Jessica Boudreaux on Cancer, Space, and Who She Really Is

Having a cancer diagnosis while on hiatus with your band during a pandemic can really change how you view things, and how you want to express yourself. I am a fan of Summer Cannibals as a great female fronted Portland Punk act, but I got to dive into Jessica Boudreaux’s world for a while. We talked about the solo work, cancer, and gender identity a bit.

politely stolen from her instagram

JH: Hey Jessica, thank you so much for your time today.


JB: Thanks for having me.

JH: Let’s get into the new one that just came out, “Actor”, you wrote it, directed it, filmed it, .. it was all you, the only person that wasn’t you was whoever was aiming the spotlight at you. I have interviewed two other bands with a space suit in their videos, but you are the only one who had an “Astronaut” in a video.

JB: That’s funny, because my partner, they went back to college to become an aerospace engineer, and I HATE SPACE, I think it’s terrifying. I threw them a party that was all space themed, so I wore the astronaut costume for them.

JH: So you did the Sally Ride, well, she was gay, and came out just before she passed. Kudos to her for being able to do that while she was still alive. So you paid tribute to an awesome queer woman in there. What I got the kick the most out of that was, you were the attorney or the judge in chambers, then you are being this KAREN on the sofa, then the astronaut. I was dying there was so much funny stuff in there.


JB: I’m glad to hear that, I was wondering if anyone else would find this funny, cause I was having a good time.

JH: Well, I was trying to dissect it, and what were you saying with each character, Karen with the bad wig, in the satin bathrobe drinking in the morning? You were throwing a lot of stereotypes in there.

JB: You know, I needed to do something that I could do on my own, and for me, the song was more about a romantic relationship, and kind of being “Yeah I’m cool with being friends” then you are friends, and it sucks. I had a lot of ideas for the video initially but when I decided that it was something I wanted to do on my own, this is the direction that it took. I watch a lot of housewives, my partner has been playing “Phoenix” the attorney, so we were coming up with these different characters. I also had a lot of wigs, I had cancer and lost all my hair last year. I had all these wigs sitting around, and I found the one that I never wore, and, well, Karen. The whole idea of the video was to allow me not to take things too seriously and be able to perform in a way that’s a little different for me.

JH: I look at your other videos, and I did get a laugh about that, asking “What was the point of the lawyer” whipping out the “EVIDENCE” files? So, there was the Karen, that had a really gnarly “Twin Peaks” vibe in the sound. The reverb was well done, I can tell you like geeking out with the tech on your guitar, don’t you?


JB: Yeah, I’m an effects guy, you know, lot’s of pedals, I love getting experimental.

JH: In your song “Pulling Away”, I started to pick up a theme here, “You say you just got cold as I was warming up” I got where that was going, then you said, “Don’t give it all, it’s not what I want, not what I even asked you for”. You’re in this relationship, I get the pulling away, but you are saying “I don’t want it all yet?” Most people throw themselves into shitty songs and heartbreak, but you’re trying to set limits.

JB: It’s pretty old, that was a relationship that looking back, I think “Man you wasted a lot of songs on that person, like A LOT”, but at that moment, looking back I was probably in denial because I think I then was with this person who didn’t want to fully commit to me. So looking back, me NOW as a 31-year-old to 5 years ago, and I was trying not to, even in that song, not come across as really needy. Don’t completely shut me out. I know me now, and seeing the full relationship, I see the songs that I wrote, and I see times when I was even in denial in songs. I’ve had that happen a few times when you hash up trauma, and you think you are getting yourself through something. Then you go on tour, and then you have to repeat those words that at the moment were maybe cathartic but then later you wanna stop singing about this. It’s the double-edged sword of making your art personal.


JH: Yeah, you made these songs mean one thing 6 years ago, that’s what they meant back then. You and Lloyd Cole should write an album together, he does albums about failed relationships. So your song, “Ask Me To Stay”, first of all, it was a K.Flay and some early 70s Bowie, I’ve been binging on early 70s Bowie the last couple of months because there is never a bad time to listen to early 70s, Bowie. The lines in there “You were too tough to break, so why do I stay?” I think I get where this is going, you are saying “Everything you thought was safe” in there, you were just going out to let yourself go through all this emotional abuse.

JB: YES!!!!

JH: Ok, “Why do I stay, I threw out all that was left of my senses, everything I knew about being safe”, you just put a lot out there into the risks? Do we need to cover that, or was it the same situation?

JB: Yeah, it’s the same situation (Laughing).


JH: You play around with some of the really fun pieces of the 80s in your sounds there, so aside from early 70s Bowie, where are you pulling these things from? I know there is one question coming, about the name of the band.

JB: I LOVE PATTI SMITH, always have, and always will. I am hard-pressed to find pop music that I don’t like. I am just a fan of pop sensibilities, even in my rock music and even in the rock music that I listen to. But, when it comes to even that period specifically, I could never sing like Whitney Houston, or like a lot of those icons from that period, but it’s definitely where I pull my pop inspiration. I love Kate Bush, she is the artist of the moment with her stranger things come back.

JH: No there is never a bad time to turn on Kate Bush either.

JB: Yeah, I love women in pop, I like more the 80s and 90s pop music, I like more of it than I dislike. There are more artists I could get excited about?


JH: So I say Cyndi Lauper or the Breeders.

JB: I would say both. I also love Carly Rae Jepsen, I love everything she has put out and dipping my toes into making pop, I love how she shamelessly goes full pop. I adore her.

JH: Yeah, my daughters LOVE Carly Rae Jepson, that one video.

JB: Yeah that’s not my favorite but.


JH: So, Summer Cannibals, this is what was funny, I found your music a long time ago cause I am a crazy ass Patti Smith fan, I searched for the song, and found your band. I saw that and liked it. I didn’t know you had any solo work till they said that’s who you sang for. Patti is Kate Bush gone angry. So, on your song “Echo”, I play bass, so that’s usually the first thing I’m gonna listen to when a song comes on, that had this kind of Nirvana bass line, steering away from the Killing Joke style. I like that you blurred the bassline. Love the lyrics “you called out my name, and it only echoed through town”, or “I ain’t too high and I need control, I won’t come down and I need control, you’ll only hear an echo” everything there was intense, that was your punk side coming out.

JB: Yeah it started with the bassline, I wrote that bassline then the song wrote itself around that. I wrote that whole song in an afternoon.

JH: Was it one of those lines stuck in your head that you had to put down, or it was going to kill ya?

JB: You know, for me, I don’t tend to hear things in my head in the same way. I think I have that where I don’t have a mind’s eye, don’t see things when I close my eyes. I didn’t know that people saw pictures when people’s eyes are closed. Music is the same way, I don’t hear it in my head first, for me I will start singing things out loud to find ideas and melodies, it’s when I’m hearing it for the first time. I’ll start playing, and that is where I discover things and where I write and find parts. It’s weird, I don’t hear things in my head, or see them.


JH: So, someone says “I got this riff in my head” and you have no idea what they are talking about.

JB: It’s only a limitation if you had it before, and then don’t have it. It’s always how I have written and made art. I only realized recently, that if you are coming up with ideas for a music video, it’s hard for me, I have to find reference photos, or draw things.

Album cover (you really gotta check it out)

JH: That makes the whole writing process very static, it’s not a concept in your head, it doesn’t exist until you sit down and start working on it. So, when you do a cover of someone’s song, you have it there already, so something you already know what it’s going to sound like.


JB: Yeah I usually write alone, but I also record when I write, so I can share with my bandmates or whoever I am working with.

JH: SO, your song “Cruel Summer” I thought “Bananarama!!!!!!” oh,… well NO… …. But that’s ok, I still liked it, congratulations. My girls listen to Taylor Swift, and aside from that Jackass Kanye West always ruining it for her, but I have heard people do covers better than her. I’m not saying she is bad, but people do great covers, yours is very well done.

JB: Yeah it highlights what a great songwriter she is, “Cruel Summer” is one of my favorite songs by her, but the production I find off-putting, but because the song is so good, and the bridge is one of the best. To me covering it was really exciting, to take out the parts of the song that I am not big a fan of, which honestly don’t have to do with her. That tends to be my biggest qualm with radio pop is that I can always find things in the production that I like, but if it’s that really clean, tight, emotionless production, no grit. I find how it weighs down some great songs.

JH: I hear ya, I’m the guy who goes and reads the production notes, and I notice who did what, bassline here, mixing there. I mean, Adele, her bassist did a lot of her production, and the new Adele work, as far as production goes, it’s some of the best I have ever heard in pop-rock history. I’m not a producer, I’m just some jerk who reads a lot of notes. So, it’s cool to talk to another production snob. So, your line, Melissa Etheridge sang about it, in her song “I Run For Life”. Your line “It’s the new shape of your body” was that about your cancer? A lot of images in that song came up, and you just had your bout with Cancer and won, congratulations by the way. But that made it so much heavier, was that part of it? Melissa Etheridge sang about that before and after cancer.


JB: You know, I don’t think that’s why I picked it, the woman Stevie who I collaborated with on that, she also just finished her bout with breast cancer. It was really wild, I wouldn’t have called us friends, we knew each other, we like each-others music, and we shared a label, but after they were diagnosed, I was probably about a year into it, I was wrapping up my treatments, and they were getting started on theirs, and ended up having a similar diagnosis and treatment plan to me, obviously we talked a lot and got closer because there is not a lot of people our age who have dealt with this, much fewer musicians putting out records. Honestly, I think both of us wanted to do something fun, and this song was fun for both of us.

JH: But you can see those lines where I felt like it was a reference. “This new shape of my body” I have had this cut away from me, but I’m still here.

JB: Yes.

JH: So, you had Summer Cannibals there, and you canceled a lot of work, tours, etc, because of this.


JB: First it was COVID.

JH: Oh, yeah that.

JB: And then cancer was what stopped us from getting back on the road when things started happening again. It took up all my energy and all my time. Tomorrow Summer Cannibals are having their first time all meeting in 2 years. We’re writing, and I was having a hard time finding the space to write about the last couple of years in pop music, and I don’t want to make a sad cancer album. But as I am writing for Summer Cannibals again, it’s cathartic and doesn’t feel so sad. Doing with people who I love and trust and have been playing with for years makes a big difference.


JH: So you do have that to where you can say “I’ll go do pop for a while, and the Cannibals will still be the Cannibals”, no bad blood there.

JB: Yes, absolutely.

JH: So where you “out” during that time in Summer Cannibals, cause you were in that video “Full of It”, playing on the porch, the bedroom, the kitchen, wherever you could be to do those shots. You were having a good time.

JB: Oh, Yeah that was fun.


JH: But that one shot of you in the closet, was that a sign, or just a joke?

JB: Well, I was “out” at that time, but, one foot in the closet still, or at least trying to still date men. But that last relationship made me accept that I am gay. I don’t think I really came out ever, I think I just have been very fortunate to be surrounded by people who said “Cool, you just keep on doing what you are doing”. It’s different than having to have that conversation, and I am grateful for it. My brother and his wife, I told an hour before my partner got to the house for Thanksgiving. “Hey, I’m gay and my partner is coming over”, he said “Oh, cool”.

lifted politely from her instagram page

JH: See, it should be that easy.


JB: Agreed.

JH: Do you know Fred Snider from the B’52s, he has the best story. He said he approached his grandmother while she was vacuuming, and he said “Grandma I have to tell you something, she turned off the vacuum and I said “I’m GAY” and she said “Oh that’s ok Freddie, I already knew that” then went back to vacuuming” I LOVE that story, they should all be that. I need every kid in the world for it to be that way, for them all to know that a family is waiting for them. Right now, I guess because of your health, (just beating cancer, KUDOS), you are the only queer artist I know that isn’t trying to land a pride gig.

JB: I have had my share of shows for the moment, the last tour we did as Summer Cannibals was 200 dates in one year. Everyone is pretty burned out for now. But we are excited to approach Summer Cannibals, we are not trying to “Make it”, it is not the same kind of goals in mind. It’s a way more personal thing now. I wanna be at home, I like my dogs, and my partner too much.

JH: So your partner is supportive?


JB: Yeah my partner Kathy and I toured and played in Summer Cannibals together. They are a recording engineer and gave it up to become an aerospace engineer.

JH: YOU HATE SPACE, You don’t watch SCI-FI or DUNE, or even pay attention to the war between Star Trek and Star Wars fans.

JB: I like Star Trek, it’s the reality of space that makes me feel insignificant.

JH: Well thank you, Jessica, I wish you all the success with the new work, I’m looking forward to hearing it.


The whole of this interview with all its tangents can be heard here.

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