by Adam Strohm
Azita Youssefi was a founding member of Chicago-based destruction unit Scissor Girls before their demise in the mid-1990's. After their break-up and a brief period of recharging and refocusing, Azita formed Bride of No-No with three undisclosed compatriots and continued (though with a distinctly different means) her creative assault on the Windy City. The group's debut cd, B.O.N.N. Apetit! on Atavistic Records (see review) came out in 2000, and would have surely been on my top-ten-of-2000 list, had I ever mustered the excitement to do so. Anyway, here's a look at the inside of the head of the woman known as Az.
Adam: Could you talk a little about the time between the demise of the Scissor Girls and Bride of No-No? How do you think your intellectual/artistic/emotional state at that time led from one band to another?
Azita: Sscissor girls was aborted when the other members, who had been redefining their indifference to it for some years, finally quit. in a bizarre coincidence, this happened the moment that both my enthusiasm and public interest regarding SGs were at their respective heights. i guess my intellectual/artistic/emotional state at that time led me to look for people who, like me, actually wanted to do a band. three years eventually passed while the line-up stabilized. in the down time i nosed around after some long-held curiosities in baroque piano, herpetoculture and interpersonal liaisons, to name a few.
Adam: For some reason, I had always thought you were the one who disbanded Scissor Girls, I don't know why... Anyway, what do you see as the major differences between Scissor Girls and Bride of No-No? Obviously, there are different people involved (and a different level of enthusiasm), and different music is made, but how do you feel that these two bands are different deep down?
Azita: Well, you more or less answered your own question. what i'd consider a "real" band (as opposed to singer/songwriter with backing) is only an extension of the people involved. And since the individuals aren't concrete things but rather processes in themselves, the band at any given time is just an instance of what they're pulling in and what they can do to manipulate it. actually, scissor girls was 3 or 4 different bands over 6 years. i don't think there's all that much similarity between the records. obviously, you're going to hear my influence in the vocals and bass but i always modify my approach pretty drastically depending on what else's going on. with b.o.n.n. we've been keeping better tabs on the processes is the quoteunquote "deep down" difference. i'd say it's just sturdier than SGs because we've really given those kinds of things careful attention.
Adam: Since you mentioned B.O.N.N. paying more attention to the processes that create the music, I'll ask about that process. What aims do you see in the band's creation of the end product? Is the dress of the band, for instance, a stand-alone statement about the rights of women in the middle east, or is it a part of a bigger desire on the group's part to make people aware of things that you think are wrong in the world?
Azita: I'm not clear on what you're asking in the first question. i was talking about b.o.n.n. paying careful attention to the band itself as a process. a process, true, that creates the music, but i think your question is something different...probably the term "end product" is what's throwing me off. maybe you could put it another way? regarding the costumes (i'm gonna disassociate those two questions from the "end product" idea...) and in general, the answer to both of them is no. i would say that nothing we do is what you could call a "statement", stand-alone or otherwise (as in "No No"!). certainly, i'd love for everyone in the world to become aware of what i think is wrong with it as i'm sure you would. but was i to act significantly on this desire, i probably wouldn't pick the "rock band" as an efficient format. i'd do what noam chomsky does, write books, lecture around the country...in its universities, not the nightclub circuit. i can't speak for any bigger desire on the group's part than mostly traditional bandlike activities such as putting songs together, playing shows, making records, investigating the basic materials: melody, harmony, noise, silence, rhythm, structure, chaos, etc... to this end, and paradoxically, the costumes have been partially pragmatic, nullifying some of the effects of showing up on stage as four women.
Adam: Now, having mentioned that B.O.N.N. is concerned, mostly, with traditional band-like things, I'll ask a traditional (and somewhat tired) question... How are B.O.N.N. songs and lyrics composed? They seem pretty intricate compared to "normal" rock, and I'm always interested in how interesting rock bands write...
Azita: The lyrics part of the question is easy: i write them as the music develops in b.o.n.n. practice using a variety of approaches, sometimes the sounds first and the words after, sometimes the other way around, mostly trying to hit on the right relationship to the form the song is beginning to take. usually there's holes in what i write at this stage that i leave open for some time even up until we record. in the intervening period i test out the proposed realities or "mindsets" at our live shows to see if they hold up. my criteria for judging would likely strike you as absurd so i'll stop there. as for how we create the overall structures of the song, i really don't have an answer. it's been different every time. there's the general aspect of trying to find the right way to manipulate one structure to arrive at a viable offshoot. and our criteria for judging what's viable would as likely strike you as absurd... so let's just call that "the b.o.n.n. factor," as in: "when the b.o.n.n. factor bell goes off, we know it's cooked."
Adam: I'll resist the temptation to pester you further about the "absurd" criteria, although an explanation might be interesting... Instead, I'd like to talk about live shows. To B.O.N.N., they seem to be as much a testing ground as a chance to peddle your product to the masses. What sort of things does the live peroformance offer that studio practice doesn't? Is crowd response important, or is a live show just a different way for the band to hear the songs you're working on?
Azita: A live show is the actualization of what the practice has only been a practice for. you should ask a broadway troupe the same question: what does the live show offer that studio practice doesn't? the answer is the same: pretty much everything. what does actually fucking someone offer us that sitting around imagining how it's gonna be doesn't? the show is what actually happens. who's present is a part of it, so is the room, so is the weather outside. the event provides the only possible insight into the actual nature of what's only been constructed artificially by the mind. and that only if you really pay attention, really challenge what's illusion. the idea of "peddling" our/one's product is bizarre. whose approach is actually like that? what would be the motivation? is peddling fun? i can't think of any performer i've met who i'd call a peddler. i guess the backstreet boys are probably like that...
Adam: In respect to "peddling a product" I mentioned is meant to mean something more like the bands whose live shows are the same, predictable setlist night after night, with no variation in songs, movements, or anything else... When I'm at these sorts of concerts, I always feel like the band's just going through the motions to play their album live because that's what bands are "supposed" to do... However, seeing as I'd never assume B.O.N.N. to be that sort of band, perhaps making mention of that approach wasn't needed...
Where does the B.O.N.N. cd fit into all of this? Though I don't want to assign "functions" to shows, practice, etc. I'm wondering how you see it... If the show is the place where it all really happens, what about the cd? Bands are always categorized as "good on cd/bad live" or "good live/bad on cd" by a lot of people, but should they be? Are shows, cds, etc. all inseperable parts of a musical entity, or do you see B.O.N.N. more as a band whose recorded output and live performances simple complement each other?
Azita: Well, the cd could be looked at as a product since it'll go home with you and fall in among your collection and become the band's representative there. since we're reasonably sure we won't be recording the same song for the next album down the road, it's important to get a take that grabs a great deal of what we can project as its potential for "all time to come". that's the sentiment going in, anyway. of course, we can suppose that's happened but in truth the song will always keep extending itself in subsequent performances while the take stays put. the two part company the following day and never meet up again. this would be the case even when there are no obvious variations (such as you've mentioned) and so, for good reason, daltrey's holler in "won't get fooled again" winds up as a kind of cartoon in the recent concerts. listeners are free to categorize the different instances as better or worse, rawer or slicker, sharper or flatter, whatever- and needless to say their responses are highly individualized (and quite often concern some masked intent)- but in order to tune in a particular band in terms of phenomenon, each instance of output can only be considered one aspect or accidental.
Adam: Anything else you'd like to add or discuss?
Azita: No, not really.
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