“I woke up fresh this morning and I’m trying to keep myself in good spirits, which means not watching too much news before coffee.”
Alice Bag is, like the rest of us, doing her very best to stay sane during the utter insanity that is our everyday lives at present. And yeah, “staying informed” doesn’t mean subjecting yourself to the constant barrage of awfulness, particularly during a period of such uncertainty and speculation. You can trust her — this is a woman who has always spoken out about issues that require more attention. She’s consistently called attention to the inequalities facing women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the three solo albums that the former Bags singer has released since her comeback and debut in 2016 have reflected that.
She has a new one coming out on May 8, Sister Dynamite, and the L.A. punk icon is jubilant (her word) with how it has turned out. She has every right to be; it’s arguably the strongest collection of songs that she’s put her name to thus far. The songwriting, the melodies — all are on point. The production is such that the record just pops. And of course, the former teacher is offering society a few much-needed lessons too. It’s a superb album.
“I’m still doing what I love to do, working with people who can take my crazy ideas and make them better,” Bag says. “I’ve learned that I need to let things go sometimes, and that the most important thing for me is to hang on to my band and value them. When I was younger, I’d be in bands and then I’d get mad at somebody, we’d have a fight, we’d eventually end up letting little things get in the way of success. So I think a lot of times when I see a young band I really like and they ask me for advice, my main advice is learn to get along, stay together and keep working on it. That’s the greatest indicator of success — do you manage to keep your band working together.”
Bag says that, even before the pandemic-enforced lock-in, she’s been writing all the time — a decision was made to work on her craft and effectively “be a songwriter.” It shows; the title track, the opening “Spark,” “Switch Hitter” — these are songs that are both earmwormy in their infectiousness and also powerfully insistent.
“I just started giving myself permission to dedicate time on a regular basis to writing,” she says. “It’s not happening every day now, since my whole family is home and we’re constantly engaged in other activities but when I have time alone, I really thrive. I thrive in solitude. It’s interesting to me that some people are really having a hard time with social distancing. It’s the one time in my life where I feel like being an introvert is really valuable, at this time. I write a lot more, I write every day when I can, and I try to work on my craft. I don’t just throw ideas out like I did when I was younger.”
The album was written before the world ended, so there are obviously no pandemic anthems here. Rather, Bag takes on racism, misogyny, homophobia — bigotry that she’s hit out at before but, sadly, still needs addressing.
“When the election first happened, I was completely disillusioned and I thought, ‘I’m not gonna give any credit for anything positive that comes out of this to living under this administration’,” she says. “But now I find that, as the mood in the nation changes and people have begun to be more transparent about their racism and their misogyny, homophobia, it becomes necessary to speak out a little bit louder and to really make sure you counter that noise with your own ideas. I’m not about trying to indoctrinate anyone or bring anyone to my way of thinking, I just want to say, ‘I don’t agree with you and this is what I think’.”
Sister Dynamite was produced by longtime collaborator Lysa Flores, although Bag meddled (again, her word) enough to get a co-producer credit. Drumming duties were split between Candace P.K. Hansen and Rikki “Styxx” Watson, while the recording band was completed by guitarist Sharif Dumani and bassist David O. Jones. Flores plays some rhythm guitar on there. The combination is electric.
“I felt like it was a departure from the last two because I wanted to keep it to more of a live sounding album,” Bag says. “I wanted to only put songs on there that I would consider playing live. On my past two albums, I’ve added things that I don’t usually play on stage. I don’t travel with horn players, or keyboards. I don’t usually travel with my backup singers. So this time, I decided just to challenge myself to take that creativity that I usually allow myself to put into different instruments, and give myself some constraints. Just bass, guitar, drums and any keyboards that I can do which are very simple.”
Again, it’s a phenomenal piece of work that can provide some relief during this ongoing crisis. She’s helping in other ways too; Bag has been posting workout videos on social media. She’s says it’s been necessary to exercise because she’s been constantly baking cookies during lock-down.
“I started baking, which is something that I really love,” she says. “But I don’t get out much, so I’m turning into a couch potato. I decided to take those potatoes and mash them. I’m listening to music, finding things that have a good beat to dance to, and sharing my at-home moments working out. The commitment is so small — one song. Or you can do all the songs and have a full workout.”
She won’t be doing any of live streaming performances, because she believes now is the time for all of the excellent acoustic musicians to shine. But she is cautiously optimistic about her tentative plans for the end of the year.
“We cancelled almost all of spring and a good deal of summer too,” she says. “I still don’t know if August is gonna pan out or not. We’re doing Burger Boogaloo. That’ll be in November now, and we’re doing a few dates with Bikini Kill back east.”
Alice Bag’s Sister Dynamite comes out on May 8 though In the Red Records.