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Current Time: 08:33 pm EDT
Interview with Johnette Napolitano
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Dr Van Helsing
Years ago when I first conceived the idea for a Vampire RPG, I knew I needed a really cool name for it. I turned to my music collection for inspiration as I have done so many times in the past. There between the Clash and the Cure was the answer I was looking for. 1990's Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde was what I chose for what would become the game you all now play.
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnette Napolitano, former lead singer and bass player for Concrete Blonde. Having been a long time fan, you can imagine my thrill when she responded to my request for the interview. I want to thank her for accepting. For those of you that have never had the chance to see her perform live, you are missing one hell of a performer. As you will see in this interview, her beuty and talent are outweighed only by her own modesty.
Following the interview is an excerpt from her bio on Wikipedia as well as a review of her solo work "Scarred"
A lot of times you will read a story about singers who learned to play an
instrument so they could accompany their voice. Which came first for you,
being a singer or playing an instrument?
- I was very small, about 5, and I think piano and singing and drawing came
up about the same time, around then.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about listening to you is the emotion that can be heard in your voice when you sing. The song “Amazing” comes to mind as well as “Caroline”. That lack of emotion seems to be missing from today’s singers. Do you have any opinion on this?
-not really. I'd have to think more about that one ...there are definitely singers I like..when I first heard Amy Winehouse sing 'I'm gonna lose my baby, so I gotta keep a bottle near'
I believed her.
If you could assemble your own dream band, who would be in it?
-hmmm. a lot of people I can't afford...I haven't played in a band format for over a year, but I do like the configuration of just my drummer, Gabriel Ramirez, and myself. we're getting together next month to work on some new ideas in that format. I really like playing with Gabriel, he's a very poetic, musical drummer...he can also slam it, very dynamic. I would like backup singers for a song or two...I would love an aerialist. I just saw some in Vegas and I want a few of those.
You’ve performed with and collaborated with several great musicians over
the years, is there anyone you still would like to perform with that you
haven’t had the chance to yet?
-oh so many people...I just recorded a Leonard Cohen song with David J, 'Tower of Song' as a dark duet, it's very cool. I don't really seek out collaborations, the right ones find me, and I've lucked out the last few years, I've worked with some amazing artists. I hope to get a few more out of Danny (Lohner) this year, we'll see.
In music we hear countless stories about groupies and male rock stars but
little is said about the reverse. Do women in music suffer the problem of
having to deal with groupies on the same level as their male counterparts?
-I'm very good at staying under the radar, I don't have a problem with any of that, really. I'm much better at protecting myself now than I was in the old days.
As someone who has studied acting, I am always curious about where other
artists draw their creativity from. When I am preparing for a role sometimes I will draw on things in my past but to be honest with you, a lot of times the creativity comes from out of no where. When you are creating music, poetry or art, what do you draw from for your creativity?
-I'm very receptive, to say the least, and will pick things up, draw very much on the energy wherever it is I am at any given moment, which is why I'm very deliberate about where I want to be and who I spend my time with and what I spend my time doing...when I can be. I live in the desert, and right now I'm looking out at this amazing full moon, and want to do something called 'music for the moon'. the thing is about being receptive to things when they want to come to you, it's very much about being in the moment. it's interesting you should mention acting. on my solo record, 'scarred' I use a lot of voices, explore characters, writing from someone else's head. I've learned from working with other people in the last year or two how to discipline myself to finish something once I start it, I have so much stuff laying around, unfocused bursts
of creativity which is intense and great, but no good at all if I can't organize and develop it.
People are their own biggest critics. Have you ever listened to a song
you have recorded in the past and suddenly been hit with an epiphany on how you would have done it differently? Additionally, have you ever listened to something someone else recorded and thought to yourself, “that’s not how I would have done it”?
-oh I can't listen to myself at all. I hardly ever listen to anything I do after I've done it, or it would be endless, the gnashing of teeth, the regret, the shame! and yes, I hear things all the time I would do differently,and it drives me crazy.
I'll hear something someone will send me that's almost good but they didn't tune; or the playing is good but the mix is terrible, oh yes it drives me truly mad. but then again who am I to say. But generally speaking it's pretty obvious in less than 5 minutes whether something has merit or not, but in the end it is purely a matter of taste, as is all art. You can ask 5 different producers what they'd do with me and you'd get 5 different things.
Did you ever think that a song you wrote years ago (Bloodletting) would
come to inspire an entire community of role players?
-well I would have to pass the award to Anne Rice, as at the time I was living in New Orleans and getting into her Vampire Chronicles. But it wasn't even all that: there was a whole lot of metaphor on that record.
Does your studio set up differ much from your live set up and if so how?
-oh definitely. I can use gear at home I would never take on the road, keyboards and things. all my pedals, guitars. I was always very into a minimalist approach on the road, for a lot of reasons. I have a couple computers and my own drum setup I like; you know, it's just home. I'm starting to brick the whole floor, it'll sound great.
Who were your influences musically early on?
-my parent's records, rat pack stuff, johnny cash, showtunes when I was little. AM radio and lots of stoner rock, always Hendrix. I started writing songs at 12, so the rock influence..or damage! came much later. I was in chorus when I was a kid, singing the Ave Maria in Latin and that sort of thing. I was very into harmonies. In elementary school I would hang out in the bathroom at recess, singing with a couple girls and working out choreography and vocal
arrangements. I liked the way it sounded in there.
What new bands impress you or do you enjoy listening to?
-there are quite a few but I'll hear things on the radio and not be able to put a face with a name...but quite a lot. I do prefer what I can dance to. I like Maroon 5. I just downloaded 'electric feel' by mgmt. I just heard a new Jack White thing that was great, he's like his generation's Nick Cave, I think. This long, Southern Goth murder story. I listen to radio all morning when I'm working and hear a lot I like, actually.
Are you currently working on any projects?
-trying to organize another 'Sketchbook' record, a little art project I try to do once a year through CDBaby...a project called Uterine Kin that's on MySpace now, just being built up, my friend Bernadette Colomine and I. It's French/English and very cool stuff, I think. I've known Bernadette a long time. new tracks with Will Crewdson, who co-wrote and produced a lot of 'Scarred', my solo record. I'm hoping to have some of those up available by summer. Ashes Divide is out, which is Billy Howerdel's (A Perfect Circle's) new band, and I worked on some of those songs with Billy, it was great. it's really solid, beautiful music. I sang with Wes (Borland) on the Black Light Burns record.
Is there a tour in the near future?
-I'll start doing some shows late spring, early summer...have been talking about germany and france, and I'll do a few local shows, but I need to concentrate on recording and writing for awhile, also more video, hopefully flamenco later in the spring. my teacher and some of my class are going to new mexico to study for a week, I think, and I'm hoping to do that. I've been studying flamenco for a long time. I feel like a need some time to upgrade the live set, rotate some songs, instrumentation, etc. it's a cycle.
Are you approachable as an artist or do you prefer fans admire from afar?
I ask because you come across as a very down to earth person that anyone
can become friends with, however the constant attention from strangers
must get old very fast and even the most amiable person must have to draw
the line somewhere.
-indeed. I'm fortunate that people who like what I do are for the most part much more intelligent than that, you know, they're very respectful, and it's nice to hear someone likes your work, but then the more people ask of your time
the less one has for what one should be doing. I love seeing people on the road, but I couldn't create if I didn't have a lot of time alone. I'm not the kind of artist who draws that kind of attention, really, but like I said, I'm much better at owning my space these days. The majority of the people on the planet have no idea what I do, who I am or care.
How long do you see yourself performing?
-well, in some way, shape or form, until I can't. Not necessarily because I want to, but because I worry that the day I can't is the day I'll regret not having done it more when I could. I don't necessarily see myself swinging a bass around or screaming over an amp, but I do like to play, I've done it all my life. it re-aligns my DNA. I do enjoy it when I hear things come out right, when the music is played the way I hear it in my head. that is a rush like no other. A minute ago, there was nothing, now there's a song, now there's music. That's pretty amazing to be able to make happen.
What do you find yourself doing more these days? Art or music, or have you
found a happy balance between the two?
-I've been really pleased lately with the balance. I work outside, and out here I live very much by the weather, as does everyone. it's getting nice out
and I'm up as early as I can working outside, and at night work on music. in the winter I tend to record more because I can't go out. in the spring and summer
I do a lot of sanding and painting and soldering and sawing on the porch. I'll listen to loops of whatever music I'm working on at the time and just listen as I work, I just sing along, and when it gets hot in the afternoon come in and work on music for awhile..
I write a lot that way. somehow it helps to use my hands on something else entirely, it frees up my mind.
Is your art work for sale anywhere?
-there is a piece in a show called Art Now in Brooklyn at the end of the month, the link is www.romanoart.com, I believe. I'm working on the Lucky Nun myspace gallery, posting things up there, and will be part of a group show later in the spring in Arizona at the Victoria Boyce gallery. I would like to have a solo show in the fall, in October, possibly. I don't know where yet, I would like it to be up here in the desert.
One final question, because this is being posted on a role playing game
site, our players will want to know. If they came across you in the game
Bloodletting, which character type would you be? Vampire, Slayer, Werewolf, Witch, or Angel?
-oh I would like to think angel! of course. Ha.
March 28, 2008 05:47 pm
Dr Van Helsing
March 28, 2008 06:14 pm
Dr Van Helsing
Johnette Napolitano (b. September 22, 1957, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California) is an American singer, songwriter and bassist best known for her lead vocal work with the alternative rock group Concrete Blonde.
She has also recorded as a solo artist, with the albums Sketchbook (2002), Sketchbook 2 (2006), Scarred (2007) and as a member of:
--Dream 6 (a precursor to Concrete Blonde).
--Vowel Movement, a side project; a semi-improvisational musical collaboration with Holly Beth Vincent
--Pretty & Twisted, a side project; a band that also featured former Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland.
--Lead singer for the album tour for THE HEADS, the re-formed Talking Heads' project, with Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. She is featured on the 1996 album No Talking, Just Head. This was, at the time, intended to turn into a full-time project, with further studio albums and tours.
--Johnette also recorded a solo album titled Sound Of A Woman around 1996-1997, and performed many of the songs on a solo tour opening for Paul Westerberg. The album was set to be released on IRS (a subdivision of Island Records), the label of her old band, Concrete Blonde. 1997-1998 was a bad time for Island, starting with the sudden departure of founder/CEO Chris Blackwell and ending with the total reorganization of the label. SoaW was, effectively, lost in the shuffle, and at this point is unlikely to ever be officially released. Although bootleg copies of this album are to be found, Johnette has personally requested no further distribution of these recordings.
Johnette is currently a resident of Joshua Tree, California. She composes music for films and works as a gallery artist, specializing in working with discarded and reclaimed materials.
March 28, 2008 06:16 pm
Dr Van Helsing
In 2007 Johnette Napolitano released the CD “Scarred” on Hybrid Records. Scarred marks Johnette's first official solo record and with it she scores big with several tracks. Standing out is her rendition of Coldplay's “The Scientist”. Johnette adds breathy emotion to this cover and this would be reason alone for owning the CD. Thankfully though she delivers on several other tracks making this one of my favorite CDs currently. The song “Amazing” is in short, Amazing. Johnette's voice rings out with pure conviction as she offers tribute to the unnamed target of her adoration. This song also showcases the pure strength of her voice. Additionally, this is also the only song on the CD that I would dare to compare her to any other artist. Listening to Amazing reminded me of the German synth-pop duo Wolfsheim. The title track like the other tracks on the CD is haunting. And, as with so many of the other tracks, it is Johnette's vocals that sell the product completely. The chorus on “Save Me” is belted out with such force that the listener is convinced that they must do whatever possible to “Save” the singer. At times Johnette will break into spoken word verses on a few tracks. Normally this is a negative for me, however she pulls it off spectacularly and it is a refreshing contrast to her powerful singing.
The music on the CD is top notch and it is obvious that Johnette has surrounded herself once again with world class musicians. The greatest instrument on the CD however is her voice. Like a baseball pitcher that can suddenly throw a 100mph fastball in the twilight of his career, Johnette's voice seems to have gained strength over the years. This CD is a must add to music collections. You can purchase Scarred at http://www.amazon.com/Scarred-Johnette-Napolitano/dp/B000PFU9XS
March 28, 2008 06:20 pm
That's an excellent interview. She was one of my inspriations growing up as a child.
March 28, 2008 07:59 pm
Father Pat McGroin
I have to agree that Amazing is amazing. It is one of the better songs I have heard in awhile. Her voice is so soothing and haunting at the same time.
March 28, 2008 10:59 pm
i love her stuff and i always wondered if the name bloodletting was in anyway related to that song.
March 29, 2008 04:26 am
Great questions and great interview. I have always loved Concrete Blonde. Can't wait to see who you interview next (like I don't know haha)!
March 29, 2008 10:08 am
Dr Van Helsing
The song Bloodletting was indeed the inspiration for the site name. Johnette was being very modest when she deferred credit to Anne Rice. I do admit though that I am also a mega-fan of Anne Rice, so in this instance I will allow the lovely Ms. Napolitano to share the honor of inspiring the site name.
March 29, 2008 10:53 am
Nice to know where the idea came from.
March 29, 2008 11:26 pm
Harry G Wells
that one wicked tat.
March 30, 2008 08:04 am
Great interview. And unlike Mrs Kitty, I really can't wait to see who's next!
March 30, 2008 11:58 pm
Dr Van Helsing
I have a really good one coming up that should please all of our Canadian players.
March 31, 2008 09:29 pm
One of my favorite songs off the bloodletting album is darkening of the light. Its very melodic. Joey is a tremendous song as well, you can hear the heartfelt emotion in her voice as she belts this tune out. As far as older stuff, Gotta LOVE "god is a bullet". One of the greatest songs of all time. Great interview Dr Van Helsing.
May 20, 2008 08:19 am
Dr Van Helsing
August 02, 2008 10:46 am
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