After a year plus hiatus, I decided to update the site with some content I was sitting on. Initially this interview was posted on punknews.org, back in 2016 when Pansy Division's seventh album Quite Contrary was released. To promote the album, Pansy Division bassist Chris Freeman agreed to an interview for Punk News. Unfortunately, in the past year, said interview has become an eyesore to read due to formatting errors that changed some of the text into unreadable characters.
Putting up the interview on my own site also gives me the chance to redact some misinformation. When I met Chris in-person, he informed me the interview was great except for the fact that former Pansy Division drummer David Ayer, was incorrectly "credited" as their horrible former drummer from Ohio. Sorry David! Let the record show, Chris thought you were one of the good ones.
D: I know Pansy Division has a new album and single coming out, and I also want to talk about GayC/DC, but whenever I do these I like starting with the person's childhood. Recently I read Pansy Division frontman Jon Ginoli's book, Deflowered. There's a quote in it where he describes your upbringing- “Chris spent a great deal of time during childhood making friends with the radio.”
Could elaborate on that? What was your childhood like and what music were you listening to?
C: My parents were both alcoholics and my mother was also a drug addict, so there was a lot of rage that I dealt with in my family. My dad was in World War II on the U.S.S. Colorado. He had PTSD before there was a term for it, and would get drunk and tell me about being 18 and cutting ears off Japanese P.OW.'s.
When I was 9 or 10, my parents divorced. I developed sleep disorders, so I would lay there with the radio on late at night, and put it under my pillow sometimes so that my mother wouldn't hear it. These songs became my savior because I could listen to people singing about their lives and their pains, and it made me feel like there was somebody else.
I didn't have a lot of friends because we moved around a lot. I went to two elementary schools, four junior highs, and three high schools, so I was always the new guy. Music was the one constant- here's the new album from Alice Cooper, here's the new album from Elton John, and that would keep me going emotionally. Then I saw Kiss on Midnight Special and thought, “I want to do that! Now I get what I'm supposed to do!”
D: Someone described Kiss as “the gateway band”, meaning before that a lot of people of your generation would hear something and go, “Oh that's cool”, but Kiss was the one that really got them into rock music and got them to start a band. Would you agree with that statement?
C: I think that's really true! They codified everything I loved in the mid '70s, horror movies, Alice Cooper, and comic books. Kiss could do whatever they wanted, and that they chose to go bubblegum and disco really made me cringe. They've gone through some horrible phases. It's hard now to understand the impact that Kiss had. I'd buy magazines with Kiss on the cover, and one of them was “Kiss and the New York Scene”. In that magazine they highlighted Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Blondie. They kept talking about punk and I thought, “What is that?”
Then within a few months, the Sex Pistols went on television and made international news by saying the word “fuck”. That was unheard of. Now that seems so quaint, but back then that was a serious call. At that time Kiss was pretty much over for me. I felt betrayed by Kiss Alive II, because I could tell Peter Criss was not drumming on the songs.
D: What's funny is when you described your relationship with the radio, that's a line out of “Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?” by the Ramones-
“Do you remember lying in bed/With your covers pulled up over your head/Radio playing so no one can see”.
C: That's exactly right! I heard the first couple Ramones albums because I knew people who had them. I didn't own a record player so I relied on going over friend's houses. I remember somebody's older brother had the first Ramones album and played “Beat on the Brat”. He was threatening us like, “This is what I'm gonna do to you fuckers!” But I just thought, “That's that band I read about!”
When I was able to buy albums and got End of the Century, I thought, “These guys know what I've been through! I can seriously relate to this!”
D: At the time when you were getting into punk did you know the guys from Nirvana and the Melvins? I know you were from the same town as them and they were into that stuff as well.
C: I lived in Aberdeen, Washington from 1974-1977. They were younger than me, and in high school I wasn't gonna associate with junior high or elementary school kids. Plus we lived in different areas of town. There were small pockets of people in my neighborhood, but I never ran into them.
But the Ramones did play Aberdeen! I remember hearing about that and thinking there's no way my parents would let me go.
D: No kidding? That's a real bummer.
So here's a quote from Kurt Cobain about Aberdeen, “It's full of bigoted rednecks.” Do you agree with that statement?
C: Absolutely. It was probably the scariest time of my life, I was in fear every minute. My father was off the rails. He'd remarried and my stepmother was an angel, but I had an older stepbrother and would regularly get beaten by him, his friends, or people at school. People who figured out I was gay before I even knew. I had to go to the principal's office many times because they'd say I'm a distraction and causing this to happen. I'd say, “What am I doing that's making people beat me up?” It was three years of torture, so I could only imagine what the Nirvana and Melvins guys went through.
D: Why do you think that for such a small place that seems so unaccommodating to counter-culture type people, there's been a disproportionate amount of musicians come out of there?
C: That's a really good question. It's one of the rainiest spots on the planet, so going outside and playing can only happen maybe three months out of the year. I had an acoustic guitar that my mother bought, so I started learning it. I think that's it- if a kid has access and an interest in music, they have ultimate time for it because they can't go outside.
D: So since you could play guitar did you start a punk band right away?
C: No, in the summer of 1977 we moved out of Aberdeen to this place near Seattle. We lasted about six months and then moved again. I thought, “Who in this new school do I want to hangout with?” It ended up being the kids who were all smoking pot. So I started smoking and eventually my dad went through my clothes and found a joint.
He said, “Ok, you're out of here. I'll put you in a foster home or you can go on your own.” I was 16 years old, but I went out on my own. I didn't have much money but I had a job, and my boss at Shakey's Pizza co-signed a lease on a house rental.
With my first refund check from the I.R.S. I bought a bass. I had thought I was gonna be a guitar player, but all I had was that acoustic, and a lot of bands didn't need another guitarist. I had no experience playing bass but claimed I could, so I bought one and joined a band. It wasn't really a punk band, more of a conglomerate of different things. We all liked The Police's early stuff, we liked Devo, but we also liked Neil Young. The band never made it past playing backyards or basements, and by the '80s I started to separate from everybody. I was realizing I was gay and needed to figure things out.
D: When you moved from Seattle to San Francisco, did you play in bands before Pansy Division?
C: I played in several more bands before Pansy Division. I moved to San Francisco in 1987 thinking, “I want to be a musician, it's not happening in Seattle.” I knew people like Bruce Pavitt and Jon Poneman of Sub Pop Records, and I was an assistant manager at Muzak and hired Mark Arm from Mudhoney and Ron Nine from Love Battery. So I was friendly with bands from Seattle, but they didn't want a gay musician.
D: Really? Was that because they thought they wouldn't get signed with a gay member?
C: That's exactly right, and at that point it had been proven. From 1982-1985 I was in this band called Attachments. I was one of the main songwriters, but we had two female singers so I didn't have to change the pronouns in songs. We were very close to getting signed to A&M Records. They were sending their marketing team to groom us and I was told, “The girls are gonna get all the attention, we don't need to hear from the bass player. Even though you're a songwriter, you won't be interviewed, but if you ever get asked about being gay just side step it.” We didn't get signed, and that was the point when I learned if you're gay you weren't gonna have a career in the music business.
Anyway, I moved to San Francisco and joined this band through an ad. It turned out they had David Kaffinetti on keyboards. I was like, “You're Viv Savage from Spinal Tap! This fucking rules!” But their music and lyrics just sucked ass! They were called Model Citizenz, with a “z” at the end. I've actually got a cassette, I should probably find that and convert them into music files.
D: What genre would you describe them as?
C: It was horrible Journey meets Loverboy. I left them and auditioned for a band that later became Red House Painters. They played me their demo and I listened to the music and went, “Guys I'm just not this depressed, I can't do this!” I also talked to East Bay Ray. He was in a band called Junkyard, and there was talk that I might work with him. So I was forging connections, but nothing was panning out.
At that point my partner was encouraging me to quit music. I was turning 30, and he wanted me to have a career and get my life together. I agreed and sold off my amps, but I kept reading ads thinking, “Wouldn't it be nice if I could audition for a band?” Then I saw Jon's ad saying he was looking for other gay musicians. Even though Freddie Mercury was huge, and Elton John had said he might be bisexual, nobody in the mainstream music business was actually out of the closet. So the fact that somebody would put an ad in saying,“I'm looking for another gay musician”, got me back in. The rest is history.
D: In preparation for this I've been re-listening to Pansy Division's albums, and on the first ones a lot of the songs seem to be based around sex. There's some more introspective ones like “Denny” or “Deep Water”, but by Absurd Pop Song Romance, you really embraced just the introspective aspects of a relationship. In retrospect how do you feel about those albums?
C: Well Absurd Pop Song Romance happens to be my favorite of our records. It was when we were really at our best and most hungry. When I joined the band, Jon had written almost all of what became the first three records. He already had a lot of it recorded as demos. We went and re-did some things and started from scratch on others, but those were written for the ACT UP crowd. I don't know if you remember ACT UP.
C: When Reagan was president, AIDS was being ignored. I'd lost dozen of friends, including five ex-boyfriends, to AIDS. Nobody was was talking about it in a political way, which lead to a group called ACT UP. We'd go to ACT UP meetings and talk about all these heavy things, and then those people would come see our shows and it made them smile. People were saying we're supposed to die and AIDS is god's wrath coming down. We had to reject that by saying, “No, sex is good. Wear a condom to avoid AIDS, and enjoy it. Embrace it.” So that was why we were so strident in our message back then.
D: A lot of people say that era of Pansy Division is sort of goofy, but at that time it would have been almost like a political statement.
C: Yeah, we wanted to be as a graphic about our experience as N.W.A. was about theirs, they were actually a huge influence. During those first albums, we met Howie Klein from Reprise Records. He had signed Green Day and said, “I really love you guys but it would not be worth it for me to sign you. Your lyrics will be edited down, and you'd be ineffective as a band on a major label.”
But that's what we were playing to the ACT UP audience. Once we started touring around the country we had different people hearing us and more things to say. We wanted to talk about other things in our lives, so I couldn't wait for people to hear Absurd Pop Song Romance. Those who put us off as this novelty band were gonna be slapped in the face by it, and not just the lyrics, because we were showing off musical muscle.
D: Earlier you mentioned Green Day. The tour you did with them was probably where a lot of people first heard of your band. I didn't realize until I read Jon's book that there were two legs of that, one doing theaters and then when Dookie became a huge success you did another for arenas. Was there a lot of culture shock for that second leg? Or just from playing to a mainstream audience the first time around had you gotten used to it?
C: I don't think there was a night where we were used to it on either leg. We were scared shitless. First of all we knew we weren't as good as we should have been. We had this drummer that we found through a tape he'd sent us. In retrospective I'm sure it was somebody else drumming on that.
C: We always had problems with drummers. We'd find guys that were really good but they'd say, “I can't get on stage and play these songs about being gay in front of people.” Liam Hart played on Deflowered and most of the Pile Up compilation, but he couldn't play live with us. So we had all these people who said they'd give it a try. But they'd get up on-stage and say, “I can't do this”. Or they might be fine playing with us but they'd turn out to be a dick, like our drummer Dustin.
The other scenario was we had someone like David Ward. He played live with us and played on our single for “Joe Camel”, but when we went into the studio to record that, we realized he wasn't gonna work as a studio drummer. We really loved David, and really wanted him to be the permanent guy. But as nice a guy as he was, we realized it wouldn't work. If you listen to that single's b-side, “Homosapien”, we had to go back and replace the kick-drum with kick-drum samples.
So we met our next drummer, Butch Flowers, on tour in Ohio. He ended up sending us his tape, and we were looking for somebody last minute for the first leg of the tour. He said he'd play for us, but it was just bad! You can see some footage of him playing in the Pansy Division documentary. It's sort of like when you're sleeping on a horrible mattress and you get really bad sleep, that's what playing with a bad drummer is like.
I also think Green Day thought our show would be different. Those guys used to come and see us play at Gilman Street, and there we had between four and eight dancers on stage spraying silly-string everywhere. They thought we were bringing that whole deal.
D: Yeah you're not gonna fit eight dancers in your van.
C: Yeah fuck that! It was just the three of us. Also we were playing in-front of hostile audiences. In a lot of cases they were threatening to beat us up and all sorts of things, so there was never a night where we got used to it.
The second leg was more interesting. We were watching Green Day go from absolutely nothing to huge. We signed to Lookout! as they were putting out Kerplunk, and that managed to sell 50,000 records! Then they're on a major label, and BOOM! It was like a rocket went off and we were watching it and riding its coattails. Any aspiration I had from my 20's of being a rockstar was happening before my eyes to those guys, and I was thinking to myself, “I'm sure glad that didn't happen to me.”
They went from pot-smoking beer-drinking 20-something punks, to dealing with millions of dollars, and now everybody wanted to be their friend. They were ecstatic on one hand, but really freaked out.
D: What's ironic about that is- everybody except the people at Gilman Street who had been their friends, but now hated them because they said they sold out.
C: Yeah. I didn't hear anything in the music that sold out. If you listen to Kerplunk that album is stellar. If it had the same production value that Dookie did, it might have been just as huge.
D: Yeah and I think Insomniac, the one that followed Dookie, is their hardest and most punk album. And that was a major label release.
C: Right, that was their angry album. You can hear how angry they were at that situation. But back to my experience on that tour, at that point Pansy Division had never played for more than 200 people at a club. We jumped on to that tour and now we're in front of 1,200. Then when we hit the arenas and the first show we played was 10,000 people, mostly between the ages of 8 to 28. We were just in awe of the fact that we were up there able to sing what we were singing in-front of them. It was still scary, but a thrill every single night.
D: I'm a big Howard Stern fan, and I know after you played Nassau Coliseum he did a whole segment on his show praising your set and saying he wanted you on as guests. Did that ever get pursued?
C: No it didn't. I do remember meeting him, I thought it was Joey Ramone when I first saw him.
D: (Laughs) yeah they look similar.
C: We saw him backstage at Nassau Coliseum. I thought, “Oh wow that's Joey Ramone... oh wait it's Howard Stern!” So I said hi and we had a light-hearted talk. We liked listening to his show and were actually recording it the next day. He started talking about Green Day, but then he went on and on about Pansy Division! I don't think it was ever followed up, but I was really happy that he talked abut us. That was sort of magical to me.
Another big thrill was in Detroit when we played Cobo Hall. Being a big Kiss fan, I knew that's where parts of Kiss Alive were recorded. On the back of that album there's two kids at Cobo Hall holding up their homemade Kiss poster, so we walked out and I'm seeing the back of Kiss Alive! Then four songs into the set the entire crowd is chanting, “Fuck you!” That was the biggest karmic payback for all of the opening bands that I'd booed (laughs)!
D: You mentioned part of the problem of the first leg was the drummer, but for the arena shows, did having Dan Panic from Screeching Weasel make it easier?
C: Thank god for Danny! He went through a lot of shit for doing that with us.
D: Because of Ben Weasel?
C: Ben wouldn't even come out of the house to talk to us when we picked Danny up. He hated our guts and would never give us the time of day. That was really one of the biggest wedges between the two of them, the fact that Danny did that tour with us.
But Danny was stellar. If you look at any of the footage with him, that was what the band should have been the entire time. Unfortunately he didn't join us until seven shows into the second leg. We played the shows on the West Coast with David Ward, he came back and filled-in for those.
After the tour and we begged Danny to stay, but he wouldn't because he was loyal to Ben. He was such a great guy and an amazing drummer, but if he hadn't declined, we never would have found Luis. Luis is one of the best drummers I've ever seen, let alone played with!
D: I imagine finally finding a permanent drummer made things easier.
C: Well like I said earlier, Absurd Pop Song Romance is my favorite album, but it was also the most difficult album to make. That was the first album with Luis, and we'd also added Patrick Goodwin on second guitar. I was very focused and driven, and took the reigns on producing it. Steve Albini recorded it, and we had a lot of fights in front of him about the direction. Jon didn't want the segues in-between songs and I did. The others were letting mom and dad fight it out- “We're staying out this, you guys figure it out!”
After the tour for it, we had a lot of problems with each other. I thought, “Okay, I've got a list of things for each person that I'm gonna bring up.” When I did they all just looked at me said, “You're an asshole!” I needed to hear that. It was not a happy moment but it really woke me up. I was so focused that I didn't realize how bad I was treating the band. They said, “You can turn it down without losing your focus”. We've got along much better since then.
After the asshole discussion, we had another big one about the future of music. Metallica had just sued Napster, and we realized once your song is free on the internet, nobody's gonna pay for it. That meant the industry would have to shift, and we all knew this. Lookout! Records was going down about the same time. Have you read Larry Livermore's book about that?
D: Yeah, How to Ruin A Record Label.
C: What's in that book is exactly what happened. Lookout! had to reduce space in their warehouse so they threw away hundreds of albums without telling bands. Later they said we would have had to buy them back if we wanted to take them.
My first job was at McDonald's and at the end of the night there would be burgers left. I would say, “Aren't these just gonna go to waste? Can I have one?” They'd said, “No, you can pay the employee discount.” So I learned how to empty the garbage and stuff my pockets with hamburgers. The same thing happened with Lookout! I wanted to find the dumpster they put them in!
Even if they asked us to pay for them, we would have worked out a deal because they owed us a truckload of cash in unpaid royalties. That's what got us out of our contract, so now we don't have a label and Napster's come along. If things changes from a sales driven economy to a service driven one, it's gonna be like it was before there was any record business- artists would be commissioned to write songs for other people, or they would just get paid for their performances. That's exactly what ended up happening.
D: Do you feel like in this day and age, it just makes sense for a new band to release all their music for free download?
C: If somebody wants to own our product they can pay for it and we'll make it as cheap as possible, but that era is over and more older bands need to think differently. Younger bands are thinking that way by posting their stuff up for free. It's more important if you get bodies in the club, and that's what got me into playing music in the first place, being up on stage and seeing people get off on the music.
D: What about the role of record labels these days? You guys are on Alternative Tentacles, and obviously in the punk community that will have some reach, but it's still not the same as if you're on AT in the '80s or '90s.
C: When we left Lookout! we realized that we probably didn't need a label going forward. We were never gonna get any bigger than we were, and were never gonna be sold in Walmart (and wouldn't want to be). Then I ran into Jesse Townley, who had worked at Lookout! He said he was now working at Alternative Tentacles and Jello Biafra would be interested in signing us.
When we first started there was a bidding war for us between Lookout! and AT. Nobody offered more money than the other, but Jello really wanted us and so did Larry. It came down to the fact that Lookout! had the money to put out the first single at the time we wanted it out. This was pre- Rancid or Green Day being huge. Lookout! was actually a bigger risk because AT already had an established catalog.
I think Jello regretted how that turned out. He's always been our champion, and always comes to our shows and has time to hangout. I've always appreciated that, not only because I'm a huge Dead Kennedys fan, but because he's a great guy. So when we heard he'd sign us, we went with Alternative Tentacles in a second.
D: Would there be any other label that you would have signed with? You mentioned the plan might be to go out on your own.
C: We did look around because we thought if we're going to do something it might be nice to have it through a label. We talked with Fat Mike, but all the Fat Wreck Chords bands were kind of homogeneous. We'd already broken from the Lookout! stereotype and didn't want to go back to that.
We also talked with Brett Gurewitz, who was just starting Anti-Records, and there was some back and forth about that. But Alternative Tentacles was an easy choice. It's more important to sign with somebody who's not gonna try and change us, and who's been our champion all along.
D: So let's talk about the new music. I saw the album is called Quite Contrary and the single is “Blame The Bible” with b-side “Neighbors of the Beast.”
C: Yeah! It was interesting making this because we live on opposite coasts. Joel lives in Boston, Luis lives in New York, Jon lives in San Francisco, and I live in L.A. I'll go up to San Francisco with my 4-track and computer, and Jon and I will demo songs using drum loops. Then we'll email them to Luis and Joel. Luis will drive to Boston and they'll practice together in a rehearsal room. One of the songs from their rehearsals became “Blame the Bible”. Luis wanted me to do a cheerleader chant over the music. He said, “I want it to be really gritty and nasty like you're on the devil's team!” So I did that and then wrote more lyrics on top of it, then Joel suggested that he sing the choruses and made some lyrical changes. That's how that got written.
Joel's actually got a couple of songs on Quite Contrary. I wrote lyrics for a song that he sings, and he wrote them for one that I sing. We also cover “It's A Sin” by Pet Shop Boys. We thought that was really fitting with some of the other anti-religion songs. “Neighbors of the Beast” was one of the throw away songs, we were upset it wasn't gonna be on the album, but it just didn't fit.
D: Based on the title is that because it's a more metal based song like the ones from For Those About to Suck Cock?
C: No it's actually a typical Jon song. It just didn't have anything that was gay, so there's nothing that made it specifically Pansy Division. When we look at a group of songs to go on an album, we try to choose the ones that are gonna fit the most together.
D: What's it saying as a standalone song?
C: It's hilarious- “664 right next door/663 the very next street/666 hail Satan, we're the neighbors of the beast!” It's not heavy, it's not a metal song, it's ninety seconds and funny. Basically it's about how Satan is my neighbor and I'd rather have him next door than bible thumping creeps. Jon had had that song written before we had “Blame the Bible”, and we never put those two together. Even though they had similar satanic themes we never really paired the two until we started considering b-sides.
D: On the subject of Jon's songwriting, for the first albums he wrote most of them?
C: Well I had written “James Bondage” for Deflowered, but it took me a while. I needed some time to learn to write for Pansy Division, because I hadn't written power pop influenced songs since I was a teenager. Then I wrote “Dick of Death” for Wish I'd Taken Pictures, and was like, “Okay I'm getting the hang of it now.” By the time Absurd Pop Song Romance came out, I had more that I could contribute. For Total Entertainment I wrote about half the songs on that record, but I realized it felt off-balanced. We decided to go back to a smaller proportion of my songs and more of Jon's, that just sort of happens to be the right balance for us.
D: I always like listening to bands where there's a couple different lyricists, whether its the Ramones or The Beatles, and figuring out, “Oh this is a Dee Dee song” or “this is a Joey song”. But with your stuff I feel like it's harder to differentiate. Would you say that there's something that makes your lyrics distinctive from Jon's?
C: I don't really know other than the points of view. With Joel it's easier, he tries to figure out what's gonna work from the perspective of the straight guy. On the last album he contributed “Some of My Best Friends”, which was the perfect introduction for his character in the band. On the new record I think there's more distinctions between Jon and I, but I can't really point to what makes that. Jon is really clever, I don't know where his stuff comes from. There are times where he gets a little dumb and we have to dial him back a little bit, but lyrics come out of him naturally, and with very little editing. With mine I have to go back and think about it, it takes a little more work. But I mold my style so that it's compatible to Jon's. I use similar ways of connecting verses to choruses, and verses to verses, through storytelling and situations.
One of the things that we agreed upon at the beginning was that we're consciously going to write songs that are consensual or about having something done to us. We wanted to go the opposite of Motley Crue, which is, “I'm gonna do this to you bitch!” or “I'm gonna get you!” The situation with “James Bondage” was interesting because my partner at that time was the bottom and I was the top. That wasn't gonna make a good song, so I switched it to say I'm having it done to me.
D: I have one more Pansy Division question. I read about this in a book called Punk USA- there's a story about one of the Green Day shows where you crossed paths with Jon Bon Jovi and had on your infamous shirt with the giant dick on it. I wanted to know the backstory of that shirt, because to me that's right up there with the shirt that Steve Jones had with the breasts on it, when the Sex Pistols were on The Bill Grundy Show. But I also wanted you to share the story about it entering Bon Jovi's sight and his reaction to it.
C: Sure, and thank you for the connection with Steve Jones and the breasts shirt, that was a very big influence on it! I bought the original shirt at a gay pride festival. Before it started getting too tattered I went to Smelly Mustafa, who did t-shirts for punk bands. I asked if he could make a copy of it as a tour shirt with the Pansy Division logo on the back and the giant dick on the front.
When we played Madison Square Garden I was wearing one of those shirts. This was a big radio sponsored show, Green Day had sold it out by themselves, but the radio station attached themselves to it and wanted to add more bands. It got to be nine acts on the bill- us, Green Day, Hole, Weezer, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, and Bon Jovi.
When we had gotten to the venue Bon Jovi had already taken up residence in the big dressing room, even though this was sold out before their name was attached. Green Day were so pissed at their manager for letting Bon Jovi be added to this bill, it was the antithesis of what they stood for. Before Bon Jovi's set, people were setting up mics in the audience to mix that noise through the P.A. They wanted to amplify the crowd to make it sound like people were cheering louder for Bon Jovi than any of the other bands!
We ended up sharing our dressing room with Green Day, and before Bon Jovi came on, all of us were asked to clear the halls and go back into our dressing rooms. Jon Bon Jovi never walked around to say hi to anybody, he never came out of that dressing room. Finally I saw them go by and figured it was safe to walk out. But the rest of the band was out on stage starting the song, and he's still over by one of the side entrances. He had this camera crew filming him and he's doing these moves like a boxer punching the air and dancing around before a fight. I thought, “Oh god this guy is so fucking full of himself!” So I had the dick shirt on and walked up to him. I gave him this half-witted face and said, “Hey Bon Jovi!” He looked over at me and did a double take!
When their set started and everyone wandered back out, and I ran into Tim Chunks from Token Entry. Tim was Green Day's roadie at the time, and he was talking with Sheryl Crow. She told him she was supposed to do a duet with Bon Jovi. So Tim goes, “Wait Sheryl, I know you don't have much time but I need to tell you this! You don't know me from shit, but you do not need the stain on your record of singing a song with fucking Bon Jovi!” She gave him a confused look and wandered off to her dressing room, but a second later she came back and said, “Tim I want to thank you for that! You're right, but I can't stay here because he'll run into me backstage.” So she ditched Bon Jovi and took off with her entire band!
D: That's a great story! Before we finish, let's talk about GayC/DC. How did this project come about?
C: I moved to LA in 2001 and met a bunch of gay rock musicians. They had this loose scene centered around a club called The Gauntlet, where they put on monthly shows. A group of them were gonna start a Go-Gos tribute band called The Gay-Gays. They asked if I would be interested in playing bass, and I said, “Fuck yes of course! The Go-Gos are one of my favorite bands!”
We ended up lasting for multiple years and doing very well. People loved us, and Jane Wiedlin actually played with us, but eventually our singer said he was done. I looked at the guitar player and drummer and said, “What other gay bands could we do?”, and we came up with GayC/DC.
AC/DC were known for being completely lecherous and dangerous sex machines, and that was because of Bon Scott. My favorite era of AC/DC is the early years with him as the singer, but we couldn't find anybody to sing for us. There was one singer we asked who was still in the closet and wanted us to change the name, but the whole idea is to be AC/DC as if Bon Scott and the rest of the band were gay! What if that whole thing they did was really because they were gay lecherous sex machines? The name's already so out there.
D: Like AC/DC meaning bisexual?
C: Yeah. I know that's probably not what they had in mind but it's right out there.
Eventually I said, “You know what guys, I don't know if I can do it but why don't you audition me? Give me a fair shake, and if you honestly think that I can pull it off then we'll look for a bass player which will be easier to find.”
So I walked in and auditioned as a completely different person. I came in with that gay Bon Scott character and they were like, “You're gonna do it! We want you to sing!” So we got our friend Glenn on bass, and then I met our lead guitar player through Daddy Hunt (laughs)!
D: Is that a gay dating site?
C: Yes! Before I met my husband I was on there looking through people. I saw this guy who was handsome and clicked on his profile. It said he's a guitar player so I just hit him up- “It says on your profile you're a guitar player, how good are you?” He said he's really good and I said, “I may have a situation where we need a gay lead guitarist and I don't know any that are up to snuff.”
In the late '80s he was in a Bay Area band called Cry Wolf. They moved to L.A. and became a Sunset Strip band, and later were one of the casualties of Nirvana.
D: Oh they lost their record deal after Nevermind came out?
C: Yes! He said one week he went in there and they had Cry Wolf posters on the wall. Then two weeks later Nirvana's album came out and shot to the top of the charts, and now he sees Nirvana on the wall!
D: That's so funny because there's a podcast that I listen to called Let There Be Talk, it's actually hosted by the guy who came up with the term “gateway band” for Kiss. Anyway, he was interviewing someone and they said they knew it was over when the band went into the record company and their poster had been replaced with Alice in Chains. That must have been very common place that year.
C: Yeah it really was.
D: Speaking of the end of that era, I saw GayC/DC played “TNT” with Sebastian Bach from Skid Row. I know he once got into trouble for wearing an “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” t-shirt, but since then he's been very embarrassed and apologetic about that. Were you worried about how your audience would react?
C: Not at all. We were playing The Viper Room for a mostly straight audience. This was opening for a four on the floor rock band who all looked like Nikki Sixx, so that was a different kind of show.
Pansy Division met Sebastian on tour in 1999. He was friends with Kelly Deal and we were playing a show with her. After our set he was in our dressing room and told us real genuinely, “Wow you guys were really great! I gotta tell you something from the bottom of my heart... I want you to know I'm fucking sorry about what I did back then. I was young and had no idea what I was doing, and I've met so many gay people since then. I'm so sorry that I was such a douche!” Then he handed me a joint, shook my hand, and gave me a hug.
By playing with GayC/DC years later, that was another moment to apologize and show he has nothing against gay people. So kudos to him, I think he's a great guy.
D: I've noticed in the punk scene a lot of people still hate Bad Brains even though they've disavowed the homophobic stuff they said in the past. Do you think that's mostly a reaction from straight punks, and just like with Sebastian, people like yourself and your gay bandmates have an easier time seeing beyond that? Or do you just think punk fans, regardless of sexuality, are less forgiving because they're more hard lined politically than a metal fan who's into Skid Row?
C: Well I think the difference is where punk came from. If you look at the roots of punk, or of what would become punk, the gay community was right there with them. I used to go to punk shows because it was where the freaks and people who didn't belong would go. I was called a fag for liking punk, but so were the people who weren't gay. At least until hardcore started, I think punk had a lot of connections to the gay community. You had the New York Dolls dressing up in drag, and you even had transgender people like Jayne County. Metal didn't come from that background, there may have been the leather imagery that came through via Rob Halford, but that was it.
So while Bad Brains have been homophobic, and it's a sorry thing, people can have different experiences that allow them to think and embrace things they may have originally been against. Whether it's Sebastian, or Bad Brains, or Hillary Clinton- I give room to change for everybody who's previously been negative to gays. I want to see the change, and hear true honesty in their voice, but I'll give them the space.
Every gay person has overcome a huge hurdle just to be able to say to themselves, “I'm fucking gay, and I'm gonna deal with it.” It's a huge deal, and if you're straight you'll never know what that's like. I don't mean to put you down, but that's just the way it is. On a smaller scale, if all you've known is religious bullshit or have had no experiences with a gay person, and form opinions based on that- that's a hurdle inside of a straight person to say, “I was wrong. I'm gonna change my opinion, and now I'm gonna champion those things.”
D: That was a very thoughtful answer. That's all the questions I have, if you want to make any last statements or plug the new album again, please feel free.
C: Quite Contrary is the new album. It's a different take on Pansy Division, we're pushing 60 and trying to show what it's like to be an aging queen in a punk band. It's coming out on Alternative Tentacles on September 9th, and we'll be touring in September and November, so hopefully people will come out and see us. We've been a band for 25 years and it's unbelievable to us that we could still be doing this. We wouldn't be doing any of it without fans so thank you!