When faced with an artist as influential and eclectic as Gitane Demone, the traditional “interview intro piece” becomes a crisis of confidence. Where to begin? What do I say? We could start with those two magic words in the Goth world — Christian Death. Gitane played keyboards for Christian Death throughout the 1980s. She stayed on after Rozz Williams departed, but disappeared herself in 1989 after an emotional show at the London Astoria immortalized on The Heretics Alive . Then, as we all know, Christian Death’s quality control went due south.
Gitane, on the other hand, entered a creative renaissance that shows no signs of abating. Her first single, “Lullabies for a Troubled World,” was received with critical and audience adoration. She formed a jazz band of sorts, and began both covering old standards and writing her own material. This period is probably best represented by live albums Love For Sale and With Love and Dementia .
Despite finding a comfortable aesthetic niche within certain jazz and gothic circles, Gitane kept expanding her interests. Collaborations followed with Marc Ichx for the fetish-themed techno of Demonix , ditto for the Alpha Project record.
In 1994, she and Rozz Williams reunited, and made my life worth living when they produced the incomparable Dream Home Heartache album. It is a perfect piece of cabaret noir that centers around a breathtaking cover of Bryan Ferry’s “In Every Dream Home A Heartache.”
Our prolific heroine resurfaced in 1998 with the gorgeous and elegiac Am I Wrong , a record that explored new artistic ground and signaled a new beginning, both personally and musically. If that’s not enough, 1999 signals a flurry of activity — the release of a compilation of the vocal tracks that she recorded for Christian Death, the reissue of Love For Sale , new music under her name and that of Bis Ende, and touring, touring, touring.
World domination is only a matter of time.
I’ll start with the big vague question. How is everything going?
How is everything going? It’s going good. I’m teaching my musicians the material for the next new album, which is entitled Lives of the Insatiable . And that’s going real well, I just have to teach them all of the songs. They’re already written.
Is this record going to be a continuation of the musical vocabulary of Am I Wrong ?
This album is going to be done with a band — with guitar, bass, and drums. So it will be three different musicians. And maybe I’ll do some extra instrumentation, or maybe we’ll keep it minimal. But it’s the same kind of songs, introspective, kind of more anarchistic. I’ve written a lot about my friends who have passed away in the last year, but its up to you to figure out who I’m talking about. It’s all kind of poetic and in my typical way. But it will be more of a rock album.
When should we expect that out by?
I don’t know, I’m hoping — I’ve got fourteen tracks written. If they all work out and if the guys all learn them in one month, then I’m hoping to go into the studio in the next month, so that would make it around April. Hopefully it would be released by fall. But sometimes things go a lot slower than you think they will.
What’s it like working with a band, as opposed to playing all of the instruments on an album? Is this is a sacrifice of control that you can live with?
Over the years I’ve learned to take direction, and since it is under my name, it’s not really a band situation. They’re doing my material and I’m in control of it, and that’s understood, and that’s the way that they want it. So it’s up to me to give direction. They’re really good people, I’ve worked with them for the past two years. And we all adore each other, so that helps a lot. And they play really well. So usually if I just give them an idea of what I want, they will follow it and even go beyond what I tell them. They really try to please. I mean, I could do it all on my own again, but I like to kind of vary the musical content, so I think this will work out quite well.
Since we’re talking about band interplay, how did your recent tour go?
It went great. You didn’t happen to get to any of the shows, did you?
No. I couldn’t get to any of them.
Really? Where are you located?
We played just one place in Florida. Pompano Beach.
Oh! I didn’t even see that on the itinerary! All I saw was Atlanta, and I couldn’t get up there.
Yeah that one was added on. The promoters of the shows were really helpful, they liked the shows so well they kept recommending us to other promoters. We picked up Detroit, Pompano Beach, Baton Rouge, we played twice because we were stuck there. We played in Texas, which wasn’t expected, in fact they booked a whole mini tour there. But we weren’t able to make it because we had a bad problem with our truck when we hit New Orleans. It held us up for two weeks there. So we missed some stuff and gained some other stuff. But after two weeks, we had to get home as fast as possible, our drummer was supposed to get married. We got back the day before he was supposed to get married! It was crazy.
We had some time off so we actually went camping in, I can’t remember what forest it was, in Florida. We wanted to go camping! My husband was driving the truck, and he loves lizards. And he wanted to catch lizards. We got nine lizards and a frog! We took them on the rest of the tour with us, we got cages for them. And now they’re in the terrarium with the rest of our lizards. And so we camped out, and we’re like driving to find a campground in the middle of the night and we’re getting way out in these swampy forests, and it’s terrifying! We’re driving by these little markets and seeing all these hunter people with guns so we pull over and we’re asking directions to this one forest and someone goes, “Better be careful. Hunting season just started today.” And we’re going, “Oh my god,” because we’re all there with dreadlocks and dyed hair! It worked out fine. We stayed and the only way we got hunted down was by giant mosquitoes. So we were there for a few days and then we returned to civilization and did our gig. And then we were on to New Orleans. But it was a good tour, we’ll do it again. I’ll be doing a lot of music work, and then we’re scheduled to tour Europe in November. So we’ll do that and then probably tour here again. It’s too bad you missed us, but we just did that one little show and they probably had like two weeks at the most to promote it.
I’m curious about how the more layered and elegant parts of Am I Wrong translated out onstage within a power trio format?
It came out naturally, with a different attitude. One thing I’ve tried to do, like on Am I Wrong , which I’ve been working on over the years, is song format, song structure. I’m not saying that everybody would find my songs good, but they’re pretty structured. I write them on piano, so if something is melodic and has different parts you can pretty much play it in any kind of way. I can play those songs on piano, my guitar player can play them on his acoustic guitar, you can do full arrangements like I did on Am I Wrong . So it came out naturally, with a heavier attitude bandwise, but I sang them with the same voice, pretty much. More of a natural register than falsetto, in some of those songs I used a real falsetto. They were really appreciated. The death rock scene, which is what I perform to, really liked it a lot. They liked it because my band pretty much has a harder heavier attitude than most of the gothic rock. It’s got more of a harder edge to it, and I’ve got kind of varying vocals for songs. It’s minimal and powerful, so it is different. But everybody recognized the songs. I guess they came out all right.
You have something else coming out soon, right? The compilation of the vocal tracks you recorded with Christian Death. Is this at all a triumphant moment for you?
Well, no. The reason that I did it was, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve been asked by fans, “why don’t you do this?” and I was sort of fading up to do it. Rozz (Williams, Christian Death/Shadow Project mastermind) died, and it gave me… I wanted to put the truth out about how we joined Christian Death. Valor (Hand, insignificant pretender) has said things counter to that. I’ve read things where he’s said that Christian Death didn’t start with Rozz. So on the compilation, I’ve been able to write a story and tell some truths about that. That’s going to be permanently out there. It’s not going to be down to somebody picking up an interview. Anybody who’s interested in Christian Death will read that. I really wrote it right from the beginning of my singing career. It’s a small thing but it states how Valor, David and I joined Christian Death, how it went working, how I met Rozz, and leaving. I wanted to do that and I figured it was a permanent way to do it. Also I never received any money at all from working in Christian Death. So I was able to finally get a bit of money out of it, you know, after all those years. It was done for all those reasons, and as a follow-up to Am I Wrong . I’ve picked up some new interest, and everybody’s been saying to me, “What did you do in Christian Death?” So it’s kind of — put it all out there and they can take it or leave it.
You’ve done all of the artwork for this record as well?
What’s it like?
You’ll have to wait and see. (laughter)
There’s a dedication to Rozz. I do a lot of montage and collage work. I did a very minimal one with a dedication to Rozz. And then there’s a page with photos from the early days of Christian Death when I had black hair and that page is called “Black Hair Days.” That page has got all kind of little photos. And then there’s another page later entitled “Blonde Until The End,” I guess. [Laughs] And that goes until the end of my career. There’s also all kind of other artwork, all combined artwork. The only thing the graphic artist did really was choose a flower pattern backing on a few parts. I like doing my own artwork though, I’ll probably be doing more of that.
I picked up a record of yours about a month ago, Love For Sale , and this isn’t even much of a question, more an observation, but I was impressed by the sound. It has a very timeless feel. It’s a piece of music that won’t sound horribly dated in four years, unlike a lot of industrial stuff. Is this something you strive for?
I try to strive for that with everything. I try to use timeless sound. Love For Sale came from the first band I put together that stayed together after I left Christian Death. I couldn’t find a guitar player so I used a keyboard player. Everyone that was in the band was pretty much influenced by jazz. Jazz is sort of timeless. I don’t know. Actually, jazz can sound kind of old-fogeyish to some people, or it can sound timeless to other people. We tried to make a combination with it that was something darker than jazz, but with the bass/piano/drums setup, none of those sounds are really going out of style. That album, I’m surprised you found that album because it’s never been released in the States. I am going to re-release the entire concert either this year or next year on Triple X. The concert was an hour and a half, and that CD only had ten tracks from it. But that was released quite a while ago over in Holland. It was all kind of a part of musical growth and experimentation, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was doing stuff that fit the band I was with, as well as stuff that I was interested in. But if it sounds timeless to you, I’m really glad. (laughs)
I have to go back to Am I Wrong for a minute. I’m sorry but my questions are in a totally random order.
That’s okay, my head is too. (laughs)
Okay, the whole sound of that record, I’m probably way off, but it had this classic pop feel like the Ronettes, or Brian Wilson-y orchestration, especially for “Angel In My Head” and…
Wow, I’m impressed.
And it just had this feel… So my question is — Was I hugely way, way off, or was this the plan?
It… let me see how can I begin this… I had written those songs on piano, just the basic chords. When you let me loose in a studio, I’ll find out what sounds I have to work with, and I’ll do the best I can with those sounds. I actually had a really limited amount of sounds to work with on eight of the ten songs. I had one keyboard, and there was a sampler there for a few of the songs, so there was really limited instrumentation to work with. So for each song, I just tried to combine the sounds that sounded the best without being able to choose from very many. But by altering the amount of sounds in each song or adding, you know, the songs sound different. And maybe it sounds like I had a lot to work with arrangement-wise. It wasn’t intentional, I didn’t know what I was going to come up with. For instance, with “Angel In My Head,” I tried doing it several ways. I tried recording it three times and I just wasn’t happy with it. Then when I ran out of time in the studio, that was the last song left and I said, you know what, I’m just going to have it done on guitar and see how that is. And that was it, it seemed to work just right. I never know, the only way is when I hear it and I know that it’s right, this kind of instinct, when it just goes yes. No, it wasn’t intentional, not at all.
It just seemed that some of the record, with the multitracking of vocal harmonies, just was so “Be My Baby.” But whatever, I’m just…
No, no I like to hear that. I’m a fan of the Ronettes and all that kind of production. When I was growing up, I would hear all of the Phil Spector stuff, and I would never know who it was, but it had this certain sound to it. I always like to have bells on my stuff. I always put bells in there. There are probably bells on Phil Spector’s stuff, but probably a hundred layers of bells! He’d have like not one piano but twenty pianos in there! I’d love to do that sometime.
I have a question about your image and progression. You’ve gone from the total fetish thing to the more classical look on the cover of Am I Wrong . But then the promo photos from Hollows Hill/Triple X all seemed like something out of a Fifties teen slasher film with the hair and the prom dress…
Actually, I was wearing a dress made out of ace bandages. When I went out on tour, I wore a dress that I had made out of ace bandages and safety pins. Most people thought it was made out of chiffon and rhinestones, because it was very body-hugging and glittering. I had a long blonde wig on for that as well. I mean, I don’t want to get locked into any particular image. The meaning of that whole ace bandage dress was sort of damage glamour. I was feeling kind of damaged and I decided to portray it that way. I don’t want to… I got kind of locked into the fetish image, which I enjoyed for a long time. I still love wearing rubber, but I don’t like to stay in the same image continually. I move on. The fetish thing probably stayed the longest. Time to move on.
Are you working up something new?
Yeah, probably when I start the new thing. Yeah.
What are you listening to right now?
A lot of Brian Eno.
(laughs) Brian Eno is pretty much the thing I’ve been putting on a lot. And a friend of mine gave me a mix tape of a lot of old punk, English bands, but not like GBH all blasting out really fast and hard. He didn’t even give me a track sheet, so I can’t tell you what it is. It’s like late ’70s, it’s really interesting stuff. But I can’t even tell you what it is.
You’ve worked with Alpha Project and Phallus Dei. Are these projects you are proud of? Is there any future work planned?
I was proud of the Alpha Project except for the first track. I hadn’t planned to do that track at all. I was pretty much finished with the album and then Brian Perrera forced me to do that song. And that is a song that I would never ever ever choose to do. I don’t know if you’ve heard that album or not… If you ever get it, just don’t listen to the first song. That song, when I heard it, I took it off right away, I couldn’t believe what I was being faced with. I hadn’t been paid for doing the album yet, and I had done nine tracks. And I had to do this song, I was told that I had to do it. So I decided to sort of look at it as being the ultimate challenge; to do a song that I would never ever do. I actually came up with something, and I did something which I thought was fitting for it. A lot of people do like it, that are into dance music. So I can say that I am proud of that record.
Besides the first track, there are some good songs on it. There’s a lot of humor involved in it, too, humor for me. There’s a song on there called “Big,” and it’s all about, “Baby you’re so big,” and there’s orgasmic shrieks on it. Very over-the-top sexual. There’s another song called “The Happy Hour,” which would be a really totally commercial song with these really beautiful harmonies on it and everything, except the chorus goes “It’s my happy hour/ Feel my loving power/ Like a golden shower” [laughs]. I managed to put some twisted things into this more commercial kind of dance music. People who are slightly perverse get it. Other people like my mom, who listened to it, go “What’s a golden shower?” [laughs].
And with Phallus Dei, I was just featured on one track, which is really cool. I did a real nice backing vocal which turns into a solo. They’re doing their own thing and they called me up and asked me to do a song with them and so I did. The song came out well. I don’t know if other people care for their material. The album is pretty good. I like particularly the one song I worked on.
Any future collaborations lined up? Or dream collaborations?
No, not right now. I do have another project that I’ve done some live performances with and we’re working on enough recordings to release an album. I do all the vocals and lyric writing with it. That’s with Christian Madrigal, who was the drummer with Daucus Karota and did some work with Shadow Project. The name of this project is Bis Ende, German for “until the end.” It’s very hypnotic, there’s two basses, drums, voice and some samples. We’re working with that at the same time we’re working on my album. Christian is also playing drums with my work, so it’s kind of funny. We’ve got the same bass player and my guitar player is now playing bass in Bis Ende. Which is good, because we all get along really well. So we figured, why not? The music is entirely different. It’s like getting two different things.
You dedicated Am I Wrong to Eric Christides. If its comfortable for you, would you like to talk about him a little?
We all had kind of a family over here in L.A. which sort of started with Rozz. Eric worked on Premature Ejaculation and Heltir with Rozz. He was really my very best friend, and an amazing, beautiful person. He also had just done a few shows with a band that he had gotten together called Bloodflag and it’s a shame… Some of those tracks are on Merry Maladies , a double CD released on Cleopatra pretty recently. He released music on tape called Merry Malaise , and then he was asked to put together a compilation of his favorite stuff and more by Cleopatra. He put this compilation together, and then he died right after that. He had an accidental overdose. He had been off heroin and just decided to… he had all this money, and just decided to have one last thing little fling. But the thing is, when you stop using, when you’re off it, just that one more time… a lot of people have died that way. I think the only reason that I’m telling you this is in case anybody who’s fooling around with that shit reads this, they can realize that any time can be their very last time. It’s very high-risk.
I just finished reading this book by Dave Thompson, Better To Burn Out: The Cult of Death in Rock and Roll .” It’s an excellent book. I got it because Rozz was in it, and he writes really well about Rozz. But it’s so well-written, you start reading the rest of the book and time after time you read that somebody quit and then they just happened to go back on it and that was it. Eric was a real angel on this earth, and I’ve never met anybody like him. So I dedicated that to him.
I’m sorry if that was too intrusive.
It was a loss for the whole world. He had a lot to do. He had a lot ahead of him.
I’m sure you get asked this every interview, but could you talk about what Billie Holiday means to you?
There are a lot of singers that I’ve learned a lot from, but she always has, to me, been the voice of pure emotion. You can hear that in a lot of singers, but she reflected that emotion better than anyone. Not through any technique. A lot of singers will rely on technique to add to an emotion. But just the very sound of her voice really reflected emotion. That’s what I wanted to do myself and that’s my ideal what I will always be striving for. That’s what she’s meant to me. She didn’t have any easy time of it, but she was someone who was committed to what she did, no matter what. I don’t know if you’ve heard much of her work. But she is who I hold up as the ideal of a singer, of being committed, of doing her work no matter what and having that phenomenal ability to carry emotion just in the sound of her voice rather than with some technique.
There is one song of hers, “You’ve Changed,” that stands out for me. Have you ever thought of covering that one?
I love that song… I’ve actually worked with that song. I’ve worked with almost all of her material except for the happy stuff. Yeah, I’ve sung that song quite a bit and I’ve never quite felt that I had it. So maybe it wasn’t the right time for it. It’s happened with some songs, I’ve sung them at one time and never been happy with the way it’s come out, and then I tried it again later and I think, “well, why the hell didn’t I like it?” It’s just a matter of emotional growth inside. But that’s really one of my favorite songs and it’s one of the saddest songs. [laughs] Maybe that’s why I couldn’t sing it, because that’s kind of been my experience. I’ll be so much in love with somebody and then they change and you can see it. It’s one of those songs where you’re singing and you kind of break down. Maybe sometime I’ll try it again.
You are based in L.A. again now. Are you enjoying the States more than Europe?
Well. I like both. Actually, I had to move out of LA I’m about twenty minutes outside of Hollywood now. Eric, Rozz, and then my bass player all died last year, and everywhere I went, everywhere I drove in Hollywood and even at the house I was at, I’d had so many good times there with them and parties and with my son too. Everywhere we went, we’d see places we’d been. So I moved out in September about twenty minutes away, and unfortunately just last week my husband’s brother was murdered by police. So I can’t seem to escape it anywhere. But we’ll deal with this one. We’ve set up a home here, we’ve built a music room. It just kind of makes you feel like each time there’s been a death it’s been such a shock and now I’m feeling like this is a part of life…
To get back to your question, I was for a long time. For a long time I really missed living in Europe, and then I liked being here, and now I don’t know. [laughs] Now, I don’t know anymore. I guess, you know, I’ll get to tour in November and I can go back [to Europe] and maybe I’ll see then if I still want to stay here or there. I like being here and I like touring here. It’s crazy here. It’s more sober in Europe. It’s older. People are more subtle in their cultures and ways. Here everyone’s kind of kitschy and nutty. So, I don’t know to tell you the truth. I hate the police here.
One more and then I’ll quit. In many of your lyrics there is this constant theme of life as art, giving yourself over to aesthetics… Do you want to talk about that any?
I guess what I write about is, I live in a very inner world. And I probably always have, and in quite a bit of isolation. So I write about those things. I could write about other stuff, but it doesn’t seem as important. It’s probably not very commercial, to write about those things, very contemplative, deep things. But I figure, that’s what I… Again, there’s this inner mechanism that says, “That’s right, that’s what you should do.” Same thing with production, same with arrangement, or with a song. And that’s what I’m given to write about and I figure there must be some value in it, even if its just for other writers or people who do the same thing as I that they’re living more in their inner world and can connect with those sort of things. In a way, it would be kind of nice to write about other stuff or happier stuff or whatever. But I am a happy person. It’s just that I’m busy with inner life and that is circulating around art and thought and motion and personal philosophy and personal anarchy. So that’s what it is. If inspiration is given, I don’t turn my back on it. I take it and work with it.