Punk, post punk, no wave… call it what you like there was something afoot in the mid 70's. Imagine you’re in NYC, slap bang in the city that never sleeps, everything’s going on, the CBGB’s is open, and the new movers and shakers in town are getting gritty conjuring up the music and art that has since become the footnote to movements on a global scale. James Chance swaggered into the foray and and pop! there you have it... the rest is history.
Going back in time, did you think you were creating something special?
Er, yeah I think so… I mean we didn’t take it all that seriously I think there was a lot of humour attached to the music that a lot of people missed. It wasn’t like we were totally serious tortured artists… we were all pretty light-hearted about the whole thing. But I think I was certainly aware that we were doing something, but it wasn’t like I was thinking we’d have any commercial success with, it just didn’t seem like it would be possible to be commercially successful. It really did surprise me, although I did always want people to be able dance to what I was doing, I did have some ambition outside to just playing for a few artists outside of Soho.
What is the secret to the longevity of your music is?
Erm, well probably just by having an unique style, the kind of material I do, my own funk or jazz, you know it's always kind of filtered through my sensibility and I don’t determine to any category or movement. I think I’m unique, that when you’ve got something totally individual that’s what lasts.
Also part of it seems to be your sincere passion, I was touched reading your experience and how the women in your life influenced you, you seem to have punctuated your life by noting and paying homage to the women in your life.
Yeah, that’s true, there haven’t been that many really, two main ones Anya Phillips and Judy Taylor, Anya who I’m still with. I had a very brief period of going into a typical rock star trip with a whole bunch of different women, that didn’t last, but since I’ve been with Anya that sort of faded away.
Do you think you’re romantic?
Yeah I guess you’d have to call me a romantic…
Over the last 30 years the UK always looked towards New York for inspiration, I was curious about your work with Lydia Lunch…
Well Lydia was on of the first people I made friends with and I met her in CBGB’s. She was only about 16 she had just come from Rochester, New York which is quite a horrible place up state. She was kind of dancing around, that got my attention because nobody danced at those clubs, there weren’t any dance floors, people were just into being cool, and posing, no one danced. And that kind of irritated me you know, to me rock 'n' roll is always about dancing so that kind of got my attention. So we got talking to her she showed me this sort of prose thing she had written and I was really impressed with it… and then a short time later she sort of knocked on my door of this little apartment I had on 2nd Avenue and said she needed a place to stay. She ended up moving in with me for about a year although we were not like really, girlfriend boyfriend. We had a beat up old guitar, acoustic guitar, and she showed me these songs she had been working on a little bit, they were some of these Teenage Jesus songs and I think most people would have told her to get off you know, but I encouraged her with it. That was kind of how Teenage Jesus started. That was like 1977. She always planned to have a very minimal sound but it got to the point where she decided she wanted it so minimal she didn’t want me in it anymore. She basically fired me!
Sometimes life’s all about letting go though…
Yeah, it was a good thing, that’s what gave me the impetuous to start the Contortions.
Amazingly your 57 years old and you seem to have the same passion and enthusiasm on stage as when you started out…
That’s the place I probably feel most comfortable, on stage you know. I’m not comfortable in normal life just being a normal person doing everyday stuff, I’ve always felt like kind of an alien or something some how. Normal life – I just don’t connect with it but when I’m on stage everything kind of clicks, although one thing I hate is getting all sweaty.
With 'Twist Your Soul' you’ve selected some wonderful rarities…
Oh yeah, I didn’t want to have the same old tracks, and also they wanted a second CD of live tracks… and also I pretty much wanted to concentrate on the funk sides of things. I really more or less decided to put my personal favourites on.
What’s it been like performing at The Victoria (Pub in London)?
The first time it was sold out the second time not so sold out, other than that aspect, I loved playing there, people were singing along which really amazed me! I really like having young fans you know, because people my age are they … you know, I mean I don’t go out to shows myself much you know, people when they're older, well they love their music just as much but they’re into their own lives, you don’t have so much time or energy for it… or enthusiasm.
I kind of feel sorry for young people in a way, I mean I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s things were so much more wilder then and there was so much more happening in the world, I feel really lucky to have grown up in that time. To grow up in the world today would be horrible.
The pace of life can be so fast, sometimes with creative endeavours things aren’t allowed to develop, their seems to be an urgency…
Yeah, when you get into the commercial side of the music industry it seems worse than it used to be, because there’s a lot less money in the industry than there used to be so the record companies are trying to squeeze everything they can out of you. One thing about not having a major record contract is not having all that interference with the music, I’ve never really had to deal with that. But on the downside my recording career has been quite spotty. But you know, I feel I’ve kind of been preserved in a way, I still have some sort of enthusiasm left for performing.
I'd like to ask you about your personal image and style, is dressing a thing you think about and how did you find your personal style?
Well to be perfectly honest it was pretty much created for me by Anya Phillips, if you look at pictures of when I was in teenage Jesus or really early contortions before she was around I look quite different, I kind of put myself in her hands and let her totally create a style for me, it’s pretty much served me all these years with out very little changes. I guess I’m pretty conservative in the way I dress, because I pretty much stick to traditional things like suits. I not a very casual person you know, I always want to look sharp… I never wear t-shirts, I hardly wear any jeans…
Is that a generational thing?
I don’t know but everyone at CBGB’s was concerned with their style you know, one thing that really impressed me was that each band had their own look and style that went along completely with their music. That aspect made a deep impression on me, when I first came to New York my vision was to be a jazz musician but that was one thing that really put me off the jazz scene was their style. Which was so awful, they were just so mired in the hippie era. And I just couldn’t stand that and they couldn’t comprehend my style at all, it just didn’t compute with their idea of what a jazz musician should look like.
Here's some quick fire questions, what’s your all time favourite meal?
Favourite meal… rhubarb yogurt! I have a thing about yogurt; I practically live on yogurt sometimes! When I’m on the road especially, each country has different kind of strange flavours of yogurt, in England I always buy rhubarb yogurt.
Do you like Frank Zappa?
I like the Hot Rats, I haven’t heard it for a long time, and I like some of the early Mothers Of Invention too, not all of it but some of it…
Who is the all time coolest person to ever walk the earth?
Probably Lester Young…
Words- Princess Julia