Author Jessica Dainese: “There was no book talking about the women in the history of Italian punk or rock music. Like they never existed…I decided to write one.”
Italian writer, author, journalist and zine maker Jessica Dainese got in touch with me recently and we instantly hit it off and have been corresponding ever since. We’ve been bonding over our mutual love of music, in particular music created by women, and our love of zines, interviewing and writing! Jessica has written for Vogue Italia, Rolling Stone Italia, Alias and more as well as writing two books La Felicità è una Fetta di Vinile (Happiness Is A Slice Of Vinyl) and Le Ragazze del Rock (The Girls of Rock). Le Ragazze del Rock focus on, and documents 40 years of women in Italian rock music. Currently she is writing her third book which will include interviews with the likes of Lydia Lunch, Babes In Toyland, L7, Le Tigre, Patti Smith, Lunachicks and more.
Tell us a little about yourself.
JESSICA DAINESE: Ciao! My name is Jessica, I am Italian, and mostly I write about music. I used to write fanzines in the nineties (Screaming Sheep, Tigerheart, etc). In 2001, when I went back to Italy after two years spent in the UK, I started writing for Alias – the cultural supplement to Italian “communist newspaper” Il Manifesto, and I did that for about 10 years. I also wrote for a lot of other Italian magazines. I did a bit of modeling (for artists, and for “alternative pin-ups” websites), a bit of DJing, I put up a few underground rock shows, created a couple of websites (nixzine.org and tigerheart.it, not online anymore), and some other little things art or music-related.
Music is my main obsession. I love all sorts of music, but my favorite bands are probably Bikini Kill and Hole. I also love books, especially about music or biographies. I love fashion, art, photography, pop culture, vegetarian food, tea, the Internet, and of course my cat Biba Star. I hate sexism, racism, fascism, cruelty to animals, and I don’t like reggae music very much.
How did you first become interested in being a writer? What attracted you to it?
JD: Honestly, I wanted to be a rockstar. I tried, but I just could not learn to play any instrument. So I tried to sing. I wasn’t very good, but for a punk-rock band, I could scream loud enough. Unfortunately, I never found the right people to form a band.
The next step was to start a fanzine, so I could at least have an excuse to meet real rockstars, for interviews and such. This worked a lot better. I couldn’t believe I could just walk up to a musician before or after a show, tell them I had a fanzine, ask them for an interview, and they usually said “yes” (I am of course talking about “underground rockstars”, not Guns’n'Roses type rockstars!). I had no idea how to do an interview, I never thought I was a good writer; I never went to a journalism school or took creative writing classes. I never wanted to become a “writer” I just wanted to meet my favorite musicians and other interesting creative people.
What sparked your specific interest in writing about music?
JD: Like I said, my big passion was music, and writing about it was a way to get in touch with musicians I loved, get into shows for free and get records for free. Being a zinester, I also got a little bit of “fame” in the local underground scene; people knew who I was and what I did, which was nice.
Have there been any big challenges for you on your journey as a writer?
JD: Well, going from writing for my fanzines to writing for a national newspaper or magazine was a big challenge. I never went to journalism school, I did not know anybody that worked at a magazine or newspaper in 2001. I just sent Alias a fax (I didn’t have a computer or Internet connection at home then) with an article about Le Tigre that I wrote. Francesco Adinolfi (the editor in chief) called me back a few days later and I got on board. I had no idea what it was like. I have to thank Francesco Adinolfi and Roberto Peciola from Alias because they were very helpful to me. Francesco taught me a lot of things about how writing for a magazine is different than writing for a fanzine. I would send him an article, and he would sent it back to me telling me what wasn’t good enough. Sometimes I hated that, but later on I understood that he was teaching me a lot!
Getting to write for a magazine in Italy is very difficult if you don’t have any connections. You can be the best writer in the country (which of course I’m not), but if you don’t have friends in the editorial staff, it’s almost impossible. Alias was different. Alias gave me a chance even if they didn’t have a clue about who I was.
You’ve written for Rolling Stone and Vogue; what’s been some of your favourite assignments from those publications?
JD: I’ll tell you the truth about my (short) collaboration with these two big magazines. As I said, in Italy, it’s almost impossible to get into the big magazines if you don’t have any friends in their staff. A friend of friends had a friend that worked for Vogue Italia, and he told me he would tell them about me. So I got to write a little piece about my friends’ band, The Magicake (they are no more). I was very proud to have my name in Vogue! Then, I started to submit other ideas for new articles, but they never approved any of them. The problem was often that the bands I wanted to write about didn’t “look good enough for Vogue”.
Rolling Stone called me for a job interview because the editor liked my articles for Alias. I went to Milan and had this bizarre job interview with the editor running around the office wearing women’s panties on his head (they had just received a big box of products from Agent Provocateur for a shooting). He told me he loved my work, but “you know, Rolling Stone is not like Alias”, and basically told me I had to interview whoever they told me to interview, and review the records they gave me once a month, and that if a record company had paid a lot of money for advertising that month, I couldn’t just talk shit about a record of theirs, even if it WAS shit. I didn’t say anything, but this was not my way of working. For Alias, I could write about whoever I wanted to. If a record was shit, I could say it was. I wasn’t interested in interviewing stupid bands I didn’t like. I can’t fake it. So I went back home, I submitted my ideas to Rolling Stones, I wrote 2 or 3 articles for them (MY ideas), and then they never accepted any more ideas from me. It probably was stupid of me, because they did pay well compared to Alias, but I can’t be bothered writing about stuff I don’t care about. It becomes a boring like an office job.
You’ve published two books so far La Felicità è una Fetta di Vinile (Happiness Is A Slice Of Vinyl) and Le Ragazze del Rock (The Girls of Rock); Tell us a little about each please. What inspired you to write them?
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