After belting out bluesy Americana in Tina and the B-Sides throughout the ’90s, she more recently proved herself equally well-suited to perform Sinatra and Nina Simone standards. Throw in some Elvis covers, and you could say Schlieske is working her way through the American songbook.
Now in her 50s, Schlieske is opening a new, unexpected chapter in her career with the vicious new punk band Genital Panic. The band will celebrate their truly unique debut EP, Pussygrabber, with a show this Saturday at the Entry.
Schlieske talked to us recently about politics, punk rock, and action pants.
City Pages: I’ve been aware of yourself and the B-Side Movement since the ’90s. You’re sort of a known quantity. I have to imagine it is a little terrifying to do something like Genital Panic.
Tina Schlieske: It’s interesting that you say that, because I never really thought much past just writing the songs, and recording them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I guess in one way I welcome it. When you come full circle with your career, it’s that gilded cage that you get stuck in. On one hand you want to become well-known so that you can become financially secure enough so that you can do your art for nobody but yourself and the fans, but then become known as something. Then it is like, “Uh oh, I can’t lose this.”
Now I have to chase the fans, and make sure they are in love with what they fell in love with in the first place. I have always hated that. Ever since ’99, I have tried to break away from Tina and the B-Sides, never wanting to completely shit on it like it was the worst time because it wasn’t. I don’t want to be known for just that. I don’t know what the fans will think. Maybe some will be pissed and uncomfortable, and in a way I hope people are uncomfortable because we are living in fucking uncomfortable times.
On one of the songs, the president should get a writing credit because I basically took every word he said… It is unbelievable to me. At this point, at 51, I’ve got nothing to lose. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. If they [B-Sides fans] don’t get the message, if they hate it—I don’t mean to or want to say, “I don’t care,” but I just can’t afford to care about it because I also have to express myself as an artist.
CP: It’s funny that you mention giving the president writing credits, because I had the same thought while listening to the EP. When you say it out loud, though, you’re like, “Holy shit! This is the president.” It’s astounding.
TS: It really is. When I was writing this, half the time I was laughing because he wrote it for me. I couldn’t write a more punk rock, anti-president song myself. Other times, as a woman, some of the misogynistic things that he said I had to walk away from. It was so heavy, so sad, it really sucks. It was an interesting process.
CP: How did you discover Valie Export? Tell me about how she affected the process of Genital Panic.
TS: When I turned 50, and I was kicking off this project I was having dinner with these two amazing women—one who happens to be my girlfriend, and her sister. I remember being depressed, going through menopause, and I was in a career that when a woman is 19 she’s basically irrelevant. I felt lost. I love music, but this is a business that I don’t feel like I belong in, and they were both, “You’ve got to make yourself relevant. At every age you’re relevant to the people around you.”
OK, so that turned my paradigm a bit, and we went to New York and went to the Museum of Modern Art. There’s this picture of Valie Export with machine gun with a flower in it, and a pair of pants with the triangle cut out and her crotch hanging out. It’s called “Action Pants Causing Genital Panic.” It was a performance art that she had done at this porn theater. The men that were watching, she walked through the aisle with her crotchless pants, saying, “This is the real thing. On the screen is fake. This is what women are,” putting their faces in her crotch.
I thought, wow, that is so cool in that she was talking about the male gaze, and this is right before the hashtag Me Too, so you could kind of as a woman feel the misogynistic things bubbling up here and there. I was like, oh my god, a punk rock band—Genital Panic. I wrote the song “Action Pants” about the male gaze, and then the president, and the bus tapes, and the album wrote itself. Valie Export was the tipping point. That piece really gave me a vision of where I wanted to put all this frustration.
CP: What did it mean to you to discover this art in your life now rather than, say, in your 20s?
TS: You know, I think it would have been lost on me in my 20s. I would’ve gone, “That’s a cool picture. My god, I can’t believe she did that.” At this age, though…. Sometimes it is difficult for me because I have been around men my whole life. I’ve been a tomboy, I’ve been in bands. 99 percent of the men in my life are decent, amazing men. There’s the occasional engineer, or sound dude, bouncer, or drunk frat boy who would yell something. I might’ve yelled something back, and moved on in my 20s.
Aging in a business where I am not a Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez, I’m just a rock and roll singer, and when you’re that in an aging woman it’s not as cool if you’re not Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. I know I am naming these incredible artists, but men can age better in this business, and facing that I think that is why that piece spoke to me. I understood the gravitas of what she did.
CP: Beyond the lyrical content of Genital Panic, it is raw, brutal, and primal music miles from folky Americana.
TS: Again, talking about when I was young, I loved Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, who isn’t really punk, but there is a rawness to a lot his earliest stuff. When I was first feeling music, those were the artists… early Adam and the Ants was huge for me. That sort of raw, simple guitar riffs that repeat and are loud, and [with Genital Panic] I was just revisiting my youth with Patrik Tanner who co-produced it with me. I wanted each song to be more or less two minutes long, and I would come into the studio with the riffs, and Patrik would be on drums, and we would just play in the same room, and would do the songs maybe three times, and take the rawest, best version. We purposely kept it untouched, and unfiltered. It felt really good to go back to that place, and not think of it too preciously… just record it.
CP: Who is the band?
TS: I got this band together from Austin [Texas] because when I got the opportunity to play South by Southwest, I needed a band, but I wanted an all-female band. The best way to do it is get a band from Austin, so I could fly in, rehearse, and the more I sent out tapes to these women I know out there they were super excited, and we gelled really well. I was really surprised, to be honest, and this is going to sound horrible, I have always loved working with men because it seemed less complicated. I thought that I could never do an all-female band. I cannot believe how much I completely enjoy being in a female band. It’s really cool.
CP: It’s Mishka Westell (bass), Sally Crewe (guitar), Rachel Fuhrer (drums), and Henna Chou (keyboards), right?
TS: Yes, that’s it.
CP: Will the cool flexi disc book packaging of Pussygrabber be available at the Entry show?
TS: Yes, that will be for sale, and I am hoping to get it into Electric Fetus, too.
CP: Do you have any plans for Genital Panic music beyond Pussygrabber?
TS: We just finished another song that came out of this project as well. It’s kind of interesting because we added some ’80s synthesizer stuff to it, so I don’t know. Right now, I am enjoying experimenting, not thinking about it, and just doing it. Who knows? There could be some more.
CP: Obviously, everything about Genital Panic is political, but who would you like to see run for president in 2020?
TS: Oh my god, that is so… You know, I know so many people, like a lot of my friends who say we need the counterpart to Trump, the white male who will appeal to the middle again, and blah blah blah. Part me thinks the Democrats need to double down, like what happened in Brooklyn [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in this summer’s NYC Democratic primary]. That was a total extreme. I just think we need to double down with who are. Maybe Elizabeth Warren is the answer, or Kamala Harris. She’s pretty amazing, too. Part of me just wants to go for it. Go for the most extreme liberal whatever, much like Trump represents the most extreme conservatives. It seems like that is the only thing that people respond to in this country.
CP: What about the November mid-terms? Blue wave?
TS: I really hope so. I’ve got a son who is 20, and a daughter who is 23, and I hear from their friends, “Who cares? Why should we vote?” They’re not excited about anything, and that will be the key. What do you mean? I’ve been voting since I was 18, and I don’t care what the outcome is. People fought for that right. Just vote!
CP: Henry Rollins said in February 2017, after the inauguration, “ It’s punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for .” Votes are great, but get out there and be a counterweight.
TS: That is awesome. Exactly. When I had written “Action Pants” and I was working in the studio with Patrik, we found ourselves bitching about Trump, bitching about the world, and we started asking, where are the fucking punk rock bands? Where are the young punk rock bands screaming their asses off? Then, I was like, I have a punk rock song! We’ll be the punk rock band.
With: Holly Hansen, American Housewife
Where : 7th St. Entry
When : 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8
Tickets: $12/$15; more info here