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?
JESSICA DAINESE: La Felicità è una Fetta di Vinile is a collection of all my articles for Alias. I self-published it thru the website ilmiolibro.kataweb.it. I basically wanted to have all my articles together in one book. This book was mostly for friends and family.
Le Ragazze del Rock (pictured above) was my first book for a real publisher (Sonic Press/ NdA). I had been thinking about writing a book about female bands in the Italian rock scene for years, since I got into Riot Grrrl in the early-mid 90’s. Everybody was talking about female rock bands like Bikini Kill, Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland etc, and I thought: wait a minute, what about Italian bands? I knew a few Italian female bands of the 90’s, but I didn’t know much about bands that came before. Only a couple of names. No records, no books, nothing about them. The stories were lost. It makes me mad when I think about interesting stories about interesting people getting “lost”. There was no book talking about the women in the history of Italian punk or rock music. Like they never existed. So I decided to write one. I only actually started to write it in 2010, when Oderso Rubini (an important music producer from Bologna) wrote to me asking me if I was interested in writing a book about female rock bands in Italy. He had the same idea. Of course, I said yes. The book came out for his Sonic Press, and did quite well for such a niche subject.
Your book, Le Ragazze del Rock, is about the Italian female rock scene from the 60s to now. I (and I’m sure many of my readers too) don’t know all that much about Italian female rockers could you share some of your favourites with us? And who are some of the really important bands/artists we should know?
JD: First of all, my book is about bands, not solo artists (I’ll have to write one about them too!). In the 60s, in Italy there were quite a few female bands (in the beat scene), but most of them were put together by male producers or managers. They were good, but they were not “independent”. The first truly independent all-female band was formed in 1977: Clito (pictured below), from Milano. They were feminist, punk, and in 1980 they appeared in Fellini’s movie La città delle donne.
My favorite all-female band from the punk scene is proto-Riot Grrrl band Antigenesi (pictured below), but Kandeggina Gang are the most famous (because their ex-frontwoman is now a TV host). Mumble Rumble (see clip below) is the longest-lived band in the book (more than 20 years, still active), Jello Biafra likes them. They are a great live band.
Motorama (pictured below) is the best rock’n’roll duo, praised by Maximum Rock’n’Roll. Margaret Doll Roll is among the guests of their most recent record, Psychotronic is the Beat! Another amazing rock’n’roll/garage/surf band is The Cleopatras (see clip below). Newer good bands are: Diva Scarlet, Roipnol Witch (see clip below), MAB & Lilies on Mars – both Italian but based in London (see clip below), Sarah Schuster, Amavo, She Said Destroy, and many many more.
In October the CD compilation Le Ragazze del Rock will be out, with 24 songs from bands that are in my book. You can buy it online.
Is there anything you came across in your research for Le Ragazze del Rock that you found surprising?
JESSICA DAINESE: Not so surprising, but I was happy to see that many of the “older” women, like the ladies in Clito, Remote Control, Antigenesi, either still do music or do performance art or visual art or are politically active in some ways. Some of them have families, but they didn’t become “housewives”. They are still kicking ass!! Like Elena Ferrarese, Rossella Roli, Luisa Sax etc.
What can you tell my readers about the Italian Riot Grrrl scene?
JD: The Italian RG scene came a few years later than the American and British ones (in the mid 90’s), the girls involved were a lot less, and not so organized. But this scene was very important to me, because these girls starting up bands and writing fanzines and organizing shows were very inspiring! Girls like Consuelo of Pussy Face (band) and Sisters ‘Zine, Reic of My Sisterical (band) and Whoooyeah!!! (fanzine), Giulia of PorcaMadonna Disco, Nicoz of Catholic Girls, Fege of Queen Beee (band) and Supercheri (zine), and many more. We traded zines, letters, tapes, for years, I’m still in touch with some of them and they are still doing great things. RG in Italy was not about meetings, we didn’t have meetings like RG in Olympia, because we didn’t live close to each other. It was more about fanzines, letters and music. For a feminist, there was a lot in Italy to be pissed about (and there still is).
I understand that you’ve interviewed Kathleen Hanna and met her many times? What were your impressions of her?
JD: The first time I met Kathleen Hanna was in 1996. Her band Bikini Kill played at a squat in my home town Padova with Team Dresch. There were not many people at the show, and only a few girls. Kathleen approached me and my friend, we chatted a bit, I told her I did a fanzine, she asked me for my address because she wanted to send me some records and fanzines (which she actually did!). She was very sweet, nice and not at all like she was described in mainstream media. She really cared about her fans, especially other girls. We wrote to each other for a little while, I did a little written interview with her, she sent me her Julie Ruin record. Then in 2000 I went to see Le Tigre in London (I lived in the UK for a couple of years) and met her again. I was so happy because she remembered me :-) I met her once again in May 2002, when Le Tigre played in Milano and Verona. In Verona, I went backstage before the show and Kathleen was there, reading an article about Le Tigre I had written for Alias a few months earlier (it was based on an email interview I did with them). She said “Hi Jessy”, gave me a hug and thanked me for the article. “A lot of people will probably be here tonight because of your articles about Le Tigre”, she told me. I didn’t think so, but it was sweet of her. Last time I saw Le Tigre live was in 2004, in Milano again. I had booked an interview with them for Alias, but Kathleen was not available. Some journalists talked with JD, I talked with Johanna. I gave Johanna three arm bands I had made for them. I was so shocked when Le Tigre came out on stage wearing my arm bands! All three of them! After the show, I waited and waited for Kathleen to come out. Finally she did, but she looked very tired, a bit sad also. Not at all like the other times. I called her, she was behind the crush barriers. She looked at me like she didn’t know who I was. I told her who I was, but I don’t think she recognized me. I told her also I was the girl who made the arm bands for them, and she thanked me. I haven’t spoken to her since that day. She has commented a couple of times on my Facebook page thou. I would love to do an in-depth interview with her (like yours! Yours is awesome!) one day, because although I met her a few times, we only did short written interviews.
You’re working on a new book which will include interviews with Lydia Lunch, Babes In Toyland, L7, Le Tigre, Patti Smith and more; how far along are you with it?
JD: There is still a lot to do! I have 2-3 more interviews to do, and then I have to write each one of the 20 chapters. Each chapter will be illustrated by a different illustrator and I still need to find a few of them. By the way, if anyone reading is a fan of Lunachicks or The Slits and is also an amazing artist, please get in touch!
When will it be coming out?
JD: I don’t know yet. It will probably be ready by the end of the year, then I will have to find a publisher. My agent and I are also looking at the possibility of having it translated into English and published abroad.
How did you learn to interview?
JD: I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m a good interviewer. Some people I have interviewed (Patti Smith) told me I am, but probably they were just being sweet. I guess you just have to be curious, interested in the subject, you have to do some research before the interview. Although one of my first interviews ever was with No Means No, a band I didn’t know anything about (it wasn’t planned) and people said it was very good. I guess you just have to be nice and open, and really listen to what they say.
How do you approach interviewing? What’s your process?
JD: Well, 99% of the people I have interviewed in my life were people I was a fan of. I loved their work (music, fashion, art, books, whatever), and I was genuinely interested in knowing more about them. I try to find out everything I can about them, thru the Internet, books, magazines, records etc. I take notes on things what I find weird, interesting, funny, thought provoking and such. Then I write down whatever questions come to mind. I try to find out about details, anecdotes. I am interested in knowing what they think about love, life, death, sex, feminism, animal rights, religion, so I try to ask questions that will lead them to talk about this. It’s different if the interview is in person, phone or email. If it’s for email, the questions have to be clear because there is no way for you to explain. I like interviews in person better, of course. And Skype, now I also like Skype. So you can see their face when they talk, and understand if the question is boring them, amusing them or whatever. What is your process Bianca? I am curious!
I definitely do lots and lots of research! Have you ever had any bad experiences interviewing anyone?
JD: No. The only bad experience is when the interview is cancelled (like the one with Debbie Harry, for example.
Have there been any interviews you’ve done that were particularly hard for you?
JD: It’s hard when the person you are interviewing doesn’t want to be interviewed, or has nothing to say. Examples: The Prodigy were nice but had absolutely nothing interesting to say. The Libertines: they had a terrible accent, they didn’t want to talk, I think they wanted to go back to bed.
Is there someone you’d love to interview but haven’t had the chance to yet?
Yes: Courtney Love! I’ve tried to get in touch with her thru any way I could, but never got a reply. She’s #1 in my “wanted” list. Also: Joan Jett, the Go Go’s, Debbie Harry, Kim Gordon (I only interviewed Thurston Moore), Kim Deal, many, many more.
What’s life like for you in Italy?
JD: Well, I like the underground scene here in Pesaro (Marche) very much. There are some awesome bands like Be Forest, Altro, Soviet Soviet, etc, there are a lot of smaller shows, but the “big names” don’t often come here. There are some exceptions thou, like when Lydia Lunch, Jessie Evans and Beatrice Antolini (amazing female artist from Marche) played together in a beautiful old theater not far from where I live. We are not too far from Bologna thou, where big names play more often. There are some interesting events around here, but I don’t go out so much anymore because of health problems. I spend most days at home writing at my computer, playing with my cat, writing to my friends (most of them don’t live close), talking on the phone with my mom or sister, reading books, going out with my boyfriend, shopping, stuff like that. I like to go for a walk in some of the beautiful medieval or Renaissance villages around here. I also like the food around here a lot! Sometimes in the summer we go to the beach. When I have a book or something to promote, I travel around Italy a lot, for book presentations, events, festivals. In October the CD compilation Le Ragazze del Rock will be out, so I will probably start another promotional tour.
If we were to visit you in Italy where would you take us?
JD: I was born in Veneto, so I would take you to Venice of course. It’s a standard tourist choice, but it’s a quite unique city. I would take you to Colli Euganei, were I was born and where my sister has a wine bar/ shop (our wine is very good!). Now I live in the center of Italy (Marche), there is a good indie rock scene here so I would take you to some concerts over here.
Lastly, what do you love about what you do?
JD: I love to meet and talk to my favorite musicians, artists, etc. I love to craft an article into something that is interesting, funny, thought-provoking, moving. I like choosing the words and the images to transmit what is in my head to people reading. Sometimes it’s hard and tiring, and I am slow so it takes me forever (I wish I were a genius and all this came to me naturally, but usually it’s a lot of work!), but I am usually proud of the results. I love when readers (or the bands) write to me telling me they loved the article or the book. Right now, I’m loving working with some amazing illustrators for my next book! Thank you Bianca for the interview!
Photo credits: 2 + 4 Martina Oro