Johnette Napolitano | The Bloodletting Continues …

JohnetteNapolitano 75I’d very much like to get in and do the record before the end of the year—it’s a fun show, and I think people are really enjoying it. 


Since 1982, Johnette Napolitano has graced us with her haunting voice and elegant, yet gritty songwriting. Mostly known for her work with alternative rock band Concrete Blonde, she has also contributed to many television shows and motion picture soundtracks. With the demise of Concrete Blonde in 2010, Johnette now tours solo. 2007 saw the release of her solo opus, Scarred, and she has toured regularly since.

This year is no exception. The 56-year-old songstress returned to St. Louis, playing The Loop’s Blueberry Hill. With a career that spans almost 40 years, she certainly has a plethora of material to choose from. From earlier projects like Dream 6, a precursor to Concrete Blonde, to Pretty and Twisted, a side project during her Concrete Blonde days, which also featured Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland, she has many a treat in her song hat. She is also a killer bass player.

This is not just another tour, however; it is a series of one-off shows in select cities. St. Louis is privileged to be included as one of those select cities. I caught up with Johnette early Wednesday morning by phone. This is a real moment for me, as I am not only a journalist, but a longtime fan, as well.


Johnette 3The music business has changed dramatically over the past 15 years with the internet and digital music. Artists are now very “DIY.” How do you feel about the changes, and how have they affected you as an artist?

It’s a double-edged sword, really. I think you can make it work very well for you. You can access a lot of things that you couldn’t before, obviously. Pdon’t buy music the same way. It’s kind of leveling out. People are learning the good points about it and the bad points about it. It is what it is, and I think it’s very exciting. For someone like me and the people I know, it’s kind of like a magical rabbit hole. It moves as fast as your mind. Anything you need to know, you can find out right now. That’s really exciting, I think. But to get to what’s good, you have to wade through a bunch of crap. But, I think [overall] it’s a very positive thing.

Will we ever see a full return of Concrete Blonde?

No, we’re done. The last tour we did was just crazy. We made a lot of records. We played China a couple of years ago; it was absolutely phenomenal. We’ve been all over the world, you know. It was mind-blowing playing China. You get over there, to Shang-Hai…big festival that we headlined; I think it was the first night. We get over there, and they contracted us for 90 minutes. Then they have to cut your set down to 30 minutes. We get up there, and I don’t know how many thousands were there—it was just massive—but we get up there, and every single one of them knew our stuff! The cops came up— I thought the set was over—and the cops said “You gotta play more!! You gotta play more!!” Now, keep in mind, we never had a record out in China! Obviously, it blew my mind! But, Concrete Blonde had quite the turmoil; we’ve been through so much. Yeah…it’s done.”

You tour a lot as a solo act. Will we see a new album from you soon?

I’m working on it. I’d very much like to get in and do the record before the end of the year; it’s a fun show, and I think people are really enjoying it. I’d like very much to take this show to a soundstage. You get some of the stories behind the songs. A rough mix—like my book.

Are you playing any Concrete Blonde songs on this tour?

Of course I am, of course. It’s almost impossible to separate myself from the band. I think it’s a well-rounded show. I think I play two or three new ones that haven’t been released or recorded yet. I love it, because the new stuff stands up so well right alongside the older stuff.

If you could tour or record with anyone you choose, who would it be?

So many people! My old friend Chris Daily (of The Shanks) is in L.A., and I try to buzz up there and see him if I can. We always try to work together. There’s quite a few people, actually. I had an idea: a version of The Highwaymen, with all women. Like Lucinda Williams, and Victoria Williams. That would be fucking cool. I have a lot of ideas bumbling around in my head.

Whom do you prefer, Joan Jett or Stevie Nicks?

Umm, could I have another choice? Linda Ronstadt. It really, really affected me when I heard she could no longer sing, and I’m covering her on this tour. She was a huge influence on me. I saw her in the ’70s, when she wore that little Boy Scout uniform—San Diego Sports Arena—I went right to the thrift store and got a Boy Scout uniform! I wore it for a year. I also don’t think people appreciate how technically amazing she is as a singer, and how studied she is. She would say things about music; I mean, she was a scientist about it. I remember reading an interview when she said something about how difficult rock is. That you basically take up the same space as the guitar. She went on to such brilliant work, like Nelson Riddle. I’d love to do something like that. I was just in Nashville, working with Tom Peterson of Cheap Trick. He’s doing a brilliant recor, for autistic kids. So I sang on about five or six of those songs, and it’s a really cool record and an amazing project. It’s a long time coming.

Who are you listening to right now?

I listen to a lot of radio. A lot of different stuff, really, like Massive Attack; I’m a big Massive Attack fan. I listen to a lot of flamenco, because I’ve studied flamenco for over 20 years now. I’m always trying to keep that in my head. It’s not 4/4 time; it’s a lot of different time signatures. It’s extremely complicated music. But I basically just plug into IHeartRadio. I like the super old classic country music. I listen to that around the house sometimes: Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Marty Robbins—all the old stuff. I really, really like that. My dad loved that stuff; my mom did, too. Johnny Cash was always on around our house. Of course, The Rat Pack. I still love them. I still love Sinatra. It was in my house all the time, the Italian-American stuff. I can’t say I ever really sought out music. I heard some Fall Out Boy the other day, and I’m like, “I can’t believe how good that band is”—they are fucking good. Their lead singer is amazing and they just kick ass. But I don’t listen to a lot of rock music; if I did, I could play it myself. I got Eminem’s record—oh my god! I get it here and there.

One last question…we love it when you play St. Louis; what are your favorite cities to play?

Well, thanks for having me! I can’t believe I’m still doing it. It’s hard to tour anymore. I deliberately told my agent I want to see what’s going on in America. The team that I’m with—they are a husband-and-wife team from Tulsa—an incredible show and the city had energy. So I said, “Get me out to see America.”I was in Seattle before Starbucks; know what I mean? I saw Portland and the artists moving in, starting to create these art communities, and kind of recreating the city, and I think it’s fucking fantastic! I mean, that’s kind of the way it goes. The artist moves in, ‘cause nobody else wants to live there, and starts creating these wonderful little pockets of stuff. The same thing happened in New Orleans after Katrina. The parents got together and started creating their own schools, and rebuilding their city for themselves. That’s kind of what I’m starting to see happen across the country. I have two friends who were laid off yesterday. Two friends from different sides of the country in unrelated fields. It’s really a hustle to keep your shit going. I went to school, and I’m a licensed tattoo artist, and I’m working on a couple of people. And this is kind of a cool little way to have something going on. | Marc Farr

About Marc Farr 244 Articles
Marc Farr is the Live Music & Assignments Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. He's so invaluable to us, we've nicknamed him Mr. Music. Reach out if you have coverage ideas! "I know it's only rock and roll...but I like it!"
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