Los Angeles concertgoers are frequently spoiled by amazing line-ups. Recently at The Echo, I caught a vision of neon light, LA native Juliette Commagere, who rocked out royally on keyboard and whose performance, supported by her legendary father-in-law Ry Cooder, lingered with me. Running home, I eagerly explored this former Hello Stranger lead singer’s discography, highlighted by her latest offering, Human.
Mxdwn spoke with Juliette recently, in the middle of rehearsal for a show she’ll perform on top of a Mexican pyramid with Maynard James Keegan’s (of Tool and A Perfect Circle) Puscifer. We had lots to chat about and touched upon topics which yielded some warm and revealing stories. Visit Juliette’s site and watch for a new EP coming out soon.
Juliette Commagere shot for mxdwn by Sharon Alagna
Can you remember your first musical memory?
I remember my first piano lesson when I was five. I can remember my first piano teacher and my first little music book with three notes in it. I always loved the piano. My dad is a classical record producer so there was classical music at home and he plays the piano too. Sometimes I think it’s a lazy person’s instrument because you can just sit and play. Guitar is more physical but you can just slump over the piano and play all day. (Laughing)
How did you first connect with “cuddle bunny” Maynard James Keegan (MJK)?
My old band, Hello Stranger, once opened for Eagles of Death Metal and Maynard’s musical partner, Matt Mitchell was at that show. I think his girlfriend really liked our band and they wanted to have someone do a remix in Spanish. I think she convinced him to ask me. At the time, I didn’t meet Maynard but went in and sang it. Then I didn’t hear from them until a year later and then Matt called and said Maynard was putting together Puscifer for a live show and he wanted me to be a part of it. I said, “hell yeah” and have been playing with them off and on ever since.
What’s the best thing about working with them?
Right now, I’m playing keyboards but it’s a little bit counter-intuitive. There’s a lot of time signatures and some weird beats where you don’t expect them. I love the heaviness of it. They are great guys and everyone is really nice so it’s fun. I really respect Maynard and want to be just like him one day. (Laughing) He could just be relaxing in his mansion with a no-eye contact policy but he does Puscifer and puts everything into this project.
You have Mexican heritage and have sung onstage in Spanish. How does being Latina inform your art?
That’s a good question. My mom’s from Mexico so I’m half Mexican. I’ve been asked that before and first I thought “I don’t know how it factors in” but then I think of my family and we’re kind of crazy and emotional and are not afraid to talk about our feelings. Everyone is dramatic. That is kind of a Latin thing. My family is different and that plays into my music. Emotion and sensitivity comes out in what I do.
Obviously music is a family affair for you and when I saw you live the other day, Ry Cooder was in your band. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from your father-in–law?
I feel like I ask him all the time for advice and he goes, “I don’t know anymore, Juliette” because the industry is so impossible right now. It’s hard to know what to do. He just tells me to keep going because what’s the alternative? You just have to keep pushing on and it’s going to be really frustrating and hard. He would always say anybody could get a record deal and be successful in the ’70s. Now it’s a different story and a challenging time for everyone. He’s happy to play and had a record with The Haden Triplets and that’s nice to see. Seeing his enthusiasm is really motivating.
You directed your niece in the “Big Star” video. How was that experience?
She’s just too cute to not put in things. (Laughing) She loves to dance and I go and watch her classes. I just think she’s the cutest and most wonderful thing in the world. There’s something innocent about children and I wanted to capture this moment in our lives and film her dancing around. That was definitely a family affair. It was kind of chaotic insanity but it all came together in the end.
You’ve also worked with Linda Perry. How did you like that?
That was pretty wild. Linda’s really tough in the beginning. I was really scared of her at first but after a while, I realized that she’s very sensitive under that exterior. I admire her strength in that she doesn’t care what anybody thinks. She’s in total control of every situation. I would love to be like that, too. It’s pretty amazing what she’s done. Her studio is so unbelievable. She has a huge wall with every vintage drum you could imagine and rooms full of old guitars and keyboards. There’s a meditation room and a spa area. Only a woman could create something that amazing.
Name something you’d be embarrassed to admit is in your music collection.
I have some Britney Spears songs because I was analyzing her songs like “Hit Me Baby One More Time” to see how it modulates to the major and why it’s so good. That song “Gimme More,” I have a strange fascination with that and “I’m A Slave for You.” There are all kinds of music for every situation.
What’s your favorite song on Human and why?
My favorite is “Flight” because it came out exactly the way I wanted it to. That was exactly what I intended from the beginning. It was the last song I wrote and I wrote it quickly, which always feels good when something can pour out of you like that. It evokes this mood that I try to evoke but I don’t know if I get to all the time.
You’ve also opened for Foo Fighters. How did you enjoy that?
Yes, that was insane. Their audience was full of clean cut frat guys and we toured with them in the South. As soon as I walked onstage every night, they would yell, “Take it off!” and “Show us your tits!” On the second night, I was like “Fuck you!” and everybody cheered. I was like, “Oh, that’s what it takes. You just have to yell back at these guys.” Sometimes with those guy bands, it’s harder being a girl but the Foo Fighters are the nicest guys in the world and so cool. It’s also interesting playing venues that size. There wasn’t that grit of a dirty club.
What’s planned for the rest of 2014?
I have this show with Puscifer in Mexico on top of a pyramid and then I want to record an EP end of May/June. I’m halfway done with that and will do a local show when the EP comes out. What should I do after that? (Laughing)
Juliette Commagere shot for mxdwn by Sharon Alagna