Pansy Division That's So Gay
Published May 19, 2009"We're grown up now/over the trauma," croons Jon Ginoli on Pansy Division's long-awaited eighth effort. And thank God. They've always been rightfully proud of their orientation yet previous albums either tried to shove it down your throat or were mired in self-doubt, á la 1998's Absurd Pop Song Romance. The music seemed almost secondary. Here though, comes the self-assurance and maturity of middle-age. We're So Gay is the band's most natural commingling of music and message yet. Equal amounts of attention are paid to crafting sultry, unforgettable tunes as cramming double entendres into every line. And because Pansy Division have found confidence over bravado, they're able to exploit their own musical tartiness, embracing both their early overt pop punk and darker, introspective territory, sans the tongue-in-cheek humour. That's So Gay embraces the duality of its meaning. Not only do these 14 songs celebrate alternative lifestyles but the variety of pop, rock, punk, garage and glam is festively upbeat and undeniably catchy. From the randy wink of "Twinkie Twinkie Little Star" to "20 Years Of Cock" the sugary sweetness and lilting melodies will have even the straightest caterwauling, "I'd rather fuck an asshole than be one like you" at the top of their lungs.
With a book, documentary and album out all at the same time you must feel overwhelmed with work.
Ginoli: It wasn't planned that way but once we saw that the releases were lining up so closely we decided to do them all at once. I knew I was doing the book tour so we bumped up the CD and DVD so that I could promote them all at the same time. We're not going to get to tour until later but unfortunately we're not coming to Canada.
It costs 450 dollars to cross the border. It used to be nominal until they put in NAFTA. Now they're raking over musicians. It should be called NAFTAEM: North American Free Trade Agreement Except for Musicians. We're not a huge band so it's too much hassle. It goes both ways, for Canadian bands too.
Why such a great gap in recording: April 2007 to September 2008?
The band formed in San Francisco but I'm the only one who still lives there. Members live in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Boston. We're on two coasts and four cities. That's why it took so long to get it together but this is the joy of the Internet now. I can send demos and mixes through email. In some ways being apart was difficult but the Internet made it possible. We'd rehearse on our own so when we came together to record we got amazing results. Everyone was well-versed.
It sounds more productive to live in different cities. You honed your chops to get it done.
I do prefer us living in the same town but I don't have that luxury anymore. Things went really fast; it was our most productive album to date. Wow, 21st Century recording techniques.
Why keep the same people instead of just finding new guys in San Francisco?
It's about the people. The idea crossed my mind but I didn't want new people and they didn't want to quit the band. It would be different if were trying to tour all of the time but because of real life we're not able to do that. It's not like it used to be. In the '90s, we put out six albums in six years. Now we've put out two albums in ten years. Real life intruded. When we stopped doing the band full-time we'd been at it for six years. That's a lot to ask of people when you're not really making money. We were happy doing what we wanted to do but eventually it just became okay to do it as a hobby. That way we can keep everyone.
What prompted putting That's So Gay together after a long hiatus/members living so far apart?
I had two songs I wanted to record. It didn't look like were going to do a new record and we weren't doing very much. I thought that we weren't going to be active and if they weren't able to undertake an album I was going to do it with other people. They were all into it and the timing was perfect. We had so much fun that we agreed to continue towards making a new album. This one was the most fun we've had in ten years. The first half of our career was all fun pop until we put out [1998's] Absurd Pop Song Romance. That changed the ratio of funny songs versus more serious, or at least less humorous songs. We have a balance now of really out, really gay songs but there's more introspection, a variety. I don't care for bands with 12 songs that sound alike. We try to vary the tempo and what not.
How do you feel the music has evolved over the last 20 years?
When we started, we had a purist vision of what we wanted to do. We stuck to it for a while but then reached a point where we knew we'd be repeating ourselves if we continued that way. We've expanded our sonic palate in a way that is still true to the original idea but makes it more interesting. Even though it's our eighth album I don't think people are tired of it because there's enough variety and diversity there. Maybe some people are though.
What's your comment to people who deride your focus as predictable or played out?
I'd say to give a listen; you can do that easily on the web. If you think it'll be more of the same you can see how it's different. I have to put myself in the same place. I'll see a new record from a band and be like, "Oh my God! They're still together?" I know what it's like to be on both ends of that. One thing I'll say about doing the record these days is that I don't hear a lot of good pop out there. We're power pop and punk rock. Power pop tends to be wimpy and punk sounds ridiculous and stale. To me, the combination we're doing is unique right now. Maybe not so ten years ago when there were a lot of pop punk bands though. I can't think of who our peers are right now. We're a bit retro but we're not stuck where we were before.
How about the Queercore scene you helped forge? Has it evolved? Is there still work to be done to inform or can you be largely celebratory now?
A lot of queer musicians in the indie and underground scenes make a variety of sounds. But they're not in the rock world. They're basically singer-songwriters or cabaret performers, even on the major labels. They're not found between Bryan Adams and the White Stripes or whoever. It's like sports: mainstream rock and sports are adverse to the gay thing. Even though there are a lot of queer musicians, one thing Pansy Division continue to do that makes us unique and relevant is that we sing about gay topics. Others don't address subject matter that is specifically gay. I think it makes us more valuable to the gay people but also interesting to straight people because they're hearing a different point of view about something. The subject matter on the record has evolved too. There are a few horny songs. The music is up-tempo and poppy but there are some angry undertones. There's a broad perspective, along with specific relationship-based songs. (Alternative Tentacles)