Tina Schlieske on the B-Side Movement, Genital Panic, and her 'Purple Rain' cameo

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Tina Schlieske at The Current.
Tina Schlieske at The Current. (Mary Mathis/MPR)
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Tina Schlieske is a true Minnesota music icon. She led Tina and the B-Side Movement, one of the busiest and biggest bands to come out of the Twin Cities in the '80s and '90s. In the 21st century her adventures have included solo albums, a stint with the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's band Double Trouble, and a new band called Genital Panic.

Recently, she sat down with The Current's Andrea Swensson for an in-depth conversation about her life and work. Below is an edited transcript of the discussion; hear the full interview by using the player above.

I've been talking to Minnesota musicians for about 15 years now. I can't believe I've never interviewed you, so I'm very excited about that. I see you as a legend in this community; trailblazer, I think, would be maybe a good word. When we talk about a lot of the bands that came out of like the punk rock scene in the '80s I don't hear your name mentioned, a lot of times, along with these other white male bands that really forged the scene, but I know that you were there. So I want to talk to you about that. I want to hear about your entrance into the scene. Just tell me about that era for you, getting started in music.

Minneapolis at that time...it was so exciting, you know. Being a girl from, you know, the suburb of Apple Valley, and knowing that there was this golden, glowing city 20-25 miles north of me...I loved music, and then knowing that I could want to perform music and play music, and knowing that there was a city in my reach was so incredible. It felt so boundaryless in a way. If you could just teach yourself chords and go out there and play, it can be done. At least, that was my attitude.

I didn't really know until I got into the scene that it was really a boys' club. I'm very careful with this because I don't like being one of those people where I use my sex or my sexual orientation or anything like that as a label to have held me back. But looking back now, I see how it did in a way.

But I always would say like I felt like Scout in West Side Story. You know, the girl that wanted to be part of the boys' gang, and then the boys kind of going, "You're a girl. That's really cute that you're trying to do this, but it ain't going to work." But I would just keep getting back up and fighting for it. I appreciated that because I felt like it kind of helped me to develop as a performer, as a songwriter.

I knew what I wanted when I would then walk into a club — everything from billing to soundchecks to, you know all that kind of stuff. I felt like I had to fight a little bit extra for it, and I felt like I had to just prove myself a little bit more. But I think a lot of women would probably agree with me in the sense that I've always appreciated that, you know, that age-old phrase of when you're a woman you have to work twice as hard as a man to get the same amount of respect. And I kind of...I like that. I'm really proud of that, you know, but does it make me a bit sad that there's been opportunities missed for other women in the music business.

I was a tomboy growing up, so I played a lot of spots, so for me it really wasn't that unfamiliar to have to fight like that. But there are women that were incredibly talented, but I see them sort of give up because it is tiring. Even still, to this day, it's really amazing. Yeah, we've come a long way, but on another hand we haven't. And it's exhausting. But the cool thing is that we're talking about it.

Going back to that, I love those days of, like, 7th St Entry. Being a woman, I never felt like...when I think about all the other women bands, whether it be Têtes Noires to Babes in Toyland to the Clams to the Blue Up? A lot of times I don't try to be too reflective, like, you think back. I always want to think about the future. But thinking back about it, I was like kind of laughing.

It was like, no wonder I never fit into a niche, because I was a gay woman, but I wasn't associating myself with the gay community in the sense of...when I worked at a record store it was called "women's music," you know. It wasn't that I was not proud of who I was, but I hated being pigeonholed. I did not want to be, you know, in the "women's music" bin. I have no problem. I want to be recognized as a queer artist or whatever, but I don't want my music just to be there. I want it to be everywhere for everyone.

And I also wasn't, like, the punk rock grunge girl. I wasn't the artsy girl. Going back to our conversation, I think that hindered a lot of women. It was easy for people to keep women in certain categories. You know, if you're a male artist you can do whatever you want and be accepted for it. And I wanted to do rock and roll, but there was already the Jayhawks, Replacements, Soul Asylum, all these male bands. I'm not saying there weren't female rock bands back then, I'm just saying that I found it difficult to try to get my niche in there. That was the other side of the Minneapolis music scene. You know, you stay in your lane and don't try to think you're bigger or better than anyone else by trying to do something that...we've already got this covered, you know.

That still exists, for sure.

I kind of learned that the hard way, but at the same time I didn't care because every time we were playing and people would come and see us, you know, I felt like, ll I care about is that they like it. If people that come and see the shows and buy the CDs and listen to music, if they like it then I'm totally down with it.

Tina Schlieske at The Current.
(Mary Mathis/MPR)

So tell me more about kind of the specifics of what year was it that you started kind of dipping your toe in and like going to the Entry and seeing music? You mentioned a bunch of bands that were already kind of active at that point, so it must've been like mid to late '80s?

Funnily enough, one of the first shows that we played was...I think it was opening up for Soul Asylum, and I can't remember, but I swear they had a saxophone. I don't know if it was Dave Pirner playing saxophone, but somebody played saxophone. It was in 7th St Entry and I remember thinking, "I thought they were a punk band, and why is a saxophone..." Anyway, it was kind of cool.

I think that was one of our first shows at 7th St, but I think our very first one was the Urban Guerillas. I can't remember. It was some friend of ours that was hanging out with us knew Larry from the Urban Guerillas and gave our demo to him, and he was kind of infamous for plucking beginning local bands, like, "Do you want a gig?" and Urban Guerillas were huge back then, like huge. And he gave us our first show at 7th St Entry. My birthday is November 10, so it was like November 8 or 9, 1984.

And I remember I was really so incredibly nervous because I was only 17 or 16, and my brother, who was my drummer at the time, was 15, and we were playing 7th St Entry and completely underage, but, you know, we're drinking beers and just hanging out and sneaking over to First Ave and we thought, oh my. This is, like, incredible. And it was. You know, to be at First Ave and 7th St and amongst all that history, I just...that was just such a thrill, and to be in high school while doing it.

That would've been only a few months after Purple Rain had come out, so there must've been kind of a buzz about that too.

Definitely, yeah, yeah. Yeah, because that was the other thing too. I was actually...I was in Purple Rain.

What? How did that happen?

When I was in high school I was a huge David Bowie, Adam and the Ants, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground...that was my lane. But my best friend at the time, she loved Prince, like loved Prince. And you know, it was so funny because, you know, when you're in high school like if your friend likes somebody or something, then you can't because that's their thing. I always loved Prince, but I couldn't show that I loved him that much because that was, you know, that was Tammy's thing.

And so she called me up one time and she said, "Guess what. They're doing open auditions for Prince." I should circle back a little bit because at the time, and this going to be probably a weird shocker for people, but at the time I was dating this guy, and he was African-American and his sister was dating Mark Brown, and so he would like call me up. He was like, oh yeah. So Mark Brown is saying like Prince is...he's doing this movie. And I'm like, really? And he's like yeah, it's called Purple Rain. I'm like, Purple Rain? What does that mean?

And he's like yeah, and then there's this song. It's about computers, called "Computer Blue," and I'm like computers...like, okay, I feel bad for Prince because this just does not sound like a good idea. And I just laugh at that, because thank God I didn't work in the music industry, because like obviously my vision was not good.

But anyway, so I first heard about Purple Rain and that coming about way back when. Then cut to my friend, who said they're doing open auditions for the movie, and it was like back then, any excuse to skip school was fine by me. So she said it's during the day. My mom said, "Yeah, that's fine." Like, see if you can do it.

So we stood in line for I don't know how long. It was at, I think, the Hyatt or something off of 494, and, you know, you fill out these forms and all this stuff, and that was cool, and then all of a sudden a couple days later I got this phone call from the production company saying, "Hey would you be interested in doing like maybe one or two lines and be a waitress?" I'm like, sure. I call up Tammy. I'm like, "Did you get the phone call? Like, this is so cool."

And she goes no. And I'm like, oh. Since Prince was Tammy's thing...we just ended up being like, audience, so I got to see, you know, Purple Rain. I got to see "Baby I'm A Star," all these songs before it was even out. We got paid $250 for the week. Really bad box lunches, but it was a great way of not going to school.

There were certain scenes where I saw the camera go in front. I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm going to be in this movie. This is going to be so cool. We go, and of course it's like...I'm like here it comes, here comes the scene. All of a sudden: cut. I'm like, are you kidding me? That's like the story of my life, you know...it's going to be like, crazier, and then it just got cut. But there was a scene where there is my hand waving during "Purple Rain." So my hand is very famous.

But now I forgot your initial question.

I was just kind of wondering what year was it as you were kind of getting more into it, so yeah, right around Purple Rain. So then as you graduated from high school you stayed in town, clearly. Did you go to school?

I did a quarter of school at the University of Minnesota and that was really difficult. I was working at a record store, I had my band. My dad, though...I just really wanted to stay downtown and write and do music and be in Minneapolis. As soon as I hit 18, I just wanted to be in Minneapolis. But it was hard working at a record store and trying to pay rent, and so it was always with my dad, I'm like, can you help me pay rent? He's like, only if you go to college. I just quickly found out that it really wasn't what I wanted, and so unfortunately I dropped out, but then I got a full-time job working at Navarre. Navarre Distribution out of Brooklyn Park. I think it's still there.

When I first started doing music, I wanted to learn all aspects of it, so I read about every music business book there was. I read all the biographies of all the artists that I really loved. I would research the artist and then I would research who they were influenced by, so then I was just like constantly reaching out my web. Then I thought, why would I want to work in a record store? Working at Navarre, I worked my way up to be an independent music buyer, so I could know what it's like when labels come in and sell the artist, so I could kind of know what that would be like possibly for my band maybe one day.

I got to deliver records. I got to go to all the record stores around Minneapolis and St. Paul because of that. I just wanted to keep learning every aspect of the music business and everything, so as soon as I dropped out of college, I just did that full time, and then tried to work and do music at the same time. 40-hour week...but that quickly became impossible, and I remember when I got let go at Navarre. I thought, what am I going to do now? Like, this is crazy. I can't play taco Tuesdays at Peek-a-Boo's for...you know, I want to do a little something more than that. But I also thought, how am I going to pay for rent?

But it's so funny because that was the best thing...it was the scariest thing that happened to me, but it was the best thing because then all of a sudden I'm like, okay, I gotta go. I gotta go all in now, and I gotta do something with this music, otherwise I don't know, it's just not going to happen. So that's when things just started clicking with the band and just getting focused and writing more songs, playing everywhere, and just doing that. So, thank God for getting fired.

So was the band always called Tina and the B-Sides?

Yeah. In the very very beginning we had brief...we called the Psycho Acoustics at one time. We were called All the Young Spiders at one time, and I remember it was the Urban Guerilla show, that first one at 7th St, where somebody said...I never liked the band name Tina and the B-Sides, but a friend of ours was like, you gotta come up with something. I really loved, at the time, Adam and the Ant,s and his first band was called the B-sides, and then [my friend] said just call it Tina and B-Sides. I'm like, okay fine. We'll do that, but then we'll change it. We'll just think of something better, and then it just clicked.

As sort of a joke I renamed the band Tina and the B-Side Movement because it was kind of like bowel movement, B-side movement. We changed it to Tina and B-Side Movement, and I don't know why we did that either, but I'm not the best at career decisions sometimes. Yeah, and it's so funny now because a lot of people don't even know what a B-side is, like the B-side of a record, like, or of a tape or whatever.

So tell me more about, as the band is getting established and gaining a following here in the Cities, what was it like in the early '90s rock scene? Because that seems like kind of a pivotal time as well. Music was changing.

Yeah. I loved it. Much like how we just had Obama, back then it was Clinton, and it was like this exciting...people just wanted change. I would equate it to a little bit of a renaissance of 1969, that sort of hippie movement. It felt for me at Minneapolis, everybody wanted, you know, feel-good music and like to be together and to feel together and unified and all this stuff. There was so much going on, whether it be gay rights to practicing safe sex to...people just were having these conversations. During the Reagan years, a lot of people weren't talking about a lot of stuff, so it felt like all of a sudden this exciting flourishing.

And it felt like that with music. It felt like that socially. It felt like that just politically. As an artist when you've got like movements like that, it feels very inspiring. Whenever the band, when we'd get together, it just like boom, another new song, boom, another new song, and you just were following and chasing down that feeling. It was just so exciting. Going back to what you were asking before about being a woman in the music scene, one of the things that I found, being young and trying to get gigs, is that back then too — and it's so different now — but back then you had your segregated venues, so if you a blues/R&B [act] you played Bunkers. If you were like kind of a good cover band and rock and roll and metal you played the Cabooze. If you were a national act and, you know, big time, you played First Ave. If you were a punk band you played 7th St.

And so I just felt like, you know, screw that. It was so hard knocking on doors to try to get gigs, and I'm like you know what, I'm just going to make it a mission. I just want to play every bar. I want to play the Cabooze, I want to play Five Corners, I want to play the 400 Bar. I want to play the Uptown. I want to play Cedar Fest. I want to play all these places, and I just put my head and was like boom, and I just didn't think about it, and just wanted to break down and be more of an inclusive band rather than exclusive, because the scene felt exclusive, like music sometimes has a tendency to be. Everybody's got their tribes. Everybody's got their little group that they like to hang out in and identify with, and I just felt like why can't we all just...like, let's all play. Let's all get together.

During the early '90s that was an exciting time too for me. With the band, we were just like playing everywhere. Thanksgiving at Bunkers were becoming like such a big thing, and then at the Cabooze, and then I'm playing...I mean we had our CD release party at Glam Slam when Prince had it. That was for Young Americans in 1992, and that was, like, awesome. And that place doesn't exist anymore, unfortunately.

We had some pretty legendary sweaty shows at the 400 Bar, I remember, too. The challenge of trying to fit our band on that little stage when it was...this was before it moved in the back room. It had that little stage in the very front room, and that's where we used to play, and then they moved it over to the other side, which was really cool. It gave the bands way more room. But I still love a good small stage, and I love that challenge, you know.

And then also as a musician on the money side I have to say like selling CDs. We wouldn't be able to have done what we did without the invention of the CD, because you could charge $15 and it cost you $1.50 to make them. A lot of people benefited from that time in the music industry. And because of that price gap, for an independent artist like myself and for the band it gave us an opportunity to then buy a trailer, buy a van, travel around the country, and try to expand our following as much as possible. There'd have been no way...I mean, I look at bands now, and you know even myself watching the dwindling of what we used to make selling our music. It's just impossible, you know. It's impossible.

On one hand you've got this super exciting time in our industry where there's so much great music out there, I mean so much great music, and there's so many incredible artists that maybe will never ever get heard, because it's almost over-saturated. As a young artist you have this opportunity to put your music out there. For myself, I think about: I grew up dreaming of [how] I couldn't wait to hold my vinyl record. I worked at a gas station to save up enough to print a 45, and I thought that was cool, but then all of a sudden the next thing I know, CDs came out.

I was, like, laughing because throughout my career from the vinyl years to all of a sudden compact discs to now MP3...nobody does albums anymore, you know. It's so crazy. I feel like wow, where I was born, like that's crazy that I got to witness that and kind of be part of it. I feel very fortunate for that because it's kind of cool.

And you've kind of come full circle in a way with Genital Panic. It's like a very modern 7" where you can actually put this booklet onto the turntable, which I thought was so cool.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I feel like now, if you're going to spend the money on a vinyl, make it something special. I felt this group for me was very special, so I wanted to do [something] real different and special for that. So yeah.

So I want to talk to you more about what you're doing right now, but I do want to just finish a little bit because we were kind of working on a timeline that I liked. So we got to the '90s, and I know that there was a lot of energy in the early to mid '90s in Minneapolis, all these bands were suddenly getting signed to all these major labels, and you signed to a label as well. So tell me more about kind of that process of deciding to take the jump from being independent to having a label.

Yeah. You know, I think about that. That was a very pivotal time, I think. I think about it in my life and with the band because there was a healthy competition among local bands. Like, who's getting signed and how much are you getting signed for, and all this kind of stuff, and so it was a good drive. It keeps you driving for that, but then at the same time I'm looking at these other artists. Like, at the same time Ani DiFranco was very much doing this sort of...with her Righteous Babe records and everything, and this was before I knew Ani, but I started Movement Records, because I thought I was giving out demos and things like that early in my career, and then I would get phone calls from labels saying, "You know that's great, but we've already got a female artist on our roster."

I was 23 and they're like, "Um, you're a little old. Sorry." And so I got every kind of classic cliché textbook answer back about being a woman in the music industry, and I'm just like you know what, screw it. I'm just going to form my own label right now and use that as something until I'm going to get signed. We're going to get signed, but we're just going to do this in the meantime, and so with the sale of CDs and stuff we were making some pretty good money and being able to tour and we even had an office on 2nd Avenue, right across from the Fine Line and all that. That little neighborhood in the Savoy Building, and the Pickled Parrot.

It was right across from there, so I remember we were just chugging along and bands were getting signed, and I remember being at this crossroads where like wow, so Ani is like...she just decided just to keep with Righteous Babe, and, you know, that's pretty cool, but then there was like that tug of being a young girl laying in bed and just dreaming of getting signed. It was like that was the ultimate dream. And again, because of all those books that I read, like I knew that like I really wanted to be signed by like an old school record man like Seymour Stein.

We had a few interested. We had Warner Bros. We had Atlantic. We had Geffen, and we had Sire starting to sniff around and being interested. We were working with this lawyer down in Austin who got us this...he said okay, we got a gig at CBGB's. I feel so fortunate that we got a chance to play there. He said Seymour said he's going to come down. And I'm like, okay, cool. And are you sure? And he said yeah. And so we drove to New York, loaded out, and at that time um our manager was Patsy. I said, "Patsy, drive me to Rockefeller. We're going to Sire. We're going to Sire now because I need to make sure that he's coming, you know." And Pasty's like, okay. So we drive to Sire, and it was like five to five or something, and it was just closing, and the main doors were closed, and I saw this employee walk out of the side thing, and I just ducked in there, and I did the thing my dad always said is like always act like you are in the right place at the right time and that you're meant to be here.

So I walk up the security because the guy's like uh, excuse me, can I help you. I was like yeah, I'm here to see Seymour Stein. And he's like okay. And he said 12th floor. And I'm like, cool. We go up there, and I'm like, "Hi, my name is Tina from Tina and the B-Side and Seymour Stein is supposed to see us at CBGB's tonight," and he's like, well he just left, and I'm like, well here's our demo again, and just let me know. So we kind of walked back and all of a sudden we're in the elevator and it's like a classic thing. The elevator doors started to close and this arm opens it and in comes these two guys and all of a sudden I look over and I'm like, oh my God, that's Seymour Stein. He looked at — I have this watch that I bought at the Minnesota State Fair that was like turquoise and silver. It was one of my favorite watches, and he goes, nice watch, and I'm like, thank you.

Tina Schlieske at The Current.
(Mary Mathis/MPR)

I'm like, Seymour, I know who you are and my name is Tina Schlieske from Tina and the B-sides and we're playing tonight at CBGB's and I was hoping that you'd be able to come. He said, "Oh yeah, I think somebody said something about that. You know what, yeah, okay, yeah, we'll come." And I was like, I couldn't believe it. So Seymour came and he liked the show and it was so funny. We ended up talking and he was telling me stories about Joni Mitchell and all these other artists that he had been with and signed or just been around, and I was just like this is amazing. I just got done playing CBGB's, talking to Seymour Stein about all these artists and like this is incredible.

And then cut to we were going back and forth, and at one point Seymour said, "I'm going to do you a huge favor and offer you $40,000 and just — that's it." He goes, "Trust me, that is the smart thing to do." And unfortunately, what comes with youth is ego, and I'm thinking n, because other bands get $150,000 or $200,000. I'm not going to do that. And little did I understand, that because I'm still in debt from being signed, is that a lot of bands understand like they're just a big bank, and you get loaned this money, and typically you'll never be able to pay it off, and then they have all of your tapes. They have all of your music. And it sucks.

When we did eventually get signed, I was just too embarrassed to show the contract to my dad because I knew he would've said, "What are you doing? This is like the worst deal possible." But you know, like I was saying, it's hard to let go of those dreams, and to me it meant something, as a woman, as an independent artist, that I'm going to get signed too, and I'm going to get the band signed just like you guys to prove that we can do it. You know, it's one of those things. I don't like regretting things, and I would hate to say that I would not do it again because there were a lot of experiences, but it wasn't at all like I thought it was going to be.

It was actually really...I remember thinking, "We worked our butt off for like ten years," and then I just remember looking around. It's, like, for this? A bunch of interns that have no interest in music and they don't care like what band, like especially us, that was coming on the entry level...they're like, who are you? So we had no help. It was just a nightmare. All of a sudden no money and no help, and I just remember my heart was just like completely out of it then.

And then shortly thereafter, getting toward the end of the B-Sides...I felt like so fortunate that we always really liked each other. Most bands, like you know, they play well together, they create together, but sometimes, more often than not they hate each other and there's a lot of fighting. Sometimes that creates like a good thing too, but our band, we always really loved each other as people and our friendships, and all of a sudden I remember thinking all of a sudden you start turning on each other because this didn't work out the way it was supposed to and now we're blaming each other, and I'm like you know what, I think we should probably call it just because all my relationships with everyone [are] much more important than why we didn't become more successful than we were.

So that's kind of jumping ahead a little bit, but my experience of getting signed wasn't the greatest. But I still met a lot of cool people, did some cool tours, had some fortunate opportunities.

So I know your sister was in the B-Sides with you. Did your brother stay on as the drummer?

No. Working with family in any business is very difficult, let alone in a band. You know, I love my brother and it was very very difficult to realize, okay if I want to do this I gotta work with different musicians. Whether it be the artistic side or the emotional, navigating through all that is very difficult. I don't even know how I my sister and I survived in the very beginning, but I think it's because as siblings we are so incredibly close. I wouldn't trade I for the world, because when you can sing with a sibling...when my brother played drums with us, that was awesome as well.

So what is it like for you now to get the band back together? It was like what, '98 or '99 that you disbanded?

Yes, '99, yeah.

And then how many years passed before you did a reunion show?

I think it was 2009. We did a Zoo show, and I can't even believe that that was ten years ago now. They were just throwing it out there: would the B-Sides ever be interested? I asked the rest of the guys, and like, yeah, let's do it. It was like like no time had passed, and I love playing the Zoo. Besides it being in Apple Valley, it's a great amphitheater. So that was cool. I love getting back together with those guys. It was great.

What were you up to in the early 2000s?

Early 2000s I was playing with Double Trouble. They did an album and they had Susan Tedeschi do a couple tracks, and so Double Trouble was looking for a female rhythm guitarist and somebody to take [a] couple of the Susan songs and just sing backups and rhythm guitar. One of my fantasies was just to be like a rhythm guitarist in like a James Brown band. You know, just hit the one note. I don't have to do the set list, I don't have to worry about like where are we going to like check in for like motels to all that kind of stuff. I could just show up and sing and play. And so started to do that. And then all of a sudden the lead singer, they guy that was the main lead singer in Double Trouble, he kind of suffered like a nervous breakdown and he had to leave the tour, and all of a sudden I was the lead singer and doing the set lists and doing all this, so I'm like no.

But it was still pretty cool because I got to know what it's like to be on a tour bus and do a fancier tour. I actually got to meet James Brown and all these other artists. Great artists and musicians and people that would come out to see Double Trouble. The blues genre is like the country thing too. It's like they are like hardcore loyal and just...I mean, it was amazing. And it's like wow. For me as a music lover, I love seeing people just like, "This is my thing." I love blues music and I was embraced in that world. I couldn't believe it. It was incredible.

So Double Trouble actually asked me: like, would you become like a permanent member? But again, going back to that thing I was saying before, like I saw the blues world. It's like, is this what I want to be known for? Because I respect it so much, but I kind of want to stretch myself as an artist a little bit more than just being a blues singer — a lead singer in a blues band. And so I said thank you, but I think I'm going to...no. And I felt really bad because I think that they were like, "What? You're turning down this opportunity?" And I just...I need to do this. I just broke up my band, and this has been amazing, but I just want to do my own album just once. And so that was 2001.

So in 2002 I just started writing for my solo project, and then I met this guy in LA named Sheldon Gomberg, and he was bass player for...he played with Rickie Lee Jones and he was really super connected with a lot of studio musicians in LA, and so his black book was incredible. And then he's like, I'd love to produce your record. And I'm like, cool. And next thing I know I'm in Sheldon's studio and we're getting like Rami Jaffee from The Wallflowers playing on a track. When I think about it, it's like what, how did this happen?

And then Sheldon said, "If you could have anyone, who would you want to play with?" And I said, "Well being the Elvis fan that I am, I mean, James Burton." I said, "If you know anybody that could get me James Burton," and so sure enough he made some phone calls and I had James Burton in the studio playing on my songs. And I remember when James was like...and he was such a cool, cool guy, and he's like alright, well, Tina what would you like on this song? And I'm like James, whatever Elvis wanted you to do, that's what I want you to do. And he said like, okay. And his wife was in there, and she's like just play the blues, James, just play the blues. And he's like, okay.

But the one thing that was very funny is when you meet like sometimes these old school musicians and whatnot...we were done and I said, you know, I had my J200, which is like what Elvis would play, a Gibson acoustic guitar. I said James, would you mind signing my guitar? And he just about like, oh, yeah, sure. And all of a sudden the wife is like nope, James, you're not going to do that because you know she could see this on eBay or she could sell it on...you know, something, you know, we've had that happen. I'm like I'm not going to sell it, but he goes oh, I'm sorry. And I'm like, oh jeez. I'm like, that's okay. The fact that you were here playing, it was all good. And I got to hear some Elvis stories and that was all good too.

So anyway, I think I released the record in 2005 finally.

So I do want to make sure that we talk about Genital Panic because I just saw you perform and it was awesome and it's such a specific band. The songs are very topical, very in the moment. Tell me about wanting to start this new project.

So I was a couple years ago at my friend's: Patrik Tanner, he's got a studio. And Patrik's been in the B-Sides and I've know Patrik since high school when he was a Swedish foreign exchange student, and how I first met him...it was so funny. My brother had him in a class and I was trying to learn how to write songs and my brother Eric is like I think this guy, like he's from Sweden and he's like a musician and I think he'd be cool to like talk to. We've been friends ever since. I love working with him because I can just come to him and say, you know, I've got this idea for this, and he's like let's do it, and so that's what we were doing.

I was working on some solo stuff, and we're in between takes and stuff and we're talking and getting pretty frustrated about the current administration, and I remember thinking...I mean, my idols were like John Lennon. Yes, he is a songwriter and musician, entertainer, whatever you want to say, but he was very also very invested in what he felt was wrong with humanity and what's going on in the world and he'd be vocal about it. So I was like, let's say something. So basically, because I feel like I got skewered the last time when I said where are the punk bands, because I know there are punk bands out there, but basically I was saying where are the ones that are like really going after this administration and whatnot.

I was at a museum in New York with my girlfriend and I saw this one picture: the artist was Valie Export [ph] and she was sitting on a chair with crotchless pants and a machine gun, and I remember thinking she is so badass. Like, who is that person? I want to be her when I grow up. You read the backstory about it, and she was a feminist performance artist in the late '60s and early '70s, and one of her pieces she did was called Genital Panic Action Pants, and it just planted the seed. Like, that would be a cool punk rock band.

Basically, her piece about the male gaze. They would talk about the male gaze and how it fantasized woman that [were] movies or in advertisements and whatnot, and she cut out her crotch to expose her genitals, and it went through saying to men like this is the real thing. That is not real. This is real. And I thought wow, that's pretty ballsy and that's pretty awesome, and so when Patrik and I were sitting in the studio and we said this, and I'm like "genital panic," like that's punk rock.

And I went home and I wrote this...I wrote "Action Pants" just off the cuff, just completely, and I was just like I kind of was like laughing, like that felt really...like for me personally it just felt good to like kind of almost play music like I used to like in my basement when I was really young, just three chords and like just screaming and whatnot. So Patrik and I banged it out in like...oh, I shouldn't say that. That sounded funny. We just played it real quick in, like, we did three takes. Thankfully Patrik used to be a punk rock drummer in Sweden, and he's actually in the Punk Rock of Sweden Hall of Fame type of thing for his punk rock band that he used to be in. So we did that song and it felt so good, and I said you know what, I think I'm going to write some more. And in the period of a week, these songs just like came out.

The funny thing is like this was before like the #MeToo movement and all this stuff, but as a woman you could feel that sort of stuff bubbling up. One song [is] called "Misogyny is Coming to Get Me," and I remember I was like researching...I'm just looking online of all these misogynistic quotes that Trump had said and all this, and I remember like going, oh my God, this is like writer's gold. I'm just like writing, but then all of a sudden it made me so incredibly sad like I just had to like walk away and just think, oh my gosh, I can't believe that this person is the president of the U.S. And that a lot of women voted for him. And, you know, future generations of women will think of this...that any of it would be validated as being okay, about how he feels about women and people of color and immigrants.

I'm first generation, you know. My mom was born in Lithuania, and so I'm first generation, and I think about all these things that this country...it is just not recognizable to me, and so it felt so good to write these songs and to scream them, and then also to have like people be responding like they are. I'm always a little apprehensive because are there going to be like old fans that are like, you know...because I've had that too, where people have said I don't like it when you get too political, and I understand that, you know, because I feel like my job is there to entertain. My job is not to preach about what my beliefs are and stuff, but at the same time like I was saying about John Lennon, as a human being I've got feelings too, and I've got certain things that...sorry, it kind of goes with the territory a little bit, you know.

Tina Schlieske at The Current.
(Mary Mathis/MPR)

If I feel like there's something completely wrong, then I'm going to sing about it or say something about it, and so I appreciate that at least [with] Genital Panic I don't have to pretend anything. People know if they're going to see Genital Panic it's probably going to be out there, and then if I start saying things about the administration, I just always say you know what, that's why I love America, because I'm expressing my freedom of speech, and this is how I feel. And too bad if you don't like it because a lot of these lyrics were written by 45 himself, so if you've got complaints, just go write to the White House. Don't shoot the messenger.

To watch the audience like have this emotion of like, oh my gosh, somebody is saying what I'm feeling...especially women. We did this one show in Austin, and it was so funny. It was in the middle of the afternoon because it was during SXSW and it was like a Sunday afternoon. A lot of locals. And it was like this major punk rock club. And we had like a 4:00 gig or whatever, and people are starting to straggle in, and it's like couples and everything, and like they're checking out the band, and we're just like playing, and I'm kind of introducing a song and I can see...as the set's going on and talking more about misogyny and all this stuff, the women are like yeah. They're like coming up towards the [front] and the guys are kind of walking away. It was so funny. We had this Trump pinata and I threw it out on the audience and these women...it was like piranhas, I am not kidding. They descended on this thing, ripping off the head. Another woman like grabbed the crotch and like ripped that out. I'm just like, whoa.

Then we got done with that, and that's when I knew it was just so interesting that we'd get done with the set and all these women and men too — I have to say, a lot of men too — I was getting comments from a lot of wome, like, oh my gosh, thank you, you were singing and saying everything that I'm feeling. Thank you. And then these men like going you know what, as a white man I can't really say those things, so I just want to say thank you for saying them. So it's been a very interesting side project doing Genital Panic, one that I absolutely love. It brings back those days of, lik,e the punk rock when I first started writing songs. It makes me like yes, this is to me where the roots of like my music [were] emotionally based. Just power chords and screaming.

Well, it definitely feels to me like a relief valve, like there's so much tension in the air right now. And I definitely sense that watching you live, that there's a lot of people that are looking for that, I think. Looking for an outlet for just any kind of raw emotion like that because, yeah, it's a time of a lot of conflict and a time of a lot of oppression and people feeling like they don't have a voice.

Yeah, and a lot of fear. I can't believe every day. Even with, you know, Trump dangling like, well there's going to be a huge ICE raid. Me being from California, knowing a lot of Hispanic families, that fear is real. I think there's a lot of people in this country that just take for granted like, oh, but that's just Trump tweeting and that's just that. It's like, no. For a lot of these people it's a real-life situation, and it's a scary situation. Maybe you feel all very secure in your world in a suburban area or wherever, and those things may not affect you, but it's very real in this country, and it's just really sad because I think if [there's] anything we could've learned from history, being ruled by fear is only going to lead to horrible things. Dictatorships, repression, people being silenced because they are too afraid to speak up and too afraid to do anything. I cannot believe what's going on right now in the country. I know that that's not what our conversation is about, but it is a very scary, weird time right now I think.

I wonder if you see parallels between getting started in the Reagan era, as you said, and kind of the doom and gloom vibe of the early to mid '80s or late '80s. Do you see us repeating some of that same kind of cycle of emotions?

Yeah, I do. I think that is the one thing that I find exciting is, you know, at the end of the day music and art does save us humans. I really do. I don't care if it's a sculpture to a poem to a painting to a song to, you know, anything. It is so important for us. That is the one thing that we have that differentiates us from other species: we've got art to educate people, to motivate them, to move them, to inspire them to change what is going on, and take us out from our doldrums and to inspire us to know that there is something different out there that's going on.

So yeah, right now on one hand I feel really inspired and excited for art because of all the darkness and things that are going on and the fear that's going on, it just makes you want to create more. I feel so fortunate in the form of art that I do that I get to experience that human connection. To your point,what's so probably similar to that Reagan era, right now you feel that sigh of relief when people like go to a show and they're just like yes, thank you, yeah, maybe someone voted different from somebody else, but at that moment at that time in that room listening to that band, people feel like okay. This is what it feels like to be together, to experience that human connection. That why people love live shows, because again it's reminding us this is what it's like to be human, to feel.


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