Musician, Activist and member of BETTY Band
August 26, 2018, 6pm (Takahachi Restaurant, New York, NY)
Gwen Shockey: The first thing I’ll ask is for you to introduce yourself in whatever way you wish.
Elizabeth Ziff: Sure! I’m Elizabeth Ziff and I’m one-third of the pop band BETTY that’s been around for thirty-two years. We’re activists and feminists, gay positive and lesbian positive and sex positive – good time gals. I’m also a writer and a deejay, a bon vivant… and big lez.
GS: Amazing introduction! The next thing I’ll ask you to do is to describe the first space you were ever in that was predominantly queer women or lesbians (it could be a bar, community center or activist group or anything) and what it felt like to be there.
EZ: I think it was about 1982 and there was a lesbian bar in a really bad part of town. I mean a REALLY bad part of town in South West D.C. and we all went dancing. I wasn’t gay at all, I hadn’t come out – I didn’t come out until 1983 or 1984 when I was 21. It’s hard to remember but it was a long time ago. It was basically the night after I slept with my first girl. That was it. I was never really in the closet. I knew from a really young age. But getting back to your question I went to this place called The Other Side and it was really taboo and really exciting and really a whole other world. At the time there were only one or two lesbian bars that I didn’t know about at all. This was a dance club and one of my gay friends wanted me to go – they weren’t lesbians, they were men. I think my sister was with me but I’m not sure. I don’t remember if it was mixed or mostly lesbian I just remember looking around and thinking, “Wow. There is this whole world that I knew nothing about.”
At that time, I had a lot of feelings about being gay but there were no magazines, no movies and if there were books they ended in terrible tragedy.
GS: I just finished reading The Well of Loneliness actually.
EZ: Oh yeah. Radclyffe Hall. Brutal! Brutal. I hadn’t even gone there yet.
GS: How did you first recognize it in yourself – your queerness?
EZ: My sister and I used to talk about having lezzie love for our camp counselors. We just called it lezzie love. I always sort of liked guys and stuff but I knew that the attention I wanted was from girls. I always had teacher crushes and I used to make out with this girl named Barbara in third grade under the willow tree. I had a boyfriend too! I’m still in contact with him and he’s such a fag now. All of my boyfriends were fags (laughing). I never really had a space where I went but I remember that feeling of, “Wow. I’m not the only one in the world who feels this way.” That first club was a little down and dirty for me. There was some rough trade there. I liked going to gay bars better. It was friendlier and less scary.
GS: You grew up in D.C.?
EZ: My dad was in the military so I kind of grew up in France and then we moved to Virginia. We started our first band and moved to D.C. because rent was so cheap and we needed space to rehearse. We had a whole house for like five hundred dollars a month. It was in a pretty dangerous part of town. You’d never do that now. The women who lived there watched out for us though. You could tell they ran the roost. There were some really dangerous people. It was super, super poor and all project housing – like our next-door neighbor was smoking crack when she was pregnant on the porch. We were all out there cause we were musicians and we were freaks and the women definitely watched out for us.
GS: You and your sister were close growing up?
EZ: We had our moments. We were close when we were younger and then we had like ten years when we weren’t really close. I went to Israel and lived on a kibbutz and when I came back I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was floundering. I didn’t have good enough grades to go to college and was sort of a fuck up. I started playing music with Amy [Ziff] and that’s what happened!
GS: Were you always interested in music?
EZ: We always sang together growing up and Amy was trained in the cello but I wasn’t really trained in anything. I learned by rapid fire. When we moved to D.C. together we met Alyson [Palmer] over the radio after we put an ad out for a female bass player. This was in 1981 and Alyson came over. She was the second one to audition and we were like “Are you kidding?” We stayed up all night laughing, laughing, laughing and she helped us move into the city with her little Chevette. We put all our stuff in there and moved and we’ve been best friends ever since. We made a play about it! It was off Broadway called BETTY RULES [at the Zipper Theater for 9 months in 2002 Directed by Michael Greif]. There’s talk of reviving it or doing BETTY RULES 2.0.
GS: So, you move to D.C. and you’ve started a band – what was it like to be coming out there at that time?
EZ: It was exciting and so intertwined with feminism. There was all this feminist stuff going on. Reagan was in office and we were dealing with AIDS and we were dealing with lies and a really bad government. It seemed super bad at the time but in retrospect it was a picnic compared to what we have now. It was a great time to come of age in D.C. because even though it was all Reagan and really conservative and a crazy time, the underground in D.C. was super strong – especially the music underground. It was very integrated, it wasn’t segregated, there was the whole punk thing and the Go-go scene but everyone would get together and have shows. I worked in a record store and Alyson worked at a night club and at least once a week there were protests! There was anti-apartheid stuff every day at the South African embassy and there were a lot of Take Back the Night marches. BETTY’s first gig was at a Take Back the Night march. We would sing in the hospitals for our friends dying of AIDS. We would rub their feet and hold their hands and then immediately run to the bathroom to scour our hands because we didn’t know what AIDS was, you know? We didn’t know what was happening. We were a little bit younger than the people who really got hit hard but it was definitely that time. It was Silence = Death and all that. But it was also a really exciting time and it was very community-based. It was community based on politics much more than sexuality. That came out of it but the AIDS epidemic really brought the lesbians and gays together really fast because lesbians were there. We were there for gay men. Much more than they were for us with breast cancer. A lot of them are but a lot of them aren’t. My first buddies were gay men you know? We really came together then because it was a matter of life or death. The gay and lesbian and black and white communities really came together in D.C. then. So, it was a really ripe time to be there. There was lots of queer art and lots of lesbian art. That was when Mapplethorpe got thrown out of The Corcoran Gallery of Art and when there were feminist films being screened that were sponsored by Pepco, you know? If people wanted to do something, they did it. This one woman created this whole feminist film series and it was amazing! You could do stuff like that.
GS: It sounds like perhaps because of AIDS there was a revolutionary urgency that brought together not only lesbians and gays but also artists and musicians and activists and people from all walks of life.
EZ: Yeah! And part of that was because a lot of the people who were dying from AIDS were artists and musicians and dancers. They were the cream of the cream! We lost a whole generation of unbelievable creative, inspiring, joyful, fun people and our government sat back and didn’t give a flying fuck! So, we had to do something about it. An underground of black humor came out of it too and that’s where BETTY came in. We were always really funny and irreverent.
GS: When you first started BETTY was this a decision made between the three of you or did the politics and the humor come in sort of naturally? Because there really is this amazing balance in your music where it is sexy and badass but also feels like a bit of a religious experience sometimes where it is so humanistic and so political!
EZ: It’s quite an experience, yeah. It really happened naturally for us. I think that’s why we’re still together. We touch people. It’s been really hard to stay together. Especially now because the arts are so defunded. Nobody now pays for music and how do they think it’s made? You know? So that’s difficult. A lot of people don’t go out to see shows. We’re lucky that we have a great following and we’re able to play all over the world and stuff but it’s tough. Funding has come from other things as well as shows like television and the L Word.
GS: How was language perceived when you were starting BETTY in the late ‘80s? Did you call yourself a lesbian then?
EZ: Hell no! I do now because people are afraid to say the word lesbian. I used to say I was gay or whatever but now I use the word lesbian even though I hate it because so many people won’t and because we’ve basically been erased from the LGBTQ community.
GS: I totally get that. I started calling myself queer because I loved the openness I felt in the word, that it didn’t necessarily need to be about sexuality or gender, it could be about politics or an alternative lifestyle but I recently started calling myself a lesbian again because everyone is calling themselves queer with no knowledge of the history of the word or the significance of its reclamation.
EZ: It’s also safe. It’s very safe. But it wasn’t for people who would get called that and then have the shit beaten out of them! Are you kidding? This is why we marched and protested so you can call yourself queer even though you’ve never fucked a girl in your life? Listen! If you’re a lesbian – own it! Because no one’s giving it to us. Because if you don’t own it it’s a part of the misogyny in our culture that trains us to hate ourselves! I am not going to be erased. We can’t just take it for granted and let the whole history of the struggle go down in flames because that’s what happens with women’s history anyway! So, of course when you have only a tiny microcosm of women’s culture be lesbian culture it’s going to disappear. Every generation we have to rediscover Virginia Woolf, rediscover Djuna Barnes we have to do it over and over and over. It gets buried, it goes out of print – does Catcher in the Rye ever go out of print? Who gives a flying fuck about Catcher in the Rye? Do you know what I mean? (Laughing) And think of all of the women who we haven’t unearthed! There are people who have never even heard about Zora Neale Hurston which is insane to me! We as a culture have no living memory of history so we repeat it, repeating the fascism of the ‘50s with McCarthy and all of that because the majority of people don’t know about it!
GS: I feel like this relates to the disappearance of lesbian bars too. I feel as though there is a belief now that there isn’t really a need for lesbian or women-specific spaces anymore but I’m not sure I feel that way at all.
EZ: It’s easy to blame the disappearance of lesbian spaces and bars on women not having money or more gender non-conformity but it’s not true and they are still necessary. People who transition have a really hard life, you know? I cannot imagine being in the wrong body. I would love for there to be a time when gender is irrelevant and we could just be whoever we wanted to be and that the body wouldn’t matter as much. To me that would be the ultimate: a time when gender seriously didn’t exist. I’m saying this as a cis-gendered woman so I really have no idea what it would be like. When you live in a culture that denigrates one gender and elevates another, even if you grew up as a disenfranchised boy you still have privilege – male privilege. I can’t speak for everybody of course and you can really only speak from the experiences you have. For instance, with me and my best friend who is black – I can be as open and understanding as I can and think that I know where she’s walked but no matter what I do or say I can never know really what it meant for her to grow up as an African-American woman in America. I just can’t. No matter how many times I was tortured as a Jewish girl, no matter how many times people burned shit on my lawn. I think that it’s really important to understand that even if you had a hard childhood (and let’s face it, most of us did – especially in the queer community) as a boy it is important to be able to say, “I do not know what you experienced as a girl.” So much space was never ours, I could never walk through the park without being afraid. It is important that men recognize that most of them never had that experience. They just didn’t. We have to be able to look at people’s experiences and say to ourselves, “I want to be able to walk into that women of color tent at the festival, but I understand why I shouldn’t be in that tent!” There need to be spaces for people who have shared experiences of trauma, disenfranchisement or whatever it is. Why can’t they have that experience? I don’t understand it.
GS: It seems to me now that people are creating parties or gatherings lately for anyone who identifies as anything other than a cis-gendered man instead of for queer women only or lesbians only. It seems like there has kind of been this flip where instead of being inclusive yet confined it’s now exclusive and open in the sense that you’re saying ok trans people can be here, queer people can be here, lesbians can be here, bisexual people can be here but no straight men.
EZ: We separate ourselves enough. We separate ourselves on social media, by where we go, who we hang out with, and who we listen to. Most people don’t have breadth in what they listen to and experience and liking a whole bunch of different stuff. It’s important that everybody has the opportunity to be who they want to be and to be in the spaces they want to be in but we have to understand that there need to be certain spaces once in a while for people with shared experiences and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t think everybody always has to be included in everything.
GS: I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for lesbian bars. I never would have felt empowered in my identity, I never would be making the art I make now, I wouldn’t know who I am if I wasn’t able to be in groups of lesbian women.
EZ: When I first moved to New York there was this whole burgeoning lipstick lesbian thing that was happening mainly because of Sundays at Café Tabac. Café Tabac was the most exciting, sexy lesbian club I’ve ever been to in my entire life. Everybody knew about it. I knew Wanda [Acosta] and she knew about BETTY. The space was small and you’d go upstairs and there was a pool table in one room. I was always drunk or high – everybody was. Everybody was smoking weed. There were major stars that went there but nobody cared or said anything. Everybody who was there was there for a reason: to look at hot women, to get drunk, to have fun, to flirt and to be around other super attractive, smart women. It was really exciting! Everything exploded from that: the Vanity Fair piece with KD Lang and Cindy Crawford and the Madonna thing and it really all came from Wanda, Sharee [Nash] and Jack. Jack was really great – loving and fun. It was another example of lesbians and gay men really coming together to create something aesthetically beautiful and artistic. You just felt special when you went there. You felt like you were walking into this world that very few people knew about and you were all in it together! It felt like a community even though a lot of us didn’t talk to each other you know? I got super drunk there with Lea DeLaria one night. I’ve known Lea forever. She’s been in the community for a long time!
The music was AMAZING. I used to do the music for Industria! I would make mixed tapes for Industria and everybody would end up basically fucking because it was so sexy and cool. I’m a deejay you know? I know music well! I worked in a record store for five years and I was a deejay in the ‘80s. The music was really important to me. Sharee and I used to talk about music all the time. She would come listen to my stuff. It was really cool and really sexy. In a way I made a playlist for the L Word.
I used to go to the Clit Club too. The Clit Club was WAY dirtier. There were go-go girls and it was all about fucking. Café Tabac was about flirting and seeing and being seen and drinking and smoking pot and laughing. But Clit Club was all about fucking. I’ve been to a lot of dirty clubs. I’ve been to dirty clubs all over the world. Fun ones! There was a dirty street back in the day in Sydney where girls would go to cruise! There were underground sex clubs in San Francisco – they weren’t really my jam – I also went to the underground sex clubs here for men. That was intense.
GS: Did you ever go to Cave Canem?
EZ: Yes! Super fun! Lots of orgies. We would have orgies downstairs big time. Good times. Meow Mix was super fun too.
GS: Did you ever perform there?
EZ: Oh yeah! Lots of times. I dated one of the bartenders. It was fun there. Really rock and roll and divey and community oriented. A lot of great female musicians coming out there. It was the tail-end of a relationship and we’d get really stoned, go to Meow Mix and get really drunk. It was just a great rock and roll lesbian community.
I still go to Cubby Hole once in a while but I don’t drink now and it’s kind of hard to meet people. It was such a different time back then. I think social media killed a lot of it. It’s also money. New York has become so expensive and the people who live here are on a fucking rat wheel. They don’t have time to linger or to create big parties. Everything costs so much money in New York now. To rent a space, to buy a drink – it’s not like you can go out with twenty dollars and have an amazing night! If you’re really going to go out you spend a couple hundred bucks easily. We’re working so hard to make the money to pay rent and to eat food and to buy clothes and to pay your fucking phone bill – you don’t have the freedom and the time to just hang out with people.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the next generation. I think it’s going to be great. I really am interested in what happens next because the trans voice is so loud now and it’s just great! I am open to changing my mind about things, I acknowledge that I don’t know everything about every single person that’s out there and I want to learn! I have learned a lot! I think everybody needs to be willing to change their minds about stuff. It’s ok to not be invited into every single room!
GS: I have like a million questions for you but one I did really want to ask relates to the role of Judaism in your work. From listening to your music and reading about your political activism it seems like Judaism intersects with everything you have been involved with. Could you talk about that a bit?
EZ: I’m not religious at all but I’m super Jewish because of my humor and how I grew up. I grew up without any Jews around. We were the only Jews in our elementary school, the only Jews in our school in France, there were like ten Jews in our high school out of ten thousand people so my experience growing up was quite different from many of the people around me. We didn’t have money so I never understood that whole stereotype and it was quite hurtful. I experienced a lot of antisemitism growing up. A lot. Especially as a young girl. I became a stronger identified Jew because I had to and because other people identified me as a Jew. Amy and I had to stand up in front of our entire elementary school to teach everyone about Hanukkah. It was really cool in one way and really not cool in another.
I learned how to fight. I broke a skateboard over a guy’s head once because he was calling my brother a little Jew boy. Later on, I ended up dry-humping him. (Laughing) So it all went full-circle. Dry humping was so fun. I want to bring that back. I humped a lot of guys. It was great! You couldn’t get pregnant! I didn’t have sex until I was a little bit older. (Laughing).
So, BETTY was actually our third band. Amy and I were in an all-girl band with five girls that imploded after a year and then we were in another art rock band and then we were asked to sing at a Valentine’s Day party at the 9:30 Club because the woman who owned it heard we would sing acapella in the car with Alyson and asked us to do some acapella stuff. The response to that was so amazing! We also did a song with the cello and it was just so freeing. We realized we could do all sorts of stuff acapella and with the cello and bass and we said fuck you to the guy we were working with because he was a tyrant and we were putting up with it for no reason. So that’s how BETTY came to be. We were in D.C. for a couple of years (9 years) and then we moved to New York because we got a children’s television show and then we stayed. We were either going to move to London, LA or New York since we knew we couldn’t really stay in D.C. and have a career in music. At that point we were performing all over.
GS: What was your following like at that time?
EZ: A lot of men! A lot of gay men. We did a lot of work with AIDS. We were also just really nuts and the fags loved that! (Laughing) We sang at big marches a lot, which allowed us to have a really diverse following – a lot of people of color from D.C. – and then we came up to New York and we weren’t in the scene at all. We were in the scene in D.C. and we played in New York and were touring a lot.
GS: I think my generation sees BETTY now as this like epic lesbian band but perhaps back then you were seen in a different way? How do you feel BETTY was perceived?
EZ: After the L Word we were definitely seen as a lesbian band but we were always very vocal about being pro-lesbian, pro-feminist, pro-queer. Alyson is straight and Amy is bi-sexual but is now married to a woman. I’ve always been out even when I was sleeping with men. More so than lesbian, my identity has always been feminist. If you asked me to identify myself I would never say a lesbian. It would never be my go to. It would be feminist, woman, Jewish… I’ve embraced the lesbian community because they’ve embraced us so much and I’ve realized I have a voice that I can use to help people understand that lesbians aren’t what they think they are. Obviously people know that now but they didn’t in the ‘80s that’s for sure.
GS: Not many celebrities were out then right?
EZ: Right and when they did come out it was a big fucking deal.
GS: LGBTQ activism was pretty intrinsically connected to your practice right from the beginning. Were you ever afraid of connecting your sexuality with your performance work?
EZ: Of course! We were told many, many times that if we played for Pride or if we supported AIDS victims we would never get signed, we’d never have a career and we’d be branded a gay band. Nobody played at Pride marches everybody was fucking afraid. It wasn’t like it is now! With all this money and people killing themselves to play at Pride! It was dangerous and it was scary and you did run the risk of fucking up your career but what were we going to do? Not play for Gay Pride? It used to be so hidden. It’s interesting to see what’s happened. Consumerism has engulfed the LGBTQ community. We are a microcosm of the world and it has engulfed the world so how could it not affect the LGBTQ community. The reality of it is that you can’t do an event like Gay Pride in New York without millions of dollars in sponsorships so then you sit and you watch this as this gay person and you’re seeing Chase Bank and all of these massive corporations.
GS: It is horrifying to me but I realize it is a privilege to be able to critique it and to not need representation like this as a life line. A little kid growing up in a conservative area might see these companies putting money toward Pride and be able to find validation in that. It’s like a sign from the outside world that they’re not hated and that they’re going to have a chance at life.
EZ: It’s true but as an artist I don’t want to accept cultural material that is sub-par because it’s gay. The writing should be great, the movies should be great, the music should be great and we shouldn’t settle for less because it’s gay. We are so starving for it – anything with gay content – still! We have to have higher standards. I mean, when was the last time you walked out of a lesbian movie thinking it was AMAZING? Actually, I think Desert Hearts really stands the test of time and is an amazing movie. The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love is also a great film. The woman who made it, Maria Maggenti, was my first girlfriend and the movie was about our relationship! It was dedicated to me. Another former girlfriend, Maggie [Moore] is in it!
GS: So, along the same line I have to ask how you, Amy, and Alyson became involved with the L Word?
EZ: Ilene Chaiken knows my uncle actually. I go out to LA a lot and he told me to look up Ilene the next time I went. So, I went to her house, gave her a CD and said she needed to have our band’s music on her show. She knew who we were of course because she knows her history – lesbian and gay history. The network was looking for a theme song for the show and they asked four bands to submit stuff. We submitted one and they loved it. I became a composer on the show and then a writer and a producer the next year. I also played a role in gathering music for the show. I was the first person to have a trans rapper perform on television and almost every single song (and we had about twenty songs per episode) was from the lesbian, queer and trans community or by a woman. For six years!
GS: That’s amazing! Was it hard to find these artists?
EZ: I spent a lot of time doing it! Reaching out to the community and the community was grateful. Nobody really ever talked about that. I’m glad I did it. A lot went into the making of that show. The cast worked really hard, it was really long hours but it was a lot of fun and really meaningful. I was glad to be a part of it. I haven’t watched it in so long. It would be interesting to see some of it again.
GS: I just had some of lesbian friends over for dinner and I was watching it while I was cooking and then we just ended up watching about three hours of the show.
EZ: Oh really?
GS: Some of it is a little outdated now but so much of it rings so true! It’s such a great show.
EZ: It was a great show. I should watch it again!
GS: The show portrays you and Amy as these super sexy lesbian icons – what did it feel like to be portrayed in that way? For instance, the scene when you bring Shane up on stage at The Planet or Amy’s scene on the cruise with Phoebe Sparkle.
EZ: I don’t really think anyone cared much about us – they cared about the main characters. I think the people who knew us and knew the work we had done for twenty years in the community before we were ever on that show were really super excited and understood the history of putting us on the show. A lot of people didn’t but who cares. I was also in charge of putting people on the show. I put Goldfrapp on the show, Toshi Reagon, Tegan and Sara and all these people. It was fun to have this kind of power and to use it in a way to uplift women. Ilene was great about it. It was amazing to have that opportunity. Ilene was interested and into it. She’s a rad feminist and you can tell by the writing and the direction.
GS: Even the inclusion of artists like Catherine Opie.
EZ: Ilene was all about the art.
GS: Every time I watch it I recognize more people – artists, musicians, activists – who I wasn’t really aware of as a younger person. It’s awesome to see. So, you didn’t think of yourself as this sort of sexy lesbian iconic figure?
EZ: No, no, no. I never thought about it like that. I just thought about being a musician and putting it out there! It’s a part of performing. I never think about it like that though and it doesn’t affect me directly. Honestly very few people ever come up to me or recognize me. I think people are a bit afraid of me – that’s what I’ve been told (laughing). My sister gets it! I think she seems more approachable. She’s fucking hilarious and very recognizable. It’s interesting though because my whole career people have never recognized me. I guess I look really different on stage, I probably loom larger. But Amy is so recognizable with her hair and Alyson you know… but it’s so funny because I’ll be standing next to Amy and somebody will come up to Amy and tell her how much they love the band and she’ll tell them I’m in it too!
GS: Seriously? Oh man! That would piss me off!
EZ: It doesn’t piss me off at all – I think it’s hilarious! (Laughing) I really do!
GS: What has it been like to work so closely with a sibling over all of these years? With Alyson as well! How have your relationships changed (or not) over time?
EZ: I think it’s gotten better! It’s been a journey! A real journey! And who the fuck knew it would be this kind of a journey! I wouldn’t trade it. Sometimes I think to myself did I make the right decisions but of course I did because I made them! I don’t think the three of us sat around in 1984 and decided to stay together for the rest of our lives! It’s the epitome of sisterhood. It really is. No matter what happens (and a lot of things happen) we have an underlying respect for one another and our individual histories. Our politics more than anything has kept us together. Even when we don’t all agree. But we honestly all believe so strongly in the freedom and the rights of women and girls. That’s like the number one thing for us. It’s not a question. I think that love and respect and the desire to make the world a better place for girls and women has kept us together. Not to sound grandiose because maybe we’ll never make a big splash like somebody with a huge voice could do but I think we can affect things in a way that is more like a ripple. Even one person coming to our show and leaving believing in herself more and then affecting other people… that’s what I hope our legacy will be. The ripple effect of the love of women! I’m not talking about sexually I’m talking about human love! We all have men we love in our lives. Alyson has a son. But it really is the women thing that’s kept us together.
GS: Yeah. I mean this whole project for me has been focused around community-forming. You’ve formed community in a way that is both grass-roots and immensely expansive. You’ve worked through so many different channels: TV, music, protest, activism… you reach so many people even if it might be unrecognizable at first.
EZ: We’ve been told that throughout our careers and I really feel that – maybe not monetarily – but I definitely feel it. It’s interesting! What does it actually mean to have community? Our community can feel really large or really small – just me, Amy and Alyson. Or it can feel like thousands and thousands of people! It could be all of the women on the planet, or human-kind or people who believe in love! Sometimes it feels really defeating. I wonder if we will still be able to connect with each other or if we will feel so alienated by the use of technology that we won’t be able to come together anymore. We need to be able to come together! We need to be able to see each other instead of just texting in order to have empathy. You can’t have empathy on a phone!
GS: Totally! Selfishly that is a huge reason I started this interview process. There is nothing like hearing your voice, seeing your face as you’re talking to me about the stuff you care most about! Nothing compares to that.
EZ: I think everybody knows it.
GS: It’s also easy to self-isolate.
EZ: It’s easier now. We’re seeing a rise in suicide rates from the alienation that is happening in our culture. I’m not talking about technology – because technology can be amazing too – but I’m talking about the incredible loneliness that comes from not having community. I remember Alyson and I were talking about this thirty years ago in Toronto. We started calling it the web. This was before the world-wide web. For us, more than money or fame or any of that stuff, our legacy really is friendship with people all over the world. We just got back from Germany and we have real friends there that we go back to and see! We play there all the time and they bring their friends and its really powerful! We called it the web of women. It’s not just women but a lot of it is women. The way we do music is so community-based. We tour in cities we want to go see, connect with friends, go to museums and have a show! You don’t make a lot of money doing that but you make a lot of friends!
GS: That’s amazing.
EZ: I know! (Laughing) I mean sometimes I just want a fucking pension you know? It’s not an easy life path but it’s rewarding.
GS: Could you talk a little bit about the The BETTY Effect?
EZ: When Hilary Clinton was Secretary of State she started all these programs world-wide for women and girls and LGBTQ people. Amazing programs. People like us who would never have worked for the government before were asked to be arts envoys. We went to places like Argentina and the Baltic States and India and South Africa and brought programming like concerts and workshops depending on what the community needed. The Baltic States was an LGBTQ workshop. They’re on the front lines there in Lithuania. We sang for their first Pride and it was one of the scariest things we’ve ever done. We had to be evacuated. This was about four years ago.
GS: Wow that’s intense. Was there violence happening?
EZ: A little bit here and there. Rock throwing and that kind of stuff. It was just brutal. A lot of the world lives like that still and that’s what this government wants to do! They want all of us to go back into fucking hiding. If we lose the Supreme Court and Kavanaugh gets elected we are going to lose abortion and we are going to lose gay marriage. We’ll lose abortion much quicker because gay marriage involves white men.
So, we started doing these programs and it was amazing! Then Trump got elected and those programs were cut immediately. We were getting funding from the government to work with embassies. We still work with embassies and most of the people working in these places want to have connection with other countries and they want to be ambassadors so they loved having us and we were able to do some incredible programs in South Africa in the townships with girls – really important stuff. We had to start funding it completely ourselves because there just isn’t funding available anymore. We are lucky to have personal funders who support The BETTY Effect. It’s tax deductible because we’re a non-profit so it’s not that hard to give money. It’s almost always been private funders supporting us. We don’t get grants or anything like that because we just don’t have time to apply for them. We’re still doing that work – we’ve done it in Harlem, we’ve done it in D.C., we’ve done it in lots of different places. Gloria Steinem suggested we form our own non-profit initially! It’s hard to run a non-profit especially when you’re trying to make a profit in other areas of your life. It’s just hard.
GS: The three of you juggle a lot of things! Do you have a regular schedule when you practice together?
EZ: Not regularly, but when a show is coming up we start about two or three months out and rehearse three times a week. Rehearsal can be brutal sometimes! We write separately and arrange together which is the most brutal because you’re fucking with people’s egos!
GS: What’s coming up for you?
EZ: We have a lot of gigs in New York coming up! We will start a crowdfunding for our new cd that is acoustic. We’ve never crowd sourced for an album before, but why the hell not? I mean we wouldn’t be anywhere without our fans, and this is just an outcrop of that. We’re also playing on the 21st at the Rubin Museum.
GS: I’ll be there! Thank you so much Elizabeth!