Lene Lovich at the Stereo Society
Lene Lovich profile by Ruth Polsky
The Aquarian/July 4-July 11, 1979
Lene Lovich (Lay-na Luv-itch) Dials The Lucky Number
by Ruth Polsky
Six months ago, Lene Lovich was the most enigmatic figure of that motley company known as the Be Stiff Tour. Dressed in thrift-shop gypsy lace, with her fiery red hair worn in two long plaits, Lovich sang in unearthly registers and interspersed her singing with frenetic bursts of saxophone. The critics, for once, were nonplused, and could only manage an inept Patti Smith comparison that gave no indication of Lovich’s range.
Then came the single release of Lucky Number, a remixed version of a song from Lovich’s Stiff album, Stateless. The single reached No. 2 in the British charts, happily coinciding with Lovich’s solo tour: by the end of the tour, in March, sold-out halls and adoring audiences proved that she had moved from obscurity to stardom, at least in Britain and Europe.
From there, the scenario returns to America. Stiff Records recently signed a deal with CBS/Epic, involving Lovich, Ian Dury, Ian Gomm and Rachel Sweet. A remixed, repackaged edition of Stateless is now available domestically on Epic, and an extensive promo campaign is in the works. Like the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ of her song, it looks as though Lovich is about to ‘climb inside a brand-new life.’
Despite her Eastern European appearance, Lovich was actually born in Detroit, where she lived until she was 13. As she indicates in the song Home, her childhood was marked by anger and confusion. ‘When you’re young and sensitive,’ she says, ‘you want so badly for the ‘ideal home,’ you want your mother and father to get on with each other, but it’s just not there ·. My mother eventually ran away from my father, and that’s how we wound up in England.’
Lovich’s education in England included the inevitable stint at art school, where she met Les Chappell, her guitarist, songwriting partner and constant companion. It was also in art school that she took up the saxophone, finding it the instrument she was most comfortable playing. ‘That was about five years ago,’ she recalls. ‘Interspersed with that, I was in France, doing some lyric writing for a guy called Cerrone, although I was never credited. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe · I Worked in Greece, in a cabaret act as an oriental dancer – but I’m not going into that!’
The current phase of Lovich’s career began about a year ago, with a phone call to Charlie Gillett, a well-respected writer, disc jockey, and tastemaker. ‘Charlie had a spot on his radio show for musicians to advertise, so I rang up and said, ‘My name’s Lene, I’m a sax player, and I’d like to be in a band.’ So he gave out my number, and nobody called! Not one person, and I was sitting by the phone!’ She laughs merrily. ‘So I wrote him a very formal letter, giving more information about me, and then Charlie called me. We eventually made a demo of I Think We’re Alone Now, and played it to Dave Robinson of Stiff, who liked it straightaway.’
With the Stiff signing, Lovich and Chappell began to write songs together for the first time. ‘A lot of things inspire me to write,’ she explains. ‘It’s not usually directly linked with any one person or event. All the things that I experience just seem to go through me and · come out the other end! The songs develop that way. But sometimes I’m inspired by a riff that Les is playing on the guitar – I just suddenly see the whole movie.’ Ironically, their earliest collaboration was a primitive version of Lucky Number, originally the B-side of I Think We’re Alone Now. Lovich describes her bit hit as ‘a romantic song with a modern spirit. But really the thing that made it appeal to a lot of different people was the little noise I make, and that noise is an ‘ah-oo, ah-oo.’
Lovich’s vocal ‘noises,’ along with the often-jerky rhythms of her songs, give her music its distinctive feel. She speaks with warmth about her approach to singing. ‘I love synthesizers. I do love all these really exciting sounds, but I like it even more if I can make a sound humanly. I like listening to ethnic music, where people are just using their voices to make sounds. Sometimes you can create an emotion without saying any words; it’s a little bit subliminal, but it is direct communication. The human voice –there’s nothing like it to really get through. All the songs that I do are to create an atmosphere, an emotion, so that I can tell my story.’
Onstage, Lene Lovich’s emotionality gives her a sensual, feminine presence, but she also projects strength and power. ‘I want to be purposeful, I don’t want to be just a decoration on the stage,’ she affirms. ‘That doesn’t mean that I don’t like pretty clothes, ’cause I do, and I feel strongly that clothes should be either really pretty, or keep you warm, and anything in the middle is just boring to me·. But I’m not there to make the band interesting. I’m not that at all. Actually, on a couple of past occasions, people have thought that I was a man in drag, because I wear a scarf that disguises the top of the head, and they thought my hair was a wig. Maybe it’s because people just don’t think girls play sax, or come across so aggressively ·. It’s just being positive ·. I don’t really want to be praised for good looks, or being sexy – I want to be appreciated for what I do.’
Part of Lovich’s determination comes from a need to avoid repeating her mother’s mistake. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get married. There’s just something about it. It shouldn’t make any difference, but I know that people who’ve been living with somebody, everything’s fine, and then they get married and it gets weird. I’ve sort of fallen into this type of career, mainly by accident, but now that I’m here, this feels like that natural thing for me to be in. I’ve got a lot of feminists coming up to me – they like me, ’cause they see I’m doing something – and they’re very surprised when they hear I’m not a rampant feminist. I just believe that people should be really fair to everyone, regardless of what they are.’
Such an ingenuous remark might sound affected coming from another person, but from Lene Lovich it is wholly believable. Her candid blue eyes reflect a wealth of experiences, untainted by cynicism. Future plans – which include the release of a film called Cha Cha, made with German sensation Nina Hagen, and an American tour this autumn – may bring changes, but she’s prepared. Lene Lovich is, in her own words, one in a million.