Mia Frightwig Makes Art-Damaged-Rock

INTERVIEWS

What is happening in San Francisco right now might be a snapshot of what is happening in America. The tech money that has come in here, and the way that San Francisco is handling it, is screwing a lot of poor people really hard and in a really bad way. It is ruining people’s lives. We are losing a really important part of San Francisco culture. I feel outnumbered as someone who came up here when I was 16, and as a working class person. I can’t afford to shop at these shops, or eat at these restaurants. If I didn’t have rent control, God forbid I should lose it, I couldn’t afford to stay here. None of my life would be possible… All I can do is write a song about it.

BRASHcore: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Mia Frightwig: Delicious. Nutritious. Tenacious.

BRASHcore: Have any of your concerts ever caused a riot?
Mia Frightwig: Yes! We used to have so much violence during Frightwig shows. It still happens sometimes… A lot of fistfights break out. One time, feet away from me, I saw this boy get stabbed in the throat during one of my songs. This was at the Mabuhay Gardens [in San Francisco, CA]. Over the years there has been a lot of violence at Frightwig shows. I don’t know why… it’s weird.

BRASHcore: Did the police get involved? Did it happen in a mosh pit?
Mia Frightwig: When the boy got stabbed it was a really long time ago. At the Mabuhay it was cross-cultural and a lot of different genres played. This was the early, early 1980’s and there were no proper mosh pits; people would pogo. What happened was there was a skinhead, aryan type, who bumped into a biker. The biker took offense and just buried a knife into his throat. It was so horrible. This was right in the middle of a song I was singing! The ambulance came… There was a lifetime between when it happened and the ambulance. Everything stopped. I didn’t know if I should stop singing… Ahhh! But, I stopped singing.

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BRASHcore: When did skinheads come around?
Mia Frightwig: This was before hardcore. In the very, very early 1980’s…We didn’t have nazi skinheads (that I knew of) in the scene. The violent-nazi-skinhead thing was an English thing. Of course, it would come up as a small faction here many years later. I think the whole skinhead thing was a fashion statement. In the early 1980’s I didn’t feel like there was a horrible nazi problem!

BRASHcore: Where did you grow up?
Mia Frightwig: I moved to San Francisco in 1980 when I was 16. I came by myself after I got kicked out of my dad’s house. I just kinda ended up here. I got a job and an apartment. I got a job at this movie theatre that basically had every cool musician and artist working for them. Immediately, I met a ton of really creative people when. It was cool!

BRASHcore: Were you in California before this?
Mia Frightwig: I was! I was born in New Jersey, and then when I was six my family moved to California.

BRASHcore: How did you find a roommate when you first got to California?
Mia Frightwig: You know, it’s hard to remember exactly how it happened… My mom lived up here, and my mom was really on drugs! I crashed with her for a couple of weeks. I slept on her floor, but she had a crazy house. This gave me a foothold, and then I got that job. I met a girl at the job, and we got a studio apartment in the Tenderloin together. Then I got a flat in the Mission that I wish I still had because it was super cheap and good. That place turned into a really crazy punk rock house. A lot of people who are now dead used to live there.

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BRASHcore: What do you think of the Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods now?
Mia Frightwig: Um… The Tenderloin still seems pretty similar to when I had a studio for many, many years (on Turk Street). The Mission is unrecognizable; it is so different and to get there it has displaced a lot of native people who had lived there a long time. It’s ridiculously expensive, and full tack shops! Shops that are really expensive and precious. There are a zillion of them! This is ridiculous to me and people in my income bracket. I feel like people in my income bracket are being excluded from the city.

BRASHcore: Were you in any other bands before Frightwig?
Mia Frightwig: I was in one all-female band called GOD, which stood for Girls-On-Drugs or Girls-Overdrawn. It was mayhem and crazy! I didn’t really know how to play an instrument so I kinda sang. I only did two or three shows, but we always practiced.

BRASHcore: Did you guys release anything?
Mia Frightwig: I don’t think so… I’ve seen things kinda pop up on the internet, like maybe practice tapes. I have seen flyers. Now, two people from that band are dead. I am still really, really good friends with one person from that band. I have been in five other bands with her. GOD was cool, it was self-expression. [Laughs].Mia-Deanna-Cecilia1

BRASHcore: How did you meet the other members of Frightwig?
Mia Frightwig: I met Deanna because we both worked at that movie theatre. She was singing in this band called the Ghouls. She had been in another band called Disoxyn. I thought she was the coolest chick ever, and we became best friends.

We got laid off and we got onto unemployment. This was the blossoming of Frightwig. During the winter of our unemployment I was living in a warehouse in the Mission.  Someone owed me money, and they gave me a guitar instead of the money. We just started making a lot of noise. She said, “Well… the bass has less strings, I’ll play bass and you play guitar. It’ll be easier!” This is not true because it’s not easier at all. This was beginning of it. It was almost like an art grant or something because we had free money. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was money from unemployment. It meant we could work on our band and not have to scramble all the time to get money.

BRASHcore: Was this your first time getting into playing instruments?
Mia Frightwig: Deanna took violin when she was in school… One of my mom’s hippie friends, when I was seven, tried to teach me classical guitar. They tried to teach me right-handed, and I can’t play right-handed… I can’t do anything right-handed! Now, my son plays it. I tried to play guitar before. I also played the flute when I was in school.

BRASHcore: How long was Frightwig around before they released “Cat Farm Faboo?”
Mia Frightwig: Not too long, if my memory serves correct. I really don’t have good memories from that time because I was going bonkers; but, I think we started Frightwig in the winter of ‘82/’83 and “Cat Farm Faboo” came out in 1984. This all happened super fast. It was really nice of Subterranean Records and Steve Tupper to believe in us and say, “Yeah, let’s do a record” because we were crazy! We couldn’t play really well. At this time, though, we had a really solid drummer (Cecilia Kuhn). Frightwig went through a lot of different lineups. We had two bassists for a long time, and different drummers and stuff. The album lineup was a very solid lineup. We recorded in 72 hours and got in the car and drove to New York to play. We didn’t mix the album or anything!

frightwig-gay-farm-faboo-vinyl-lp_1BRASHcore: What is a “Faboo?”
Mia Frightwig: A faboo? [Laughs]. It’s kinda like an abbreviation for “fabulous.” We went to New York and we were living in this basement of a big building on 3rd Street (on the Hell’s Angels block). There were cats everywhere and the cats kept having kittens. We played at all the good clubs, and it was a very good summer for Frightwig… We would get super dressed up and only went out once the sun went down. It was all just cat farm faboo! We were fabulous, and lived in this place with all the cats and would always dress up. It was the time!

BRASHcore: Were you happy the way it was mixed?
Mia Frightwig: Totally! Yeah, it was great! We really trusted the people who did it and they had a great sensibility. The timing was like, “You have to record!” and we were like, “We have to go to New York!”

BRASHcore: Did you guys release a single before the album?
Mia Frightwig: No… nothing… nothing. We had some tapes.

BRASHcore: Do you know how many copies they pressed?
Mia Frightwig: I don’t know… I have no idea, and, in fact, I have no idea about any of that stuff. I don’t even think we signed anything. You should ask Steve, he’s a nice guy… if you are curious. Needless to say, no money ever exchanged hands.

BRASHcore: No advance or anything?
Mia Frightwig: Nothing. That seems to be the story of my life! [Laughs].unnamed

BRASHcore: How about with the second record?
Mia Frightwig: The second record I wasn’t on because I had a daughter. She is 29 now. I was in Hawaii having a baby at that time. When I heard the second album I wept because it was so good. The production and songs were so good. Deanna knows about all this stuff.

BRASHcore: Who produced “Cat Farm Faboo,” and where was it recorded?
Mia Frightwig: It was recorded at Hyde Street studios in the Tenderloin. Cat Farm Faboo was produced by Garry Creiman, Stephen DeMartis, and Phillip Fingerton (Phillip Lithman from Snakefinger). Steve was the first guy who taught me guitar chords. He is an incredible guitar player. I have to look up the credits…Garry Creiman who worked at Hyde Street (and may still work there) was a really good friend of ours, he engineered it. He got a discount at the studio… I think he got co-producing credits. I think Philip Lithman from Snakefinger produced it too. As I said, we were gone… But I think they all produced it together. We recorded it like bam-bam-bam!

BRASHcore: Was there any song that required more than one take?
Mia Frightwig: You know, it was a long time ago… I just remember that it was my first time in a proper studio, and the Hyde Street Studio is a nice studio. It remains a really nice studio. It was all two-inch tape in those days. It was like “Oh ho ho!” Those tapes were expensive. I don’t remember doing multiple takes. I don’t even remember doing any overdubs on guitar. I just remember playing the guitar through the songs. Maybe we did a couple takes on one song, but you have to remember, at this time there wasn’t anything close to ProTools. We had some guest stars come in… Dan Newsome came in and played honky-tonk piano. We had some friends come in and sing background for us. It was fun! It was nice…  d-mia-Sharon-Edwards-website

BRASHcore: Was there something you and the other members of Frightwig initially bonded over?
Mia Frightwig: I think we all really had an overwhelming need to express ourselves through sound. I think none of us gave a shit how other people perceived us. We remain unafraid. We have never asked permission, at all. We bonded by all feeling this urge to go, “AHHHHHHHHH!” We all had our own personal axes to grind. We all came from really fucked up childhood. We all had trauma. Deanna said the other day, “If things were smooth for us when we were growing up, if we all came from these nurturing childhoods, we wouldn’t have treated ourselves the way we treated ourselves.” I think that is pretty true! Frightwig was an exorcism of sorts.

BRASHcore: How did you guys decide who would sing what song in Frightwig?
Mia Frightwig: You know, we have a weird synchronicity and chemistry. We don’t really discuss stuff, we just do it. I don’t think it was ever discussed. It was always just like: here’s a song… One of us would start playing a riff, and whoever would hear it would start singing. Everything came together all organically. This was very different from the way things tend to happen a lot now. Now people write albums across the world or country and you can record your part and send it off to the next person. It was the complete opposite of that. I was always the practice-nazi. I just wanted everyone to practice all the time, and I still do. I feel like that should be how you get it to happen, and that’s how it happen with Frightwig. We practiced five times a week, and all the time.

BRASHcore: Where did you practice?
Mia Frightwig: Our first studio, if I remember properly, was down on Turk Street and that place is still going. It’s on Turk and Taylor near Aunt Charlie’s. It’s underground, and the walls grew mold in the winter. This is the first one we paid rent on. The first club we ever played at was across the street. The club is long gone… it was called the Sound of Music. I also used to bartend there when I was underage. They opened up this place to the freaks; so, that is where we played our first show! It’s also where I first saw Flipper. So many mind-altering things happened there.

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BRASHcore: What was the longest you have ever toured?
Mia Frightwig: That’s a good question. We never really had the support to do a three-month tour, but I think we went out for… For two years in a row, way back in the day, we went out to New York in the Summer and then we would tour our way back. We would use New York as our stable basis and go out from there. We would do the same thing in San Francisco. When we would leave San Francisco we went out for six months, but I don’t ever think we would ever go out on the road for more than two months. Maybe a month…

BRASHcore: Did you ever go to Europe?
Mia Frightwig: Frightwig went to Europe, but I didn’t. It’s a very sad, sad, pathetic and bad story… [Mia corrects herself later in the interview].

BRASHcore: Do you want to tell it, or…?
Mia Frightwig: No, it’s just dumb. Don’t cave ladies, don’t cave!

It’s just that I got married, and my husband totally knew about the band and knew we had tours and stuff, but once I was married… I was like twenty and really young… I really wanted to have a good family because my family that I came from wasn’t good at all, so I was going to rectify that by having a really good family… He said, “If you go on tour it’s over.” I caved… I regret that! However, I had a really wonderful daughter because of that union. Having a kid really helped me change the way I was living. I think I probably could’ve/would’ve/should’ve, (had I not had a child in my life), gone off the rails because of the drugs. I got pregnant, and stopped doing drugs… That made it all good.

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BRASHcore: So if you were only 20 when you got married, how old were you when you joined Frightwig?
Mia Frightwig: Um… I think I was 17 years old.

BRASHcore: Are you the youngest member in Frightwig?
Mia Frightwig: Yes, I still am too! But I’m not young anymore. It’s hilarious because when I tell people that I am in a punk rock band, and that we have a show coming up, they are all like, “Punk rock??” Then I say, “Yes, I am the youngest member!” It makes their heads go whacky. I just turned 51.

BRASHcore: You are still young, and you are TEENAGE NEWS.
Mia Frightwig: I am still young, and I am young at heart for sure!

BRASHcore: After you got married, did you go back to the band?
Mia Frightwig: We traveled a bit, and I ended up in Hawaii where my daughter was born. In 1989 Deanna invited me to come back to play with Frightwig. I was in the middle of a miserable marriage. Miserable!! I got my head together and took a stand. I made the right choice and came back to San Francisco with my daughter.

BRASHcore: Had Frightwig been touring those seven years?
Mia Frightwig: They came out with that album, and they came out with an EP. I think the EP came out in the early 90’s. There was some chemistry issues, and it didn’t last. I started playing with the Mudwimin and we did albums and tours. In Hawaii I kept playing the whole time too… I think Frightwig came out with “Phone Sex” in the early ‘90’s. It’s an EP with Deanna and Rebecca who came in as a replacement on guitar. It also had Lynn Perko who is the drummer in Imperial Team and the Dicks. It was a weird a configuration of Frightwig. We started playing in the original lineup again in 2012; a long time…FrightiwgFolsom2014-1

BRASHcore: So it was just Deanna by herself?
Mia Frightwig: Deanna stopped playing for a while. She has a 21-year-old son, and stopped playing for a while. I don’t know for how long, but Frightwig stopped in 1990 or 1991… OH NO! No, no, no… More things happened… This is such a funny memory because the ‘90’s, I don’t know…

Frightwig did that EP, and then we got back together with Cecilia… It was Deanna, Cecilia, and I in the mid-90’s. Then something happened with Cecilia. She was already living out-of-town, and she couldn’t do it. So we recruited Bambi from the Mudwimin to come and drum with us. Then, the three of us went to Europe… That was in 1994/1995. That was the last time we played together until 2012.

I had been playing the whole time and this Punk Rock Reunion Thing asked us to play, and, of course, I wanted to. I had a couple of bands with Deanna’s husband during this time. Deanna had a couple of bands during this time. She had a band called Greywig. She was doing kinda-country western stuff. Everyone was busy as hell! 

None of us decided we were going to be career rock and roll musicians. I don’t think that was a choice for us anyway, because we are just so damn weird! BUT: I never stopped playing and I had albums over the years that show what I have done. Frightwig has blown all of our minds… It’s just so much fun and it sounds kinda good to me. It’s really cool. Back in the day, I used to drink to excess all the time. I have been clean and sober for 18 years now. Back in day there was just no telling how it was going to sound because there were so many factors. Now, everybody is not doing that. We can totally play, think, put things together and build. I think the vocals are better than they have ever been. We can finally all sing.

BRASHcore: Who did Frightwig tour with?
Mia Frightwig: With Frightwig we toured with DOA. They were so good to us. We also toured with Snakefinger. We did a lot of touring with the Butthole Surfers. Those are the three main bands that stand out to me. We would play a lot of shows with G.B.H., and other English punk bands.GBH-Frightwig-Portland-Punk-Flyer-Concert-Poster In town we played a lot with Flipper because we were kinda lumped together. People would call us the “Female Flipper,” I don’t mind that because I love Flipper. Ted Falconi was an early inspiration on guitar. He is so expressive and doesn’t live in the box. What he does is so deeply satisfying. Who else did we tour with? 45 Grave…

BRASHcore: Besides Redd Kross who else has covered your songs?
Mia Frightwig: That is a good question, and I don’t know… That was a good thing that happened because it is a great song, and it got made into a candy bar commercial. I never saw it on TV because I think it only was shown in Europe and Asia.

BRASHcore: What did you do after Frightwig? Do you have a “day-job?”
Mia Frightwig: After Frightwig I worked a lot of different jobs for a long time. I kept playing music, and I kept performing in bands. Over the years, what I have a done? I have bartended, painted houses, assembled hardwood floors, and I went back to University… –I got two degrees in Product and Industrial Design which I never worked in, but it was good and I went on an exchange program to England and met my husband. He was studying the same thing, and we both just do music now. It was kinda this magical thing that we found each other.– Also, I taught horseback riding for several years. I have been a professional street musician for 5 years. I play for a living! Finally…

BRASHcore: What is your favorite farmer’s market to play at?
Mia Frightwig: Gosh, my favorite? I love my local, Castro one. It’s great because it’s my neighborhood one… I love them all for different reasons, and I play all over the place. It’s great because it’s like, “I get to go on tour today!” I go and set up, and I play. I lose it every time I play… I get to sleep in my bed at night. It’s the one job, musically… I have toured Europe and America a bunch of times and you come back, if you are lucky, with a month’s rent. At the level my bands would do it. When we could go to Europe, maybe two months rent. It’s worse now… Live money… there is a lot of pay-to-play. It’s not a great situation for the touring musician. I am so very grateful that I can play music, get paid for it, afford to pay my bills, afford to support my kid, and afford to live! Knowing this makes me better at what I do. I should have been doing this all along.

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BRASHcore: Where else have you lived besides Hawaii and San Francisco?
Mia Frightwig: Well, I lived in New York and in the West Indies on an island called Antigua. I went to England for a couple of years. I have been back here since 2001. At this point, I got rent control…

BRASHcore: Are you looking for a roommate?
Mia Frightwig: If there was room…

BRASHcore: Can you talk about your relationship with Kurt Cobain?
Mia Frightwig: There wasn’t a relationship, but I knew Courtney. The only way I knew Kurt was because they were in town when they were first together and we all ran into each other. And she was all like, “MIA LOOK AT MY NEW BOYFRIEND!” This was all before Nirvana broke. We had played with Nirvana and they opened up for us, but I didn’t really have a relationship with him at all. I had just met him. It was really nice of him to be a fan, and where our t-shirt on Nirvana’s “Unplugged” album.

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BRASHcore: Do you think Courtney killed him? (You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but I don’t think she’ll read this)…
Mia Frightwig: Um… I really couldn’t venture a guess. I think that he may have had a happier life had he married someone else… I don’t…

BRASHcore: Did you ever meet El Duce?
Mia Frightwig: [Laughs]… Yeah, oohhhh my God! He was such a pig. I think he was probably a decent person deep down inside but his schtick was just being a fucking pig. We played with them in LA, at the Cafe De Grand (I think). It was Frightwig and the Mentors, and we were the TorMentors. We had just gone to Tijuana and had been on a mescal run for a week. We all wore wrestling mask, before everyone had wrestling masks. We just played Fleetwood Mac covers really badly all night… He wrestled with Deanna and he knocked her down! She was wearing huge shoes, but she fell… who knows. But yes, I knew El Duce and he was a pig.

BRASHcore: How pissed do you get when people ask you a dumb question like, “How did it feel being in an all-girl band in the male dominated rock industry…?”
Mia Frightwig: [Laughs]. It’s just a non-question! I don’t get pissed anymore because it’s been asked so many times… It’s a lazy question!

BRASHcore: Do women ever ask you it?
Mia Frightwig: I think only men… There haven’t been that many females interviewers, actually. I never thought of it that way. We never felt like women playing rock ‘n roll was anything special, or that it was a gender specific thing. But, sure, we did get more attention because we had pussies!

BRASHcore: Were you ever scouted by Kim Fowley?
Mia Frightwig: We were! I think… Deanna will know more about this. I remember being in LA and having it be the important show because she had been talking to him. I don’t know, actually. I heard the same thing about my band the Mudwimin too at a certain point. I can’t imagine him wanting to touch the Mudwimin. Frightwig was definitely not his thing. Frightwig is an art band. We are not going to fit in a template. We don’t really give a shit about conforming.Mia-Roddy-Deanna-website

BRASHcore: Do you mind being called PUNK?
Mia Frightwig: In this world we live in the reality is that everything needs a label… That seems to be the label that fits. Now, in a way, it’s kinda cool because it’s expanded to umbrella that attitude rather than the fashion style, and I appreciate that.

BRASHcore: Were you considered punk back in the day?
Mia Frightwig: I don’t really know. I always thought it was art-damaged-rock. We would also do really weird thing. Our songs were even less traditional back in the day, and we would freakout a lot in the songs. There didn’t seem to be so much tension about set times back in the day; everyone would just play until they were done. You couldn’t get us off the stage if we weren’t done. Now, it’s like “a thirty minute set, time it!” That is what we do, and we prepare accordingly. There isn’t much room for making stuff up, but I still make my stuff up.

BRASHcore: Can you talk about the song “Redistribution of Wealth,” and gentrification. Does gentrification always mean the erasure of culture?
Mia Frightwig: I don’t know if you can have gentrification without the eradication of the previous culture. I would like to think you can… It all comes down to money, the haves vs. the have-nots, and polarization in culture and society. I wrote the song about how ridiculous so many things are. Like the fact we don’t have healthcare for everybody. We can afford it, but we don’t have it. This all makes me think that culture itself is so unapologetically selfish… That’s the American way. There is no conscious for America now, this is so shameful for me. You know, I have lived in Europe and I have gotten free healthcare from the NHS, no questions asked. I have health issues that I need to go to the doctor for a couple of times a year. They are so good to me in England, and they aren’t even making more money. They aren’t more first world than we are. It all blew my mind… Even though I am so thankful that Obamacare went through, it hasn’t really trickled down to something my family can afford, unfortunately. My 29-year-old kid doesn’t have health care. I have minimal health care through this program in San Francisco that is ending soon. Anyway, I digress.

What is happening in San Francisco right now might be a snapshot of what is happening in America. The tech money that has come in here, and the way that San Francisco is handling it, is screwing a lot of poor people really hard and in a really bad way. It is ruining people’s lives. We are losing a really important part of San Francisco culture. I feel outnumbered as someone who came up here when I was 16, and as a working class person. I can’t afford to shop at these shops, or eat at these restaurants. If I didn’t have rent control, God forbid I should lose it, I couldn’t afford to stay here. None of my life would be possible… All I can do is write a song about it.

The people in power continue to make the rules and continue to keep themselves in power. This includes the health insurance companies and their ties to politicians and the whole way the system is structured in America. It’s all built to feed itself. I don’t know what is going to happen… Maybe there will be water wars in California if it doesn’t rain soon… That might be a great humanizing thing because if there is no water, money won’t matter.

BRASHcore: Do you think the American Dream is dead?
Mia Frightwig: I think you have to define American Dream. I think anyone can chase after anything they want if you have the drive for it. If the American Dream is that you can attain whatever you want to attain then I don’t think it’s dead. I believe the human spirit can go after stuff. If you can dream it, you can go after it. Whether you get it or not is anyone’s guess. It’s a crapshoot, and it always will be. I think anyone can go after what they want. That’s a personal thing. I don’t believe in politics in the grand scale because they are not my rules and they are not my laws. I believe in personal politics and how you live your life. For me coming up they sold us the American Dream as being able to own a house with a car in the garage and a chicken in the pot. That is the early Baby Boomer thing, I am on the end of the Baby Boomers, the last year. That is what they sold us… “prosperity in America.”

BRASHcore: Do you think you could move to San Francisco alone as a sixteen year old again?
Mia Frightwig: Anyone can do that, you have to hustle! I was very lucky… I didn’t OD, I had a ton of adventures but nothing that traumatized me indefinitely. I learned a lot, and I am so grateful that I did. It was a much freer age. My daughter had sex and drug ed like four times. They train everyone to be scared of experiences. That is probably better because if she was doing what I did I would’ve been freaking out. She was much safer than I was… Who’s to say? My son is turning ten in a couple of weeks and I don’t want him doing what I did… I think humans can do amazing things.

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Post by August BernadicouTEENAGE NEWS 2

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