Pissed Off in Pursuit of Protest: A Conservative Chat with Lydia Lunch

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Photo: Jasmine Hirst

Deep in the bowels of the SLUG dungeon, I had the bizarre pleasure of a tête-à-tête with no-wave pythoness Lydia Lunch, detailing her newest music ventures and volatile impressions of 21st Century society. Not surprisingly, she had some fiery words, but with one end of Lunch’s anger spectrum, necessarily comes the other, sublime pleasure. At the top of the agenda was Lunch’s most recent release, Twin Horses—a forlorn and longing album in collaboration with Cypress Grove.

SLUG: How did you get hooked up with Cypress Grove? You seem to work so well together.
Lydia Lunch: I was invited to contribute to the Jeffery Lee Pierce tribute records. I did two songs with Cypress Grove, and from there, we decide to make music together. We made all of the music on GarageBand, in our separate locations, which, for the sound, is pretty amazing.

SLUG: On your newest release, Twin Horses, you decided to include a cover of “Hotel California” by the Eagles. Why that song?
Lunch: It’s one of the most hated songs ever recorded. We hate it so much because it is so imbued in our teenage psyche and it won’t go away. If you actually listen to the words, they are fantastic. I am an ear obtainer, not an entertainer, so if I can convert and twist something that is irritating and turn it into something pleasurable, that’s very contrarian.

SLUG: You have recently been working on some new material for your new project Retro/Virus … Tell me a little about that.
Lunch: I wrote an introduction for a T-shirt book called Ripped with Cesar Padilla, then I called Bob Burke and started plotting Retro/Virus. It’s a retrospective about shirts, so why not do a retrospective of my music? It’s very no-wave, very brutarian and aggressive. We just recorded a studio album that will be out in a few months.

SLUG: Music is so intrinsically important to the human experience. Why do you think that is?
Lunch: Literature influenced me more than music. It saved my life, actually, and then music came in afterward. There is something about putting a certain amount of notes together in the right way. I think that it is a language that doesn’t need words. I think that all art is the shout to the universal wound, whatever format it takes.

SLUG: What are some examples of important literature to you?
Lunch: My spoken word always consists of the same material and always will: surveillance, the war, dead men, violence, ghosts, readdressing imbalance, quantum physics. My favorite philosopher is E.M. Cioran. He wrote books with titles like The Temptation to Exist and The Trouble with Being Born. Need I go on? He was hilarious. He writes aphorisms, one-liners, paragraphs. It’s very depressing and amusing—it cheers me up. What can I say?

SLUG: Much of your lyrical content focuses on violence and hypocrisy in the United States. What about our society do you think creates this cultural specificity?
Lunch: Oh, God … Do you have a lifetime to listen? Look, the problem with America is this: Everything we pretend to be we are not. We pretend we are free—we are not. We all pretend to be white, rich and celebrities. We are not. We are vastly poor. We are ignorant. We are patriotic. We are poisoned. The food, the air and the water are contaminated. We try to export democracy by committing mass murder. This country is so arrogantly, outrageously hypocritical.

SLUG: Where did your political passion start?
Lunch: My street was the epicenter of two race riots in ’64 and ’67 when I was just a child. I know that that is part of what gave me my sense of protest. Seeing that people would actually take to the streets, sometimes violently, and make a loud noise about what the hell is wrong.

SLUG: I’m sure you have ideas for how to fix the bullshit …
Lunch: We need to communicate with each other and, in order to not become homicidal maniacs ourselves, have an understanding of what pleasure and real intimacy is—and I don’t mean texting your friend on your fucking phone. I mean looking into someone’s eyes and having a conversation.

SLUG: So, what is next for you?
Lunch: Well, the Retro/Virus album will be coming out. I’ll do a tour with my three-piece female improvisational group, Medusa’s Bed, in March in Austria, and Retro/Virus will go on tour in June. I have two books I want to write, and of course, carry on doing what I’m doing.

After more than 30 years of making music, Lunch is powering through the world with as much force as ever. With a repertoire that spans multiple genres, her new retrospective will have something to please the most acrimonious recesses of your societally ass-fucked heart. There will be many years and projects to come, with Lunch operating as a mouthpiece for the stomped-on individual, spewing aggression in the pursuit of delight and indulgence.