|Photo by Rosa Pisera.|
It’s not that often you get the chance to interview a seminal musical icon! Lene Lovich first gained wide public attention in 1979 when ’Lucky Number’ reached number 3 on the UK Singles Chart and made her a leading figure of New Wave but by then she had already co-written the lyrics for ‘Supernature’ by Cerrone, recorded a couple of singles including an excellent cover of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and played with a funk band, The Diversions. With Stiff Records she released three albums Stateless, Flex and No Man’s Land between 1978 and ‘82 going on to release March in 1989 (1). In 2005 she released Shadows and Dust an album which was met with positive reviews, one writer commenting that with this album Lene had ‘reclaimed her crown as the leading purveyor of love songs for the weird!’ (2). Lene Lovich has continued to play live, LTW commenting in 2013 ‘Lene is a star, an original and well worth seeing live…’(3). In September she and her band are on tour with fellow post punks The Psychedelic Furs and ahead of that Lene was kind enough to answer a few questions over the phone.
In your early life you lived in USA, you have Serbian and British parents and moved to the UK when you were about 13 I think (1)-do you think your music reflects that eclectic experience-is a synthesis of those different influences?
Lene: Yes, it’s that and more. I think I’ve always had a very open mind, excited by any kind of music or external stimulus, I have a completely open mind to that, I’m excited by it.
Is that all sorts of different art?
L: Yes, all sorts of different art, I went to Art School after High School with the idea of maybe becoming an artist so I have an interest in sculpture, painting, well any form of creativity.
Were there any particular art movements you picked up on?
L: I did like the Surrealist Movement when I was at Art School but my tutors gave me a hard time about that because it wasn’t very popular it was like the worst thing you could like!
Everyone else was doing something else completely different and I just didn't fit in with their ideas of what was attractive!
Was Surrealism a visual representation of psychoanalysis?
L: Well I think it’s more than that, I think it’s allowing your thoughts and ideas, allowing what goes on inside your head, your dreams, allowing all these things that can’t be seen to take a part in your art rather than looking at everything objectively.
It’s about 30 years since you recorded ‘Don’t Kill the Animals’ with Nina Hagen for PETA’s 1987 Animal Liberation album and of course you co-wrote the lyrics to ‘Supernature’ before that (1)-which dealt with the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. Is that still an issue you feel strongly about? Animal rights and the relationship between humanity and the rest of nature?
L: If nothing else I see it as the next step of human evolution, we have come a long way from where ever it was we started from but we know alot more than we did in the old days and there are many issues that cause suffering not just for animals but for people and it breaks my heart to see pictures of people starving and to hear stories about people suffering because they don’t have enough to eat when I know that if we all stopped eating animals we could feed the world and nobody would starve. You’ve got to see the bigger picture. One of the lines from mine and Nina’s song is “If we want to avoid this endless human riot, why don’t we start by changing out diet?” I’m not normally so literal in my lyrics but Nina fed me alot of information and somethings have to be said.
I watched a short video of you and Nina Hagen talking about the song and you mentioned feeling free of consumerist pressure when you decided to go vegan (4).
L: Oh, yes! Like quite alot of people I used to think of leather, for example, as a luxury item and y’know you’d go in a shoe shop and you’d be sniffing the shoes thinking ‘Are these real leather? Because I want leather, leather’s posh!’ And paying extra for it! But now I’m not interested in that one bit. You can rule out fur coats because you can’t put them in the washing machine and they smell bad when they’re wet! There are lots of reasons for not having to deal with the animal things never mind the pain and suffering they go through just for your convenience.
And have music and creativity helped you to resist the pressures to conform and consume?
L: I’ve never fitted in anywhere and in the past growing up I’ve had to keep quiet about my ideas and what I think and now I have more freedom I can choose to be who I want to be and really I think that’s everybody’s goal in this existence that we’re in, we need to find out who we are.
You played London earlier this year, Rebellion Festival in early August and have some dates in Germany later in the year-why do you think there is such a continual interest in artists who started out in the punk/post punk years-do you think something particularly creative and innovative went on in that period?
L: Oh possibly, yes. The music business as an establishment was confused because the punk revolution took away alot of their control and for the first time audiences were dictating who was popular because if they liked a band they would go and see them and if they liked the records some independent company would be able to put the record our quickly. People were not thinking necessarily of commercialism they were just expressing themselves. Obviously it didn’t last as long as I would have hoped but it did open the door to alot of unusual artists. We were just being ourselves and doing what we honestly thought was good, whatever it was, and in the beginning there wasn’t any particular fashion style, any kind of musical style that you had to be in. If you didn’t know how to play an instrument at all you could still get up on stage and express yourself and a lot of good creative things came out of that.
There was No Wave in America in the early eighties that said that the best chance of innovative music being made was by those who hadn’t mastered their instruments...
L: I think the spontaneous nature of it sometimes takes away self consciousness and pretentiousness and the desire to try and have a hit record, all those things can sometimes contain the creativity.
I read a book ‘One Chord Wonders’ and the author said that punk had created the opportunity and the space for women to deconstruct and experiment with gender (5). Was that something you experienced? The opportunity to explore how you wanted to be and how to present yourself?
L: I definitely think that it was a time when there was no particularly dominating musical style and then obviously anybody who had something worth saying could get up on stage and say it or sing it. I started trying to be involved with music when I was at art school and it was very stereotyped in those days, I got kicked off a stage once when I went to jam with a band with my saxophone because they thought I was just some kind of stage crasher! Some people often thought I was a man in drag because I was playing the saxophone, because girls weren’t seen to be playing saxophones! (Punk) was a great time to snatch opportunities and get out there and do something!
You are touring with another band that came out of punk/post punk, The Psychedelic Furs, in the first half of September-how did that come about? Is that a relationship that goes back along way?
L: I don’t know the details, there may be a reason beyond the fact that they just wanted us to be on tour with them. We have a connection going way back in that we were both appearing in New York at a huge concert organised by PETA called Rock Against Fur and there were alot of bands playing that night and we were just part of that big show. We have that wayback connection. Plus I think that musically we have a lot of similar elements, there is a darker serious side to them but at the same time there is a beautiful landscape of sounds within their recordings.
You’ve continued to write new songs with the album ‘Shadows and Dust’ coming out in 2005 (1). What sort of resources do you draw on in songwriting? Are you inspired by books, films, or your own experiences?
L: I don’t really know because I don’t do any research, I don’t really look for outside sources although they’re probably there, they go into the back shelves of my mind, somehow they just come out. I get inspired by lots of things, sometimes it’s just the sound quality, you might go into a crowded room and you might hear somebody laughing and that might trigger something in your mind and then you start to see a little movie, it’s very fragmented. It all comes together like an evolution, so I don’t really know where it comes from! I had to live inside my imagination alot as a child and it’s a wonderful place as long as you don’t go too deep.
Is songwriting something you do continuously? Is there another album on the horizon at all?
L: Well, I’d like there to be but I’ve had some difficulty because I’m not writing or making music with my long time partner Les Chappell. We had this strange way of putting songs together, I suppose I’m quite protective and controlling of the end result and to work on something with other people would be quite hard for me, I’d probably drive them completely crazy. Although the band I have at the moment are wonderful and I think I’m gaining some trust after being together a little while! Maybe it’s possible, although I play the saxophone I’m not a real serious musician, I usually have to sing parts to people.
You recently appeared on the review programme Roundtable on Radio 6- do you try to stay aware of contemporary music?
L: No! Haha, not really. I’ve taken a back step from media in general and I don’t know if that’s because my brain is getting a bit full, I should be excited about music in any shape and form but I’ve just not gone out of my way to search for it in a way that I might have done in the early days. I didn’t have much to say so far as name dropping contemporary musicians or anything or making comparisons but I hope that I made some kind of honest expression about what I heard.
Are there any bands or musicians or artists that are around that have impressed you recently?
L: That’s always a really hard question because music doesn’t always stay at the front of my mind, I might have heard something that I liked but it’s then gone back onto the library shelf, I keep an open mind, I quite often like bits of what I hear, it’s not always the whole record or the whole album that I like. I do have to say though, as an artist and in a band that does shows, that I do like to see a good, interesting live performance whatever it is, (bands and artists) trying hard and wanting to communicate and not so much in their own world that they won’t share some kind of energy with the audience.
You have had a very diverse artistic life as a singer, musician, actor, writer of hit songs and co writer of a film score-how would you describe your creative self!
L: I like to get different experiences good or bad. Look inside your mind see what you find! I’m not talking about hard thoughts, I’m also talking about emotional feelings.
Many thanks to Lene for time and words.
(2) Panucci, R. The Gazz.com at https://stereosociety.com/20/lovreviewshad.shtml
(3) Babey, G. ‘Lene Lovich: Winchester-Live Review’ March 2013, http://louderthanwar.com/lene-lovich-winchester-live-review/
(5) Laing, D. (2015) 'One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock', PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.