Miss Alex White
I first saw Alex two years ago. She was 17, and her two-girl r'n'r combo, the Red Lights, played a short set at Chicago's then hotspot, the Beat Kitchen. Though the drummer was a bit shaky, anyone in the club could've spotted Alex as a true talent who had already begun writing great tunes. Her voice was strong and powerful, and her guitar was hypnotic and entrancing. It was garage, but it was better than that. It was a breath of fresh air.
The Red Lights are history, but Alex is still making noise. She's currently a part of the Hot Machines (featuring Jered from the Ponys on co-vox/guitar, and Matt Williams from the Baseball Furies on drums), who are Chicago's best kept secret. She also has a newer combo, Miss Alex White. Sadly, Chris Playboy, her close companion and drummer for said combo, passed away this winter due to a tragic car-related accident. Matt Williams has since filled his spot behind the kit, and Alex has thankfully decided to continue with the project. And her label, Missle X Records, has a few keen releases planned, too. As for the rest, I'll let her tell it...
Terminal Boredom: So how are you doing?
Alex: Oh, I'm OK.
TB: Just OK?
AW: Well, what do you expect me to say?
TB: I dunno.
TB: Well, to start off, a lil' birdie told me that you're going to be on In the Red. Is this true? How did it happen?
AW: Yeah, Larry Hardy is putting out the last show that Chris Playboy and I played. At the Double Door.
TB: How did you hook up with Larry?
AW: Through Todd Killings of Horizontal Action, a dear friend of mine. He sent out a bunch of singles to different people, including Larry, who told Todd that he liked it. Todd told me that, and I happened to be going to L.A. that weekend, so Larry picked me up in his Mercedes to take me out record shopping and to talk about music. We talked for a little while, and now he's going to put the live album out. And then he wants me to record a proper vinyl/CD record-thing.
TB: Will the actual studio album be with Matt Williams?
AW: Possibly. I dunno. Probably. Probably, yeah.
TB: This might be kind of a personal question, but is it kinda hard to play without Chris still?
AW: Yes. He was a really good friend, and we used to practice every day, so it was kinda more of a social experience than it was a musical experience. We kind of shared the music together. It was really important to the both of us. And to kind of...lose that, and struggle to identify with other musicians now... Trying to translate however many years Chris and I spent together... Yes. Yes, it's hard.
TB: But things are going OK with Matt?
AW: Oh, yeah.
TB: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the Miss Alex White single?
AW: I've yet to have any negative reviews...to my knowledge. But that doesn't really say much, because I haven't read most of them. I know a lot of people order it, so I guess that's a good sign.
TB: Well, I like it. Everyone should order it. But that's the only plug you'll get from me throughout the rest of this interview.
TB: Moving on, tell everyone about the Hot Machines. I don't think too many people outside of the Midwest get to hear much of you guys, but it's a great band, so...describe them!
AW: The Hot Machines is Jered from the Ponys, Matt Williams from the Baseball Furies and me. Two guitars and drums. We formed, I think, in the fall of 2003 -- right around the same time that Chris Playboy and I started playing together. A lot of people think it's a little glossier sounding, 'cause there's interplay between the guitars and male and female vocals. Right now we're on a break because the Ponys are busy, but we're supposed to have a single come out on Ben Blackwell's label, Cass Records, hopefully in the near future.
TB: Were any other labels interested in you guys?
AW: Larry proposed doing a Hot Machines In the Red record, which would be cool, but the Ponys will be recording pretty soon, and Jered and Melissa are getting married now, so I'm not sure when the Hot Machines will be functioning again. Soon, I hope. We have so many songs and we've played so many times, it would be a shame to stop without recording or whatever.
E: Well, like I said, I think you guys are great. Do you think you sound like the Scientists? I kinda do.
AW: Definitely not the later Scientists. Maybe the "Last Night" Scientists. Although, we definitely have some of those noisy components of the later, weirder Scientists -- the irreverent noise. For the most part, though, it's kinda like noise-pop-rock'n'roll, I guess.
TB: That's pretty fitting. I think you sound like both eras mashed together, though.
TB: So the Hot Machines are on hiatus for, what, a year?
AW: That's kinda hard to say. I know the Ponys are on tour for almost the whole summer. They return in the fall, and I think they're trying to decide on doing a second album or if they wanna stick around Chicago for a while. I'm not really sure. Hopefully we'll get together again in the near future. In the meantime, I still have the Miss Alex White live album, and Matt and are both pretty busy with a lot of other stuff.
TB: Do you prefer playing with the Hot Machines moreso than as Miss Alex White, or is the other way around?
AW: Even though both share members, obviously... Without sounding like a total jerk, it's really unfair to compare the two. They're both sooo different. I mean, it's really fun playing with the Hot Machines, because I get to hang out with Jered and Matt at the same time, But the actual music is pretty different, even though I write music for both bands. There's just so much of a difference...
AW:...So that's a good way of avoiding that question.
TB: You did a pretty good job.
TB: This is a corny-ass question, but if you had to name any influences, who would it be?
AW: That's actually not a bad question. I would say the Modern Lovers, predominately. I guess it would be kinda stupid to mention the Rolling Stones, 'cause it's such an obvious one. I really do like the Scientists a lot. I'd have to go through my record collection to answer this one... I mean, definitely the Modern Lovers.
TB: And the Supersuckers?
AW: Yes, and Weezer.
TB: I can hear Modern Lovers in there. But not like you're ripping 'em off.
AW: Yeah. More of an "interpretation." I'm going to go through my record collection as I talk to you now so I can give you a better answer.
TB: Alright. A lot of people are goin' nutzoid over Jered's songwriting right now because of the Ponys album. So what is (or, more appropriately, was) it like playing with him? A lotta fun, or intimidating?
AW: It was a lotta fun. I mean, I don't wanna talk about it like it's past tense or anything like that. He is an excellent songwriter, but, y'know, every song is a collaboration. Some people are like, "What songs did YOU write and what songs did Jered write?" You can kinda tell by what parts we sing -- sometimes, in one song, he'll sing a verse and I'll sing a verse. That's one way to tell, I guess. I mean, it's all a collaboration. Obviously he's an extremely talented guy and a kickass guitarist. Pretty amazing. He has his solo skills, I have my rhythm skills. And we both have, y'know, "weird" voices for rock 'n' roll. Neither of us sound too typical. He gets a lot of Richard Hell, I get a lot of weird female comparisons, none of which are accurate.
TB: Do you get sick of people mentioning how young you are? And your red hair? Every time I read something about you, one of the two are mentioned.
AW: I think it's because most "music journalists" really don't wanna make an effort, so they just find two obvious components of a person and emphasize them, rather than listen to the records. So they're just like, "Look at that red hair! Wow, isn't she young!" I don't think it's my hair's fault so much as it is their laziness.
TB: Well, I'm a rock critic, and take it very seriously. Kidding.
TB: Tell me about Missle X.
AW: OK. Oh, by the way: The whole thing about music journalists, I just wanna go back to that briefly. I mean, I'm fearing some White Stripes references, because of my last name, and because I'm in a two-piece. But you don't hear that about the the Hospitals. They're just so quick to make an assertion about someone. Like, someone said I sounded like P.J. Harvey, 'cause that's probably the only female vocalist they've ever heard of. So, yes, I am young -- well, younger than most people -- and, yes, I was born with red hair and have been taunted for it ever since. If it wasn't for people calling me "Shirley Temple" in grade school...
AW: So...Missle X Records? Did I talk enough?
TB: Yeah, I'd say so. That's good enough. So, NOW if you could explain Missle X Records. Rekkids.
AW: Rekkids. Well, it all started because Chris and I were getting offers from people, and we were like, "I don't know. This is kinda weird." We didn't know if we should be doing anything with anyone else. Y'know, what's the point? We just looked at our bank accounts, and we both thought, "I bet if we both just saved up for three months from all of the shows we played..." Shit, hold on.
(Phone rings in background)
TB: Alex, this is real unprofessional. I don't appreciate it.
AW: Haha. But, yeah, we were like, "I bet if we just saved some money, we could put something out by ourselves." I mean, it couldn't be that hard, right? So we just saved up a couple hundred bucks, split it right down the middle, got the records pressed, got the covers xeroxed by our friend who works at Kinko's, shoved 'em in the little plastic baggies and just started selling 'em. I thought, hey, this isn't so bad. Yeah, you don't make any money, but it's nice to have creative control. Instead of pouring your heart out and getting a cut from your singles, why not get all of your singles? So we started doing it that way, and then I heard the Dirges, who just started up around the same time that I started the label. The Dirges with Ross from the Brides and A-Ron from the Baseball Furies. I heard 'em, and was like, "Hey! I wanna put your single out." And they were like, "Alright," and now I am in about a week. And Sean and Erin from the Spits... I don't know how they heard about me, but they asked Todd, "Hey, who's this Alex White?" He's like, "She's my friend." And they said "Is it a boy or a girl?" He told 'em I was a girl, and they said "Tell her we'll give her a song by August, and she should have it out by fall." Todd told me while he was at South by Southwest, and I just thought, "OK." I never expected that anyone would approach me about putting something out. I guess it's kind of a way to help my friends put out records.
TB: So the Dirges single will be out when?
AW: Dirges should be out within the next two weeks. July 2004. Wait, what month is this?
TB: It's June.
AW: OK. So, July.
TB: Maybe you should quit the label and buy a watch.
AW: Don't you mean a calendar? Boy, now I'm embarassed.
AW: Anyway, I'm really excited about the Spits record. I want it to be a limited edition, with colored vinyl and a small toy or something.
TB: That'll be sweet.
AW: At the same time, that's just putting singles out, but I'm really excited about doing an album with Larry. Y'know, he's just this cool guy with an amazing roster of bands. Like the Clone Defects, the Ponys, the Hospitals -- some of my favorite bands. I just feel really priveleged that I get to be released alongside some of these groups.
TB: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
AW: Ask me some more questions. Like, stupid ones.
TB: Stupid questions? I can do that. What's your cup size?
TB: Hahaha. OK. Shaved, or no?
AW: I'm not answering that. Hahaha. That's not fun, that's personal.
TB: This is Horizontal Action.
AW: I'll save that response for Horizontal Action #14.
TB: What's your favorite kind of ice cream? D'ya like the kinda ice cream with chunks of shit in it, or just plain ice cream?
AW: I like mint chocolate chip. I don't like when flavors get too busy...alla that peanut butter and chocolate and nougat and that bullshit, y'know?
Tb: What's better: Pizza or music?
AW: Music. I don't need pizza to live.
TB: See, that's a trick question. Both are equally as good as each other.
AW: Ask me who my favorite bands are right now.
TB: You should ask me who my favorite bands are right now.
AW: Who are your favorite bands?
TB: I don't like music. What are your favorite bands?
AW: You asked me about my influences, so it's only fair that you ask me about my favorite bands right now.
AW: I really like the Deadly Snakes, who blew me away at the Blackout. And I like Volt, and equally as tantalizing, the Tyrades, and the Black Lips, and the Clone Defects, and...
TB: Who's your favorite band to play with, either as Miss Alex White or with the Hot Machines? Elsewhere or from Chicago?
AW: I think that probably the most fun we've ever had was...well, between two bands. Definitely the Black Lips, hahaha. With the nudity and vomiting. And in Milwaukee, which was a lotta fun. And we played a buncha times with the Clone Defects, which was always great. Insane. I didn't play a show with the Hunches, but those guys are... Well, Hart's really weird, hahaha. I remember walking into your house, trying to sleep on your couch. I heard, like, a howl, and I walked into your kitchen, and Hart's in there. He sitting in a chair propped back with the fridge door open, his legs on the shelves and shit, just talking on the phone. I'm like, "Hey, man, I'm trying to fall asleep." He kinda looked at me like, "I don't give a fuck if you fall asleep," hahaha, and I just walked away. He was really funny.
TB: Where's your favorite place to play?
AW: City or venue?
AW: It's always really fun playing Milwaukee, because people actually get into the music. They're not like, silently drinking, just watching you. Always fun to see the Catholic Boys and the Tears... And you, of course.
AW: But yeah, I really like Milwaukee. As far as Chicago goes, I really like playing the Fireside Bowl, which I've been going to since I was 13. I never thought I'd be able to play there ever. And the Empty Bottle, just because I'm super-obsessed with photo booths, and they have the best photo booth in the city.
TB: True. What's your least favorite band? What's the band that you absolutely fucking hate right now?
AW: Like, within the realm of rock 'n' roll?
TB: Yeah, sure.
AW: Lemme think... Well, there's, hahaha, there's a lotta bad bands right now. I think a lot of bands are way overrated. I dunno. I heard a lot about the Briefs, and about how they're friends with the Spits and whatever, and I kept hearing their name with all of these mixed reviews. So I finally got to see 'em, and I was shocked at how bad it was. It was just full of skinheads, and 13-year-olds with braces making out and stuff, and I was just like, "I'm so out of here." I didn't even know what to do with myself. And... Ah, I dunno. There's so many. It's really hard to justify some of these bands. Like, almost everything coming out of New York, I guess. Currently. Pretty bad. I could go on and on about that.
Tb: So what do you think is wrong with rock 'n' roll right now? Y'know, the worst thing amongst bands today?
AW: What do you mean?
TB: A trend that pisses you off.
AW: I'm really just upset by humanity in general. It's not really just a rock 'n' roll thing. I hate almost everyone. It's not a trend that pisses me off as much as the human race, I guess. There's exceptional people, of course. Most people around are just...two-faced, white-belt, douchebag opportunists.
TB: So, people like me?
AW: Well, y'know, when I go to school, I'll be standing outside, standing next to someone wearing a Stooges t-shirt. I'll be wearing a Modern Lovers pin, and we'll both be smoking, and we have the same class in about five minutes... And they totally just fucking ignore me. It's like, we're obviously going to be at the same show tonight. I'll kind of give 'em a half-smile, and they just glare at me, and I don't get it. But in response to the prior question: Drum machines. Definitely.
TB: For the most part, OK, I'll agree.
AW: And to go back to the question about bad bands... You've heard of the Kills?
Tb: Oh. Yeah.
AW: They're two people. Oh, and the Raveonettes. Bad music aside, they're just snobby jerks. It's just... I think it's just megalomaniacs that are wrong with this society. People who are riding the rock 'n' roll trend.
TB: See, it's a little like that in Milwaukee, too. But most of those people are in bands that, first of all, aren't any good, and second of all, aren't even known or talked about wherever, and still they have these egos.
AW: I dunno. I truly just love music, and that's why I blow so much money on it, and give up other things for it. Like happiness, and success. Sometimes when I see a really bad band, I just feel like they don't actually like music. They just look so miserable. They just look so...sad.
TB: Goin' back to what you said about success, there are all of these rumors going around about how the Hot Machines and the Ponys and Miss Alex White had offers from major labels. Is that all bullshit, or is it true?
AW: That's actually completely true.
AW: I probably shouldn't disclose which labels, but we can just assume that they were one of the three that controls the world. They offered to record us, and they offered all of these totally shady... Not a contract, but a mini-contract ensuring that you'll sign whatever contract they give you, a step toward a contract. And this is for Miss Alex White in particular, though the Hot Machines were also approached by a big label. And I'm kinda like, "AAAAAAAAAGH! I don't wanna deal with this." Because no one on a major label makes money, unless they become the White Stripes. And that's really far-fetched. We knew we'd just be a hobby band to them, and if the record didn't sell, we'd just owe them money. They tried to tantalize us with a big advance. But really in the long run, we'd just owe them whatever we used to record. I'd much rather work with someone like Larry, who I can call if I need to, and who isn't hiding numbers or re-mixing something because it isn't palatable to a 12-year-old in their parents' rec room. It didn't seem like a good idea then, and I'm glad we made that decision. Because only a few months afterwards, almost very major label -- like Sire, Warner Brothers, etc. -- ended up laying off the majority of their employees. The woman who was coming after us, the A&R rep, sent me an e-mail that said, "It's a good thing you didn't sign with us, because I just got fired, and they dropped every band I signed." We might've been in the middle of recording something, and if they dropped us, we would've had to pay back those costs! How ridiculous would that be? So, there's definitely an advantage to being on an independent label that doesn't thrive on fucking people over.
TB: Well, supposedly there are some independent labels that thrive on fucking people over.
AW: None that I'd associate myself with. Or run.
TB: That's good.
AW: Well, I know Larry's super-honest. One of the nicest guys I've met. And I'm not trying to blow his head up or anything, but we had a great time together in L.A. I couldn't be happier to work with him. Honestly, I didn't think he'd be interested in me. I was really shocked that he even semi-liked my stuff, let alone put it out. I was excited and freaked out about that.
TB: Why? I think your "sound" fits in with his roster.
AW: It's really hard to be objective with your own stuff. I don't think I'm spectacular or different or anything. I just really like doing what I do, and I never thought that... I mean, as far as the single goes, when I put it out, I was like, "I don't even care how this sounds. I'm just wanna put something out and do something productive." It's a really difficult concept to fathom that after you mail it out in this little manilla envelope, someone picks it up with their hands and puts it on a turntable and listens to it. I was always under the assumption that people would go, "Eh, I got this record. I'll throw it away." I never thought people would like it. Chris and I put it out for ourselves. That's why we started the label together. I was like, "Hey... Some guy with good taste in music LIKES this? What's he on?" I was blown away. I dunno... I'm gonna go with it! Hahaha.
TB: Hey, why not?
Buy the Miss Alex White 7" on Missle X, willya? And keep your eyes peeled for her in near future, 'cause she'll be all over.
Interview by Eric Lastname
Pics by Canderson
Missile X Records: www.missilex.com1>
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