REAL ANIMALS Ari Up & the Slits

The irrepressible
frontwoman on her long legacy, on girl groups, on motherhood, and on writing
about getting her period and writing about it.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

There’s a 30-year gap between the first Slits album and the
band’s third Trapped Animal, but
that’s just barely time for the world to catch up with the band’s
groundbreaking feminism, embrace of world cultures and fiercely independent
approach to making music. But through it has been three decades since her gang
of teenage revolutionaries posed naked for the cover of Cut, Ari Up says it’s like no time at all has passed. “We were the
first and now we’ll be the last, too,” she says. “It’s all one big time to
us…1979 or 2009.”   

 

***

 

BLURT: How did it
feel working with Tessa Pollitt again after all those years?

 

ARI UP: It felt the same. We were in some kind of twilight
zone anyway, to begin with. We were 30 years ahead of time.   

 

You were a kid then.

 

We all were. We suffered what child stars suffer. Like what
the children stars feel when they’re completely put into exile. They grow up a
certain way where you lead in the world of, in this case, music. And then they
are disposed of when they are 20. When they have not even reached an age of
their full blossoming of music or whatever. They haven’t even reached their
full capacity and they’re already thrown into the garbage bin. So that’s what
happened to the Slits.

 

But today, people
consider the Slits one of the great female punk rock bands…has the world caught
up now?

 

Not caught up so much as prepared for something like the
Slits now. You know, when the Slits were out, we were banned from radio and a
lot of gigs just because of the name. Just for being the Slits. But I don’t
think we’re just like a punk band. I think we’re also the first girl band. Because
all other girls before that were just playing the tambourine.  

 

What about the
Runaways?

 

The Runaways were put together by a man for an image. We
weren’t put together as a gimmick. And we were also the first to have artistic
control – which even Jimi Hendrix didn’t have. Jimi Hendrix has to change his
album cover. But if we didn’t have artistic control, we would have had to
change our album cover.

 

You’re talking about
the one on Cut?

 

Yeah. That only happened because we made sure we had
artistic control. Can you imagine us little girls, most of us under 20, how
could we have gotten that going? It was an extreme revolution that was
happening.

 

I think your new
stuff has the same youthful energy as when you were teenagers. What’s different
about it this time?   

 

I think you’re right. The music is the same. It has the same
energy. And all that comes into it is just a little bit of extra stuff that we
have accumulated. Obviously, me living in Jamaica…I’m
totally influenced by the modern style of Jamaica. And Brooklyn.
I’m really just a Brooklyn girl for years. So
there’s a lot of hip hop influence. The club in there. And the other girls have
their stuff that they’ve been doing.

 

All of that comes into our new stuff, but it still sticks to
the same roots. So you can hear all the history of the Slits in it, but without
sounding nostalgic. It’s not supposed to be a retro album. Some people think
we’re trying to compete with Cut. They
think we’re trying to say, “Oh, how can we be better than Cut ever was?” We don’t think like that. We’re just thinking,
“Well, we’re going to continue now. Slits music has to keep going and growing.”
 

 

 You have three sons. Did that experience play
into “Ask Ma”? That’s the song where you’re asking mothers to raise better
sons?

 

I’m not asking mothers directly. I’m saying, if you’re
wondering about guys and what they’re thinking, why are guys the way they are,
or why are they acting the way they do, then I say, ask ma. Ask his mother.  

 

I’ve thought about that all my life – not just as a mother. Because
I’ve had abusive relationships with boyfriends. I’ve seen other people in abusive
relationships. And I’ve seen mothers who are horrible and I see maybe that the
mothers act a certain way and guys can’t deal with it, and later on, they throw
their frustrations out on their girlfriends. It’s really about their mother.

 

You have another song
about child abuse, one called “Issues.”  

 

I do. I’m saying basically, you’ve got issues and I’ve got
them, too. But you have to finish the cycle. You keep on reproducing and keep
on going on with the cycle of abuse. Or you can choose to stop it.

 

I wanted to ask you
about one other song, “Reggae Gypsy.” It’s almost like a manifesto. It’s a
declaration that you’re back and you’re still doing what you’re doing, isn’t
it?

 

Yes, it’s explaining in a nutshell who we are. It shows our
history, who we were, how we started, who we still are, where we’re going, the
future, the past. It’s showing the spiritual side. It’s showing the blood side.
Where we come from. You know, my mother’s side is actually gypsy.

 

The song says “By blood and history.” We’re reggae gypsies
because of our history. It’s like an anthem, a little biography…

 

What’s next for the
Slits?

 

Well, next we’ve got to have more tours and albums. We
should really have a DVD. We must put our music in a visual medium. I’ve got
tons of old stuff. And I’ve also got tons of stuff on tour that we did recently.
We want to mix it up, sure.

 

Are you writing new music
now?

 

Oh, I’m always writing. I’ve too much piled up. I’ve got
about 300 songs. So that album really is a mixture of new songs and lyrics that
have been around for years. A lot of the songs have been written years ago.

 

Which ones are the
oldest, in terms of the lyrics.

 

“Peer Pressure” is on behalf of me when I was 11 years old. That’s
totally a school experience. I wrote that in the 1990s. And “Ask Ma” that’s
newish, 2000 something. The lyrics. The melodies came in a different time.

 

Do you write all the songs?
Or do other people in the band also write?

 

Back in the day, the Slits was a complete collaboration.
Everybody wrote everything. There would be a bass line. Someone would make a
lyric. Maybe two of us would make the lyrics. Two of us would make the melody
or one of us. So there was always something. Everyone put something in. So we
would always say the Slits were writing.

 

This album is mostly me. The other girls didn’t have time to
write. Now we all have responsibilities, whether it’s money or kids and family.
So it takes away from writing. But luckily, I have always been doing music, all
my life. I never stopped writing. I’m in the flow of it. So it’s just a matter
of the other girls jumping back on the bicycle. There were a few that Tessa wrote
the lyrics to. You can know …she writes those dark lyrics. She’s more gothy. She
wrote “Holiday”. She wrote “Can’t Relate.” She’s
very dark. Totally dark.

 

What are you writing
about now?

 

I’ve just got my period now, and I want to write a song
about periods and real women issues.

 

You know, I saw a
band at SXSW called TacocaT, and they have a song about urinary tract
infections. There’s a real female subject.   

 

I wouldn’t mind hearing that song.    

 

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