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On the horizon of her fifty-fourth birthday, Alice Bag or common law, Alicia Velasquez, has not succumbed to domestication as some are wont to think. Yes, she bakes. Yes, she sews. And does a damn fine job of ‘em too. But Alice is still punk right down to her smart Mary Janes and flour-dusted apron.
Following the ’05 interview, Alice dug up roots to move to the opposite side of town, West Los Angeles, synonymous with breezy Santa Monica and the tourist trap of Venice Beach. This was no small feat for a Latina with roots in East L.A., where she could swing by to pick up pan dulce at the array of panaderias that populate nearly every block. Shortly after, Alice’s husband was offered a job in Arizona that he couldn’t turn down. The family of three, including Alice’s young daughter, Maddie, once again picked up their things and headed east to Phoenix. Meanwhile, nebulous rumors of a Castration Squad reunion began to materialize, but with Alice in another state these plans were scrapped.
Finding herself isolated in the Arizona desert and diagnosed with sleep apnea, Alice took up sewing. In 2006 she began to dismember threadbare T-shirts and belts to stitch together recyclable grocery bags. At first, the former front woman of The Bags, chose old silk screened photos from Masque, one of the first punk venues in Los Angeles, and bedazzled pics of clothespins to adorn her line, but it didn’t take long for Alice to branch out into making patterns for dresses.
Later that year, Gridlock Skateboards put her snarling, Elvis-lipped mug on one of their limited edition decks. In an interview, Alice smiled when she saw a photo of a little girl grinding on this deck. This affirmed to Alice, a staunch feminist, how accepting the sport had become to female skaters.
In 2008, the exhibit, “Vexing: Female Voices from East L.A. Punk” made the international museum circuit with shows at the Claremont Museum of Art and the University of Guadalajara, among others. Aimed at showcasing the illusive history of East L.A. punk from the female point of view, the installation had Alice, along with Lysa Flores, Gaby Godhead, David Jones, and Judy Cocuzza hit the stage, giving the audience a rare snapshot of East Los punk.
Later this year, following a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Alice signed up for oil painting classes and has since started painting. Also in 2008, Alice and her daughter attended Comic Con where Alice was inspired by all the fresh-faced DIY zinesters to start work on a graphic novel chronicling her childhood growing up with domestic violence to her days with Castration Squad and The Bags. This autobiography would eventually become Violence Girl.
Even after blogging since the mid 2000s on her website in Diary of a Bad Housewife (http://alicebag.blogspot.com/), Alice was reluctant to pen an autobiography. Her husband, Greg, encouraged her and after he was called away on business for most of the year, Alice found a ration of old photo albums. While rifling through the albums and recalling the circumstances under which each photo was shot, she began to test the waters for Violence Girl by posting blog entries, shedding the concept for a graphic novel behind. A short year later, in 2009, Feral House Publishing picked it up for publication.
In October 2011, Violence Girl was published. An international book tour followed which also had Alice playing live acoustic shows. Artifix Records released a five-track EP with a song a piece by some of Alice’s bands, The Bags, Cholita, Stay At Home Bomb, Castration Squad, and Goddess 13 to accompany the book. Stories that didn’t make it into Violence Girl can be found on both blogs, Diary of a Bad Housewife and Violence Girl (http://alicebag.com/violencegirl.html). Also this year, “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” mentions Alice’s work and influence as a Latina musician. The exhibit toured in Seattle as well as the Smithsonian.
When asked recently what she considers herself, Alice says she thinks she’s an archivist, keeping and conducting interviews of women in the L.A. punk scene in the late ‘70s on her website, Women In L.A. Punk (http://alicebag.com/womeninlapunk.html). Most recently, Elissa Bello was added to the roster, while others include Dinah Cancer, Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s, Penelope Houston, and Kari Krome. Alice is currently exploring possibilities for Violence Girl becoming a movie or a graphic novel, as it was originally intended.
–Kristen K. 2012
Punk rock exploded in Los Angeles in the late ‘70s. Hundreds of bands seemed to root up from the cracks in the culture and spread quickly, like a fungus made of fireworks. I’m not at all interested in L.A. flexing its punk muscles against the rest of the world. I’m not one for strictly geographic rivalries. I’m just fascinated that so many super talented and divergent bands seemed to come from the shadow of a culture white washed and obsessed with bands like The Bee Gees (and disco in general) that punk bands, flying largely under the radar, flashed out in a nuclear bomb-like force. The crater’s still there and it’s still as real and as sticky as the La Brea Tar Pits. Its effects, if you listen close enough, are all around in current punk bands.
Looking back, over the span of almost thirty years, it’s easy to get it all wrong. To get too romantic. To forget the assholes, sycophants, pedophiles, and rip-off artists that played large roles in this powerful time. But one thing still keeps on delivering—if a band was fortunate to even record a 7”. The music. Some of it is flat-out amazing. Still. Even if only two or three songs were recorded in a studio or live.
I wasn’t around at the explosion—too young and living in a different state—but one of the bands that I’d lucked into at the vinyl roulette of my independent record store was The Bags. For three dollars, I got a single I listened to several hundred times before I accidentally left it on my car seat during the day and it warped in the heat although I’d covered it up. All I knew about the 7” was that I really liked the songs, that I thought it was the same band I’d seen on The Decline of Western Civilization, but I couldn’t be sure because the name was slightly different and there hadn’t been a sleeve with the single I’d bought. “Survive” backed with “Babylonian Gorgon.” Put out in 1978. An achingly defiant woman’s voice led the charge of tuneful destruction. The two short songs sounded so tattered yet so indestructible, like a battered Nova with a bulletproof engine that roared when they stepped on the gas. It’s the type of single that I’d just flip over and over again, wanting to listen to that bastard as much as I could. Soak it in.
Fast forward to the 2000s. Having lived in Los Angeles for nearing a decade, there’s always a low rumble of what’s happening to L.A. punk rock’s alumni: who died of what, who’s planning a comeback with no other original members, who’s doing their twenty-fifth “last tour ever” while failing to write a new song in fifteen years. Not a whisper about Alice Bag, until East L.A.’s punk rock diplomat, Jimmy Alvarado, told us of a show happening at the side of the Asia Pacific Museum, celebrating the rich musical history of East L.A., from klezmer to the zoots, from folk to punk. During one of the quieter sets was Alice Bag. She was playing with Teresa, who was the lead singer of another great punk band that fell through the cracks, The Brat. I’m a horrible stalker. Even though I would have really liked to talk to both women, I just left the show with a huge smile on my face. Hey, both of them were alive, looked great, and were still playing music.
As things like this have a way of turning out, about a year later, Alice emailed Razorcake, thanking us for covering a Dinah Cancer live show. We got to chatting. Not only is she playing in a punk band again—Stay At Home Bomb—she said she’d be up to an interview, that she wants to talk about the past, which, she admits, is a pretty recent turn of events.
The interview you’re about to read isn’t purely a history lesson or a walk down memory lane. I was pleasantly surprised how deep Alice’s fire still burns, how candidly she answered some tough questions—and not just solely as a female, Mexican punk rock singer from the late ‘70s—but as a human being who’s been through a lot and is still willing to give back when so many others have given up or given in.
–Todd Taylor, 2005
Alice Bag interview by Kat Jetson and Todd Taylor
Photos by Kat Jetson
Originally ran in Razorcake #24, January, 2005
Todd: At what age was it that you sang for a Spanish educational cartoon?
Alice: I was in elementary school. I think it was either fifth or sixth grade. Actually, I think I did it in both because I have two different pictures in the studio. They had to do with building self esteem, and they talked about the differences in kids and how you should accept differences in children and then they talked about relationships with people and how your friends could help you.
Todd: So it was kind of like a PBS type of thing.
Kat: Was it for a video?
Alice: They were cartoons and I did a voiceover.
Kat: Do you have them?
Alice: No. I’d love to see them. I actually remember little parts of songs.
Todd: Do you know what your character was for your voice?
Alice: I know that it was a tall, skinny, dark-haired girl. [laughs] I remember one part where she’s singing, “Some people are tall…” and somebody else sings, “And some are short.” I don’t know her name and I don’t know where those cartoons are.
Todd: You were the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is that right?
Todd: What did your parents do?
Alice: My father was a carpenter and he was an independent contractor, which just means that he would put up signs all over the place and people would call him. He would work a lot sometimes and we would have money, and other times we would be really poor. My mother didn’t work at first, but once I was settled in school, she got a job as a teacher’s aide.
Todd: They moved from Mexico City, is that correct?
Alice: No, my mother actually grew up here. She was born in Mexico and her family moved here. She grew up during the Depression, so they would live in one place for a month and then move some place else. They’re from Chihuahua and Coahuila, which are northern states in Mexico.
Todd: When did you first begin speaking English?
Alice: I learned to speak English in school. I probably learned a few words in kindergarten, first grade, second grade…
Todd: Was it prohibited to speak English in your house?
Alice: Yes, in my house we were only allowed to speak Spanish. My father figured I would learn English in school, and I did, but it was a very painful process. I remember crying and being very frustrated because I couldn’t answer. I felt like you could see it on the teacher’s face, like, “This kid is dumb.”
Kat: Like they hate having you there, like you are such an annoyance.
Todd: This is kind of a difficult question to ask. You mentioned in a Las Tres interview concerning a lyric: “I didn’t kill my husband, but domestic violence is something that I grew up around.” Was that referring to your father?
Todd: Do you think that the abuse that you saw your father give your mother was one of the release points for The Bags? Like you finally got a microphone and could sing in front of an audience?
Alice: Absolutely. I think, as a child, you can’t really express the intense feelings of fear, anger, and helplessness that you go through when you witness something like that. You kind of stuff it all in. You’re helpless. And often I didn’t just witness the violence. A lot of times I was just thrown into the middle of it. I had to try and break it up. At one point, I remember my father had beaten up my mother and he had her kneeling in front of him, and he spit at her. I was crying on the side, telling him to stop, and he said, “No, I want you to come over here and spit on her,” and I refused to do it. You can’t do anything at that point but cry and hold the rage in. I think that The Bags was just a perfect vehicle for me to let out all that anger and frustration. I think I would have expressed myself violently towards my father if I had been nineteen or twenty when the abuse was going on.
Todd: What was The Bags’ gimmick at the very beginning?
Alice: I don’t know why we decided to do that. Patricia [Bags co-founder and bassist] had gone off with some friends of hers and put bags on their heads because they were bored one night. That’s how it always happens, right? [laughs] I guess they got such a mixed reaction. People really freaked out. They didn’t think it was just a group of teenagers with bags over their heads. Some of them were really scared and some people thought they were crazy. It was supposed to be a joke.
Kat: Are you glad it’s a joke that didn’t last? Because you’d have to be constantly wearing that bag over your head.
Alice: Yeah. [laughs]
Kat: Aren’t you glad that Darby [Crash, lead singer of the Germs] pulled your bags off? You’d have to go through life wearing that, and then you’d have to put out an album called Unmasked, like Kiss or something. Did you have eyes cut out?
Alice: Oh, we took time decorating them. Each bag had its own personality. That was the fun part, decorating the bag.
Kat: That actually sounds kinda cool, like Halloween.
Todd: Have you ever thought about doing something like a lucha mask, where you have something that looks like a paper bag but it’s made out of a breathable material?
Alice: There’s a band that does that, isn’t there?
Kat: There’s a couple.
Alice: I think that’s great, because then you don’t have to worry about putting on your makeup. On the other hand, I think a lot of what I do onstage and how I communicate has to do with my facial expressions. As a teacher, I was teaching a lesson one day and I was getting excited, because that’s how I get my students excited. One of the children raised his hand and said, “Miss Velasquez, why does your face go all over the place?”
Todd: Do you remember any of the lyrics from the really early songs? At the very beginning, when you first started, you had a lot of bag-themed songs. I believe those got taken out of the set pretty quickly.
Alice: They did, because we had Craig Lee, who would come into practice with three or four songs as opposed to just one, so we slowly moved the old songs out. I think Patricia and I felt like we weren’t the best songwriters. Neither of us felt like we were competent lyricists. I had, and I think I always will have, second language learner limitations, where I’ll say something and my husband will tell me, “It’s not a direct translation; it doesn’t mean the same thing in English.” In “Survive,” there’s a line about commodities, and I was talking to my husband about it and I said, “Having all the commodities of home?” In Spanish, “commodities” is “comodidades,” which means comforts.
Todd: Like amenities.
Alice: Right, and I was like, “Commodities are like creature comforts, right?” And he said, “No, that’s not the way you say it,” and I started thinking, “How many songs have I written that have these mixed meanings that just don’t translate?”
Todd: Do you remember any of the titles of the gimmicky songs?
Alice: No, I just remember “Bag Bondage,” that’s all. There’s a tape that Greg from Artifix Records found somewhere that has “Bag Bondage.”
Kat: Do you have people giving you things that you didn’t even know existed? That’s got to be so trippy to hear a tape that you don’t even remember.
Alice: Occasionally. It seems to be happening more and more lately. I think I’ve just kind of moved away from all this for a long time, and when I started trying to do music again, I realized that some people hadn’t forgotten who Alice Bag was. Then I started getting emails, letters, pictures… it’s neat.
Todd: Is it true that the Unknown Comic got inspiration from you guys?
Alice: That is what Patricia said. She said that she had seen an interview where he said he saw a band with bags over their heads and that’s where he got the idea from.
Todd: Have you ever seen any other band with bags over their heads?
Kat: It would be hard now because they’re all plastic.
Todd: Is it true that one of the names that you were kicking around for The Bags was Masque Era?
Alice: Yes. Patricia, another friend of ours named Margot, and I wanted to start an all-girl band. One day, we were at the Starwood and Rodney Bingenheimer was there, and the girls said, “Go talk to Rodney and tell him that we have an all-girl band.” I think it was within a week or two that I got a call from Kim Fowley, and he said, “We’re putting together a new group called Venus And The Razorblades. Would you like to audition?” All of us went there and auditioned, and we didn’t make it, but we met some other musicians. One of them was another girl who was going to play drums for us. I can’t remember what her name was, but we started practicing with her. Once we actually had rehearsals and stopping just talking about being a band, we decided we were going to be called Masque Era. At first, we just thought mascara, like the eyelash makeup, and then we said, “No, let’s talk about people with hidden identities or people hiding who they really are.” And it was going to be spelled like the Masque, but there was no Masque at that point. [The Masque was one of the flash point clubs of early L.A. punk rock.] What was so weird was that at the drummer’s house, I met Nicky Beat, who was Jeffrey Ivisovich at that time. He was excited because he was going to start playing with this new band called the Weirdos, but they asked him to cut his hair and he wouldn’t. I kinda started dating him and we went to the show, and that’s when the whole paper bag thing started.
Kat: It seemed like everyone had a name. Were you bummed that you were Alice Bag? Did you ever wish that you could have had your own name?
Alice: A cooler name?
Kat: No, no, not that it’s not cool, but…
Alice: Actually, before I was going to be Alice Bag, I was going to be Adrena Lynn.
Kat: My friend’s writing name is Anna Mosity. I thought that was pretty good.
Todd: What was the worst bag decoration that someone came up with?
Alice: It’s got to be Geza X’s bloody tampons. They were hanging off the side of his bag like Christmas tree ornaments.
Todd: You said that your mother made scrapbooks of The Bags and the Weirdos. How extensive did she make the scrapbooks?
Alice: My mom was a teacher’s aide, so she had all this construction paper and she was already thinking along those lines, so a lot of it is like something a kid would do. When my mother died, they were all in a box in the garage somewhere, and when I took them out, the pages were falling apart and yellowed and torn, but some of the stuff we tried to salvage. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do the website was to not lose all that stuff.
Kat: Did she go and seek that stuff out, like go get a Flipside or something, or would you be like, “Here, mom”?
Alice: I would throw everything out. I would read a magazine and throw it away, and my mother, unbeknownst to me, dug it out of the trash. When I was taking photography classes, I would throw all of the old pictures away and she would dig them out of the trash.
Kat: And flyers, who would have thought to keep flyers? There was an exhibit a few years ago that was just flyers. Were you ever apart of that, like did you make your own flyers?
Alice: Yeah, I have some at home, too.
Todd: What was the first non-L.A., non-New York, non-London punk rock band that inspired you? Because people think of those cities as the early punk triumvirate, but it’s not quite true.
Alice: Like in the early days? That’s hard, because if I had heard somebody from somewhere else, that would mean that they had a record out, right?
Todd: Or a tape or something. The thing that spurred that question specifically is that I was looking at your website and there are pictures in the Canterbury of the Feederz, who were from Phoenix.
Alice: Yeah, there was a whole scene of people who came over from Phoenix and started doing stuff. They were insane, those guys, weren’t they?
Kat: They still are. [laughs]
Alice: I remember hanging out with Frank Discussion and he was just really level headed.
Todd: You know he lives in this area?
Todd: He just moved back a few months ago.
Kat: Did you travel outside of L.A. to play shows?
Alice: We played in San Francisco and San Diego. I’m not sure if we played in Santa Cruz, I think that was one of my other bands. We played Portland, Seattle.
Kat: What was that like? Were people aware of an L.A. scene, like were they responsive?
Alice: Yeah, they were great. It was a small community and they were very supportive. It was really great being able to go into a town where you didn’t know anybody and be able to sleep at someone’s house.
Kat: You don’t hear about that so much. You always hear about bands from that era just sort of staying in the area.
Alice: They’d heard of us. They were very receptive and they were friendlier than the L.A. crowd, because it was really exciting for them.
Todd: Is that where Sid Vicious saw you guys, when you played in San Francisco?
Alice: Yeah, I think he ended up there because he was hanging out with Helen Killer. She must’ve taken him. I understand that he passed out in our dressing room, and if I’m not mistaken, he might’ve been kicked out of the Sex Pistols after that show because I think there was a lot of turmoil going on that night.
Todd: Did he show appreciation at your set?
Alice: Oh, yeah, he came up on stage, he put his arm around me. I wish I had more pictures. He rolled around on stage like a puppy.
Todd: How sexually charged was this time? I mean, this is literally a world away from what it is now. AIDS isn’t even on the horizon yet. A writer at Slash noted that you were “a dark, raunchy, romantic girl doing loud, queer things with her voice.” Later on, you were on a stage in a t-shirt that read “Sexual Outlaw.”
Alice: I don’t know. I was a teenager. When you’re a teenager, you’re full of sexual energy that needs to be released. These are days before AIDS, when birth control was easily available, and when you’re a girl in a band… I think I had a lot of sexual energy. I don’t think I was deliberately trying to be sexual on stage. I don’t think I was conscious of a lot of the stuff that was going on onstage. I think there was a lot of stuff that was just happening because it was pent-up energy, and if it happened to be sexual, that’s just part of who I was at seventeen, eighteen, nineteen.
Kat: At the end of the shows, would you be like, “Oh, we’re done? Are we finished?”
Alice: That’s the thing about those performances—I was so much in the moment that lots of times, people would say to me, “Do you remember when you did this?” or “I loved it when you did that.” And I would say, “I said that? I don’t remember that.” It’s kind of weird. In your daily life, you’re so aware of the order of things, what you’re doing, what you’re going to do next, what you just finished doing. When you’re on stage, it’s like time stops.
Todd: Going from sex to violence, was there any time when you had to really worry about your own safety, either during a show or right after a show that somebody didn’t take very kindly to?
Alice: I don’t think I ever thought that. I think when I was on stage, I felt invincible, and then when I came off stage, I felt that way, too. I remember being in New York City for the first time and being lost, because my friend had gone home with someone. I was walking down a dark street and there was a man walking behind me, and I remember thinking, “You better be scared, because I could kill you right now.” I felt like there was nothing that could happen to me, that nothing could touch me.
Kat: That’s quite a feeling.
Alice: It is. That’s an amazing feeling. I remember one time being in the audience at a Dils show and a guy reached around and grabbed my crotch. I grabbed his hand and jumped up, because I was pogoing, and I slammed into his face with my whole body. I didn’t stop long enough to look at him and to realize that he was wearing glasses, so the glasses broke and cut his eye open. There was blood everywhere and he had to go to the hospital and have stitches, as it turned out. I remember Claude Bessy [editor of Slash, singer of Catholic Discipline] pulling me aside and saying, “This guy is in a gang and his buddies are after you. You better go in and explain what happened.” I went in and said, “Look, your friend here grabbed me, and I’m sorry that he ended up the way he did, but he deserved it,” and they were okay with that. A week or two later, we were playing at the Hong Kong Café and this very tall woman came in, and I had this very funny feeling that she was looking at me. As I was leaving, she blocked the doorway, and I was thinking, “Uh, oh.” I wasn’t in that excited Alice Bag mode. She said, “You sent my boyfriend to the hospital.” I knew exactly what she was talking about and I said, “If you want to get into a fight over your boyfriend, that’s fine, we’ll go outside and do that. But I wonder why you would want to have a boyfriend who goes to clubs and grabs women’s crotches.” She said, “He didn’t do that.” So I talked to her, and by the end of the night, she was ready to kill him. He was sitting on the side looking back at us, and he couldn’t believe that she was sitting with me.
Kat: Just because I’m curious, and maybe because I’m gay myself, was it accepted? Did it have to be kind of hidden, or was it not cool?
Alice: I think it probably was accepted for girls, because it’s always accepted for girls [laughs]. I don’t remember ever having any strange feelings about kissing girls, and just to add a little interest to your story, my girlfriend for a few days in the early punk days was Belinda Carlisle.
Kat: So it was alright then?
Alice: I think there were several guys who felt that it wasn’t. With the Screamers, Tomata was always out. I don’t think there was any question that he was gay, but nobody ever made a big deal out of it. However, there were people who, even today, are hiding that they’re gay because they think it’s going to diminish their popularity. I won’t say who they are. I know that Craig Lee kind of wanted to see if you could change. He tried to go out with girls and it didn’t work out for him. You’ve got to understand that we were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, so we weren’t sure. Some of us were like, “Let’s try this out and see if it works for us.”
Kat: It seems like such an aggressive time that it wouldn’t be conducive. Like, “Oh, you can’t be gay. This is aggressive music and we’re angry.” I was just curious about that.
Todd: I have a geeky question. The song “Import Song,” you said it was recorded in an unknown studio and was written by somebody outside of the band.
Alice: That’s more of a Nervous Gender song than a Bags song. That was Mikey Ochoa and Gerardo Velasquez and it was at one of their homes in the bedroom. We were sitting around and they had all this electronic equipment, and we just started goofing around, making up songs, and it ended up on that record. The lyrics were written by Gerardo, I think. The music was kind of a jam session, like “Try this!”
Kat: Do you see any money from all the comps that have survived, or is it so far removed?
Todd: Like the Yes, LA comp.
Alice: No, I’ve never seen any money from that. The only money I’ve ever received was from the movie The Decline of Western Civilization, and that’s because we signed the proper contracts.
Kat: Who gets the money from all those comps?
Alice: I imagine the people who released them.
Kat: It’s got to be weird to hear your songs in all these places.
Alice: Yeah, and I’ve never thought it was worth my while to hire a lawyer and give him or her a bunch of money just to secure the rights and to go back and collect money for that. I have a feeling that it would be… I don’t think I would profit from it. To tell you the truth, I’ve profited in other ways by having the songs out, because people know me and it allows me an opportunity to do other things. The sad thing is that I’ll play with another band and I’ll have somebody yell “Survive” or “Gluttony,” but the good thing is that they might give this other project the benefit of the doubt because they’ve heard “Survive.”
Todd: What’s amazing is how few Bags Dangerhouse singles were made. There are differing accounts, but only between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred were pressed. Artifix is going to re-release it, isn’t he?
Alice: Yes. He’s going to try and gather enough material for an album. It’s funny that we’re talking about this, because earlier today, we were on the internet and we noticed that there was somebody in Thailand auctioning off some of Craig Lee’s personal things. We knew that his longtime partner lives in Thailand, so we’re wondering if he has any recordings, and now we actually have a way that we might be able to get ahold of him. It’s very exciting.
Todd: I know bits and pieces of this story but I’ve never been able to put the whole story together. There’s a show at the Troubadour and it ends up being the last punk rock show at the Troubadour for a couple of years. I don’t know if it’s all on the same night, but a bunch of furniture got piled up in the corner…
Todd: Was that the same night that Nicky Beat got into a fight with Tom Waits?
Alice: Yes. That’s all on the same night.
Kat: That sounds like a great night.
Alice: The story actually starts back at Canter’s. My version of the story is that we were leaving Canter’s and a friend of mine who was with us knew Tom Waits and said, “Oh, let me say something to my friend.” The rest of us were on the way out. I don’t know if it’s still there, but there used to be a whole pastry section, so we were all looking at the pastries and then she came back over and said, “Let me introduce you to my friend.” So we went over and met Tom Waits and his entourage. I probably said, “Oh, we’re playing at the Troubadour, please come see our show,” because it was the following weekend or something, right around the corner. Somehow, that was interpreted as flirting. Who knows, maybe I smiled or winked or something. Later on, my friend came back to us and she said, “Tom Waits really liked you. He thinks you were great and he thinks Nicky’s a dipshit,” or something to that effect. Nicky was just like, “What?” Angry and whatever. We had left the place and I didn’t think anything of it. Nobody did. The night of the Troubadour, we’re upstairs and we’re getting ready and Nicky had to play drums with us because we didn’t have a drummer at that point. We used to go through drummers…
Todd: Like Spinal Tap, where you can’t keep track of your drummers. I think everybody except Terry Graham…
Alice: Yeah, Terry Graham lasted the longest. So we’re there and somebody came in and said, “Tom Waits is here and he’s at one of the front tables.” During that time, it was customary for clubs to have these long rows of tables in the front and people would watch the band while they ate. He was there with a group of people and Nicky was just livid. As we stepped on stage, Nicky went up to a microphone and he said something like, “We have a celebrity in the audience and his name is Tom Waits…” I don’t remember his exact words, but I know that it ended with “pussy.” [laughs] So we did our set, and as we were playing, our friends and our fans, the punks, started to move the tables and chairs out of the way so they could dance. Pretty soon, there was a pile. There were a lot of tables and chairs and they were just thrown in the back and everyone had come up to dance except for one table and that was Tom Waits’ table.
He was sitting there expressionless, and at one point I looked over and saw a chair flying over their table, but still they sat there, seething. At the end of the night when we were going to load up our gear, the bouncers had locked us in and told us we couldn’t take out our equipment, not until that was settled. I was like, “This is stupid.” I was freaking out. You were talking about being scared. I think at that moment I was scared, because all our friends were outside. It was just us and a lot of these burly guys. Luckily, and I didn’t know this at the time, their only intention was to make sure that nobody interfered in the fight. They made a big, burly circle around them and they had it out. I remember trying to open the door and thinking, “They’re going to wreck our equipment and beat us all up,” but none of that happened. It was just Nicky and Tom having it out, rolling around on the ground.
Todd: That sounds very gentlemanly, actually.
Alice: It turned out to be okay. I don’t remember how it stopped. At some point, they got pulled apart.
Kat: But they needed to get their aggression out.
Alice: That’s that. We were released after that.
Kat: I like that story a lot because I don’t like Tom Waits. [laughs]
Alice: I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t know that he was a celebrity. If you see Tom Waits and you don’t know who he is and you don’t know he’s a celebrity, are you gonna flirt with that guy? [laughs] I personally wouldn’t.
Todd: I know the answer to some of these things, but just for record, there was a tumultuous end to The Bags. Want to take it from the beginning of the end?
Alice: I’m not sure if I should say that we kicked out our bass player, Patricia, or that she quit, because the way it went down is that we were at my mother’s house. Terry, Rob, Craig and I were discussing kicking her out. We’d had a couple of really bad shows where Patricia was just kind of not cutting it. There had been times when all of us, at one point or another, were not cutting it, and we probably said, “Ahh, we should kick that person out.” We were just having the conversation, bitching about her, basically, but we hadn’t done anything.
She called up and said, “I know you’re all there talking about me. I quit.” At that point, we said, “Well, she quit, she did the work for us. We don’t even have to talk about this.” I would like to say this because I think Patricia, to this day, thinks that I kicked her out and that the other guys went along because I was the leader of the group, which she would like people to believe. I was not the leader of the group, first of all. If there was to be a leader, it would have been Craig. He really held it together. He booked the shows, he organized our transportation, he told us where we were staying. He was the oldest and most experienced and by far the most responsible, so if there was ever a leader, it would have been Craig. To say that I was the leader and I kicked her out is not true. Terry and Rob went on to play in other bands with her, in the Gun Club, which is strange because Rob was the most vocal proponent of getting her out of the band. Rob is dead now and cannot speak for himself, but Terry knows this to be true and has never admitted this to Pat, nor has he admitted his own role in her ousting. It must be confusing for her, not having all the pieces to the puzzle. I think at some point, she must have felt like, “Well, they still like me. It was just Alice.”
Anyway, it was a messy, messy thing. I think she must have felt very angry, because it was her idea for us to wear bags over our heads and she had thought of the name. She told us that she was going to register or copyright the name, and she called Slash and told them that they couldn’t use the name The Bags, so it had to be changed for the movie. During that time, we were still playing as The Bags, but we were thinking about other names that we could use. One of the names was Plan 9, because Craig’s mother had been in the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space. There was a number of other things that we could have used, and Slash just came up to us and said, “You know what? We’re just going to put ‘The Alice Bag Band.’” I think they figured that there would be at least some recognition, because the word “bag” would still be in the name. What’s funny about that movie is that during Catholic Discipline, Rick, who was married Patricia for awhile, had borrowed her bass and on the bass, it says “The Bags.”
Todd: Decline is such a powerful movie, and one obvious reason is the night that they tried to film five bands. The Circle Jerks and Fear (who made it into Decline) in no way, shape, or form are going to be forgotten in history, but the Urinals and the Gears (who didn’t make it into the movie)… they’re obscure. They’re great bands and on the same level. It’s just amazing that that movie is such a watershed for that.
Alice: I’m glad you mentioned that there were five bands because I remember that night. Nobody wanted to go on fifth. [laughs] Of course, in my sage memory, I was the peacemaker and I said, “Why don’t we draw straws?” And guess who ended up going fifth. [laughs] Boy, did I regret that.
Todd: A lot of people’s theory about the decline of the first couple of waves of punk rock was mostly the move to hardcore and the shows becoming more violent. I think that’s part of it and that it did happen in specific cases and for certain bands. However I have this theory: I think what was happening with The Bags was happening with a lot of other bands. There were very few labels that bands could put releases on and DIY wasn’t yet part of the widespread consciousness. It’s not like now, where I can say, “I want to go to my friend’s four track, we can record it, we can burn a CD, we get it pressed, we’ll make a thousand CDs.” Do you think that a lot of punk rock bands’ effort to become more professional, more clean, took away some of the energy? Like instead of saying, “We’re going to control this. We can do this,” they gave it to someone else?
Alice: I think that definitely happened. I know that happened for us, because I know that we had shows where Patricia would come up to me and say, “There’s an A&R guy in the audience. You’ve got to watch your pitch,” because I would get excited and I would start singing in who knows what key. When there’s loud music behind you, it’s hard to tell. I would sing really badly sometimes and the A&R person would think, “Why do they let that person up there?” That happened, where people would come and we wouldn’t get a recording contract. I’d end up under a lot of pressure from my band to cool it so that I wouldn’t be out of breath and I could hear what I was doing and I could listen to my pitch so that we could get a record contract.
I now realize that that’s not what Alice Bag was all about and that’s not what people were there for. They weren’t there to see me sing a song beautifully. They were there for the kind of energy that I was putting out on stage and that, somehow, was touching them and connecting with some feeling that they had. If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t have changed what I was doing. Unfortunately, I did try to change, and I’m glad that people don’t have to do that now. They can just release something without it having to be major studio quality slick and it can capture something that’s more honest and more true and more interesting.
Todd: I even think about it way before punk rock, like Alan Lomax going out into a field and recording people singing songs, literally in the field, and those are so impassioned. The consideration of audience is there in the background, but well behind the consideration of, “This is how you keep yourself from going crazy, how you put things in perspective.” If the first couple of waves of punk rock were so fragile, maybe they needed to learn something, because there are other bands that came along that I think are wildly popular, positive, and structured, like Minor Threat or Black Flag, that realized, “We’re never going to release anything outside of this. Screw it. We’re going to figure out how to do this one way or another and we’re going to continue to do it.”
Alice: Definitely. It evolved. I’m not one of those people who sits around going, “Oh, we were the best. It’s too bad we were never signed because we would show these kids…” It evolved, and the bands after us, the hardcore group, took it to the next place that it had to go, which was taking control of the means of production.
Kat: After The Bags broke up, you had said that you weren’t really interested and you were going to go to school, is that right? But were you still going to shows? Was there music happening that you were still really interested in?
Alice: I was still dragged into doing things like Castration Squad. One of the things that was happening at the time was that I had a lot of friends who were into drugs and having overdoses and dying. Even though I never felt like I was in any danger of becoming one of them, I wanted to stay away because it was an ugly time. I did go to school, and while I was doing that, people would call me and say, “Do you want to do this? Do you want to come over and just play?” I ended up playing with Castration Squad for most of their shows, so I was still doing music in one way or another.
Todd: Didn’t you first go to school to be a lawyer?
Alice: I wanted to be a lawyer, but then I realized that I really liked kids. I really liked analyzing arguments. I majored in philosophy, so I liked to deconstruct stuff like that. I must have been making up for all those years of not understanding what people were saying, but I thought that would be a good skill for being a lawyer. I think I was just a natural teacher. I’ve always enjoyed being around kids. I feel like I’ve done a lot more working with kids than I would have done as a lawyer. I’ve shaped a lot of little minds [laughs]. I used to wear a little button that said “Question Authority” and I encouraged the kids to always ask and always challenge what they’re being taught. That’s the most important thing that I teach them.
Kat: How old are the kids that you’re teaching?
Alice: Right now, I’m working with fifth grade, which means ten and eleven year olds but I’ve taught all elementary grades.
Kat: Do they know about what you did?
Alice: No, they don’t. Sometimes I’ll take my acoustic guitar in and sing something with them or teach them a song.
Todd: It seems like when hardcore came out, a lot of the people from the original first couple of waves just gave up and said, “It’s out of our hands, we can’t do anything with it.” That’s not entirely true, because in the Cambridge Apostles, two of the guys in the first hardcore band in America were in that band, the Atta brothers from the Middle Class. I think a lot of people could adapt to different things. Can you tell people about the Cambridge Apostles, what kind of music they were.
Alice: They definitely had a soul influence, and Mike Atta could really play that kind of guitar. I don’t know if it was a blend of things, I think it was pretty straightforward. I don’t know what to call it.
Todd: I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard them.
Alice: There were three girls who all sang, there were harmonies, there was more of a dance beat, and it was more old-time soul influenced. A band that we played with a few times that was kind of doing something similar would be Fishbone, except that we had chick harmonies.
Todd: Did your parents die suddenly? Before you had your first child, they were both dead?
Alice: My father was dead before I had my first child. My mother was still alive. They were pretty old, so they were about due [laughs]. My father died of renal failure in a hospital. He had diabetes and he was on a kidney machine for years and years, so we kind of expected that. My mother died suddenly of a heart attack.
Todd: The reason I asked is because I want to get people to understand that you’re having a child, your parents are no longer there, you don’t have the support system, and as you said before, you love children, so there has to be a metamorphosis here. You now have different priorities and different intentions. If I had a child, he or she would become a hugely important thing in my life and I would have to reorganize things.
Alice: Yeah, they become your first priority, even over meeting your own needs. You feel like, “This person is dependent on me. Their needs come first.” What was happening for us is that my husband was working very long hours because I was at home for a while. I took some time off work so that I could be with my daughter and he had to work extra so he could pay all the bills. I thought, “I’m going to be a great mom. I’ve been teaching kids, I know what kids need, I love children,” and I wasn’t. I wasn’t a great mom. My daughter was colicky, she was premature, she had to be, literally, in the light box, she had jaundice, and there were days when she would cry every night, every two or three hours. I know it doesn’t sound like much…
Todd: It does. [laughs]
Alice: And you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried feeding her, you’ve tried changing her, you’ve tried rocking her, you couldn’t figure out what to do, and this would happen every night. I was at home alone all day and getting up in the middle of the night, and my husband was working all the time, so I was going absolutely crazy. I remember one day, I hope my daughter doesn’t hate me when she reads this one day, I was thinking, “I could end this right now. I could put a pillow over her face and it would all stop.” It’s a horrible thing to say because I love my daughter and I loved her then, but I was going crazy. I didn’t know what to do. I had really hardcore postpartum blues and they lasted for a while. I would call my husband at work and say, “I don’t think I can deal with it. Your daughter’s crying.” He would walk me through it, “Put her in the crib, get a glass of wine, go outside into the back yard and just sit there until I get home.” That was the hardest time I ever lived through…
Todd: Dealing with people who have been involved in music for a long time, it’s just not, “We’re gonna go record in the studio, then we’re going on tour,” and “Why does your music sound different than before?” If people should understand that first of all, it’s human beings making music and there are really huge external influences on the music. That’s leading up to how you came into contact with Teresa, who was in another fantastic East L.A. band called The Brat. What type of music did you guys make?
Alice: I met Teresa before I had a baby. I met her through a mutual friend, Bibbe Hansen and Sean Carrillo, her husband. They had a café downtown called Troy Café, where there were a lot of Latino acts playing. I was living with them at the time and I started helping out at the café, making coffee and waiting tables, and then I would go do all my school stuff and I would have nothing to do so I’d go to the café and hang out there. They knew Teresa because they were involved in the early East L.A. scene that was centered around the Vex.
They introduced us and we talked about doing stuff together and writing songs. At the time, I knew maybe three chords on the guitar and she knew probably ten. We decided to start writing songs and somehow Angela Vogel came into the equation. I think she just happened to be at Troy. It just kind of worked, because we all sing. One of us would start a song and one of us would do a harmony and the other one would do a harmony over that. It was all really vocal-centered at first because we could barely play. Las Tres played for a few years and it was really kind of taking off. It was doing very well. Angela had some personal things to deal with and she just stopped showing up to rehearsals and stopped showing up to shows, so Teresa decided to do a spinoff, Goddess 13. We just picked up some backup musicians and started recording. When we were recording, I got pregnant, and that was it. I really thought, “I can keep playing,” and I really tried to but it just didn’t work.
Todd: Was Teresa a teacher’s aide?
Alice: She was my aide. When she was playing with me, I was doing a preschool program, and we were able to choose our own assistants, which was different from any other grade where you get whoever they assign you. She decided to come and work for me. It was fun. Every now and then, she would call me boss onstage.
Kat: What were your goals when you first started playing music and how are they different now?
Alice: Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a singer. I remember in elementary school, I was very overweight, I had buck teeth, and I was a very unpopular kid. The only thing that saved me was my elementary school music teacher, who made me feel like I was worth something. She would call me up and say, “Okay, we’re going to have a round and Alice, you’re going to lead this side of the class and I’m going to lead this side of the class.” I was always the music teacher’s pet. At first, I just wanted to be a singer. It was just enjoyment. I just thought that would be a great job. Then I started thinking, “Wait a minute, maybe I could influence people and get them to think what I think and believe the things that I believe, because I think the things that I believe are right.” Then I started thinking that it wasn’t such a good idea to get people to believe what I believed just because I was a singer. The goal would be to get people to think, to question, and to learn to think for themselves, and if you could do that, then people could come to a conclusion that they could be held responsible for and commit to that.
Todd: To dovetail that, there’s another part on your website where you basically say you took all your music ambition, placed it in a shoebox, put it away, and you thought, “For me to be a mother, I have to spend all my time and energy on being a mother. I can’t do both.” What happened on the day that you pulled the shoebox out, opened it up and said, “I can do both. I’m at the point in my life where I think music is still in my life and I want to reincorporate it.” What was the catalyst for that?
Alice: I think part of it had to do with my daughter being in school and my having a little bit of time. That had a lot to do with it. Beyond that, even when that happened, I had very limited goals for myself, like I’m just going to play for pleasure when I started playing my guitar again. I’d put it away and it would collect dust and every now and then I’d pull it out again. After a while, when this was happening, I started thinking, “I hope I can make it to my daughter’s fourth birthday. I hope I can make it to my daughter’s fifth birthday. I wonder if I’ll be alive for her sixth birthday.” I really felt like I was starting to think in terms of, “I really should be dying soon.” I felt very old, I felt like I wasn’t useful, and I honestly felt like something inside of me told me, “Well, it’s about time for you to die now.” I had a hysterectomy and I felt much better, much different. I didn’t feel like I was going to die after all. I was recovering from my hysterectomy when I got a call from a promoter saying, “We’d really like Las Tres to play a show three months from now.” I said, “You know, I haven’t talked to those girls in years.” They said, “Well, why don’t you try? We could pay you five hundred dollars for three songs.” “Five hundred dollars for three songs? Okay, I’ll call!”
Todd: Was that at the Asian Pacific museum?
Todd: I saw that show. That whole show was great.
Alice: I was literally in bed recovering and I called up the girls and they said, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it. We’ll come over to your house. We’ll bring our guitars.” We started practicing and we did that show and then I thought, “This is great. I love singing with these girls but I really would like to do something where I play my electric guitar. I want to rock.” At that time, I still had that pent up aggression from the years that I’d spent thinking of smothering my child and stepping outside with a glass of wine and feeling like I was trapped because I was a mother. We were thinking of names for Las Tres, like, “Let’s change the name and get a whole band together so it won’t just be the three of us.” We wrote up a bunch of names. One that I came up with was Stay At Home Bomb. It didn’t fly with Las Tres, but I thought, “Well someday I’m going to have a band called Stay At Home Bomb.” It’s funny the way these things happen because I went to a show at the Smell to see Lysa Flores because I hadn’t seen her in a long time. She said, “El Vez is looking for some girls to play acoustic guitar for this show. He’s doing this quinceañera. Would you like to do it?” I did it, Teresa did it, and Lysa did it. Lysa said, “This has been really fun. We should do something together,” and I said, “Yeah, we should. We should do Stay At Home Bomb. It’ll be like a punk band.” The girls were into it and we asked Abby Travis to play bass and she got Judy from Betty Blowtorch and we had a couple of rehearsals. Then Lysa had to go on tour and Teresa had misgivings about the whole thing. She was trying to jumpstart The Brat again. They had had some offers to do some shows, so she was like, “I’m going to try and see this through with The Brat.” She stepped away from it, and through a whole series of changes, we ended up with a whole different lineup in Stay At Home Bomb.
Todd: What is the crux of Stay At Home Bomb? If people go see you, what will they see?
Alice: It’s kinda changing, but it started off as really schticky. I imagined us all wearing aprons and all being different kinds of moms, like a different character, and mine was going to be the crazy one. Lysa is the young, sweet mom who bakes cookies, the one you wish you had. Judy was going to be the soccer mom because she’s into sports and she likes to run the show. Sharon, who was our bass player at that time and currently—she was pregnant—so she was just going to be the new mom. We would hang a clothesline behind us with baby clothes and we’d have a few appliances on the stage. During one of the songs, Lisa does a solo on the blender. She’s trying to play slide on the mixer. [laughs] I play a baby bottle shaker. It’s schticky but it’s punk rock. The songs are punk in spirit.
Todd: Wrapping up, you say, “Take control of your own history or someone else writes your epitaph.” What do you mean by that?
Alice: I think that, for a long time, I thought if I just go to school and run my own private life, Alice Bag will just die and be forgotten.
Todd: Or you’re in the hands of somebody else.
Alice: Right, but that’s what happened. I wanted to just let Alice Bag die, but instead of dying, other people started putting out records, writing stuff about me, saying things, and then I realized that they were going to do that anyway whether I have a say in it or not. Half these people weren’t around. They don’t know me, they don’t know my music, they never saw a Bags show. Maybe what they’ve seen or heard is a tape or a video that doesn’t represent me properly or read an interview where I say something stupid, which I did a lot of, so I decided to stop trying to let Alice Bag die and come out and say, “I’m Alice Bag. I am still Alice Bag, she’s underneath all these layers, all these other names and all these other things that have happened to me. If you want to know me, if you want to know anything about me, you can ask me.” We had so much stuff that we decided to put the website together and have someplace where I can express myself, and if somebody really wanted to ask me something or interview me or get it from the horse’s mouth, they ca