Suicide Wife: Alan Vega’s Missus Liz Lamere Chats Love, Art And Boxing

When Suicide Sally: A Celebration Of The Music Of Suicide And Alan Vega unfurls in real time on January 25 at The Bowery Electric in Manhattan, the sold-out live event promises to go beyond mere renditions of classic Suicide songs and those of the late Vega. This time, it will most likely be deeply personal. Led by Jesse Malin and Mr. Pharmacist (Gregg Foreman), the live celebration will include old friends and collaborators—Martin Rev of Suicide, Ric Ocasek, Ben Vaughn—as well as those who followed in Vega’s footsteps: JG Thirlwell (Foetus), Peter Zaremba (Fleshtones), Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club), Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello), Bob Bert (Sonic Youth) and Cynthia Sley (Bush Tetras).

Best of all, there will be family—Vega’s wife/collaborator Liz Lamere and their son Dante—hailing the one-time singer/songwriter for minimalist experimental/electronic duo Suicide and his series of latter-day, primal soundscape/rockabilly solo efforts. Renowned for his aggressive way with song (as a raw gut-shot howler and as an earthen apocalyptic lyricist), Vega passed in 2016 at age 78 with his legend intact—as an avatar not only of the proto-punk scene that birthed Talking Heads and Television but of the scorched-earth sound of noise and beauty, a terroristic, tremulous tone that continued to be his life’s work up through his last solo album IT, which came out last year. (Lamere contributed to all of Vega’s work since 1990’s Deuce Avenue.)

If Lou Reed was NYC’s saint of the streetwise, Vega was its soul.

MAGNET recently spoke with Lamere, a fascinating woman whose Twitter handle reads ”Artist Producer Manager Fixer – Music Art Boxing Life.”

I don’t know what’s more fascinating about your Twitter tagline—the art or the boxing bit.
Funny you should say that. Alan was a boxing fan from way back.

That does not surprise me. I am a fanatic as well—the whole mano-a-mano thing.
The early days of listening to boxing exclusively on the radio—he was so fond of that. And Alan put Mike Tyson into a sculpture of his before anyone really knew who Mike Tyson was. That theme has appeared and reappeared in his visual career as well as the music. He’s always talked about warriors and underdogs—that passion and drive. Boxing is not a game. It is a science, and you are literally putting yourself in a situation where you could be killed. Alan felt that was about being on the stage. He had tremendous respect for athletes on the whole and boxers in particular. They put their life on the line for their artistry.

So how do you figure into that?
Fighting teaches you tremendous life lessons. About 11 years ago, I started boxing to stay fit. I was coaching my son’s soccer team—I played varsity soccer in my youth—from the ages five to 15, and by the time they hit eight, they start getting stronger and faster. I liked to scrimmage with them because I’m not a sideline-type coach. So I just starting boxing to keep up for fitness. The traditional club I was in they, call it a white-collar boxing club because the men and women who were there—on Wall Street—were investment bankers. About five or six years in, one of the owners of the club knew that I managed Alan’s art and music and asked if I would do the same for some fighters. So I got my manager’s license and began managing a female fighter first because it is tough for the females. So much of it is pay-to-play—you have to really build up a track record and support and sell your own tickets, and someone picks you up.

Sounds like the music industry.
Yeah, where you have to build up your own support system and following until the big guys come in and put you on the bigger stage. Interestingly enough, I want to be in the Guinness Book Of World Records and make my boxing debut as the oldest professional to hit the ring for the first time. I’m 50-something, and the record is currently held by a man who was in prison for a crime he did not commit, and when he got out, Bernard Hopkins put him on the undercard. I’m moving toward that. I’m working on my defense, and I’m very aggressive. My son Dante—I spar with him. He wants me to know what’s it is to get hit in the face. I did the same with a lot of professional boxers—men—in the past, but I need to get hit in the head and get my defenses up. Too many men won’t hit me. Women—they will go at you. They’ll kill you. But with women, I go right at them, too, so they don’t want to spar with me.

This is the woman Alan Vega fell in love with. What were you doing circa 1987 when you met him?
I actually met him Oct. 23, 1985, at a record-release event thrown for him by Elektra Records for his Just A Million Dreams album. I was a second-year associate at a corporate law firm, and one of my colleagues was the sister of his guitar player at the time. We were actually going to pick him up at the Gramercy Park Hotel, as the party was at the Palladium. I didn’t know who Alan Vega was even though I did play drums in a band—did so since age 16, nothing serious—in Boston and knew the Dead Boys and the Neighborhoods. Even knew the Cars, though I thought they were pop. Suicide and Vega? Nothing. So anyway, we go to pick him up, and he whips open the car door, and the first thing I notice is that he’s got this crazy amount of energy. I mean, it was just radiating off this person. We get to the Palladium, and there are these three light sculptures on the wall. On the floor were effects pedals—a real mish mosh of electronic stuff, and he just took command of it all. I was impressed. He was impressed with me, too, as I was this lawyer by day, punk-rock chick at night. Weird because my colleague thought I would click with her brother. Alan kept leaving his circles of well-wishers that night and coming over to me especially, as he was leaving the next morning for a tour of Europe. After that night, I didn’t see him for six weeks. Oh, and here’s the weird thing.

Here’s the weird thing?
I’m into astrology—not heavily or obsessive but fascinated—and that very morning I read my horoscope that said that I would meet a lamb in wolf’s clothing. Honest to god, Alan that same night when I met him was wearing a belt buckle that read “WOLF” all over it. That was really intense. I still have it in my collection of Alan things. That was my initial meeting with Alan Vega. He came back from the tour—I couldn’t get him out of my head, that visceral reaction to his presence, and he to me—and as soon as he got back from that tour, I met him at the Gramercy Park and we just talked for hours. We were together from that on.

Was he keen to work with you as a drummer?
Not really, because he used to have a keyboard player in his band—Anne Deon—who was his girlfriend. A very passionate Italian woman who slowly kept edging her way to center stage. It became something of a rivalry between them. I don’t think he dug that, and that wasn’t what I was about, either. That would be the end of our relationship, so I kept it cool. At that point, he was very much about deconstructing his music. He would work with producers and come up with polished stuff such as Just A Million Dreams, but then he would do a song like “Ra Ra Baby”—he did that when the producer was on break—that was just sheer energy and noise. He really wanted to get back to that level of raw, that deconstruction. He had this thing—this theory—of “no note,” where you held down all the keys of a keyboard all at once. Black on black. You didn’t have to focus. He liked me as a drummer because I kept it simple, didn’t do any fills. Keep the beat: the purity of simplicity. Very minimal. Right out there. So vulnerable. Nothing on the front line or spotlight. That stuck out for Alan. Can we strip it down? The paradox of that is when you hear it, hear what he did, it was true rhythm and blues. When you get a gut feel of where that is going to or can go, that was intense. I do not know if we will ever hear again a vocalist who was as pure as Alan Vega. He always did the vocals last when he got to the studio. The music would be done. He would just go into the booth without any idea or knowledge and just wail. He would write sketches nightly, tons of notebooks, that he would use as a framework but then go into a studio and freestyle from there. Done in one performance. And the placement was always unique—where he placed his vocals within the context. I get really excited thinking of all this.

You should be. I’m married to a talented artist. I get it. How, then, did you get to be his collaborator, producer and drummer?
It really was just an evolution. So natural. No plan. No expectations. That was the beauty of working with Alan. Some of the roles I executed early on … I mean he had me working these machines by hand that I had never played before. Neither had he, really—he wasn’t this amazing musician. But he just knew sound. He was the director of sound. The tape was always rolling, and he always just knew immediately when you had hit upon something. Everything from 1987 through to 2016 was just us manipulating hours and hours of tape and until we got what Alan thought was totally unique. That was his mission: something that had never been heard before. Eventually I would say, “Hey, we’ve been doing these 40 tracks for years. Can we pick 11 of them that we can turn into songs and Alan can sing on them?” He loved that challenge. He wanted to keep going until it became uncomfortable. As soon as he got it, he had to push past it. He would do the same thing with sculpture: He would work on something that seemed finished, then smash it and start again from there and deconstruct that. “Alan, can’t we save that? Alan, can’t we hold on to that song as is?” No. He would tape over things and smash things because to him it was irrelevant as soon as he did it. That was his ethos. He always needed to move forward. He never went backward. When we did—when we went through his vaults—we would find stuff that just was so amazing and timeless. Alan’s music transcends time and space. Probably because he was searching for the unknown.

Is that how IT was created—culled from tracks—or was it more centered and specific?
Maybe I’m overstating. He would bring CDs back from the studio and center on a core group of sounds or songs. “This needs more bass.” “This needs a sound that could be a guitar or a lawnmower.” That is what became the cohesive whole. I would push to get him to which songs went forward from there, then got mixed, had vocals out on and such. What was hardest then was getting him to commit, and commit with lyrics and vocals. Because that was a statement. Yes, there are universal themes that happen to or with our collective consciousness, but he had trouble with the idea of putting something out into that consciousness. He was uncompromising in his vision, but he was vulnerable once it was out there. He was the heart and soul of his own music. I just kept it on track. Even when he had his stroke.

So he knew time was closing in?
I mean, he was going back and forth from sculpting and making music and doing songs that evolved into IT at a time when he could’ve dropped dead and knowing that his arteries were blocked. His doctors didn’t even want to unblock his carotid arteries because they thought it would cause another stroke. Even toward the end, he kept doing these portraits of faces that had lost any distinction—no faces. He was connecting with the spirit world. His last group of paintings had no faces; it was degeneration. And those paintings were connected to the songs of IT. They had the same names. He knew this was his final statement. And the message was inspirational: After going through generations of war and strife, you can’t let anything stop you. You have to get up and move forward.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Essential New Music: Converge’s “The Dusk In Us”

Hyping Boston-based hardcore heroes Converge to a readership with backgrounds steeped in indie rock (i.e., most of you reading MAGNET) poses a unique challenge. The extreme-music set already recognizes Converge as a legend, one that continues to explore, improve and challenge 27 years into the game. For many, however, the band probably sounds like a dude belt-sanding his vocal cords over a bunch of tuneless noise played at Formula One speeds. The Dusk In Us, while delivering the goods that will keep mosh pits spinning like whirling dervishes, also offers numerous moments with appeal for those not as well-versed or ordinarily interested in raw, sonic ferocity.

In addition to standard Converge fare like the thrashing “Eye Of The Quarrel” and “I Can Tell You About Pain,” “A Single Tear” features a swirling, post-punk riff revved up by Ben Koller’s expressive drumming. “Under Duress” is a mostly slo-mo Melvins-like churner, “Trigger” is the scariest take on spaghetti-Western twang you’ll ever hear and the title track recalls a pensive Nick Cave-meets-Deftones murder ballad. There are also oddball time signatures scattered throughout that jazz scientists and prog-rock nerds should find solace in.

The Dusk In Us explores many musical avenues to offer a broad spectrum of experience across sound and style. It’s still heavy as fuck, but it’s also textural, emotional, diverse and defiant as fuck, too.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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Happy Birthday Malcolm McLaren

Never mind the bollocks, here’s Malcolm McLaren’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday Angel Olsen

Happy birthday to Angel Olsen. Read Stone Jack Jones on Olsen in MAGNET here.

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Happy Birthday Jim Jarmusch

Happy birthday to Jim Jarmusch. Read our interview with him and Iggy Pop (Stooges) here.

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Happy Birthday Michael Hutchence (INXS)

Happy birthday to Michael Hutchence (INXS). Read why Hutchence was one of rock’s best frontmen here.

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MP3 At 3PM: Jared Saltiel

While you encounter the rather rampant blues that January has to offer, take some time today to let Jared Saltiel cure your sorrows. First coming onto the scene as the singer for rock quartet Dirty Birds, Brooklyn-based songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Saltiel has emerged as the creator of soothing folk music. Below, we’ve shared his latest single, “The Fountain” (off Out Of Clay, out February 2), which features a lovely combination of harps and harmonies sure to lift you off your feet. Stream and/or download “The Fountain” below.

“The Fountain” (download):

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Aretha Franklin’s “Lady Soul” Turns 50

People get ready. The classic Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin turns 50 today. Time to get groovin’, sweet sweet babies.

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A Conversation With The Posies

As the Posies celebrate three decades making music together, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow ponder the band’s Geffen years

Tommy Keene’s recent passing only serves to underscore the realization that power pop will always be a marginalized idiom of its own making. The Posies realized this early on and seriously set about debunking its very existence with 1993’s Frosting On The Beater, a darkly beautiful album that ranks among the ’90s finest moments—and certainly one of its most enduring.
 Starting in May, Omnivore will be reissuing Frosting, along with its DGC bookends: 1990’s Dear 23 and 1996’s Amazing Disgrace. Posies founders Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow assure us that each will deliver a payload of juicy outtakes and such. Vinyl versions of the original LPs are also part of the campaign. Meanwhile, Auer and Stringfellow are heading out as a duo starting this week, before reassembling the Frosting-era band for a fully fleshed-out celebration of the Posies’ flirtation with major-label infamy. These days, both are residing in Europe, where MAGNET caught up with them via transcontinental conference call.

What are the details surrounding the reissues?
Auer: May 5 for Dear 23, July 27 for Frosting On The Beater and October 26 for Amazing Disgrace—that’s the timeline from Omnivore.

What can fans expect?

Auer: There’s a tendency to repackage stuff that’s already been out there and just update it, remaster it and sell it to fans. We are doing some of that, but so much of it is culled from our archives. We went through our huge stash of an obsolete form known as the DAT tape, which yielded so much incredible stuff we didn’t even remember we’d done. It’s shocking, for instance, to see how many demoes there were for Dear 23. And for Frosting, there’s no way we could fit all the extra stuff and make is manageable.
Stringfellow: To be clear, we did put out a box set in 2000 with a whole bunch of unreleased stuff. But almost none of the bonus tracks on the new reisssues were on that box set. So there’s that much more unreleased material that we’ve been able to find.

How about the vinyl reissues?

Auer: We’re going back to the original master tapes, so it’s not like we have to live with some inferior source. We’re able to do a nice polish on these original masters, and that’s incredible. The technology has improved so much since then.

Stringfellow: The CD version of Dear 23 is one of the reasons why I’ve never gone back to that album much. It didn’t sound very good to me.

Yeah, you really have to turn that one up.
Stringfellow: And after listing to the original tapes, I have to say that it’s not the same record—it’s way better sounding. Sonically, it’s much clearer and more close at hand. Dear 23 always stuck out because it sounded a little mushy and washy. Frosting was meat-and-potatoes solid and hard hitting, and our other albums just don’t have the reverb thing that Dear 23 had. We were teenagers when we did that album, and we learned a few things in the three years of touring after that.
Auer: There was somewhat of an intimidation factor in making that first major-label album. We’d made this independent record (1988’s Failure) that had gotten all this attention that led to this record deal fairly quickly. And there we were making a record with one of our production heroes, Sir John Leckie, this older English gentleman who’d worked with Pink Floyd, XTC … some of our all-time favorite records. We spent six weeks working on 10 songs for Dear 23; we spent 90 hours total on Failure. To me, it sounds like we’re trying a too hard, like it’s a little stiff. That’s what I hear when I put it on. But I still think it’s a really great record.

On Frosting, the two things that stand out the most for me are the larger-than-life guitars and the insane drumming of Mike Musburger.
Auer: The ironic thing about the sound of the guitars is that it was stumbled upon through these small amps we were using—it’s in between distorted and clean. We were experimenting with open tunings and establishing something we felt was our own.
Stringfellow: And there’s a British way of making records, and there’s an American way of making records.
Auer: We were encouraged by our new producer. You couldn’t get more opposite of John Leckie than Don Fleming. He’s more of a rock guy with no formal training, and he wouldn’t let us get prissy about shit. The drums weren’t labored over; we all felt free to let it all hang out in the studio.

Any quick thoughts on Amazing Disgrace?
Stringfellow: “Dense” is a word that comes to mind. It has some wonderfully composed pop songs, but it didn’t come off that way somehow. It’s not as easy to approach, which is another reason to like it. It’s more demanding.
Auer: It’s our most rocking record—the one that has the most aggression. I’m amazed at how angry we sounded.

I saw you perform in Houston on the Amazing Disgrace tour. You looked a little angry that night.

Stringfellow: That U.S. tour was right on the heels of a European tour and went right into an Australian tour. It was never-ending, and the four personalities in the band were going in pretty different directions, really. There were two divorces going on, and we’d kind of hit a wall in terms of the exponential growth we’d experienced. We were just these dudes on tour, with some of us taking drugs at some point and getting into funks. We weren’t communicating very well, and that’s a disaster.

On a more positive note, I’m really looking forward to seeing Mike Musburger on drums for this tour. 

Auer: The first jam we had with Mike, we decided to do a few covers. “I.O.U.” by the Replacements was the first song we ever played together. After the guitar intro, there’s this single snare hit that occurs, and I remember shooting a look at Ken after Mike made that first hit.

Stringfellow: I was 19, Jon was 18, and Mike was maybe 20. None of us was old enough to drink, and Mike shouldn’t have sounded that pro. But he had his act together, for sure. It was pretty obvious that he was amazing.

—Hobart Rowland

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Essential New Music: Foo Fighters’ “Concrete And Gold”

Without bothering to apologize for any perceived punning, never mind Dave Grohl and Pat Smear’s hardcore, noise-punk pedigrees any longer. Don’t bother with Kurt Cobain or Darby Crash. Those days are gone. On this, the ninth studio album from Foo Fighters, the guitarists (and whisper-to-screamo-singing Grohl) go whole hog for arena-sized rock, shiny punk, buoyant Beatles jangle and rough-edged soul—to say nothing of big, sweaty emotions—without apology or worry about alternative genre-fication. Grohl and Co. are as mainstream as Imagine Dragons, alt-J and the National (yes, them, too), and without apology, finally. No band with such huge, ooey-gooey choruses such as the one that graces “Run” can dare adhere to any other religion than Orthodox Rock.

So now, with a little help from drummer Paul McCartney (“Sunday Rain,” with its quavering White Album vibe), background singer Justin Timberlake (the spaced-out “Make It Right”) and Adele producer Greg Kurstin, the Foo sextet has made its hardest, yet most curvaceous and warm-blooded record to date. Filled with glossy-flossy punk (“La Dee Da,” “Arrows”), ambient metal (“The Sky Is A Neighborhood”), circle-jerk guitar histrionics (“Dirty Water”) and enough unsubtle, wide-eyed and wooly refrigerator-poetry lyrics from Grohl to sour a chocolatey-sweet Whitman’s Sampler, this is the Foos after having stopped fighting and learning to love who they’ve become. Is that settling? Maybe. Yet Grohl cops to that very retreat when he gently sings the lines “I don’t wanna be king/I just wanna sing a love song/Pretend there’s nothing wrong/You can sing along with me” as if shilling for Coke and a smile.

—A.D. Amorosi

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