Interview: PALE LIPS – Kids Just Wanna Rock

Spewing out of Montreal with “Some Sort of Rock n’ Roll” is the drippy, mascara-slopped quartet, Pale Lips, whose sophomore album ‘After Dark‘ rattles hearts and brains alike via speakers and stages worldwide. After just completing their first tour of the US, I catch up with the gang to talk about cool guitars, how not-cool effects pedals are and parallel-universe names for the band!

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CK: So take us back to the origin of the group and put us into your mindset, where did the name Pale Lips originate? Is it someone’s nick-name or an overall group trait?

Jamie: We had been jamming for a few weeks and decided it was time for a band name. We wrote a list of would-be band names down, some of which included: Jackie and the Jugs, Damn Boots, Cheap Perfume and Pale Lips. Pale Lips was drummer girl Lynn’s brainchild… and it captured us the most. Some people ask if the name is a double entendre… it is not!

CK: What brought you folks together, how did you meet and what made you decide to start the band? Was it as simple as answering an ad or are you some type of rock n’ roll cult from a distant galaxy? In which case, that would probably also entail answering some type of ad, what’s the scoop?

Jamie: Well! Lynn had the idea of starting an all-female punk band. She had her eye on Ilona as a possible guitar player (after seeing her in Dagger Eyes) and had been asking her for a while to start something. Lynn and Jamie met serendipitously in a van on the way to an after-party (by way mutual friend and now Jackie’s now husband Chance). In the wee hours of the morning, they talked about the prospective band and exchanged numbers. A few weeks later, Jamie, Lynn, and Ilona met for breakfast and started jamming covers shortly after. The original candidate for lead singer didn’t pan out. After furiously flipping through their Rolodexes, they landed on mutual friend and karaoke queen, Jackie Blenkarn. The rest, as they say, is history.

Photos by Brooke Dee (Satan Is Boring)

CK: As far as music or art that inspires you, what were some of the influences that made a massive impact on all of you personally and/or band-wise? Could be in a positive or negative way.

Ilona: I’m inspired by the blues and American folklore, sleaze, nature, dive bars, and unsung yet charismatic individuals. Some positive influences would be junkshop glam, 60’s garage, Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and the Cramps. And my negative influences that I can’t stand include but are not limited to punishing, wanky “rock” and pretentious, self-indulgent drivel.

Jackie: where do I start? The first time I ever saw Otto Dix’s art (paintings) I felt super inspired. That type of art is my ideal aesthetic – both grotesque and beautiful. Those are the things in music that I also love. Iggy Pop springs to mind as a performer and front person that inspires me. When Hozac reissued that Mary Monday 45 I thought I had died and gone to sonic heaven. I have a big thing about authenticity – I won’t love something if it’s lacking that feeling, or lacking heart or passion. I want it to be a bit messy. I’m a big fan of freaks paving the way. But I’m also a huge fan of ‘60s pop so I would be lying if I said I didn’t also love a squeaky clean sound sometimes. Shout out to the Ronettes, Shangri-Las, Marvelettes and the Tammys.
I’m also a poetry geek so I just want to acknowledge my two faves, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Frank O’Hara, whose poetry continues to inspire me.

Lynn: I like everything from classic to death metal, but I must say it pretty much started with Madonna, being young I always loved her music and all her wardrobe and glamour make-up. I watched over and over (Desperately Seeking Susan), she is a true idol I respect smart and talented. I remember when the White Stripes came out the visual was very interesting and fresh and they did it well and as a duo, they always kept us wanting more. They started something new and fun while it lasted.

Jamie: I love a good schtick. I adore bands and artists that use patterns and uniforms. The Hives have always been a huge influence on me both musically and aesthetically. Also…I still remember the first time I saw the music video for ‘Don’t Lose Touch’ by Against Me… I lost my shit. The music was so hypnotizing and new. I also loved that the band dressed head to toe in black clothing. I love the 70s rhinestone cowboy thing, too. It gets me every time….. probably my Saskatchewan roots poking through.

One of my songs was the byproduct of a line from the book “Please Kill Me” that super inspired me (Some Sort of Rock’n’Roll) and is actually about Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Hanky Panky Franky was inspired by a real person too.

CK: For your most recent album ‘After Dark‘ what are some of the themes you delve into lyrically? Are the songs autobiographical or is it more storytelling? And how does it differ, if at all, from your debut album ‘Wanna Be Bad‘? 

Ilona: Out of the tunes I conceived of, most of them are personal storytelling. I try to write it in an amusing way people can relate to. This style doesn’t differ too much from the last record. I’m an open book, y’all!

Jamie: My songs tend to always have weird hidden meanings. Definitely more storytelling, inspired by real-life people/ events.

Jackie: One of my songs was the byproduct of a line from the book “Please Kill Me” that super inspired me (Some Sort of Rock’n’Roll) and is actually about Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Hanky Panky Franky was inspired by a real person too.

CK: One of your stand-out tracks is “I’m A Witch” so the question begs to be asked, are any of you a Witch? That would be pretty cool! Also, tell us about the track and what conjured it?

Lynn- I’ve been told I’m a witch a handful of times!

Ilona: This is simply a fun song. I’m actually annoyed by people claiming to be actual “witches”, able to cast spells and shit. Oh please. I mixed cartoonish pointy hat, black cat, Christian and voodoo imagery, with musical nods to pop culture and rock n roll (maybe you caught it!?) to make it funny and un-serious.

CK: Since you’ve been touring in support of your latest album it seems only fitting to ask what your favorite parts or touring are? What are some of your least favorite parts?

Lynn- I enjoy touring for its sights seeing and food is to die for in Europe. Meeting all kinds of people is what I enjoy the most, love sharing this moment while the night is young. Least favorite thing is to haul all the gear in, but at the same time, it’s my only time to do a mini work out. Every night is a mystery you just never know what is waiting for us, so I find this wonderful and not at the same time, but no matter what the outcome is, it’s always fun. We somehow get a big or small crowd dancing no matter what!

Jamie: I love touring. I really love experiencing regional hot dogs. You would be surprised how regional hot dogs can be.

CK: On ‘After Dark’, a subtle bit of added dimension comes in the form of the bitter-sweet shift in nuance that is “That Old Ghost Don’t Lie“. I was hoping you could walk us through what the song is about and how it came to be?

Jamie: That song is very close to me, and it came from a very dark place. I lost a close friend a few years ago and whenever I would walk by her old house or find myself walking home from a night on the town, I was sure that I would see her walking around. But your mind plays tricks on you, especially when you’re grieving. It really messed with me. Thankfully, a nice song came out of it.

CK: Your latest release is on the totally rad Spaghetty Town Records, I was wondering what some of your other favorite releases are from the label besides your own?

Jamie: First of all – Ted from the label is an incredibly supportive person. He has helped us out a lot. Criminal Kids, Faz Waltz and the Scanners are our favourites.

CK: The first single, ‘You’re A Doll‘, off your recent album is obviously one of the most infectious songs off the release and one of my personal favorites from this past year in general. I’m curious if it has inspired any wacky merch ideas like a line of Pale Lips action figures? Also, please share any other failed merch ideas you have!

Ilona: Great idea! Talking Pale Lips dollies will take over the world! Failed merch ideas, hmmm. So far we’ve managed to get rid of most of the crap with our name on it quick enough.

CK: Who is ‘Johnny‘? They sound pretty cool! In my professional opinion this can’t be the same person who all they “…Brought Back Was The Blues“?

Jamie: Johnny is a good friend of mine that took me under his rock n roll wing when I first moved to Montreal. He basically taught me how to play bass to play in a band with him called the Ravenous Panthers. He is SO COOL. He is an incredibly respectful, dreamy and talented person.

Ilona: Not the Blues guy!

“We usually record a group of songs at a time, so it’s usually the same. We are a lot more concentrated in the studio, we have a lot more fun playing live shows. It’s really hard to capture our live show in the studio… mostly because of the dance moves.”

CK: Is there any difference in approach when going into the studio to record an album versus a single or is it comparable? Does that method differ at all from your live energy or is that what your goal is to capture?

Lynn: recording is such a fun process whether it being an album or Ep, I give my best, and since we often start with the drums, I’m off the hook after so I get to chill and watch the magic happen, it’s really a fun place for me to be.

Jamie: we usually record a group of songs at a time, so it’s usually the same. We are a lot more concentrated in the studio, we have a lot more fun playing live shows. It’s really hard to capture our live show in the studio… mostly because of the dance moves.

CK: For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of experiencing it, what is the Montreal music scene like? Is it eclectic or do a few niches garner most of the attention? Would you consider it thriving or struggling compared to other cities you’ve played?

Ilona: I would consider it a thriving scene if I compare it to other nearby Canadian cities. There’s many niches that don’t often encounter each other, so I cannot say if one dominates. People are always moving in and out of this city, which keeps things fresh.

Jackie: Montreal is and has always been a thriving music scene. Musicians and artists are drawn here because our rent has been historically cheaper than other big cities, so it’s totally viable to make a living without sacrificing your passion. The scene is very eclectic, there’s a healthy crowd for everything. I’ve noticed a big move towards industrial and noise acts in the punk scene these days which isn’t really my cup of tea – I’ll wait around for guitars to make a comeback.

Jamie: I love the scene in Montreal. There is a lot of support for a lot of different types of music.

CK: If you managed to figure out how to travel through time by means of rock n’ roll or something and could give yourselves a message when you were first starting out as a band, what would it be? Also, would you try to explain to past you that it was future you or would you go for something more cryptic for the sake of streamlining as much as possible? Walk us through it!

Ilona: My message to me would be to trust Jamie on the whole applying-for-artist-grants thing. I would definitely have to make it very apparent that this is future Ilona speaking because I am kind of oblivious to a lot of things and would probably just pass it off as paranoia.

Jackie: I would probably just tell myself that it’s healthy to accept a compliment without scratching your head about it, and people aren’t just lying to you – a problem that I have in life in general. Also, I probably would actually travel back to preteen Jackie and tell her to pick up a guitar after she quit going to dance lessons.

CK: Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t tour or record without, or is it all pretty ubiquitous and you folks can pretty much make anything work? With that, are there any mantras as far as instruments, tone, playing or attitude that help make the band what it is?

Jamie: we don’t use pedals and we aren’t super fussy! But I do love my Fender Mustang bass.

Ilona: I’m proud to have recorded and toured with my beautiful 1962 Gibson Melody Maker. It’s incredibly special because my dad has the same make and model, but mine is 2 years older. I think of it as an aging lady, traveling the world with us and reliving her youth. She’s got some dents and scratches from my belt buckle, but I think it suits her. And to get back to your question; she sounds great and I wouldn’t use anything else to record or perform with.

Lynn: I’m not fussy at all, I will play on any drums that are there! But I do have many rituals I do before I go out to play. The first and most important is to eat my banana!

CK: Just guessing but I’m assuming ‘Don’t Take Your Switchblade to New York‘ has some compelling story behind it that you’d like to share? Or is it more of a generalized cautionary tale like “Stay away from Time Square, it’s a throbbing pile of tourists”?

Ilona: The first verse is literal. My ex-boyfriend obtained his switchblade from L.A., and a couple of weeks later as we packed to jet off to NYC for a weekend, I spotted him turning the knife over in his hands contemplatively. I blurted out the title of the new Pale Lips song and voilà!

CK: Your release ‘Got A Sweet Tooth‘ has us wondering, what do you have a sweet tooth for? Still the same choices as when this was put out or is there a new candy that’s boss?

Lynn: My ultimate sweet tooth treat for real is Maple Syrup. It’s not in the song, but it should have been! But i guess it wasn’t ”sweet” enough it didn’t make the cut.

Jackie: Haribo Happy Cola

Jamie: I am not into sweets much but hot damn do I love a nice slice of Key Lime pie.

CK: Honestly speaking, who is the “voice of reason” out of the group and who is the “wild card”?

Ilona: Jackie is the sober yin to everyone else’s raging yang. When one of us bugs out or is frustrated by something, Jackie usually has some wisdom to impart to soothe us and keep us from imploding.

Jamie: Jackie, always.

“…Amyl and the Sniffers was a really fun show. It felt good and with the packed venue, everyone was on fire. I was really stoked to open for this little firecracker!”

CK: Have there been any groups so far that you’ve got the chance to open for that you still can’t believe that you did? Have there been any that just didn’t live up to your expectations?

Lynn: There’s been so many great artists that it’s really hard to choose from Shannon and the Clams, Boss Hog, and Nobunny to name you a few. But Amyl and the Sniffers was a really fun show. It felt good and with the packed venue, everyone was on fire. I was really stoked to open for this little firecracker! Every show is just fun to play no matter what.

Ilona: Opening for Giuda here in Montreal was my favourite! We also played with The Fleshtones in Mannheim, Germany on our first Euro tour, which was exciting for me!

Jamie: Culture Abuse, Amyl and the Sniffers and Giuda were all highlights for me.

CK: All of your releases in one way or another have very striking and memorable artwork associated with them, I’m curious if there’s an overall aesthetic you’re going for or if it’s an artist by artist basis?

Ilona: Ken MacLaurin of Ottawa is the artist behind our two album covers, and he did the logo on our first 7-inch. We’ve been good friends since high school. I always knew he’d do great things in the rock n roll art world. I guess our overall aesthetic would be “Ken MacLaurin”. His style is so distinctive. Spencer Alexander, who did our second 7-inch art, is a graphic artist in New York City, and also happens to play bass in Wyldlife. His art is also distinctive and also classic looking.

CK: What do we have to look forward to from you folks in 2020? More touring and releases hopefully?

Ilona: We wanna make the most out of our costly P2 visas! Look out, America! We gotta start writing some more songs for the next album too.

Jamie: We are going to try to play in as many new places as we can. We are also going to write and record some more… another video maybe… let’s see. We’re gonna have fun doing it, whatever it is.


Feature Photo by Lynn Poulin

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Chris Kenneally

I'm a trashy rock n' roll guitarist and hack writer for over a decade now in Boston, MA. Along with playing in the garage-punk band The Gala and helping produce a punk / burlesque variety show called Heavy Leather Topless Dance Party, I write reviews and interview delinquent bands I open for, have been a long time fan of, or are just discovering now. I don't write negative critiques and I stick to only the garage-punk universe, this way it's less about me and more about providing a Mad Magazine esq. tumble through what the album is. Interviews are equal parts informative and absurd, my goal is that it feels like I'm shuffling through crumpled pieces of paper while I take bong rips. I'm also obsessed with Doo Wop, 60's girl groups, Motown, R&B, Hip-Hop, Metal and Vaporwave.

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