In Advance of Retrovirus's Beachland Tavern Concert, Lydia Lunch Talks About Her Lengthy Career

A few years ago, Lydia Lunch, No Wave icon Lydia Lunch put together Retrovirus, a band that could play the music of her punk rock past, including tracks from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy, Queen of Siam, 1313 and Shotgun Wedding.

The group, which includes guitarist Weasel Walter (the Flying Luttenbachers), drummer Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Chrome Cranks, Knoxville Girls, Bewitched) and bassist Tim Dahl (BarrSheaDahl, Child Abuse), performs at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, July 24, at the Beachland Tavern.

In a recent phone interview, Lunch talks about her lengthy career that dates back to the ’70s and the upcoming show with Retrovirus.

How did this band first come together?
It really started when I did an introduction for someone’s DIY T-shirt book. I don’t even wear T-shirts, though I occasionally sell them. This book was about the history of T-shirts and about how people started doing the one-of-a-kind donkey cart version of T-shirts before they were mass-produced. The Los Angeles Institute of Fashion and Design did an exhibition of the T-shirts that were in the book and wanted a band to perform. I thought it was time to do a retrospective and the first person I called was [drummer] Bob Bert. I’ve known him for decades. We were stumped for a guitar player. It’s a tricky position for a guitar player. You have to handle Bob Klein and Roland Howard and Teenage Jesus. We found [guitarist] Weasel Walter and eventually brought [bassist] Tim Dahl in. A lot of these songs have never played live before. I would often have a band do a record and document it and not necessarily tour. It’s kind of fun to do it. At this point, we need rock just to forget the bullshit being shoveled down our throats every minute of our lives at this point.

What was that first performance like?
We did it outside in kind of a public garden. It was perfect. I’m a contrarian, as I like to say, so it didn’t matter. We’d play anything but a bowling alley. The point is that we want to play, and we’re going to bring it. We’re not fussy people. It’s hard to be fussy at this point. I’m always glad when anybody’s there because everything is at your fingertips today. I myself prefer the up close and personal experience, which is why I say I’m a twat and I don’t do Twitter. I still prefer to communicate on a one-to-one or one-to-hundred basis. Unless you don’t talk to me, you don’t get my black humor. You have to have it right now. It’s a survival method. Otherwise, we’d be in the bathtub with our wrists slit. Or in the post office with a couple of decapitated heads in our hands.

I saw an interview with Noisey that had a headline that read “We Talked to Lydia Lunch and She Didn't Seem to Like Us Very Much.” What’s the story there?
Maybe because they were annoying cunts, and that’s part of life. I don’t go into any interview or interaction looking to be negative but there are irritating people out there and I can be one of them so back off. If I don’t like you, maybe you better ask yourself why. There are a lot of people who like me but I really don’t give a shit.

When you first moved from Rochester to New York, how did you fall in with the underground scene so quickly?
Well, Rochester had a vibrant music scene. Of course, it was more traditional rock and some glam stuff came through there. I had been going to concerts since I was 12 and came down to New York when I was 13. Music inspired me but it was all too traditional for me. I wanted to do something completely outside of that box. I loved Richard Hell and the Voidoids but there was no reason for me to do music like that. I was lucky enough to scam my way into a loft near Max’s Kansas City where a bunch of hippies lived. The first show I went and saw there was Suicide. They became my friends. When you have a mission to be contrarian to everything that came before and you see Suicide that pretty much is being at the right place at the right time. There’s no better introduction than that. They were also very contrarian. They encourage my musical schizophrenia. Even though it’s coherent, it’s pretty much the opposite of whatever came before it. I just put out a covers record with Cypress Grove, and we covered fucking Bon Jovi. Now, you want to chew on that for a second, son. I’ve covered some of the most hated songs because I wanted to reclaim them.

How’d you become friends with the Dead Boys?
I became friends with [frontman] Stiv Bators before he became Stiv Bators and before either one of us lived in New York. What the fuck! I remember back in the day when people would write letters that we would write letters to each other. He lived in Cleveland, I lived in Rochester. How weird is that? I came to New York before them and they came a little after that.

What’s your advice to upcoming musicians?
I had to book this tour myself. I can’t even get a booking agent. I tell bands to keep it in the garage and get a day job. Become an architect or a pharmacist. We need better jobs. The ones we’re giving people are just killing them. Everyone should have a creative hobby but trust the witch. Forty years later, I’m still booking my own fucking tours.

Social media hasn’t made things better for independent artists?
No. If it does, it’s a fluke or you’re living on Facebook. To me, that’s just a bulletin board. I know people spend time trying to drum up friends on it, but I have too much work to do to spend time trolling for so-called friends.

If you’re an artist or writer, you don’t have the time for it.
Yes, and as you know writing is just aggravation. Is there a more aggravating profession? Also, it depends on what you’re writing. People who don’t write, don’t understand how much goes into it. I consider myself a journalist and I just use the music to get the ideas to come across. I have a book of essays coming out next year. It includes spoken word pieces I’ve done too. The essays date back to the early ’80s. [The written word] is still really important to me. It’s also never been an important commodity. Since I do standup tragedy and not standup comedy, I haven’t bridged that divide that fills a lot of seats. It’s not a popular commodity unless you can twist it into comedy.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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