I spoke with Marlene Marti, Claudia Schiferle and Astrid Spirig, formerly of the band LiLiPUT, in Zurich in February 2010.
As a teenager in the mid-90s I was introduced to LiLiPUT (a.k.a. Kleenex) on a mixtape I received featuring early 80s female-led punk. I was immediately drawn to the band, firstly because they were from Switzerland, my familial homeland, but mostly because their music resonated deeply with me. The openness and delight in their songs evidenced a certainty of person and place that appealed to me as I was trying to find my own way in the world. They were punk in exactly the way I wanted to be punk.
Since that first listen I have returned to their music over the years, each time finding it as fresh and relevant as ever. So in Spring 2010 I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to talk with three former members of LiLiPUT – Marlene Marder, Astrid Spirig and Klaudia Schifferle.
It was clear from our conversation that something special happened in Zürich all those years ago and the bond between the women was still strong after thirty years. What I had sensed as a teenager was confirmed during the interview – they were not just a band and it was never only about the music – they were first and foremost a group of friends having fun together, playing their part in some greater experiment of creative production.
This is a synopsis of the interview that took place in Astrid’s flat in Zürich, transcribed and translated into English from Swiss-German. I will publish the interview in three parts over the next three weeks. Full audio of the interview and a PDF download of the transcript will also become available over the next few weeks.
Check out the the mital-u website for more info and a discography of the band. Required listening is the 2001 Kill Rock Stars reissue of a CD compilation of the band’s studio recordings. Diehard fans will delight at the double CD/DVD of live recordings and video clips that KRS released in 2010, while vinyl aficionados will appreciate that Mississippi Records is releasing a 4x LP vinyl version of the studio recordings compilation in February 2011.
Jenny Woolworth: How did the recent compilation and reissues come about?
Marlene: A few years ago, I was approached by Kill Rock Stars asking if we had any further material to release. So we started thinking about what we could offer without just repackaging the old CDs and LPs. Then I remembered this road movie that we’d made on tour in 1982, but since that film is only about 15-20 minutes long we added tv-clips that a colleague of ours dug up from the archives of Schweizer Fernsehen (SF1) to get enough material for a full DVD.
Klaudia: Before Kill Rock Stars asked us someone else had approached us about a vinyl reissue so we knew it was time to got together over dinner and take note of what we had yet to release.
Astrid: And once we started digging around we uncovered things that we’d forgotten about.
Jenny Woolworth: What did you find?
Klaudia: Once, late at night, after we’d already started working on the project, I was bumbling aroung my flat, bumped into my bookshelf and a pile of cassettes came tumbling down. One of them had “Kleenex Live” written on it and I was so surprised because I didn’t think I had any of those old cassettes anymore! So there I was at four in the morning, sitting on the coach, listening to this tape, completely shocked!
Marlene: The tape that Klaudia had was a Kleenex gig recorded at Gaskessel in Biel. We also had this live recording from TonModern at the Rote Fabrik in 1983, recorded for DRS3 Swiss Radio, and so we used those two recording for the CD part of the Live & Clips release.
Klaudia: There are several things we don’t have anymore, like a video from Cologne… But we still found some great stuff. Videos had started to pop up online and that reminded us of this or that clip so we went and sought out the high-quality original version.
Jenny Woolworth: Who designed the Live & Clips cd/dvd? It looks great.
Marlene: Peter Fischli, like earlier. He’s let us use the catfish design woodcut from the cover.
Klaudia: Peter did all the designs for Kleenex – flyers, LPs, posters the later, I did some of the LiliPUT covers. Peter’s daughter actually worked with Marlene and I to design the booklet for the 4x LP set. We did it all in one day, Marlene and I chose the images for the collage and she glued it all together and stuck a few of her own odds and ends in. It was great to have a young woman as part of the process.
Jenny Woolworth: Back in the day, when you yourselves were young women, how did you become part of the punk scene? Did it find you, did you find it?
Astrid: When I was part of LiLiPUT the founding principal was that this was an opportunity, for the first time and perhaps the last time, when you could make music even if you had not been playing an instrument for years. There was this opening there…
The punk influence came from England and that stimulated a different kind of access to music, encouraging us to act spontaneously and then see what works. It was actually really audacious for us. The attitude was punk with an impulse to just get up on stage even if you only had one song to play but still to just play that one song three times. It wasn’t like that before or after.
Klaudia: Punk was a welcoming initiation when you heard it. It was so accessible and easy, we didn’t even think about it before jumping in and getting involved saying “I’m going to do that too!” Then other people around you would jump in and say “ok yeah, let’s do it!”
I was working at a clothing store with Lislot [Hafner] at the time and one day Rudi [Dietrich] came around and suggested we form a band together. Lislot immediately said “I’m playing drums!” and I said “I’m playing bass!” That’s just how it was. So Rudi played guitar with us for a bit but then he suggested we ask someone else – he must have been frustrated because he was better then us! He said he knew a women, a guitar player or rather a saxophonist, but in any case he would asked her if she wanted to join us…
Astrid (to Marlene): You were the only one who could actually play an instrument, weren’t you?
Marlene: Yes, thank god! Otherwise nothing would have happened! Someone had to know a little bit at least.
Astrid: We desperately wanted to do something so we just appropriated the punk attitude for ourselves. For example, one day at the flea market I saw a violin and just bought it. Then we wrote a song including violin, although I’d never played before.
Klaudia: It was also a shared spirit among the people we knew. Everyone supported each other and thought it was great that we were in a band, no one cared if we could play or not. People acted out of goodwill and were very supportive.
Jenny Woolworth: What did the average person on the street think about you punks? What kind of reactions did you get?
Klaudia: They probably were not very afraid of us, at least!
Marlene: We weren’t punk in the way you imagine punks today to be. If you refer to punks today in Zurich, you immediately think of the kids hanging out at Stadlehofen Station drinking beer with their mohawks and flea-bitten dogs. It wasn’t like that for us. In that sense we weren’t punks, it was just a general term for that scene.
Klaudia: Lislot and I were both working in Booster at the time, this 50s style clothing shop in the Niederdorf. We had our hair in ponytails, wore stretch pants and were just so so stylish! At some point we went together to Hamburg and when we came back I remember sitting at home in my bathtub, holding up a mirror and taking the scissors to my hair. The next day when I went to work, Lislot saw my new haircut and asked me to cut her hair as well. So I chopped off her ponytail right there in the store!
It was our own sense of punk for us women. We enjoyed fashion and selling clothes and it was more a “chic punk” but the attitude was the same.
Astrid: The attitude was definitely punk. But I remember sometimes we would be harassed by the “real” punks the ones with safety pin piercings, sleeping on the streets. They would yell at us saying we were not real punks. There were maybe five or so of those types, according to today’s definition.
Marlene: I can remember on our tour of Germany when I loved to wear this hat that I got while working for the Post. At some point this guy says to me “Hey you’re no punk! Punks don’t wear hats like that!” I thought that was so small minded, a punk tells me I’m no punk! For us it wasn’t about defining ourselves like that at all, when we started we didn’t know what to call what we were doing.
Astrid: The real punks called us “Edelpunks” (Glamour Punks)!
Klaudia: At Booster, after our new haircuts and updated look, they were ready to throw Lislot and I out. The owners saw the two of us with our hacked up hair standing behind the counter selling these 50’s style clothes and it just didn’t fit anymore.
Marlene: …so they changes their selection!
Klaudia: Yeah! Well it was a really uncomfortable situation for a while to the point where we were ready to leave but then they reorientated themselves and went off shopping to London. After that Booster became the first punk shop in Zurich.
We also never thought at the time about us being only women in the band. From the outside came the snide comments about Edelpunks and whatnot, but we just were doing what we wished and wanted to be left in peace.
Jenny Woolworth: Yeah, I always got the feeling that although you were all women you were not a Frauenband.
Klaudia (to Marlene): You were the only one with any real background in feminism. I had a bit of involvement through my studies at the F+F art school, but I was an outsider there because of my high heels and make-up – the feminists all thought the higher the heels, the stupider you are.
Marlene: …and you were a blond too.
Klaudia: Of course and long blond hair. It was horrid!
Astrid: During that time if you didn’t fit the feminist expectations, if you dared say, for example, thay you could have an orgasm from penetration it was a huge scandal! Of course that’s common with major movements, at first its taken to an extreme and the group cuts off to formulate their actions and opinons. But for me, and I think you two as well, we just didn’t want to be pigeonholed.
Marlene: At the time I was very involved in the women’s movement and the lesbian scene. But similar to what Astrid said, within the group there was this clear faction of extremist overall wearing lesbians and if you weren’t wearing overalls you were not a real lesbian!
There were similar rules to follow in relation to what music to listen to – mostly anything from Olivia Records and so on. I found that music ok, but I really liked loud rock music and I didn’t appreciate anyone telling me what to listen to. I was also one of the few women in that scene who from quite young was avidly listening to music and collecting records.
Before I joined Kleenex I was in a women’s band that clearly labeled themselves a Frauenband and nothing else – Frauennerve.
Astrid: It’s so great that name, you could almost use it again now.
Marlene: I jammed with them two or three times…
Klaudia: …before we rescued you!
Marlene: I played saxophone at the time and often practiced alone. On the one hand I found it a great instrument but on the other hand it was incredibly boring to sit there alone in the evening and practice. It was also a rather difficult instrument so when Rudi asked me if I was interested in joining Klaudia and Lislot I was happy to switch to guitar. Then eventually at some point I was faced with the decision of staying with Frauennerve or going to Kleenex. I choose Kleenex.
Klaudia:…to the Edelpunks!
Marlene: Yeah to those plastic chicks! Of course the lesbians didn’t understand what I was doing and the rumours started that Klaudia and Lislot were lesbians. It was totally mixed up. But I didn’t care, I just knew that with Lislot, Klaudia and Regula we could really turn up the amp and do what we wanted. It was fun and that’s what compelled me.
Astrid: There was also the advantage of us being a bit older. Rudi [Dietrich], Stephan Eicher and a few others were our age but most of the punks playing music were about 17 or 18 while we were 20 or in our mid 20s. We knew what we wanted to liberate ourselves from while the very young ones were still searching. I think that’s what made Kleenex and later LiLiPUT so special, we brought another kind of toughness and awareness.
Klaudia: There was so much pressure on us from the outside. I remember these guys offering us a practice room if we did what they wanted… well you just couldn’t do that with us anymore. That attitude and those comments came from all sides, which only brought us together as group even more.
We did experience some quite crazy situations though. I remember when we wanted to hire this practice room from some kind of music company. They offered to give us free equipment and so on and then thought that we would repay them with favors… Well we moved out right away! Then it came about that the Hell’s Angels offered us a practice space. At first we were intimidated but in the end they supported us and even helped us transport equipment that summer.
Jenny Woolworth: There were other bands in Zurich featuring women such as Mother’s Ruin and TNT but you all had such different sounds and were so independent of each other.
Klaudia: That had a lot to do with the goodwill of the scene and everyone supporting each other.
Marlene: There wasn’t a sense of competition, it was fans to fans.
Astrid: We often all jammed together.
Klaudia: Yeah at Kon-TiKi for example. On any given night, maybe the guys from Hertz or Yello would be around and at midnight after all the bars and clubs had closed we would all go to the practice room together and jam. The scene was so small and there was nowhere else to go but we all had the urge to do something.
Astrid: It was the joy of it.
Jenny Woolworth: Then suddenly you were picked up by John Peel and the music press which opening you up to a wider audience. What was that like coming from such a small scene?
Marlene: For me the family just got bigger. When we went to England and met the Raincoats, for example, we immediately became friends.
Klaudia: They welcomed us with open arms. The first time we went to England – my second flight ever in my life – we arrived and immediately everyone was so open and welcoming.
Marlene: I felt really comfortable with all the Rough Trade bands when we went on tour together and the fans too. I never felt it was a different world at all.
Klaudia: Of course is was an adventure and everything happened so fast. But because of that I still had the feeling we’re with each other, in this game together. We never deliberated about it we just had fun and lived it.
Jenny Woolworth: So where you all still working day jobs while in the band?
Klaudia: I was working in Booster, the clothing store, but not much longer after the band started. Early on Marlene always had some kind of job and usually had a little something for me too. Lislot worked for Polaroid for a bit but really hated it and said she knew someone who could take over so I worked three months there. Then in the end I worked with Marlene, she was my boss at a big corporate company.
Astrid (to Klaudia): How was that?
Klaudia: It was cool! It was fine! Then I started to take my art work more seriously and I got a studio at the Rote Fabrik. I met another artist there who encouraged me to stop with these office jobs and, because he had come into a bit of money, he offered me a 1000.- CHF to stop working and focus on my art. Which I did!
Jenny Woolworth: Can you tell me about your songwriting process?
Astrid: Often we just jammed and recorded everything, then if an interesting riff came out of that we’d develop a song around it.
Marlene: At the very beginning it started with my harmonies or my riffs and a song developed from there.
Klaudia (to Marlene): Yeah, I just followed your instructions… you told me wait until the fifth fret then go crazy! But the process developed over time, I remember when Astrid and I lived together, we’d sit together in the evening and write lyrics… lying there on the bed, reading the dictionary picking out words. For example with Split, I picked out all these weird words and then came to you (to Astrid) and said “hey I have some lyrics!”
Astrid: That’s right we did that together. We’d even pick out whole phrases like with Like or Lump It. I remember that well.
Klaudia: We were always looking for that oracle text!
Astrid: But normally we had the music first and then the text came after. Except that one song on the LP, when you (to Klaudia) brought the lyrics and we jammed to them – that was our free jazz phase. Then we had the other one about mourning, In a Rush, we had the lyrics for that one first.
Klaudia: No I think that was Might is Right, when Revo died…
Astrid: I mean the actual recording process…
Marlene: I remember on time, we were jamming well into the night and at sometime around four in the morning we got to the best part of the jam and wanted to record it. But the studio technican was sleeping somewhere and by the time we could wake him and get him to the mixing desk the best part of the song was already gone!
Jenny Woolworth: When you look back can you sense how this time influenced the rest of your life or what it meant to you then and now?
Marlene: For me it certainly had a big influence on my life. It’s hard to sum it up in one or two sentences but yes my life would have been very different otherwise.
Klaudia: For me it means something different now after going through all this archival material recently. We were together a lot lately and I realized how much that means to me. That was such an important time back then and now, when I’m with these two, I feel totally at home. That’s a special feeling and although we all had different experiences after the band it’s still really important to all of us.
Astrid: For me it was like I was always searching for this intensity and during that time I could fully live that out. I took that feeling with me and it has never stopped inspiring me – that authentic intensive stick to it and do it attitude.
Klaudia: It was great to share that within a group. At that age you already know a lot but you can learn even more together about how to set up boundaries, deal with issues and then carry that with you later when you’re on your own. My experience with the band was a base and a grounding for me.
We didn’t do any of this out of professional reasons – it was all based on a deep friendship. So it was difficult for me when someone left the band because it wasn’t just about the group, it was an emotional experience. It only got better over the years and the high point of the three of us together in the final formation of LiLiPUT is something you can’t fabricate.
Astrid: Yeah, that was a really unique time.
Marlene: That’s exactly it. People ask why I don’t keep making music but I can’t just put out an ad looking for musicians to perform with because it just won’t be the same as what I had already experienced.
Jenny Woolworth: It’s about more than the music.
Marlene: Yes, it was about more than the music It was about the people. People ask me if I define myself as a musician and I sometimes wonder if I can honestly answer yes to question. Musicians play all over, everywhere at any opportunity and that is definitely not the case with me.
Astrid (to Marlene): You’re a true Herzblut musician, always! It wasn’t about the music it was about the feeling and the creative act.
Klaudia: It was a deeper connection and like any big relationship you can’t revisit it again in the same way. During that time period we opened ourselves up so much, even though I’m actually a really shy person!
Astrid: That’s an important point. I could never stand in front of another band and sing the way I did with you two! The music was a transport vehicle for something else actually.
Jenny Woolworth: What are the feelings that come up when you look back?
Astrid: I feel so grateful that I lived this experience. I know I can still call on it for inspiration if I need it.
Marlene: Me too. It’s incredibly inspiring when I see that Kill Rock Stars wants to re-release our recordings, thirty years later and that a whole new generation is interested in our music and who we were. I get correspondence from around the world from people saying that they wish they could have seen us live and I realize just how important we are for them. I’m honored that we are still listened to and respected.
Astrid: What pleases me most of out all of this is another aspect. I hope this doesn’t come across arrogant but I think we really authentically put our energy into this and the people that are listening to our music are picking up on that feeling. As a mother I can make the comparison that it’s like when you kid leaves home and you realize all that you’ve given them to take along the way. It’s such a great gift to get back this gratitude and appreciation from fans.
Marlene: In the process of putting out these re-issues we had to listen to every song again and decide how to divide it all up on the four LPs. We couldn’t just transfer the CDs to the LPs because they are very different formats. So we had to rearrange everything and the process was great fun.
Astrid: It must have been like a totally new project for you two. With the LP we never planned it or said here goes a long song, here goes a short one – it was all by feeling.
Marlene: They are good songs, I have to say. Now to listen to it all with thirty years of distance and hear the progression from the early days of Kleenex through to LiLiPUT, I really enjoyed hearing the development.
Klaudia: The coolest thing for me during this whole process was when I told my mom about it. She’s in her 80s, and she said to me “Hey I want one of those cds!” So I sent her one and about a week later she calls me and says “Well let me tell you, I just love it! It makes me feel so good to listen to this!” Of course at the time she kept telling me to do something more sensible with my life, now she says it gives her great energy!
Jenny Woolworth: Well I think that’s a good note to end on. Thank you!
All: Thank you!