Interview with Special Interest

TRUST NO WAVE

It is Saturday night in New York City, and Special Interest have come from New Orleans to share a bill with gay hardcore heroes Limpwrist. They are gracious enough to speak to me in the green room as they prepare for the gig. The drummer of Exotica (who are opening the show) powders a canary yellow latex dress for guitarist Maria Elena Delgado before assisting with getting the darn thing on- you know the struggle if you wear latex yourself, especially in the summertime. Vocalist Alli Logout has a friend applying ferocious eyeliner for the stage, and has to do most of the interview with their head tilted back and their eyes closed. Other bands and friends begin to filter in backstage, and I can not let the opportunity to speak to Special Interest slip through my fingers, but I am suddenly intimidated by the task. Because Special Interest are important.

They exude revelry and raunch but are also utterly devastatingly honest. Honest about things like a mental breakdown and subsequent institutionalization, about systematic racism, the thrill of a great fuck. Special Interest do an unparalleled job at challenging dire political and cultural concerns while maintaining a distinctive spirit, equal parts celebratory and confrontational, both live and recorded.

While they tell me that they were influenced by bands like The Screamers and early LA punk, they are incredibly refreshingly their own. No one sounds like Special Interest, for real. The discord of Maria’s guitar work somehow perfectly compliments Ruth Ex’s electronic drums and synth, which replace a live drummer in this psycho-punk “No Wave” outfit. We talked about some of the annoyances of being a “Queer band”, favorite regional culinary delights and which member is a recovering Oogle.

Jane Pain: How did you guys get together, and did you have any specific intentions sonically, thematically or otherwise for your music?

Maria: Alli and I met in Denton, Texas before either of us moved to New Orleans. We put together a band for Not Enough Fest which was organized by Osa Atoe. I moved to New Orleans and Alli moved not long after. We were like ‘let’s start a band’ and it was just the two of us. Originally I asked Nathan, and then Ruth ‘Can we have a band that sounds like The Screamers?’, and it never did.

Ruth: I don’t remember you saying The Screamers thing… Maybe I just didn’t get the memo.

Well maybe now we know why you don’t sound like The Screamers?

Alli: We both played guitar in the original line up. Maria played the guitar more though, I played mostly with a power tool.

Was this an incarnation of Special Interest or proto Special Interest?

A: Special Interest was a two piece.

How did you feel walking away from your first practice? Did you know that you had something special?

Nathan: It was a lot of messing around at first.

Ruth: I felt really nervous because I had never been in a band before. I did not feel good after the first few practices.

It is super sick that you guys are playing with Limpwrist. They are a very important band to me and I am sure to a lot of other queer hardcore kids. I found them when I needed to. It helped me to know that they existed.

In my research, I found you talking about how you understandably don’t want to be defined as a band by your personal politics or sexual identity or marginalized by being a queer band. I know that it is hard for people to look past that, even when they are being supportive of it. Would you rather exist as a band now, possibly being pigeonholed but also making a difference by offering visability for a lot of people or would you prefer to be a band in some distant ideal future, where you can just be a fucking band in the same way that a white straight dude can be in a band, and it is about nothing else except what you play.

N: I wasn’t old enough, so I wasn’t there but I feel like in the early L.A. punk scene there was a lot of experimentation going on and there were a lot queers in bands, a lot of women in bands, a lot of brown people in bands and it was probably just because it was L.A. in the late 70’s, but that has always been really interesting to me. How it just happened. Very much pre-identity politics, in a way.

M: It was also in a time where things were actually multi-cultural . That is sadly not the case now, not that many people have a special thing where things are actually diverse.

N: That scene also went away very quickly went away. Things turned into California hardcore, and it was just kinda gone.

It’s almost like it got ruined by it’s own awareness, or when things got recognized.

N: Yeah. Limpwrist was important to me too. I moved to Montreal when I was 18 and took a bus to Toronto and saw them play at Vazaleen which was a Will Munro party. He passed away from cancer in 2010.

He did these parties in Toronto, and Vazaleen was queer rock n’ roll and queer punk parties. I only got to see the party in tail end, but I have never seen it work quite as well as it did back then. Maybe now going to a club now and hearing Peaches would not be my cup of tea at all, but at the time it was fun and wild. It was cool, about 2005.

I then got to see them in Olneyville in Providence a year later… Another wild show in San Francisco that was a warehouse eviction party that was completely insane.

A: When I was 16 I got my first leather jacket, and on the sleeve I had Limpwrist with a pink triangle. On the back I had the DRI thrashing guy. It was really important to me when I was first getting into punk to find queer bands.

First and foremost, when I got into punk I called it guitar music. As a teenage I felt like I liked it, but I just wished there were more black people. My friend put his hand on my shoulder and was like ‘Alli, the founders of hardcore punk were all black!’ and put on the Bad Brains and it was all over for me. Completely over for me. But it was important for me to duelve into all the black members of the early 80’s hardcore scene and find my way into the queer spectrum, and in that I found Limpwrist.

Honestly, Limpwrist was one of the only good gay bands. I really hate playing with other bands that are gay because we get booked on shows with bands that are gay, because we are gay and it has nothing to do with anything else. And there are a lot of bad bands. I don’t care if you’re gay or you’re not, if you band is bad your band is bad.

A: But we just want to play with good bands. We want to play with bands that we admire.

M: You can see that with us playing with Boy Harsher, a band that it very unalike us.

N: I guess to answer your question, we are a future band.

A: I wouldn’t want to exist in any time but now. You said something about existing in a time in punk where you are just a band and it’s not about identity or any of that… It’s not the goal. I am so happy we are here right now, because we are on the brink of a major collapse of everything. I think that what we are doing speaks to that. I want complete, total destruction of everything. I don’t want to live in a time where people are not thinking about what is happening. Everybody is always going to get beat up for being whatever.

I am excited to be alive right now. For so much of my life I didn’t even think that I would make it to see 26. Everybody who is queer, everyone who is trans, everybody who is black… You don’t think that you are going to make it because the state is literally trying to kill us. All of the time. Every corner.

M: We also did not want to play with straight people. None of us wanted to play music with straight people.

R: You mean, within the band? Yes. That is very intentional.

Speaking to collapse, and not thinking that you would make it this far… Was ‘Spiraling’ about starting over after the collapse, or was it about the collapse in it’s self.

A: The collapse. It was written pre-mental breakdown, and then post. I wrote a lot of the songs while I was in a psych ward and I was reading Assata Shakur’s autobiography…

In an institution, reading her autobiography about the state and the fuckery that she went through. I just wrote about everything I was feeling and everything going on around me. That is pretty much all I know how to write about. I feel like the way that everyone plays in this band, and the way that everyone came into music is a lot different than a lot of people.

Maria just started playing music.

M: When I turned 30.

A: And Ruth just started playing music… I remember your first show with your solo project. It was so incredible.

R: I started playing music to be in a band and start a band, so I guess it worked. I guess it was successful.

How does this band- the experience, the shows, writing music, interacting with each other… How does it support mental wellness for you? How does it exasperate it?

R: It definatley can do both of those things. I feel like the process of getting together and playing music feels really natural. There is very little verbal communication, we are all able to connect with one another. Being able to experience that is fucking cool, and feels really great.

We have a lot of good shows, but it’s always a crazy emotional rollercoaster. The response is always so different. The circumstances can be painful, so it is good to be around people that you like for the painful shows. Overall, it feels great. It is really cathartic and I feel like a lot of stuff that I can not verbalize about the condition of the world and how chaotic and fucked up things are, we are able to express that sonically, and that feels good.

N: Touring can be physically and mentally exhausting. That is the biggest thing for me. I like to be able to get out of New Orleans. My bands have taken me pretty much everywhere that I have been able to travel to in the world, and that is cool. But it also wears you down. It wears me down, at least, and I am not really built for it.

R: I feel like I have to get fucked up all the time just to deal with the stress with being around people when I am on tour. I am actively trying to figure out a way to negotiate that better, but that is a difficult thing to deal with.

I became sober, and that is one of the issues that comes up with my relationship to live music. It is strange to relearn how to go to shows and figuring out what I like and what I don’t like, socially. If I can’t handle something sober or don’t enjoy it as much sober, do I even really like it?
R:
Being at shows sober made me feel like I was 14 again and really intimidated by everyone.

M: It gets easier though. It took me like a year of not drinking. But honestly, just get a soda water, it’s easy. Just sitting alone feels good.

Sometimes the only alone time that I get is when we are on tour and we are in a place where I don’t know anybody and I just sit there alone. It is kind of amazing. We are always doing a bunch of shit at home.

And everybody knows each other and what everyone is doing.

A: New Orleans is a small town. It is so small and anything good in New Orleans is thrown by our little group of friends. All the good parties, all of the good shows.

It’s funny you should say that because I was talking with a friend last night and he was saying how you guys made the whole current scene in NOLA, that there wasn’t much else good going on. I wasn’t sure if that was reality or just his perspective of what is going on down there right now.

R: No, we are a product of the scene.

N: It might be sleepy, butt here are things going on.

A: It’s either usually been Oogles who are constantly leaving on a train or deep, deep weirdo post train kids. And then there are party queers. And we are a little mixture of everything.

It’s a mixture? Who is the Oogle?

A: [points to Ruth] She came into town on a train with a banjo. Sorry to call you out.

R:  I came to New Orleans when I was 19 with a banjo, it has been a wild ride, but here I am today. So you could do it too, kids! Drop that banjo…

A: You could be the party faggot of your dreams.

Would that be your advice to the children then? Drop the banjo?

R: Drop the banjo, get a shitty keyboard and that’s it.

True, true. I did want to ask about that tour with Boy Harsher, I know you guys touched on it. Was it super cool? I know Jae and Gus are fucking awesome, but how did that tour mesh with ‘their’ audience?

A: I am happy that we did it. How often are we going to have an opportunity to play with a band like that? We all thoroughly enjoy their music. Their crowd is either O.G. goths who were incredible and loved us and were really nice or what I call ‘children of the algorithm’. It’s cool. However you get into whatever you’re into is fine, but it was a lot.

I get really stressed out by how people fetishize me and my body and my presence. Especially on stage or in any kind of creative thing that I do. I was having a little bit harder of a time with it on that tour than on other tours.

I guess that was kind of what I was trying to get at with the second question. People who read about you on a blog or some hype and looking at who you are instead of what you are doing. Not that they do not genuinely enjoy what you are doing, but being preoccupied.

A: I like to think about if I saw myself on stage, at any age, I would be so esatic and excited. So it was fun to be able to play for people who really needed it, and to play for people who didn’t even know that they needed it. That is my favorite part of it.

M: We played for so many chicanos. That was super special for me.

A: But it still is how punk is, there is one or two black people at a show. And that is really intense for me.

N: It was cool to play places with really huge sound systems. But also I feel like you are playing these big venues and you just don’t get the same reaction as when you play smaller places. When you’re playing this huge stage people just don’t react the same way. Sometimes you have this gut reaction like ‘Fuck, they hate it.’, but I don’t think that is actually true. People are just weird and they don’t know what to do with themselves half the time.

R: It also automatically makes what you are doing a big spectacle. The intimacy is gone.

A: In Portland we played to so many people that is was awful. It was so extreme. I never thought that I would play to 800 people. It was really intense. And I looked out into the crowd and it was just a sea of white people and I was filled with rage. I hated it.

After so many shows I was like ‘we suck, we suck’, but finally we got to a city where we had friends and people were moving like how they do in New Orleans…

And you’re back.

A: We’re back… whew… It was such an intense shift. But Portland was intense.

I think I hate Portland?

A: I think Portland is really gorgeous.

R: I think also people who were not going to see us just don’t know what to do with us. They are like ‘It’s like a punk band, but it’s not a punk band all the way and I can kinda dance to it but I don’t know how’. When people are not familiar with it they get caught off guard.

And that could be kinda nice. Do you guys have plans for a new record?

N: Yeah, we are writing a new record now. We recorded three songs so far, and we are going to record again in a couple weeks. We are going to try and have it out by early next year. Early 2020. It sounds great so far, I think.

Any departure from the Special Interest we are used to?

N: When we started we were using this old Univox drum machine from the 70’s and we just completely cut that out. We recorded the last record with Quintron which was cool but also he has a lot of interesting ideas for analog production and mixing but the digital aspect of stuff is kind of new to him. We found someone else to record us in New Orleans and went and heard our drum machine through his system, and it was the shit, it’s over.

R: It’s like high definition. It’s more fucked up and mangled sounding, but clearer at the same time. It’s definatley more demented than the last one.

N: Yeah, I would say.

More demented! That sounds great! Yay!

R: We are not going soft.

Do you have any irrational fears? Is there anything that freaks you out?

M: DO WE.

R: This is a question for Ruth and Maria.

M: Girl… Ruth and I are the neuroses twins. We found out on this tour that we both hate space. Space makes both of us incredibly nervous.

Outer space?

M: Yep. Thinking about it… At all, pretty much.

I mean, it’s pretty fucking scary.

R: I hate sitting around a fire and talking to people if I do not know them really well, I think it is horrorfying, An intimate group conversation with people that I don’t know really well is hellish. I was looking at some skyscrapers yesterday on the train yesterday and while I was talking to my friend all I could think about was falling out of the window of a skyscraper. That’s really scary. Total irrational. I feel like when I look at anything I have a flash in my head about how I were to violently die if I were to get too close to it. That is pretty irrational.

Catastrophic thoughts.

R: Catastrophic thoughts, pretty compulsively.

I identify. How about a NOLA specific question. What is the most insane carnival experience that you have ever had?

A: I have to rack my brain, I don’t know but I love that question. As a group or individually?

Can be either.

A: The group one is Hanks.

R: If you have been to New Orleans you’re probably familiar with Hanks, the 24 hour fried chicken and liquor store. On Mardi Gras our friends in ULTRALITE set up a generator show in the parking lot of Hanks. We played with Alli in the back of a truck. We played the fucking parking lot and it went off without a hitch until someone set something on fire and we had to scatter.

M: One of NOLA’s best art punk bands.

N: You know what is crazy though… Someone had made this homemade float and they pushed it into the neutral ground, lit it on fire. It was blazing. A cop car goes down St. Claude, drives past it and keeps going. And these people that were at the Hanks show that don’t live in New Orleans were like ‘Oh my god, there is a fire, this is fucked, we’ve got to get out of here’ and cut the music and everyone split… But it probably could have kept happening.

R: And I feel like people keep setting that float on fire on Mardi Gras. I feel like it happened last year too?

The same poor float?

R: yeah.

A: I did a generator show at Rally burger. Went off without a hitch. Maria’s other band Malflora and my band Lassie played… Who else played. What is that Flipper worship band that I don’t like?

Alright, Alli, you make movies. If you had an unlimited budget, what would your dream Special Interest music video be?

A: We have been talking about cars and explosions. Stunt cars. An action movie. Car off a cliff.

I am starting a new interview tradition where I end each interview asking a snack or candy related question. Wanted to ask about your favorite New Orleans delicacy. You guys are known for good food.

A: Triangle Deli ribs and macaroni. It’s a gas station. It’s at least the best macaroni.

M: Dong Phuong King cake, MOTHER FUCKER.

R: Mine is not good or something that I neccescarily like but I am very fond of it… The New Orleans Elmer Chee-wees which are bland sterofoam like Cheetos. But I just think they are so good. In the grand scheme of snacks they are kinda nasty, but I have a real soft spot.  I like things that have a sterofoam texture for some reason.

Do you like circus peanuts then? I was just telling someone who had never had them about how they are the worst.

R:  Yeah, those are good. I like Munchos, those weird rehydrated or powdered chip chips.

N: New Orleans has a big Vietnamese community. Nowhere near as big as Houston, but there is this one place Tan Dinh and it’s Vietnamese soul food, it is so rich. They have wings with fish sauce on them. It’s so good.

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