A LIFE OF VICE
Beki Bondage from UK punks Vice Squad has paved the way for female fronted rock n’ roll bands since she started the band in Bristol in 1978. Having just released their best album in years, and about to hit the Rebellion festival, Big Cheese caught up with a real survivor showing the true spirit of independence.
Beki, when you formed Vice Squad way back in 1978 did you think all these years later that you would still be touring the world and releasing albums?
When I first joined Vice Squad I was way too young to think more than a few months ahead, but if I had thought about it I would have expected to be making music for life as I always wanted to be a singer and I was obsessed with Punk. I certainly didn't have any plans to 'settle down' and have a normal career, and I never have !! If I'd been the sort of person who has an easy life and doesn't care about social justice etc I could have opted for normality, but I'm more fired up about things now than I was back then so I still have plenty of songwriting inspiration. Plus it helps that I love music and nothing gives me greater satisfaction than pushing my voice to it's limits and turning my amp up to infinity and then meeting all the fantastic characters who come to our gigs.
You have released albums on EMI and various independent labels, but you have released your new album 'London Underground' on your own label. Hows it been doing?
It's the best thing we ever did, but it's stressful as we do all the work because there's no record company to help us. As we write and record every song ourselves and want control over what goes out it seemed logical to start our own label. We had the help of an amazing artist called Landon Armstrong from Arizona who drew the cover art and equally amazing sleeve designer Barry Kade, so we managed to get the complete package to sound and look as good as possible whilst still being completely DIY. In the future we would love to be in a position to write and record songs for other bands for release on our label. Like you, Eugene, we'd like to help new young talent get heard and feel that the major label side of the music industry ignores a lot of the talent out there.
At the height of your popularity you were called the first 'Punk Pin Up' Beki appearing on the cover of Smash Hits and NME. Would you have any advice for female fronted bands like Paramore who are in the charts right now.
I don't think these type of bands need advice from me, they are doing very well and are more pop than punk. They have management, PR companies and labels behind them, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as at least it gets more guitar based, punk influenced music into the charts. I would prefer to give advice to less-well-known bands like Girlfixer and Pink Hearse because I hear raw talent in both of the singers, who, like us are DIY. I think I got featured on the cover of music mags because I had controversial opinions about animal rights and feminism as much as for my image. I didn't look like a pin-up at all, at the time girls rarely had tattoos and blue hair or drank pints! Music is sexy so if someone likes your music they tend to find you a lot more attractive than you really are. It's best not to play up to the pin-up idea too much or you alienate female fans, girls need role models and they already have enough 'photo-shopped' impossible ideas of female attractiveness to contend with. Talent and integrity are the most important things, everything else is just packaging.
And there still seems to be a distinct lack of girls in bands these days.
Maybe girls don't enjoy weeks and weeks of being on the road and not bathing quite as much as the average soap-dodging male muso does !!!! You need to dedicate ALL of your time to being in a band, and that doesn't work if you're married with kids and a day job so you have to be prepared to sacrifice security for the freedom (and filth!) of the road. Generally women still get lumbered with the child care so being on the road isn't really an option for them, and I'm sure they envy the glamour of waiting in the snow at the side of the Autobahn for the recovery truck after the alternator's fallen out of the transit van on the way to a gig in Berlin. Touring is easier if you are getting financial support from a record company/sponsor, but when you're DIY it's much, much harder. I've worked with lots of men who can't hack it and the type of women who tour tend to be tougher than the men (Girlschool could drink a gang of 6' 6" truckers under the table any day).
Vice Squad have toured and gigged with many girl-fonted and all girl bands like, So Unloved,The Devotchkas, The Voids, MDM,The Front, Hotwired and Misspelt to name a few. There are definitely a lot more women coming to gigs these days, in the US we often play to audiences with more women than men, which wasn't the case in the first decade of Punk when audiences were very male dominated.
Finally, punk has gone through a lot of changes over the years. As you look forward to playing Rebellion this month, what do you think of punk rock in 2010?
It's bigger and better than ever and it's influence is HUGE and worldwide. More and more young kids are picking up guitars and taking the first steps on the road to ruin, and most importantly more people are questioning the world they live in and challenging those with wealth and power. I used to make nearly everything I wore, now you can buy punk clothing from dedicated on-line boutiques or buy punk influenced clothing from chain stores. Punk is as relevant today as it was in the beginning....
London Underground is out now on Last Rockers.