CRUISING THE CULT SECTION WITH SPECIAL INTEREST


I tried to see Special Interest live several times, unsuccessfully. The first time was at a house show in Mid-City where they were opening up for Glue from Austin. Unfortunately, they had technical problems with their gear and couldn’t go on. Last year, when they played the infamous Hank’s parking lot show on Mardi Gras day, I left early out of sheer exhaustion before the sound system even showed up. That show was, for many of my friends, the highlight of Mardi Gras 2017. This year they played on Mardi Gras in the parking lot of an abandoned tire shop on St. Claude. Once more, alas, I missed their set because I showed up late. So when I heard they were playing their record release show at the Black ‘N’ Gold Wash ‘N’ Fold I was determined to see it. The show lived up to all the anticipation. Special Interest’s contagious energy had people dancing on top of washing machines and literally swinging from the rafters.

Special Interest draws from the no wave sound of late ‘70s New York, an art rock movement falling somewhere between punk and new wave, but noisily eschewing the conventions of either genre. A veritable underground New Orleans supergroup—featuring members of Mystic Inane, TV-MA, Patsy, Psychic Hotline, MAL FLORA, and Lassie—the band’s new album, Spiraling,  was produced by local virtuoso Quintron. I recently managed to track the band down: singer Alli Logout, guitarist Nathan Cassiani, bassist Maria Elena Delgado, and Ruth Ex, proprietor of everything synth. We met at a late night diner to have a little conversation over hashbrowns and waffles.


“Trust No Wave” is a lyric you use and I saw it at the end of one of your music videos. Can you talk a little about what that means?
Alli Logout: Aw man…”Trust No Wave” is so big that it’s hard to articulate, because trusting no wave is just not trusting anything. Because you can’t trust anything. Because things are so inherently fucked up and things are so inherently washed down, that nothing is what it seems. So I wanted to do a play on words, saying “Trust No Wave” because we’re also a no wave band, and I think that statement kind of encompasses all of Special Interest’s belief systems.
Maria Elena Delgado: It’s a music snob way of saying nihilism.

Is that nihilism reflected on the new album?
Nathan Cassiani: We’re influenced by nihilism.
AL: How can you not be?
Ruth Ex: I think we’re kind of just all over the place. I mean, some of it is really nihilistic and some of it is more hopeful and playful. That’s kind of like what Spiraling is all about: going back and forth between extreme emotional states or ways of looking at the world.

Special Interest as a band name speaks to identity. How do you all relate to identity?  
MED: Special Interest is a reference to the VHS genre. Whenever we were young and had video stores, it was where we found cult movies. Someone recently thought it meant special interest groups. It doesn’t.
RE: I always thought it was both! [everybody laughs]
MED: Oops.

I remember going into the “special interest” section for punk, or skate videos, or…
AL: Gay stuff, or porn. All the fun stuff.
MED: And the weird stuff.
NC: Yeah, it was called “cult” where I was from. But I didn’t know if it was a regional thing.
AL: It’s probably a Southern thing now that I think about it: “special interest” rather than “cult” in video stores. Just because the word “cult” in and of itself is scary.
MED: Too close to Branch Davidians, too close to Waco. Can’t do it.

So, is your band a stand-in for a cult?
RE: Trying.
AL: Someday.

You’ve described the sound as no wave. Does that fit under the broader umbrella of punk? Do y’all identify as punk?
AL: We’re a punk band, yeah.
NC: We’re genre non-conforming. Punk is the common denominator.  
AL: We don’t identify as a queer band.
NC: Yeah, I always hesitate to call any of my bands queer because it’s a blanket term for a lot of things that don’t musically align, and it’s just about the people that are in the band and whatever their sexuality or gender is. But then that lumps us in with a lot of things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to be mixed up with.

Is it strange when people say “female-fronted” like it’s a genre?
AL: We keep getting compared to all these female bands that I just, we just don’t—
RE: That we have nothing in common with. Are they even listening?
AL: We got this great review the other day. It was our best review, but then they said we were like Priests.
RE: They did compare us to Teenage Jesus though.
AL: Yeah, which is good. Obviously that’s great, that’s wonderful even. But it’s still frustrating because my identity of being queer. I was born and raised in an area that has historically been awful for me to be able to identify in those ways. It’s really important to me to be able to wear my identity on my sleeve. Then it all got clumped into some shit I was not there for. I had no idea how to react to the fetishization of my body, and being called a female band. And bands in the past that I was in. We were called a blues band once, and a jazz band, which, these were things we weren’t. We were a punk band but they saw a Black girl with natural hair singing, you know? My identity is important to me but it’s a completely separate thing from what we’re doing here with Special Interest.
MED: Well, the world turned upside down so many times. Everything’s changed so much, and it changes all the time, like identity words are just so much more blanketed than they used to be.

So what do you all think about different live music venues—backyards and generator shows vs. bars and legit clubs? Is there a preference?
NC: I’m into everything.
AL: I’m into everything too.
NC: Since I’ve been living here for kind of a long time, there’s kind of a divide. There’s certain groups of people that never want to be in a bar. They never want to do something in a place that serves alcohol, which has always been weird to me, a little bit, because you can drink everywhere. Like most places don’t ID; it’s not really so much of an all-ages issue here. I guess I like when people try new things. There’s a few of my friends that can really come up with a good spot to do a show, pull it off and it’s fun. But then there’s some people that are like, “Oh, we have to do a show, I guess we have to do it at the skate park cuz that’s the only place you can do a generator show right now.” I mean, there’s like a million shows at the skatepark.

How did the show at the laundromat come about?
NC: A few months ago, at a wedding party, my roommate was DJing and a friend who works at the laundromat was there. She was telling him that she wanted to DJ at the laundromat so she could DJ and do her laundry at the same time. She was kind of serious but also really drunk. Then the next day his boss came to the record store looking for her and was seriously interested in her doing that. That never happened because she’s super busy with work. So when Clayton told me he was trying to book the show, I was like, “You should ask the laundromat. It’s right down the street from your house.” And they went for it.
RE: And now Clayton works there, right?
AL: Yeah! Now Clayton works there! [laughter]

What do you think the punk music scene here has going for it, and what does it kinda lack?
AL: I love the punks here. I love the punk scene. There seems to be a resurgence of bands popping up, a lot of new bands that are happening. That’s really exciting. But a lot of bands that I really loved have all recently moved away, so that’s sad.

What new bands are you hype on?
AL: MAL FLORA, Maria’s new band. I like Woof! I like my new band, Lassie. There are just a lot of fresh young faces.

Do you all think that there’s something other cities have going for them that we don’t?
MED: I think the only thing we lack are basements. But scenes with basements are packed with dudes. That was my experience in Minneapolis, with some exceptions of course. Coming to New Orleans was like the most girls, the most gay folks, the most people of color, and it was also the most chill. I would say that when I moved here it was still like Curved Dog and a lot of art punk, which made my hair blow back. And there was no one doing the metal hand thing at any show. They do that everywhere else.

The claw!
MED: So that was a great relief to leave behind. And people dance here!  
AL: They do. People try to dance, at least.
RE: Sometimes.
MED: It’s better than Philly.
AL: Ruth and me specifically, we wanna party, we wanna dance, we want a techno moment.
RE: Yeah, I wish there was more of a rave scene here.
AL: Honestly, that’s something New Orleans could do better. Also, there’s not much of a hardcore scene here. It’s way more punk than it is hardcore, and I think that’s what I like about it… Being at the hardcore festival we just played, I remembered how much I love hardcore, but then I came back home and I was like, “God I’m so happy it’s not like that all the time.” It’s so much more fun to just kick it.
NC: That’s what I like about New Orleans too. It’s always been kind of a struggle, in some ways. Like it’s harder to get things done for whatever reason, and I’ve always ended up playing music with a weird group of people, not scenester type people. People here aren’t paying attention to trends, they’re not reading Maximum Rocknroll religiously, they’re not on the internet all day.
RE: Yeah. It’s less formulaic here and there’s a lot of weird-sounding bands.
AL: Like true freaks. True, true freaks here.
NC: Spider Spider Spider!
RE: They need a shout out, so good!
MED: My main issue, aside from not having personal spaces where we can do shows and stuff, is transience. It fucking blows. There’s plenty of people I would have loved to have played music with in the past but I couldn’t because they were going to leave for months. Then I feel like people that are really grounded in New Orleans, when it’s a time when everyone’s here is when they’re working the most. It’s exhausting. I hate spring time, because it’s just so much shit to do, and work. It’s when I can work the most, and that’s when all of a sudden people are like, “Oh yeah, let’s start this thing.” We’re lucky that we all, more or less, manage to make it work. We’ve been together two-and-a-half years now?
AL: We’re all really committed to Special Interest. It’s really easy not to commit to things here. Really easy.

Can y’all tell me a little bit about how it was to record with Quintron?
NC: It was really fun.
MED: Nathan threw a glass.
NC: Did I? Or did I step on it?
MED: No, you threw it at the leather banquette.
RE: Live Foley effects.
MED: Quintron went to film with Helen Mirren during it.
AL: Oh yeah, that was cool.
NC: Quintron had some crazy huge analog sound board from the ‘70s that he was running through his computer. He definitely had a lot more of a hands-on approach than other people I’ve recorded with in the past. He had a lot of ideas for different things we could do and took more of a role in the recording process that way, which I appreciated. A lot of people that I’ve recorded with, they’re kind of like, “Do whatever you want, it’s all up to you,” but I kind of appreciated the direction that he gave us. I don’t remember how this all came about exactly. Ruth was doing a performance with him at the Music Box. Isn’t that kind of how it started?
RE: Yeah, I’d sometimes play with him in Weather Warlock. Then we were just trying to think of who to get to record us. It’s really difficult because we have all these drum machines and electronic stuff, but then we also are a live band, so he was just a person who I figured would be able to handle all that. He has a lot of experience recording drum machines and stuff like that, and I think it really shows on the recordings. They sound really good; they sound really warm and analog.
AL: And weird.
MED: He did a direct in for the electronics and the mics, so that was smart; that was really smart. And he had a vibraphone.
AL: Oh yeah, that was really fun, the vibraphone. He was our Ray Manzarek on the vibraphone. On “Fluid (Bound 2).”

“At our roots we are a glam rock band.”

Do y’all have any specific allegiance to analog technology and sounds over digital ones?
RE: I personally don’t have any allegiance to analog over digital and use both types of equipment in Special Interest. I think the most important thing is actually feeling passionate about what you are doing and having something to say that you don’t already see being represented in the dominant culture. I’ve sat through so many boring sets of dudes with thousands of dollars worth of synths who still can’t manage to make something engaging. You don’t need expensive equipment to make electronic music or any kind of art for that matter.
MED: I really wish humidity didn’t ruin electronics.

Do y’all prefer tapes and records or online music platforms like Bandcamp?
MED: Within reason, all three are great! It’s sexy and fun to have physical music. It’s also essential to be able to hear music that you can’t necessarily physically access. The ol’ Napster days really opened my world as a teenager and goddamn, it was enthralling! I still stay up all night researching bands sometimes.
NC: I love the physical copy of a recording, especially a big old record. We tried to take that into account when we designed the LP packaging. Having photos of us on the back, the printed inner sleeve was all very intentional. Of course at our roots we are a glam rock band. We wanted to make something that people will lie on the floor and just stare at while they listen to the entire album. Maybe we succeeded or maybe not? On the other hand, I still think it sounds great listening to it through headphones on my computer.

Spiraling is out on Brice White’s label, Raw Sugar Records. Had you all been in contact with Brice for some time? How did that come about?
MED: He bought a bunch of tapes at Domino, and then he saw our Christmas show, not last year but the year before, at The Mudlark.
NC: Actually, he heard us first on the Internet.
MED: Oh, really? Oh, and then he went to go buy the tape from Matt at Domino. And he listened to it in his minivan, named Zora.
AL: Hell yeah, love Zora.
MED: I know. And then he saw us play and enjoyed it.
AL: That was a good show.
MED: That was one of my favorites. Mudlark, best show ever. Everyone was dancing, juice boxes right at the front.
AL: Vogueing.
MED: It was more than vogueing. There was an extra ethereal moment. It was beautiful. [laughs]

So it’s kind of a bad segue, but, the cops just got off for murdering Alton Sterling two years ago in Baton Rouge. The day after they were acquitted, cops murdered Stephon Clark in his own backyard in Sacramento. I mean, obviously it’s awful, but what do y’all think about it?
MED: I mean, obliquely speaking, obviously, fuck cops.
AL: I feel like I’m at a point of numbness and fear for my life and my friends’ lives. Because everything is so inherently fucked up in this white supremacist society that we literally watched Alton Sterling die. We literally watched a death and now this cop is getting away [with it]. It’s horrifying. I’m afraid some really intense things are going to happen very soon where we’re all going to be either violently hurt or killed, and that’s just a reality because of the bodies that we’re in and the places we inhabit and the things that we believe in. Which are all things that I’m willing to die for, but I feel like I’m at a deep point of numbness now. The only hope that I ever have really is in the people. I do believe that people will survive. I do believe that there are ways to overcome, but shit’s gonna have to get so bad first and we’re going to have to lose a lot of people. And I might not make it, and maybe everybody I know might not make it.
MED: What’s consistently shocking is people’s continual ability to keep going. Like when I think about how often very specific acts of violence have affected people or friends, especially here in New Orleans. But, you know, there’s so many ways that people will describe the ways that their politics aren’t aligned with all this fascist violent bullshit. But are they actually helping out their co-workers? Are they actually being present? Are they actually not making things extra heavy for people who have to deal with this shit every day? That’s like another part of just living in a city that is in such a fucked up state of affairs.

So in this current climate, with the state of the State being as fucked up as it is, is making art or music still important and worthwhile?
RE: Well, I don’t think making music or art is going to change anything on its own. I sometimes think people get confused and get some weird chip on their shoulder and think that because they’re making some kind of art that has some kind of content that it’s really doing a lot for people or the world, and I don’t think that’s the case. But I do think it really does make living in the horrible, fucked up, dystopian world more bearable.  
AL: Definitely.
MED: Music and movies and all these things were what we were obsessed with when we were young. Ironically, as I turn 35, being expressive feels more like a vanity project, but the things that we’re making now are things that 15-year-old me would have lost her shit about. And that’s what I try to tell myself whenever I’m like, “Why the fuck are we doing any of this?”
AL: It inherently is political that I’m seeing myself. People don’t realize how important it is to see yourself in these positions, to see a Black girl fronting a band, to see visibly queer people in bands making music, living their completely best lives, looking really hot, and having a complete blast. That’s a part of what keeps people going and keeps people alive.

What do you all think about local artists that run Airbnbs?
RE: Pffft.
NC: Fuck ‘em.
AL: Just put, “Insert fart noise.”

You each seem to be involved in a lot of different bands.
AL: I’m in a new band I really like called Lassie. Clayton from Lee Harvey Oswald is in it, and so is James K, Jackie Brown from TV-MA, and Tony from Apparatus plays drums. And I have a solo project called Autoromantics that I’m not gonna play live until I release an EP, which will hopefully get recorded in April, so that’s fun. And I think I’m going to add another member so it won’t be solo. It’s like a slow and dance-y electronic project, and Lassie’s more of a classic punk rock‘n’roll kind of moment, but still inherently from a swamp and weird. Swamp rock.
MED: When you said swamp rock, I was like, “Are we gonna make a comment on mom rock?” That’s what Otto Splotch calls her.
AL: Mom rock?
MED: Muck Rock. [laughs]

Yeah, public comment on Muck Rock?
RE: Love her. What a visionary. We’re so lucky to have her here. Give her a grant. [laughs]

Tell me a little more about your other projects.
NC: Mystic Inane and Patsy are still bands, as long as we’re all still active that’s all I can do.
MED: I have a new band with my sweetie Crow, and Shaggy from High Castle. It’s called MAL FLORA, and it’s the feminist prog rock band I’ve always wanted. I don’t know, we listen to a lot of Can. I didn’t start really doing any creative projects actively until my 30s, and I’m trying to do a new zine, but I never finished editing my old zine. I need to redo that.
RE: I have a solo project called Psychic Hotline, not [to be confused with] Psychic Handjob. And I just put out a new EP.
AL: And me and Ruth also DJ as a team.
RE: Oh yeah, we bareback tag team DJ.
AL: We “back to back.”
RE: And we wanna go on a bath house tour.
AL: Yeah, bath houses across the world. Total Handjob is our name, or Psychic Twit.

Both good. How do you all feel about social media?
MED: I went off it in November. I’m sans.

How’s that going?
MED: It’s really nice for me. It was the right choice. It just bummed me out, and not the news; just like, constant access to people. I wrote a really long letter recently and I hadn’t done that in a long time. I’d been texting actively with people that I don’t live in the same town as.
NC: I quit Facebook five years ago when I was working at the bath house in the French Quarter. I’m still on Instagram, though. I will say that Scruff is a great way to have sex and also find other places to stay when you’re in Europe on tour and you don’t want to stay at the squat that smells like a gym sock.
AL: I am off Facebook. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Social media really spins me out, being in close contact to people’s heads, and their minds. You’re supposed to lose people over time and you just can’t get rid of ‘em with those things. I have Instagram which I enjoy, but that’s a kind of vanity thing for me.
MED: You’re also really funny on it.
AL: Yeah, I like to be funny. And I really enjoy in the middle of the night scrolling far back and looking at my life and being proud of it. It just makes me feel good about myself sometimes, which is good and validating. I also have a Scruff for sex, and that’s it. I don’t participate in Grindr, although I heard that there’s a whole new feature on Grindr, a trans moment.
RE: You can add genders now—
AL: —which is interesting, but Grindr… just even hearing the word kinda sucks.
NC: I never really use Grindr but I think the cool thing about Grindr is that when people are discovering that world—oh, Grindr is what you need.
RE: I like Grindr better than Scruff. I have better luck, personally.
AL: I talk to a lot of men on Scruff, which is what I really enjoy about it. I feel like everything else I would just run into more people like me.
RE: I wish I could delete all my social media but it’s really helpful. I just have Instagram but it’s really helpful for booking shows and stuff.
MED: I waited on a couple that was cruising Tinder the other night, and it was so gross. Cuz, I do not feel for whomever unsuspecting woman got tangled in that web.
RE: Oh, they were trying to swing?
AL: They try to swing on those.
RE: Swing away from me.
MED: In Oklahoma City, I was distraught by how many swinger couples there were.
AL: At the gay bar?
MED: Yes!
AL: Really?
MED: Cruising.
AL: Oh yeah, that man was straight. That was awkward. The go-go boy, he was straight.
NC: The go-go boy in the leopard loincloth.  
MED: It was zebra print, actually.
AL: I got a great video though.

“People don’t realize how important it is to see yourself in these positions, to see a Black girl fronting a band, to see visibly queer people in bands making music, living their completely best lives, looking really hot, and having a complete blast. That’s a part of what keeps people going and keeps people alive.”

Speaking of videos, you have a new music video for “Disco II.”
AL: Good segue! It was really fun. I think we had a really good night. We just told our friends, “We can’t pay you but we can get you drunk.” And all our friends were down cuz that’s what they were gonna do anyway. And so we just kinda started filming. I think it turned out really well. I really liked the shots of us in Nowe Miasto; Brice really hooked that up. Sweet Things Bar & Grill, that was really fun, to be in there.
RE: I think we were all genuinely having a lot of fun, so that’s why it came out as well as it did.
MED: What I saw in it was a lot of genuine joy. Everyone looked so beautiful.
RE: Especially in that Sweet Things lighting.
AL: Yeah, that tragic Sweet Things lighting.
MED: Sometimes when you film your friends, it doesn’t look like they actually got to be themselves. I feel like in our video they all looked actively engaged in having fun, being themselves and in control.

Y’all are about to go on tour; where are you going?
NC: Up the East Coast, dipping up into Canada and then over into the Midwest and then back here.
AL: Yeah, we’re gonna be in New York, we’re gonna play at Riis Beach. Oh, we’re also playing a sex party in New York called Vomit.
MED: Wait, what? Like, it’s an actual sex party?
AL: Yes!

Are manners important?
AL: Manners are ingrained in me because I’m from the South. Like, you clean up after yourself down here. If you don’t do that, then honestly, fuck you. Be grown and just pick up your shit.
MED: And don’t just touch people, talk to people first. Literally refrain from greeting people physically until you know that that’s cool with them.
RE: Don’t talk somebody’s ear off when they’re clearly not interested.
MED: What made you ask about manners?

Because I love manners; I think they’re really important. And some people think punk is being obnoxious and rude to people.
AL: They’re probably white.
MED: Some people still think it’s like the ‘80s movie idea where punks are just screaming and holding up gas stations in suburbia. No ma’am, it’s not like that. I used to live in the Midwest in Minneapolis, and they will just touch you there, like when you’re dancing. At a show in a basement there’s people doing the claw—why, I don’t know—and then I literally got felt up by a white girl with dreads. There was no reason for any of that to happen. But then those people also can’t look you in the eye, can’t talk to you directly, after you’ve been physically accosted in their basement. Hell no.

How do you want people to behave at a Special Interest show?
NC: Do whatever you want, just have fun. Just don’t do that thing where you lean into people in the pit. That’s the worst. Also say hello, and feel free to buy me a drink.
MED: Y’all better dance!
AL: I go to a punk show with the full intention to slam and let out all my pent-up energy into the universe. All the anger and sadness has an outlet at a punk show. What got me into raving was the blissfulness and freedom to dance without barriers or boundaries. Moving freely around a group of people who didn’t judge me and came to experience the same sense of freedom always felt revolutionary to me. At a Special Interest show I want that bliss, freedom, and anger. I want people to feel like they have a place to dance without worry or judgement. Creepy crawl, stage dive, slam, skank, pogo, jiggle, shake, just get loose! Why even come out if you’re just gonna stand there? Stagnation is so passé. We’re all gonna die soon anyway. Might as well have a gay makeout in the pit and live for once.

Special Interest’s tour kicks off May 25 at Santos with Softie and Gushers. For more info (and to hear their new album, Spiraling) check out specialinterestno.bandcamp.com.


photos BEAU PATRICK COULON; transcription MICHELLE PIERCE