Despite my internet-creeping, post-punk Renaissance woman Jeri Cain Rossi kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Lucky for you. The musician/writer/filmmaker reveals details about the early Denver punk scene, her band Your Funeral, and bit of her personal philosophy these days. Listen and read the story behind some of her game-changing solo material, like bloodshed-ballad, “I Left My Heart But I Don’t Know Where” and the writhing, primal sounds of Rossi’s version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Just when I thought this woman might be the one to demystify New Orleans for me, her poetic descriptions render the city even MORE seductive. Damn her. Read on for realness.
1. What prompted you to become involved in dark/confrontational/etc music?
What prompted me? That curious and sometimes unexplainable thing called inner rage. I was also drawn to bands like Lydia Lunch, the Birthday Party, early Cure which influenced the particular way I expressed that inner rage.
2. I remember discovering both Your Funeral and your solo music via a Local Anesthetic compilation put out by Smooch in ’07 or ’08. It came in the mail at my college radio station one day, I put it on, and freaked the fuck out. What’s the story behind Local Anesthetic?
Local Anesthetic was a music rag that the owner of Wax Trax and I started to stimulate and document the Denver music scene, and eventually became a small record label to put out local bands.
[Local Anesthetic compilation- Jeri Rossi cover- bottom left. Your Funeral cover- bottom right.]
3. How was the early ‘80s underground punk scene in Denver different from the scenes in LA and NY? Did you identify with either of the latter?
Denver was isolated and at that time in the early 80s there was no interest by the national press to cover our cowtown. But the scene was very active and there were great great bands like the Frantix and a handful of others. LA and NYC scenes were much bigger and had the advantage of media coverage and record label support. I relate to Denver’s obscurity. And it wasn’t very competitive so there was a freedom to experiment.
4. What was a typical Your Funeral gig like?
Well, we’d thank the four or five people who showed up…
I didn’t talk at all between songs, being the moody one and terrible stage freight. Karen was the sweetheart, everybody loved her and she chatted a bit. We were still trying to figure out what we were. Stlll trying to find our voice and get beyond emulating someone else.
5. There are so many fantastic all-female bands from that early ‘80s era. With Your Funeral, was the choice to form an all-female band intentional? If so, why did you want a group of all women?
I don’t remember if it was intentional to be an all girl band. That’s just how it started. Later when Karen moved to London and Cleo quit, I kept the band going with 2 guys. And when I got the Birthday Party gig at the Mercury Cafe in April 1983, I asked some friends, male and female, to fill in for that night. And we raged!
I was in some other bands in Denver that also started out all-female: Chelsea Girls and Die Migraines. Chelsea Girls were mostly girlfriends of guy bands. In Die Migraines, we wrote Flipper-esque songs about guys in bands, and tv shows.
6. What was the concept behind covering James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”?
Just before Your Funeral opened for the Birthday Party, I’d read that Nick Cave was all listening to James Brown, so we covered it for the gig and just killed it. That live version was the bomb. The studio version is way different, and much more punk meets horror show.
7. Dolly Dillon was certainly a departure from the dark, moody, and experimental sounds of Your Funeral, Black Cat Bone and your solo work. What drew you to Americana music?
I started playing folk clubs when I was 17 (1975), so I started with Americana: Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan and such. Then took the musical path I did which was inspired by the deconstructionist vibe of punk and the energy that era gave off.
Black Cat Bone was rootsy in a Bad Seeds kinda way. There’s lots of minor key murder ballads in the Americana pantheon. But Dolly Dillon was more realized. I really loved that band. I also was maturing in my outlook, also included the ideas of acceptance and redemption, which balanced my earlier bleak songsmithing.
8. The city of New Orleans is a romanticized mystery to me. It seems kind of like Vegas but with profound culture and history, which seems very contradictory. What’s your take on the city? How has Katrina changed the community?
I miss it every day. It’s like the most exciting lover you ever had, and you know he’s a cad, but he’s so good looking and so charming. And you know he’ll never stay, you know he’ll replace you in a minute, but he’s all shining on you right now and it’s 4am in the Abbey bar on Decatur street and you are necking at the bar and the jukebox is blaring Irma Thomas and it’s just going to be bad news the day he disappears out of your life. That’s New Orleans.
New Orleans changes you, not the other way around. The air is thick with live oaks’ musty sour smell and the sweet sweet perfume of gardenias and jasmine. The heat changes you. The sound of the calliope of the steamship Natchez or the Creole Queen changes you. The brass band music changes you. Yeh, like a vampire, it gets in your blood and changes your DNA. I’m not too worried about New Orleans changing too much.
I’ve been back a few times and felt like I’d just been away a minute. Yeh, there’s some new people, some places are gone, but it’s home.
9. What inspired you to become involved in film and fiction writing versus music in the ‘90s?
The Muse is my mistress and she gets bored. I do her bidding.
10. Are there any authors, filmmakers, artists or musicians who inspire you of late?
My current soundtrack is Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young. Under-rated films: Fish Tank, Door in the Floor, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call.
11. Are you currently working on any of writing/film/music projects, or do you have ideas for the future? I could really dig a solo show here in the city.
I’d love to be in a band again. Yeh, have a couple first drafts of screen plays that I’ve put in a drawer that whistle at me when I pass by. You wanna hear me sing? Come sit in my kitchen.
12. As a woman who tries to remain “not a total sell-out,” I always wonder how more mature women reconcile being considered “edgy” and later being expected to “grow up.” I’ve seen it go both ways: Lydia Lunch is still a fucking firecracker, Ari Up remained eccentric until her death, but others definitely conform to mainstream society. How do you identify today?
There’s certainly some aspects of “edgy” I’ve no need nor have want to revisit. Been there, done that. Living on the edge gets boring too. This is my time to explore entering the domain of the crone. It’s my right and nobody is going to minimize that experience for me. Let me be fucking old, jesus christ. I’m just hitting my creative stride.
13. How do you like living in San Francisco? Are there any particular establishments you like for live music?
I didn’t expect to be here in SF for so long, but I like the West Coast. I see myself living in Sonoma Valley someday in a farmhouse surrounded by vineyards. Neighbors with goats and horses and chickens. Preoccupying myself with various projects. Long walks in nature. Yeh. Hell yeh.
[Rossi at Middle East Restaurant in Cambridge, circa 1987.]