Joyride: the Songs of Lida Husik

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I first became aware of Lida Husik’s work from a stellar review by Lois Maffeo in Puncture. Back in the pre-internet days I used to carry around a handwritten list of records I was looking for, and one day I hit pay dirt by finding Your Bag in my local shop’s $1 bin. And it turned out to be the best $1 I ever spent, because I can say without question that Your Bag is one of my favorite records of all time.

It’s a hybrid record that bridges the more straightforwardly ‘rock’ sound from Lida’s debut Bozo by stretching it out with sprawling, hypnotically hallucinogenic passages. (I later found out that this was because there was a misunderstanding about it being an EP —subsequently the tracks got stretched out to LP-length.) At times dreamily bucolic, at others times acid-drenched (in both the Woodstock and adjectival senses of the word), it’s not only a delightful crazy–quilt of sounds from start (the sing-song-y, elegiac “Your Bag”) to finish (the ten-minute long, beat-heavy acid-house pastiche “Match from Mars”) but one of the most moving albums about love and loss I’ve ever heard.

Lida made her first appearance on the Dischord compilation State of the Union, her dreamy poeticism strikingly different from the bristling, sometimes brutal angularity of her peers. But Husik, who grew up in “sweet old DC …before the Republicans came”, has proven again and again that romanticism and political engagement need not be mutually exclusive qualities in songwriting, as her deft writing never once tips over into mere didacticism. This is not an easy feat —how many usually capable songwriters fall flat on their faces when pointed commentary is the order of the hour? (The last Le Tigre album comes painfully to mind.)

Lida’s work with Kramer for his Shimmy Disc label resulted in three marvelous albums: 1991’s Bozo(or, as Lida wryly describes it, “my cute baby record, filled with girlish sparkle and drool”), the aforementioned Your Bag, and 1992’s The Return of Red Emma (a reference to Lida’s early State of the Union nom-de-plume and to the record’s higher-profile political focus).

Post-Shimmy Disc she signed to Virgin subsidiary Caroline and entered into a fruitful, long-running collaboration with British ambient-techno musician Beaumont Hannant. (Harder to track down but well worth it are Lida’s three songs on Hannant’s UK album Sculptured. On your marks, get set —ebay!)

Lida’s path in music has been a bit wayward of late. Things have been relatively quiet since 1999’s Alias swan song Mad Flavor. But she’s been making music, slowly but surely, and since the release of two new songs on a CD accompanying the literary magazine Gargoyle there’s been a flurry of activity.

There’s the new single, Nuclear Soul . All Lida’s albums are now available via Itunes. And in October she’ll be collaborating with Danish cellist Soma Allpass for a couple songs she’ll be including on her next full-length album.

Let’s hope there’s a tour in there somewhere!

SEVERAL PERTINENT FACTS ABOUT LIDA HUSIK:

1) She is criminally underrated. I mean CRIMINALLY.

2) She writes the most beautiful pop songs. Why they’re not universally known I have NO IDEA. I’m hell bent on getting the word out there. HELL BENT I say! If you see me on a street corner passing out copies of Lida records, don’t say I didn’t warn ya. And take one, for Christ’s sake!

3) Her melding of the existential (“Someday we’ll die with nothing figured out”) and the quietly ecstatic (“Hands in my pockets and I’m walking under colored lights/Warm weather coming on/Rain drop rings dancing out like an echo/…What a beautiful movie this day would make”) makes her the songwriter equivalent of Denton Welch.

4) She can use the word gendarmes correctly in a sentence.

Lida was kind enough to submit to the Warped Reality version of 20 questions —not once but TWICE. Here’s what she had to say…

*****

What were your formative musical experiences?

I’m so glad to have come of age in the 80’s which was the most fantastic time for music and for a fledgling musician. The whole period was so exciting on every level, art, music and the feeling of making a political difference. Certain shows were amazing and empowering: the Bush Tetras at 9:30 club, Richard Lloyd of Television’s solo show there, the Cramps, Pretenders with English Beat.

I remember the Bush Tetras because they were all ladies except the drummer and they were so strong up there, so rhythmic and complex, yet funny and campy and beautiful.

I gotta say Chrissie Hynde live in 1981 was a shock. I couldn’t believe she was real —she was like some machine of perfect punk power, so accurate, and that voice. I’m still blown away by her as a musician and as a human animal…

And all my little friends from kindergarden were making a lot of good noise at Dischord. I was involved with positive force the punk political group so it was a fun time in my life and very formative of who I am today. We were vegan at positive force house and I’ve managed to stay vegetarian since then and am a proud card-carrying vegan now.

We won’t go into the bands I saw before punk because that would include America, The Osmonds, Crosby Stills and Nash Without even Young, and yes, (not the band yes), Fleetwood Mac.

Have you ever surprised yourself with something you’ve written? Maybe you played it back later and thought, “I wrote that?!”

There are a lot of cool riffs and phrases floating around on unmarked cassettes near a great deal of cat hair. But if it doesn’t get used right away it’s usually forgotten. I have had that morning listen where I’m like, wow that’s really pretty —that was a good night’s work. Sometimes I’m a little impressed. but my methods are unconscious and unstudied. There’s very little method actually — I just start noodling and then I try to feel what mood is evoked by the sound. Then I fill it in with my experience using the mood of the sound to coax some kind of memory out that I can then chip away at and mold. Like the fine clay of southern Tuscany ripened by the august sun, dripping with golden relevance, etc….

There have been a lot of digressions into what I’d almost call world-music influenced rhythms but I have yet to really build on that. perhaps in the future. Yeah, it’s time for my Paul Simon African period.

Do you listen to your own music with a critical ear, or is it possible to lose yourself in it?

If you mean, like, a Jewish critical ear, like ‘Omigod, did I really think that note sounded on key? And now it’s permanent forever, like it’ll suck forever, and like, what, you thinkin’ people will listen to your music forever, what kind of delusional BLAH BLAH BLAH…

OK, it’s really not that bad but I do cringe here and there. People don’t realise that sometimes you have to make a record in four days. It’s exhausting so after a while you don’t care about every blip you hear, and then you forget that it’s permanent. So no, there’s not a whole lotta ‘getting lost in it’ but there are actually a lot of times when I’m emotionally moved by it.

Do you think your music would fit better in a different time period and/or place? If so, why & where?

I think my sound is very of its time. The electronic stuff of course, and the messiness of the lo-fi indie sound, that would have been swallowed up in the sixties or seventies.

It’s always been important to you to make music that’s also politically engaged. That can be a dicey proposition, because too often the politics begin to overpower the music (eg, Le Tigre’s latest). But it seems to me that you manage to integrate your themes very subtly and carefully. Is this ever a struggle, especially given that you live in DC and are surrounded by one of the most corrupt, toxic governments we’ve ever had? I mean, it must be scary being so close to it all.

It’s scary, awful, sick and disgusting and that’s why I’m moving to San Francisco! I was born here in DC, and through the years I’ve developed an amazing ability to spot, or rather, smell Repugnicans. I don’t mean to say all of them are bad, that’s too simple, but let’s just say most of them are, at best, selfish, at worst, amoral, and on average, dumb as toast.

Being subtle in the music is actually really hard. Singing ‘the world is so fucked and G. Bush is such a stupid ass and why don’t I rule the world for just one day’ may be how I feel but it doesn’t make for good lyrics. So there’s a lot of blending of personal experience with the outer experience, and attempts to hit the targets from an angle and not from dead on.

I’m so disgusted with this government that i’m a secessionist at this point. I’m a citizen of Lidonia, population 1.

What do you do when you’re not making music? And, if you didn’t have music as an outlet, what do you think you’d do instead?

I write more and more lately. I’m a very quiet person in my lifestyle but outside my apartment I’m loud. If I wasn’t in music I shoulda been on the stage.

Favorite guilty pleasure?

Judge Judy. I ‘ve been watching off and on for years and I think I just really love watching this very smart very enraged woman beat the mental crap out of people. I ‘m sure I ‘d hate her in real life. I actually saw her ridicule hilary clinton on a talk show. Granted Hilary ain’t perfect, but all things being relative… I also feel guilty ‘cause I don’t like participating in the Romans-in-the-coliseum aspect. It feels kinda bloodthirsty. But the situations are so dumb and the people are soooooo dumb it sorta explains a lot about how our country got the way it is now. Plus she’s wearing a hairstyle from like, 1956 and a doily around her neck. Plus any show that John Lydon was on can’t be all that bad!!

What musical artist will you just never ‘get’? For me, it’s Elvis Costello, for you it’s…
U2. BORING. and they lost me permanently when they sued negativland.

The late Egg Magazine’s music reviews consisted solely of the dollar amount they thought the album was worth. How would your most recent music purchases shake down for cash based on aesthetic & artistic, not retail worth? (Bonus: How’d you rate your own oeuvre?)

I just bought a cd of Ben Selvin and his Orchestra —stuff from the 20’s that I’d rate at a thousand big ones, because it makes me happy everytime I hear it, and I listen to it a lot.

I also got that cd by the Thai Elephant Orchestra. It’s so neat ‘cause they save elephants and rehabilitate them with music and other therapy, and they are talented! That’s pretty priceless.

Now I’m waiting to get 3 Feet High and Rising from De La Soul. I used to have it on cassette and lost it. I can’t wait to hear it again, I’d put it at about a thousand as well.

My stuff? To me it’s priceless, but on Amazon you can get it for a cool 98 cents!!!!

***
Lida’s website | Buy her albums from ITunes* | …or from Amazon. | Check Lida’s MP3 page from time to time for new stuff.

* Fly Stereophonic, Faith In Space and Mad Flavor aren’t yet available via Itunes, but they will be shortly!!

The songs that follow are some of my favorites. But honestly, having to choose was almost impossible!

MP3Lida Husik, “Hateful Hippy Girls” [from her debut Bozo]

MP3Lida Husik & Beaumont Hannant, “Ormeau” [from Sculptured]

MP3Lida Husik, “Mother Richard” [from Joyride]

MP3Lida Husik, “Nuclear Soul” [from her new single]

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5 Comments

  1. Brad Burlingham

    Thanks for the great post. I’m going to pull out my cds of Evening At The Grange and Husikesque and give ’em a fresh listen.

  2. jon

    You mean you don’t still carry a list of records you’re looking for??? Or have you found them all? My local library had a copy of Lida Husik’s Joyride cd, and I remember it fondly for her cover of the Dentists’ song “Strawberries Are Growing in My Garden, and It’s Wintertime.”

    • I still have a list. Mostly I stow my most-wanteds over at Amazon and jot them down when I go out record-shopping!

      It’s true that I have too many records and CDs, though. I may need a separate house soon.

      Oh, Lida’s Dentists cover is so lovely! If you’ve only heard Joyride, I heartily recommend checking out her other stuff if you have a chance! It’s well worth it. (Esp. Your Bag. Cough.)

  3. Dovovan Snyder

    I am absolutely delighted to hear that Lida is back in the studio, recording again! I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from her music, for so many years…

  4. Adam C. Sieracki

    Faith in Space was a great CD.

    What do the lyrics to Mother Richard mean? They’re dreamy and haunting.

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