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|No one like Nona Hendryx|
|by Gregg Shapiro|
|August 17, 2012 00:00|
Queer singer/songwriter Nona Hendryx has had the kind of career longevity and variety that many musicians only dream about.
She is best known as one-third of the groundbreaking soul/rock trio Labelle, scoring the massive 1975 hit “Lady Marmalade” with bandmates Patti Labelle and Sarah Dash.
But the uncompromising Hendryx — who came out as bisexual in a 2001 interview in the Advocate — has also had an unconventional solo career, daring to go in musical directions (i.e. performing with Bill Laswell’s Material and being a backing vocalist for Talking Heads) few others would ever consider.
Her latest album, “Mutatis Mutandis,” was recently released on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label.
Before we get to your new album “Mutatis Mutandis,” I’d like to go back a few years first. The last time I interviewed you was with Patti and Sarah, when the Labelle reunion disc was released. Looking back on the disc and the tour, how would you describe your experience?
Nona Hendryx: [Laughs] It was a lot of things. It’s very difficult to put into a short sentence. It was joyful, exhilarating, difficult, interesting, enlightening and great experience.
Of the nine songs that you wrote or co-wrote on “Mutatis Mutandis,” were any of them written or conceived of during the Labelle reunion period?
Those songs came out of me over a period of time since 9/11. I’ve written many songs since then, but this is a group of songs that live together. The most recent being “Mad As Hell.” I was in the process of writing three additional songs that I didn’t really have time to complete, which will become another project.
With songs such as “Tea Party,” “The Ballad of Rush Limbaugh” and “Mad As Hell,” not to mention your cover of “Strange Fruit,” would it be fair to say that “Mutatis Mutandis” is one of your most political recordings?
Yes, I would say it’s the most, as a set of songs. We were always (political) as Labelle, and within my solo career, there’ve been social statements, some political but more dealing with social thoughts and feelings and expressions. But this is much more pointedly political.
You make reference to the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, in “Tea Party.” What are your thoughts about that after the tragedy in Aurora, Colo., another example of senseless gun violence?
Only how sad it is. Looking at this you see how impossible it is to legislate the individual, the human being. This has been an ongoing problem and I think we can look to European countries and learn a strong lesson about gun control.
It still happens; it happens everywhere. We are just more prone to that type of violence because of how we have accepted weaponry over time, since the birth of our country.
I parallel that with the desire to legislate a woman’s body. Which one is more threatening and more violent? One gives birth, one gives life. One takes life. And you want to legislate the one, but not the other. I don’t understand it. My brain can’t compute that.
“Temple of Heaven” was co-written with queer singer and bass-playing legend Gail Ann Dorsey, known for her work with acts including David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz and Indigo Girls. How did that collaboration come about?
That came about through me and Felicia Collins. Felicia and I had this grand idea of putting together a rock/metal/funk band and one of the people we immediately thought of was Gail.
We were talking with Cindy Blackman, the drummer who has worked with Lenny Kravitz and recently married (Carlos) Santana. That was going to be the band, that’s what we were working on. This is one of the songs that came out of our first get together to see what we could make.
Amidst all the anger and frustration on the disc, love offers hope on songs such as “Let’s Give Love A Try” and “When Love Goes to War.” Do you think love stands a chance in these times?
Love always stands a chance [laughs]. They say, “perennial as the grass, it will bloom.” As long as there are young and old hearts, people who’ve been jaded or crushed or hurt by life’s experiences, that is the thing that powers our getting up every day and walking through the pain and the difficulties that is part of the human experience.
Nine of the 10 songs on the disc are original compositions. Why did you choose to cover “Strange Fruit” at this time?
I’ve been moved by that song for I don’t know how many years. It was so owned by Billie Holiday. I found it difficult to get to, to interpret, to feel that I could actually do it justice in any way. It had to do with that.
When there were a lot of noose hangings in different places in America, in the South and somewhere in the Northeast, it brought back that vivid image. And the rise of the Tea Party and other things that were going, it just felt like that kind of thing could happen again.
There was that young gay man who was left hanging on the fence a few years ago, he was killed. It felt so palpable that that kind of energy was on the rise in America.
I went into my studio one day and made my version of the song to try and get out of me feelings that came up. That’s the way for me to express it rather than say, getting angry and doing something that would be harmful to me or to others.
Music is my release and that’s how that song came about.
When your tour does come to town, what can people expect?
They can expect my high energy, funky, rocking performance, where your head is nourished and your soul is nourished and your booty is shaking.
Top photo: Best known as one-third of the groundbreaking soul/rock trio Labelle, which had a massive hit with ‘Lady Marmalade,’ Nona Hendryx recently released her new solo album, ‘Mutatis Mutandis.’ (Photo by Sheila L. Jackson)
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