JONNEINE ZAPATA: THERE’S NOTHING TO BE FIXED
Jonneine Zapata has a stare that makes men cower and weep. She is the closest thing to Jim Morrison in the Silverlake scene and her live show is mesmerizing. She will be holding residence at Silverlake Lounge on Mondays in October and she has just finished her first national tour (opening for Soulsavers) in support of her debut Cast The Demons Out. Zapata arrived with her own bowl of homemade macrobiotic breakfast to meet L.A. RECORD at an Echo Park coffee house. She speaks to Scott Schultz about Nick Cave, the importance of eye contact and how macrobiotics go with an Italian meal in Brooklyn.
How long have you been macrobiotic?
Jonneine Zapata: Thirteen years.
What made you shift diets? Was it teenage rebellion?
Jonneine Zapata: Exactly! All the kids are doing it! My family is Mexican and Italian and when they see me eating this, they think I need psychotherapy.
Do you put hot sauce on it?
Jonneine Zapata: That’s not exactly macrobiotics, Scott. Macrobiotics means long life. It means eat anything you like as long as you’re willing to take on the consequences—then by all means do it. If you want to eat sugar, then by all means, go ahead. If you want to go up and down with your life. Good luck—it’s your life. You want to have a headache , be dehydrated, rob the minerals out of your body, terrific. Eat all the sugar you want. Have a ball.
Where did you grow up?
Jonneine Zapata: I grew up all over the place. All over Orange County. We moved around quite a lot. I lived in Hawaii, Texas and I even lived in Kansas. I’ve traveled. I don’t remember a lot about Kansas, except the private school I went to there. That part of Kansas we were in never got back into modern times, and they would still hit kids with rulers. I’ve been singing my entire life. I just kind of came out singing. I didn’t know people sang for careers when I was listening to records. It’s the same thing as laying bricks to me. I’ve played the clubs off and on for seven years. And I mean off and on. And then I would go back to my bricklaying job.
What is your bricklaying job?
Jonneine Zapata: Odd jobs here and there, but no dependable job. What’s your bricklaying job?
Selling newspapers, but there aren’t any newspapers left to sell.
Jonneine Zapata: Even Rolling Stone got shriveled down to where it doesn’t stand out on the rack any more. It’s all advertisements. The only good thing I can say about them is that they attacked George Bush from the beginning, where a lot of papers didn’t.
You have one of the most intimidating stares of any performers that I’ve seen. I remember seeing you walk by last week when I was eating a slice of pizza, and I remember staring intently at my pizza and thinking, ‘Don’t make eye contact.’ Where does that come from? Is it a mask, or are you actually making eye contact and reading the audience?
Jonneine Zapata: It’s from my mother. But I also feel, if you’re going to pay tickets to see me, I’m there too, and I have something to seek out. So if you don’t want to be looked at or stared at, it’s probably not the right show to go to. I mean, what should I do? Stare at the ceiling? I’m trying to engage people, not separate from them. It’s not an intent to stare anybody down or intimidate them. It’s just seeing who they are. There’s a lot going on in people’s eyes. A lot of living. A lot is said right in the eyes.
You hold your stares for a long time. Do people start to look away?
Jonneine Zapata: I think you disarm people first. It’s like they’re watching a movie. Instead of them thinking about you and what your doing, they’re off of me and onto them. They’re thinking, ‘I remember when I was in high school, or I remember when I was with my mom.’ It’s like a psychological connection to their past. It’s kind of like a drug and their guard is down. They don’t even see me—they’re having an image of their own in front of them. Some people give me the OK, and they’re like ‘Yeah!’ And some people look like they are about to cry.
So your mom used to use that stare on you?
Jonneine Zapata: Oh yeah—my mom is from Brooklyn. She’s a street girl, you know. She walked the walk. But my dad, he was a rough, tough Mexican too. So it’s probably in my blood.
Are you a descendent of Emiliano Zapata?
Jonneine Zapata: No, I wish I was. I guess we all are somewhat. I admire him more than any musician.
How are you going to maintain your strict diet while you’re on the road?
Jonneine Zapata: I got a little camping gear, some hot plates, and I bring my dishes and everything. And I’ll try to coordinate it the best I can. If I have to wander off once or twice and eat a bagel, I’ll eat a bagel. I’m psyched for our first national tour. It’s a big thing to happen for a band just starting off. We had our first show last November as a band promoting this record. It’s a fairly quick but steady progress for us. I looked up the clubs on tour, and they’re all of the places I’ve ever wanted to go but haven’t been—like the Bowery in New York City and the Paradise in Boston.
Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers are a great draw. He’s been a part of so many great bands dating back to Seattle in the ’90s all the way through Soulsavers and Ghetto Twins. How did your paths cross?
Jonneine Zapata: Greg Dulli has been to some shows, and he has been spreading the word about us. Also, Jason from MySpace Records is in with the band and he sort of helped us out with this. Everybody knew somebody and it all just came together for us, but Jason had the biggest hand. We’re ready for the new record. We already have new songs. They’re arranged and semi-rehearsed. Now it’s just a matter of recording them. Now that this tour has come up, we don’t know where we fit it in exactly—I guess we’ll have to do it when we return. We’ve got the residency and we’ll probably include some of the new songs in the sets on the road, and then we’ll break them out locally during the residency. It’s kind of weird, though, because even the old songs will be new songs in the new cities.
Your music has a wide range from soft to really heavy. Did you start as a performer with the softer sound or the heavier music?
Jonneine Zapata: I started across the board. When I first started playing, I went heavy, then softer, then heavy, then softer again. You can write a song like ‘Out In The Woods’ and then two seconds later write a song like ‘Worry.’ It has an emotional passing. Even in songs like ‘Worry,’ it has softness and predatory elements that are soft and undercurrents. And then it gets a little heavier. So I’ve been all over the map. I’m not really one to settle for one thing or another, but I hope it all flows together. I write all the songs. I sometimes collaborate on the new stuff. I’ll be walking, mostly in the kitchen while cooking, and I hear little melodies, and then a feeling or emotion will come up, and then the lyrics come out. And then I say, ‘Maybe I should get a pen and paper because I have to remember what I’m saying…’ I’m like, ‘Uh-oh, piece of paper time.’ And I just get out a piece of paper and write down everything. I’ll sing it with a little melody and go, ‘Oh, that’s nice—here’s the verses and here’s the bridge. I have it written—now when can we lay this down?’
I hear an old Western influence in your song titles and themes—are you a fan of Sergio Leone films?
Jonneine Zapata: I love Westerns. Especially the old old ones like John Wayne movies.
How did you hook up with your guitarist?
Jonneine Zapata: He was in another band Sabrosa Purr, and I was thinking, ‘I’m going to blow out of this town and move into a macro-biotic community in Alaska.’ I thought I wanted to live off the land for a little bit. Literally I had three shows, and I was out. I gave my notice to my landlord, and then the other band was like, ‘You’ve got to stay here, and you will play with Jeff.’ Nobody ever asked Jeff. They just said, ‘You’re going to go here and he’ll be here, and you’ll play. You guys are going to work together and go on stage, and she’s not going anywhere.’ We clicked. And at first I didn’t see the long-term relationship that it was going to be. He had a specific style, and I had an idea of what I wanted, and I didn’t know if that was going to marry. We did some older material first, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s OK.’ Then I took another break. I think it was important to stop and get off the horse. I want to take some stuff in and fill my well. I took a long time off, and I was ready to do some more stuff. And I really liked Jeff by that point. I thought, ‘We can try this together.’ This was in ‘06, and I didn’t like anyone else at the time. So I worte a new set of material and wrote really close with Jeff to make sure we had what I wanted. We played a bunch of shows at Molly Malone’s, and we had some great duo shows together. It was fantastic, and then the record came out. A producer—Jack Douglas—had come in to see some of the shows, and he said he wanted to work with us. We went in as a duo, and then Jack got really busy, so we just recorded it ourselves.
When you first started did you have a band? Or were you a solo act?
Jonneine Zapata: I had a band for a second, but it wasn’t working. It was mostly session musicians, and they had sort of a session approach. I didn’t really like it. It didn’t sound right—it went up and down and all over the place. I figured I could go with just a guitar player, and if I couldn’t get my songs over that way, then I was probably doing the wrong thing.
Onstage, you have a maximum of energy with a minimum of motion. Are you into martial arts?
Jonneine Zapata: I think it’s a matter of really paying attention. You don’t want to push. I think people expect rock singers to jump up and down. For me it’s power in a different way. I’d like to be like H.R. of Bad Brains. That’s power at the top. Maybe I’m trapped.
How long did it take you to be comfortable enough to be so bare with your emotions onstage?
Jonneine Zapata: That hasn’t happened yet. I think that will require a lot more maturity on my part and a lot more work. This band has yet to begin to really work an audience and to understand what we’re doing on stage. And the power of what we should be doing with it. That is my goal.
Do you have a role model when it comes to your songs?
Jonneine Zapata: Nick Cave.
Jim Morrison is the person who comes to mind when I see you—even more than guy singers who try purposely to emulate him.
Jonneine Zapata: I get so much Jim Morrison from people. From the beginning to now. I think people who sing who have a good voice—even when people who sing talk, they talk with rhythms. Like comedy—timing is within you. But if you have a gift, you can always work on it and hone it. There’s nobody to grasp on from the female vocalists, so Nick Cave was really the one I focused on. I listened to a lot of Nick Cave and Jim Morrison. I really listen to mostly men. I wish I was head of the hardcore scene, but I’m not. I’m skinny and fragile—I’m never going to be that. I’m not Henry Rollins or H.R.—I’m not a big thick guy, so I’m limited to what I’ve got. So I’ve got to make the maximum of what I have. Bring it to the table and hone my craft and look up to artists who inspire me. Unfortunately, there aren’t any women who inspire me in that way.
When you were growing up in O.C., did you attend a lot of punk shows?
Jonneine Zapata: Oh gosh, my mother wouldn’t allow it. Never, never, never. I just had to stay in my room. I wish I could have. Thank god for YouTube.
Are your parents deeply religious?
Jonneine Zapata: Not anymore. It was important for them when I was growing up to have the Holy Communion. I went to parochial school, and that was very important because the older people in my family—the grandparents and the great-great-grandparents—were extremely religious. They were from Italy and Mexico. My grandmother is the kind of person who throws salt in a corner of the room and they light candles. I told my mother we had this tour coming and please wish us the best for this. She called the whole family in Brooklyn. They’re all at St. Peter’s Cathederal in Brooklyn lighting candles.
Are they going to come see you when you play the Bowery?
Jonneine Zapata: You don’t want to see my family show up at the Bowery.
Have they ever seen you perform?
Jonneine Zapata: Not the family in New York. Thank God—they’ve always known: (Brooklyn Italian impression) ‘Jonneine, she has such a byootifool voice. Dooo somthin foh da family, please.’ But I think when they see the show they’ll be, ‘Ohhhh! We didn’t know she does that!’ They’d be a little floored. It took my mom a little while to accept it too.
I see and hear a lot of religious subtext in your songs and titles.
Jonneine Zapata: I’m probably more religious that I’m willing to acknowledge. It’s just in me. Catholic school—how could it not be? Heavier than I care to admit, sure.
What are your goals for your Monday night residency at Silverlake Lounge?
Jonneine Zapata: I didn’t even know if I was supposed to have goals, but it’s kind of good that you brought the question up so I can start thinking about them. My goals are to get some goals. We’re doing the residency because we think it’s somewhat expected of us. For me I guess the goal would be to get my band in front of a live audience once a week. To get my band ready to play every night. I want to work out some new material. That’s all I ever want to do. I’d like to write some new material and get it out there immediately.
Two years from now—do you hope to be touring year round and playing every night?
Jonneine Zapata: Absolutely. That’s not a goal for two years from now. That is a goal for this time. Next summer. 2010. Period. We want to be a touring band, no question.
Do you have a name for the back-up band, or are they just ‘the boys’?
Jonneine Zapata: It’s the boys so far, but if you can think of anything tell me. I wonder what it should be. I should have something. I love Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I feel I should be careful with it, because it could get hokey. If you have any ideas, let me know, please.
What are your favorite venues in L.A.?
Jonneine Zapata: Silverlake Lounge in October! We love the Silverlake Lounge. We played there a little while ago, and there was great sound, and it’s on the level with everyone. I don’t like to be up too high.
Too hard to hold eye contact?
Jonneine Zapata: Yeah! I don’t like it. Then you have to look down, and I don’t like looking down at people. I like to be even with them. I really hope it’s going to be the Troubadour because I’ve seen some really great shows there. I saw Tweak Bird there. Oh my God! And Big Business played with them, and when I saw them live, I loved it. I really love hardcore metal. I like guy bands—metal and hard like Misfits, Danzig, Rammstein.
You opened for the Raconteurs a few years ago as a duo with Jeff—what was that like?
Jonneine Zapata: That was an interesting CD he had just put out, and he really opened a lot of doors for women and duos. If you can’t bring it as a duo, then I don’t know if you have a song. I was scared, because we were just a duo singing sad slow songs, and I thought the crowd was just going to smash us. ‘Fuck you, you girl singer!’ I thought that was what I was going to get, and I was like ‘Fuck!’ And this is in L.A.—shit, what are we going to do? And my guitarist Jeff Mendel—he brought out his little Peavey amp and took his shoes off and walked right out on stage. Set that sucker down and played everything in the most perfect time possible, and when we walked out, that crowd just said, ‘WHOOO!’ And we hadn’t even sang a note yet. And then—note one, they were INTO it. My website got so many hits, they knocked it down. I needed more bandwidth. I had no idea. It’s barely up anyway, and the people went. By the second night we came, people were singing the songs I had up on MySpace. I was looking in the pit, and they were singing ‘Lucky Girl’ with me, and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ In one night. Jack has super-great fans. And walking out there with Jeff, I was really comfortable because we had been playing a while and he killed it. It was really wonderful. It turned out to be an exceptional two-night run.
Who are your favorite local bands?
Jonneine Zapata: I’d go see Tweak Bird anytime. I love them. I don’t get out much though. Earthless. You can put them down as one of my favorite bands. I just got their new CD and I played it a few times and right away I knew—these guys rock! That’s the kind of music that I like. I mean ROCK! ROCK! ROCK! I like Dead Meadow and Mogwai.
Do you act?
Jonneine Zapata: I’ve done a little bit. I’ve dibble-dabbled. I’d like to do some more. I’d like to direct. I write shorts and things like that. I like to take one thing at a time.
Your structure is very dramatic, and you definitely convey emotion in a sincere way.
Jonneine Zapata: I’ve probably seen too much footage of Freddie Mercury. When he would grab the microphone and go ‘Wohhh!’ those big movements were just huge to me. Tina Turner—the way she used to move. She could just put her arms out and do a little bit … [suggestive motion[ A little bit of that—not much! I’d just watch her, and I would go ‘Oooh momma, I’m a-gonna get on stage and do a little bit of this!’ She would just put her leg out a little bit, and you were like, ‘God, you’re just hot!’ THAT’S show business! I want to see something. I don’t want to see a girl who’s not connected to the music and not putting on a show. Tweak Bird’s got it right. He hit those drums and he was singing and he was making faces—you know I want to see a show!
What do you think of Nick Cave’s duet of ‘Henry Lee’ with PJ Harvey?
Jonneine Zapata: I would like to see him do something with a woman who has a bigger range vocally—something that could really make him sound even far more eerier. His voice is very cunning. I don’t know how it’s recorded, but I would love to find out and study that for my own self. I think it’s very nice. PJ is not scary to me. She’s so fantastic. What a needed artist—but she does not frighten me, and he frightens me. I want to see him with someone who is frightening.
Do you ever get compared to PJ?
Jonneine Zapata: Yeah, I do. I get more comparisons to Jim Morrison than I do to her. I figure you can get compared to Jewel or you can get compared to PJ Harvey—where do you want to be?
I used to perform stand-up comedy at the coffeehouse where Jewel got discovered. She was a great coffee house singer.
Jonneine Zapata: She has a sexy quality. She’s pretty. She has an interesting voice. She can yodel.
Can you imagine seeing a Nick Cave CD on sale at Starbucks?
Jonneine Zapata: I saw Regina Spektor for sale at Whole Foods. I thought, ‘At least it’s something I would buy.’ Whatever else they’re selling I won’t. I’d love to see a Nick Cave record in here. too.
Nick Cave you want to buy as an entire CD as compared to individual digital songs. I think your CD plays best in its album format, too.
Jonneine Zapata: I always listen to Nick Cave album by album. I never mix them up. I listen to The Boatman’s Call and No More Shall We Part. I’ll never mix those songs up.
Have you performed at SXSW?
Jonneine Zapata: No, but I hope that we have an opportunity this year. I think the great steps for this year would be playing there and even if we could get 12:00 in the afternoon slot at Coachella. Terrific. We just want to play. We have to get out there. Probably the record’s coming out in September in Australia.
Maybe Nick Cave will hear it.
Jonneine Zapata: I hope so. I can try to send him a copy I guess. Have you heard The Dirty Three? It’s beautiful. Cinder is the name. That’s a beautiful record.
What cities are you most excited about visiting on your tour?
Jonneine Zapata: I’ve been everywhere, but in a very different capacity. Not traveling for music and going to sing? I can’t wait to play in front of people I don’t know and meet them. I think that will be the most inspiring thing coming my way from the tour—stepping out of the Hollywood bubble. I’ve always wanted to do that, but everything is kind of here for me, and I’ve stayed here based on that. It’s really dificult to take a five-piece band on the road, and I didn’t want to go as a duo. I think this is a really good shot for us, and it’s going to work out right.
When you reach New York City, will your family in Brooklyn make you eat a big meal with them?
Jonneine Zapata: I’ll sit there with my macro bowl while everyone at the table tells me how skinny I am. But my mom—I’ll come over to the house alone and she’ll say, ‘You’ve got no meat on you! You can’t organize anything because you don’t eat any meat!’ Then when I go up on stage and sing she goes, ‘That’s my kid! Broadway! Macrobiotic!’ I think this particular diet has made my voice stronger actually. It keeps all the ick off my chords, and that’s important to me because I want my voice to work forever. I don’t want it to be compromised in any way because if I don’t have that I have nothing.
Do you ever feed the band that stuff?
Jonneine Zapata: Oh, they love it! Well this is a morning porridge, so that’s not your cup of tea. I would never feed you this breakfast, but I would feed you a lunch or dinner and you’d love it. They go crazy for it. They’d cook it themselves if it didn’t take so much work. They’d eat like this all the time.
Do you check out other performing arts aside from music?
Jonneine Zapata: I want to see stand-up comedy. I like to go to the Groundlings Theater and I like to see things right in the moment. I want to be out of my head. You have to be very available to do that. If you’re stuck in your thing, you’re going to lose.
Stand-up comedians are right up at face level. When things go wrong, you can see the pupils dilate and the flopsweat.
Jonneine Zapata: Scary business. It’s very exciting. I love Richard Pryor. I watch him all the time, and I just cannot believe he just looks effortless. I once watched a tribute to him on DVD, and a comedian said most people go their entire lives trying to cover their flaws and Richard Pryor went his whole career trying to exploit them. I just got chills because that’s me. When you ask who influences me, I say Richard Pryor. I want to uncover. I want to say, ‘It’s OK—we’re not perfect, we’re not pretty. It’s OK if you’re not so interesting—maybe you’ve got this or that or the other. Uncover it and let it be. We’re fine. We’re fine—we’re not broken. There’s nothing to be fixed. Leave it alone.’
JONNEINE ZAPATA EVERY MONDAY IN OCTOBER AT THE SILVERLAKE LOUNGE, 2906 SUNSET BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 9 PM / FREE / 21+. FOLDSILVERLAKE.COM. JONNEINE ZAPATA’S CAST THE DEMONS OUT IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM JONNEINE ZAPATA. VISIT JONNEINE ZAPATA AT JONNEINEZAPATA.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/JONNEINEZAPATA.