Josie Cotton Tears it up in “Pussycat Babylon”
It has been said “Every woman needs a gay man for a best friend.” It can be said that for gay, a loving quirky loving, supporting woman is just as needed. For many gay men, Josie Cotton fits the bill. She has been an ally and Icon since her first single “Johnny are you Queer” in the film “Valley Girl.” She owes so much to the community, and has given so much over the last 40 years. Recently she re-released on her own label (and in my opinion FINEST) the album “Pussycat Babylon” remastered and with some GNARLY awesome dance remixes and this weekend, she kicked off her tour supporting it. This album has something for everyone; Bruce Lee, Super 8 Motels, sociopaths, girl power, space aliens, and even Iggy Pop.
She is the “Queen of Camp,” but this album is more serious and unlike anything she has ever done. A very dance-able opus that is a delight to listen to. For all the love and visibility shared with the community, this album deserves it’s own slot in Instinct. She has played Pride festivals for 40 years, get out and see her tour if you get a chance.
Jeremy Hinks: Well, Josie thanks for joining us.
Josie Cotton: Hi, glad to be here.
JH: This is round two for us, we talked right after the pandemic took everything out, we talked about the new “B-girls” record. That was such a great record. You came up recently actually, my daughters finally realized that daddy’s music is cool. The oldest is turning 16, and her fave song happens to be Modern English “I Melt With You.” I was telling her all about the film “Valley Girl” and then you were brought up, I told her that I know Modern English, and I’ve talked to Josie, and one day we will meet in person.
JC: Yeah, it’s the movie that just won’t die.
JH: Yeah, it was before Nicholas Cage went bald and got hair transplants.
Josie Cotton: Yeah he was so cute back then, charming and cute.
JH: Did you meet him back then?
JC: Yeah I did, he was on set, extremely cute, I was performing and he was having the big fight scene in the disco, that was all going on. He was very a very polite guy. No bad stories there.
JH: My daughters raided my T-shirt collection, I have these t-shirts that are 30+ years old from high school. And they are wearing my Sisters of Mercy, Mission UK, and New Order. They didn’t like the Modern English one, didn’t like the design, and I was telling them how awesome Modern English are. Then once my oldest got into them she said “Hey dad, can I have that Modern English shirt now?”
JC: Yeah there were so many great bands on that soundtrack, it was wonderful.
JH: You got into that legendary stream of great pieces for this entire time since that movie started it all for “New Wave”, so, now NEW album, “Pussycat Babylon.”
JC: It was a limited release, over this pandemic it has been a good time to release my entire catalogue. This is one that I have to say is probably my best record.
JH: I will second that, this is a great album. I remember last time we talked I asked you if there were any secrets in the vault that were waiting to be sprung on us. And you said that it was all out there. So when this one came up, I got into it right away, it’s very good. But, “Pussycat Babylon” what made you pick that name?
JC: Because it was disturbing, and I like that, but my friend had written a song called “Pussycat Babylon” and that is the only song on there that I didn’t write. But I love that concept, it just seemed to encapsulate my lack of character at that moment, to fully embrace it, just kind of chaotic “Electro-pop”, there are some songs that don’t even have a guitar on them.
JH: Yeah, it was such a step away from your regular work. The music on the title track was so good, it sounded like mid 90’s U2, (Discotheque / Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill me) I visualized U2 as your backup band while you were singing, that’s how good that song was. This is the kind of thing U2 would have put her upfront just to play behind her.
JC: Yeah? It was so good, I have to say this is the only really “Autobiographical” record I ever did. Every song actually happened to me. It was hard to expose certain things and I didn’t want to. I was trained as a songwriter, you talk about heartache, but you don’t talk about your own. You open a vein, but it’s not real. So, this was painful in a way, and it felt great after it was over.
JH: So like pulling a nasty sliver out?
JC: Yeah, can I say this? Can I really expose this about myself? Cause I’m generally so private.
JH: This is a far cry, steered completely different direction from “Who Killed Teddy Bear” (me singing the chorus), those were genius pieces, but when I put this one on, I thought I don’t know how I can say this, but this is the record that I think you were born to make.
JC: Thank you.
JH: Well, you know that I LOVE your older work, “Ukrainian Cowboy,” and “Convertible Music,” I did love all that, but this new record is so fantastic. What made you decide to go with this sound?
JC: At the time I had a boyfriend who said “You should make an electro record”, and I said “Okay”. It just sounded fun, I wanted to do something dancey. I have tried to do every record differently, all concept albums. This was the kind of album where you could be crying and dancing at the same time and not knowing why you are crying. Are you crying cause you are laughing so hard, or just crying cause you are dancing to the whole thing?
JH: Like a New Order song where you are dancing, and feeling happy about really depressing shit.
JC: Yes, like that. The song “Hi, I like You” is absolutely the craziest thing I have ever done. It is the darkest side of love I think there is. “The enemy is in me” whatever you do there is a doppelganger trying to destroy you and the love you have found. But it’s also comical, and there are Drag Queens, and there are hookers, and then “Hi, I like you” this very insecure and ominous girl, who I think ends up hooking up with Satan.
JH: SO, how was Satan by the way?
JC: You would think he’d be better, but not so good.
JH: Well, “Recipe For Disaster” what a bass line, but you guys took that early 80’s sound that you broke into the world with it. Then you had this “Berlin” and “GoGo’s” thing and still made it sound current. If that’s a personal thing, tell me about it.
JC: That wasn’t a personal one, I just wondered why we hear all the time you say “Well that is a recipe for disaster,” but no one ever wrote a song called that. It was one of those things where the country and western song, you find a great title and that’s 50 percent of the song in country music. If someone has anything to do with the title, they are half of the song. So I took it off the news, and I wanted the world ending with this person, she is a recipe for disaster.
JH: OK, yes, what inspired this crazy verbiage for the words? These are some of your best lyrics, they are outstanding. So I guess that was about the end of the world and watching it on the news.
JC: Yes, but the character in that song, she is the reason the world is ending “I am the queen of the Anti-Matter” is making it happen. It was radical feminism taken to a ridiculous degree.
JH: Yeah, Melissa Etheridge said at her concert last week “I thought that 2016 was the WEIRDEST YEAR EVER”. So, let’s get to that, the video for “Calling All Girls” as your “M, O”, totally campy, just like Ukrainian Cowboy, but musically that was very serious. When I was reading the press piece on this, how when you were younger you felt so marginalized that you were going to have your boobs cut off. That is some serious emotional scarring right there.
JC: Well, the options didn’t seem so great for females, this was a while ago. I wanted to be taken seriously as if that’s going to change a whole lot to have your boobs removed. I think a lot of girls do, I didn’t play with dolls, I just didn’t want to be that, a little girl. I think a lot of girls feel that way. To get serious for a second about it, I had a goddaughter, she was the smartest kid in the world, she was so confident, when she was three years old she would say “And your point is?” and I just thought anything is possible for this girl. Then when she was nine years old, she had changed, the programming and messaging in our culture was taking her down a really dark road, it inspired me to write this song. It ended very badly for her, she into this bad group of people, in the end, she was killed. So this kind of half-joking song, there is a lot more to it than people think. I know it’s confusing being a guy too, but for girls and the messaging, they get on how they can navigate this world. It’s important to have a relationship with your daughters.
JH: Well, I’m just trying to do the best I can, but I’m still scratching my head.
JC: Well so much is shifting,an example, if you remember a century ago, pink was the male color, and masculine. All these things are arbitrary.
JH: Yeah, I get bugged about all of that, how the paradigm likes to tell people how they should be. Tell me about the song “The New Hong Kong”.
JC: Well, the idea was lifted from a book I was reading about a sociopath, described as “He knew the words but didn’t know the song” and that line really stood out. You might remember the old late-night commercials for these Asian airlines, showing these beautiful women through the mist saying “Come and see Hong Kong”. It was like this escapist idea of getting away from him, going to the “New Hong Kong”.
JH: Wow, you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve for this album, what about the song “Hey Now”?
JC: Same guy, same guy. “Super 8” was also about him. I was in Milwaukee on labour day, and the meltdown happened in the parking lot of a “Super 8”. Labor day is my least favorite holiday, and that is my least favorite town. BUT, something unexpected, “New Hong Kong” went to number 1 in Lithuania, I have never gone to number 1 anywhere before, or since. When I do radio interviews they always wonder why all these people from Lithuania call. I have to explain that I had a number 1 there.
JH: Number 1 in Lithuania, AND you were banned in Amsterdam.
JC: And I was banned in Amsterdam, I want that on my headstone, I’m proud of that one.
JH: So, why are you having a go at Iggy Pop then, we ALL love Iggy Pop.
JC: Ok I did all of that on “garage band” the first time I did all the programming that way, and then there I was at this section, and the vocal was like “ah, ah, I, ee, ah” and my producer said “It sounds like you are saying “Stop Iggy Pop”, and, I think that is what I was saying. So I had to come up with this whole story to stop Iggy pop. So, it was that this alien who had crashed, was here, looking like Iggy Pop, and he was running from the FBI. It got really dark, and silly at the same time. That is the B-side of the 12″ single of “Calling All Girls”.
JH: Ok, (Face of ) BRUCE LEE, awesome dance song, I am sitting here bopping in my chair to it. We ALL love Bruce Lee, but the line “I am not amused, forgive me Jet Lee” please explain that, AND, are bad kung fu movies another genre we both share a love of?
JC: YES, especially the ones that had the female fighters, and to get their sounds they would do this “HMM” (chirping sound) right before they kick someone’s ass. I have a deep love for Bruce Lee, for what he did for the sport, and how he transformed the world of Kung Fu, and he was super cute. The girl in the song likes Jet Lee, but she is in love with Bruce Lee.
JH: Ok, so “The Bruce is out there”.
JC: YES!!! (Laughing) He was a swinger back then, he was “on the scene” in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and there he was on the dance floor, and join the party.
JH: This album showed how versatile your voice is, I mean, from “Johnny Are you Queer” and even (Invasion of) the “B-girls” stuff. That song “No pictures of dad” and thinking you had a very Aimee Mann voice, very versatile, you can do anything with your voice. But when we talked last time, you talked about how you found out what sex was, and that your dad was gay at the same time, cause he left immediately after. Is that what that song was about?
JC: Well, it’s never knowing your father, I had six fathers, I never my real father. So that song was about never really knowing him. I only met him once. Two of my fathers turned out to be gay, but that was my story. I always wondered about him.
JH: I got that there was this longing to know him, but again, even your name you got from one of your dads. I wondered how all of that played into your life discovering that he was gay.
JC: Yeah, the guy I thought was my dad was a ballet dancer, I should have known. But I appreciate what you said about the versatility, it was the problem that I sang all these different styles of music. They said, “WE just need one Josie, not eighteen”. As a singer, to use the horrible word “Branding” you have to have a sound back then. Mine was so all over the place. Now I’m free to do that with this record.
JH: Yeah, this new record, how much were you trying to steer away from your regular “M, O”?
JC: Well, I was trying to be more real and honest in the songs. Even if it was a concept, I got to completely come undone.
JH: This is your best vocal work, coming from the “From the hip” and “Convertible Music”, but that was what I loved, then one, yes it had lines to make me smirk, and I was thinking you were just having a great time. But your voice and production, you laid it all out there. Even when you were doing “B-girls” and how getting the band to play the complex songs like “Black Klansman”. Did you decide you wanted to steer away from the genre, the image? What made you decide you wanted to do it like this?
JC: It really started with creating the sound, then the songs fit into it after a while, I don’t know what happened. I was not really released like a normal album, it was kind of just thrown out there, and the world getting it. I am glad that you liked it, I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback.
JH: Well, it’s a winner, my daughters liked it, so that is the litmus test. I put it on in the car, and they loved it. So we will work our way back to “Johnny Are You Queer”. OH YEAH, on that note, every girl needs a gay man for a best friend. The last time you and I talked I told you about my daughter’s boyfriend, he finally came out a few months ago. We were like “Bout time”, so hey, the song happened, yet once again. It was a big thing for her, I told her “He’s gonna break your heart … ONCE” and it happened, and now they are fine. And, that’s what the song was for, and I guess it’s just an eternal experience and a rite of passage for teenagers.
JC: Absolutely, my whole career is saying something serious in a light-hearted way. There is a lot to that song and I think a lot of girls have their hearts broken in that way. It’s a concept song for me, it was an acting job song.
JH: It’s a coming of age thing, a rite of passage too. It happened to me on the flip side, it sucked, but hey she is happy. I do remember you got a lot of flack when that song came out because people didn’t know how to take it.
JC: Yeah, there was a sort of schizophrenic reaction, some people loved it, and got it, others took it very personally and attacked me in a very visceral way. It was like being queen for a day, from all different circles shall we say.
JH: So, when I grew up the term “Queer” was a bad thing to say, till my friend Jim Marcus from the band Die Warzaw, worked with Nine Inch Nails, does all this Industrial work. He put out a single “Queer the world” I told him I found the word unsettling (almost equal to the “N” word), and he said it was now an empowering word and taking it back.
JC: Well, even back then most of the places I played were gay men’s clubs, and they went crazy in Los Angeles, it was their anthem and saying “Thank you” saying “Now I know it’s ok to be gay” they were happy to have that song cause they could own the world. And that’s who WAS supposed to own the word, people couldn’t use it in a derogatory way anymore. I see it as so natural, and a good thing in the world.
JH: Yeah, I feel like you cracked open a few eggs and brought a lot of love into the world with that one. So, I want everyone to get this new album, and enjoy it. Thank you so much for your time, Josie.
The fully loaded audio with all the tangents can be streamed here.