Concrete Blonde is an alternative rock band based in the United States. They were initially active from 1982 to 1995, and again from 2001 to 2004, and once again in 2010.
Johnette Napolitano – bass, vocals, guitar
James Mankey – guitars, bass, vocals
Gabriel Ramirez Quezada – drums, vocals
“The thing right now for me,” says Johnette Napolitano, “is to figure out how everything in my life fits together.” The Concrete Blonde singer-songwriter-bassist goes on to say she just graduated tattoo school and a “sewing thing.” It sounds just like what a retired musician might do with herself after decades spent on a record-tour-record cycle. Except Concrete Blonde’s future has never been so cemented. While the critically-lauded trio took two six-year breaks since forming in 1982, they always came back around.
In the last few years, says Napolitano, the phone would ring with invitations to perform in Brazil, China and Peru. The prospect of “going places we’ve never been” appealed to her, guitarist James Mankey and drummer Gabriel Ramirez Quezada. And there was always the call of the road and the band’s rabid fans. Even during a “hiatus,” the band would sneak off for little one-week jaunts.
So when another opportunity to explore new territory – by staying home – came up, the band jumped. “Things have changed; nothing’s the same,” Napolitano says. “There are so many new mediums. Something we’ve always wanted to do is just be able to webcast from wherever we are. Finally, it seems like the technology has finally caught up to be able to do that, more or less.”
Via online webcast promoter/venue StageIt, Concrete Blonde now performs monthly 30-minute shows featuring classics, rarities and, potentially, new songs. All this, live a different location on the last Sunday of each month. The shows are ticketed just like regular gigs. For a lean twenty bucks, fans can tune in to the show on their laptops and watch from the couch Napolitano, Mankey and Quezada play their trademark dark, poetic rock n’ roll. They may even work in bonus material like “Mankey’s Worry of the Day.”
“The first one was from Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree (Dave from Eagles of Death Metal’s place),” says Napolitano. “This time [August] at SoundBite Studios in LA, and September will be from Stagg Street Studios, where we’ve been recording new material on and off for the last two years. In October, we’ll play a Halloween soundcheck-cast live from Houston. Part of the fun of this is thinking up different locations every month.”
For a band that, after so long together, still thrills at the chance to play together – just not for grueling night-after-night stretches, it’s a gift. “We rehearse every Sunday,” says Napolitano, “and we have a really good time.” This is what Concrete Blonde wants to present to their fans; the band, in an even more intimate setting than a club, where they’ll deliver the goods in a more casual, communal atmosphere. “We haven’t ever really been that calculating at what we do, and there’s no reason to really be that way now.”
It’s this ethos – along with Napolitano’s powerfully literate songs and the band’s playful but visceral live performances – that established Concrete Blonde as a fan’s band since their inception in 1982. The band thus ensured their devotees would stand by them through peaks like when Bloodletting’s “Joey” ruled radio, valleys like those six-year Mojave dry spells, and those welcome, thirst-quenching recommencements – like this new era of Concrete Blonde.
Now there’s almost no limit to the interactions between the band and their fans. While other bands wear down their tires and their bodies on the road, Concrete Blonde can keep this up a lot longer. In doing so, they can continue to build on their rapport with extant fans and win new ones.
“It’s great on the webcast because there’s a chat room so you can see what songs people want, what they know, what they like,” says Napolitano, “just to galvanize where we stand, just to get the information, because we’re so all over the place. You just have to check your shit every couple years. Especially in the climate now. We’re getting a lot of information off of YouTube as far as what people know, who they think we are, finding us for the first time. It’s crazy what’s going on now, in new media.”
Concrete Blonde is energized by the potential created by their new online existence which, in a very real way, has brought them full circle. Every band, she says, gets to a point where they get together because there’s something to do. There’s a tour coming up, they need to rehearse, figure out the set. “It’s hard to not be that way because everyone expects you to be that way,” says Napolitano. “We like to have plans up until two or three months in advance. After that – you just can’t plan life like that. And then they call you out of nowhere and they’re like, “You want to go to China? You got to answer now.”
In this new age of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano hails “a good balance.” The most fun a band can have, she continues, is from slogging it out together in a small space, rehearsing. “You rehearse when you start off as a band, whether you have a gig or not. [And everyone’s focused on one thing: ‘I hope we get a gig, man.’ It’s those days that are really cool, because some really good things come out of that.”