We spoke with singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and recording engineer Jenn Vix about her new six song EP, 6, and related videos, her work with guitarist John Ashton of The Psychedelic Furs, and an early ‘80s flip side from that band.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE:Thank you for keeping the sound of the early ‘80s alive in your new EP 6. Let’s start with a potential influence and a group where you have worked with one of their members, The Psychedelic Furs. The first time I heard the band was on a low cost double-album sampler from CBS records, called Exposed II in 1981, showcasing new acts on Columbia, Epic and their other labels. Earlier that year, on the first Exposed collection, I enjoyed Adam and The Ants. On Exposed II, The Psychedelic Furs stood out for me, especially their song “Pretty in Pink,” years before the movie.
Less than two years later, “Love My Way” was on the radio and was also included the Valley Girl soundtrack.
Its flip side, “I Don’t Want to Be Your Shadow,” not on their Forever Now album at the time, has a wonderful steady beat. Richard Butler’s vocals are instantly recognizable and John Ashton’s guitar instrumental break in the middle of the song truly matches the “psychedelic” part of their name.
JENN VIX: That is actually one of my favorite Psychedelic Furs tracks. When I was younger I used to go out to night clubs, under age, in New York City as I had a couple of friends who were DJs in the clubs. I remember dancing to that flip side frequently, because my DJ friends played it for me. I thought it was really brilliant. I also remember when “Love My Way” was on MTV and I thought that was very exciting. I was very young, hanging out in record shops and dancing in clubs.
The Psychedelic Furs
Flip side: I Don’t Want to Be Your Shadow
A side: Love My Way
Top 100 Debut: March 5, 1983
Peak position: No. 44
2008 CD reissue of Forever Now with “I Don’t Want to Be Your Shadow” added
GM:I think that was a very exciting time, which doesn’t get enough recognition.
JV: I agree, and I think that my favorite years for music, other than now, as there is a lot of great stuff coming out now, are 1979 through 1984.
GM:Yes, right around the corner from the disco era, were these wonderful sounds from The Psychedelic Furs and others, which carried forward a few more years to the mid-‘80s Pretty in Pink soundtrack. How did you meet The Psychedelic Furs’ John Ashton?
JV: I met him online. We have many mutual friends in the business who are musicians. We started talking and decided to do a collaboration. We sent files back and forth online and then we ended up playing a live set for WBRU FM in Providence, Rhode Island, and that was a lot of fun. I have another track with John Ashton coming out, late summer to early autumn, a cover of Folk Implosion’s “Natural One.”
GM:In the meantime, we can continue to enjoy “The Woman with No Fear.” Your voice, including the high notes at the end, and John’s guitar are a great match on this powerful rock number. I love when you sing, “I’m walking around, four in the morning,” and the imagery associated with that.
JV: Thank you. John wrote the lead guitar part. I had originally written the song about a woman who had a brain disorder where she could feel no fear. That resonated with me very strongly. There are days where I wish I had absolutely no fear at all and I also try to conquer my fears, so that song reflects my goal. I will get back to the new recording with John as soon as I finish a video I am working on for my song “Rover” from the 6 EP.
GM:That song certainly touches on fear with “the mind police” and the line “they’ll get to you and use others to do so.” That’s deep.
JV: Well, thank you. It is based on the 1967 British television series “The Prisoner,” starring the late Patrick McGoohan, who was a retired secret agent. They kidnapped him and took him to an island. He woke up there and didn’t know where he was. He was fighting for his individuality and his freedom. He was trying to escape the island and there was a lot of mind control which inspired me. He was a prisoner known only as Number Six.
GM:My favorite song on your new EP is “Ride.” It is catchy dance number. At lunch today, I was describing it to my wife Donna by comparing the electronics and car theme to Gary Numan’s “Cars,” from that musical era that you and I both enjoy. Your alien video, with you singing into the psychedelic microphone is fun.
JV: Well, first of all, thank you. Secondly, with that track I wanted to do a pop song because I had never really recorded one before. I think it is an alternative pop song, not your typical pop song. The inspiration behind the song is that I had a dream where I was an alien and I come to Earth to meet humans and I steal a car and drive them around and abduct them and go to my spaceship to take them back to my planet. It is one of those songs that you can listen to on a hot summer’s night with the windows down, as they say, but it is about alien abduction. It might be a relief being abducted by aliens, but we don’t want to be probed, just go for a ride.
“Ride” video photo, courtesy of jennvixband.com
GM:“In Your Sleep” is an eerie and moody way to start the 6 EP.
JV: That song is extremely personal about meeting someone on a blind date. It becomes an intense night and then you part from the person for the first time and the things that go through your mind and you are wondering if they are thinking about you and if they are having the same kind of feelings that you are having. There were many more dates after that. The song was definitely inspired by trip hop music that I like including Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky and stuff like that.
GM:There is this beat on “Show Me the Sun” that Dave Barbarossa provides, which takes me back to the beat of Adam and The Ants, who I just loved, although by the time I heard Adam and the Ants, Dave and the other original Ants were in the group Bow Wow Wow.
JV: Dave had originated that sound, based in African rhythms, in the Ants. I met Dave when I was thirteen years old. My grandfather was working at an arena and there was a Police concert. The Go-Go’s were supposed to open, but they canceled, so Bow Wow Wow opened, and that is how I met Dave. I ended up talking to Dave again through Marco Pirroni, who I have also collaborated with. Marco was the guitarist for Adam and The Ants. Dave and I got reconnected through Marco. Dave sent me a drum track and I wrote “Show Me the Sun” around his drum track. That song is deeply personal and is about how I almost died from a misdiagnosed illness and how I survived and wanted to see the sun again. When Dave sent me the track, he called it “In the Ground,” and that was really spooky. I made something positive out of it and in the end, I see the light again and I am happy again.
GM:Thank goodness. Then, you get “out of the building” in “The Mask of Charon.”
JV: Oh boy. It is about a nightmare I had. I have an ex-boyfriend who has a wife who really doesn’t like me very much. In this nightmare, I was in a diner in New York City. It was dingy and poorly lit. There were no people in there except for the waitstaff in the back of the diner and, all of a sudden, several people walk in wearing skull masks. They were carrying extremely large knives and told me that they were going to kill me. I had to get out of the building. I had to survive and get past them. I managed to fight them off. I got to the front of the building and the sun was just starting to come up and I turned around and I saw one of the people take off their mask and it was my ex-boyfriend’s wife. It was so spooky. There were broken old payphones. I tried to use a phone, but it wouldn’t work. I tried to call for help but help never comes. I had to survive it and get out of the building. I would like to do a video for this song, capturing the dream that I had. I think that would be a blast.
GM:That certainly sounds video worthy. We talked about Dave and Bow Wow Wow before. The first time I heard a composition from Dave on the radio was in October 1982 with Bow Wow Wow’s single “Baby, Oh No.” That same month I also heard, for the first time, Trio’s fun and easy electronic “Da Da Da.” When I listen to your finale, “Valentine,” I am reminded of that upbeat electronic sound.
JV: I love Trio. That was originally a track that had lyrics, but I thought it just sounded better without the vocals on it. It felt right to me. The original lyrics were based on a true story on the news. There was a couple who were having a roleplay experience in their vehicle. Oh, my goodness. The husband had tied his wife up naked in the back seat of the vehicle and they were driving around and were pulled over. The police officer held them at gunpoint because he thought the husband was kidnapping the woman. I just thought it was a bit much and I wasn’t sure and thought it might freak some people out. I felt a little weird about it. It didn’t jell with me, so I thought it would be better for me to make it an instrumental and that felt right and changed the entire vibe of the song. The vocals were removed, and I think it came out quite well.
GM:It sure did. In addition to keyboards, what else do you play on the 6 EP?
JV: I play electronic drums, I programmed electronic drums, I play synthesizers, lead guitar, a little bit of bass, I sang, produced, and recorded it. Paul LF plays bass on “Valentine” and Dave Barbarossa plays drums on “Show Me the Sun.”
GM:The Psychedelic Furs kick off a tour next month with Richard Butler and Tim Butler from the original lineup. How about you? When can our readers see you perform?
JV: When I play live, I don’t like being strapped behind an instrument. I can sit behind a drum kit or electronic drums. If I do play an instrument, it will be on an instrumental song. I like to get on stage and sing. I moved to New York recently, but I travel back and forth between Boston and New York. When I am in Boston I am with a band called Positive Negative Man, singing their music. It is a lot of fun. I am looking forward to playing some shows in autumn with my music. I tend to play out in autumn and winter. In parting I will say that I have been reading Goldmine since I was very, very young. I was an avid record collector and unfortunately, I had crates and crates of albums stolen in a housebreak. I lost everything, and I miss the records very much. I want you to know that I have been reading your magazine for many, many years and I deeply appreciate you interviewing me. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.