Johnette Napolitano on Rarely Breaking Strings and the Only Thing That Matters

November 20, 2014

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

My touring vehicle is everything from a bus to an economy rental, depending on the gig, how many, where they are, how many people on the crew, how much gear I’m carrying, bla bla bla.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Very easily: before a tour and during a tour I’m too nervous to eat at all, on the backstage rider is fruit, water wine, not much. I like a can of tuna and plain yogurt sometime around midday, and backstage I’ll eat nervously and since I’m most likely drinking wine will nibble on organic chips & salsa..by then I need the carbs anyway. If I can get a good, clean egg at a hotel in the morning with coffee that goes a long way.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I was just talking about this with a rockstar guitarist friend of mine and we were agreeing, we just never break strings. I’d have that big heavy box for the crew with 20 sets of guitar and bass strings and a spare bass and all this shit, thinking, ‘when did THIS happen?’ I cannot remember -which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – ever breaking a bass string, but if I did it certainly wasn’t more than twice, ever; and guitar strings I hate changing at all and the only reason I’ve broken any lately (1 in Seattle) is because of flying and having to de-tune for the plane and then re-tune for wherever I am, considering climate and all.

Drum heads I never break but don’t play enough to break them; it’s easier, at least for me, to hear dead drum heads than dead strings, and it costs a lot. As for cymbals, they cost a lot. Chris Frantz hates even cleaning his cymbals, insists it changes the tone. I’m in agreement.

I knew Mariachi musicians in Mexico that had been playing on the same strings for years and sounded amazing. The Flamencos used lemon juice to freshen strings, the dancers sponged their dresses with vodka. I used to take all Concrete Blonde’s used strings to Tijuana and trade to the musicians for local art.

Where do you rehearse?

It depends on what I’m rehearsing for. I’m in solo mode so I’m out here at home in Joshua Tree in a cabin with wood shutters and brick floors: and a barn where the drums are. It’s dead quiet for the most part so I can record anything out here.

If I’m working with other people or a band I love nowhere more than Soundbite Studios in Silver Lake, L.A.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

“The Frog and the Fruitfly” age 12.

Describe your first gig.

Either playing guitar or standing on a chair singing for a family holiday dinner when I was 10 or..anything after that doesn’t really matter.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

Last official day job was assistant to a film producer named Donald P. Borchers (“Children of the Corn” “Crimes of Passion” “Vamp”) and I learned a lot from him.

I would have to say my favorites were working for Gold Star Studios, now long gone. Stan Ross and Dave Gold. The odds of knowing those people and being as blessed as I was to listen to the stories, the knowledge; technically.. no one knows that shit now. Larry Levine, that whole krew..Carole Kaye, but then again

It’s a hard tie because landing a job for Leon Russell pretty much sent my life into the direction it was meant to go…it’s all connected.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Well, no one can say. You get back what you put out. That’s just physical and universal law. Always will.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

That, simply, nothing matters BUT the music. Always trusted it when no one else did. Never lets me down.


Best known for her work as the bassist and lead singer of Alt-Rock band, Concrete Blonde, Johnette Napolitano is a multifaceted talent: songwriter, poet, sculptor, and soundtrack artist. Her career with Concrete Blonde began in the late 1980’s on the fringes of L.A.’s New Wave and Punk scene. After signing with IRS records they found a home on college radio alongside labelmates like R.E.M. In 1990 they released the classic album, Bloodletting, featuring Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson on drums. The album was certified Gold, and spent twenty one weeks on the Billboard charts.

Between Concrete Blonde releases, Napolitano spent time as the lead singer for The Heads, a reformed Talking Heads featuring Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth. She also began releasing solo albums, including Sound Of A Woman (produced between 1996 and 1997), and Scarred (2007). She has contributed music to films and television shows like Underworld, Candy, Point Break, and The Soprano’s. Her mercurial talents have won her a cult following, and kept her touring and producing with a truly unique voice since 1982.

You can find information and tour dates here.