Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

Volume 3 Issue 4

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Joan Jett:
Keeping it Pure and Simple

Joan Jett is unique! She continues a recording career that has never been influenced by style or passing fashions. Her new album, Pure And Simple, bears witness that Joan has lost none of her toughness and street credibility. "Our point this time was to remind people where we came from," said Joan, "That we've always done music like this - that's raw, very basic, three chord, live Rock 'N Roll! That was the main reason we wanted to have a great album title like Pure And Simple. The title lays it right on the line about what our music is all about and it's very descriptive of our band. We wanted to remind people that this is the kind of music we've always done. We've never changed or strayed far from our main objective." Pure And Simple contains all original Jett material that only reassures her title as the 'Queen of Rock 'N Roll.' The cassette version of the album features a bonus track, "Hostility," co-written with Donita Sparks of L7. The limited-edition vinyl album also includes "Hostility," as well as "Here To Stay," co-written and performed with Kat Bjelland of Babes In Toyland, which is available nowhere else. "We did it for fun," Joan stated. "The compact disc has the two ballads on it, the vinyl has no ballads and the extra track that I wrote with Kat. We wanted to give everybody an extra song on the cassette, plus by adding the track "Hostility" it insured that the two sides were even on a time level."

Joan's insistence on rock 'n roll integrity has inspired a growing legion of performers including Bikini Kill, Babes In Toyland and L7. Jett herself is also very fond of those bands she once influenced. "I'm a fan of each one of those bands. I've gone to see them play over the last couple of years either here in New York or somewhere on the East Coast. I've seen L7 in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. I started hanging out with them and really getting to know them when I suggested off the cuff that it would be really nice to work with them. I wasn't sure at the time if we would do production work, songwriting or whatever. I just thought it would be nice to work with these people at one point is some kind of capacity. I believe this was something new for each of them - Kathleen, Donita and Kat because they weren't used to writing outside of their own band situations. I told them upfront not to worry about coming up with something they didn't like, because if that happened, I wouldn't use it and nobody would ever hear it. I just wanted to convince them to relax and have a good time. My first opportunity came when I produced the Bikini Kill 7" inch. I did three songs for them, in March 1993, while in Seattle. It was around that time that I asked Kathleen if she wanted to try and collaborate on some songs. She also did some background vocals on a couple of tracks on the album. If you really listen, you can pick out her vocals and hear the different vocal styles. Donita and I wrote the song "Hostility" in Los Angeles and while I was doing some vocals in Malibu, California, Donita and Jennifer (Finch), the bass player in L7, came down and recorded some background vocals for the record. The song "Here To Stay" was written with Kat and it worked out great. She also came in the studio and played some pretty wacky guitar. That was a lot of fun. We really had a good time recording this album. A couple of the guys from Metal Church, Mike (Howe) and John (Marshall), made a guest appearance on the album. Ricky Byrd also came down and played on the song, "Eye To Eye." It was so much fun recording this album because we had a lot of people in and out of the studio playing with us."

Pure And Simple shows Joan Jett And The Blackhearts to be a few degrees heavier and more intense that their previous album Notorious. It's a high voltage charged album with raw-edge rockers like "Go Home," "Spinster," and "You Got A Problem." We had our brains set that this album was going to be a really raw and hard record. Writing with Kathleen, Donita and Kat helped keep the edge on it, but it wasn't because of my sitting down and writing with any of those people that things came out harder. We definitely had the idea right from the start that we were going to keep it raw and live sounding."

"Our new record company Warner Brothers seems very open to our artistic freedom and any ideas I have. They are also very happy that we have Blackheart Records. They believe it's to our advantage to have Blackheart Records because it makes me more of an artist. It's not like they've just signed a band, but rather they have an artist who has their own record company that signs other bands. It's very exciting and different for them. It seems like it's going to be a good home for us. It's a little early to pass any judgments, but they've given me a really good feeling. They love the record and the new video we did for "Go Home." We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

The video for "Go Home" was shot in London, England. The clip is a concept video with some band performance. Joan described the video by saying, "It's pretty intense. It was an internal, gut level feeling we had that this couldn't be just a straight performance video. It's something that definitely calls for some kind of concept. The song is about being stalked, getting attacked, fighting back and basically winning - meaning that you get away and you're still alive at the end of it. The song is based on a true story that happened. It's about a woman named, Mia Zapata, she was the lead singer of a band called The Gits from Seattle. She was really well known in the Seattle underground scene. She was last seen getting into a cab one night and the next day found dead, strangled with her own clothes after being raped. It was such a tragic thing. The reason I know about it is because I was spending a lot of time in that area when it happened. I was writing songs with Kathleen at the time plus we did a bit of recording in Seattle. I was able to see first hand the response of her friends. After they got over the initial shock and trauma, they had the presence of mind to do something positive out of such a tragic thing. They formed a collective called Home Alive. What they do is teach self-defense courses. They teach you things that can give you that split second to get away like how to set boundaries and yell at people. Too many people feel funny to yell at somebody if they feel threatened. Sometimes people will back down and say, 'Do whatever you want, just don't hurt me.' Those people are afraid to say 'Hey what do you want. Don't come any closer.' Some people feel embarrassed to yell. Look, you're dealing with your life. It's a scary world we live in and that little hesitation could mean your life. A lit bit of embarrassment is worth it. The song "Go Home" was inspired by what happened to Mia, but we wanted to take it to a more empowering level and make it about being stalked, being attacked, but fighting back and getting away. People should know something about protecting themselves and doing things like stepping down on someone's instep, whacking at their eyes, hitting them in the throat, a knee to the balls. Little things that sound insignificant such as screaming like you're some sort of nut case might make an attacker go away and save your life. That's what we were trying to convey in that song. It's really obvious what's going down and a lot easier to understand when you see the video."

Another track on the album making a bold statement is "Spinster." The term 'spinster' is used when referring to an unmarried woman who is beyond the conventional age of marrying. "What the song is really about is taking a word that has such a negative meaning and connotation and making it something positive," Jett explained. "In our society, we talk about bachelors and make it out to be such an exciting lifestyle. Age doesn't matter, whether a guy is 20, 30, 40 or older, if he's single with no relationship, people don't think twice. He has an exciting, swinging bachelor lifestyle, but if a woman is even 25 or approaching 30 and she's not married or in a serious relationship, people start to ask what's going on? Why can't she find a guy? Is she confused with her sexuality? Or maybe she just can't find herself a good man? Well you know what? Maybe she just doesn't want to get married. Maybe she's not interested in being in a relationship. Maybe she has other things she wants to do at that time just like the guys. When I think of bachelor, I think of single, carefree and having fun. When you think of spinster, you should thing the same thing - single, carefree and having fun. It shouldn't necessarily connotate some older woman without a man. I believe a lot of people think that way. The song is a way of taking back the negative meaning of this word. The song also says that it's all right to be single. If you're a woman you don't have to feel trapped or pressured to get into a relationship to be normal in everybody's book. I could make statements about every single song on the album because I think every song is equally important, but that's up to the listener."

A grueling program of worldwide touring has helped Joan spread her hard rock gospel and has made her a household name in rock circles. Her 1994 Pure And Simple tour officially kicked off, on June 25, in Albany, New York. "I'm so psyched to finally be out on the road. We're going to headline clubs with a band called Lungfish from Baltimore opening for us starting July 6. I'm really excited about that because this is a band that I've loved for several years. Doing this tour with them is really going to be a lot of fun. I want them to come out on the road with us because so many time we do shows and tours where the band that plays with us are either bands that we are totally unfamiliar with or in some cases we're not into it at all. I really wanted to go out on the road this time with a band that I was aware of and I liked their music. We were really lucky to get Lungfish because I'm a big fan of theirs. The only problem it causes it that now I'm going to have to be at the show really, really early so I can watch their show and get ready and do ours. I'm really excited about it and can't wait for them to join the tour," said Joan.

It's been three years since The Blackhearts hit the road in support of their last album, Notorious. The band has been playing a few one-off gigs around the country in between recording, rehearsing and writing material for their new album. Joan was excited to announce that the band plans to rotate some older songs in the set each night to keep the show spontaneous for the band and fresh for diehard Jettheads who travel to several shows. "I don't want to give any names, because I want to keep it a surprise, but maybe we'll play a song like "Fake Friends" that hasn't been played live in awhile. We'd like to put stuff like that in once in awhile and take a song or two out that we've been doing over the years. A large portion of the show, at least half of it is going to be new songs. As far as stage antics or things of that nature, our show is going to be pretty much straight up - Joan Jett And The Blackhearts typical high energy rock 'n roll!!!"

With a new album, Pure And Simple, world tour, and a video for "Go Home" Jettheads have a lot to look forward to this summer and fall as the tour continues. Joan added, "Those three things, the album, tour and video, are on top of my priority list at the moment. It's hard to think about too much else. It's been a while since we've been out on the road, on a tour per say in support of a new record. I'm really excited about that and having Lungfish with us for the first couple of months. I definitely want our audience to watch this band. I will personally toss anybody out who starts yelling for The Blackhearts during their set." The woman has guts!
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