Sunday, January 30, 2011

DRB SUNDAY INTERVIEW: DANIELLE ARSENAULT OF CRUD AND BLOCKHEAD


  She is one of the most captivating and recognizable faces within the Motor City's vibrant music scene. The fierce dark haired phoenix of Noir Leather's provocative ad campaigns. A uninhibited front woman whose stage presence alongside Vinnie Dombrowski for Motor City industrial icons CRUD, rivals that of Joan Jet and Wendy O. Williams. As unique as she is outspoken, Danielle Arsenault has gathered a treasure trove of experiences as diverse as her interests. Onstage, she may channel her inner rock chanteuse, and in the Noir ads, come across as Bettie Page's more forward, more imaginative cousin. But beyond the sensual image, that has at times outraced reality, is a deeply complex and sensitive lady of Detroit. The same confidence she demonstrates while wearing little more than a leopard print bikini on stage at The Ritz, is just as apparent, as she sits in a winter sweater and scarf, drinking hot tea, during an interview. She speaks with a genuine enthusiasm about her passion projects, such as energetic Devo tribute band 'Blockhead'. But there remains an element of caution, forged from years of constantly being recognized. An ever present, guarded concern in her eyes as we talked. On a snowy night in January, Danielle spoke intimately with the DRB about the foundation of growing up in a musical family, the personal struggles she faced as a teen, and her distinctive career as one of Detroit's most interesting and influential performers.

  Does it feel like forty-one ?

  Not in the aspect that I feel like 'Old! My gawd I'm so old'. But, as far as experience, yeah, I packed a lot in there, too. It feels like sixty. No, I'm Just kidding. But when I get hurt now, it takes longer to heal. I know how old I am. People think I'm younger because of my energy. The way I look. The way I dress. Maybe act a little more juvenile. But, yeah, I know it's forty-one.

  How did you come to be involved with Noir Leather ?

  I had an interest in the lifestyle quite young, like fifteen or sixteen. I would run to the Metro Times every week and search for the Noir ad. I would look at it, gaze at it, just kind of mesmerized by it. Study it. Touch it. Read everything on it. There was something about it that I loved. I think the first thing that drew me to it was the fashion. Leather. Shiny clothes, heels, stockings. So then I saw they were having a party. It was the third party they'd ever had, now they're up to something like seventy. This was sixteen years ago. So I went. I talked my ex-boyfriend into going with me. We got all dressed up. We wore masks to be incognito and we won 'Best Dressed Couple'. I had a great time. So I started going to the parties alone and having an even better time. And then they approached me and asked me if I wanted to model. And the shows it's not just a straight up runway show, it's little skits, and that's where I learned about the playing, the b/d and s/m scene. Bondage discipline, sadomasochism, and I kind of liked it. And in the shows I would play 'bottom', sub, some light stuff, whippings stuff like that. That's where I kind of learned the ropes of the play. I am kind of a bossy person already. Not in every situation, but in situations where I know what I'm doing or if it needs a leader. I'm definitely ready to step up, and take control if need be. The playing is uh . . .I don't think it's always exactly what people think. It's not about a lot of pain and anger. For me it's 'playing'. It's really like two sides of my own personality. I'm really really nice and I'm really, really mean. I love to tickle. I have an uncontrollable tickle fetish. I was tickle-tortured as a child. Held down and tickled.

 

  Who did that to you ?

  My brothers and sister tickled me with their nails.


  How does the your take charge personality mesh within CRUD, a group composed of musicians with very distinct personalities ?

  In CRUD it's not so much a situation where I'm a take charge person. It's more of a role that needed to be filled, that I'm perfect for. It's a lot of direction by Vinnie. He gives me an explanation in a few words about what he wants here, what he wants there, and then I do it. It's a little bit of an acting role. Not acting so that it's phony, but just bringing out one of my personalities.

 

  How much of what occurs onstage with CRUD is acting and how much is really Danielle ?

  Well I did say acting, but it's not really acting. It's all me. And I know when they were looking for a female for CRUD, I know they did their first show with female vocals on a track. But Vinnie knew he wanted to have a live female there. And I think he went to, pretty sure it was Keith from Noir Leather and Vinnie said 'I want a girl who's been onstage with a band so that she's comfortable and knows what she's doing, can sing, and has the look of a Noir leather model'. Keith said 'What about Danielle ?' So, Vinnie came over to my house and explained what he wanted. I told him 'I'm the girl for you!'

 

  When did you realize that you wanted to be a musician ?

  I always sang when I was growing up. Everybody in my family was into music heavily. My mom sang and she brought me up on different types of music like blues, Zappa, I wasn't just influenced by music when I became a young adult, I was influenced from the day I was born. I love the seventies. Seventies rock, acid rock, stoner rock. I would start singing all the TV and radio jingles. I cut my teeth singing to the B-52s, cuz there's many voices there, and I knew I could mimic those sounds. I was just out of high school and dating this guy with a band where they would practice three nights a week. I was bored. What am I supposed to do three nights a week? I would watch them practice and knew I could do better. So I answered an ad. My first band was Mutant Press with Jerome Youngman who lived in Berkeley at the time. I think he was a one time member of the Motor City Mutants, now he's moved to Texas. He was a one man band and added me. So it was almost the same thing as CRUD. It was me and him singing together. I was dancing and singing a bit. Doing a stage performance, performing with the whole body. I wore an S&M kind of look then, too. Our claim to fame was we opened up for The Mentors at Todd's.

 

  How have you managed to age so gracefully ?

  Good genes and a 'young at heart' attitude. A playful attitude toward everything.

 

  What kind of impact has substance had on your life ?

  About what you would expect from someone in my scene. It's around me. It's been around me. I started to experiment pretty young in high school. Experimented with . . not everything. ALMOST, everything. I think when I was young it was part peer pressure, part escapism. I had issues and problems in high school, like everybody does. I was looking for escape, acceptance. I wanted to be cool. I had a real chip on my shoulder in high school. They weren't like the glory days for me at all.

  They weren't ?

  I was mad. Now I realize that one problem was . . instead of trying to be liked and possibly failing, here I'm just going to make people not like me. I was kind of a bully. Kind of mean. I walked around with a dirty look on my face all the time, bumping into people in the hallways. Got in some fights, I was 'one of the guys'. Hung out with a lot of guys, skipped a lot. I was really bad in school.
I was angry.

 

  Why were you so angry ?

  I don't know. I'm not now. It's a difficult time for people, bodies changing, pressures. I wanted to rebel. And my mom wanted to try to keep me in line, but because I was her sixth child . . she was getting a little tired. Sometimes she would try really hard to keep me down and I protested. We had times where we fought really bad. Told her I hated her. Pushed her one time and my mom's really strong. She knocked me on my ass one time, but we got past that. We're great now. I'm not going to say friends, because you're never supposed to be friends with your parents. But I love my mom and dad. And I appreciate what mom tried to do.

 

  When you sing lyrics like 'Where's the Cocaine?' how does feel ?

  I didn't want to do that, but then I did. I guess at first I was a little uncomfortable. But on that same album, Vinnie also does a song where he says 'I did it without the drugs'. So I think those songs represent different times in his life. And they could also represent different times in many people's lives.

 

  Do you feel like you've accomplished everything you wanted to in music since you began your career ?

  Yes. Back then, I thought I wanted to be 'a star'. Now, I'd be happy if it didn't grow much bigger. As long as I can always make money off of it, make a living. Getting a taste of fame, it's not exactly what it's cracked up to be. I love the performing, the attention on stage. But when I'm just walking around going to shows, I want to be a regular Joe. I don't want to be crowded or idolized, which has happened a few times. I want to be normal. I want to be huge in Japan, but unknown here.

 

  A hundred years from now, how would you like to be remembered ?

  A cool chick with a hot ass. Smart. Funny. Very funny.


  Is it difficult, given your career choices, to maintain a romantic relationship ?

  In the past it's been a little bit difficult for the men I've been involved with. But, I was never really interested in being with the person that I'd thought I'm was going to be with for the rest of my life. I'm kind of a serial monogamist, I just date someone for three or four years. It wasn't really an issue for me, but the guys had some difficulty with it sometimes. But I always tried to explain to them at the shows that people are going to check me out. They're going to look at my ass. But, that's because I am telling them too. But any other time, I try to give them attention. So yeah, it's been trouble for them.
  When you were 19, you were diagnosed with leukemia.

  I had to have a bone marrow transplant and Chemotherapy. I was in the hospital for two months. Now they do it outpatient. It was kind of experimental at the time. In my wing at Harper hospital there were probably twenty of us all having transplants or different types of cancer. Two of my friends that I made in there, died. A six year old girl, and a forty year old woman. I was 19 so I was strong and I was able to heal. I actually had a really good time. I was kind of pretending I had my own place, since they gave us each a really large room. I brought music in there. I could see the Magic Stick from there. I smoked weed in there. I had sex with my boyfriend in there. There were really hard times, but when I look back I only remember the good times. But, I realized what chemotherapy is. It takes you as close to death as possible until the cancer dies and hopefully all your major organs make it back. I'd see the looks on people's faces when they came to visit me, and that was when I realized how bad I was.

  How did it affect you ?

  Most people think it would make you want to take care of yourself more, and be really really careful with your health. No. Some people are so full of themselves. They say 'there's always tomorrow. No, you don't know that. Life's precious. Something could happen at any moment at any time. I don't mind dying, I just don't want it to be painful.

  A bone marrow transplant is pretty fucking painful.

  It was still kind of experimental at the time, too. I know they've gotten better, but yeah it was a big deal. Large needles stuck into my pelvic bone. I still have pain when it gets cold. My sister was a perfect match donor. Overall it took me a good two years to really come back from that.


  Do you think you're addicted to attention ?

  Interesting question. Hmmmm. Yes, I guess it's safe to say that. When I'm not performing with a band I still have other things I do. The modeling. I'm still in the Hells Belle's Girly Revue, a burlesque troupe. Kind of a peripheral member, so I don't do every show. But when I'm not gigging heavily, I'll perform with them.


  Do you think you're someone young women should look up to ?

  Yes. I do have some younger fans on Facebook. As a person, I don't think I'm overly crass. It's been pointed out to me I don't really swear. I think they see some of my photos, and some of those are really sexual images. I don't think that's really a shock or surprise to kids these days. As long as they realize that's a performance, not me walking around like that every day, then I don't think I'm a bad image for girls to look up to. And so many young people today want to be famous. And you ask 'for what?', but they don't have a reason. They just want to be famous to be famous.

  What is left for CRUD to achieve at this point ?

  Get out there this year, if we have the funding to tour and promote it heavily. Definitely try to get back to the UK, again, if we can secure the funding. Our second record is the last one we owed to the label, so I don't know how much they'll support our next tour or where the funding will come for that. But we definitely have to get back to the UK. We were really well received over there, really well loved. Tour. Tour. Make two videos. Play. Blow everybody's hair back. Turn them on.


  You've describe your role with CRUD as being on a 'need to know' basis . .

  As far as the business, yeah.


  Yet, you're the face on the t-shirts, the album covers, the posters. How do you balance that ?

  Yeah, It's fine. I'm fine with that. Now, with Blockhead it's the first band I started on my own, so I am starting to handle all that. Getting everyone together, booking the gigs, but before that I didn't have a lot of experience with that end of things. Dana (Forrester) is very driven and experienced. And, Vinnie too. So I'm fine with letting them handle that. I can learn from it and use what I'm learning for Blockhead.




  Has CRUD been the most rewarding musical experience of your career ?

  Yes, because I like what we're doing. I'm a perfect fit for it. It's right up my alley, the music, the image the content. I've been in bands before where I was a little embarrassed. I didn't love it. I couldn't just put it on and go as Ms.Awesome. But I was gaining experience. One band I was in, got really popular, really fast and I was seduced by all the attention, so I stayed in it. But the guitar player was writing the lyrics and I was embarrassed to sing them. They were 'Wahhh! another boy shit on me. Boo hoo!' Mentally I was way beyond that. So I am definitely proud of CRUD. And David Black's in my band. I've been a fan of Seduce since I was fifteen.

  What does the future hold for you as an artist the next two years?

  Well, I'm trying some instruments. I want to add to my repertoire. But I have trouble with anything I don't do well with off the bat, anything I have to practice. I have a bass, a guitar, a mini theramin. I made my own xylophone. I'd like to create a little more, on my own. Right now my baby is Blockhead, it's the first thing I built from the ground up. So right now that's the next thing.

  In regards to your tribute band 'Blockhead', why Devo ?

  They've always been one of my favorite bands since I was young. I have four older brothers and one older sister and they were all into different kinds of music. And my mom also brought me up on music. So my brother was into punk and new wave, so it was just one of the things that was around me all the time. Everyday. I love them. And not just the two or three (mainstream) hits they have. Their deep cuts. They were, for their time, and even now,
experimental. I love them.


  Can we expect a Blockhead album of Devo covers ?

  I don't know if we want to record, because I'm not sure if people want to buy that. But more shows, better shows, bigger shows.

   So Blockhead is strictly a performance vehicle?

  Yeah, I think. Not exactly sure. That was a dream of mine for about four or five years. And finally I was talking to a few people to be in it. “Do you want to be in this when I do it. I don't know what's going to happen”. I called them up every few months. “Blockheads gonna happen!” And now it's happening. I can't believe I got all the people so easily. And, I made sure it was people that didn't just like Devo, but loved Devo. And, as I was putting it together, it suddenly occurred to me 'Wait a minute. Are people going to want to see this?' and they do. I didn't plan this one, but it kind of fell on me.

  Do you ever consider a solo career?

  It's not super-duper important to me. But maybe. I'm not too interested in sharing too much of what's in my head. But I'll speak in a lot of metaphors. I don't want to be too figured out. I want people to get me but not think 'Aw Shit, she's crazy!' I don't think I would ever have a project 100% directed by me. I'll always collaborate.

  If you could go back to that 19 year old Danielle in the hospital fighting leukemia,what would you say to her ?

  Keep on, keeping on. Even the bad things that happened was all a good lesson learned. Do what you do!

-St.Aubin
for the DRB
*EDITED FOR CLARITY AND CONTENT*
SPECIAL THANKS TO MICHAEL SPLEET PHOTOGRAPHY

1 comment:

  1. Great article Danielle is the Bomb and a BombShell xoxo

    ReplyDelete