"I had twelve years of meeting a fantastic group of very talented creative people and I hope to count myself as one of them"
Interview with Alaura O´Dell, november 2004
While Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer get a lot of attention these days because of the recent PTV3 tour and their attempt to be a pandrogynous unity, the former wife of Genesis P-Orridge and mother to his two daughters, Alaura O´Dell (formerly known as Paula P-Orridge), stands behind. She also appeared on many Psychic TV albums for over a decade, but now her name doesn´t even appear within the liner notes of the reissues any more.
Time to ask her a few questions about her role in PTV, her relation to Genesis, her view on gender issues, and her current life. The interview took place by mail, questions by Peter Schmelzle of fopi.net and Robert Schalinski of Column One. Many thanks to Alaura for answering so open and comprehensively.
How did you get to know Genesis P-Orridge, especially how did you get involved in the musical aspect then (with Psychic TV)?
From the age of six to twenty-five I lived in an area of London known as Hackney. It was quite a poor working class area of London. On the weekends and after school I worked in a supermarket known as Tescos. A photo of the shop ended up on the back cover of one of the TG albums. Gen would come in and talk to me. In retrospect I'm not sure why he was really interested in a sixteen year old, he was 29, I suppose I was cute!
I was in school studying for my university entrance exams when I met Gen. I was always a lover of music and had quite a varied taste. I had some friends at this time who introduced me to these great guys, Fritz, Alex and Johnny, who were in a band known as 23 Skidoo. I joined them for a few gigs our first one being January 23rd, 1982 at Kings College, London. The gig was reviewed by Melody Maker. I played percussion and vibraphones. I guess it was a natural progression for me to be invited to play with Psychic TV.
Did you do have any job before?
I had tons of part-time jobs before, nothing significant as I was still at school studying. I also had part-time jobs when I was in Psychic TV. I eventually ran the mail order office for Fetish records- the company that released a few TG albums. Then I took an active role in running Temple Records. Then of course I was also looking after two children- an unpaid job but, thoroughly rewarding one.
We recognized that the ritual aspect of PTV productions is especially there when you were involved, so have you been in some ritual/occult scene before?
No, I wasn't involved in any ritual/occult scene before.
How did your parents and friends react on your relationship with genesis? you were rather young and public opinion on gen was rather negative at that time...
My parents were divorced my father lived his own life full of contra dictations and challenges to "normal society". I think my Mum was in shock when I told her Gen and I, married after a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. I had been invited by Gen to join TG on their last tour/gigs in Los Angeles and San Francisco. We went to Tijuana for the day with a couple of friends including Don Bowles from The Germs and Jerry Dreva an incredible person and artist. I had been living my own life for a couple of years at my mothers house after confronting my mother and step-father about my step-fathers abusive behavior to me. I am sure it was a relief in their lives in some way that I left the house.
Did magick play a major role in your private life throughout the PTV years?
In many ways it did. There was definitely this element of sex magick in our lives.
Were the ritual/sigil pics a true expression or were these artificial constructs?
There were photos that were staged for some promotional materials yet there were some that were the "real thing". SO, I would say a mixture of both.
How would you rate your musical influence on Psychic TV?
Interesting question. In terms of influence I think Gen wrote his best love songs to me including Stolen Kisses and Just Drifting. I've heard many people say that PTV never sounded the same without my sound collages- which I played like a musical instrument. I thought my intuition with sounds and mixes really added to the total musical element of Psychic TV and although there were some really talented musicians in PTV like Fred Giannelli and Matthew Best. Having a woman with a good ear and wonderful intuition added to the musical content.
How were the family gender roles way back when? Was there some kind of patriarchism in the P-Orridge family or was your life more self-determined while being a couple? Or was it even you playing a leading role? who did care for the kids most of the time?
Another good question. I have to say in all fairness that Gen was a great dad when the kids were young. He liked to interact with them creatively. However, most of the child-caring and raising fell on me. There was a time I really wanted to go to university and begin the degree I had planned. Gen was adamant for me not to go back because of my "important position" in the band, running the domestic side of the house and looking after Caresse and Genesse. I have to say that in many ways Gen was an emotional mess and so with that it came across as him bullying and trying to control me and everyone else around. I do think I carried the emotional strength for the family in general. Luckily to I had great people around me to help with the children like my close friends Bee and Millie.
How about the gender roles in Psychic TV. Were there some gender problems within the band? Were you accepted as a musician or simply as the "wife of Genesis"?
In general all the guys, there were a couple of women, were just wonderful to me.
Sleazy was always a love and friendly and incredible sweet to me. I felt very accepted by him and Jeff, also by later members of the band. I think in general people related to me as a person and for the most part they liked me for who I was- not who I was married to. However, the whole music industry at this point was very male dominated and I remember there times when this affected me from staff at record companies and magazine.
What do you think: did (the mostly male) fans like you becaue of your stage performance, or because of you´re a woman, or because you were Gen´s wife? Or didn´t they like you at all because one of the above reasons?
I remember walking on stage before the other members of PTV in a Los Angeles club and there were all these guys at the front shouting my name in a really adoring way. I remember feeling really embarrassed. Looking back at photos I see how cute and sexy I was however, at the time I never thought that. I was usually thinking of getting the kids ready for bed or helping with tour managing and at the last minute would throw a sexy stage costume on. I can't remember receiving any negative vibes from people because I was Gens wife or a woman. I know I sometimes felt people didn't like me because of those reasons yet in retrospect I can't recall anyone being negative to me because of any obvious reasons.
Gen is very exhibitionistic and likes to show nude. do or did you have a similar obsession? if no: how did it come to the "modern primitivism" close-ups?
I actually don't think I am an exhibitionistic. In many ways I feel really shy. I look at the MP photos and can't believe I did that. A woman photographer shot the close-ups and I felt very at ease with her. Recently my husband, a professional photographer, has taken a couple of nude shots of the tattoo on my bum. The photo was in an exhibition titled "Nudes". Again as I feel comfortable with him so it works. I don't think there was any episode of me taking off my clothes on stage. I do go to the natural hot springs naked, with everyone else being naked- not sure if that's counted as being an exhibitionistic!
Some records credit "Mouse" on bass, but little is known about this person. You have any more info?
She was a girlfriend of a friend of mine, Geoff, and her and Gen had a brief affair. Not sure what she's doing now. I ran into her old boyfriend at Coil gig recently in London, and asked about her- he didn't know either. She was working as a hostess in a bar for a while- that's all I really know.
Did you have any major influence on any decision made within Psychic TV (be it release politics, personnel affairs, tour planning, whatever)?
Well, lets see. I was the tour manager for the first tours until we could afford to pay someone. I worked with promoters and collected our fee at gigs. Even to the dismay of some of the hardcore misogynists men who ran the clubs and refused to pay me as I was a woman.
I worked with our accountant, Alex Simons, and went to numerous record company meetings. I helped run the record company in general with all that takes. I also completely ran the mail order section of Temple Records Ltd, which took up many hours of my time.
Compared to nowadays´ Breyer-P-Orridge pandrogynous unity, were there also ideas to present the P-Orridge family as an idealistic whole way back when?
Oh god, I certainly never wanted to look like Gen- how scary J
I think Gen would have like to have thought we were the "perfect family" but, we were as dysfunctional as many others.. and certainly we didn't talk about becoming one.
I cant remember whose idea that was, it certainly wasn't mine.
How did it come your daughters were involved on records and videos? Did you have any concerns or "mother thoughts" on this?
I think that mainly happened as they were actually on the sets when we were recording videos apart from Caresse and Fred's " RU Experienced".
I thought Caresse was great and she loved the camera- it really was all quite innocent. As a side note both the girls have amazing voices and Caresse did vocals on one of her friend's tracks last year.
The Al-Or-Al album, which is dedicated to you, was published in the first half of the 90s, just around the time your relation with Genesis broke. Was the album some kind of his last straw to save the relationship or what´s the story behind this?
I had already broken up with Gen when this was recorded and released. I don't really know what his motive was. I know he didn't want me to leave him - I left and that record appeared. I have to admit I never listened to the recording.
Most fans did notice gender issues not before Genesis´ "transmediator" tour as of 1996(?), where he had lyrics with gender topics and was crossdressing on stage during the performances. did gender issues play a role in PTV before?
Looking back, what episode with PTV (record, tour, concert, whatever) did you like most?
There were some amazing concerts where one really became "high" just from the energy of the music and the incredible audience. I loved the " Don't Drink the Water" show we played and co-produced in San Francisco in 1992. There were some incredible shows in Paris and Spain where we filmed a one hour special shown on Spanish TV. I loved working with different film makers such as John Maybury and Derek Jarman.
John and I, had a memorable evening in Los Angeles after filming the " Good Vibrations" video. And of course there was working with Timothy Leary. I created the soundscapes behind Tim for some of lectures on the West Coast. He was a wonderful, intelligent man and I miss him greatly.
At Tim's, after my separation from Gen, I spent some memorable evenings with Zach Leary, Sean Lennon, and the very famous Harry Nielson.
I had twelve years of meeting a fantastic group of very talented creative people and I hope to count myself as one of them.
How do you deal with the fact, that you are no longer credited on reissues of PTV records you´re on?
I think Gen needs to look at his motives for excluding me. Its really not a professional thing to do to deny the public and fans the truth. Gen always spoke about government and the media's control of freedom of information. He spoke about how we needed to work beyond these controlling structures. For Gen to re-write the history of a band for his own illusion is not only cheating me, the public but also our children. Caresse and Genesse have expressed their sadness that they just "appeared" from no where. They wonder if people are asking the same question too. It is really a travesty- A total TRAVESTY!
The work of TOPY & PTV in england before 1992 appears very british/european.. how did living in America affect your work?
I really left the band in late 1992 as soon as Gen and I, separated. So, I don't really think I can answer that.
Any opinion on the current PTV3?
I haven't listed to PTV or PTV3 since I left the band....
Do you like living in america and did you ever plan to settle back to england?
I love living in Northern California. Which I think I can safely say doesn't feel like America of the right-wing Christians. Liberals are in the majority here. I live in a VERY progressive community an hour away from the San Francisco and Berkeley. I pretty much live the lifestyle I want. I eat fresh organic food, do lots of yoga, meet and talk with like-minded creative individuals. It's a great place for creativity and an exceptional lifestyle. England- I would like to have a holiday home there one day.
You some months ago mentioned having done some new music. How about this project? What does it sound like? With which musicians did you work and will there be a CD release soon?
I put my CD project on hold while I was building my business- Sacred Journeys for Women. I was looking at a stable income, of sorts, to help to support my daughters. I am off to LA in three weeks to begin working on tracks with an old friend from England, Mee, who's just finished her album. She is an extremely talented musician and producer and has recently been working with Steve Severin the bassist in the former Siousie and the Banshees, on her solo album.
I've also asked Fred Giannelli to work on a track and have some ideas of musicians I want to work with &endash; some famous, some not. I would love to work with my dear friend Bee and his band Futon. Realistically the tracks will be completed the end of 2005. I have lots of ideas and I am really, really excited. Just hope people still remember me and would be interested. However, at the end of the day I need to do it for me!!