me it's always been harder but more rewarding to be by myself because it requires more strength. If I start freaking out, I can't really call anyone up, but by getting through it, it's a strengthening experience.
J: "Being alone takes courage and strength of mind."
You seem really open in talking about the songs. A lot of times bands don't really want to talk about the songs. They want to let people get their own meaning from it. While there's room for interpretation in your lyrics, you also included a list of songs that explained what kind of meaning you intended.
J: If I had time, I would have written three pages about each song. I'm the opposite of most people. If I had my way, I'd write an essay about each song to go along with them to put in the liner notes, but it'd be too expensive to fucking print it all.
Why do you think people try to be so vague about lyrics?
J: I don't think that they know what the lyrics mean as much as they pretend that they do for one thing. Most people that I know that really know what they're talking about when they're writing lyrics have no problem talking about them at all and would be glad to talk about them and tell you exactly what they meant. I don't think that telling anyone what I meant by the lyrics takes away from what people's interpretations are. I love hearing what people read from the lyrics. I might have meant something when I wrote it, but that doesn't mean that someone else isn't going to get something from it also and when they tell me what it is, I'm like, "Wow, I totally see that too." I just don't think that me saying what I intended takes away from other people's own interpretations. That's all. Maybe other people think it really does, but I give people more credit than most people do. I mean, when I listen to a band's music, if I come up with a meaning to the lyrics and then I find out that they meant something different, it doesn't take away from my meaning. I just think, "Oh, this is the way I see it." In a way, it makes you feel good because you're like, "Oh, I came up with this. This is what I'm thinking about it." You're always going to come up with your own meaning. It's impossible not to, but it's still interesting to know what people think about it. You're listening to a record with a friend, you're both going to go, "I think it means this. Well, I think it means this," or whatever. With me, it's just like I'm saying, "I thought it meant this," but that doesn't stop anyone else from saying, "Oh, I think it means this." I put all those notes in there. It's obvious what I think it means. That doesn't stop people from calling me, like you, and saying "I listened to it and I think it means this." What the fuck does it matter? I think people who say "I don't want to say what it means because it takes away from other people's interpretations" are probably just trying to get out of talking about whatever it means because they might not know.
Or it might make them uncomfortable.
J: Yeah. "I don't want to say anything jerky. Don't make me say something jerky because I can be a jerk." Yeah, it either makes them uncomfortable or they might not know as much as they want to. I know I've written a lot of songs that I sort of have a feeling for what it meant, but it might really be more of a feeling than exactly knowing. I think on this record, I definitely knew specifically what I meant than on a lot of the songs on the last record. It's different depending on what your intention is and why you wrote the song. I think some songs are really beautiful that are just fucking words put together that sound good. I am really interested in doing that for the next record actually.
Sort of sound collages?
J: Or not even using words at all. For this record, I definitely knew what I was writing about so specifically that I wanted to write about it. I wanted to communicate more, I wanted to make sure that people knew exactly what I was talking about, but that's just the style I was writing in.
Going back to a couple more lines which grabbed me, in "Musical Fanzine" - "Don't let the monster stay under the bed." That seems to be about coming out of the closet and shining a flashlight under the bed to show there's no monster there. Was that pretty much what you were thinking?
J: That's it. It's scary to go to therapy or do any sort of inner work to deal with the things you're afraid of, but once you do it, the only way out of it is through it and everybody knows it, but you're still afraid to look under the bed. Yeah, that's what it was.
There's all these lines in that song which sound like slogans, like "Listening to songs he's heard a hundred times, but nothing's there," "Hey you, say what she needs to hear." It almost seems like the song is asking why people aren't saying what people need to hear?
J: I think in a large part that song was a challenge for me. When I say, "Hey you, say what he needs to hear," "Hey you, say what she needs to hear," it's like I'm talking about everyone in a culture that's making culture, that's communicating not just in music, but I'm also talking to myself, saying, "I need to say what I need to hear. If there's something I need to hear that I'm not hearing, I need to say it." That's why I'm in a band. I didn't see a dyke band. I didn't have what I needed, so I made it. That's the way we were with "Free to Fight" and that's the way it is with everything and every song I wrote. You write the song because there's something you need to hear, you want to hear and that you think you hear that doesn't exist. So you make it. This was a challenge to myself too because the verses where "sex is great," all that stuff, I felt weird about those verses but I had to say it. I can't write a song that sounds like it comes out of the Utne Reader that's just like "The left needs to do this and we need to do that and we need more organization," but no one ever comes up with any ideas. They just say what's wrong. I can't say "Say what we need to hear" without at least saying a few things, which to me are really simple things. Yeah, queer sex is great. It's okay to swear. When your parents say "I don't want to hear that language!" it's probably because they're classist, racist assholes. I know that's been true with my parents. It can seem like a small thing, but growing up with parents who made me think that people who swore were dumb totally fucked me up until I was 13. I met a friend's mom who's this fucking brilliant woman who has totally changed my life but she has a total fucking gutter mouth and when I first met her, I just thought she was dumb because that's the way my parents raised me. Of course, within six months she was my idol and still is, and she's my surrogate mom, but stuff like that is a big deal when you're living with your parents and going to school or everyone's telling you that saying certain things means you have this kind of intelligence or that kind and it's the most fucked up thing. Saying don't kill yourself because people can't deal with the fact that you're willing to invent your own life, like there are really simple things that are really endemic that can make you embarrassed to say because it's sort of embarrassing to write an anthemic song sometimes, but I was like, "I can't just write these other things and not say a few things I think I need to hear and that I think a few other people might need to hear." I'm challenging myself and reminding myself that I do know what I need to hear and I do know what some other people need to hear and I need to be a part of not talking nonsense. The first parts were easy to write and then there were the other parts and I was like, "I have to do it. I don't have a choice. I can't say 'Say what he needs to hear' without being the one to say part of it. I can't."
What's the hardest part of writing a song like that?
J: I think that some of the things seem so simple and obvious that it's embarrassing to say them because you feel like you're being condescending or that you're saying so many obvious things that they don't need to be said. I needed to be reminded by other people that they did need to be said and they were the important things to say, but when you're the one saying them, you feel like, "Duh, everybody knows this." I think that's why a lot of people write lyrics that are so ambiguous. I don't think it's taking as big of a risk to write a song that's just sort of wordscapes of images from childhood or something. It's not as big of a risk as writing "Queer sex is great, it's fun as shit, don't kill yourself because people can't deal with your brilliance." I mean, people think you're smarter if you're writing stuff they don't understand. It's all a big fucking ploy. If someone doesn't understand something, it makes them feel dumb. I look for meaning. If someone writes lyrics, I read them and try to figure out what they mean and if I can't and there's no meaning there, I feel like I've been duped. I don't care what level the meaning is on. It might be on a sound level, it might be anything. There are tons of ways that meaning is made, but I think there should be meaning and I think people fuck with you by not investing things with meaning, or are wasting your time.
Yeah. It seems like there's so much insincere music out there these days and very few people are willing to say what they really feel and think and be open about it. Is that a wall you're trying to break through?
J: Oh yeah, definitely. It's something we've been through a lot with Hazel. I'm just like, "These songs need to mean something." There's just too much stuff to do and too many people that are totally isolated and need to have a community to waste time writing about bullshit in my life because I'm one of those people who needs to find other people. They're not right in front of my face. I don't feel like I have the time to be writing about bullshit. I feel like I have a certain amount of time and there are a certain amount of things I can get done in my life and I want my life to be about helping people that need each other to find each other and feel better about themselves and not fucking kill themselves off and have a higher quality of life and feel fucking good and have fun. I feel a responsibility to that for myself and other people. If I didn't write these songs, I wouldn't be able to talk to people like you who say, "Yeah, I hear what you're saying." I'd just be sitting in my room going, "I'm alone." I don't feel alone because I write these songs and people respond and other people don't feel alone because they hear them. It's the same experience for me as for someone listening. I just feel lucky that I got to do it, that I get to make these records because it does save my life. Team Dresch does save my life, to have this community of people I can talk to that says they needed to hear what I was saying. And I need to hear what they say back to me.
That's pretty much the way I feel about music.
J: Yeah, and I don't have much patience with bands that aren't in that situation. When you're the type of person who is marginalized in a lot of ways and has had a harder time, it's really hard to deal with a bunch of boys and a lot of times girls who are just rocking out because they want to make a couple of bucks. It's not like I'm condemning it across the board because I think rock is important for its own sake, but it gets pretty hard sometimes when you know how desperate people feel and yet there's so many people on stage every night, bullshitting. I just feel like if we don't get on stage, some other band is that's jut going to be talking about their butts and nobody needs to hear about their fucking butts.
This was my introduction to Team Dresch. I'd heard of the band before, but never heard them. When I put on "Uncle Phranc," it was like I was hearing something that wasn't meant to be heard because it was too real. It meant so much and it was so personal and meant things couldn't go back to the way they were. It was like joining a secret society with all the handshakes and the recognition between people that you're a member and belong and are working against something that is totally fucked.
J: That makes me feel good. I feel that way when I listen to the Heavens to Betsy record and Bikini Kill records. It makes you feel so good when you hear something where you're like, "God, these people understand what I'm talking about. They think about the same things. The same things are important to them. I didn't think there was anyone else."
So how do you feel about the record now that it's done and getting ready to go on to the next one?
J: I love it and I'm really proud of it. I just hope I can find, I'm going to sound like a Christian if I say this and I am so not a Christian, but I just feel like I was really strong in making that record, especially during the time. It was more out of desperation, like I didn't have a choice, but it's almost like, since I'm healthier now, I hope I'll have the courage to make a record, to write lyrics especially that are as honest. At the time, I was writing them to save my life and I know you understand that and so, since I don't feel as desperate now, I just hope I'll have the courage to be as honest and I didn't have a choice to be before because I just had to. I hope that I can make as honest of a record as this one was because I feel like it was really honest and I'm really proud of that. I feel like I meant everything that I said and I'm really proud of that because that's really important to me. To know what I mean, as exact as possible, and say it, that's really important to me and I hope I can keep doing that. That's what I hope and that's what I fear, fear that I won't be able to but hope that I will.
Any final thoughts?
J: No. I liked talking to you though. The thing that makes me feel really good about this record is that I love talking to people about it because I always learn something and I think that's a really good sign. I always learn something about the way people thought about it and I always hear stories about people's lives that give me more courage and strength and make me think, "Okay, I will be able to do it, I will be able to write more, I do have support. There are people that are super-courageous that have my back and I have their back." It feels good. So when you do interviews on records that you feel were bullshit, I know the difference, I know what it feels like to do interviews where you have literally nothing to talk about, and this record, I don't feel like that at all. I feel like I could talk for a long time and it's all really good conversation and that makes me feel really good about it.
For what it's worth, this record means a lot to me.
J: It's worth a lot.
I sat up all night writing down lines because it seems like every one is almost like a laser. It's just this beam of coherent light that slices everything open or heals or cauterizes or whatever.
J: You have a way with words there. It's a good thing you're a writer, not me.
I almost never buy music for people. I may put a song on a tape, but this is one of those albums I'll probably wind up buying for friends in fucked situations.
J: That's rad. Well, keep in touch.
It was good talking with you, Jody.
J: You too. Take care.