Torched Magazine is pleased with having the opportunity to speak with Betty X, Austin, TX based singer/songwriter and one time Seattle underground sweetheart. Betty X lends her thoughts about her long awaited recent sixth studio album ‘Bad Juju’ along with her collaboration with legendary Producer John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise on ‘Social Media Disease’, a cautionary tale of social media addiction.
Salon Betty was Betty X’s first musical endeavor in 1994 that would launch her into the history books as pioneering the art punk/new wave/ punk cabaret scene in Seattle. She would later relocate to Austin, TX and move on as a solo artist known for her hard rocking social commentary. Her solo release ‘Bad Juju’ is a swanky blues noir album that brings her music full circle, taking listeners down eerie moonlit desert highways and through swampy recesses found only in nightmares.
On March 14th, Betty X will be singing lead vocals for John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise which will be headlining Phil Owen’s Official SXSW Showcase…also featuring Curse Mackey, Skatenigs, Project 44, Esther Black, and David Boring From Hong Kong.
When your first debut solo release came out, it was a much darker and heavier turn from Salon Betty’s lighthearted and raucous punk cabaret. What inspired you to move in a different direction?
My lyrics were always a bit dark and sarcastic, even in Salon Betty. I started experimenting with heavier and darker industrial-metal sounds because I wanted to go deeper into that rabbit hole. It was just a natural and cathartic artistic progression.
Since 2000, your songs have dealt with social commentary and nightmarish themes happening in the world such as; fascism, corporate greed, reality TV, serial killers, sexual abuse, crisis addiction and a failed mental health system to name a few. What do you think are some of the biggest issues we are facing today?
The same issues, really. Though, it actually seems worse now. Especially with the proliferation of mass/school shooters and society’s unhealthy desire for attention at any cost, either as an internet star or on reality television…or the evening news. Since the media gives these people the notoriety they crave, I don’t see this fading away anytime soon until the next morbid trend. And now social media seems to create its own disease.
In 2006 you had the opportunity to work with Martin Atkins (Pigface, PIL, Ministry) on the hit single ‘Shoot ‘em Up’, What was this experience like?
I had worked with him before that as a guest vocalist for PIGFACE, as well as a few other projects on Invisible / Underground Inc. He’s very easy to work with and I was really excited about how the re-mix of Shoot ‘Em Up turned out. Martin and Steven Seibold really made the track come to life.
Photo by Nathan Kaylor
Drugs and alcohol in the music business… fuel or fire? What would be some of your suggestions for drawing a line in the sand for those who tend to be excessive?
Both fuel, fire and a social crutch…and a handicap if abused. Speaking personally, as soon as your art or music…and personal life…begin to suffer because of it, then you’ve cross the line.
You recently collaborated with John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise lending your vocals and lyrics to the track ‘Social Media Disease’, a cautionary tale of social media addiction. What was this experience like?
Yes, John had contacted me about possibly singing on a track for his Black Needle Noise project. He was very mysterious at first and I wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind for the song. I was apprehensive about making any heavy-handed social commentaries, because I wasn’t sure if it’d be a match thematically for his project.
But, I was chatting with Phil Owen one day about how the alternative scene has lost its edge. Since when did the underground, alternative scene just become only about fashion and not making any waves? I’ve never shied away from controversy and I’m certainly no fashion diva. I was originally drawn to angsty punk and industrial because it used to be all about challenging the status quo and channeling that angst and inner rage productively through music. To shake things up a bit, to get people to think.
The song Social Media Disease was inspired after working with Al Jourgensen and his bands Surgical Meth Machine and Ministry, having to deal with an onslaught of crazy people via social media. I decided that the less time spent on social media the better.
It’s healthy to go off-grid and pull back from SM every once and a while. It’s a highly addictive drug. People get really caught up in online dramas…they become crisis junkies. So yeah, the song is a cautionary tale. It’s so easy to get caught up in social media and forget what reality is.
Your sixth studio album was recently released entitled ‘Bad Juju’. What was your inspiration behind this?
A series of unfortunate events, meeting some bad people with bad intentions…it’s “bad” music about bad people. I wanted to write an album that reflected those things and was reminiscent of my Americana roots…something swanky and dream-like…and evocative of a time long gone. But also something with dark Plutonian themes…and more paranormal and transcendental.
Like a lot of my music, I finished the first song for the album, Kingdom of Heaven, after having a strange dream that I was supposed to record it.
Around that time, I was talking to Al Jourgensen…we were sharing stories about paranormal experiences. I sent the song to him and he loved it and wanted to help co-produce. The rest of the album just flowed from there.
The song Watcher on the Threshold is actually based on a real paranormal experience I had outside of El Paso involving a dark shadow-like figure I encountered in the desert while on a road trip…and strangely enough Al had a similar experience and immediately related.
We spoke about it in length because it disturbed and fascinated us both. What was it? Was it foreshadowing? Was the message good or foreboding of an upcoming misfortune? It was an uncanny coincidence, so it inspired me to write the song. Perhaps facing the Watcher is facing your shadow self.
Photo by Rob Butler
Who or what are some of your influences?
As a visual artist, I try to evoke a cinematic vibe to my music. I’m especially influenced by avant-garde art, film noir and experimental musicians and filmmakers like John Cage, Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Luis Bunuel, David Lynch…just to mention a few. But for this recent album, it’s definitely a Lynchian road trip through the desert. It’s that dark night of the soul where you find yourself after 3 a.m. in a strange land, amongst strangers.
Did you grow up in a musical environment? When and where did it all start for you?
Yes. I come from a family of musicians and artists. My father played drums in jazz and swing bands in Seattle in the 50’s. My mom played the accordion, my sister played the flute…My maternal grandmother was a singer and my grandfather played drums for the Les Baxter swing band. My great-grandmother was a pianist and had a love for Victorian literature. So, yeah, a long line of crazy musicians!
What are some of the things that you like to do outside of music that help to rejuvenate your creativity?
I like to visit art galleries, museums, and watch art films. And of course, I love spending time with animals. Nothing beats going off grid and getting back in touch with nature. You always know where you stand with animals and nature; no fuckery, like you get with humans.
Is there anything that I may have missed that you would like to share? Thank you for taking the time for Torched Magazine.
Yes! I’ve been working hard in the studio this last year on another “blues noir” album that’s a bit more psychedelic and ethereal, continuing with the paranormal desert themes. I’m very excited and can’t wait to share more details about it soon.
Also, on March 14th, I’m pleased to announce that I will be singing lead vocals for John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise project, headlining Phil Owen’s Official SXSW Showcase…also featuring Curse Mackey, Skatenigs, Project 44, Esther Black, and David Boring From Hong Kong. This is one show you don’t want to miss!
Many thanks to Betty X for talking with Torched Magazine and filling us in on her artistic endeavors past, present and future!
Feature Photo by Nathan Kaylor
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Keep up with Black Needle Noise / John Fryer