Blast From The Past: Bosshog 2000

Cristina Martinez, singer and leader

The NYC blues-punk combo Boss Hog features the husband-and-wife team of singer Cristina Martinez and singer/guitarist Jon Spencer who previously teamed up in the obscure band Pussy Galore. The duo formed Boss Hog to fill a last-minute cancellation at the famed CBGB's, earning instant notoriety when Martinez performed their debut show nude.

In the wake of 1990's Cold Hands, Spencer formed the Blues Explosion, forcing Boss Hog on the backburner; by the time the group returned in 1993 with Girl +, only Martinez and Spencer remained from the original lineup, with ex-Swan Jens J├╝rgensen assuming bass duties and Hollis Queens joining on drums. The record's success in indie circles resulted in a deal with Geffen which yielded a self-titled 1995 LP; little was heard from them throughout the remainder of the decade (although Spencer and Martinez had a baby), but in early 2000 the group finally resurfaced with Whiteout. I met up with the leader, Cristina Martinez, in LA in front of The Troubadour. Their show was much better than the band I remember from three years ago.
AL: How has the tour been going? Have you had much time to explore the world?
CM: We had two days off in the past two weeks. When we drove from Minneapolis to Vancouver. Our bus driver drives at night while we sleep. We’d stop in these remote and crazy places in Montana. We would go hiking there. We ate a bunch of bad fried food. Americans in the Midwest and those regions up there; I don’t think they know how to eat healthy. One day was graduation day and nothing was open. So they opened the bowling alley for us. The tour started in New York City and DC, then we went to Europe for a week, now it’s been two weeks in the rest of the United States.
AL: Did you play in London? How are the singles doing in Europe?
CM: We played at LA2 in London, which above The Astoria. The Boss Hog fans in Europe are great. All the shows were packed. The record is doing quite well in Europe. They press in London is nasty sometimes. They like to build you up and tear you down. Last tour they were very pro-Blues Explosion, and this time all the reviews were dissing Jon Spencer.
AL: That must have made you feel good: that you weren’t the object of their venom? How long has Boss Hog been together?
CM: Eleven years. We formed in 1989. Back then I was learning to play bass. I met Jon and then we were in Pussy Galore. It happened very quickly for me. I didn’t give much thought to starting a band or wanting to be in a band.
AL: Is the new album Whiteout doing well? Is it racing up the chart?
CM: It’s doing twice as good as the last one. That’s all we can ever hope for. Andy Gill is an amazing producer and a fine gentleman. He was a treat to work with. In Germany, Italy and France the single “Get It While You Wait” has charted in the top 100.
AL: It’s the English reserve. His minds in one place and….
CM: He let you know what he was thinking. Tore Johansson was more reserved actually. He reminded me of Steve Albini. Tore was both arrogant but very talented. So it was okay. It was only supposed to be those two producers, but Andy had to mix too quickly. We didn’t have that much time, so he was racing through stuff. I didn’t feel that things were finished and I had run out of money. So I called some friends from New York.
AL: What about Elian Gonzalas and those crazy people from Miami? You are Cuban. How do you feel about the situation?
CM: I’m probably related to him. My father was one of ten children. Most of them live in Miami. I have hundreds of cousins. My father was anti-Batista and pro-Castro. When Castro it was like Animal Farm: in theory, Communism is a beautiful thing but it doesn’t really work.
AL: Are you anti-Castro?
CM: I am. But I feel the little boy should be with his father.
AL: What about Andy Gill? When he was in Gang of Four, he wasn’t so much a Communist as much as he was a “Media Marxist.” He was really against pleasure and love songs.
CM: It’s more about what is compelling in a song. Don’t you think so? Gang of Four was about pleasure in life.
AL: What I really want to know is will you dedicate a song to Elian on this tour?
CM: No.
AL: Do people think you’re a white person or Latina?
CM: People think I’m Jewish.
AL: Do you read a lot of books and wear glasses?
CM: No, it’s because I have a lot of money. I’m just playing into your stereotype.
AL: How about some songs in Spanish, para la gente?
CM: That’s what I’m working on next. I’m going to do this whole record over in Spanish.
AL: What are some of these songs about anyways?
CM: I’m not talking about the lyrics.
AL: Yeah you are! Well, I am. When I’m driving over here to West Hollywood, I have the new record on, and the only thing that I can figure that the lyrics are about is sex. They weren’t love songs. But there was a Marvin Gaye groove on a few tunes.
CM: Vaguely. Does that cover the whole album? I like the Marvin Gaye connection. Thank you. They’re all about love.
AL: “Trouble” is about sex. “Get it While You Wait” is self-explanatory: sex again. What are you trying to convey? Are words just musical sounds and you create the words to be heard in an abstract way?
CM: I’m trying to get a message across. Lyrically, it’s more about defining a moment or a feeling. Someone who is listening to it can go “Oh, I felt that way once.” But obviously you didn’t feel that way?
AL: There are songs by Marc Almond or George Michael that I have loved, but didn’t relate to the gay content.
CM: Well, you can apply that to your preferred sex?
AL: At this moment I’m not sure what my preferred sex is. I’m like the English. I’m very undecided. I grew up listening to Morrissey. I’m a late developer. What’s happening in New York City? Many of us in LA and Hollywood in particular are dying to know.
CM: Nothing. Falling James called Jon and I “The John Doe & Exene of NYC.” I’m not sure about that. You know that Jon Spencer is in my band.
AL: Oh, I thought it was like Oasis: Jon shows up whenever. I saw you play at Irvine Plaza and he was standing almost behind the drummer, so I didn’t know if he was in the band or not.
CM: We haven’t done a show without him. He’s a founding member.
AL: What is your advice to young girls who may want to form a band?
CM: Just do it.
AL: They may not be as rich and famous as you are.
CM: I wasn’t rich and famous. I think that you pick up an instrument and figure out how to play something on it. Even it’s one song or a favorite record of yours.
AL: I think that if you learn one chord that may be enough. That “D-chord” speaks to me.
CM: Well, that may not be enough. You have to find other people who want to do the same thing, at clubs or whatever way you meet people nowadays. How do you meet people?
AL: On the Internet?
CM: Oh no. There were flyers at records stores and See Hear.
AL: Do you attack the audience during the show?
CM: I did a stage dive once in my life at a show in Montana. It was really the best show we played. The people were insane and appreciative. Montana is an amazing place. They weren’t jaded.
AL: In the future will you ever ditch the band and do some folk music or write some poetry?
CM: I’d probably write some prose before I’d write poetry. I’d put out a book. I have stories. Maybe it will be a book about erotica because the only thing I write about is SEX!
AL: Didn’t Jon Spencer do a bunch of experimental films?
CM: Yeah. They are very good films. They are about bodily functions.