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Interviews   

Lita Ford tells us everything


Even though her new album is a leap forward and she tried to transform her difficult experiences into something positive, with her new album Living Like A Runaway, Lita Ford is a wounded animal. She seems worn out by her difficult divorce which distanced her from her children, which she regularly talks about during this interview, to the point where it almost becomes awkward.

But a work of art, may it be musical or otherwise, is often the expression of a personal emotion and as a consequence is, by nature, a public display of private emotions. Which doesn’t bother Lita Ford.

Living Like A Runaway is a fighting album, against the most difficult ordeals of life. Lita Ford tells us everything.

« We wanted to try and strip away all this crap people put on music these days. »

Radio Metal : You recently said that you wanted to go back to the basics with this album and, obviously, you did since there’s almost nothing synthetic: no keys, just guitars, bass guitar, voice, and drums. Was it a reaction to your previous records ?

Lita Ford : It does seem like that, and yeah, it really is. It is a reaction to my previous work because we’re taking away the keys, even though there’s still always a bit of keys on this record that either I played or Garry Hoey played on “The Mask” for instance. It is back to basics and we wanted to try and strip away all this crap people put on music these days. We wanted to just play the instruments. People forget about the instruments. It’s something we really wanted to focus on with this record: the actual music, the actual musicians in us, the actual guitar playing. We created some beautiful guitar harmonies and created some beautiful riffs. There’s a lot of attitude, it’s very aggressive and at the same time beautiful: for instance, “Mother” is a beautiful song. The harmonies are so beautiful, they kick in and it’s just like “wow! I haven’t heard that in a long time.”

Do you think that nowadays, musicians are overdoing and over-thinking things, that they lack spontaneity and humanity since their albums are like overproduced? Did you want to show what it’s like to record with just the basics ?

No, it’s something I wanted to do for me. I think the music industry needs to back up a little bit and take a look at what’s going on… I think people wanna hear those old riffs, they wanna hear that music, they love it! A lot of people miss it. I know, I’ve been reading some of the columns on some of the websites and they complain so much about the 80s’ hair bands, but at the same time, what about the music? Forget the hair, what about the music? During the 70s’, those old riffs from the Runaways… Some people miss that kind of music, and I know I’m one of them, so I wanted to try to bring it back.

You published on Facebook a photo on which you’re playing drums. Did you play many instruments on this album ?

Keyboards, yeah! Tambourine… [laughs]

« I just needed to be by myself, and I needed to get away from people that were influencing me not playing Lita Ford music. When Wicked Wonderland came out, it was just not a Lita record but it was just out of my control, I couldn’t stop it from coming out. »

After listening to your new album, it’s clear that Wicked Wonderland, as you said, was not a real Lita Ford record. Can we say it was infiltrated by the influence of Jim Gillette since he produced it, mixed it, sang on it? Did you needed to find yourself again ?

Yeah, I did need to find myself again, but it was easy. I just needed to be by myself, and I needed to get away from people that were influencing me not playing Lita Ford music. When Wicked Wonderland came out, it was just not a Lita record but it was just out of my control, I couldn’t stop it from coming out. I couldn’t have stopped it. It’s not what I wanted to put out as the first Lita record. Now that I’m alone, that I’m being left alone, I was able to focus on Lita and I was able to write songs. Before, I had so much on my plate and I was being told “no, that’s no good” or “you don’t wanna use that” or “that doesn’t sounds good, that sounds like shit, you don’t wanna use that.” It was like everything I did was being knocked down and I think now that I’m alone I don’t get that. Now that I’m alone, I can write what I wanna write and focus on the real Lita.

Did you ever felt some rancor against Jim Gillette for having changed Lita Ford’s music ?

Yeah… I’m not so much angry at him because of the music, but [sigh] angry because of the damage he’s done to my children, to tell you the truth. Truly, I worry about my kids, and my kids come first. I think children should always come first, no matter what. It’s not the record so much, it’s my kids. And I’m angry about that, I’m angry about him – I don’t know how to say it – lying to the kids and telling them that they have a bad mom. That’s not true, I was a good mom. That pissed me off, that made me angry, and my anger and aggression comes out on the record Living Like A Runaway. If you listen to the music and you listen to the lyrics and you hear the story.

« That’s what you should be doing: you’re an artist, you write about your life and your life experiences. Do I care if people know my life experiences? I don’t. »

Since the beginning of the writing process for this album, you said your divorce, which is very very intimate and personal, would inspire the lyrics. Did you feel it was impossible to keep it away from your music ?

I think that people that do write their music write about their life experiences. I they’re having a great, sunny day and everything is roses, if they’re really feeling good that day, they write a song about it. Some people have near death experiences, then write a song about it. For instance Eric Clapton, when his son passed away – remember when his son died? That was terrible –, he wrote a song for him, “Tears In Heaven” I believe, a beautiful song. You’re an artist, you write songs about what you’re feeling at the time. My manager said to me : “Lita, can’t you write something happy?”, so I ran away for about a week and came back with a new song, “Love 2 hate U”. That was about has happy as it got. I couldn’t do it. My lyrics were very dark and kinda cocky. It was like saying : “You’re not gonna push me down, you’re not gonna bring me down, you’re not gonna destroy my life. I’m gonna stand and fight.” As much as that was what he was trying to do, it didn’t work. Like I said, my priority, my number one care and feelings were for the kids. What he did to those kids was disgusting. If you listen to “Mother”, that will explain it.

Do you think that when you’re a musician, it’s possible to keep your private life private since this private life inspires your music ?

My music is my life. It’s my life, you know? Look at the lyrics John Lennon wrote about saving the world and love and peace: that was his life! He preached it. He lived it, breathed it. That’s what you should be doing: you’re an artist, you write about your life and your life experiences. Do I care if people know my life experiences? I don’t. I am who I am and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I wanted to channel my anger in a way that I’m able to help other people that are going through similar situations or have gone through similar situations. I’m sure that there’s a lot of people out there who had gone through terrible childhoods… My childhood was awesome, I had great parents, they were always together and they were always happy, so to me, a divorce is something that is foreign. I’m not familiar with anything like that. I would never do anything to put the weight of a divorce on the back of a child. I don’t know how anybody could do something as disgusting as that. And do I care that the world knows about it? No, I don’t care. I want the world to know about it, because I think a lot of people will relate.

« It’s pretty much about the Runaways, but then it’s about one day I left town with just a shirt on my back and a guitar on my shoulder and I wasn’t coming back. I really did leave like that, and I ended up going through giving all my money to the attorneys… I was leaving like a freaking runaway, it was terrible. »

When you first talked about your divorce and about this next album to the media, it was intended to be entitled The Healing. You also explained you had to pack your stuff and to leave your place. The name changed and the album is now called Living Like A Runaway. What made you change the title of the record ?

We started writing The Healing, and I actually had a lot of songs written for this record, but it didn’t feel like it was the right time to pull it out. We may save it for a future record: even though it’s not recorded yet I’ve got lot of songs written. It didn’t seem to be the right time to release it. The title “Living Like A Runaway” came from my songwriting partner Michael Ehmig that we call Michael Dan. It came from him because I was living like a runaway, and he said to me “Lita, that’s a great song title!” The song is pretty much about the Runaways, I remember when I was 17, riding in the back of a black limousine… It’s pretty much about the Runaways, but then it’s about one day I left town with just a shirt on my back and a guitar on my shoulder and I wasn’t coming back. I really did leave like that, and I ended up going through giving all my money to the attorneys… I was leaving like a freaking runaway, it was terrible. So I came up with the title, and people from Steamhammer/SPV records loved it. They thought it was brilliant. They said “that’s the name of the album”. So I got to say, it came from them, really. They picked it. I love this song.

« It’s an encouraging record, because it’s written for people that are struggling. »

Anyway, even if this album is inspired by all of those dark moments, it isn’t so dark musically, it’s heavy but not oppressive, as if you tried to transform all that negative time into positive energy…

Yeah, it’s empowering, it’s an encouraging record, because it’s written for people that are struggling. People can refer back to this record and say ! “You know what? That guy pissed me off today, screw him! I’m gonna be able to put out this song and this record and it’s going to make me feel better” [laugh]. It’s just an encouraging attitude, it’s an “I’m gonna stand and fight, and you’re not gonna knock me down” record.

I have no communication with my kids at all, so I wrote them this song.

In 1990, you wrote “Lisa” as an homage to your mother who died the same year. 22 years later, you’re now singing “Mother”. I guess it’s a way to say you took over from her. How do you feel as a mother too ?

It didn’t mean to come out like that, but it did, I know what you mean. “Mother” is a song for my kids. It’s a song that I wrote for my children because I want them to know how much I love them, and I want them to know the story of what happened. I can’t speak to my kids because the father won’t let me. I have no communication with my kids at all, so I wrote them this song. I makes me sick, but I don’t get to see them. That’s what the song is for. It’s for my children, and one day, hopefully, they’ll get to hear it, so they know how much I love them. I told them when I did see them : “I love you I love you I love you…” How much I love them is all I ever said to them, but their father poison them.

In the song “Living like a runaway”, there’s a gimmick, some advice your mother told you when you were young. Could you tell us more about that ?

Oh yeah, my mother… [laughs] My mother is such a great person. She passed away in 1990, but I would call her when I was on the road with the Runaways and she would say [imitating her accent] “Oh Lita, you just go, kick ass to those people!” She was very encouraging and very supportive of everything I did, and I just always can hear her voice in my head saying “Go Lita, run Lita, do it, go!”, like “Run baby run across New York City, run baby run through the street of L.A.” She was always very supportive of me, and my father too. My father was the best. He was my biggest fan, he would show up to my concerts with his six-pack of beers in one hand and his heavy metal horns in the other [laughs] !

« I can go to my grave knowing that I have done something positive in this word and led the path to a lot of people in music, especially women. »

Last year, we interviewed Doro Pesch who is the frontwoman of her own band just like you, and she told us that she never married and never had children because she wanted to focus on music only, since nothing gives her feelings like music does. Before marrying and have kids, did you have at the time the same way of thinking ?

I did, I did have the same way of thinking and I got torn out of it [laughs]. I literally got torn out of it. I met my ex-husband at a time when I was very vulnerable because my mother had just died and my father had died. My mother and my father died back to back. I was very vulnerable at the time. I was lonely and I missed my parents… I think Doro was very smart [laughs sadly].

On another side, you’re also kind of a mother for many woman-fronted metal bands, and many all-women bands since you were a member of the first all-girls hard rock band. Do you feel you’re some kind of a godmother to them, and do some of those female artists express you this kind of respect ?

I get it all the time and it’s wonderful. I’m really, very proud. I can go to my grave knowing that I have done something positive in this word and led the path to a lot of people in music, especially women. That’s another thing Living Like A Runaway is about. It’s a record I think a lot of people will be able to relate to, having gone through horrifying relationship… It’s not just about a relationship, it’s about being strong, following your dream and making your dream come true, whether it’s being a rock’n’roller, whether it being a guitar player, whether it’s being a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter. It’s just about following your dream and having the power and the courage to keep following your dream and making it happen. I was one of the first able to break the ice for women in rock’n’roll. In The Runaways’ day, in 1975-1980, there weren’t a lot of female guitar players. When The Runaways broke up, I wanted to become a lead vocalist and still play guitar. I never wanted to lose my guitar playing, because I think playing guitar’s what I do best. I think it’s something I will go to my grave and feel good about, and thank God that I have it, that I’m able to lead the path to other people, other females in rock.

The album is called Living Like A Runaway and of course, with such a title, it’s impossible not to think about The Runaways. Do you miss this time as if it was a golden age to play rock’n’roll ?

I don’t miss being in The Runaways. We had five great years, the punk era with The Sex Pistols, Blondie and The Ramones, was fantastic, and The Runaways were part of it. I didn’t write these songs because I missed The Runaways… I don’t know, it seems like that The Runaways are bigger now that they ever were. The movie came out, Edgeplay, a film about The Runaways came out… It really turned The Runaways into larger than life. They were before their time, too. If they were to come out today, I think they would be brilliant. It would be a good time for a reunion, but I don’t know if there’s gonna be one. I’m just saying that would be a good time. I would hope there would be one, I’m gonna try [laughs].

OK, so let’s imagine The Runaways come back: would you call back one of the former bass player? Who could take the drums ?

I know, I miss Sandy [West]. We would have to find somebody else, I don’t know. It’s really up to the girls if they would want to do it, it’s up to Cherie and Joan, really. For the bass player and drummer, I don’t know because I know Vicky [Blue] is now producing films and documentaries and shooting videos. Jackie Fox is in an attorney. I don’t know if they would quit their day job to be in The Runaways [laughs]. We probably would have to find a rhythm section if we did do it, and of course it would have to be up to Joan and it would have to be up to Cherie. But I would love it.

A few months ago you met again with Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Judging from what told Cherie, this reunion was pretty emotional. Did you meet again since that time ?

No I haven’t. I talk to Cherie quite often. I talk to her, she’s very up and encouraging and very happy to hear from me. Joan and I met once in New York City and that was pretty much the only time I talked to her. We don’t really stay in touch. But Cherie is easy to get a hold of. I talk to Vicky all the time, she’s easy to get a hold of too. I talk to Jackie every once in a while. But we’re all friends, it’s nice.

Lemmy says something about you in his autobiography. It’s about the time you were in The Runaways. He said he liked Joan Jett since she had temper, but he liked you better since you had “bigger advantages”… What do you think of that compliment ?

Oh, uh… I love Lemmy. We got along from the first minute we met each other. We wrote “Can’t Catch Me” together at his house in California. He’s a great person and a brilliant musician and… I don’t know. I’m flattered to be in his book. It’s an honor.

Interview conducted on may, 1st, 2012 by Metal’O Phil
Questions : Animal and Metal’O Phil
Introduction : Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Chloé

Lita Ford’s website : litafordonline.com
Album : Living Like A Runaway, out via SPV/Steamhammer.
This post is also available in: French



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