Five Questions with Jean Smith -- New Raleigh, 2009
HIGH HAT, 2005
David Lester interview -- Visual Resistance
Monday Magazine, Victoria -- July 18, 2004
-Does it feel like you have been active as Mecca Normal for 20 years?
I remember our first show -- July 27, 1984 -- vividly. When you're a kid, 20 years is equals eternity. Now 20 years is simply the beginning of a compounding series of connected events which will forever be a work-in-progress. Everything we do seems to take into account our entire history, in that way, 20 years feels like a lot to grapple with.
-How have things changed for Mecca Normal over the years?
We set out to create a challenge to the status quo. We were, for a period of time in the 90s, receiving more attention and critical acclaim that we ever intended. Rolling Stone featured us in an article about up-and-coming bands to watch -- Radiohead, Liz Phair and Mecca Normal. By association, we were linked to the Riot Grrrl movement -- cited as inspiration to its founding members. And we became known as both feminist and political -- labels that have stuck and, to some degree limited, how we have been perceived. At this point we are transitioning into adding art and a talk to our events. We're writing new songs -- this new work and our live performances are very strong. I maintain that our best work is ahead of us, although I sense there is a cultural bias against this. Both David and I thrive in a climate of adversity. Sometimes I think we create obstacles so that we have the necessary tension to excel. This figures into our work methods within the band as well. Recognizing patterns and altering trajectories become more interesting the longer a project is in evolution through history -- both world histories and our personal development.
-How does Mecca Normal's art differ from the individual visual art of Jean Smith and David Lester?
Mecca Normal's art is the sum of two individual visions placed into a performance and exhibition context. We encourage the context to alter the content. Our 20 year long, language-based collaboration focuses on presenting work in public. Our individual work, which goes on simultaneously, fuels Mecca Normal projects. By contrast, there is less pressure to reveal and defend every nuance of our private enterprises. The Mecca Normal work ethic can be applied to other projects -- we use the successful aspects of our collaborative process to give feedback and encouragement to each other. Mecca Normal is an operating system that intends to by-pass the art-killers of isolation and lack of response.
-Does any one media type take preference for you? Or is it a balance?
Singing the words I wrote -- I guess that's two.
-What will the next 20 years hold for Mecca Normal?
We will continue to transition as necessary, to set goals to make it possible to survive as artists -- finding work that allows me to continue organizing tours and production schedules. This reflects the reality of artistic longevity -- which, for us, has become a political issue. There will be some historic documentation -- film, live releases, artist talks about what we have done so far, but I anticipate there are people and opportunities ahead that will alter our direction in positive ways. We're open to new ideas.
And now on with the fun questions!
-What major historical event is most like the day you're having today?
Any one of a hundred days when sea-faring explorers, becalmed, tenaciously searched the horizon for land or a change in the weather. Past successes irrelevant, the future unknown.
-What one word or phrase can you not go a day without uttering?
This is what I do.
-If someone was to make a cocktail named after you, what would the ingredients be?
Filtered tap water, squeeze of lime, hold the ice.
-What is currently on your bedside table?
A glass dish, 6 inches square. Smooth on the top side, rough on the underside. Slightly green and speckled. Purchased at the Vernon Art Gallery on the interior BC tour. It was for a guy was seeing. I imagined he might examine it, find poetic qualities in, see things about that I didn't and communicate his thoughts. I hoped he would like it. I liked it. He turned it over once in his hands, made a general comment, and set it down. As he was leaving he said he thought he'd forgotten something. I didn't say anything. Two weeks later it was over. I am a dish.
-What song is guaranteed to get you onto the dancefloor?
Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device"
-What was the last book you read, and why?
Jane Sexes It Up -- True Confessions of Feminist Desire. Because it is relevant and important. Research, baby.
-What would you do for a living if you didn't have to worry about money?
If I didn't have to worry about money, I would be doing the same thing I'm doing now. Additionally, I would maintain other creative outlets -- glassblowing and woodworking. I would operate a salon-format venue geared towards deviation; a destabilization of the audience/rock star dynamic.
-Three things you want to do/places you want to go before you die?
To be involved in a truly amazing man. Humour, sex, collaboration, intensity, communication, and reciprocity within a realistic format. I'm currently disillusioned with the idea of relationships, but simultaneously curious about creating a healthy interaction based on respect and physical intensity.
To get the music, art and writing to a level that generates reasonable income and security.
To build a house out of non-traditional materials. Bottles, mud, branches, pebbles, lint.
-Who would play you in the TV movie adaptation of your life?
Bud Cort circa Harold and Maude.
-What are you driving now? What is your dream vehicle and why?
A rented Toyota Echo, preferring a small bus -- like those rural community transit buses. I'd love to have one set up to live in with performance and art show capabilities (seating for 15 people).
-Describe your Favourite stress buster.
Going to the gym (I've been lifting weights for 25 years weight). Reward equals sauna and whirlpool.
-Which two famous people would you like to see in a kick boxing match? Who would win?
Angela Davis vs. Adolf Hitler. Angela Davis would win, easily. Hitler would cry.
-When you were a kid, what was your Favourite piece of playground equipment, and why?
Sandbox. Build, destroy, conquest, re-build.
-What are you most sorry for not doing in your life?
I suppose I regret not having a sideline back-up enterprise in place, running simultaneously; something generating a constant income. It's a crazy time to attempt to earn a living in music and art. I resent working a minimum wage job, considering the organizational and artistic skills I have. There is very little financial support that translates from the respect and admiration we garner. Artists and musicians don't like to express this, because it is important to appear to be surviving. Surviving financially fortifies the "quality clause" in the capitalist market -- if you can't earn a living you are not good. Get a job. In recognizing that help is not going to arrive, it is sometimes daunting to devote the required energy to ventures that are financially doomed. That people carry on production is remarkable. The gulf that exists between consumers and artists seems muddy and ever-widening. In the consumer role, people expect to be exposed to stimuli without feeling a responsibility to examine what goes into the reality of getting ourselves and our work around on tour. A barometer of this disconnect is on our merch table -- David's "Gruesome Acts of Capitalism" is a slim volume of facts from public record sources. People at our shows will pick it up, read it cover to cover, put it down and walk away. Right now we're on tour in Washington state, staying with a guy named Jack. He contacted us and offered to create our first website, and has been very helpful with both computer and general problems. Jack helps us because he values the live music scene he participates in as an audience member. He goes to shows and has thought about what musicians endure to keep things happening. He made the decision to find out how he could be useful to the process. Jack's contribution has made his experience more interesting and our work less tedious. Here is a new person for us to interact with, to share ideas with and get feedback from. The strength of the network increases and all is good. Jack contributes because he values what he gets and because he sees a need. Consideration of the underground dynamic and required action seem to be getting farther away from general consciousness. Consumer passivity in the mainstream market threatens the inherent nature of reciprocity built into underground scenes. In Canada, where we have grants and funding for oddball work, there may be even less community support than in the US, where volunteerism is part of their social equation, and not entirely a government responsibility.