Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 30-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
What was the first song you wrote?
It’s a pretty basic angry punk-rock song called “Conform” that has never been released, but it’s strange how its validity has been circling back over the years, getting closer and reminding me of its purpose.
Which was what?
To illuminate the pressure of being directed away from who I was becoming. By 1986, I’d left my husband, quit my job and started responding to various economic and social philosophies—including feminism and anarchism. The lyrics itemized specific comments that intended to manipulate me towards a more conventional life. We recorded it for the first album, but there wasn’t room for it.
How is it getting closer to its original purpose?
Its purpose was to amplify and rail against the experience of being a young woman who wanted to express various emotions, sentiments and ideas—and by express I mean loudly in words, music and art. I wanted my experience of being actively thwarted to be known by other young women, because that’s when things start to change; when we know that we’re not the only one experiencing some injustice or another.
Where was the concept of conforming coming from at that time?
The husband I ended up leaving and from my family. There are subtle and not-so-subtle ways of directing and distancing. When the first album came out, my mother was happy that I hadn’t used the family name on it.
So she’s not a fan, eh?
I have never understood how anyone can write angry punk-rock songs with their mom and dad cheering them on.
What are the songs on the new Mecca Normal album about?
The new album is largely about power and power exchanges with most of the lyrics coming directly out of two recently completed novels. In “The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art,” a museum curator discovers her uncanny ability to cure narcissism. In “Obliterating History—a guitar-making mystery, domination and submission in a small town garage” a powerful woman with a sexually submissive side enters into a BDSM relationship to explore trust. By complying with her version of intimacy, the man is able to get what he needs to, which involves being respected and trusted.
“20 Years/No Escape” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991; Matador, 1991; Smarten Up!, 2003) (download):