Boss Hog singer Cristina Martinez's music is almost always overshadowed, whether by her looks (she's a sex symbol who has played concerts in the nude), her marriage to bandmate Jon Spencer (who also leads the famed Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), her label woes (Boss Hog's five-album deal with Geffen fell apart after one 1995 record), or her family (she's taken time off to have a baby). But her career output is strong on its own terms, ranging from the canonized late-'80s art-trash of Pussy Galore to Boss Hog's diverse catalog of disquieting rock. The new Whiteout, released on a tiny independent label, is sure to confuse and alienate some fans with its cold, strangely new-wave sound, but after five years, it's just good to have Martinez back. She recently spoke to The Onion A.V. Club about her rock 'n' roll lifestyle, recording for a small label, and the perils of looking good.
The Onion: How are you doing?
Cristina Martinez: I'm good. Tired. We just got home from four weeks in Europe, and we only have a couple days before we start touring the U.S., so we've got a lot of stuff to do. I'm just worn from the road, and now I have a lot of busy bullshit to do.
O: Like this?
CM: Nah. This is part of the job. I mean stuff like buying diapers, cleaning house, doing laundry. That kind of stuff.
O: It's funny that there's this vision people have of rock musicians…
CM: That they don't ever do their own laundry? Or clean their toilets? Actually, I don't, either. [Laughs.]
O: I bet there's another rock star in your family who does, though.
CM: No, he doesn't. He doesn't do either of those things. We have somebody who cleans up. I do the laundry, though, because I'm very picky about my clothes. I don't allow anybody else to touch them. You have no right to complain if you let somebody else do it.
O: How has your family life affected things like touring?
CM: Well, this past tour was the first proper tour of any length that we took our son on. It had its ups and downs. It was more difficult, in a sense, because you have to be responsible. The nice thing about being on tour is that, for the most part, you can be completely irresponsible. So you had to return to reality every day at some point, which was okay. That's not so bad. The nice part of it was that [my son] was the greatest tension-easer, plus I really got to see parts of Europe for the first time. Generally, when you're on tour, you just go on the bus or the van or whatever, get to the club, and sit there and wait for the show to happen. You don't really do anything. You're not motivated to go out and check out the city. We got to do some pretty cool stuff because we wanted to entertain him. We took him to science museums and zoos and parks, and really made an effort to get out and see kid-friendly stuff. I love that stuff anyway, so it was really nice. For the first time in my life, I did more than just sit in the skanky clubs, so it was educational for me, too.
O: I think that's one of the reasons people have kids, to rediscover the things they used to discover.
CM: I don't know if that's why, but that ends up happening, for sure. That certainly wasn't a motivational point for me, but it is a nice side effect.
O: To a lot of people, you and Jon Spencer are these iconic rock 'n' roll figures, sort of by design. But you don't seem to live the life of wild and crazy rock 'n' roll icons.
CM: What do you know? I think my life is pretty wild and crazy. I'm not down in the gutter or smashing up hotel rooms, but I think we have a pretty exciting and crazy and unconventional life.
O: At the same time, though, there's an assumption that stability is not going to factor into a rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
CM: Well, stability is not something that I'm afforded. Those who believe in stability are kidding themselves anyway, because everything is always up in the air. Nothing is ever completely guaranteed in our lives, is it? If it is, I would like to know where it is, because I would like to buy some. It's all random, so I don't really believe in that kind of stability. It would be nice, but I live in fear. I live with hunger and fear close behind.
O: There's a song on the record about that, isn't there?
CM: Well, actually, "Fear For You" is not about that. It's more about… I really don't like to discuss lyrics, and I'll tell you why: I don't like for there to be only one interpretation of a song. I try to be as ambiguous as I can while having something in mind, so it can be interpreted in any way that you want it to be. It's nice that there are universal feelings, and it's nice to tap into those so somebody can listen to it and think, "Oh, I felt that way once. I understand that." But I like to make it universal enough so that everybody can do that or it can be multifaceted. It's not just one thing. For me to interpret any lyric would be a great injustice to the listeners, because that would deprive somebody of interpreting it into their own life.
O: What have been the advantages and disadvantages of working with a small label?
CM: Well, let's see. The disadvantages are that… What are the disadvantages? There must be some.
O: I'd imagine distribution…
CM: Distribution has always been a problem. No matter what label I've been on, people have complained to me that they can't find the record. I can't really chalk that up to a smaller label or a smaller distributor. What has been hard for me is that I lost my manager at the same time I lost the label, so maybe having somebody who had the time of day to sit around and call people and keep them all focused would have been more helpful to me. Right now, it's been a little bit of a struggle to make sure that the radio promoter and the press people and the distributor and the label are all concentrating on the same thing at the same time. Also, of course, a smaller label has less muscle. That comes through in record-store shelf space, in review space, feature-article space, that kind of thing. The band has always done well for itself no matter where it's been. We sort of exist beyond our label, so it hasn't been as tough for us as it could have been. I had that confidence when I thought, "Well, I want to put it out, and it doesn't matter that it's on a smaller label." Whatever. It's got pros and cons. The pros are that I don't have to deal with people subverting any kind of information. Also, I must say that Geffen gave me all the money and rights to the record, which was a big plus, because everything the record makes is profit for me.
O: I was going to mention that. You're awfully fortunate in that regard.
CM: I'm not only fortunate, but I'm also wise: I had a good contract and a very good attorney. It wasn't all luck, let me tell you. I'm a little savvier than that. Often, kids are swept up and don't really pay attention to details like contracts. But I'm not that foolish, fortunately.
O: I'd imagine your motives for signing a big record deal were probably different from most. I don't know that you really signed into the Geffen deal figuring…
CM: You're right to assume that. For me, a label is a label is a label in the end. It's up to the band, and how I judge my success is how good a record I made and how proud I am of it. I've been very successful with that in mind. Everything after that is sort of, "Oh, c'est la vie." I'll work hard, I'll do everything I can to promote this record, I would like people to hear it, and I would love to be afforded the opportunity to do this again. And I will always try and create situations for Boss Hog to better itself business-wise, but that's not the most important thing I do.
O: The new album has a more synthetic feel to it, from the sound itself to the artwork. Was that something you were going for?
CM: It wasn't a preconceived notion. It sort of happened that the songs were more modern-sounding or poppy. We're also more upbeat, in a way, which was a matter of circumstance. Rather than be half-assed and try and turn them into something else, I said, "Well, let's just take it all the way." So we found appropriate producers, and when it was all said and done, we considered artwork. I started thinking about how these songs fit together and what made sense to me about them thematically. They did sound that way to me: They're a little colder and a little bit weird, and they're all… I thought, "Oh, they're so upbeat, but my lyrics are still so dark." This term "whiteout" came to mind, and I thought it was an appropriate term in a couple of different ways. I think the artwork should always represent the content of the record, so, yeah, I agree with you.
O: It seems that when attractive women work in certain areas of culture, there's no way to avoid a weird sort of leering objectification. For example, if you're an attractive woman on Star Trek, you're bound to be a geek icon. Does that sort of thing bother you?
CM: No, does it bother you?
O: [Laughs.] I was just sort of wondering.
CM: Nah, it doesn't bother me. I think of it as just that: It's bound to happen, and image is image. There's a lot more to people than their image, but what people see and how they judge you is just the way life is. It doesn't bother me in any way. It doesn't affect me.
O: But when you pick up a magazine with a Boss Hog interview in it, it's always like, "She's got the looks, she's got the whatever." I mean, you do have integrity as an artist.
CM: Well, thank you. I think so. I appreciate that.
O: Beauty and iconic status can come through in music, and it's not like you try to hide either, but it must be frustrating when every article is about how good-looking you are.
CM: It's hard to be frustrated by compliments but, yes, I do know what you mean. I wish they could see more to it than that, and I expect that people do. Most articles about women artists, in any field, are about their physicality; it's the first thing that strikes you about anybody. It is, I find, more often an issue with women than with men. There are many good-looking, yummy-looking men, and nobody seems to be… Well, that's not true: Sometimes they'll harp on Jon's good looks, for instance, and so what? Yeah, that's there, but get past it. Like I said, it doesn't really affect me in any way. I think it's silly and superfluous. Very often, the media are not going to spend… I don't have six-page articles written about me. It's usually a one-page thing, so the first thing that's going to strike you is the obvious. When somebody writes an in-depth article, I'm sure they'll get something better. It doesn't matter. The whole point of all that media stuff, for me anyway, is to alert people to the fact that there's a record out, and it's a good one, and they should get it. It always works on me. Time after time, I am totally seduced by the press: If I see some artist flooded in the media, I will be curious enough, after the tenth article, to go out and buy the record. That's the point of that, and it works, so there you go.