The Collapse Board Interview: Lydia Lunch

The Collapse Board Interview: Lydia Lunch
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Lydia Lunch is an iconic figure in the alternative scenes, known for her fearless contributions to music, spoken word, and film. A central figure in the No Wave movement, Lunch’s work with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks challenged punk norms, establishing her reputation for uncompromising creativity. Her solo career, marked by dark, experimental soundscapes and intense spoken word performances, solidified her status as an avant-garde luminary. Beyond the stage, Lunch’s outspoken views on feminism and societal norms reflect her commitment to pushing boundaries.

Ahead of her 2024 Australian tour with Joseph Keckler, we caught up with Lydia Lunch. You don’t need a strong coffee to start your Monday morning, you just need to spend some time with Lydia Lunch. A planned 20 minute chat slipped by into 35 minutes and could have gone for so much longer. We’d barely even touched the questions that had been prepared. Her passion and energy is infectious. We’d also learnt a lot of new things about American culture and living that we didn’t know before, it was truly an education experience After only a 35 minute session we came away ready to take on whatever the working working was going to go throw at us.


It’s Monday morning here in Brisbane, Sunday evening with you in Brooklyn. Do you have a normal Sunday routine?

I have no normal routine about anything. I wish I had the Larry Hagman routine. He was on Dallas, although I never saw it. He never talked on Sundays. I think that would be grand, but I wouldn’t be able to do it because I’ve got too many shows to do on Sundays. Sunday’s my favourite day to do a show.

Why is Sunday your favourite day to do a show?

I don’t know. I just like doing shows on Sunday. Seems more intimate somehow.

Brisbane gets a lot of Sunday shows, everyone plays Sydney and Melbourne on Fridays and Saturdays, then come to Brisbane.

I don’t know what day I’ll be there [Friday 8 March at The Powerhouse], but I know I’m coming. Very soon, as a matter of fact. I fly out on the 4th of March from Los Angeles. I just got back from what we call the Rust Belt with Joseph Keckler and Kevin Shea, the drummer. We had about six shows there. I wouldn’t call it a warm-up, I would just call it some fun on the road, so we’re ready to go.

The last time I saw you in Brisbane was at GoMA, the Gallery of Modern Art, with Retrovirus back in 2018 [afterwards I found I last time was at The Foundry in February 2020, which must have been one of the last shows before Covid shut everything down, which possibly explains why I didn’t remember it]

Yeah, that was fun.

…and you recently played your last shows.

Well, I mean, that’s the longest collaboration I’ve had, and it was only because we had a bunch of songs from all of my catalogue. But right now it’s important for me to focus on spoken word. I still have musical projects I’m doing. I have projects with Kevin Shea, drums and vocals. I have a jazz-noir, forensic-based album with the chanteuse Sylvia Black that’s unreleased. I have a record with Tim Dahl, his band Grid, which is psycho jazz acoustic with spoken word. So, I’m doing musical projects, but, you know, it is hard to bring three other people to Australia, or anywhere. And Retrovirus, we’ve played everywhere, so time to take a break and do something else, as I usually always do.

I think I read that it was 11 years with Retrovirus, so was it an easy decision to make? Do you know when it’s time to move on?

Yeah. I mean, it’s amazing that it went on as long as it did, but almost everybody in the band were doing other things as well at the same time. And for me, the interest was so much of the music I’ve done, with rare exceptions, and considering I’ve written 400 songs, has been anywhere played live. So to be able to have a wealth of this material from the beginning to now, to incorporate into a live show was fantastic, but just ran out of places to play as well.

I’d like to do a Big Sexy Noise revival, which was another rock band I had when I lived in the UK, with James Johnson and Ian White. Maybe not with them, because I think James Johnson is painting now and playing with PJ Harvey. I’m not done with music, just can’t afford to bring it to Australia. And spoken word is the priority, always has been.

Tell us about the tour that you’re bringing to Australia in a few weeks?

My new tour with Joseph Keckler, he’ll be providing the operatic arias, ballads, videos, and I’m just going to come on and slice that in half with some raunchy spoken word. This time, kind of funny, humorous, and the way Joseph brings that out of me. Stories about sexual revenge, which I think are needed right now, in a very different kind of light. I would call it hashtag “your next kind of thing”, but with humuor, because it has to be done. We have to address some of the subjects.

I watched the interview that Joseph conducted with you a couple of years ago at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design on YouTube.

I don’t remember which interview you’re talking about. What was the subject matter?

It was a step through of your life and all the things you’ve done.

Oh, okay. I’m just a rat-a-tat-tat, as usual.

You were reasonably flirtatious with Jospeh. Is he the sort of person that brings out the best/worst in you?

Well, I’m annoyingly flirtatious with most people, because I think it brings a little joy. I can’t see a woman on the street who I don’t just say, because if a man says it, it might be an assault. “Looking good today, darling.” Smiles. You know, women have no problem smiling at each other on the street. That’s one of the benefits of being a woman. And it’s one of my duties. Just old people, children, even men, just give it. I mean, not that anybody on the street knows who I am, but, you might not expect it, my job is to go around sharing a little bit of sunshine by day, when at night I’m exposing all the darkness there is to offer.

How did you meet Joseph?

He was recommended to be on my podcast, which now has like 240 episodes. He was recommended by Bibby Hansen, who is the youngest Warhol superstar, danced with the Velvet Underground, mother of Beck, and somebody that I first brought to the Spoken Word stage. She had been a visual artist, and so she suggested Joseph Keckler. The minute we started talking, it was during the pandemic, I’m like, “That’s it!” We share such weird philosophical similarities, but the way that we present our work is so completely different. And to me, that makes it a very interesting double bill. Very unexpected. I’m unpredictable. Joseph is unpredictable. And it really is like a velvet hammer. Joseph is the velvet, as much as I might try to be, and I think I’m frickin’ hilarious. I will always be the most macho man in the room, probably. You can’t see that I’m man-spreading right now, but I’m doing it! Trust me. It brings a delicate elegance to it. I just slam right in and start revealing the truth, ugly or funny or horrible or hideous, as it may be. Poetically, I hope. Flirtatiously, possibly. Somebody’s got to be.

You’ve talked about literature being your biggest influence and about the books that you started reading when you were around 12 and 13, but what books and music were in your house before that time?

Well, there were no books. I don’t remember any books being in my house, and I don’t even remember how I came upon the very important authors that I came upon. Must have been a used bookstore.  I mean, I remember who recommended music to me as a 13-year-old. As far as the literature, trust me, I racked my brains. Who told me about Henry Miller or Hubert Selby? I think with Hubert Selby, ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, I saw the cover, and it was very graphic, red, white, and yellow, and I just picked that up. But what’s interesting is so many of the books that left an impact on me at a very early age were put out by Grove Press in America and actually my ultimate literary hero was the head of Grove Press. He went to 60 trials against censorship and won. And what’s interesting is, I mean, Hubert Selby, Henry Miller, Burroughs, the translations of the Marquis de Sade, on and on, he won. And he won by reading some of these passages out loud to the jury. 60 frickin’ trials. And I got the chance to not only meet him, but he put out my first book of poetry to me. It was just like over the moon. Thank you very much.

Hubert Selby wrote the introduction for one of the editions of ‘Paradoxia’. But with Hubert Selby, author of Last Exit to Brooklyn, I think four, maybe he wrote six or seven books, but four of them are some of the most important works in American literature. ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, ‘Requiem for a Dream’, also the film, devastating, ‘The Room’ and ’The Demon’.

I just knocked on his door one day. I got his address, because that’s how I am. I knocked on his door and said, “Hey, do you realise how important you are to my generation?” He just said, “No.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to tell you. By the way, did you ever go on tour?” And he’s like, “No.” And I’m like, “Well, we’re going to go on tour.” Because I’m just bold. I mean, I just knocked on his frickin’ door. It’s amazing. If someone knocked on my door and asked me to go on tour, I’d say, “What, in an ambulance? What are you talking about?”

I’ve only read ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, although I picked up ‘The Demon’ a couple of years ago and have got to get around to reading it.

Did you ever see the film Requiem for a Dream? It’s devastating. It’s like, the only way I could describe it, and the book is also, anybody who reads it has a nervous breakdown. I think that’s great literature. I felt like a deer in the headlights after the movie. It’s really a horrific depiction of addiction and obsession.

But as a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old, those books talked to you?

Absolutely. I’m like, “Okay, I’m not alone here.” Living in this insane reality, which might make no sense. I was living in an all-black ghetto with a father who was both maniacal and charismatic. My mother had 11 brothers and sisters, three that lived to adulthood. I’m from the first Superfund site. So I had so much war. I was six and eight when the riots were right in front of my house. So, yeah, it spoke directly to me.

And also Henry Miller, about his complaints about America and moving to Paris to write, because even at 12, I was like, I won’t say an anti-American, but I saw what was going on. I mean, my generation, we had Kent State, we had Nixon, we had the Vietnam War, Kennedy assassinations. I’m like, okay, I’ve got to talk about this shit. So by 12, I knew. Reading those books and the generation I’m from, I had no choice but to start, you know? “Nah, nah, nah,” as I like to call it, the woman on the hill with a bull horn screaming into the frickin’ void. I knew it.

You grew up in Rochester in upper-west New York state and New York is the nearest really big city to there anyway, but were you enticed to move there because of the New York Hubert Selby Jr and Henry Miller were writing about?

Well, pause for a minute. Rochester had, for instance, a lot. It had the Underground Railroad. Emma Goldman went there, Saul Alinsky, who wrote a book for radical anarchists.

It had incredible rock music. I mean, every concert came there. So, at one point in that period, not only was it weird, but I was able to go and see so much music from 12 to 15 that it was amazing. But it was also the first Superfund site, 50 miles away, and if you don’t know, we have like 20,000 of them probably in America. That’s like a toxic zone. Do not live there. Go away. This is poison. 

So I had the best and the worst of all worlds living in Rochester. But yeah, of course, I knew I had to go somewhere else. I had to go to New York. I heard the New York Dolls. I had to go to New York. Boys who dressed as girls when I always felt quite mannish, that made sense to me. I’m always a drag.

You’ve also talked about being kicked out of school for refusing to read John Steinbeck…

No, no, no. I left school because they wanted me to read John Steinbeck, to which I said, “I’ve already read the Marquis De Sade and Hulbert Selby, alright?” And my English teacher, a hippie, said, quite practically to me, “You really don’t belong here, do you?” And I’m like, “No, I don’t. Goodbye.” And I walked out the door. Here you can quit school at 16. I think I was 15. I’m like, “No, I don’t belong here. Goodbye.” I wanted them to upgrade me because I was, of course, smarter than the average, and they wouldn’t upgrade me because they said I would be a detriment to the older students. So then I just said, “Alright, goodbye.” Come on. I would be a detriment to the older students?

Did you ever go back and read the John Steinbeck books?

No! I read John Fante, I didn’t need to read John Steinbeck. I don’t know why I had prejudice against it at that age, but no, I haven’t done that. Too many of the other books that I’ve already read. I don’t read much fiction now because I just don’t. I don’t write much fiction. I mean, I’ve written about four fiction stories, which I’m always amazed that people think are more true than my real stories. And I’ll be doing a mix of both on this upcoming Australia tour. So try and figure out the fact from the fiction. If it didn’t happen to me, it happened to somebody. If I didn’t do it, I’m sure I could.

You briefly touched on it earlier about needing to move, and through your life, you’ve moved around a lot…

I still want to move, I guess I’ll be moving. I’ll be moving in a few days, sure.

…and you’ve talked about the inspiration of being in a different place, but is there anything particularly you look for in a city…

I understand the question, you don’t even have to finish it. It’s the same thing if you were to ask me if there’s anything I look for in a collaborator, and that’s that they’re appropriate for the project at the moment. I never think about who I want to work with next. I have a concept. And it’s the same with moving.

I’ll give you one example, and I was just there a few days ago, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was on tour, a 30-city tour, some years ago. I never have that many shows now. And I took a survey of every city. “How much do you pay? How much do you like? What’s the benefits? What’s the problems? What do you do here?” And Pittsburgh won. So I moved from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, and I loved it. And I lived there for four years. And I didn’t know anybody there. I moved to New Orleans when I didn’t know anybody there.

Sometimes it’s just the architecture. It’s the economy. I would go from a city that was expensive to a cheaper city. I literally made a pentagram across America. I used to move every two to four years to a different city. Then I lived in Barcelona for eight years, mainly because it had the best airport, easiest to navigate, and I performed mostly in Europe. And America was going into fascism, which it’s now, of course, trying to get back into where it was for four years. And after that, I was just a nomad, in my 50s.

I guess I’m like the Beat Generation. At the same time, I met about three or four other female artists that also were nomads, which is like, “I want to live, but I don’t want to live anywhere right now.” How do you become a nomad past 50? It’s a full-time job almost.

I did it for four years. I’m like, I don’t even know what I did. I had a good friend in New York, she let me stay there. Cats sit, dogs sit, birds sit, not babysit. And I just bopped around. And then I’m like, “All right, that’s enough.” So I settled in New York to do Retrovirus. And, yeah, I mean, every two weeks, I’m like, “And next.”

There’s a site here that gives you the cost of living in different cities. The way some people go on their social media, I go on this site. I’m like, “Oh, how much is, whatever, in Richmond, Virginia.” That’s my social media. Looking up the cost of, you know, Greek yogurt, whatever.

After being in Europe for so long, was it easy to slip back into American life?

You know what? I feel as comfortable or as much of an outsider everywhere I live. I feel outside of everything and everyone, yet I feel very comfortable wherever I am. I’ve lived in some pretty rough neighbourhoods and now I’m in a neighbourhood that’s so easy and relaxed, got under COVID, which, by the way, I did not get, I don’t know how, Fembot, perhaps.  I’ve always felt safe and I’ve always felt comfortable wherever I live or wherever I go and I’ve been to some sketchy places. From the place I grew up to running away to New York at 16 and living on the Lower East Side when it was like Beirut-on-the-Hudson, no biggie.

By the way, I’m not bringing politics to Australia, but I am war obsessed. I don’t know why. Maybe because of the riots that were in front of my house. But I looked up a statistic the other day. We just had another mass shooting in America, which we have about at least one a day, they just don’t report all of them. But I looked at the number of countries, which is about 196 and 174 right now are engaged in some kind of conflict. And that just blew my mind.

I started speaking about the war under Ronald Reagan and we didn’t have internet then but I can take those speeches and just put them into the here and now because it’s the same as it ever was on some fronts. Same as it ever was. Why is the war not over? We’ve come so far technologically. We’ve come so far in science, in architecture. And we’re back in the cave as far as dealing with people. It blows my mind. And some sadistic part of me is like, well, I’ve been fucking talking about this long enough. And what can I do? I’m a small woman with a big mouth. But I was astonished by that statistic. I’ve had the bullhorn to my mouth. My documentary is called “The War Is Never Over” because to me it isn’t, but I’m focusing on other things. the battle of sex, when I come to Australia. Cheer a few people up and maybe make a few people cry. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even wet their pants. I’m not sure. Whatever happens.

I think everyone outside of the US struggles to understand what’s going on in the US but are you optimistic for what’s happening in November happening this year? Are you optimistic for the future?

There is hope, but not for us. That was Kafka, I didn’t write that. No, I’m not optimistic. I’m not optimistic because it’s not only America. 98% of the rest of the world is in conflict. And what upsets me about the recent two wars, and they’re both horrible and immense and tragedies, is “What about the other 174 wars that are going on?” Or, you know, the other countries involved? No, I’m not optimistic because I just think we don’t really have a choice. We have a choice between, you know, a doddering grandpa and a pathological lying criminal. Where are you going to go with that? These are the only choices. This is ridiculous.

And I know they’re just puppets of what goes on underneath them. I have to say that there are some interesting politicians in American politics, but they’re not in the foreground enough, so that we can’t know it. What was shocking to me in the last year is Dick Cheney, like Kissinger, one of the biggest criminals ever to come out of America, and now his daughter is the reasonable one? Kind of amazing. Kind of amazing. I mean, it’s bizarre.

I started doing photo montages because I’m just like war nagging with no solution and no resolution for so long. I started doing photo montages that could bring another language to my obsession, why with war. But then I even covered ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath, where Weasel Walter, the guitar player of Retrovirus, plays every instrument except my band cap, and I’m even arguing within the song!  I have to laugh at it, but it’s a brutally great song.

I mean, the thing is, I’m obsessed with this shit, but I’m not even affected by it personally. It’s like, first of all, I’ve never been censored, I never asked for grants, the government doesn’t know who I am, they don’t know what I do they don’t know what I say. I have managed to not have a day job for 98% of my life. I am safe in my own home. I am trained to kill, if I have to. I’m not touched by any of this, but I’m obsessed with it. I’m the one least likely to have a problem. I really feel as if I was knighted with this horrific duty to just try to make sense of it or complain in a way that other people are feeling, and that also brings me to my podcast – the podcast is great, I mean, artists, musicians, actors, writers, all kinds of people, painters – but it allows for the first 15 minutes of it, a spoken word assessment of either the most ridiculous things that are happening or political things that are happening. And so that’s like my own little spoken word weekly rant, which is good.

And if the question next is going to be, well, is there catharsis? It’s like, look, for the most part, I am a hedonist, pleasure-obsessed, joyful, funny, having a great time. And there’s the other shadow side, which is like, “Are you fucking shitting me, you stupid men in positions of power that are fucking the whole fucking world and everybody else in it? How fucking dare you?” But I have to divide my time between my joy as a rebellion, my pleasure as a rebellion, because if I didn’t rebel with that, the enemy does win, because they will have their thumb on their fucking heads every second of the day, because it’s hard to avoid what reality is. So in that sense, not only am I a musical schizophrenic, but I am a functioning, as I like to say, a hotel with many monsters living inside, who wants to come out and play today. That’s how I deal with it.

Talking of “Stupid men in positions of power that are fucking the whole fucking world and everybody else in it,” when I was prepping to talk to you, I came across that Joe Rogan clip on YouTube.

Yeah, well, whatever, he’s a fucking idiot. Why is he making all this money and I’m not? And I’m going to tell you, it is sexist, hello.

He was such a fragile manbaby in that clip.

Yeah. And that’s, I guess, why he gets paid $80 million a year, because there’s a lot of assholes just like him.

And you know what? There’s not that many people like me, but I do feel I speak to, and they’re not only like ten people, I speak to a specific intellectual, philosophical, sexual minority, which is big enough for me, because they go all around the world doing whatever I want, and they still come out for whatever reason they come out. I only wish I had Joe Rogan’s money so that I could distribute it amongst other fucking artists, put it that way. I don’t need to be a popular town crier. I’m not, because I am not politically correct. I am extreme. I’m confrontational. And he can do that and be stupid. And I can be articulate, but I’m talking to you today, so it’s all fine. You’re going to be seeing me in person in a couple of weeks, and it doesn’t really matter, all good.

One thing I was thinking about when I was watching different clips of you was, and I don’t know how to best phrase it, but is Lydia Lunch a performance?

Well, part of it is. But no, no, no, trust me, I talk just like this when my friends are over, what changes? But I’m not just one thing. The same way my music isn’t one thing.  I wrote 400 songs, go check them, there’s different genres within everything. And I think what makes me different from other people, like a Joe fucking-idiotic-stupid-fratboy Rogan, is that he’s specifically one thing. I refuse to not accept the contradiction of the human existence, where I can be obsessed with war that other people are committing, knowing I can’t do anything about it, then also rejoice in the ability to strive above all fucking trauma and negativity that’s out there, and have true pleasure and have friends in intelligent conversations.

I don’t have conversations online, except on Zoom. I don’t do social media. I think that a lot of people are so busy trying to be one thing or like another thing, that that’s their deficit. So is this a performance? Trust me, I have many performances, and they’re all part of me because that’s what I am. Because that’s what I am. I’m intense, I got a lot of energy, I got a lot of shit to do. I still got to do it. I got to do it to represent a certain minority of people that might not have the voice, but they have the intent or they have the frustration or they have the knowledge of how much bullshit we’re surrounded by. So is that a performance? Is it a performance when I’m talking about fucking war?

You know, when I first started doing this, there was one journalist I recall very, this is so current, “Oh, I’m an exaggerator.” I’m talking about war, how do you exaggerate talking about fucking war? Twenty years later, she comes back to see my performance, she’s on her knees, crying. I’m like, “Now do you fucking get it? I’m not exaggerating. The thing is, I am how I am. And there’s not many equivalents on a public platform, musically or philosophically or spoken word, as women. Why? I don’t know. That’s why I do workshops for women to get on the stage and open their mouths. I just seem like I’m an anomaly.

When you’re over here, you’re also playing a Rowland S. Howard show in Sydney. You said, and I think it was in that Jospeh Keckler onstage interview, that was he was “A ghost already,” and I wondered what you meant by that?

Well, he already had this ethereal spectral essence to him, when I first met him. He had this otherworldly vibe and I feel like he’s somebody that might’ve been dying since he was born, because he could have been too fragile for this world, too sensitive. We were very much very opposite, but we got along very well and complimented each other with music.

I’m never sick. I’m strong. I’m a bully. He was very sensitive, often sick and did not die a nice death, as you know, none of us can choose when we die. But his sensitivity, he understood something in me, we got it the minute we met, that was it.

I’ve said this in many interviews, but when somebody is shy, when men are shy, they never have a problem with me. It’s the macho men that have problems. It’s like shy guys, I’m there to defend them as well. I’m not accusing average men of any of the crimes I relate on stage. It’s always about men in positions of power and the imbalance of that. I’m very happy to be doing that again because I did a few of those shows in Europe a couple of years ago. I’m going to be singing on ‘Some Velvet Morning‘ with Tex Perkins, so very excited to be there, I love the Beasts of Bourbon

Did Rowland introduce you much to Australian music and culture?

Well, it’s interesting because I met JG Thirwell because he wrote the press release for The Birthday Party, and I was in London, and that’s how I met JG Thirlwell, who I did many things with and lived with for seven years. So did he introduce me? No, I knew about The Birthday Party before I saw them perform in New York. I knew about the Saints, the Scientists, I knew about a few things going on in there. And then, of course, I found out about the Beasts of Bourbon, which I really adore.




Sat March 9 – Byron Theatre, BYRON BAY, NSW – TICKETS

Thu March 14 – Adelaide Fringe, ADELAIDE TOWN HALL, SA – TICKETS


Sun March 17 – THEATRE ROYAL, CASTLEMAINE, VIC (including screening of Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over with Lydia Lunch Q&A ***) – TICKETS




One Response to The Collapse Board Interview: Lydia Lunch

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