Eloise interviews Lois about Olympia and the International Pop Underground, the Hong Kong Café and L.A. punk, and Save Music in Chinatown 14

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Having met through zines and shows decades ago, over the last few years my family and I have been seeing Lois and Eric regularly during our trips to the Pacific Northwest and their stops down in Los Angeles. It was almost exactly one year ago that we gave them Eloise’s latest mix tape for their long drive back up the coast and they gave us the latest Selector Dub Narcotic jam by Calvin Johnson. Guess what? Through relentless correspondence and pure fandom on my part, Lois and Calvin are now slated to play our next all-ages matinee fund raiser for Castelar Elementary’s music program on Sunday, January 28 at the Grand Star. How exciting for this particular bill to mash-up key figures and friends from Oympia, WA’s International Pop Underground with our pals Phranc and Alice Bag, punk lifers who were part of the first-wave scene in Chinatown. Wow, two of my favorite subcultures on the same stage and here’s a Q&A with two of my favorite people to get everyone else excited about it: Eloise and Lois.

EW: So here we are at Philippe in Chinatown and we will now do an interview with me and Lois. So the first question is, when did you pick up a guitar? What inspired you?
LM: The first time I picked up a guitar, I was already in college. I didn’t start very young. I played flute in grade school band but I didn’t really aspire to be a musician.

I did an internship in Portland, OR, and walked by this music shop called Captain Wizeagles. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was owned by Fred and Toody Cole, who were in a band called Dead Moon. And Toody had been in a band called The Rats. They were really, super cool people. I came to love their music a lot but, at the time, I walked by the window and saw this black guitar that looked like the one that was played by The Everly Brothers, another band I love. I don’t know what came over me but I had to have it. I was like, “Man, I want that Everly Brothers guitar!” So I walked in and asked, just like the song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” It was 40 dollars and I said, “I’ll take it.”

So I was kind of inspired by the beauty of the object more than the music that I wanted to play. I just had to figure out how to do it. Luckily, my friend Calvin made me a diagram of three chords and I started teaching myself how to play.

EW: That’s cool. Was it hard or did it come easy to you?
LM: It came hard because, sometimes, when you teach yourself you have to follow your own sound. It’s hard to mimic other songs and I still have a bit of hard time playing the guitar. My style is very rhythmic. I don’t really pick out the notes of songs. I just think of rhythms and built my tunes for the lyrics on top of them.

EW: When you started playing, did you make new friends? Travel to cool places?
LM: I started playing in about 1984 and, until now, that’s a lot of years. The two best things about it are the friends I made and places I’ve been able to visit.

The friendships you make in music usually come because you are fans of the same bands. That will draw you together. Or you can play or make music together. I was joking at a show I played in Olympia with Heather Dunn, who was playing drums, that I’m not really in touch or friends with all the people that I’ve ever dated but I am friends with all the people I’ve ever played music with.

As far as travel goes, I’ve been to some amazing places in the United States, I’ve played a few shows in Europe, and I’ve been to Japan twice. I’ve been to Australia on tour. But there is a cautionary note: if you like to travel, touring is not the best way to do it. You have to be at the place you’re playing music in the afternoon to set up and do sound check and then the next day you go someplace else. So there’s a lot of places I’ve played shows at that I’d like to go back to because I didn’t have enough time. But if you are playing a show, use your audience to ask questions like where to eat and if there are sights to see. It’s a good way to find out about a town.

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EW: How did you meet Daddy?
LM: I think I met Martin and Wendy because I was a fan of Giant Robot fanzine. I can’t remember where I got Giant Robot 1, probably from my friend Tae Won Yu, and I read the article your dad wrote about being Hello Kitty—I don’t know what you would call that, a mascot?—at a Hello Kitty Store. It was really touching and I remember thinking how hard it must be to have children come up and hug your legs, pat you, and say, “I love you!” when he said all he could do was move back and forth. So I wrote a fan letter and didn’t meet Martin in person until several years later, probably at a music show. And then, I think he came to Olympia and visited with Tae and Nikki at their house.

EW: I noticed that on the back of all of your records, it says, “This is the International Pop Underground.” What does that mean?
LM: Well, all the records I made as Lois were for a label in Olympia, WA called K Records. Calvin Johnson, who is the founder, adheres to this idea that all of us who play independent music are connected by ideas, friendships, and things like that. And we’re an underground, not part of the overculture. His way of describing that is international because it’s global and pop because it covers a lot of music in a shorthand way. So we’re part of the International Pop Underground.

In 1991, Calvin and several other people put together the International Pop Underground Convention, a few days of shows by lots of different kinds of bands. Pastels came from Scotland. Thee Headcoats came from England. Fugazi and the Nation of Ulysses came from Washington DC. And lots of things happened at that event, including what a lot of people describe as, maybe not the very first idea of Riot Grrrl, but where the kindling was lit by a match. It was an all-female bands show called “Revolution, Girl Style Now!” and bands like Heavens to Betsy and Bikini Kill played it. There were all sorts of wonderful things at the festival, but that was one asterisk.

EW: There were all girl bands?
LM: On that night at the convention, yes.

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EW: That’s cool! What do you know about the history of punk in Los Angeles and Chinatown?
LM: Well, I think of all the L.A. punk bands, and there is a very rich history, one of my very, very favorites is The Germs. And I know that some of the earliest and only Germs shows took place at the Hong Kong Café.

EW: Last question: Are you excited about playing next to the old Hong Kong Café?
LM: I am beyond excited because your mom and dad have done so much incredible work not only to raise money for Castelar Elementary’s music program but to preserve and honor and enrich the presence of music in Chinatown, which had such an impact on punk music—wordwide, really, but in L.A. especially. The astounding shows that took place there in the late ‘70s were real wild and sometimes a little violent. I feel like I’ll be part of history and support the work that your entire family does to save music in Chinatown!

EW: Thank you! That is the end of our Q&A at Philippe in Chinatown.
LM: Thank you, Eloise.

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Find out more about Save Music in Chinatown 14 at the Facebook event page and get tickets at eventbrite.com.

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One thought on “Eloise interviews Lois about Olympia and the International Pop Underground, the Hong Kong Café and L.A. punk, and Save Music in Chinatown 14

  1. What a great interview! Kudos to Eloise! I remember being in college in 1991, reading music magazines and wondering what questions would I ask and thinking all these cool bands and shows were happening far away from my small rural school.

    Like

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