My criteria for deeming an artist an ‘icon’ is probably not the same as that of the masses. There seems to be an invisible global consensus as to which musicians are destined for the rock-equivalent of Valhalla, their image and soundscapes elevated into antiquity and beyond. Of course, it’s always the same 20 or so guys, and that ascent into rock n’ roll heaven was always cemented by a solid foundation of key record deals. The jaded disillusionment of how the iconic status of one’s adolescent heroes was bought and paid for with industry clout popped many a bubble of punk rock dreams; the fantasy was that if you just show up and rock hard enough, someone — maybe everyone — would listen. That vision was far too innocent, but in today’s musical landscape it’s a lot easier to make stardom happen in an authentic way. Sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud (and even YouTube) have leveled the playing field between inspired gutter punks and streamlined pop-proteges with radio ready hits. They both have a direct bridge to their audience, and neither of them have any money — yet. Now that the record company middle-man has been edged out, the question remains whether the millennial world of the digital musician is youth’s playground exclusively, or can a veteran rocker who had his biggest brush with stardom in the late 90s take on the challenge of leveraging these new platforms to his advantage? For Patrick Briggs, right now is a very exciting time.
If I ran the world, everyone would know who Psychotica are, but I don’t, and a lot of people don’t. For a sheltered queer teen in Midwestern white bread Suburbia, Psychotica was my awakening. The band’s openly gay front man with the magnetic stage presence and unrivaled theatrical panache, Pat Briggs was my icon. I hate the fact that when I tell these stories to friends and strangers, the usual answer is “Who?” It’s kind of like a miniature punch in the gut every time. I wish I could find others who know that feeling of flipping through a magazine in 1998 and seeing a white-haired alien creature covered in saran-wrap, memorizing the name Psychotica and one day finally coming home with a copy of their self-titled debut from my local used CD store. I sat there transfixed after I placed the disc in my player. One of the first lines of “Ice Planet Hell” was “My boyfriend cried when his best friend died”. In the 90s, there was a lot of hype about homosexuality scraping the tip of the mainstream but it was all muted in subtext and subterfuge. You couldn’t say boyfriend, ever, but the white-haired alien did. All my queer friends have their Bowie stories, their Freddie Mercury stories, and I have my Pat Briggs story. There was a definite straight, macho, cock-rock undercurrent in the alternative music scene of that era and one of the most redeeming things about Briggs was that he never let anyone intimidate him, and he never let anyone put him in a box defined by his sexuality. He simply responded by rocking louder and harder than everyone. I expected him to be in the public eye forever, but after a while he simply fell off the radar.
The internet was how I’d learned about Pat’s history and his beginnings in the New York club scene. Sixteen year old me had printed out pictures of him covered in feathers and glitter on my home computer printer and taped them to my wall like a teen girl might have done with her pop-stars of the week. After the last Psychotica release in 1999, my requisite Google searches were coming up with less and less, but I didn’t give up. There were a couple re-releases of old Psychotica material throughout the 00’s, but sadly the thing I wanted most — new material — was nowhere to be found. I didn’t know that Pat had quit the music business after bout of depression following a personal tragedy. Instead it just seemed like he and and Psychotica had fallen into a black hole. Then, at some point in mid 2014, my searches finally turned up a hit. I never gave up continuing to look for him, and suddenly there was a brand new song and video with the name Patrick Briggs attached called “Can’t Scrub Your Soul Clean”. The video’s psychedelic and S&M tinged imagery left little doubt that this was the same Pat Briggs of Psychotica fame. I was elated to find his facebook page and learn about his forthcoming solo EP, a project that over the course of a year evolved into a full-length album. My icon was back, and he was just as fearless as he’d ever been.
I got a chance to talk with Patrick about his upcoming album and tour, and his approach to making music and marketing his identity in a new era with limitless possibilities.
So, your album Pervert was originally imagined as an EP. I’ve been following the progress of it via your Facebook page since you released the single and video for “Can’t Scrub Your Soul Clean”, and I was waiting for a release last year and then you decided to re-imagine it as a full length album. Can you tell me a little bit about how that came about?
Yeah, everything has had a life of its own. I wasn’t even participating in music anymore, really. Thirty years of being in the music business I’ve quit — I can’t even tell you how many times. But I’d gone through an experience with watching my best friend pass away from cancer, so I dropped out for like 8 years, and I just sat around being depressed and mopey and feeling sorry for myself. Lonny, My brother in law, is a producer and he said “will you come sing on this track” Now in hindsight I think it was a plot to get my head out of my own ass.
Yeah it worked, it did work. And we did this track, and that turned out to be “Can’t Scrub Your Soul Clean”. Then simultaneously, what happened was I did a radio interview on Retroband with this guy Diggy Kat, who’s a radio cat. I hold him largely responsible for all of it. Him and my brother in law are what dragged me back into it. It definitely wasn’t my plan. My plan was to sit around and be depressed. I’m one of those people that if you leave me alone to be narcissistic like that for too long, then I just rot.
You have to have that venue to express yourself and your creativity and your art like that. I see that your also a visual artist and you do murals and paint the sides of buildings and such?
Oh yeah, I paint everything. I paint anything that doesn’t get out of my way, pretty much. When I was 13 I ran away from home, and I came to Catalina Island where I am right now. I lived in the woods, and my first job as a teenage runaway was making Catalina tile. And now I see the tile all over the town, I’m looking back at 40 years of stuff that I did.
Oh wow, that’s amazing.
It is really kind of amazing, and it was like my very first job, and it happened to be in art, luckily. But who hires a 13 year old, first of all? Pedophiles, that’s who. I was thirteen and I looked nine.
That’s pretty sketchy…
No regrets, believe me, without that job I don’t know where I would be.
Well, it’s good that you’ve gotten back into it because you still have fans from back in the day who have been waiting for new material, I was one of them.
I guess I didn’t really know that. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself I guess.
Yeah, that’s what happens with tragic life experiences.
And really, that’s what the song title means, you can’t scrub your soul clean.
You mentioned that Psychotica is getting back together and you’ve hinted at an upcoming tour. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Well again, this was all sort of beyond my control. I started to put together the touring band for my new record, and I called Paul, my guitar player from Psychotica, and asked him to play bass. He’s amazing at every instrument, and I really hate people like that. He plays everything really, really well.
Yeah, it’s like how dare you?
And he’s really modest about it too. He’s like “oh no, I suck.” It’s a struggle for me to do one thing halfway well. Well, I called him and he said Yeah, I’ll do better than that. Give me an hour and I’ll call you back. Then he called me back and said “How about Psychotica just backs you up?”
It’s amazing how everything just fell into place like that.
Yeah, within an hour he had confirmation. So once again I just threw my hands up in the air, clearly I’m not in control, and I just let it ride.
So you have a tour planned then?
Right now, things could always change of course, but in July we’re going to do an East Coast run and we’re gonna do a west coast run, and then I don’t know what after that.
Don’t forget the Midwest.
Oh we’ll get there at some point, I’m sure, during the summer. We have the best booking agent on the planet. She’s awesome. She’s a Mormon.
Oh, that’s random.
Yeah, staunch Mormon. Hardcore. And she’s beautiful and she’s awesome. It’s so weird because she puts up with every rotten Punk Rock band on the planet. She doesn’t drink, smoke, swear, none of it. I always feel guilty when I’m around her, I think that’s why she hangs out with us. This is a really an exciting year for me. I feel like I’m just starting to come into bloom, or something. It’s very strange.
And when’s your album being released, do you have a concrete date yet?
I guess I’m going to time it with the tour and just put it out then. I’m also working on a book, That’s why I’m here. I’m on Catalina Island right now.
I was actually going to ask you that, because I had heard maybe a decade ago that you were thinking of writing an autobiography. Is that the book you’re working on?
Yes, yes it is. But it’s sort of a whole concept. I’m going to make it when you download, you download a chapter, a song, and then either an interview or a video. It’s like a trilogy to make downloads more enticing. At this point maybe I just might give away the album for free, and I’m just tempted to do that actually. I don’t know. I’ve been going back and forth about just giving it away. I’d rather do that than go through all the fucking hassle, the bullshit.
I definitely understand but I still think you have people who have been fans for a long time who are going to be excited about this record. If you have different features like the book chapters and any kind of extra tracks, people would be willing to pay for that.
Yeah, I have three re-mixes on the record. They’re pretty cool, they were done by Mikee Plastik and Pete Jones, he’s from Public Image Limited.
With Johnny Rotten!
Uh-huh, so they teamed up and did a couple of remixes. Christian Menses did one. They’re really cool, they’re all sort of pseudo industrial and dark wave, I guess you would call it.
Does this album have any major themes or influences? . Did you have a specific impression you wanted to give off when you wrote these songs or did you just put a bunch of different material together to see how it would fit?
I wanted to make a record that was really simple, that you could fuck or drive to, basically.
Well, I think you succeed! There seems to be a good mix and variety of different tracks, strong rock songs, catchy songs, sexy songs, a little bit of everything
Yeah, it’s really not the deepest record on the planet but I don’t care. I didn’t want that. I didn’t really NEED that either. I needed something a little lighter in my life.
And it’s very accessible, I think. I could see you picking up a new fanbase with this record.
That’s what we’re hoping for.
“Functioning Junky” is definitely a standout track for me, it’s catchy enough to grab people’s attention but still has an original, interesting sound. Have you thought about releasing that one as an eventual single?
It’s been talked about, and there’s a remix of it. One of the remixes is of “Functioning Junky”. And you know, if they actually listen to the lyrics it’s really about horrible stuff.
Yeah, I kind of picked that up. It’s a catchy song but it’s really kind of depressing. I knew it was about addiction of some kind.
It’s about speed addiction.
And is that about personal experience then?
Oh, fuck yeah. I don’t lie there. I’m so sick of people being all reformed and on a soapbox and I’m a human being. You know, if I have to sedate myself to deal with life then that’s what I’m going to god damn do. I’m a grown man. I don’t preach that for everybody. What’s right for me is not right for everyone, certainly.
Everybody goes on their own path, I think
Absolutely. I’ve gone the totally clean and sober path, I’ve gone the totally out of my mind junky path, and I think I’ve found somewhere in between that is making me happy right now.
Like a balance.
I’m really cranky when I’m totally sober.
A lot of people are.
I know, I’m a real asshole that way. I’m in a much better mood these days. I’m not trying to hurt myself either.
Yeah, like you know your limits.
Well, it’s not a lifestyle anymore.
I know there were a few re-releases of Psychotica material over the past decade or so, are you thinking of playing any of the old Psychotica material on your upcoming tour?
We actually have a secret lined up for our fans regarding Psychotica that we’re going to unveil during the tour, our live audiences will get a surprise. And it will be the first time Reeka has been on tour with us, because it will be the first time she’s had a green card.
She was the pseudo-reggae singer from the first Psychotica album?
She had a really unique sound, I’d never really heard anyone like her before.
Hell, yeah. That’s why I put her in the band in the first place. She was unlike anything I’d ever heard.
And the whole combination of your voice, her voice, the instrumentation, it was really unusual and formative for me when I was a teenager. I was really isolated in suburbia, and I was like the only queer kid I knew, I didn’t have that narrative of being influenced by Bowie and Freddie Mercury that everyone seems to have. There were no queer icons in my adolescence. You were one of the first ones for me. Learning about your past in the nightclub scene and the drag scene was very eye opening for me. Do you consider yourself a queer icon or influential over the younger generation?
Well, I mean, that would probably give me more importance than I really am in the world. I do value things like what you just said, you want to know that your effort has actually been heard by somebody on a soul level, you know? It’s about reaching somebody like you just described, who doesn’t have the stimuli that is available to us here in LA, and might be thinking dark thoughts, that there’s no way out.
Oh, and I totally was.
Well how could you not?
And I didn’t have that self-expression artistic narrative. I wasn’t surrounded by creative people. I didn’t have that outlet at all. You were just like WOAH, who is this person doing these crazy awesome things that I can relate to?
Well yeah, and people always accused me back then of trying to be shocking and all this shit, and no, it wasn’t about being shocking! It was about putting on a show for kids that didn’t get that. My life is shocking enough. I don’t need to act, believe me.
I never got that pre-formatted trying to be shocking thing about you at all.
Well, I was accused of it lots, compared to Manson all the time and all this crap. It was just like really, people?
Well with the 90’s panic anything out of the ordinary was considered Shock Rock. People were still so puritanical about media at that time.
Originally the character I developed was this genderless sort of character. I used to tuck my dick up between my butt cheeks with duct tape and come out of a chrome egg, naked. But the whole point of that in my mind was I was taking the sexuality out of rockstars, the rock star role, and putting it in some neutral place in my head. It didn’t translate that way, is the problem. Cause then people just saw that I tucked my dick up between my butt cheeks. They didn’t see beyond that.
It’s weird how people were shocked by something like that and now all of this extreme performance art has almost been normalized by society. You have Lady Gaga coming out and making all of it pop.
Coming out of a chrome egg, by the way. It has been sort of normalized, but things were different then. I took a lot of shit for being the opening act for Metallica and being on the cover of Out Magazine at the same time.
Metallica had that whole macho metalhead fanbase.
Oh yeah, and I was coming out in a rubber suit on a spinning cross with pink smoke. They were eating it up but at the same time didn’t know what to do with themselves.
Because you weren’t in their narrative, the little box they wanted to put you in.
Yeah, I was queer and I was a fag but I could ROCK and that just confused them.
It seems like you were hard to market. But now, with like micro-celebrity and youtube and all these queer artists being able to carve out a niche for themselves, do you think its a better climate now than it was then for you to reach people?
I think so. It’s almost about marching forward with a new face for me. I almost want to treat it like I’m a brand new artist again. Just because I have something different to say now. I’m a different age. The music’s different, I don’t know it’s a little more personal now. And I know, I’m not any spring chicken. This could be my last record for all I know.
You thought that years ago, though, and now all this is happening.
Well, yes, that just proves that I just won’t die. So I might as well make the best of it.
There’s the independent road to success, and the the more punk do-it-yourself values. Were you looking for mainstream success when you first started out with Pyschotica or was the most important thing to get your art out there any way possible?
No, it was actually another accident. I had actually quit the music business again at the time. I had at this club that was really, really successful, Squeeze Box, in New York. I had been producing the show and you know, I can’t stay off of a stage for too long. It drives me nuts. And I put the band together as a joke, not a joke, but just to have some fun, you know?
Just for the hell of it.
Yeah, and we got signed. On our first show.
I did not know that. The first time you ever performed you were signed?
Even before that, because the A&R person walked by- we were rehearsing in the club during the daytime, and the A&R person Amanda was walking by on her way home from work and heard us playing and said “I’m going to sign you guys!” and I went “I dare you.” Because I was so bitter at that point in time. I said “You’re full of shit, come back to the show tonight if you’re serious” and I kind of threw her out, and she signd us.
Wow, there seems to be a whole lot of chains of events that were unpredictable that kind of catapulted you to where you are now.
Yeah, and I was probably unprepared for all of that, you know. Like how prepared could you be, to suddenly get what you’ve been wanting, right there, ready go?
It came out of left field, didn’t it?
It is what it is. I’m not sorry about any of it, but I probably would have taken a little more time to get into the details if I was able to do it over again.
Just have a more cohesive vision of what you wanted to do?
Yeah, it was a little haphazard, but I got more mileage out of it than I never thought I would. And it’s been loads of fun. I haven’t had to have a real job in like 20 years.
Pervert is currently streaming in its entirety on Pat’s website: patrickbriggsonline.com
and he can also be found on Facebook.