WHO'S THE BOSS
Boss Hog leader Cristina Martinez has no intention of exploiting her sexuality to make a living. After all, she's already done enough of that.
"I used to do phone sex back in the Eighties," she volunteers. "I didn't start out doing it--I was the receptionist taking credit-card numbers at this place. But then one night someone called up and wanted a two-girl call, and since I was the only other one in the office, I had to do it. And I just realized how easy it was and how much better the money was than I was making taking credit-card numbers. It was, like, twenty bucks a call, and since I'd been making pretty much no money at all, it seemed really inviting.
"But the novelty wore off very quickly, and then I started suspecting that they were running a white-slavery ring. The year before, they asked a girl who had worked there if she wanted to be in a porno movie in the Bahamas, and she said okay. And they flew her down there and no one ever heard from her again. So then they asked me if I wanted to do one, and I was like, `No, thanks.' And then I got creeped out after the owner told me he'd been listening in on my calls. I thought that was kind of weird."
She saw it as perfectly natural, however, when her significant other, guitarist Jon Spencer (onetime co-star of Pussy Galore, now the frontman of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), expressed a desire to eavesdrop on the conversations, too. In this instance, Martinez obliged by taping some of her heavy-breathing sessions, then playing them later for Spencer. "I approached it as a kind of social study," she explains. "Some of the calls were kind of humorous. But most of them weren't humorous enough."
Boss Hog, the DGC debut of Martinez's band, isn't brimming with grins, either--unless, that is, your sense of humor is on the twisted side. "I wrote the songs on the album at a very dark time in my life, and after I put them together, I realized how down and depressing a lot of them were," Martinez allows. "But there were also some funny things, too--like `Skibunny,' which sounds like a pro-suicide song but is really something I wrote to myself." She notes with a laugh, "I was like, `If you're feeling so bad, why don't you just go and kill yourself.'"
Martinez comes by her idiosyncratic view of the world naturally: She's been involved in the avant-garde since she was in her mid-teens. She was raised in Washington, D.C., and was such a precocious student that she graduated from high school at age sixteen. Soon, she enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder, eager to study with Stan Brakhage, a non-narrative moviemaker who still anchors the institution's film department. "He gave a really great class--it really turned my life around," Martinez enthuses. "But then I found out that he was going on hiatus the next semester to make films of his own, and so suddenly I didn't know what to do. And the only things the people around me were interested in was doing coke and skiing, and I hated that. So I got really depressed and went back to D.C."
On home soil again, Martinez met Spencer, whose rock-loving anti-rock combo, Pussy Galore, was already dividing opinions on the area scene. Pussy Galore later relocated to New York City, as did Martinez, who had decided to attend New York University's film school (she ultimately bailed out of the program because she disagreed with its focus on narrative). Before long, Martinez joined Pussy Galore and stayed until the ride ended. Then, in 1989, she and Spencer formed Boss Hog (named for a biker magazine, not the Sorrell Booke character on that monument to television quality, The Dukes of Hazzard). A handful of recordings under the Hog name filtered out over the years, including the 1989 cassette-only release Drinkin', Lechin', and Lyin', 1990's Cold Hands and 1993's Girl+.
In the process, the Boss Hog lineup solidified around Martinez, Spencer, bassist Jens Jurgensen and drummer Hollis Queens. More important, the music firmed up. Early on, the Hogs seemed set to follow in Pussy Galore's artsy, shock-rock footprints--for instance, Martinez performed the first Boss Hog gig entirely in the nude--but more recently, the band has coalesced around a bluesy, punky, driving sound that's more straightforward than you'd expect from these provocateurs. Spencer's influence is definitely felt on the new Boss Hog disc; the wry track "Beehive," in particular, recalls his work with the Blues Explosion. But in the end, the outfit is Martinez's--as she's not shy about confirming.
"We're all pretty much in accord. Generally, we all agree on how things should be done," she says. "But as far as business is concerned, I take care of that. And if push comes to shove, I make the decisions.
"The biggest example of that happening this time around was on the song `Texas.' We wrote it together, but when it came time to record it, we hit a wall. No one really knew what to do or how to structure it. And the band kind of gave up on it. Nobody liked it at that point but me, I think because I heard it in my head the way it ended up on the record. So when it came time to put it down, Steve [Fisk, who co-produced the CD with Spencer] and I put it all together to get a big sweeping string sound. It was sort of my vision, and I don't think it would have been as strong if I hadn't taken over."
As that comment implies, Martinez is a woman who doesn't need a man to make decisions for her. She's somewhat frustrated, then, by the image of her band that seems to be emerging. In specific: With the Blues Explosion a critical favorite thanks to Orange, last year's excellent Matador Records project, and Boss Hog inked to the David Geffen Company, associated with both Nirvana and Hole, some observers have pegged Spencer and Martinez as the Couple Most Likely to Become the Next Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
"People ask about that all the time," Martinez says. "But we've been doing what we're doing since 1989, and Jon and I have been together in one way or another since 1985. So we're not the new anything. Besides, there were zillions of couples in bands before Kurt and Courtney. Look at Sonny and Cher. So we're just doing what we want to do. We aren't trying to be anyone else or do what anybody else had done before." Furthermore, Martinez goes on, Geffen hasn't exactly been cranking up the hype machinery on Boss Hog's behalf. She wanted to write, direct and produce a video for the canny Ike Turner cover "I Idolize You" ("I don't endorse Ike Turner's personal history, but I enjoy his music," she says) before the act's current tour started. Unfortunately, a disagreement over money and timing has pushed everything back until early 1996.
There's more confusion surrounding the Boss Hog cut "Punkture." Some listeners assume the tune alludes to the injectable narcotics that the members of Pussy Galore reportedly used with great frequency. When Martinez is asked about this reading, though, she hoots with delight.
"Oh, that is so funny you should ask that," she declares, "because when we were mastering the record, I said, `You know, people are going to think that this is about drugs.' It didn't dawn on me until after the record was done that it could be construed that way. I've heard all the rumors and I guess they make sense, because Pussy Galore's first drummer died from an overdose, and Neal Haggerty [a Pussy veteran now fronting Royal Trux] had his moments. But none of the rest of us did anything--and in Boss Hog, none of us do drugs, either. I drink, at least, but there are a couple members who don't drink at all. We're ridiculously healthy, relatively speaking, for a rock band, even though people always peg us as druggies.
"But I don't mind it, actually, because it's part of the rock-and-roll mystique, and I think people enjoy that kind of story. So print that we're all addicts, okay? Print that we're all drying out now, that we're all in rehab. That would make me very, very happy."
Boss Hog, with Cibo Matto. 9 p.m. Monday, December 4, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $5.25, 447-0095.
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