Marina Del Rey
Interview with: Marina del Rey of Backstage Pass, originally conducted July 2014.
As this Fourth of July weekend draws to a close, I'd like to offer you a post that celebrates our own punk independence, an interview with one of the Masque's Founding Mothers, Marina Muhlfriedel aka Marina del Rey, who along with her bandmates (Backstage Pass) literally helped build the rehearsal studios that would become the cradle of Hollywood punk. I am grateful for Marina's participation. She, along with her Backstage Pass bandmates (Genny Body and Joanna "Spock" Dean) have helped us understand that women were there even before the first concert at the Masque. These ladies were co-creators of the west coast punk movement and one of the most vital physical spaces that supported it.
In his book, Live at the Masque, Brendan Mullen's concert list shows Backstage Pass playing their first Masque show in October of 1977, but these ladies were filling the basement (and other venues) with new music before many of us knew what was coming.
- Alice Bag, 7/6/14
1. What was/is your contribution to the punk community?
In the greater scheme of things, I suppose it was helping to launch The Masque along with Holly Vincent -- who I was playing in the band Backstage Pass with at the time -- and Chas Gray, who was in The Skulls then (and, of course, later in Wall of Voodoo). The three of us happened to meet a girl (who was she, I wonder?) at a restaurant who overheard us talking about needing a place to rehearse and said, as I recall, “There’s this Scottish guy, Brendan (Mullen), who has this big basement in Hollywood he’s trying to do something with. He might let you use some of the space.”
To say it was raw would be an understatement. The basement's rickety, neglected bones looked like they could barely hold up the ceiling. Nonetheless, it was a filthy cool, ghostly space under Hollywood Boulevard and we dug it. I had to write a contract with Brendan pledging to pay him rent every month so the landlord would let him keep the space. Then, if I remember correctly, the three of us, with a couple of Chas’s friends, physically built our rehearsal room, put a door and lock on it and moved in.
Brendan and I would spend hours sparring about experimental artists and musicians... the Cork St. crowd in London, musicians like Cornelius Cardew, Henry Cow and John Cage. He kind of wanted the space to be a kind of experimental art and music scene. We vamped on ideas about how it would take shape. At one point we mused over inviting artist and musician friends for a Bland Party. Everyone would have to wear neutral colors, talk really softly and clean the space, painting all the surfaces gray or beige. The payoff would be that whoever survived the day would be allowed to could come back and splash paint a la Jackson Pollock or however they chose -- redecorate as they pleased. The Bland Party never materialized, of course, but there was a lot of that kind of dream speak. I never thought Brendan perceived what was coming, but he embraced the tidal wave that soon crashed down those steps, giving LA punks a home. Correct me if I’m wrong – this was a long time ago – I believe Backstage Pass, The Skulls and The Controllers were the first three bands there, sharing the room we built.
Then there was Backstage Pass. When the punk scene started there wasn’t even a name for it. Kids all over the world – many who had no (or barely any) idea how to play (including us) – were spontaneously picking up instruments and forming bands. Most early seventies music was truly unbearable and the world was overripe for something to shake it up. Backstage Pass wasn’t quite sure how to find its way and were lucky enough to be dropkicked into reality by Jake Riviera of Stiff Records. At the very beginning, before we moved into the Masque, Conn
Merton gave us free rehearsal space at Cherokee Studios. We were in an upstairs room with a one-way mirror -- like musical test lab subjects. People would watch us try to figure out our instruments and write songs. Bowie and Alice Cooper were both recording downstairs and would spy on us. There were a few drummers who would come play with us but mostly it was Rod “The Perve” Mitchell. Spock, Just Gennybody (Schorr), Holly Vincent, Che Zuro and I were the main others in the band.
Watching Jimmy Destri of Blondie and Steve Naïve from the Elvis Costello band was pretty much how I learned to play keyboards in a band (guitarist Randy Rhoad’s mom had been my piano teacher, earlier on). Pretty soon we were playing shows with The Mumps, Devo, Elvis Costello and so on.
2. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
There is no way I could pick just one but... In 1973, I was going to school in London and seeing David Bowie at Hammersmith Odeon changed everything. Suddenly music became so much more than the music I knew – it was another life I had slipped into. I suppose I remembered that feeling that as a kid listening to the Velvet Underground – my world split a few seams and hatched into a bigger universe. In ’73 I also saw Roxy Music at the Rainbow Theater and nearly lost it. Everything about them was incredible but it was Brian Eno in his full glam get up and endless tease of enticing sounds that took my breath away. I had no idea how it would happen but I just knew that somehow I’d play synths. In ’74 I was asked to review a band called Unicorn (who I remember nothing about), at the Whisky for my college paper and Patti Smith took the stage as the opening act. I was dumbstruck. Her voice, words, persona gave me this sense that the world had again changed and I knew I had to change with it.
On a personal level, dare I say The Damned actually had a pretty major impact on my life. Because Jake Riviera managed them – and he was staying in Genny's and my apartment (where we answered our phone, “Stiff Records”) - they quickly and briefly became entwined with our lives. The band was staying between our apartment, at Spock’s and with the Screamers. In a way, they flipped Backstage Pass’s switch – kind of sparked our attitude and how we played. We jumped right in after that.
Then of course, the LA bands – particularly the Screamers, and Wall of Voodoo – our peers, our friends, were making the most amazing music. I loved every minute of it. Looking back, Television, the Clash and Wall of Voodoo are probably the three bands of the time that I still listen to most.
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
In the United States and in the UK, it seemed that punk women did a good job of avoiding being manipulated. We/they were wildly expressive, tough when we wanted to be, without limits on behavior, really. Style and makeup were irrepressibly creative. I never felt like there were imposed gender roles.
While I loved what the Runaways grew into, I hated them the first time I saw them, because clearly, they were young woman acting how men wanted them to act. They were a Cherry Bomb fantasy and it sort of pissed me off. Actually – that was my impetus for starting Backstage Pass. No one would tell me what to do.
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
Good stories, edge and possibly most importantly -- artistic courage. I have never been afraid of trying a new instrument, writing something new, painting, dancing when I have no idea what I'm doing. Being a punk gave me the license to jump in the mosh pit of life, I guess.
5. What are you listening to now?
Ha. Right this moment? Phillip Glass. But I listen to everything from old, old blues to Radiohead to Saul Williams to world music to Dvorak.
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories?
My life has been an interesting story, to be sure. Maybe even funny. Punk is but one chapter of the wily, sordid tale. Hard to dredge up just one.
7. Are there any punk women from the early scene whom you feel have not been adequately recognized?
Holly Vincent, although she moved to NY and then London pretty early on.
8. What is something we should know about you that we probably don't know?
After Backstage Pass I formed a techno-popish band called Vivabeat that was signed by Peter Gabriel to a UK label and it was kind of a different scene for me. Fun – but different. These days, I’m a writer and a mom. I’m learning to play the autoharp and fantasize about starting a punk cover autoharp orchestra.
Marina del Rey in 2013