Lene Lovich is a true original. Who could ever forget catching the first glimpse of her and her plaits as thick as a man’s wrist on Top of the Pops? Or seeing her live as part of the ultra-hip Stiff Records Tour with Wreckless Eric and Jona Lewie?
Famed for the quirky hit ‘Lucky Number’ back in 1979, Lene’s career has spawned five albums although it’s true that Lene never regained the momentum that came with that early success. However that could all be about to change now that she’s decided to slip back into her stage shoes and take herself on tour. The jewel in the crown is a headlining spot at the world’s premier punk rock festival, Rebellion in Blackpool which should, if the sea breezes are blowing in the right direction, introduce her to a whole new generation of fans. Before that happens though, Lene Lovich and her band are about to play the Dry Live in Manchester this coming Saturday 23rd March, and it’d be great if you could participate in the adventure – I know Mudkiss will be there!
PHIL: What made you want to become a performer?
LENE: I don't really know, something inside me made me different from most people around me. Once the aliens told me they weren't coming back for me, I had to find a place to be where I could live and be happy which is what most of us try to do. I always believed that if I lived long enough I would find it. After a lot of trial and error, I ended up being a performer.
PHIL: Who or what do you consider to be your major influences?
LENE: Soundwise - We had three records in our house, 'March Slave' by Tchaikovsky, 'Molasses' by Spike Jones and the soundtrack to the film 'South Pacific'. I played them countless times, especially when no one was around. Visually - There was no censorship, so I saw a lot of scary films as a child in Detroit. They fed my imagination. Later on, the list grows...
PHIL: What was working for Stiff Records like?
LENE: Great fun at the beginning - total freedom, nobody told me what to do or how to look. It was pure joy after having had such a hard time at art school. I felt like I had finally found a place to be where people thought you were good and let you get on with it. I'm very grateful for those early days. It was hard work; everyone was pushed to the limit. Things happened fast. It was exciting to see that there could be success against all odds, thanks to the super talented people that worked there.
PHIL: What are your most and least favourite memories of those days?
LENE: I loved being a part of the Be Stiff Tour 78. We travelled the UK by train, going to places most tours don't. It was an education and crazy fun. Sadly, the good times didn't last. The pressure to have a hit record was unbearable. They wanted to make all the artists cover a Motown song. I didn't see the point, as I didn't think I could do it better than the original recording. So I got locked in the Stiff dungeon. I wasn't the only one.
PHIL: You're best remembered for the huge hit single 'Lucky Number'. Do you feel that all your subsequent work is judged against it?
LENE: Having a hit record is a blessing and a curse. It's a wonderful feeling to get recognition for a song that you created and performed in a totally original way, but there is always the need from the record company to do it again. And once you're in the public eye, the media and to some degree the audience think they know you and expect more of the same. I only know this with hindsight. I never planned a career; there was never a master plan, so I didn't really know where I was going. I still don't. It's unknown territory and that's what makes it interesting. I don't like being judged, especially by those who like to be negative. Lucky Number is still special, but it was only the beginning.
PHIL: Which of your work are you most proud of?
LENE: My second album, Flex, is probably the most significant indicator of what I could achieve as an artist. I was unaware of forces gathering against me and just indulged myself in my creativity with wonderful contributions from my partner, Les Chappell and all the other great musicians around me. I couldn't say if it was the best album I'd ever made, I don't analyse my work. But it was more the realisation that I could do this.
PHIL: Your career has spanned four decades, in your opinion how has the music industry changed in that time?
LENE: The music industry doesn't really interest me. It can sink or swim and it wouldn't make much difference to me. I am thankful that I was given a great deal of publicity in the old days, I think that's something that new artists struggle with. I have to admit that I'm not aware of what's happening now or what's been happening. I'd like to think that the developments in technology, the internet etc. might help people flesh out their ideas, but really, it's the ideas that matter and the opportunity to see if they work or not in the real world. You can only test your passion, your energy and your performance skills if you play live. I regret that there's not enough places left to play not many new ones being created.
PHIL: As an artist that sells her music, what are your thoughts on illegal downloading?
LENE: I'm in favour of people having access to music for free; it's educational and sometimes inspiring, but everything comes at a price. Technology is moving faster than we can deal with the effects. The way our society works is that you need to get paid in order to live. Until we figure out how to live a different way, it's going to mean that some people just won't be able to afford to spend the time trying to create music. I believe that it's not totally a bad thing for that to happen, and it may mean that fewer people will do it.
PHIL: Do you think it's easier or harder for women artists to work and be successful on their own terms in the music industry?
LENE: I don't think anyone should be judged by what sex they are, artists are attractive for all kinds of reasons. I don't dwell on thinking of myself as a woman. I believe that you are what you are so just get on with it. It's more important to develop all the skills you can. Work hard and you might get somewhere.
PHIL: After a long period of dowdiness do you think it's time for pop stars to be more flamboyant?
LENE: You have to do what is natural and what feels good. I believe in style more than fashion. You can get attention by wearing a costume, but it's superficial. It's more important for me to see what I can create for myself.
PHIL: How did the current band come together?
LENE: I did a weird free jazz show with Jude Rawlins from Subterraneans in the spring of 2012. Shortly after we decided to work together. Jude plays guitar and is the driving force in the band. It wasn't really our kind of music, but we were both curious to see what might happen. We had a hard time finding any space for our voices amongst the constant throng of notes. And shortly after, probably out of disappointment and frustration, we decided to work together. The band is made up of great players and great personalities. Morgan King on drums, Lydia Fischer on bass, Kirsten Morrison on keyboards, and Jude on guitar of course.
PHIL: Are you excited to be playing your music on stage again?
LENE: There's been something missing in my life for a long time. You can get satisfaction from writing a song, but until you play on stage, it doesn't really live. I've been waiting for a chance to feel that power of performance again.
PHIL: What are your thoughts and feeling about playing the Rebellion Punk Festival in Blackpool this coming August?
LENE: It definitely sounds like our kind of event! I'm expecting it to be a lot of fun. Can't wait!
PHIL: How do you feel about the current political climate?
LENE: I've stopped watching the news and only occasionally read a newspaper. I fear that a general depression is happening and we need to find a way out of it. There's a constant bombardment of negative messages that make us feel weak and hopeless. Time for a revolution I would say.
PHIL: What got you involved in animal rights?
LENE: I had always been sympathetic, but couldn't make any changes in my life till I had enough information. It was Nina Hagen who helped me focus all my random thoughts into action. We wrote "Don't Kill the Animals" together and it changed my life.
PHIL: And finally what is your biggest hope for the future?
LENE: I want the world to be a fair and fun place to be.
You can catch Lene Lovich live on the following dates and venues:
Interview by Phil King