I met Joan Jett because of Lisa King. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen the way it was supposed to. Lisa was a friend and an inspiration to many, a local punk poet and a National Poetry Slam champion. She’d invited me to NYC to meet her pal “JJ.” But I was always too busy, and I suggested they bus it to Boston for one of the shows I was producing. I had no idea that “JJ” was Joan Jett. Lisa had met Joan at a reading and the two had become fast friends. In 2004, Lisa moved back to Cambridge, and in February of this year she died unexpectedly. Her funeral services would be where “JJ” and I would ultimately meet.
SNARLING: Both in image and action, Jett the rebel helped lay the groundwork for the ’90s riot grrrl explosion.
Jett achieved mainstream stardom and MTV success in the ’80s. And she’s been a trailblazer for three decades. At 15, she joined the all-girl band the Runaways. When she wasn’t able to find a label deal after that, she and her manager/producer, Kenny Laguna, started their own — Blackheart. Both in image and action, Jett the rebel helped lay the groundwork for the ’90s riot grrrl explosion.
The snarly punk inside Jett was still very much alive in the ’90s, when she helped raise funds to find Gits singer Mia Zapata’s murderer by recording Evil Stig and then touring with the remaining members of Zapata’s band in ’95. Among other things, she produced and played on Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” single and sang back-up on Paul Westerberg’s “Someone I Once Knew.” And now she’s back with her first album of new material in 12 years, Sinner, on Blackheart, and a show this Friday with Eagles of Death Metal at Avalon. She spoke with me over the phone from her home in New York.
You’ve always collaborated with Kenny Laguna, and on the new album you wrote with other people. Talk about your writing process.
I’m such a Virgo. I’m verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus. That’s how I learned when I was a teenager, and that’s how I write. I’ve got riffs recorded all over the place. My notebooks are full of chord progressions, song titles, and themes. I try to put it together like a puzzle. If I’m going to write with someone else, that’s what I’ll take to the session. I’ll go through my stuff, pick out what’s resonating with me, and carry those riffs or ideas to the session.
How did writing with Kathleen Hanna affect the way you work?
Years ago, Kenny and I produced some stuff for Bikini Kill, and it was very natural, as a fan of the band, to say, “I want to write with the person that is creating that stuff.” But Kathleen’s process is different from mine. I think of her as being outside the box . . . and I guess I’m more predictable. But that’s good because it pulls me outside my comfort zone and then I don’t know what’s coming. Its certainly not going to be a verse/chorus/verse thing, you know? It could be anything. It forces me to be creative in a different way. I mean, you always get things from it, something always comes, it’s just a matter of trusting the unknown.
How do you choose songs to cover?
That’s really hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it just comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden it’s in front of you, and in your awareness, and you’re like, “Wow, I forgot about this song. That would be fun to do.” Early on, Kenny turned me on to a lot of different things, like “Crimson and Clover.” I was hesitant to try it, and he said, “No, do it man!” On this new album, the Replacements’ “Androgynous” . . . I was a big Replacements fan for years and that song speaks to me in a lot of ways. I love being a woman, I embrace that. But what I don’t embrace are the roles and the rigid constructs. I’m comfortable, as a lot of us are, being more androgynous . . . or what I define as androgynous . . . sort of blurring the lines.
Do you think that blurring of the lines has affected the way people have reacted to Sinner?
The press has been treating us great. The radio is always a struggle: it always has been. It’s just tough. I’m sure I run into prejudices, the same as I did years ago, but I don’t keep track because it’s not really my thing.
You ended up releasing Sinner on Blackheart because there were problems with other labels. Were you getting flack for some of the sexier stuff on the album?
I do think it could’ve gotten out on a major. It wasn’t about content. I don’t see what’s necessarily so racy about it. To me it’s straight-up what people would expect from me as far as music goes.