Photo credit: Thomas Ignatius
Tell us about the genesis of your project. How did you get to where you are now?
In my early 20s, I was playing guitar in a punk band with a bunch of guys. We were opening for these great reuniting punk legends of the late 70s/80s, bands I had idolized growing up. It was a dream, right? The only issue was, when I wrote songs for the band, it felt unsatisfying to hear someone else sing them. I’d never fronted my own band before, although I’d been in different projects over the years, from country to punk. I was scared to take that leap to fronting my own thing, but I knew I had to do it my own way. So, I started the Crushers in 2015 and made sure my name was in the title—so I couldn’t back out! Sometimes you have to trick yourself into following through so that you keep at it. Sometimes you have to say, “this is where I need to grow, so let’s break some bones.” I have to thank my bandmate and now husband, Dr. Cain Esq. for encouraging me to go for it in every way possible. He came up with the Crushers name, and was a huge inspiration in getting started. Of course, I had to grow into my gogo boots so to speak, and become the kind of person who commands the stage with her own songs. That confidence was hard won. I had to come out of the shadows physically and mentally. The funny thing that no one ever tells you is that you never really feel “ready” to do this. Millions of years of human evolution urge us to stay safe and warm inside the bounds of normal society. I think, in the end, this is every young artist’s dilemma: “Should I keep my weirdness to myself, or let it out and risk humiliation, or worse, indifference?” In the end, the weirdness won. I wanted to live the bigger, messier life, with all its scrapes and bruises. I wanted to travel around in a van and I wanted to play for two people or 200 people, it didn’t matter as long as I could let the songs out. I think you have to get to that point, where you’ll do it anyway, no matter what. I still want to taste everything and go everywhere and play for everyone. The journey from dreaming about it to doing it has been funny, awesome, sad, strange, silly and altogether worth it. I like to say punk rock saved and destroyed my life. It’s so true!
How would you describe the highs and lows of being an artist?
An artist is a different breed of human. I wish someone had explained that to me when I was growing up. You won’t fit in with people who aren’t on that wavelength, and it took me a long time to turn my sensitivity into a gift, not a prison. As a kid, I was constantly writing down my thoughts and feelings, obsessively observing the world. I felt like my skin had been removed and I felt everything so intensely. My sister was extremely outwardly eccentric and artistic, so I looked up to her. With her Ziggy Stardust face paint and her penchant for singing opera songs on her bicycle, she was a literal alien where we grew up, a small town on the Central Coast of California. Then, she moved away to go to art school and she left behind all these wild books and an electric guitar she hadn’t bothered to touch. I had been playing acoustic guitar since I was about ten, putting my painfully emotional songs to music. The electric guitar gave me the teeth I needed to move into a higher realm, one where I could really be heard (and hear myself) clearly. I think every girl should be gifted a guitar the day she gets her first period! The great highs of being an artist have always been in the quiet moments, usually alone, when you create something special. When I was in junior high, my dad set up a makeshift recording studio in a closet, and I spent hours tracking and experimenting. I spent hours there, feeling the world expand. There is incredible happiness making art with your friends and bandmates, but the real goldmine is in the quiet moments when you’re lost in the process. You’re with your guitar or whatever, and you sort of space out and something comes into your chest and rattles your insides alive. This is what great art can do, and has done, to me. It rattles you awake, infects your heart and literally changes your DNA. I always thought it was so cool that someone could be dead for decades, but still be so vital to your life. When it clicks, it’s like that artist is speaking directly to you, right in your ear. I want to leave behind sonic relics so that weird kids of the future can find them and maybe even find themselves in them!
Who are your all time musical icons?
Whenever anyone asks this, the first thing that comes to mind is the crackle of the radio, at the beach, in the car, or in my bedroom. My early childhood was spent in Southern California, where K-Earth 101 reigned supreme. It was literally always tuned to oldies! I was always singing along to these old songs and I had a thing for Elvis and the Supremes. I was into the 50s and 60s everything, it was kind of silly, really. I had a portable record player and my sister and I would go through old dusty records at the nearby thrift store in Hermosa Beach. My mom also had some eccentric musical tastes: Elvis Costello, Dizzy Gillespie, The Tom Tom Club, The Go Gos, Mazzy Star, Cole Porter. I remember Dr. Demento on car rides growing up and seeing Broadway musicals with my mom on trips to New York. All of this sort of primed my understanding that music isn’t just one thing, but it was always the sticky pop hooks that I liked best, whether they be from Wayne Newton or Belinda Carlisle. When I turned 13, I got turned onto early 80s ska/punk band Operation Ivy. It was so high energy, so passionate, so vital…it blasted my brain into a whole other universe! This sent me down the Lookout Records rabbit hole and the sunny pop punk sounds of Green Day, Screeching Weasel and The Riverdales. These were songs I could learn on guitar quickly; hooks that stuck permanently. I owe so much to these bands because they made it all seem possible. From there I found the granddad of all that, the Ramones. When I heard the Ramones, I instantly heard all those melodic 50s and 60s oldies from my childhood, just on steroids. I didn’t even need to know the words to get the feeling, it was that visceral. I loved that. It was the best of both worlds, fast and sweet, instant gratification. A guitar teacher (probably totally exasperated by my desire to play three chord songs) later got me into X, one of my favorite bands to this day. I still think Billy Zoom is one of the best guitar players who ever lived. He took all the right stuff from the blues, country, rockabilly and early rock n roll, sped it up and cut the fat. I still want to play like him, but I’ll settle with scratching out my own little riffs on a budget model sparkle Grestch.
What are some things to do to keep your inspiration alive?
It isn’t the creativity that wanes, it’s your willingness to engage with it. I know I am depressed when I stop engaging with that part of myself and turn to numbing behaviors that won’t get me anywhere. I think all you can do is recognize when you have those warning signs (are you eating or drinking too much? On social media too much?) and shift into the creative space, even if it’s just to write a few words or strum a few chords. I sometimes set a timer of 20 minutes to get into the art space, and once the timer is done, I want to keep going and going. When I get onto a song, my day is over. I won’t stop till I get somewhere with it. I recently purchased a “phone jail” on Amazon. It locks up your phone for a specified amount of time. Last time I locked up my phone, I wrote a song from start to finish in an afternoon. Highly recommend it!
Who is an artist that you look up to more than others today?
All the living artists I admire have really never stopped working, and that’s the point. These are artists who stand the test of time and have an intense devotion to their work: Joan Jett, Dolly Parton, Wanda Jackson. The GoGos have persevered through a whole lot of bullshit, and they are now getting the true respect they deserve from the world! I am so happy I get to see this in my lifetime. Being signed to Josie Cotton’s label, Kitten Robot Records, has been a big step for the band. I admire Josie’s ongoing commitment to her own vision and I have a lot to learn from her; she’s in the studio a few days a week, always churning out new ideas. I also really admire modern drag queens like Trixie Mattel (for her work ethic and musicianship), Juno Birch (for her otherworldly strangeness) and, of course, Ru Paul, who is really a philosopher put on this planet to teach us all how to slay. These artists represent unwavering strength and belief in their art as well as a sense of defiance. I want to be strong enough to keep going, far after all the haters have gone home to their tv dinners. A woman’s work is never done, and never should be! I also think it’s important to respect and admire your own peers, the ones who are climbing the ladder with you. In the end, we will all help each other up. I want to be surrounded by people I admire deeply, every step of the way.
Favorite activity to blow off some steam?
Hanging out with my bass player/husband and my dog, nothing too crazy! I like to swim at my local Elks Lodge pool, shop vintage stores, cook outrageous meals without a recipe, and walk around the neighborhood pretending like I’m exercising. I like to play dress up as much as possible and make music videos, too. My sister and I always made music videos and home movies as kids, so it really brings me back to that playful space. Video editing is a new passion, and I have always had a hand in editing our videos, which are filmed on the fly by a bandmate or friend. Traveling in the van all over the United States has been an incredible experience and something I want to do more and more. My husband and I love to roll into a town with only a loose idea of what we’re getting into. Exploring a new city for the first time is always exhilarating. Plus, we can park and sleep at any Elks lodge for free! Our favorite lodges have pools, cheap drinks, food, and bowling alleys. One lodge in Redding, CA has a roaring fireplace, fabulous pool, live country music with a boppin’ dance floor and hot meals. Maybe we are old and boring, but having a place to pull into and rest in nearly any city is a huge comfort. We’d be content just traveling the country in the van, stopping at fun places along the way and eating all the chili dogs and regional cuisine. You know, what retired people do in their “golden years?” That is the life.
Tell us about your latest release and how it came about
Our latest single, “Cul-de-Sac,” just dropped earlier this summer, and it’s an ode to feeling trapped in a sunny place (something we can all understand, post Covid). I was inspired by the book “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin, and allowed that fascination to inspire the lyrics. In the midst of Covid, we began a back-and-forth musical partnership with Kitten Robot Records in LA. Some stuff was recorded remotely, but other parts were done in the Kitten Robot Studio. We found a good balance, since we always like to have our hands in everything (the DIY spirit is hard to kill). Folks should look forward to a new album, out probably Spring 2022, although we will be dropping more singles before then. Kitten Robot Records is owned by New Wave icon Josie Cotton (who I mentioned before) and we are working with producer Paul Roessler, who is a founding member of the early LA punk band The Screamers (through his decades behind the mixing board, he’s produced the likes of TSOL, 45 Grave, Cotton, and Richie Ramone, to name a few). We’ve been totally self produced until now, and for this album, we were really seeking someone weird enough to get what we’re doing and help us elevate our sound. Paul us that guy! We are also incredibly lucky to have legendary Sonic Iguana producer Mass Giorgini on our team as well, mastering and providing positive vibes and encouragement (he’s worked with everyone from artists like Billie Joe and Mike Dirnt of Green Day, Mike Kennerty of All-American Rejects, Anti-Flag, Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, Screeching Weasel, Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy, the Riverdales). It’s a totally surreal mind-bending team that makes me giddy just to think about.
What’s the future looking like for you?
Touring for 2021 is kind of a question mark, but we plan to do a US tour in 2022 and do Europe that summer. The future is really all about the new album, out next Spring! We are creating music that is pop-centered but still distinctly punk, although probably our most “commercial” sounding stuff to date. I don’t think that’s a dirty word at all. I want you to like this album, but I also want your mom to like it. I also have no love for lo fi. I admire artists that can bridge the generational gap and offer up hooks that are timelessly infectious, like Blondie or Buck Owens. That’s a tall order, but—along with Dr. Cain ESQ and our drummer Action Ben Cabreana—we are reaching for it, nonetheless. We call ourselves “poolside glitter trash” because we have elements of beachy, California pop, 80s punk and a wildcard element that tends to go off the rails (especially live). We are sort of a record store nerd’s dream, with nods to so many facets of American music, if you listen closely (plus, we are so obscure, barely anyone has ever heard of us! Cool points, right?). The new singles are certainly more mature, and they should be. We are maturing like a fine kombucha. We are working with a dream team, one I couldn’t have assembled better myself!
What are some things you do to deal with anxiety and creative blocks?
Here is my prescription for creative woes: Use a timer to get things done, do a thought download in your journal, do some yoga or dance it off, take a walk around the block without your phone, call an artist friend who “gets it,” write fan letters to your heroes and listen to their advice (within reason), remember you are going to die one day so better get it done while I can. Also, read books that inspire you, listen to music that is aspirational and encourages you to try harder. Know that no one creates in a vacuum. Know that starting somewhere is better than never starting. I really do have to take some of my own medicine here, as I have been working on a few different writing projects over the years with no end in sight. It can be like pulling teeth to sit down to write. We all go through it. Better to expect the resistance, welcome it with a cup of coffee than to endlessly push against it.
Who inspires your style and aesthetics?
My flamboyant sister who turned me onto Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bowie and the concept of drag, Gidget (from the TV show, not the stupid movie), Trixie Mattel, alien babes from other worlds and in bad movies, Barbarella, comic books, and last but not least, wrestlers of the 80s and 90s.
What is the achievement or moment in your career you are the most proud of and why?
The first real multi-city tour I booked for the band, with the help of many kind people along the way. Anyone who is in a young band that books tours knows what I’m talking about. It’s totally life-consuming. I lived and breathed dates, fliers, and building bills. Then, on the road, executing those dates no matter what happened… that was a very big deal for us. You can be a big fish in your own small pond, but to go out to another city and try to win over an alien audience—that takes grit, vision, and some level of stupidity, too. It’s really not glamorous, but it’s a great way to cut your teeth and build your strength. We’ve worked with different drummers in different cities, practicing for a day before embarking on weeks on the road. You have to do what you have to do (Shout out to drummer Dougie Tangent, who has helped us immensely in the Midwest). I am most proud when I see those merch containers getting lighter and the crowds more enthusiastic. Many times, this only happens after the second or third time you play a particular town. Each date on a tour is a commitment to the goal you set out with, and you’re working toward something bigger, together. You get those muscles working and the songs become second nature. I am proud when we are well-oiled yet still hungry. We continue to book our own tours. I can’t really imagine what it’d be like to hand that responsibility over to someone else, but I do dream about it!
What do you think is the best way to make it as an artist nowadays?
Make your thing, no matter what. Be willing to fail, but keep trying. Love that thing yourself, first. Share your thing. Find your people, the ones who love that thing, too. Then ignore the rest. Or as Dolly Parton says, “Find out who you are, and be that on purpose.” Oh, and don’t get too sucked into social media. “Likes” may indicate you’re onto something, but they have nothing to do with the real world, or someone coming up to you after a gig and giving you a big hug. Prioritize real relationships over the trivial. Real relationships with other bands, collaborators and fans are not just fulfilling, they will take you where you want to go. People still run the world (not just algorithms). People want to be part of something cool, so invite them into your world and be a good person to hang with. Be the party. Oh, and thank your sound guys and bookers. He/she works harder than you know! Maybe even slip them a little goodie after the show. Use your imagination, OK?
What would you change in the music and entertainment industry especially after this past year?
Aside from waving a magical wand that makes folks value all art as much as they value, say, a gym membership? I would help support and grow mid-sized venues that can, in turn, help foster and incubate bands on the rise. These days, there are so many struggling venues and it’s daunting for new bands starting out. It’s a scary landscape out there, and I feel for these venue owners. Traveling the country, I personally feel that there are very small venues doing local shows and then these insane, mega venues that are all glitz and glamor. It feels like there is not much space for a growing band attempting to step into the middle. Truly, there is no “middle” in the music industry today, but that is another interview. Bottom line: Most punk bands know they are not destined for the biggest stage in the world (present company included), but they do still want to play somewhere with a decent sound system, somewhere with a dedicated sound person and booker. That all takes time and money on the venue’s part. We have certainly played fabulous venues that have all of these things (and we salute them enthusiastically), but these awesome places feel very few and far between. We should all support the small-to-medium sized venues in our own communities that are booking cool bands and giving them a chance to shine. It’s a neat eco-system, where local bands can open for their heroes, too. A great venue is one of those things you might take for granted till it’s gone. Unfortunately, when those places to play are gone, the scene tends to go with it. And kids need more to do than just chase Pokemon, vape or whatever the youth of today are into now (don’t ask me, I am a vintage millennial, after all).