She had to leave Los Angeles.
That line by L.A.'s former rock-band laureate X wasn’t written about Johnette Napolitano, the singer-songwriter of the group Concrete Blonde. But it definitely applies.
A few years ago, Concrete Blonde seemed poised to succeed X as the premier L.A.-identified “alternative” rock band. That prospect ended when the Hollywood-born Napolitano came to the conclusion that she can’t stand the city.
Sitting recently in a very unfashionable Hollywood bar--one of the few places Napolitano still feels at home here--the 32-year-old singer, who now makes her base in London, didn’t have to think long when asked what she still likes about L.A.
“The only good thing is I hung my wash out on the line and it got dry,” said Napolitano, who will be fronting the band at the Palace on Sunday. “Not like in London, where it takes a little time.”
As for the things she doesn’t like, Napolitano--known as a feisty and to-the-point talker--got on a roll as her bemused bandmates, guitarist Jim Mankey and new drummer Paul Thompson, looked on.
“I was just born here,” she said, asked about the association between the band and L.A. “Just because I was dropped here doesn’t mean that I belong here. . . . Why should I wave a flag for any city? I won’t do that and I don’t.
“We played around here for five years and nobody came to see us. It wasn’t until we got a record out and got a video on MTV that we came back and sold out the Whisky for two nights. So who cares? People are so regional, it’s so trendy. I just don’t think that way. There’s something desperate about that.”
Her biggest gripe concerns what she sees as the blurring of the line between art and commerce in Tinseltown. That feeling was heightened last year when the band came under the microscope amid reports that it was trying to extricate itself from its contract with Universal City-based I.R.S. Records in order to sign with another label. The move failed and the band remains on I.R.S., which has just released Concrete Blonde’s third album, “Bloodletting.” Just the mention of that episode set Napolitano off.
“See, this is the problem I have with L.A.,” she said. “If this was New York, they wouldn’t even ask me this question. That’s the thing about this town. It’s why I don’t live here anymore. If I even thought about that (stuff) half as much as people around here think about it, I’d never get a . . . song written. . . . I’ve been through all that and it really messed us up. I mean down deep. My health was messed up because of all this . . . lawyer music business.
“As far as I’m concerned, Arizona can be beachfront property tomorrow and it wouldn’t bother me at all. I’m serious. This town is so obsessed (with the business) that there’s no art here. There’s no creativity. The vibe is so bad. . . . It’s not a very nurturing place.”
The relationship between Napolitano and I.R.S. still seems at times contentious. She said that company executives were not satisfied with the first version of “Bloodletting” she submitted. Though she refused a request to record some new songs for the album, many of the songs were remixed before release.
Despite her feistiness, Napolitano said that she is a very happy person these days, very satisfied with her life and her music, though she admits that “Bloodletting"--with a tough rock sound and recurring vampire and decay imagery--sounds like the work of a depressed person.
“It’s weird to release a record like that, ‘cause now you have to go around and play it and talk about it,” she said. “It’s over, you know? I’m just not a dark and depressed person. It’s just that I happened to be in a bad mood at the time.
“I’m a recording artist, so what happens when you’re in a bad mood? You make a record. Somebody else gets in a bad mood and they make a painting. Someone else gets in a bad mood and shoots 12 people at the post office. I happen to make a record. I think that’s more constructive.”