An interview with punk pioneer Alice Bag

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Alice Bag is a punk pioneer, author, educator and feminist icon. Born Alicia Armendariz on November 7, 1958 in East L.A.,  Alice  was only 18 years old when she became the lead singer for one of L.A.’s most influential and iconic punk  bands, The Bags . As a Latina, Bag was a pioneer who used her music to traverse issues of gender, race, nationality and class. In a genre that was heavy on testosterone, The Bags showed that women could kick your ass with their music just as well as any man could. In fact,  Alice and the band  helped to change and shape the musical landscape in Los Angeles at the time. The Bags played with an aggression  and ferocity  that paved the way for the hardcore punk sound that emerged in the early 80’s. Their influence has been  heard in decades of music produced since then.

Alice has been in the music industry for nearly 40 years. Up until now, she has always been part of a band. But Bag finally released her first solo album in June of this year. This self titled debut may be different from the traditional “punk” sound, but it does not make it any less punk.Influenced by a lifetime of listening to and appreciating many different styles of music, this album has a sound that is uniquely Alice. The album is a culmination and representation of different musical influences as well as life experiences. It incorporates many different styles , but still manages to blend together seamlessly. Bag has never shied away from social and political issues and her refusal to succumb to the ideas of the masses is what makes this album punk. Punk is in the message and the messages on this album leave the listener with no doubt.  Alice takes on such topics as education, date rape, immigration and the dangers of corporate greed with ferocity, wit and intellect. Bag  has always been a badass, and this album proves that won’t be changing any time soon.

In addition to her groundbreaking role in the music industry, Alice is an educator, and author ( Her 2011 memoir, Violence Girl: From East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story and her 2015 book Pipe Bomb For The Soul)  an archivist for  women in punk rock and a strong believer in community, feminism, and activism. She continues to influence generations of young women. I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with her.

J. You were an originator of the punk scene in Los Angeles with your band, The Bags. What drew you to this type of music and how do you feel that punk has helped women find a voice in a male dominant industry?

Alice: In the mid-1970’s rock music had become complex and at times overproduced. I enjoyed the music of David Bowie, Queen, Elton John and many other glam rock groups, but it was difficult to imagine myself doing what they were doing. I didn’t have the experience or money to create something like that, and as a woman, I also didn’t have a lot of role models, either. Punk provided an egalitarian forum where lack of experience or funds didn’t seem important. It felt like creativity trumped skill. It was a new genre, wide open for shaping. I think we women saw an opportunity in that.

J. After the breakup of the band in 1981, you’ve been in many other bands, but until June, 2016 , you’ve never released a solo album before. What made you decide it was finally time?

Alice: My band was pretty much over in 1980; we hobbled around for a bit before dissolving. I made a decision to go back to school, grow up and give up my punk life. It’s funny, I really believed I could just discard me weirdness and lead a normal life, but that didn’t happen and I’ve been in bands pretty much my whole life. I think a big reason I didn’t think to release a solo album sooner, is that I was so used to working in the band format. It wasn’t until I started doing the Violence Girl  book tour that my perspective changed. I set up the readings, reserved cars, made sleeping arrangements, basically handled everything myself and it made me realize that I could work in a solo format and that I still have the support of my musician friends. That realization was the first step in me wanting to do a solo album.

J. To me, the message of true punk rock isn’t in just the sound, but more importantly, the message of challenging mainstream beliefs and fighting against what you feel is wrong. Your new album is, to me, very punk because of its messages. Would you categorize it as such, even though the sound is obviously influenced by other genres as well?

Alice: Yes, definitely. I think the attitude and message of the album is punk.I think punk is about challenging the status quo with creativity, humor and irreverence. There is a certain sound associated with punk rock, but that wasn’t always the case. Punk, in its infancy, covered a broad musical spectrum. Early L.A. punk had diverse styles. It’s something I’m really proud of, the fact that we had bands like The Go-Go’s, The Deadbeats, The Screamers, and none of them had what would later be known as “the punk sound.”

J. In your book, Violence Girl!, you speak about the early punk scene with brutal honesty and from a female perspective. Have you ever gotten any backlash from being so honest? Do you feel that the males in the industry at the time saw the scene as something very different>

Alice: Nope, no backlash at all. I don’t really think that any of what I said was controversial.I think most of the men who were involved in the early scene were secure in their own identities and comfortable treating women as equals. As for the mainstream music industry, I’ve never had any idea of what interests them or what they think.

J. As a punk girl from the time I was 12, I have so often been inspired by your words. I am so glad you’re documenting the voices of women in the scene. What is it about punk that you feel empowers women and why do you feel that is still so important today?

Alice: Thank you, I’m happy that my words have inspired you.

I think punk is liberating because it doesn’t really value experience, tradition or expertise as much as other art forms. Punk values ideas and originality and as such, the voices of the underrepresented are inherently the most exciting and original, because they haven’t been heard in the past. The stories of women are still not being heard on par with those of men and punk can still provide a valuable forum.

J.What do you think of what is going on in politics today and what do you think that we, as women, should be doing to empower ourselves and our daughters to make sure that women’s voices are always heard and always equal? Especially during a Presidential campaign that has had such blatant racism and sexism?

Alice: This Presidential election has been pretty painful. There’s so much sexism and racism out there, not just from the candidates but everywhere.We have to talk to our daughters about the advances and setbacks that women have had in their quest for equality. It’s important to remember that gains have to be guarded and defended. We can’t afford to take anything for granted.

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