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Miss Murgatroid (Alicia J. Rose)

A Conversation with Alicia J. Rose

Puremusic: How are you doing?

Alicia Rose: Quite good. Today I talked to a pal who just got back from Japan and another who just got back from Egypt. I went to Japan years ago. But Egypt, that's definitely a huge adventure.

PM: Wow, Egypt for two weeks... I'm just about to go to Bangkok for two weeks. I'd love to talk to somebody who just went to Egypt. Did your friend have a good time?

AR: Definitely. It was incredible. I asked her what was it like to stand in front of the pyramids... I can't even imagine. One day maybe I'll get to do that, too. Perhaps I'll be able to rope somebody into letting me take pictures there, and the next thing you know I'll be standing in front of the Great Pyramid. [laughs] Wouldn't Interpol look awesome with a tomb as their backdrop? A girl can dream...

PM: So first we ran into as you a photographer behind the great shots we were allowed to use, thank you, in our interview with Portland's Sophe Lux.

AR: Yeah....

PM: And then again similarly in April's review of Menomena.

Menomena, 2006

AR: You've got to love those boys, man. They're willing to do anything for their art.


AR: As are most of the artists I work with--thank God--maybe I just convince them.

PM: [laughs] In both cases we were very fortunate to run into such artistically staged and executed photos that said so much about each act.

AR: Thank you.

PM: Are you a friend, then, of Gwynneth Haynes? [the compelling singer and main writer in the Portland band Sophe Lux]

AR: I've known Wendy--I don't know what she's calling herself--

PM: Yeah, Gwenny is how we know her.

AR: I'm not sure how she'd actually heard of me. Because I book a nightclub in Portland, I kind of know a lot of people in the music scene. That said, she approached me because she was taken with some of my previous work, and wanted me to photograph them. Wendy was one of those people where I'd heard about the band, I liked them, but I wasn't thinking, "I want to photograph Sophe Lux." She contacted me and was like, "I love your work. I think that it would make sense to work together." I listened to her record, and I thought, "Absolutely." We're both obsessed with Kate Bush, so I was happy to sign up.

PM: Right.

AR: I liked where she was coming from, and really appreciated her perspective on her own music. And I dug how theatrical she is--really, any project can be interesting to shoot if somebody is willing to go there artistically, whether it's musically or photographically, it's all intertwined. And so she courted me, and I was open to it. And then we collaborated on some ideas, and did her shoot. Some of the work that came from that shoot even wound up in my portfolio.

PM: Right. Oh, yeah. It was that good, and that unusual, and why wouldn't it? Right.

AR: Exactly.

from the Sophe Lux shoot

PM: So yeah, so far we're talking to you as Alicia Rose, and discussing your photography. And then we'll move on to your music from there.

AR: Feel free. Just do whatever you want to do. There's lots to talk about.

PM: So when and how did that pursuit of photography begin for you in your life?

AR: In 1988 I moved from L.A., where I grew up, to San Francisco. Everything started in the same year, when I turned 19. I took up photography because I was just fascinated with it as a child, and also thought maybe it was something I wanted to do as a serious hobby. I took my first photojournalism classes then. Learned how to use a camera, rock a darkroom, etc. I also started playing accordion that year. I tried fruitlessly to master the guitar and bass as a teen. Then one night I saw somebody playing this incredibly fancy accordion at this coffee shop where I was working, and thought, "What a cool, weird thing." A musical instrument that looks like a treasure chest and sounds like a church organ...I was a goner.

PM: Wow.

AR: At the same time I also got involved in music promotion, doing shows at the cafe I was a barista at, plus I became a DJ at KSFS, which is the college station at the school I was going to, San Francisco State.

PM: Sure.

AR: And then in turn, in that same year, I decided to take it a step further and volunteer at a much fancier station that was part of a school that I wasn't a student at, but would take volunteers from any school...the legendary KUSF.

PM: KUSF, sure.

AR: It actually took a couple tries to get in there. When I was 18, I tried volunteering and got so nervous and intimidated I ran for the hills. Everybody was so much cooler and smarter and hipper than me!  I got scared. But when I was 19, I got a paid internship at A & M Records, where I met this cat Pat--a DJ at KUSF, who let me go with him to a staff meeting. People are much nicer to you if you have someone introduce you.

PM: That's a good trick at 19.

AR: I was an ambitious kid from the age of zero; smart, and I loved music. I always wanted to find a way to make a living involving myself in music. And when I was 19, I can't remember exactly how it happened, but I did wind up getting this gig. I think it was through KSFS. When you're working in the radio stations, they're letting everybody know they need help. And college radio is a good foundation for people who are really fascinated and foolishly passionate about music.


AR: As you know, it's a somewhat insane pursuit. But I tend to think it can work if you've got your heart in the right place. But anyway, I started doing all of those things simultaneously, as I am today; it's just that at that point I didn't really know what the hell I was doing! And everything just kind of kept going. Soon after I got my first DJ shift at KUSF, at the ripe old age of 20, I was recruited to book a nightclub called The Chameleon in San Francisco, by this friend of a friend. And I thought, okay--that sounds like fun, but I'm not 21 yet. And I'm not sure if my fake I.D. is that good. I was booking some small shows at this cafe I was at, which were starting to get some attention from the press and music communities. But she wanted me to book a real live nightclub. And I thought, well, in three months I'll be 21, if she could wait for me to be of age, I would give it a shot.

PM: Wow.

AR: She agreed, and asked me to run the sound board too. I thought to myself--and this is typical--"I don't know how to do sound, but I've worked a radio station board... It's got to be similar."

PM: [laughs] "It must be about the same thing."

AR: Yeah, I worked the "soundboard" at the cafe, but it was a joke--it sported Fisher Price style knobs the size of my head, very bare bones and archaic. I thought, "Sure...I can do that" ha ha ha. So I said yes, like I do to everything of course. Even if I'm in over my head, I tend to work it out eventually--even if I suck the first time, my learning curve is usually never that bad, and I can dial it in pretty quickly. And so I started booking and doing sound at The Chameleon; I think I turned 21 in January of 1991, and by February 1 of 1991 I was booking a 21 and over nightclub. It was crazy. Looking back at it now, I wonder what kind of 21-year-old I would have hired to book my nightclub--no way.

PM: Really.

AR: It's hard to imaging a 21-year-old pulling that off. But I did it. I don't know, I wasn't thinking about if I could do it, I was just thinking, hell, it's a paying music biz job--let me at it--I love music! So, suddenly I was involved with all these great things, and picked up the accordion at the same time. I never had specifically massive ambitions for anything, it was all just things I liked doing. It's hard to say no to learning how to do something on someone else's dime. At least for me...

PM: Wow.

AR: And so that's kind of how I've rolled all along. Even though I may not be 100 percent qualified to start, I at least have the creative vision, stick-to-it-iveness, and work ethic to deliver something. And lucky for me, and lucky for most people I've worked for, my something has wound up being better than most. I feel very blessed, because in my blissful ignorance, I dive in, happy for the opportunity and willing to learn everything it takes to get something done.

PM: There's a lot of passion there, and that's really the key to life.

AR: Yeah, totally.

PM: It's the people who have the juice to make something happen, to get something done, who change something. I mean, it's interesting what must have been going on in your soul and in your chart, '89 to '91, to have begun all these things: the photography, booking clubs, starting to play music, etc. Some crazy stuff was going on with you back then, that spun into a saga that is still spinning at the moment.


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