My first exposure to my next interview subject, Josie Cotton, came when I heard her songs “Johnny, Are You Queer?” and “He Could Be The One” on YouTube. I was taken by her gorgeous appearance, her jet-black hair, piercing eyes, and porcelain skin, and I found her to have an amazing musical style. I loved her sound so much that I reached out to Josie and her representatives for an interview. However, this was back in 2010. At the time, I was doing interviews via e-mail for the website RetroJunk, and I was in a very bad frame of mind. The e-mail interview didn’t happen at the time, but nine years later, I reached out to her representative, Bruce Duff, about a phone interview, and that happened on Wednesday, July 10th. Josie Cotton is a versatile musician who has done amazing work in multiple genres, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Josie Cotton!
Johnny: Hello, Josie!
Johnny: It’s great to finally do an interview with you.
Josie: Well, fantastic! What area code is that?
Johnny: I’m based in Greenwood Lake, New York.
Josie: Oh, that sounds pretty. Is that upstate New York?
Johnny: We’re siimaltaneously upstate from New York City and downstate from Albany. We share a border with West Milford, New Jersey.
Josie: Oh, wow. Well, that’s pretty up there. I used to go to reform school there (laughing).
Johnny: Well, I have my questions ready to go…
Johnny: …Starting with this: What’s the inspiration behind your new single, “Ukrainian Cowboy”?
Josie: Well, I have a variety of songs and styles I’m always working on. I had a song that was incomplete, really a Western song which turned into an odd kind of marriage between these two cultures .It seemed so timely and ironic so I just went with it. It’s very tongue in cheek but also a very sad love song with this absurd backdrop.
Johnny: Fascinating. Speaking of upcoming material, you’ll soon be releasing a never-before-issued album entitled Everything Is Oh Yeah, which would’ve been your third for Elektra.
Johnny: How were you able to get the rights for that album back, and which songs from it are you most proud of?
Josie: Well, it was going to be the third record for Elektra had they not dropped me. I went ahead with the recording of it and so I actually owned the masters. It was so easy to get permission from myself. I found that very easy (laughing). The hard part was wanting to release it at all. For years I thought they were lost in any number of natural catastrophes that happened. There was a landslide, an earthquake There was a fire. I also kept moving and I thought they were either destroyed or lost along the way. Didn’t really think about it . I just kept making records. But recently when I signed with Red Queen my publishing company they were looking for material for Stranger Things who wanted music from the mid-80s that had never been released which was an odd request. So Paul Roessler and I decided to tear out studio apart in the off chance they had gotten moved from our other studio. He found them in the rafters of this leaky old building so we didn’t know if these 2 inch 24 track tapes were still usable. Amazingly they had survived everything. We just remixed it and tried to keep it true to the era not modernize it all. It’s a real time warp.
Johnny: Fantastic to hear. To go back to the beginning, the California music scene of the late 70s and early 80s was a wild one, so what was the wildest gig you can recall playing in that time period?
Josie: In terms of the audience or the time that was going on?
Johnny: I guess when I say wildest, another term for it could be most memorable.
Josie: Well, okay. There was one that stood out that was actually in Washington, D.C. I really didn’t know I had that many fans there, but it was the only time I ever played where we literally could not hear ourselves over all the people screaming.I couldn’t hear one note I was singing. Between the guitars and the drums, it was just madness…so much fun.
Johnny: Cool. Your first album was 1982’s Convertible Music.
Josie: I had done a record with MSR that was never released and then a couple of singles but Convertible Music was my first album that was actually released.
Johnny: What was your favorite part of the recording process for that album?
Josie: My favorite part? I had been in the studio a lot and loved recording but the making of that record was not a great experience I have to say (laughing). Something was terribly wrong with the tape machine but no one could agree if it was speeding up or slowing down. It happened so slightly that you thought you were going mad but u could clearly hear it going sharp and flat. Studor engineers eventually flew out from Germany because this had never happened in the whole history of their company and they just didn’t believe us. We had to re-record the whole record over again this time with a click track that ended up bursting my drummer’s ear drums. But then it sounded so robotic my producers decided to record all the tracks again for the 3rd time with a new drummer who didn’t know the songs and my producers wanted it an exact way. In the meantime Johnny Are You Queer was blowing up all over the world and Elektra was pushing us hard to finish the record asap. It took 6 months and I always thought the demos sounded better than the finished record.
Johnny: One of the songs you wrote for Convertible Music was Waitin’ For Your Love. Where did the lyrics for that song come from?
Josie: Gosh, that’s the mystery of writing, you know? Sometimes it’s just a feeling or someone says something but in that song I think I liked the way the consonants and vowels sounded with the melody I had and then you try to figure out what the words are trying to say (laughing). Once you have a title the song kind of writes itself. It’s a very fun process at that point. What’s hardest is when you have a melody and no title. To me, that’s agony. It can go any way. There’s no limits, and that can be very limiting.
Johnny: Alright. Another song you wrote on Convertible Music that I like is “I Need The Night, Tonight”. There was a great sense of longing in the song, a yearning for something different and unique.
Johnny: Was that song inspired by living in California, or did it come from a different direction?
Josie: I would say from my childhood. I never knew my Dad and I really was always waiting for him to come back. Josie Cotton is a very fun construct. I loved to be that for people and I’m very humor driven but there is that part of me I keep hidden until I put it in a song.
Johnny: “Johnny, Are You Queer?” is, of course, a song that I like, probably because it has my first name in it.
Josie: Yes, Johnny (laughing).
Johnny: What does the song mean for you, and what have you been told it means for others?
Josie: The first time I heard the song I thought it was hilarious and outrageous. I really did the song as a character who was very different from myself because I always had excellent gay-dar. This girl didn’t have a clue and that’s one of the things that was so funny about it. The most fun part for me was the first time I heard it on the radio. I was driving down Pacific Coast Highway at sunset overlooking the ocean and that was a euphoric moment for me. Every recording artist will remember the moment they first heard themselves on the radio. And that was mine . In terms of how it’s affected others, I think the most rewarding part has been the reaction from the gay community. So many of them have told me that, because of that song, they were able to come out, or that it inspired them, or made it okay for them to be the person they knew they already were. I’ve heard it so many times at this point I think I can be proud of that.
Johnny: Another hit from Convertible Music was “He Could Be The One”. That song had a very 60s sound to it. Was that what you and Paine and Paine were aiming for?
Josie: They always told me I was a co-writer on the song with them but they had a working title and a definite idea of where they wanted to go musically.They were really great at predicting musical trends. The Paines had worked very closely with The Go-Gos and Fear. And there were a whole lot of 60s elements in New Wave music at the time, with a little rockabilly thrown in there too.
Johnny: Alright. Moving to the album From The Hip, I liked the song Straight Talk. Songs like that, songs about communication and the need for honesty in it, were very big in the 80s. Why do you think that was?
Josie: I never really thought about it like that before. What other songs are you referring to?
Johnny: Well, songs like Stevie Nicks’ “Talk To Me” and Genesis’ “No Reply At All”, songs along those lines.
Josie: Right. Right. Well, I was looking at it like a Dolly Parton moment in my songwriting. I had been in California for a little while, and I knew that people were talking circles around me, or trying to, anyway, especially in the music industry. I think I was just trying to cut through all the BS in a song.
Johnny: That’s always very important. Staying with From The Hip, the most notable single from that album was your cover of Looking Glass’ “Jimmy Loves Maryann”. What inspired you to cover that song?
Josie: Well, my producers brought it to me and I liked it. And it charted pretty well. It was an incredible piece of songwriting..probably not the best single I could’ve done off that record but I was proud of it.
Johnny: I think you did a fantastic job with it.
Josie: Thank you.
Johnny: Moving into the 90s, you only released one album in that decade, Frightened By Nightingales. What happened in the 90s that saw so little of your musical work?
Josie: Well, I never stopped writing and I always had a recording studio so I continued recording. A few labels wanted to sign me but I could never go through with it. It was a real aversion. Johnny was more like an atom bomb than a hit song. It left a crater and I was always walking around it, so I just kept making records and have slowly been releasing them. One of them was Frightened By Nightingales. Invasion Of The B-Girls was another. I just kept going, and finally, at some point, I decided to start my own label and just be putting them out, which gave me a lot of freedom to do whatever I wanted. I think that was a great gift. I don’t know how people continue to make 80s records their whole career. I don’t know how you do that. I would’ve gone mad. I think they would’ve locked me away somewhere, deep under the earth (laughing).
Johnny: Well, that does lead us into the 00s, and your album Movie Disaster Music. What made that album so different from your previous work?
Josie: Well, I was experimenting. I was experimenting with so many different styles, different ways of singing and writing and production. If you listen to it, you can hear several different personas.
Johnny: Well, I think it was a fantastic album, and one of the best songs on that album was “Looking For Elvis”, a song that sounded like it could’ve been done by The King himself. If Elvis were still around, would you have been interested in writing a song for him?
Josie: Oh, anything with him. (Laughing) I would’ve shined his shoes. My god, yes. Of course. Michael Lockwood, who was married to Lisa Marie Presley, played on that album so when I finished the Elvis song I was able to send it to her. Because of the lyrics I was a little nervous but she loved it, so that was as close as I could get.
Johnny: It was definitely a great one, and another excellent song from Movie Disaster Music was “You’re The Boss”. What was the inspiration behind that?
Josie: Oh, thank you so much. That really did come from my philosophy of the world. That’s everything I believe but said in a very Sammy Davis Jr., trashy lounge singer kind of way. When we recorded it one night I was sitting on the floor in the drum room with my friend Kenny Lyons who is a virtuoso guitarist, and we recorded it live a few times and then picked the best take, no overdubs or anything except the beautiful atmospheric soundscapes Paul Roessler added.
Johnny: It was definitely a wonderful song. To move to another album, one of your most intriguing endeavors came with the aforementioned Invasion Of The B-Girls, an album of covers of songs from B-movies of the 60s and 70s. What was your favorite part of recording that album?
Josie: Well, that was the most fun I’ve had in my entire life from beginning to end. I had the concept of doing songs from B-movies, and after watching a whole lot of b movies, I realized there were so many strong women in these movies. They’re really bad-ass, crazy women, and I tried to capture that on the record. We recorded the record without synthesizers. It was all real drums, Tower Of Power on the horns. It was hilarious singing a love song to Godzilla and singing in Japanese. (Laughing) Of course, the height of it was when Russ Meyer threatened to sue me, and then John Waters also wanted to sue me later on down the line. That was memorable (laughing). I couldn’t believe nobody had ever done this type of compilation before. Finding the songwriters was challenging. You had to call people who were dead, and deal with their families, literally, in a trailer in Georgia. We had to contact Japan to get permission to use Godzilla’s roar and all the sound effects. I took it to Rhino and they said, “No. It’s too quirky”. I went, “You’re Rhino Records and THAT’s too quirky? That doesn’t make any sense. You are the kings of quirky”. No one really got it, and it lived in my garage for years. Finally, I put it out on my label, and that’s when John Waters wrote the liner notes and tried to sue me. Dionysus Records is re-releasing it early 2020 cuz no one really heard this record
Johnny: Well, I think it was a fantastic album, and I loved the video for “Maneaters (Get Off The Road)”. Did you ever meet Herschell Gordon Lewis, and what did he think of your work with the song?
Josie: You know, I never met him. My god, he also directed Girl In Gold Boots, which is insane. I love that movie.
Johnny: He died in 2016. I actually met him at a convention a couple of months before he passed. The man was still sharp as a tack and very cool to talk to.
Josie: Good. God, I wish I had sent him a copy of it. That would’ve been smart, Josie. (Laughing) That would have been very smart.
Johnny: Speaking of reactions, did Roger Ebert ever hear your cover of the theme to Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls?
Josie: I don’t think so, no. It’s a beautiful remake, isn’t it?
Johnny: Absolutely. I think you made it even richer in emotion than the original version. What zone were you in when recording that cover?
Josie: Well, you know, it’s funny. For a few of the songs on that record, I recorded and comped my own vocals and I found things in my voice that I never knew were there. Usually, a producer or an engineer will go, “Do that again you could do it better,” and you’re relying on someone else’s ears completely. On this one, it was all me, hitting exactly the sound I wanted, and the emotion. It was so liberating, and I don’t think that song could’ve happened like that unless I had been sitting there at the board, by myself, and just going into this zone. I mistakenly thought it was a simple song but it’s not at all. I absolutely fell in love with that movie and it was hard to pick a song, there were so many.
Johnny: Yeah. It definitely was a hoot. I can actually recall watching it with my mom a couple of years before her passing. That was kind of awkward because of all the content in it (laughing).
Josie: (Laughing) Right. I know. Well, you know, in the middle of filming that movie, the Charles Manson murders happened. And the movie company was already shocked by the dailies they were seeing so they decided to pull the plug on the movie. I don’t know what they were expecting from Russ Meyer! What was happening in the news became how a lot of the characters were killed at the end. I think that was part of the horror, but I just wasn’t expecting that ending. It was a little shocking.
Johnny: To move to another album, the title track to your album Pussycat Babylon reminded me a little of The Cramps’ music with its’ soundscape and usage of innuendo. Did you ever cross paths with The Cramps?
Josie: That’s a huge compliment . I’m a big fan of the Cramps. You know I didn’t really cross paths with them. But Fur Dixon is recording in our studio now so that’s very cool..
Johnny: Yeah. I just wish Poison Ivy would do interviews, but I know that when Lux passed, she retreated into privacy. One of my other Facebook friends and former interview subjects, Jewel Shepard, still knows Poison Ivy and hangs out with her, but based on what I saw on a Cramps fan page, she just wants her privacy now.
Josie: Wow. Well, people miss her so much. I see it all the time. They long for her return. She was fierce.
Johnny: Absolutely. Another song from Pussycat Babylon that stands out for me is See The New Hong Kong. That song, in both lyric and melody, reminded me of 80s synth-pop, and I think it’s an incredibly beautiful song. What were your feelings when recording it?
Josie: Thank you. Well, you know, that’s one of the songs that started with the melody. I remember I was struggling to find a title and I was remembering this old commercial for an Asian airline with beautiful Japanese girls coming out of the mist on an airplane. There was a certain faraway feeling that stayed with me just as I would be falling asleep.”See The New Hong Kong” became a kind of metaphor for changing your life , traveling in a completely new direction after a bad breakup. It went number 1 in Lithuania and that was a first! (laughing).
Johnny: Well, I’ve been playing that song over and over again, listening to it on YouTube. It’s just such an amazing song. I really think it’s one of your best.
Josie: It’s funny you say that. Right before we recorded it I had heard Roxy Music in an elevator.. It was a “dancing while sad kind of feeling” which was my inspiration for the music we made for it. No one’s ever gotten that before.
Johnny: Well, I’m honored to have done so, and speaking of the 80s, to jump back there, you performed on screen in the 1983 classic Valley Girl. How did you land that movie, and what was your favorite part of filming?
Josie: I got a phone call from the director. She was having a hard time getting through to my producer, Larson Paine, because he thought it was a joke. He didn’t quite take her seriously and kept hanging up on her (laughing), but she kept calling back. I think the most amazing thing about that was that I had gotten in so much trouble for “Johnny, Are You Queer?”. Elektra was distancing themselves from me at that point, even though that’s why they signed me. I thought it was brave of the producers to put that song in the movie. I had been banned in Amsterdam (laughing) so I was a bit of a wild card.
Johnny: Definitely. Another film role came with your role as Silver Ring in the movie Nomads. (Josie laughing) As I’m one of your Facebook friends, I saw you mention in a post that Adam Ant did not like working on the film, saying “Who do I have to fuck to get off the picture?”, but did you?
Josie: Yeah. I’m not exactly sure why he said that, but it was hilarious at the time. I think it was a pretty unorganized set being John McTiernan’s first movie before he did all those Die Hard movies. But we were having a great time.
Johnny: To go to my next question, would you ever consider making appearances to sign autographs at pop culture conventions like Chiller Theatre or The Hollywood Show?
Josie: Of course. I have no problem doing things like that. I mean, I’m happy to do it. It means a lot to people.
Johnny: Well, I know you on Facebook, and I know several people who work for the Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany, NJ. I’ll send you the Guest Application link for them. I think you’d make a great guest. They’ve had quite a few people from Valley Girl there before.
Josie: Okay. I did a Valley Girl reunion not too long ago. Many of the actors and musicians were there.
Johnny: Yeah. You’re actually the second person from that movie I’ve interviewed, the first being EG Daily, another good friend of mine.
Josie: Oh, she’s lovely. It was so great to see her. It was great to see her.
Johnny: Absolutely. I now come to my final question: Whether in the 80s or now, you look amazing. What’s the secret to your youthful appearance?
Josie: Oh, I’d have to say good genes. (Laughing) I don’t know. My mom looked amazing to the very end. I didn’t know my dad, so I don’t know how it was with him, but I give her all the credit.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that does it for my questions. I’m glad I finally had the chance to interview you. I’d actually first reached out all the way back in 2010, back when I was writing for the website RetroJunk and doing interviews via e-mail. We had tentatively agreed to do one, but it never happened back then, so I’m glad it came together now. I found you to be a very fascinating interview subject.
Josie: Thank you. Well, you certainly did your homework. I can’t say I’ve ever talked with anyone who has listened to so many of my songs.
Johnny: Well, I mean, you are a fantastic talent, and it was great to speak to you. You just really have a way with your music, and I really hope your new album and single do well because you certainly deserve it.
Josie: Thank you. That’s very nice of you. I appreciate that. What’s your name on Facebook so I can know who you are? There’s a lot of people on there and I can’t keep up with who’s who.
Johnny: I’m Johnny Caps.
Josie: Johnny Caps. Okay. I’m going to find you, Johnny.
Johnny: No problem. I’ll definitely be in touch again soon.
Josie: Thanks, Johnny.
Johnny: Alright. I’ll talk to you soon.
Josie: Talk soon. Bye.
I would like to thank Josie Cotton for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me, and I would like to thank Bruce Duff for setting up the interview. Everything Is Oh Yeah comes out on October 4th. For more about Josie Cotton, you can visit her official website, which has links to all of her social media.
Who will I flashback with next? Stay tuned.