The Ultimate Jam Night Interviews with Chris Freeman of Pansy Division and GayC/DC
The Ultimate Jam Night Interviews with Chris Freeman of Pansy Division and GayC/DC
It as time once again for Ultimate Jam Night at the Whisky a Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. This would be the big 86th edition honoring the iconic Malcolm Young of the legendary AC/DC – with all proceeds benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association. One of the participants at this very special event was the notorious GayC/DC, who brought their own vibrantly campy rendition of AC/DC tunes to the Whisky crowd. Prior to their wickedly over-the-top performance, we caught up with front man Chris Freeman to find out more about the amazing GayC/DC as well as happenings with his other band – the underground punk rock legends known as Pansy Division. Read on…
How did you become with Ultimate Jam Night and how many shows have you done?
Holy cow! I’m not really sure where it originated. I think it was the Orlando shooting. We had a show at the Viper Room as a benefit. The Whisky said, “well, we’re doing one as well. It’s a part of The Ultimate Jam Night, would you like to be a part of that as well?” And we said, “Yes, absolutely.” So, we played both places. I think out of that, we got to know Jessica here at The Whisky, who helps coordinate the Ultimate Jam Night and Chuck Wright. I think I’ve been back twice since. This will be number four, I believe. Very excited.
For those who are going to miss it tonight, what can one expect from a GayC/DC show tonight?
It’s like a 3-ringed circus. We don’t plan anything usually. Most stuff is spontaneous. Everything just comes out, all the stops come out. We try to pack as much entertainment into two songs as possible. We’re doing two songs! There’s going to be costume changes, there will probably be confetti, there will probably be streamers, who knows what else, within two songs.
What two songs?
We’re doing Big Balls, and for a gay band, we didn’t even have to change the lyrics. And then we do a spin on Bad Boy Boogie and we call it the Gay Boy Boogie.
Have you ever met Malcolm Young?
No. No, I haven’t met any of them. They’re some of my idols, I’ve been listening to them since- Well, I heard songs on the radio all the way through the mid ‘70s, but in ’77, when I was 16, Let There be Rock came out and that was the first album I heard by them in its entirety. That’s when I went, “These guys are fantastic.” They’ve been idols of mine. I lived in Seattle, and they didn’t play Seattle much. They opened for Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent back in 1978 and I had tickets to that show, but then they got stolen at school. I was so angry. I never got to see them and that was the last Bon Scott Tour. They never came to Seattle at all, so I was like, okay, I’m going to move and hopefully I get to see them, I just got to see them recently at the Dodger’s Stadium show. Finally!
So they’ve never commented on your tribute band?
No, I think we’re so far below the radar. Maybe somebody’s heard of us in their camp, but I doubt it.
That’d be interesting.
I would love to find out what they think.
Switching gears to your other band Pansy Division. You have a new album Quite Contrary. How does that compare to past Pansy Division releases?
I think it’s different in that we made it separately. We all live in different cities. I live here in LA, and John lives in San Francisco, our guitar player is in Boston, and the drummer is in New York. We couldn’t be farther apart. I would drive up to San Francisco to work on demos with John and I’d work on my own demos. Then, we’d send them to the other guys and they would get together up in Boston or in New York, and work on their arrangements of the demos. Then, we got together a year ago to record all the basics, and then a lot of stuff, we just emailed tracks. You do stuff to a sync and then you just email stuff back and forth. Without that technology, we could not have made the record. It wouldn’t have been out. It would have taken a lot more time. Also, when we made the last record, our guitar player Joel, he had just been in the band a little while, he’s primarily a bass player who can play guitar. His style in the band- he was guarded. As we’ve been together- we’ve been in the band 12 years now, after playing a long time and getting to know each other, he felt a lot more comfortable saying, “I would like to make a guitar statement.” I think the guitars on this record are primarily his and it’s front and center, so I think that was also a difference. The other one was more drum-heavy, which I liked, personally. I love drums. Luis is a fabulous drummer, but he wanted that drum sound on the new record, too. I think, musically, it’s very similar. Sort of stretching the envelope that we have.
Has The Pet Shop Boys heard or commented on your version of “It’s a Sin”?
Once again, I think we’re below their radar. I’d love to think they’ve heard about it. I know they’ve heard about Pansy Division because there was a point where we were trying to get on that package tour that they were doing with – it was quite a few years ago. It played The Greek with all the gay artists. It was the guy from Erasure, and them and I think Cyndi Lauper. Anyway, our name got tossed around as an opening act so I know they’ve heard of us, but I don’t know if they’re really paying attention to Pansy Division. I would love it if they did, once again, I would love it if they found out about it.
Green Day has paid attention to you. What was that like touring with them and how were you received?
Well – the touring party was fabulous because they were great people. First and foremost, they are great people. They were young. They were 20 and 21. They didn’t know what was ahead of them. We were in our 30’s already so we were watching and like, that didn’t happen to us but we kind of always wanted it to. Then when I watched it happen to them, I was like – I’m glad it didn’t happen to me at that age because those guys got ripped apart. By the end of the year, they were emotionally wrung out. Everybody wanted to be their friend, everybody was giving them advice, you go from selling 50,000 on Lookout Records on 14 million by the end of one year. It’s quite a lot to swallow for being pot smoking beer drinking little punk rockers who just wanted to have a good time. Now they’ve got to be accountants. All of a sudden they have to be responsible for millions of dollars. That was a shock. I’m really sorry that that had to happen to them, but they really went through it gracefully. That’s a huge tidal wave to go through.
As far as their audience is concerned, we had mixed reactions. Most of the time we were booed, but we never left the stage. In fact if the booing got too loud, we’d just stop and say “Well, we’re gonna finish our set. The boys are right over there, they’re watching and laughing. So if you don’t stop booing so we can get on with our next song, we will never be booed off stage. We’ll just stop and wait for you.” [laughs] There was a lot of stuff thrown at us, we made a lot of money in change. We had lighters for a year. All the stuff they were chuckling at us. You know, when you throw stuff up here, it becomes mine. So keep it coming because I’ve consider it tips. [laughs]
Has Pansy Division and Gay C/DC ever play a show together or plan on it in the future?
We did do (Palm Springs) Pride, so that was as close as I want to get because – Pansy Division is more us. Maybe amplified us, but in GayC/DC it’s like an Alice Cooper thing. I had to create a character for GayC/DC. I become that person. This is more of an act, more of a deliberate act. We played in Palm Springs and said you gotta give me at least an hour in between because I have to wipe off, get my voice back and get over there and do that thing. So – I don’t want to do a show where we’re on a bill at a club. That’s too tight. But at Pride it was good because I had that distance.
So that was the first time you had done two in one day?
Yes. And it was the first time that some of our band had seen us. So I was very happy to show off in front of my other bandmaters. Actually, Joel’s favorite guitar player is Malcolm Young. That’s his biggest influence on guitar in Pansy Division. So it worked out.
What advice would you give a kid, a LGBT youth who’s frustrated by the outcome of this election?
Well I know it’s rhetoric to here “it gets better.” But I’m 55 now and I have to say it does get better. It does. Sometimes it’s a few steps back and sometimes it’s three steps forward. It’s gotten exceptionally better than when I was a teenager. I think that if there’s any silver lining to this situation, is that now all this racism and sexism and homophobia is all visible now. They’ve all come out of their closets. They’ve been in a closet for 8 years, now they feel justified and they feel invited out. So it’s good because now we can see who they are. That’s one thing that we’ve tried to do as gay people is be seen. That way people can accept it better. They get to know you, oh you’re gay? Oh you’re a redneck? Oh, really? I have family members who are total rednecks, I can get along with people like that. I’ve left places like that in the small towns. I left those places to get away and find myself.
Hang on until you can do the same. Hang on until you can get away and find the people you will resonate with. You will find them eventually. It may not be your family, and it may not be the first people you see. Be guarded, and don’t trust anyone right away because you never know who people are. But eventually, water seeks its own level. You’ll meet the right people, just hang on until that time. Actually, back in 1975 I got very suicidal. I’ve realized what was happening and I was actually going to be gay and I was devastated that it was happening to me. Something told me, and I don’t believe in God really, but something kept saying just wait. It’s not that long until you’ll be out of the house and then you can do whatever you want. Just play the game for a while, develop your feelings on your own, then once you get on your own you can do whatever you need to do. That’s the only advice I can say, just hang on. It’s right around the corner. If you can get outta there, do it. Then find yourself.
What’s up next for Pansy Division?
Pansy Division just finished the tour on Saturday here at The Viper Room. So we don’t have any plans except I think we’re playing a big Lookout! reunion up at Gilman St. up in the Bay area. It’s the 6,7,8 and there’s one extra day. And on our night, Saturday night, It’s Mr. T Experience, us, The Smuggler who have reunited for this. Oh my god, there’s like 7 bands that night. The Avengers are playing. The whole Lookout! roster is basically coming together for that one weekend. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Then our guitar player is turning 40 in April, so The Avengers, Pansy Division and his other band called The Plus Ones, we’re all playing at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on April 1st. So after that, we have no plans. We don’t know what we’re gonna do, we’re open.
What’s up next for GayC DC?
We decided this is going to be our last appearance in LA for the rest of the year (2016). We have been playing a little bit too much and maybe we’re oversaturating and being seen too much. So, we’ll plan something special for March to come back out. Maybe have a fresh set. Also, the guitar player Steve and I have been writing together. We have an album’s worth of material. It’s completely unexpected and he had some demos. He was in a band called Cry Wolf back in the late 80s early 90s. They were a hair metal band. Look at the photos, it’s hilarious, the difference between him then and now it’s – oh my god. So they came back together, they reunited around 2010 and they wanted to keep things going but the singer decided that he didn’t want to, so they hired a different singer and kept going. But then it started to peter out about two years ago. Steve had these demos that he sent around, snippets of song-stuffs sort of generating interest. Oh, I can write something to this. He was disappointed because nothing was happening so I said, Steve – send them to me. Let me see what I can do with them. It may not be what you’re thinking, it’s not gonna sound like Cry Wolf, what I would do. But I’m gonna bring something totally different to it.
So I sat on them for a good 6 months, investigated and figured out what things were gonna to do. I cut and spliced, and created a whole album basically – wrote lyrics and melodies to the whole thing and we’ve been recording just demos of it, rough sketches. We’re pretty excited about it. We’d have to change names but my intention is, it’d be the same presentation. It’d be the same outrageous, lots of costumes and all of that. But the music is really – it’s like, it’s Steve just slamming guitar. It’s completely different than Pansy Division. It’s totally metal [laughs]. I’m really happy with it. I listen to it and go, I’m jazzed to do it. I’m anxious to get in front of people and do it. We’ve just finished them a few weeks ago, so we sent them to the rest of the band since we’ve just been doing them together saying OK now what do you think you can add to it? We just do drum machines and stuff. So real drums, bass, so we’re hoping that the other members like it and want to do it. That’s where we’re at right now, just waiting for them to tell us what they think.
Maybe we’ll hear some of these songs in the New Year.
That was part of the other thing on why we’d dial back on GayC/DC shows is, I want to spend December working on rehearsals on this. Maybe part of January, after the holiday – maybe have a Valentines Day small show, just to step in and see how it goes. So we’ll see…
Thank you to Lisa Woodard and Ultimate Jam Night for setting up this interview. Be sure to check out Ultimate Jam Night, returning Tuesday, January 1oth to the world famous Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip!
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Roy A. Braatz Jr)