The Revenge of the Witch Inside All of Us:
Alice Bag is proof it’s not enough to talk the talk but you have walk the walk
By Carolina Enriquez Swan
Punk, Chicana, feminist, activist, songwriter, singer, musician, producer, and writer are only a few of the terms that have been used to describe the trailblazing Alice Bag. Bag got her start with mid-70s first wave punk band, The Bags, which was featured in the seminal punk documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization.And Bag continues to be an unstoppable force, cranking out new tunes with her third solo album, Sister Dynamite, on In the Red Records. The album includes longtime collaborator Lysa Flores (rhythm guitar and backup vocals), guitarist Sharif Damani, bassist David O. Jones, and drummers Candace P.K. Hansen and Rikki “Styxx” Watson, and features vocals by riot grrrl legend Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile, Sex Stains).
Bag has always voiced strongly on issues she cares about, an attitude which has only been strengthened over her years in the music industry. The relevant themes of feminism, toxic masculinity, unchecked privilege, and individuality continue to be hot topics in the current social and political climate. These battles are typically ignored by the mass media, and Bag brings them to the forefront with tunes like “Sister Dynamite,” inspired by women standing up for themselves, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad in Congress. The music video, directed by Marise Samitier, features badass Kristine Nevrose (singer of the band The Tissues) standing strong, kicking butt against unwanted male attention. Nothing beats seeing a biker babe in the spirit of Tura Satana (in Faster, Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill!) not taking any shit. It’s no wonder this song was picked for the album title. The rock n’ roll kicks and punk attitude make this every woman’s theme song, with punching lyrics like, “Scram, little brother! You are to blame here. Next time, think before you say shit. Next time think before you act.”
The video for the second single, “Breadcrumbs,” is filmed at favorite LA puppet hot spot, Bob Baker Marionette Theater. In the song “Damsel in Distress,” the protagonist can embrace being the “witch” she wants to be and reject being “saved.”
“Because long ago you vilified me…but sometimes in fairytales the witch prevails,” sings Alice Bag with swagger and a glockenspiel in her hands.
It’s not only the singles that become ear worms, but also her song “Subele.” A Chicana, Bag grew up in Southern California (a background that resonates with my own). This upbringing and intense identity fuel her pure guttural punk punches as she sings “Subele” entirely in Spanish. Coupled with a powerful drumbeat, it compels audiences to sing along to the chorus at live shows.
“Spark” is another heavy hitter in the album battling for non-conformity. With this album, Alice Bag has more to say and everyone is going to listen.
Unfortunately, with COVID-19, half off Alice Bag’s tour has been cancelled, but she is hoping to reschedule in the fall with some dates with like-minded punk feminist Bikini Kill.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Bag. The two of us discuss the nitty gritty of her new album, Bag’s new workout IG video stardom with “Fit for the Apocalypse,” and what she has been tuning into.
Carolina Enriquez Swan: Can you tell me your process on how you developed your third solo album Sister Dynamite?
Alice Bag: I will write music all the time. I carve time out every day even if it’s just for a little bit to jot down a melody or some lyrics. Which is something different from what I used to do. I used to only write when I was actively playing in a band. And now I write all the time.
At one point, one of my drummers, Rikki Watson who goes by Rikki Styxx, called me up and said “Hey, I’m on spring break, do you have anything you want to work on?” And I said, “Yeah. I have some songs. Let’s get into the studio and record them.” So we went into the studio and started working on the first four songs. As we got into the process, my other regular drummer called and she said “Hey, I’m on spring break. Do you have anything you want to work on?” I had already planned on working some songs with Rikki and some songs with Candace. They have a very different drumming style. I usually pick out songs for each of them to play.
I was in the middle of doing that, when the ladies from [the band] Fea called me and said they were planning on going into the studio. They were wondering if I wanted to produce their new album. I was super excited about that. So I put my own album on hold and went to Texas and started going to the process with them. Going through the songs, going to rehearsals. We were fortunate enough to have this great experience at a sleep-away camp where we had 24-hour access to the recording studio and engineer. It was like you’d gone off to creative camp. And I started working on Fea’s album and I realized—wow! They really capture a live sound, really high energy but also really melodic! I love their process.
Working with them really made me rethink the way I had been recording my album. I really didn’t want to give myself any boundaries on my first two records. So I would write stuff and think this part would sound great on cello. And of course, I don’t have a regular cello player. So I had to find somebody to come in and record. So I challenged myself this time. I wanted to take all my creativity but put it into just recording with my core band. Having them be in charge of their regular bass, drums, guitar. They sang all the backing vocals along with me. And then also if I was going to add anything else it was going to be one of us. I did the very rudimentary keyboards, glockenspiel, extra stuff that needed to be on the record. It’s just a more narrow, focused project.
CES: Was “Breadcrumbs” a collaboration, or was it more inspired by Allison Wolfe?
AB: No, I think the sound of the vocals was inspired by the way that Allison Wolfe sings. She and I had been in a band together with Seth Bogart for a few months. We did a project called Scorpio Scorpio then we changed the name to Clique Bitches. So having worked with her, I know how she likes to sing and that was also an influence on me.
The story that’s told in the song is more about people who lead you on, make you think they want to be in a committed relationship with you but are actually players, and are giving you just enough of their time and affection to keep you hanging on. And then the idea of the girl in the relationship standing up for herself. There’s a line where she says, “you vilified me.” And we have a video and in the video her character turns into a witch. And it just reminded me of all the times that I’ve been called a “witch” because I refuse to accept somebody treating me badly. And in fact, I’m sure women can really relate to this. It’s not just a strong woman refusing to take bullshit, you are suddenly an evil witch or a bitch when you stand up for yourself.
CES: Definitely. I think this is something that resonates in the current social and political climate. And understood by so many women. How did you decide on filming the video at Bob Baker Marionette Theater?
ALICE BAG: That was my husband’s idea. My husband and my daughter love marionettes. I love Bob Baker’s too. But I never would have thought to put both things together. But he was like, “I bet they have all the fairytale characters.” And I thought it was a total long shot, like, why would they want to do something with me when they have their regular program? And I just thought of all the reasons they wouldn’t want to do it. And if you can get them to answer your email, I’ll jump in and try to make it happen. He wrote to them and they wrote back right away and said yes.
CES: Do you consider yourself a feminist and what does that mean to you today?
AB: I absolutely consider myself a feminist. I feel like I’ve been a feminist my whole life, even before I knew there was a word for it. It started off in my childhood, my father would come home and he was abusive to my mother. Me and my mom and my sister, I felt like we were under his complete control. And I always felt like some day, it’s not going to be like this. I’m not going to feel like I’m too small or powerless to stand up literally to the patriarch in my house. So that just grew and grew as I got older, I saw people in my own family like my aunt and my sister in law who would stand up to my father. I remember them talking back and standing up and seeing him eye to eye, like standing close to him and meeting him face to face and saying “no, I disagree with you. I’m not going to take this bullshit from you.” And I was just thrilled by that and I think it just grew and grew. And once I got in a band, I noticed people are listening to me. I have a little bit of power. They might not agree with me but at least they’re going to hear what I have to say. That’s when the feminism really found wings.
CES: The song and album name “Sister Dynamite” focuses on feminism and the danger of “toxic masculinity.” Can you talk more about that?
AB: It’s funny because of that song whenever anything happens in our real life, my husband will turn to me and say “toxic masculinity” or “fragile masculinity.” He notices it all the time now. Obviously I am talking about my husband a lot today because he’s a feminist. And to me feminism is about equality. It’s about individuals respecting each other. People treating people with the kind of respect that they expect for themselves and the people they love. It’s not about anything more than that. So what’s toxic is when somebody tries to feel like they’re entitled to more because of their gender, their race, or the amount of money they have. It all goes hand in hand. That feeling of being above others.
CES: “Lucky” mentions the privilege that some have and others will never achieve.
AB: That’s all about not being able to understand how certain things affect people differently. Even in this case right now, when people are like “this is an older person virus. I’m not an older person, I should be able to go out and live my life. Why am I being punished because these old people are getting sick?” And it’s a very misinformed attitude. And it’s a position where you can’t see another person’s point view.
CES: You included a song in Spanish called “Subele.” What inspires you to sing in Spanish, and why did you decide to include it on your album? And would ever be interested in doing an album completely in Spanish?
AB: I would love to do a solo album completely in Spanish. Thank you for bringing that up.
My first language is Spanish. As a matter of fact, I had a really hard time adjusting to learning English. School was painful because I was made to feel stupid by the teacher. So I have some scars from that. But eventually I became a confident songwriter in English. And a few years ago, lyrics would come to me as a result of things that were happening to me. And when the interactions were in Spanish, the lyrics would come out in Spanish. So I just went with that. If this is something I experienced in English, then I’m going to write it in English. And if it happens in Spanish, then I’m going to write it in Spanish.
And this particular song on this album that’s in Spanish—it’s called “Subele”—is actually a translation of a song on my last album—“Turn It Up.” And what happened was that I was at rehearsal one day and I started singing “subele,” which means “turn it up” in Spanish, during the chorus, and my band, they usually sing back up on that song. And they kind of did a double take and looked at me like, “what is she saying?” And they caught on, so the second and third time that I sang the chorus, they joined in and started singing “subele.” They said, “We should do it that way for the next show.” We did it for a couple of shows. I love the expression of the audience, when they realize we were singing in Spanish and they caught on and started singing it in Spanish with us. People that didn’t know what it meant sang along also. And I thought, I am just going to translate this whole song, so that’s what I did. I think it works really well.
CES: There’s sometimes a certain feeling or emotion in Spanish that you can’t translate exactly into English. It makes more sense to say it in Spanish.
AB: You know what’s funny, too, I heard people say that I sing in a different key or timbre, or whatever it is, but there is something about the way I sing and when I speak. My husband said it’s like I go into a higher key.
CES: I noticed on Instagram you have started a fun workout series called “Fit for the Apocalypse.” Have you thought about coming out with a workout video? I love the music you’re selecting such as from the band Special Interest from New Orleans.
AB: Osa Atoe is a friend of mine, and she introduced me to Alli when we went to New Orleans—Alli from Special Interest. And Alli gave us a recording of them and we came home and listened, my husband and I. And I was on tour when they played in Los Angeles. But my husband went and he said “Aw, they were great.” I was so jealous. And I came home and I was still listening to them. And I thought why don’t I add them to my workout list.
The whole idea of a workout came about because as I’ve told you earlier when this quarantine first started, I was watching the news almost constantly and feeling like I was sick. I’m gonna drink tea, and stay indoors, and not let the virus in. And then I just felt like I had to snap out of it. I’m gonna workout. Sometimes I feel like doing one or two songs and sometimes I feel like doing a whole workout. So I thought, I can do one song at a time. That’s not going to be a problem. Once, my husband got home, “okay you can film me, I’ll do the workout.” Basically my husband is my ally—I don’t know how I would function without him. He’s wonderfully supportive.
CES: What bands have you been listening to recently?
AB: Public Practice, Special Interest, Otoboke Beaver, Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries, and of course Fea. I think I’ve been listening to more now, there’s this local band of young girls here in Los Angeles called The Linda Lindas. And they’re really exciting to watch because they started playing a year ago. They just came out with their first original song because they were doing covers. It’s called “Claudia Kishi” and it’s about one of the members of The Baby-Sitter’s Club, the book series. I just love that these young girls are feeling empowered to talk about the things that are important to them. And they’ve gotten a tremendous response. They’re one of the bands that opened for Bikini Kill. Another band that I’m listening to that I really have to give credit to are Amyl and the Sniffers (From Australia) Their album I could not stop listening to. It was on constantly and I love so much!