Year of the Rat (Hollywood)
An interview with singer/guitarist Brijitte West
by Scott Hefflon
Just to clear the rumor-filled air, why was your show with Marilyn Manson at Avalon cancelled?
They couldn’t get their equipment to work in the room. Marilyn Manson travels with their own production, it’s not just a band going up their with a couple of amps and some drums. During sound check they found they just couldn’t get it to work, but that’s the only time we’ve ever canceled. It could be something completely different, but that’s the story I have. They really wanted to do the show, but the problem never got fixed.
How’d you hook up with The Crow II soundtrack?
Somehow, the producer came across a demo of “Spit” and played it for the director. The director liked it and wanted to put it in the movie. At the same time, we were recording our record. We were going to put “Spit” on the record anyway, so the timing just worked out.
So NY Loose was an unsigned band when you were chosen?
Yeah. It was pretty organic in that way.
Would you have recommend another song if you had the choice?
Yeah, we don’t think “Spit” is the best song on the record. It’s a really fun song to play live, and it’s very dramatic, but if they’d used something a little more concise and radio-friendly, like some of the other stuff on the record, it might have gone a little further. But we were still like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re going to be on this major soundtrack.”
“Pretty Suicide” is based on the famous Life photo of the girl that jumped off the Empire State Building and landed on a car?
Right. “Death at an Early Age” is the name of the photo, but there really isn’t much information available beyond that. I’m really curious about what her name was and why she did it. The idea of killing yourself fascinates me, how people can do it. People actually get to the point where they want to end it all, and I’d like to find out why she wanted to. It might’ve been something as simple as she was pregnant out of wedlock. In the ’50s that was reason enough.
What are the inspirations for other songs? I sense a lot of messy relationships, broken friendships, and lousy days.
None of the songs are literally about a relationship. The imagery in “Broken” could be seen that way, but “Rip Me Up” is more about general desperation than specific instances – living in a desperate situation and not needing anyone else to make it worse. Whether it’s “C’mon, can you please give me the gig,” or “Can you give me a job,” or “I know I’m late on my rent, but can you give me some time,” or “Can I sleep on your floor tonight,” it’s about the things that were going on at the time. It’s not really autobiographical, I draw a lot of my influences from people I know, or characters in books or movies.
It’s also less painful than dredging up your woes every night.
I can’t really deal with myself right now, much less write about it. I also don’t like any lyrics, especially when they come from a female, about “Oh, this one broke my heart.” I’m a stickler for my lyrics. I’m very conscious of what I’m saying, and the way I’m saying it. I’m a big fan of poetry, and I read a lot, so I try to arrange the words in such a way that they create strong imagery, tell a story, and evoke emotion. I’ve always been a fan of artists that can make a message universal.
These are song lyrics, not diary entries.
Yeah, ’cause who cares? I’m just some girl who grew up in New Jersey and has a band. I’ve never felt myself so important that anyone would really care about me, and what I’ve been through. It’s always amazed me how artists can do interviews and be like, “Well, I think the reason we have such a problem…” I’m not out there to tell the world how I feel, it’s not a lyrical photograph of who I am or what I believe.
I really like the imagery in “Dragonfly.”
You can take it in so many different ways. You sometimes can be very euphoric around a certain person, or a certain energy, and that person can make you fly around the room. It’s ironic when that same exact person suddenly turns into a jerk.
The exotic appeal of the dragonfly versus the irritation of the common housefly.
Dragonflies were also in Dr. Doolittle, and that’s how they flew to the moon.
Why did you do “Sunday Morning?”
Well, I wrote that song about a year ago… I’m kidding. I love the Velvet Underground: I love the ideas, the image, the artistic value, the experimentalism. Lou Reed’s writing style is amazing. We wanted to do something on the record that wasn’t typical, we wanted a real left curve. The song is about the continuation of Saturday night, when you’ve been up all night, you smell to high heaven, and you look out the window to see people starting their Sunday morning activities.
Or on a weekday, riding the subway home at six in the morning, knowing that the hangover is going to start kicking in any time, sharing the ride with people who are freshly showered and shaven, when the smell of their perfume and aftershave is almost making you puke up all the drunk, junk food you ate last night, you’re wearing sunglasses even in the tunnels ’cause any light, never mind hard white fluorescence, is enough to burn holes in your retinas, and you realize you’re in a time warp. To me, they’re scurrying into tomorrow, and to them, I’m still dragging my ass home from yesterday. It’s a wild overlap where the same moment means very different things to people standing side by side.
Yup. That’s it.
What about musical inspirations?
I like talking about the lyrics, because a lot of people just want to know if I get annoyed when people compare us to Blondie.
Blondie? What is it, the hair? A New York punk-gone-disco diva and a New York gritty-streets rock band, I don’t see it. I saw the Stooges, Joan Jett, and some Ramones.
Yeah, the annoying thing is, what’s New York rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t know. Also, I get the feeling that if we were from Kansas City, people would have a much fresher look at what we’re doing. Just because we’re from New York, people make assumptions and have expectations.
Well, you put it in the name of the band.
We had to do that for legal reasons, not that we really wanted to. It’s based on a Stooges’ song, and they’re from Detroit.
Do you agree with the Joan Jett reference?
Maybe because I sing and play guitar and I’m a girl, and I don’t always sing so pretty… I think Joan Jett is very limited. She’s great at what she does, but she really only does one thing. Although we have punk rock influences, we’re really not three chord punk rock morons. There’s a lot more to our music than that. Some of our songs are just three chords, come to think of it.
But comparing you to the Ramones because you sometimes play just three chords and you like to dress in leather, that’s like comparing you to D Generation because they’re from New York, and the guys have shaggy black hair hanging in their eyes.
What’s left of it anyway. Yeah, that would be worse.
But what about NY Loose’s image? I’m sure you’re hair is platinum blonde.
It’s dirty blonde, naturally. Sometimes I do bleachy jobs here and there, and the back is dyed black, but I don’t think we really have an image. Most of us have been dressing the same since we were like 14. What’s normal for me is the way I dress. Every morning I put a dog-collar on, I have a favorite pair of pants, which happen to be leather, and I like to wear lots of black. It matches with everything. But if I were to go to the mall in Norfolk, Virginia, it wouldn’t be so normal. People always say, “Oh, image,” but this is just the way we are.
Going way back in time, what were your earliest influences? What made you decide to live and dress this way?
Honestly, when I was 14, I was listening to Mötley Crüe.
Yeah. I, uh, yeah, I was, um, too.
Mötley Crüe and Pat Benetar. I just thought they looked really cool. And, of course, the Ramones and the Stooges. I mean, who looked cooler than Iggy? Nobody. I’ve never been a person to wear a dress or any kind of floral print. Even when I was really young, my mother would try to get me some other color, but I always went to the black. I’ve always wanted to wear black.
Just for comparison’s sake, how vehemently would you agree that you have nothing in common with Garbage? You actually have intonation, whereas she prances around on high stages in a short skirt and no bra.
My breasts are much too big to not wear a bra. Especially because I jump around too much. I just don’t want it to be about all that. I already get enough of that. It’s something I try to avoid, not that I go onstage with no make up and a paper bag over my head, but I’m trying to do what I’m doing based on my talent, rather than what my body is like.
Not like a Lita Ford kinda thing.
Actually, it’s really funny you should mention that; when we were on the road with Marilyn Manson, he’d always say, “This is like when Mötley Crüe went on tour with Lita Ford.” Maybe there is some sort of link there.
At least you didn’t pose nude with a guitar in front of you. She pulled a Samantha Fox.
Oh God, no. Do people actually say we’re like Garbage?
I hope not. I just wanted to bring up the grossest case of chick-fronted exploitation I could in a popular rock band.
How much of a rock band are they? What they are, really, are three very rich producers who got together and said, “Hey, let’s be in a band and hire some girl.” They asked me to do [be in] that band, and I said no. NY Loose is a band that’s been together for a long time, that’s been in a van together, that’s had no money together, that’s scraped enough money together to get rehearsals…
You didn’t want to ditch “the good life” to go be someone’s postergirl. She has magazine covers the way sports stars have baseball cards – and we collect them all. Do you ever regret your decision?
The main thing that turned me off to the idea was that the guys were so old. I didn’t want to be in a band with people who were twice my age. I also didn’t like that I wouldn’t be writing, I’d just be the token girl singer.
(At this point the tape ran out. All the scathing commentary on Garbage and the state of rock music are lost forever. We may have solved global warming for all I know. That’s why I record these things, so I don’t have to remember.)
To my knowledge, you’ve never played in Boston. Why not?
I tried so hard to get a show at the Rat. I called them every week saying, “Hi. I’m in a band called NY Loose. We have a couple 7″s out, we have a record on Flipside called Loosen Up, blah-blah-blah.” And they’d say, “Call me tomorrow.” I really tried to get a gig there, but it never worked out. And now we tried to play Boston with Marilyn Manson, and that didn’t happen. It’s ridiculous.