I was drawn to Lalena Fissure at the Village Voice holiday party because she was one of the most interesting-looking people in the room, with her striped hair and mod outfit. She looked like one of those girls who were either too arty to talk to me in high school, or someone who'd be really cool and fun. Lucky for me, she turned out to be the latter, and after attending the record release party for her band The Color Guard's third album Dark Pop at 12 Inch Bar and working the room so I met all her bandmates, coworkers and friends, I wanted to know more about this spritely, energetic talent.
How long have you been playing music, and how has your musical style evolved over time?
I started singing and playing bass with some friends in Houston ten years ago. Our "cuddly punk" band was called Catbox, and we had a logo that looked kinda like Hello Kitty sitting in a litter box. We called her Yo Pussy. Punk is easy to play, but what I really grew up on was arty rock and industrial, so as I've become a better musician I've moved closer to my roots in a way. (And now I mostly play guitar.)
How did The Color Guard form? Are you the ringleader of the band or is it an equal partnership?
I started The Color Guard after leaving my first NYC band The Hissyfits. I met our first lead guitarist at my last Hissyfits show! Through her I met Jeanne, and after that we have had various lead guitarists and drummers. Josh has been with us for a couple of years on guitar, so he's a solid member of the Guard. Joe just joined as our new drummer and he's awesome . . . plus we're evenly co-ed now! I am the "ringleader" (which I am adopting as my official title from now on), but we discuss everything together, and try to get a consensus. We all have to like each other and feel a basic sense of satisfaction for it to work.
How would you describe The Color Guard's sound to someone who's never heard you?
Dark Pop—the name of our new album. To elaborate, it's heavy and hooky rock with lots of changes and layers of madrigal vocal harmonies.
You played a show on Valentine's Day at CBGB Gallery, and some of the songs on the new album are love songs, but twisted ones. How does love and romance get played out in your music?
Love songs are the hardest for me to write, because so many have already been written. It's pretty challenging to come up with something new to say. "Your Kiss is My Command" is about sexual role-playing games, sung from the point of view of a woman pretending to be her lover's concubine. I guess if you take it as her being an actual concubine, it could be pretty twisted. But I think that role-playing can a healthy part of a love relationship; and fantasies are supposed to be kind of taboo, right?
"The Woman Behind the Woman (Oh Mary Magdalene)" is sung by Mary Magdalene's female lover who has just been dumped for Jesus. I had a dream where I was singing a song that was kind of like the Beatles' "She's So Heavy," or Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain," only it was about inspirational women in history. When I woke up, I realized in fleshing it out that the theme was a little corny (or at least I couldn't come up with an un-corny way to do it). So I focused on the first woman in the song fragment, Mary Magdalene. Historically speaking, she wasn't actually a prostitute, but a powerful disciple. And I figured, well, if the church could make her into a prostitute, then I could make her into a lesbian-why not? (Yes, I am Catholic, by the way.)
You say on your website about your new album that "The record yields outstanding creativity whether you're decorating a birthday cake, making a Halloween costume, grooming your dog, painting your apartment, or pimpin' your ride." Have you tried all these things while listening to it?
Ha-ha, that's a great question! No, I haven't, but I hope other people do. Creativity should inspire more creativity!
There's a large Goth element to The Color Guard's sound, so I'm curious whether you consider yourself a "Goth band" and the role of Goth in your life?
Not really; we don't fit squarely into any genre. Or so people say. And I'm pleased with that. I do count among my influences bands that are now considered "goth" bands, though. But also pop and metal and country and classical...I won't start naming influences because it will never end.
What makes an ideal show for you? Can you describe an ideal show that you've played?
The Valentine's Day show was pretty ideal; the sound quality at CB's Gallery is really good, we played well, we had a good time, and the audience was enthusiastic.
What do you think about the shakeups going on in the local music scene, with clubs like Fez and Luna Lounge, and possibly Tonic and CBGB, closing? How does this affect you both as a musician and a music fan?
It's bad news all around. While bands have a hard time here, I also have a lot of sympathy for club owners. It can't be easy to keep a live music venue afloat in New York City. Real estate prices are out of control.
This is usually a possibly rude question, but I'm going to use my status as an interviewer to ask: What does Lalena mean and where does it come from? I've never heard it before.
That isn't rude, silly! My dad thought the song "Laleña" by Donovan was a beautiful song, so he wanted to give me that name. He didn't listen to the words, though-it's about a prostitute! But I don't really mind.
I started talking to you at a party because you were one of the most striking-looking people there, with your multicolored hair and very vivid fashion sense. How does fashion fit in with both your music and your daily life? Because presumably if I sought you out of a crowd, you get a lot of looks and comments about your attire and look, so I'm curious as to both how you'd describe your aesthetic and how it informs the band.
I think it's partially the Texas in me--being a little flamboyant. (We're not all Republicans, either, so don't start!) I believe in expressing myself in every area of my life, those areas being very intertwined. I actually come from a visual art background, and I approach music in very much the same way I approach a drawing or sculpture: with the goals of beauty and craft, and self-challenge (so that the viewer/listener is then challenged too). With some laughter thrown in!
And I like to make my stage outfits, like the silver and black wings! I think clothes can be art just as paintings are art-maybe even more so, because making something that fits the human form is an art in itself.
You work part-time at The New York Times as a graphics editor, and you also went to art school. First I want to know how the worlds of graphic design and music intersect in your life, or do they? Is one your first love, or are they both vital to you?
Oops, I already partially answered your question! I really love them both. I enjoy having a day-job in art (and journalism, currently) and doing my own thing with music.
What's your favorite part of your graphic design job? What's been the most challenging design you've had to come up with?
At the Times I actually do infographics, which do involve design, but also research and writing. The most interesting graphic to tell about is the one that diagrammed John Ashcroft's pancreas! He had pancreatitis, poor guy. I also drew Condoleezza Rice's uterine fibroid embolization.
Before this, I designed characters and scenes for Blue's Clues, and before that I assisted the sculptor Matthew Barney. The whole time I've also done freelance design and illustration. (And yes indeed, it's all on www.lalenafisher.com!)
You go by "Lalena Fissure," a cute play on "Lalena Fisher," and I'm curious about the use of a stage name of sorts - why'd you choose to do that? Do you feel like a different person onstage than off?
When I was in The Hissyfits, I made up the name Suzi Blade, and it was just supposed to be funny. But I did sort of feel like I was a different person onstage. In fact, I literally had stage fright. I gradually worked through it, though, and now I feel like I can be myself onstage, so I like using my real name. The re-spelling is just for fun-like, I'm sort of a different person onstage, but not really; just a different side of the same person. Anyway "Fisher" is about the most boring name ever. Unless I say that I am a "fisher of men." Ha-ha!
You seem to have managed to live an entirely artistic life, using your art school education to pursue actual art, whereas it seems like a lot of people struggle to incorporate their true passion into their daily lives. Have you ever had to have a deadly day job? Have you found it an easy process to find work that is both financially and creatively fulfilling?
Wow, that's really flattering. Some would say I've sold out!!! You know, because of that idea that a "true artist" is supposed to suffer all the time and not have any money or a permanent home or whatever. I like your interpretation better!
One of the more grueling jobs I've had was art-related: working in print shops, uuuuughhh! But in recent years I've been pretty lucky. I've largely blocked out of my mind all the temp work that was just plain boring-mostly design production, which is glorified grunt work.
You're from Texas, and have lived in both Austin and Houston, but have been in New York since the mid-90's. Do you ever miss Texas, and if so, what do you miss about it? Is there anything Texas has that New York is lacking in culturally?
I get to visit Houston and the Piney Woods several times a year because most of my family still lives there. I love it when I visit, but I don't really feel like moving back. I miss the laid-back feeling, and just hanging out on the porch drinking beer. I actually miss the muggy Houston weather! And how the air smells like sea salt.
New York is uptight and claustrophobic and defensive, but how can such a packed city not be? What I love about it is the energy-while laid-back Texas is wonderful when I visit, in my daily life I really thrive on the high energy here.
Do you have any advice for someone newly arrived in New York, or new to the music scene, who wants to start a band? Major dos and don'ts?
It's a pain in the ass to have a band here. You have to rent rehearsal space (rather than practicing in the garage), and pay a lot of cab fares to lug equipment to shows if you don't have a car. Plus, there are so many bands here it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. It may actually be a better plan to start a band in Omaha, Nebraska (I hear there's quite a scene). But if you're set on it, jump on in!