Alicia Velasquezdid not settle for a conventional life. Growing up in a traditional Mexican family in east L.A., she knew she wanted to sing at an early age. She eventually formed the influential and legendary band The Bags, a female fronted punk band from the West Coast punk revolution of 1977.
Punk rockers are known for burning out but Velasquez made it out just fine. She describes her tumultuous and incredible life story in her book “Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story.”
How did your parents react to you wanting to be a punk rock singer?
It’s actually kind of funny. You would think that because they’re traditional in some ways that they would want to keep me at home but no. My father always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. He told me I could be the president or a pilot or a surgeon or whatever it was that I wanted to do. Because he left it so open, I just took it to mean I could really define that dream. They never put any restrictions on me as far as music and art.
Wow, that’s really cool.
There were times when I was going through my glitter phase where I thought dressing provocatively was really cool. I really looked up to groupies. At that point I really didn’t have the role models that women have today, like female musicians forming all girl bands and getting up on stage and doing it for themselves. What I looked up to were these women that got close to the music by dressing provocatively and hanging on to the band. I remember my father looking at me one day… I was wearing really short cut off shorts with garters sticking out, fishnet stockings, and platform shoes. He looked at my mom and said, “You’re not going to let her go out like that, are you?” and my mom just turned to him and said, “That’s the style, honey!” I didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t picking up the bands. I thought that’s what I wanted, but I discovered I wasn’t a very good groupie. I think there was always a part of me that didn’t want to be a cheerleader for a guy in a band.
Is that why you wanted to start your own band?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a rock singer or what kind of singer I wanted to be. I looked up to the old blues and soul singers like Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday or Aretha Franklin. […] Then when I got into junior high school, rock music changed the way I thought about things. When it actually came time to actually step on the stage, punk is what was there in front of me. It was perfectly suited for me, too. Or I was perfectly suited for it. I was kind of out of control. I had a lot of rage in me from growing up, being this little girl that was in an abusive household and had no control over that situation, no voice. And then here I am, given a voice on a punk stage and I have the ability to express my rage in a positive way.
How did it feel to be on stage performing?
It’s funny because I don’t remember a lot of specifics about being onstage. It’s almost like another part of me takes over, or did take over when I was younger. It was almost an out of body experience where this Alice Bag personality who’s very assertive would take over. No matter what I was singing about, people would come up to me afterwards and say, “Why were you so angry onstage?” or “You looked like you were going to hit someone onstage.” I was completely oblivious to it. Sometimes I thought I was singing a song pretty. I would sing in rehearsal, and I’d try to hit all the notes and try to really sing. And then I’d get onstage, go crazy, dance around, interact with the audience and let the energy I had swirling around me spill out. All the sudden, the song would turn into an aggressive rant instead of a beautiful melody. I thought I had to practice more but I realized after some time that people were actually connecting to the aggression, the rant and the not pretty singing. I like to think that violence and aggression and all those bad things that happen in your life are just things that you put energy into, and if you can channel that energy in a different way you can turn it into something really good. It’s just fuel.
Alice Bag w/Shovel, Trunk Space, May 19, 7:30 p.m., $6