Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Joan Jett Interview

You ended 1995 with a full Evil Stig tour, are you planning on going out with them again to tour or for one-offs?

JJ: It's really hard to say. . .we had a really good time working together. It was something that we all didn't expect. We definitely didn't expect it to go as far as it did. The whole project had a life of its own. It started with a couple of benefits to raise some money in Seattle and Portland. We recorded the gigs and took the tape recordings we did to the studio which became an album -- that wasn't expected. The whole thing just snowballed. We didn't plan to do a tour like most bands would when they have an album come out, because we didn't know what was going to happen or what kind of reaction it would get. The tour just kind of came. It was something that people wanted to see. . .there was excitement so we decided to do a tour. It's really hard to say if it will continue because Evil Stig was The Gits music. To keep going we'd either have to record more Gits material or decide to write some things. . .which then ultimately wouldn't be The Gits stuff which Evil Stig is. I'd have to figure that out in my head. Evil Stig is the Gits live backwards, so for me I would have to rectify that in my head somehow.

What was it like being on tour with a band that wasn't The Blackhearts? How was it different?

JJ: I had a blast! It was a lot of fun, A LOT OF FUN! It was different for the obvious reasons, the music was completely different except for The Blackhearts songs that we were doing. Evil Stig was a completely different style for me to sing and that was really challenging for me. I didn't have a guitar in my hands for The Gits songs. It was really different for me trying to be just a lead singer. I don't mean that to belittle it, but not having the guitar in my hands and more or less something to hide behind was a lot different. In a way there wasn't a certain pressure -- the kind of pressure that goes with a Blackhearts tour. Besides going out and having a good time with the Blackhearts, ultimately it still is my job and I want to do a good job at it. There is a certain level of responsibility and reliability that goes along with The Blackhearts. With the Evil Stig project, I still have responsibilities, but it wasn't like I had to worry about sales, or things like that. I can't explain it. There's definitely a pressure with The Blackhearts that wasn't there with The Gits.

Were there things you missed from The Blackhearts?

JJ: Nothing. You gotta realize that I've been playing with these guys for a really long time and I know that I'm going to go back to The Blackhearts. So I look at Evil Stig as an enriching experience, not something to make comparisons. It's just different playing with different musicians and it was fun because I didn't know what to expect. Whereas with The Blackhearts, we've been doing this for so long that I know what to expect for the most part and there's very little stuff that's surprising. With The Gits, it wasn't like I was the ultimate focus. It was a different vibe.

How did the audiences differ from Blackheart audiences?

JJ: There were a lot of Blackhearts fans there, but there were still many other people there that I had never seen before -- anywhere from high school kids to college kids to quite a variety of people depending on where we were.

The reason you were there was tragic. . .were there emotional reactions?

JJ: Not as much as when we first started the project with the three original benefits. I definitely noticed some of that especially in Portland there were people crying and laughing. It was pretty heavy. For the most part on the tour, if anything, it really seemed to bring awareness to the situation that not a lot of people might have known about at the time. It was really interesting for me to see how all the different opening acts were really involved in it and wanted to be part of it. They all seemed to try and find out as much about it as possible from me, the other guys in the band or from the press. Some of the bands made announcements from the stage about how people needed to pay attention to that or if people were fighting, the band would stop and and say, 'Hey, that's not what this night is about.' It was really amazing to see that sort awareness. People took the initiative to want to find out about it and seemed genuinely interested. They weren't just there to see a band, watch a show and leave. It was a little bit more than that. That was real special and it was something that all of us felt. There was a real camaraderie for that tour.

Has your involvement with the Mia Zapata case affected your work?

JJ: It's hard to say. . .we'll see when my work comes out. We need to wait and see what happens.

You've become more vocal in promoting awareness of violence. . .will you stay involved in organizations like Home Alive and NOW?

JJ: In a way it's changed me. I want to use the fact that maybe some people will listen to what I've got to say. Whether or not they agree with me isn't the point, but to bring awareness. I will stay involved and add onto it. Right now the new thing that's bugging me. . .is that I've been reading this book called, Diet For A New America. It's a book that was written in 1987. It's about what happens to the animals that we eat for food. The animals that we raise, and I use that term very, very loosely, for food. I'm a vegetarian so I don't have to make those kinds of decisions. It's very interesting because we're all so in the dark about what goes on and I think it's very important that people know what's going on. I think it's their responsibility to know that stuff because it's not a pretty picture. Actually, it's pretty scary. I'm going to do everything in my power to jam it right up everybody's ass -- so to speak! It's not a matter of making yourself a vegetarian because of what you read in this book. It's more or less letting you know what is going on, so if you decided you're going to eat meat, at least you're informed. Not too many people know what's going on and this book is 10 years old and that really frightens me. So it's 10 years worse now. It was written by John Robbins. He's the son of the Baskins & Robbins dude. So he had it all -- he could have lived the rich American lifestyle. I don't quite remember what set him off on checking this stuff out, but something was brought to his attention and it changed the way he looked at it. (Ed. note: Diet For A New America retails for $13.95 from Stillpoint Publishing International, P.O. Box 640, Walpole, NH 03608 or calling toll-free 1-800-847-4014. A 60-minute Diet For A New America video retails for $19.95. The book and video can be purchased together for $29.95. Become more aware...together we can make a difference!)

Home Alive: The Art Of Self Defense CD has just been released. How did you initially get involved with that organization?

JJ: By members informing me of what they were trying to accomplish. We were asked early on in the CD project to contribute.

Home Alive believes that awareness, communication and responsibility, rather than silence, censorship or denial of these complex issues, will lead to change. What have you learned from your experience with this organization?

JJ: I don't have a chance to see the Home Alive people often. I don't have the luxury of getting the community benefits that people in Seattle get -- the self-defense classes, the hotlines and those kinds of things. What it has done is make me extremely aware of being able to take care of myself and watching myself. You need to be aware that it's not always safe outside. It's not that I wasn't necessarily aware of it, but I didn't really pay attention to it because it's easy to think 'it's not going to happen to me.' I think with somebody like Mia Zapata, who is someone I can really relate to, it makes us realize that oh yes it can happen to me or you.

Will you continue to do any of the Evil Stig material with The Blackhearts live like "Spear & Magic Helmet?"

JJ: We have done it a few times at some gigs. I wouldn't be surprised if we continued.

What's the latest news with The Blackhearts?

JJ: We're writing songs for the next album. That's the perpetual answer. I've been getting together with the guys and writing songs. I've never really tried to write with The Blackhearts before. Thommy and I have written a few songs before, but this is the first time that I'm getting to sit down with Tony and Sean. It's not any one package deal, we're all just sort of writing together and seeing what happens. We're interested in getting a lot of ideas and getting things started.

The band has been including several new songs in the set, how's that working out?

JJ: It's going over real well from what I can tell. Everybody seems to enjoy it a lot. It's probably going to take us a lot longer to get used to it than other people because we're trying to get our licks together. I can only speak for me personally, but having to sing and play, it's a way for me to try and get comfortable being able to play my rhythm while singing. It can be difficult because if I write a song that has a weird rhythm and then try to sing over it. . .forget about it! It's something where I just have to take some time and figure out what will work for me on stage. Sometimes I have to adjust and play something different on stage than what I would play in the studio.

When you're writing material, what are some of the key elements of a good song? Is it the lyrics, the groove, the spirit. . .?

JJ: In the end, if it's got it all that's great. I think what catches my ear at first is a combination of the sound and the groove. The lyrics could be going, "Lalalala blah blah blah," but if it didn't have the groove, a good riff and the sound it wouldn't get me. The lyrics don't matter as much, but a great song with some interesting lyrics that you can relate somehow in your life just makes a song that much better. That's how it works for me.

What are some of the things you're trying to do with your work? Have you started to develop any interesting lyrics, or is that the last thing you think about?

JJ: No, it's not the last thing I think about. I try and get titles pretty early on so I can have some sort of focus. If I have any goal this time, it's to be looser with lyrics and more free. I want to say whatever is on my mind and not grade myself before I even get it down on paper. I tend to edit myself way too myself. I'm not talking about editing out 'fuck,' or 'shit,' I'm talking about editing whole thoughts and not giving myself a chance to be completely free and stupid with what we're writing. I want to be totally free and stupid and then go from there and hone it. But I have to get to the free and stupid first before I can hone it. So that's one of my goals.

What song that you wrote and recorded, do you feel really hit the mark and made you immediately know that you got what you were aiming for?

JJ: I think there are tons, there's at least one on every record. I think vitually the whole last album hit the mark. The whole last album from "Spinster" to "Rubber And Glue" it was just. . .for me it really, really worked. That album had the sound, the groove and the lyrics. It had everything that I just said I needed to hear in a song.

How were you selected to record the "Mary Tyler Moore's Theme" for ESPN's women's basketball promos? Was it your idea or theirs to cover that theme song?

JJ: That's a good question, I don't really know why they asked me. Maybe because people have heard that I'm a big sports nut.

What was the most interesting/fun thing about presenting/attending the ESPN awards?

JJ: The presentation stuff is okay, but it certainly is not what I want to do. It's too much in the limelight for me -- too many cameras. I'm put off by all that now. I would rather just watch the game. The presentation was still interesting, but it's not what I would want to do all the time. There's constantly all these award shows on televisions and I think, 'God, if I were an actress and I had to go to all these things, I'd flip out.'

Are there artists you'd like to work with right now? What new music excites you lately?

JJ: I haven't had a chance to hear any new music. I haven't been getting out to any clubs or hearing much of anything.

What draws you to a band? When you find a band that you like, what turns you on to them? Is is their songs, passion, energy, style. . .?

JJ: They would have those elements that I said before about the songs. First they would have the songs then live they would. . .it's not that a band would have to be all crazy and wild, just into it. That's what really attracts me to a band. It's not that it has to be wild and totally over the top, it just has to be real.

How do you feel about the continued interest in The Runaways by fans here and overseas? You must be very proud to know you started it all.

JJ: I don't know, it feels like a dream. I don't really feel part of it, I feel very far away from it all.

You've always said, that The Runaways were a good band. Do you think they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

JJ: I don't know what the criteria is for that. I'd be happy if we could just be mentioned in articles once in awhile -- like bands that inspired women to play music. I see The Runaways left out of stuff all the time. I see articles being written were they list every female that ever played music and they never mention The Runaways. I'd rather get those kinds of mentions than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think The Runaways are important enough to be there, but I don't know if that's a big deal to me.

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