Star Scene: Lydia Lunch

LYDIA LUNCH Photo by Jasmine Hirst

Lydia Lunch‘s scene is aptly “Ob-scene”. The musician, writer, photographer, No Wave Movement instigator, Cinema of Transgression focal point, and icon of the underground music world, Lunch is at times lewd, explicit, and offensive, but more often she unashamedly reveals some of the ‘obscene’ barriers in society and gives voice to the underdog.

Lunch’s musical career began with influences of the greats. She states: “I got into music at around 12 or 13. The Stooges were very important to me. Lou Reed, David Bowie, especially David Bowie’s musical Schizophrenia. I was really into glam, I was really into the New York Dolls, I loved boys that looked like girls. But all of that music was still … I mean, I knew that if I was going to make music, it just wasn’t going to be that traditional. And, as far as like the Velvet Underground, which were inspirational, what bothered me about them was that they were still, and I love a lot of their material, especially the lyrics, they were using still, which I went on to do, a more traditional rock format. But I did a lot of music that was very non-traditional and really deconstructive.”[pullquote]Everything that really influenced me, I kind of rebelled against.[/pullquote] Lunch elaborates with Nico and Lou Reed, “I loved a lot of her [Nico’s] material, I loved how … hard and desperate, and just what it was, and how it really was cold enough to find another planet. Berlin is also one of my favourite albums. I loved that, I’m a conceptualist, and I loved albums that were concept albums, like Berlin and that’s why I really liked Bowie. Most of his albums were concept albums. Most of my albums are … the concept comes first, and then the collaborators, and then we created, and then … I documented it, and there you go. It’s always conceptual. All of the music that inspired me was too traditional until I decided to embrace rock and just try it in my own personal way … as I did with Roland S. Howard.”

Pre Google and Spotify, Lydia Lunch was brought into Australian focus through Rowland S Howard, Birthday Party and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The creative collaboration of Lunch and Howard was providence. Lunch describes their beginnings: “Well what was interesting is that I was living in LA at the time, and I had heard the first Birthday Party album, and then I went to New York. I was about to go to London to perform, and Birthday Party were playing in New York, and I went up to Roland and just … told him how wonderful I thought he was, and he knew my material, too, which I had thought was shocking because, again, it’s pre-Google. But he knew Teenage Jesus, Queen of Siam, and he proposed to me that we do Some Velvet Morning by Lee Hazelwood. I really didn’t know many people that knew who Lee Hazelwood was at that point. I already covered Lightning’s Girl, and I was already very interested in Lee Hazelwood’s version, so I just, at the moment of meeting Roland, I pledged I would go to London, and then went. They went on tour immediately, so I was kind of left stranded, but that was okay. We did an EP, Some Velvet Morning, and I Fell in Love with a Ghost, and then a few years later we did Honeymoon in Red, which was lost for eight years at a studio, we couldn’t find it. We didn’t know who had it. Whoever paid, had not paid for it, but I finally got it back and … remastered it, did some more work on it. Then, years later, living in New Orleans as a conceptualist, and who better to find a way to bring Roland down to New Orleans, and then we created Shotgun Wedding. He was so ethereal, and one of the top three guitar players in the world, ever. Every note so mattered, he was so funny and so lovely. It was really wonderful working with him. He was not that prolific, but every note mattered so much. Every song mattered. Whatever he did, he always left an incredible mark, I loved working with him. I’m very happy I had that opportunity. I miss him dearly.”

Lunch also collaborated with many others, from Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, to Nick Cave, and Henry Rollins. Lunch states: “When I was first exposed to Rollins, he was doing spoken word. What’s interesting is that I changed a lyric originally to do spoken word, but then I had to perform in bands and then by ’82 a lot of people at the same time in America, and myself, because of the political situation, just started east and west coast doing spoken word. I was out in LA and somebody said I had to see Rollins, and this was when he was really a hardcore, spoken word, terrifying. So I went up and we did some shows, which we did, and we were both very hardcore spoken word. Eventually, we sought out my hero, which became his after he met him, Hubert Selby Jr. We took him and he toured Europe with us and I released an album called Our Fathers who Art in Heaven. That was a great period, certainly, for spoken word. Rollins has gone on to do an incredible amount of work, and very diverse things, from taking … been going to a lot of war zones and doing photography. I’ve been doing photography since 1990, so it’s very interesting, the trajectory that his career has also taken him.”

“I do brutal spoken word now, it’s just when we both started, if we go back to the beginning, it was almost at a hysterical pitch, and also these shows were very short because it was just so antagonistic, but I’m still always doing spoken word shows. I’ve not put down the political bullhorn at all, and I’m actually doing a solo spoken word show in August, so it’s still very important to me. Hence why I created Brutal Measures because it’s … just utilizing improvisational drumming, it allows me to do a different type of spoken word, but … also, you have to be bold. You have to diversify. But there’s always a little political bent in there.” Lunch continues: “Actually, I’m about to do a book of essays, a chronological, historical overview of my political essays published this year, which I’m very happy about. I think it’s very important and … especially, America right now is so filthy, arrogant, murderous. It always has been, we’ve not been without war in this country except for 10 years of its entire history, and it’s just an outrage to me. I’m the mountain with a bullhorn since Ronald Reagan complained about it. I won’t put that bullhorn down, no, no, no.”

Lunch’s spoken word tour in Australia is not on the cards. For now she hints at other interesting developments: “Well I might be able to squeeze Brutal Measures in which is myself and Weasel Walter just vocals and drums. We have to squeeze that in somewhere, which is just spoken word and improvisational drumming, it’s quite exciting. Unfortunately, the time we have in Australia is limited. I would love to get a residency to come down, I’ve been teaching spoken word workshops, mostly women only, which is great. I’m really looking into perhaps getting a residency somewhere to be able to collaborate with more people and perhaps do spoken word workshops, and do more spoken word there, so we’ll see what we can conjure up when I’m down there.” Lunch continues: “It’s been really great doing workshops. When I do the spoken word workshops it’s like … most women, they keep journals, they write, they’re stories need to be told. So I do a basic course in how do you, if you’ve never done it, how do you do it? And it’s very basic and I’ve been bringing their work in and have them read their work, and then I read their work because, really, until somebody else reads your work, you might not have ever heard it, really. That gives them insight in what needs to be changed, or what needs to remain the same, and then we usually put on performances of everybody that’s been involved, and I’ve done this in France, I’ve done it in New York, and Los Angeles, and Manchester. I just find that once, to about 20 women, and it just takes off from there with it. It’s just an empowerment workshop as well. Everything is based around the word, every song is based around the word. It’s very important to me.”

Lunch encourages and empowers yet is modest about her achievements. She states: “I don’t feel like I’m a teacher, I just feel like I’m a cattle prodder. I like to collaborate with people, to inspire them to go somewhere else, or to do something they haven’t done before. And it’s totally without ego, because my ego is strong enough that I don’t have to … put it on the forefront. It’s here to provide others with a similar type of courage to … want to strive, and not just survive, to thrive, actually.”

“If somebody knows my work, Lunch continues,”[they] understand even the way you feel with negative issues in a very aggressive way, that at the end of it, it’s very positive. I could quote Compton, ‘Say there is hope in that for us’. I’m positive in personal life in the sense that I’m not going to let all of the enemies against the individual, which is … whether it’s religion, or poverty, or the government, the worldwide corruption, I’m not going to let it confiscate my energy, or time, or soul, I’m going to rebel against it in the only way we can, which is through words and through art. [pullquote]I hope to salvage the universal wound[/pullquote] I’m just not going to be stopped, I can only do what I can do, I’m not a politician, and never would I be, but I can only do what I feel. I know that what keeps me going is that there are individuals that have taken comfort, solace, and strength from what I do, and I do it for them.”

“People ask me about the audience, it’s not an audience, it’s a group of individuals that decided to come out to see me, you can’t sum them up.  It might be somewhat cultish, but it’s not a flock. I like to call myself an evangelical,” laughs Lunch and continues, “that’s the best, that’s the beauty. The point is I know that a lot of what I do, especially in spoken word is very dark, but see the fucking humour because if we weren’t laughing, we’d be pulling our eyeballs out and cutting their ears off.” Lunch doesn’t let the world depress her. She continues: “That’s why we have to revolt and rebel with pleasure, because if we don’t, they have won, and fuck them. They may outnumber me, and they might out gun me, but I don’t feel they outnumber me, and that’s the bottom line.”

Lunch’s quick wittedness, sincerity and humour shine through as does her love of Australia. She states: “Loved coming to Australia.  I love the history of its music. I love the people there. I love the clubs. I mean, the trip there was annoying. But, you know, whatever, we get there, it’s fine. I’m looking very much forward to it.” As to her favourite moments, she exclaims: “No let’s hope it’s coming next. I’m always waiting for the next best moment.” Though she does recall an on-the-road anecdote with an artist who has now thankfully “forgiven her”.  “I’ll tell you a good one about Harry Howard, Roland’s brother, who will be playing with us on some of the shows. I love Harry, he’s wonderful, he’s a beautiful human being, and he’s as crazy as he is totally sweet. But one time he wandered into the backstage, and for some reason, I just decided to give him a very good aim, and throw a knife at him, which hit the wall by his head, I would never throw it directly at him to harm him, and it just went … in the wall. I thought he must’ve been terrified, and it was only the last time we were in Australia that Harry said, ‘Lydia, do you remember when you threw that knife at me? I always thought you were so spirited’. And I’m like, ‘Oh, Harry. Totally sweet’. And I didn’t do it out of malice, I just did it because he was so unflappable, I just said, ‘I’ve got to do something to rile this handsome young man’.”

Catch Lunch as she performs ~without knives ~ with Retrovirus in Australia this June!








American Singer, poet, writer and actress, Lydia Lunch returns to Australia with her all-star cast of sonic brutarians in a no-holds-barred survey of her musical output from 1977 to the present.

Including music from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy, Queen of Siam, 1313 and Shotgun Wedding, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus (featuring members from Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Chrome Cranks, The Flying Luttenbachers, Child Abuse and more) marries No Wave, Skronk, Hard Rock and Psychedelic Out Jazz to create a dynamic live performance which is dangerous, infectious and aggressively sexy the way Rock music once was.

Having collaborated with musicians such as Nick Cave,  Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Robert Quine, Rowland S. Howard, Michael Gira, the Birthday Party, Einstürzende Neubauten, Sonic Youth and James Chance, Lydia has spent decades trolling through the subterranean sick-home black & blues creating a schizophrenic musical legacy which loops from shrill No Wave to bludgeoning Hard Rock, from smoky Jazz Noir and illustrated word to macabre Psychedelia.

About Mary Boukouvalas 1641 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos,,,, She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.