Concrete Blonde

The Developing Arts And Music Foundation
Minneapolis, MN
January 2002

Although the band Concrete Blonde took a hiatus in 1994, following the release of the Spanish-tinged Mexican Moon, singer Johnette Napolitano continued to establish her presence in a number of creative outlets. That year, Johnette formed Pretty and Twisted, with Marc Moreland of Wall of Voodoo. The 1995 album Vowel Movement was recorded together with old-school punk rock diva Holly Beth Vincent, whose band, The Oblivious, opened for the final Concrete Blonde tour.

In 1996, Johnette recorded and performed with The Heads, which featured the members of the Talking Heads minus David Byrne. Further exploring her love of Hispanic music, she and Concrete Blonde guitarist Jim Mankey recorded an album in 1997 with the L.A. band Los Illegals; that same year saw her touring with an acoustic guitar, opening for Paul Weller, performing old hits and new material from her solo album, The Sound Of A Woman, slated for release in 1998.

The new album, appropriately enough titled, Group Therapy, was released in January of this year, and features some of the band’s most powerful and introspective work in their career – which has spanned some twenty years since they were christened by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. In a phone conversation on the eve of the band’s first tour in eight years, Johnette explained just how literally the album’s title served as a catalyst for the reunion. “None of us knew it at the time, but eventually we figured out that we had all been suffering our own particular individual crises. Getting back together and playing music definitely helped us all.”

“Violent”, from the new album, includes a reference to, “every nerve and every cell”, just one of several pointed double-entendres, which in light of the nation’s recent turn of events, seemed particularly uncanny. “That’s an understatement”, quipped Johnette, who admits to having felt a sense of premonition of some indefinable terror. “We made the record in ten days, and then the shit hit the fan in September. When I saw that, I went, “so that’s what that was all about! I believe in all that stuff – it’s a big part of my life. The only problem is, what do you do with it?”

Fans who share Johnette’s fascination with gypsy culture will want to show up early on this tour for the opening act. “I’m singing flamenco now” Johnette enthused, “and it’s amazing! My teachers are mind-blowing, and I’m singing a piece with them to open the show. It’s called The Tientos, a very old form of flamenco, basically a gypsy prison lament. It’s more like an opera – it’s very challenging to sing, and I’m thrilled to be doing it.”

Other standout tracks include the new single, “Roxy”, a tribute written for musical heroes Roxy Music, after their much-heralded reunion in 2001; and the album’s achingly beautiful closer, “Memory”, which could serve as an apt summation of the band’s own career. “Yeah – it was,” mused Johnette, “let’s be conscious of the moment in time, live for the moment, you know? Here we are, we’re alive, and we’re making memories and melodies, and that’s something to celebrate in the end. At the end of the record, that is something to celebrate.”

© J.Free / D.A.M.F.; 2002; 2022

To read the pre-edited interview / conversation GO HERE