The Bucket Playlist’s interview with Broken Baby

We tried to make ‘Madonna’s a Dick’ as dirty and punky as we could’

by Seddon at The Bucket Playlist

LA-based post punk alt rock band, Broken Baby, is riding high on the success of its latest single, ‘Madonna’s a Dick’, which will also feature on a split 7″ featuring two tracks from Broken Baby and two from LA female punk trio, Egg Drop Soup, coming out on 25th June.

Broken Baby is the musical brainchild of veteran indie rocker/producer Alex Dezen (main songwriter and front man for the now defunct Brooklyn band, The Damnwells) and Amber Bollinger, a former college athlete and trained actor, who met at a film festival in Phoenix, Arizona around 2006. As a working actor in Hollywood for years, Amber experienced what she describes as ‘seemingly unending sexual harassment and misogyny’ and if you follow the four-year-old band’s history, it’s clear that it was formed as a vehicle for her, both as a writer and performer, to channel her rage.  

The split 7″ will also feature a new Broken Baby track, ‘The Feelers’: ‘It’s about the obsession for another person’s attention,’ Amber says. ‘”She’s got the feelers!”. It’s so desperate, so obvious, and it may be harmless, but the other person is not feeling it all.’

Last week, they released their funny and biting single, ‘Madonna’s a Dick’, which Amber describes as ‘a love song to Madonna in a way’ or at least it started out that way. The song was inspired by the 80’s documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot: ‘It’s a documentary about two dudes tailgating for Judas Priest,’ she explained. ‘Actually, today (31 May), is the 35th anniversary of it!’ Alex jumps in: ‘They go around talking to these teenagers in a parking lot who are all hammered.’ Amber is laughing: ‘Everyone is so naive and innocent, they’re probably not even 21 years old but there’s this dude dressed up all in this zebra outfit and he gives his opinion on Madonna. “She’s a dick,” he says. ‘That stuck with me,’ she says. ‘So we thought of the title first. At every level in popular culture, women are met with systemic sexism and summarily dismissed. People love to jump on and hate a popular female singer, whether it’s Madonna or Taylor Swift or someone else. Commentators don’t like Madonna’s brashness, so she got labelled a bitch. It made me think, if she were a guy, “They’d probably give her a raise, she’d be the president of the United States”, which became the chorus.’

As the song goes: ‘But if she were a dude and she was giving that attitude, they’d probably give her a raise. She’d be the president of the United States. Yeah, Madonna’s a dick.’

Amber describes Alex as ‘the driving force’ and ‘the professional songwriter’ but acknowledges that this was a tricky song to get right. ‘We wrote this song five times!,’ Alex laughs. ‘There are four other versions that are really different, they even have different chords. The first version had a 90’s alt rock vibe but we felt that the music wasn’t meeting the lyrics. We changed the riff in the chorus – A♭ to D# to C and at one point there’s an A# – and the melodies.’ Amber nods; ‘We tried to make ‘Madonna’s a Dick’ as dirty and punky as we could.’ I tell them that the riff in the chorus has been my earworm ever since I heard it. ‘It’s so good it’s your earworm,’ says Amber, grinning: ‘He started playing it and I was like “That’s it!”’

Their name, Broken Baby, came about after they’d been vinyl shopping and on the walk back, the word ‘broken’ stuck in their heads, to which Amber later added ‘baby’: ‘Coming up with a name is sooooo hard!,’ Alex says. He looks at Amber: ‘What would we rename our band now?’ Amber laughs: ‘The reality is that Alex had another name for the band, he wanted to call it ‘Bebo’, which is the nickname my nieces give me. If we could do it all over again maybe we’d call our band Sex Helmet!’ Alex laughs. ‘Sex Helmet is taken,’ he says, checking to see if it’s on Spotify. ‘No, no, it’s not, that’s just a song,’ Amber says.

As a former actor, Amber says she’s acutely aware of the way she internalised the shame of being commodified, as many women do and, as such, Broken Baby has become a kind of antidote to that shame. ‘Ultimately, I just want you to see that I’m in front of you. If you like it that’s great, if you hate it, that’s also great. I want to be seen,’ she says. I ask her as someone working in both the acting and music business, if there has been a noticeable shift in how women are treated since #MeToo: ‘Everything is shifting but it’s going to take a while,’ she says. ‘Despite #MeToo, there will always be someone in power who will weaponize it and use it against women. We need to take the power away from them. These men in power, in the acting world, why are these guys the gatekeepers? It’s called the casting couch. Women are joining together and that’s how we start to see change. If women were in charge would they behave like these men? I don’t think so but who knows?’

Another song, ‘Manic Panic’ (2020) kicks off with a 70’s style riff and is a massive track, with Amber sounding like a badass Chrissie Hynde on it: ‘It was written in a fight,’ Alex said. ‘You were like ‘I can’t write lyrics”, you were having a panic, I wrote a line, you wrote a line. We went back and forth – we do that sometimes with songs – and at the end we were like, actually, that’s a pretty cool song!’

As the song goes: ‘I got my bones and my hands and my mammary glands. I got my sweat and blood, not everything is a dud.’

Interestingly, they approach songwriting in very different ways: ‘Alex is very disciplined and sits there writing, he’s completely focused,’ Amber says. ‘I’m like, oh but I have to do laundry, or get that scratch off the wall, or I’ll find some other excuse. He’s like ‘Could you just sit on your hands for a minute?”,’ she laughs.

‘They didn’t know it at the time but they did unconsciously shape the future of punk’

If they could go to any gig tonight, Alex picks Swedish hardcore punk band, Refused: ‘They did an album, The Shape Of Punk To Come (1998), they didn’t know it at the time but they did unconsciously shape the future of punk. They came to town in 2019, them and The Hives (a Swedish rock band). I’d also see Blondie.’ Amber goes with a smaller, lesser known New York-based art punk band, Gustaf: ‘They used to be this little band but now they’re opening for Idles, they’re so cool.’

Musically, they also have distinct backgrounds: ‘We love different stuff,’ Amber says, looking at Alex. ‘You listen to cool shit!’ Alex deadpans: ‘I used to listen a lot of Bruce Springsteen but I’m from New Jersey, so it’s a prerequisite. I really liked The Replacements (an American punk rock band), Prince and I really liked The Inner Mounting Flame album by Mahavishnu Orchestra (an American jazz-rock fusion band) because the time signatures were always changing, although now maybe it doesn’t sound as cool as it did to me then. And Gang of Four (an English post punk band), David Yowis an incredible player, he wrote such great melodic parts.’

Growing up in Bellevue, Ohio, Amber had less music to choose from, she says: ‘Sometimes, we’d get interesting music from the radio in Detroit but I mainly grew up listening to Paula Abdul, Madonna, Garbage and Alanis Morissette. It wasn’t until my 20’s that I got into Patti Smith and David Bowie.’

If they could hear one of their tracks on any TV show, Alex picks Baltimore drama, The Wire, about the drug kingpins tearing up the city as the police tried to keep up. ‘In a scene where Idris Elba (who plays ‘Stringer’ Bell) is doing something, he’s awesome!’ Amber decides that she’d rather play on a TV show: ‘So there’s this new Kate Winslet show, Mare of Easttown (a crime drama), the band in the show (a fictitious band, Androgynous) plays Mannequin Pussy songs, it all started when someone in the show saw one of their t-shirts. (One of the show’s costume designers picked up a Mannequin Pussy t-shirt in a local store and a music supervisor on the show clocked the name and decided to check the band out. They were subsequently invited to provide the soundtrack for the fictional band on the show.) Kate Winslet is amazing in it, so I’d like to be the band in that!’

They’ve both massive fans of fierce femme-punk rock band from Austin, Texas, Pleasure Venom, and its frontwoman, Audrey Campbell. ‘Dude, they’re a powerhouse, she’s so great. When we saw her at a gig, she fucking destroyed the place and gave everyone a hug afterwards!,’ Amber says. Alex joins in: ‘At the gig, you could stand in the wing and see her. The mic kept coming out (of the stand). She’s like a banshee when she’s out there and we thought maybe she’d freak out and hit us by accident but in this tiny, polite voice, she says to us “Has something happened to my microphone?” and goes back to screaming “motherfuckers”!’

this story first appeared on: https://inthebucketplaylist.com/ on June 3rd 2021

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