Music

Punk Icon Alice Bag Releases Video & Talks Inspiration for ‘Sister Dynamite’

Photo by Denée Segall. Courtesy of the artist

Even when Alice Bag tried to be normal, she always missed the mark—but hell no, she’s not dimming her spark.

Those are Bag’s words of course, as they’re paraphrased lyrics from “Spark,” the explosive opening song that kicks off the subversive mood in her new album, Sister Dynamite (In the Red Records). Beyond a track list full of empowering anthems, the Latinx punk icon has been releasing socially influential music videos, and the latest one is no exception. The video for “The Sender is Blocked” premiered exclusively at Remezcla today, and it depicts an epic takeover of “Faux News” by femmes and people of color. The comical showdown was directed by Amber Williams and includes appearances by Williams’ punk band Squid Ink, and Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries (the latter whose first full-length album was produced by Bag).

“It made sense to us to invite our friends to be part of the video, especially since both bands are committed to social change, which is very important to all of us,” Bag tells Remezcla. “I wanted to make sure that queers and strong women of color were represented because they are the faces of the change I hope to see.”

The music for Sister Dynamite was produced by Bag and her long-time collaborator Lysa Flores, and includes guitarist Sharif Dumani, bassist David O. Jones and alternating drummers, Candace P.K. Hansen and Rikki “Styxx” Watson. Sister Dynamite dropped by surprise on April 24 (the original intended date) after being scheduled for release May 8, and according to Bag, this situation was entirely influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“That was a hard decision to make,” Bag says. “We had a meeting and we all wanted to be respectful, knowing that people might be going through very difficult times. At the same time, I was being told that music can be very helpful in helping people to cope, which is something that I know to be true for me personally.”

Photo by Denée Segall. Courtesy of the artist

And Sister Dynamite is the right sound and attitude to motivate fans during this tense time in the world. The album is a non-stop counterattack against oppressive patriarchal constructs that permeate the lives of marginalized identities—and Bag’s offense is one that’s unapologetically aggressive, with good reason.

“I want to provide a soundtrack for people’s lives. Hopefully there’s something on the record that sparks a conversation or motivates people to act—a song or a lyric that makes them feel empowered. I want to light their fuse,” Bag says.

“Sister Dynamite” for instance—the song that represents the album in both name and theme—was written as a tribute to extraordinary women who constantly defy and challenge tyrannical attitudes. Bag proudly depicts this archetype in her lyrics when she says: “This time she’s not gonna take it / No sir, she won’t stand for that / Sister Dynamite / She’s so tired of fragile masculinity / Going to blow it up, yeah, she’s the TNT!”

“‘Sister Dynamite’ is inspired by various women,” Bag says. “AOC is one for sure, as are the women who took over the House of Representatives, but there are a lot of women who inspire that song. Girls and young women like Greta Thunberg and Malala, as well as older women like Dolores Huerta are a constant source of inspiration to me.”

“The initial inspiration came from a memory I had of being a child and hearing my parents fighting in the next room. I remember feeling anxious because my father could easily turn violent. ”

In addition to these macro figures, Bag reveals that “Sister Dynamite” is a montage of local women in her circle too, particularly the women of Turn It Up, a group advocating for gender parity in music—whom Bag closely works with.

“‘Sister Dynamite’ has a little bit of each of them, and ultimately, she is the best of all of us. She is the long-suppressed feminine ready to restore humanity, by any means necessary,” Bag says.

According to Bag, Sister Dynamite is a year in the making, as she first began writing the songs last spring. Shortly after this, she was invited by Joan Jett’s label, Blackheart Records, to produce the second album for San Antonio punk band, Fea. Bag describes the experience as “fortuitous,” because it ultimately changed the songwriting process for her own project.

“When I started working with Fea, I felt inspired to write songs that better represented what my band and I do during live shows,” she says. “One of the first things I did was kick all the ballads off this album because I never do ballads live. My new writing goal was to keep the songs upbeat yet diverse.”

And while the songs are indeed upbeat, some convey more serious tones, like “Noise,” which Bag reveals was the most personal song for her to write.

“The initial inspiration came from a memory I had of being a child and hearing my parents fighting in the next room. I remember feeling anxious because my father could easily turn violent. The fighting was so frequent that at times it was just overwhelming. I remember putting a pillow over my head, wishing I could just turn it all off,” she says.

The song also connects to Bag’s anxieties about the covid-19 crisis.

“I had a similar experience during this pandemic. I was overwhelmed with news of how it was spreading and I began feeling powerless,” she says. “One day, I just started crying for no apparent reason. I realized that I had to insulate myself from all the negative information. I had to let in just enough to stay informed, but also keep enough distance and perspective to be able to remain positive.”

That positivity has included making quirky workout clips on Instagram and releasing more music videos during quarantine. And the music videos all emphasize and capture Bag’s advocacy for inclusivity, empowerment, and community. One such example is the video for “Spark”—which was directed by Club Scum co-founder Rudy Bleu. The video focuses on the queer Latinx community by showcasing personalities associated with Club Scum—a monthly event and collective in Los Angeles created by Bleu and Ray “Hex-Ray” Sanchez to provide a safe nightlife space for queer Latinx punks.

“The idea [for the video] really came from my experiences at Scum events. Rudy and Hex-Ray always create a warm family feel to all their events. Those events seem to attract all sorts of strange and beautiful individuals,” Bag says. Among those individuals is Vander Von Odd, season one winner of the televised drag competition, Dragula. Von Odd is a frequent guest and performer at Club Scum, and it was there that Bag first connected with her. Von Odd stars as Bag’s leading lady in the video for “Spark.”

“I knew that if anyone was going to be able to bring the meaning of ‘Spark’ to life, it would be Vander,” Bag says.

And just because she’s quarantined until further notice, doesn’t mean that Bag’s spark is being diminished any time soon. Bag reveals that besides the fitness and music videos, she’s been using the time to learn how to swing dance with her husband, and discovering that she can make “delicious vegan meringues out of bean water.” Other than that, the punk icon is taking things one day at a time and looking for silver linings in the midst of it all.

“This experience is really unnatural for me because I’m a planner by nature,” Bag says. “I’ve always had a calendar, made daily schedules, and crossed off tasks as I got through them, but now I don’t feel like I can plan because I don’t know what the future brings. I’m truly living each moment as it comes. It’s a new way of being for me and I fumble through it at times, but I’m adapting. Adaptation is the key to survival, right?”