The Bags was one of the first punk bands of the Los Angeles punk scene in the late ‘70s, a vibrant, thriving music scene full of not only musicians, but photographers, journalists, fans, and fanzines pushing the boundaries of mainstream music with anti-establishment lyrics and fashion.
At the center of this scene forever making her mark in the LA punk world was Alice Bag. Alicia “Alice” Armendariz, a.k.a. Alice Bag, cofounder of the trailblazing band the Bags, is a Latina punk rocker from East LA who has been an inspiration for many for over four decades. She’s played in bands Cholita!, Castration Squad, and Stay at Home Bomb, to name just a few.
Besides her music, Bag is an educator, painter, author, feminist, and outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community. She has authored two books, “Violence Girl, East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage” and “Pipebomb For The Soul.” Her self-titled debut album was released in 2016 followed by Blueprint in 2018, and she tells us there’s a new album set to be released this year.
You first became involved in punk back in high school in the mid-‘70s. Can you share with us what attracted you to this style of music and who were some of your early musical influences?
Punk Rock was revolutionary when it first made its appearance in the conventional rock arena; it was ridiculed by trained musicians and critics alike. Rock, before punk, was on the verge of becoming a little too self-indulgent. It needed a kick in the pants, and punk provided that with the emphasis on creativity and originality over technique and money. Punk was not about being an expert musician — it was about having something to say. Groups that had previously been underrepresented in rock didn’t need to wait around to be told they were good enough because suddenly it wasn’t about being good enough, it was about being brave enough, and we had that in spades. Punk kicked open the doors for women, queers, and POC. We were cofounders along with some white guys who unfortunately get all the credit for what we built together.
What inspired you to start taking guitar lessons, and how old were you?
I was probably about 16. I’d already had piano, violin, and accordion lessons, but at that age, I thought that the guitar was more of a rock instrument, so I took a few lessons, but eventually, I traded the guitar in for a microphone.
The Bags was one of the first bands on the LA punk scene. How was the group formed?
One of my best friends and I had been trying to form an all-girl band. We were already practicing and writing together, but we were still trying to do glam rock. Once we gave up on the glam rock constraints, the band took off very quickly. We put an ad in the Recycler (a local paper that was the equivalent of Craigslist in pre-internet times) looking for a female drummer, but we had a few guys answer. Eventually, The Bags would turn into a mixed-gender band. The name referred to the paper grocery bags that we wore over our heads for the first few shows.
I’ve read from several different interviews that women felt welcomed in the punk rock scene in the early days, even though it was predominately dominated by white males. What do you attribute that to?
I disagree that the early punk scene was predominantly made up of white males. As someone who was present at the time, I can tell you that a whole bunch of people have been erased from that narrative. In my experience, punk was created by a wide coalition of weirdos from different backgrounds. Women were present in bands, as bookers, writers, roadies, photographers; basically, every job that was done by men was also being done by women. There were people from different economic levels, different educational backgrounds, different cultures and ethnicities, all f***ing s**t up together. Los Angeles is a diverse metropolis, and our punk scene was diverse.
Credited with creating the genre “punkchera,” how did that come about?
The idea for a punkchera came about because I love punk and I love rancheras. I was working with my friend Lysa Flores, who is a wonderful musician and producer. I was lamenting the fact that I wanted to cover some rancheras, but we didn’t have a mariachi. Lysa came up with the idea of just taking the rancheras and treating them like punk songs, so I didn’t really come up with the concept, I just followed her advice. Lysa Flores is a genius.
Writing and recording for decades, what is your inspiration and songwriting process?
My songwriting process has changed over the years. When I was younger, I would write lyrics and a vocal melody. Then I started writing on guitar, and I ended up with some folky sounding songs. A few years ago, I started working on GarageBand making multitrack recordings, and that really made a huge difference in my writing style. Now I typically write parts for all the instruments as well as lyrics and melody. I have a $5 GarageBand app that helped me write three solo albums. That’s the best $5 I ever spent!
You’re very open and candid about your upbringing writing your autobiography in 2011, Violence Girl, that created the person you are today. How did you approach writing your story, and what message would you like to share with someone in similar situations?
I blogged the entire book. I didn’t originally set out to write a book. I’m not a trained writer; I never studied writing and never aspired to be a writer. I am a punk, and as such, I feel empowered to communicate with whatever tools are at my disposal. Blogging (like punk) is for anyone who has something to say. I started writing my story because I wanted my family to know a different side of me. During the time that I was writing, there was an economic crisis in the United States and my husband and I were forced to live in different states in order to make things work. I would blog little snippets of my life which I would share with him before posting them each day. I felt like sharing a part of myself that he didn’t already know helped us to stay connected.
I wouldn’t say that writing Violence Girl created the person I am today, although it has provided me with a different audience.
My advice is don’t put off doing what you want to do. If you want to be a musician, then play music. If you want to be a writer, write — don’t wait for perfection. If it’s bad, it’ll get better; if it’s good, it could get great, but if you don’t do it, you’ll wonder if you could have.
I understand there’s new music in the works that you plan on releasing this year. Can you give us a little teaser?
My new album is called Sister Dynamite. The title song was inspired by all the badass women who are in my life right now as well as by the women in the House of Representatives. The album itself is a rock album; I didn’t make room for any ballads on this record. I just wanted it to rock and feel more like what our live show feels like.
In closing, any words of wisdom you would like to share with aspiring young artists?
Don’t compare yourself to others. When you write your own playbook, you can define success on your terms.
A few fun questions:
Punk is…about challenging the status quo. It’s about using music to take ownership of your world.
Top 3 songs on your playlist?
Amyl and The Sniffers – “Gacked on Anger”
Paquita la del Barrio – “No Volveré”
Aloe Blacc – “I Do”
First punk show?
My first local punk show was at The Orpheum; a small theater in Hollywood (not the movie palace in downtown LA). It was April 1977, and the bill was:
The Germs (first show)
One album you could not live without?
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Favorite LA music venue?
For sentimental reasons, The Masque