“There's no money in any of it, is there, really? But it's still better than a proper job.”
Viv Albertine's statement offers a fitting epitaph for the directing career that she pursued following the messy demise of her former band, The Slits, in 1982. Along the way, she also had a daughter, so music inevitably fell by the wayside (“I actually kind of turned out like a lioness, and I just wanted to bring up my baby”). For a decade, her directing career hummed along, “but there's so much money involved, as you know,” she declares. “And it is about compromise, so much.”
Now she's back, armed with only a guitar and a dream, touring solo with a fresh batch of starkly personal songs (“I Don't Believe In Love,” “If Love,” “The False Heart”) that are light years apart sonically
from the Slits' glorious crash-bang-wallop attack. (A single or EP is expected shortly from the Los Angeles-based indie label, Manimal Vinyl...for updates, check back on Viv's official site, www.vivalbertine.com/)
Then again, as I laughingly inform Viv, it's impossible not to read anything about the Slits without the words “crude” or “primitive” somewhere in close proximity. From 1976 through 1982, the Slits' classic lineup (Viv, drummer Palmolive, bassist Tessa Pollitt, and singer Ari Up) polarized audiences like few bands, then or now.
Depending on which account you read, the Slits either come across as gimmicky racketmongers (Glen Matlock: I WAS A TEENAGE SEX PISTOL), or club-footed geniuses. (John Lydon: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS). To these ears, neither hits the mark, as one listen to CUT (1979) – their certified consensus classic album – should immediately establish.
Viv's six-city US tour – her first ever – continues at 7 p.m. tonight at Schuba's (Chicago, IL), then rolls on through Austin (Thursday), and New York's Knitting Factory (Friday). Then it's back over to London, and into unknown territory, which suits Viv just fine: “I just feel like Bob Dylan, or some old blues guy going around the country now with my guitar, singing my songs – and it's back to how it used to be. That's what I like about the music industry, or the lack of it.”
CHAIRMAN RALPH (RH): Let's start with the obvious question...what brings you back, after all this time? The last time I read of you, you were working in television.
VIV ALBERTINE (VA): Well, after the Slits broke up – you know, it was kind of like breaking up from three husbands at once, so traumatic (laughs)...I gave it everything – I gave it my heart and soul. I was Viv Slit...I had to go back to rock bottom, and rebuild who I was, because I had that persona. Many people were not interested anymore – you know what happens, when you lose that position.
And then, it just seemed like all the planets lined up, and it became time again. And the Slits contacted me for a second time to say, did I wanna play with them? I thought, “Oh, if I pick up a guitar, I wonder if I could possibly ever...in six months...” 'Cause they had a tour coming up – in six months, could I learn to play the guitar again? I hadn't touched it for 30 years!
And I was struggling at the kitchen table, trying to hold down barre chords – and the strangest thing started happening, after about three weeks, or so...songs started coming out! And this style of guitar playing started to come out – not the same [style], but an odd style of guitar playing. So I dropped all those bloody barre chords, and just went down the road again of my own made-up style. And then, this passion came forth, you know -- the songwriting, and the playing, and it's not stopped ever since. That's about a year and a half ago.
CR: Right, you're self-taught then...so, as you say, all the planets aligned up, but –- as fate would have it -- not with the reunited Slits, right?
VA: Well, no -- I said, “I'll do a couple of shows, and we'll all see how we feel about it,” because they'd been going about three or four years, by now. And I did a couple of shows [in Barcelona, and Manchester]-- I'd already been doing my own stuff, just in little bars, and I didn't feel awkward doing that. It wasn't about being onstage, it was about doing the old material.
CR: So you didn't feel emotionally connected to it anymore?
VA: No, not at all. Not at all.
CR: And, as you note on your Myspace entries, it had sort of become, I guess, “Ari, plus a cast of thousands”?
VA: Yeah (laughs), yeah, you know -- exactly...Ari heading the band, which is fine – she's kind of like a James Brown-type leader who knows what she wants, which is great. But I couldn't revisit it, I couldn't go back to it as someone who wasn't equally inputting – it had just gone too far down the road of Ari's band, now, really.
CR: Yeah. I listened to a couple of those clips [from the reunited Slits], and I thought, “Dare I say, it almost sounds professional”? (Viv laughs).
VA: Exactly --– you know, if I hadn't started going down the route of doing my own material, maybe I wouldn't have known there was something different. And I just had to say, “Well, no, no, I can't do it.” For me, I felt it was quite a brave decision, because I could have toured the world with them...
CR: Sure, and trade on that name again...
VA: Trade on the name, or, “I was in a bar in front of a farmer, a fisherman, and an older lady in a bobble hat, down on the south coast of England”...not round London, you know? I was utterly rock bottom, really. I had nothing. I said “yes” to nothing, and “no” to something, but here I am.
CR: And, of course, it seems like nostalgia's almost become a cottage industry, hasn't it, 'cause everybody's re-forming...
VA: It just says everything about the people in the band, that they have to use the old name, in a way.
CR: Right, and it's all kind of one baby step at a time...
VA: Exactly, but I like that. It's just literally all over the last year and a half, that's how that's happened, just organically -- started writing my songs, and I went to a bar, and sang them out of tune – you know, to nobody who knew me – then, bit by bit, I got better.
Then I could do three at a time, now, I could do a half-hour set. It's just built and built, and then someone heard it, and said, “Come do this gig.” Then Manimal heard it, you know – it's literally built and built.
I've done four tracks now, mixed by Dennis Bovell, who's mixed CUT – so I've worked with him again, but other new people, as well, some great musicians.. It's happening organically, it's not that career path, again, that it used to be. Again, it's just happening normally. And if I build a little audience, that'll be fantastic. We'll see what happens.
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