Johnette Napolitano: "I Don't Believe in Putting Up Walls Around Creativity."
Amber Rogers Johnette Napolitano
Besides her time fronting Concrete Blonde and maintaining a solo career, Johnette Napolitano has carved out a successful niche for herself as an author and a visual artist. And in her free time, she also cares for rescue horses. Not too bad for someone best known for the '90s alternative pop hit, "Joey."
From her cabin in Joshua Tree, California and in anticipation of Friday's show at the Kessler, Napolitano talked with DC9 about her storytelling solo show, her brief time fronting a Talking Heads spinoff and how she just might be a renaissance woman.
This upcoming show in Dallas is a solo performance.
Yes, it's a great show. I am really looking forward to coming to Texas. I like the people I am traveling with so much. We're having nothing but fun. I am really happy for a change. I am playing solo and I am reading from my books and telling a few stories about some of the songs that people are familiar with. I do this because, over the years, people ask me, "Who is Joey?" and other things. Many of those are in the book. It's a cool little show.
Is it something you'd like to develop further?
My ultimate goal is to get it on film because I've had a lot of directors come out and want to shoot the shows. If I want to do that, I really want to go deep. I don't just want a camera up there rolling when I play. I want to have projections during the show, things that I have illustrated myself. I want to up the game and be a little more interesting than watching someone sing and play. I bore myself.
Do you prefer playing solo to playing in a band?
Right now, I do. I go back and forth. Solo, I can do what I want. I play an acoustic guitar. If I never have to play an electric guitar again in my life, it will be too soon. I've spent years screaming over electric guitars. That's nothing against my band. I had a brilliant band. But there's only one airspace for the vocal and that's it. It's very hard to get dynamics with electric instruments and drums.
Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum says that he has to play "Runaway Train" because that song provided so much financial stability for him. Do you feel the same way about playing "Joey"?
No, I don't and I will tell you why. I wrote the song and I love the song and I play it because people like it. Our producer on our [Concrete Blonde's] album, Bloodletting, he found out that we hadn't been paid royalties since the early '90s. We had a fit and hired a forensic accountant and this might be the sound of my ship coming in [laughs]. But as far as any financial stability, that record did not give me any.
Has playing music brought you that stability at all over the years?
I've made more obviously playing live and I do movie scores. I've done a lot of film work over the last ten years. That's what keeps it all going. It wasn't that record. I haven't seen anything from it. We'll see what happens, but you don't do it for money. The money should never enter into the conversation. If you do make money out of music, you are lucky. It's like you won the lottery. If you are just in your room with your guitar writing songs, making money is the last thing on your mind.
You were in the Heads with members of the Talking Heads, but that band was sued by David Byrne.
I can relate to how David felt about that project. Being in that band was like being in the middle of a war. It was just brutal. I got death threats. I had to have armed security. Fans of David Byrne were just not digging it. It was a drag. That band was mismanaged from the ground up. It was a brilliant record that nobody will probably hear.
What record is that?
We were working on two records at that time. We had finished one record and then did another called No Talking, Just Head. It had a lot of different singers on it. What they should have done was release the other album first because we could have established an identity without David Byrne. That one that wasn't released is genius. It was a brilliant record. It was a marketing mistake. I blame the management for that, but as far as being in the band and playing, how many people can say they've sung with the Talking Heads?
The fan reaction was odd considering Todd Rundgren replaced Ric Ocasek in the Cars and I don't believe he got death threats.
Well, you are talking about a whole generation who has never even seen the Cars. It just doesn't matter because Todd has his own legion of fans. How many people went to see the Cars and how many went to see Todd?
Can you talk about the work you do rescuing horses?
Oh my goodness, I was just out with my horse this morning. We had to put another horse down this Christmas, but she wouldn't have had a home if I hadn't taken her. She was in her '20s and she had a nice last two years of her life. I gave her a lot of treats. True, who is my main girl, she's a refugee as well because she is pure white with blue eyes... I even have a rescue goat.
You are also a visual artist. Do I hear right that you only work with reclaimed materials?
Yes, I do. It's fulfilling using remnants and reclaimed materials. It's a philosophy that a lot of people here do. I studied in Mexico with a very famous potter. We worked with clay because that's all there was. We had a river and clay. His lesson was whatever is around, you use it. That's what I was supposed to do for a living. The idea of being an artist was like heaven. I remember walking into a studio and having that great feeling. The next time I felt like that was when I was 21 and I got to work with Leon Russell. It was mind-blowing. I decided music was what I was going to do. I don't believe in putting up walls around creativity. You have to do what you're going to do.
Sounds like you are a real renaissance woman.
Either that or a jack of all trades and a master of none [laughs]. There's a lot of stuff that I'd really like to do. I might go back to school in a few years. I'm very driven. I hear music all of the time. Why would that be something that anyone would want to suppress? I know Keith Richards believes the same thing. There's craftsmanship and then there is divine inspiration.