Back With a Vengeance The One The Only
By: Ginger Coyote
Punk Globe: Can you tell us about your background like where you are from and what got you interested in playing guitar?
SJ: Los Angeles the westside Santa Monica - I was fortunate my childhood was back in the time when kids could roam around free, and in a place where there were great places to do all that roaming. I was a total tomboy and spent my days exploring the hills (Santa Monica mountains) and fantasizing that I was an Arctic explorer, a cowboy, an Indian, a Civil War scout, a lone traveling adventurer. Liked animals, not people. Loved music from day one. It took me into another world.
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview Sylvia.. How old were you when you first picked up a guitar?
SJ: I thank you! For letting me do this interview, and for having your online zine! Back to the childhood thing - actually I'd been playing piano since a young age (six?), and writing songs too. Not "songs" exactly --instrumental pieces. I didn't start guitar until much later, after I was playing keyboards in a band, age 16 or so. At first I just messed around with it, not intending to switch my main instrument. It was another way to write music; the songs I came up with on guitar were different from the keyboard ones and worked better with a band. But then I found myself falling in love with it. Really truly falling in love with it. Not only did I switch away from keyboards in the band, I was playing my guitar every available moment of the day and the night.
Punk Globe: Do you remember the name of the band that you played your first show with?
SJ: My first show was when I was organ player in the Leaving Trains, and we opened for the Urinals. The whole thing happened by chance. At the time the Trains used the parking structure at UCLA as our rehearsal space. We were raw beginners with crappy equipment, I was still in high school, the others not much older. We were bashing away one night in that parking structure, our trashy punk sounds reverberating on the concrete walls, and some guy rode up on a bicycle. Most people unfortunate enough to be in the structure while we were playing went quickly on their way. Partly because not many people were into punk or indie back then, but mostly because we really were awful. But this bicycle guy just stopped and listened. So after a song we started talking, and it turned out he was Kevin Barrett, drummer of the Urinals. To our great shock he said he liked us. To our even greater shock he said they were playing that night at a club nearby, and asked if we'd like to play an opening set. U ? ! We were terrified! But we did it, and it went OK, and looking back that's kinda cool for a first-ever gig.
Punk Globe: Who some of guitar players you respect?
SJ: I appreciate most anyone who plays with passion and true honest self-expression, but the ones who I really respect are the ones who bring some real originality and personality in their playing, who try to do something different with their playing. There have been so few over the years who really broke ground, changed the landscape. Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen of course. More recently Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Omar Rodriguez (Mars Volta). Current local L.A. guitarists: Tony Fate (Bell-Rays, Black Widows, Carnage Asada), Jeff Levitz (Puppies & Kittens), Jonathan Hall (Backbiter).
Punk Globe: Is it true that you are a lefty? Like Jimi Hendrix and Blare n Bitch?
SJ: Yep! But I play right-handed. When I got serious about guitar, I thought I'd have to switch to left-handed, that playing "backwards" would always hold me back. And who knows, perhaps it does. I seriously considered switching over. That would have meant starting all over again - but worse, it would have meant having a limited choice of guitars, it would have meant never being able to try out or borrow other people's guitars, or being able to just pick up a guitar and play impromptu, at a friends' place or a party or whatever. But the final factor that made me stay with right-handed guitar was this: it felt awkward to go left for higher pitch, and right for a lower pitch. I'd played piano long enough it was ingrained in my brain and body that pitch gets higher to the right, lower to the left, that's how a keyboard is and a left-handed guitar fretboard just felt wrong and unnatural.
Punk Globe: Tell the readers who some of your favorite bands are?
SJ: Such a wide range .... there was a time, as an angry teenager, when I didn't like hardly anything that wasn't punk/alternative, that was the only music that really spoke to how I felt. Nowadays I like many genres. Old stuff like Love ("Forever Changes" album), Spirit, Hendrix, David Bowie (70s stuff), Stooges, Stones. Punk from 70-80s like Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Stranglers. The Minutemen. The earliest Jane's Addiction. Current or recent bands: Fatso Jetson, the Last ... there's even some current mainstream stuff I like from System of a Down, Avenged Sevenfold, My Chemical Romance, Incubus. Even though it's been 10 years since Nirvana I'm still getting used to the idea of there being some good bands in the mainstream. Back in the 80s there was such a huge chasm between the indie / alt / punk scene and the mainstream / major label type music.
Punk Globe: During the late 80's and through the 90's it seems I was reading your name all the time. Then nothing what happened?
SJ: Yeah, well I blew it :) Actually, first I was away in Europe, from 1990-1995. We'd toured there a few times and it was so much better than in the US I ended up just staying. I was living the dream. Touring, recording, seeing the world, and not having to work a day job (ya!). Eventually I had to come back though, and when I did I just couldn't get it back together. It was a bad time for the scene, a lot of clubs were closing, my bandmates and associates were also having hard times, I was beset with personal problems, messed up my life and hid away for over 10 years. Now I'm back and on fire to make up for lost time.
Punk Globe: In the early 90's you recorded an album "Lick My Pussy Eddie Van Halen" on SST Records.. Tell us who thought of the title and also about the music?
SJ: "Lick My Pussy, Eddie Van Halen" was just the one song - an instrumental actually (with that title, what else need be said?). Musically it shifts and lurches between a sassy mid- tempo jaunts, raging fast punk beat parts, and a chaotic guitar lead freakout part. The title - it's battlecry of sorts. Back in those days there were so few women who were bold, wild, and had skills -- at least, not in the mainstream. At the same time we had tons of hair metal dudes trying to pose as wild fearless bad-boys, who were in reality bland, conservative and risk-averse. That "Eddie" song was me throwing down the glove, throwing down to the poser dudes, to the arrogant guitar-hero's using their guitar as a phallic symbol, to the scaredy-cat always-one-step- behind major labels, and to all the people (and there were many back in those days) who thought women can't play lead guitar, or at least not very well.
Punk Globe: Over the years you have worked with an impressive list of people. Tell us who you have collaborated with?
SJ: The most known is Chuck Dukowski ((former Black Flag, and SST co-founder), I was in his band SWA for a year, one very fun, prolific, loud, busy year; We did an album called "XCIII" (SST). The Leaving Trains, that was the first band I was in. Another early band for me was Clay Allison, that was with Kendra Smith (Dream Syndicate) and David Roback (Opal, Mazzy Star). I was in the Nymphs (with Inger Lorre) for about a week when she first got that band started in LA. My own band has had many different people over the years: Dave Childs on drums (Lawndale, an SST surf band), Jill Emery bass (later Hole), Chuck Arjavac (Anger Transfer), Barney Firks an amazing bass player (Burning Hands), Adrien Anthony (CHUM), Jason Kahn (Joe Baiza, Universal Congress), Sam Henry (Napalm Beach). And of course my current band, which is Steve Reed (Legal Weapon) and Tom Hofer (Leaving Trains). I was a guest musician on various albums - the Unclaimed (60's garage punk), the Leaving Trains again later, Sean O'Brien (rootsy indie rock). Recently did a surf-guitar gig where I was honored to play with some of the greats of that genre, members of Surfaris, Bomboras, Halibuts ... got to jam with Mike Watt and George Hurley, with Soul Asylum, with various SST people over the years. One time while bored in the van on tour we drew up a web of musicians and bands - like a "Six Degrees of Separation" but for music. To be connected you had to have done a recording or played a live show. The web got incredibly huge in just minutes, and we were surprised to find it was really only a few "hops" from obscure people like us to huge names like Led Zeppelin or the Doors. For example, we'd both played in the Leaving Trains with drummer Hillary Laddin; Hillary had played in a band with Ray Manzarek of the Doors. Once you've been playing music for any length of time you've joined a huge community linking all the musicians.
Punk Globe: Did you ever get a chance to play with Betty Blowtorch?
SJ: sadly, no! I completely missed out on them! Some of them have Psychostar now though, maybe we'll get to do a gig together, I hope so!
Punk Globe: Do you have any Website , My Space or Facebook addresses you would like to share with the readers?
Punk Globe: Any tours, recording or special shows planned for 2010?
SJ: We're recording right now. At last! New tunes abound. In July we're putting out two songs for download - like a single, except we're "makin' it a double". The plan is put out the rest, on an album, in the fall. It's a tough environment now, no one's got any money. Plus we're gonna re-release the second album by my old band To Damascus. By a stroke of luck I'd come across the master tapes, which had been lost for years. Turned out they were at my folks' house (long story), buried so deep they weren't found until that house was emptied out for selling. I happened to drop by the vacated house and find the tapes by the trash. Pure luck that the bin was full, so the masters had been dumped on a neighboring pile of crap. My family has not been supporters of my music, needless to say. Anyway ... my former band-mates and I recorded another tune to add on, like a bonus track, and we're gonna re-release it. I'm happy to be a part of the "Flipside 2010 Concert Series" - three shows they put together at the Redwood in downtown Los Angeles. We were on their first "preview night" with the Livingstons(former Mau-Maus members), Million Kids, DeDe Troit (former UXA), and the final night with the Gears, Million Kids, Carnage Asada.
Punk Globe: Any last words for Punk Globe readers Sylvia?
SJ: Support your local bands! and venues! Music needs support more than ever. (That's one reason it's great you do this zine by the way) And it desperately needs a new idea if anyone wants to make a living. Not to get rich mind you, I never cared about that, just to be able to keep doing it, and doing it all the way. Otherwise we'll end up in a world where the only new music will come from trust-fund kids, hobbyists, and computers. No offense to them, but for something to get really good it needs a lot of time and dedication. Rock on!