Interview: Boss Hog’s Cristina Martinez


Boss Hog headline the Bowery Ballroom tonight. 

“We were not enjoying each other’s company as much as we did in the beginning. It just got kind of intense.”

Boss Hog in Barcelona, photo by Oscar Garcia

From its inception in 1989, Boss Hog’s 11-year history was marked by lineup shifts, the absence of strict recording timetables, and a fondness for NSFW album covers. On the flip side, Boss Hog did the dirty, raw guitar blues thing way before it was cool, all the while, having a vivacious, bad-ass frontwoman in Cristina Martinez. But for the last eight years, Boss Hog had been dormant until the Nightmare Before Christmas, an All Tomorrow’s Parties installment that took place last week in Somerset, England.

While Spencer has been active this decade with various projects like Blues Explosion and Heavy Trash, Martinez voluntarily gave up the rock-and-roll nights for a more responsible day. We caught up with her after she got off work. –Michael D. Ayers

What are you doing these days?

I do production. When we first moved to New York, we still needed day jobs and I started doing production–there’s a big publishing industry here, as you may well know. It was one of the few jobs that all the musicians had–freelance pay stuff. It was before desktop publishing, and it was artistic and easy and you got paid shitloads of money to do very anal work. But it was easy and that’s what I started out doing. And then when desktop publishing came in ages ago, I was right on the ground level of that; I worked my way up very quickly, and for a long time, I worked at big magazines and was holding a pretty good job. I stopped doing all of that when we signed to Geffen and just focused on that for awhile.

And when I had a child, after a certain time, he went into school and then I had to stop touring and had to drop anchor. I just took care of him for a long time, until he was old enough that there was all this [free] time; it seemed that maybe I should start contributing financially to our family. So I started doing a little bit of work here and there, but what brought me back to it was when Bust Magazine bought its title back. And that magazine is run and owned by a friend of mine; so I helped her get it back on the ground again. I realized I was spending a lot of time doing that, and not making a lot of money, so I might as well get a real job and make some money. So I got a job with [Major Media Company withheld] again. But I don’t know if you need to tell everyone that; I just told you because you asked, but I don’t think it’s very interesting.

Oh, it’s very interesting.

Is it really? [laughs]

Do you put the books together?

Yeah. My title is “Senior Design Production Associate.”

Ooh, that sounds very official.

Yeah, it’s good, right? Lots of words. Basically, it’s math. I like to think of it as puzzle making or puzzle solving. Technically I’m the liaison between the art and the editorial departments, and I have to make things fit. You’re given a certain article and the designed page, and you marry the two so everyone is happy. It’s a diplomatic job, but, also being creative enough to solve the problem. Which is perfect for me. I love Sudoku.

I think I’m actually really good at Sudoku, and I try to solve people’s Sudoku’s when I’m sitting next to them on the subway.

[laughs]. Do you? Well, you know what, I’ll challenge you…to some Sudoku [laughs]. I’m very good at it.

There’s a logic on it that once you pick up, it becomes easier.

I think so. I think there are a couple of tricks you learn how to figure out, and sometimes you have to work exponentially from the basic tricks. You have to think ahead; it’s a little chess-like in a way, but I like them for that reason.

Yeah. It does require you to think ahead.

But what I really like about it is that they’re very black & white. There’s no grey area. There is a solution and its there. It’s not like there are five different solutions and you have to figure out which one works best. There’s a very clear answer, and that doesn’t happen very much in our lives. So it’s very soothing to me.

Cristina Martinez at the Luminaire earlier this month, photo by Graham Russell

So how was the recent Europe adventure?

Great. Really, really great. And to be honest, before we left, I didn’t know what to expect. Because it’s been a long time since we’ve played. The Maxwell’s show went well, but that was a very small, intimate show, fun to play. I had no idea what to expect in Europe- I knew there was a couple of “built-in” crowds, and ATP was one of them. It’s a festival so you’re guaranteed a certain audience. But the shows we played on our own were very well-received. Lots of people came and they were very enthusiastic. It surprised me, to be honest. I think it had something to do with nostalgia [laughs]. There were kids of all ages there, and they were very positive about it. It was really nice.

Maybe, the nostalgia. But I’ve been listening to the Boss Hog records recently and the music has stood the test of time, I think.

Well, thank you. That’s probably the highest compliment I could be paid. That’s how I measure records- if you put them on after a long time, and re-appreciate them, or like them more, that’s really nice to hear.

Well, good. Did you go back and listen to all the old records in prepping for this tour?

I did. I had to relearn lyrics for a lot of things. In some instances, I had to stop at every line, and write them down. I put the whole catalog on my iPod and listened to it over and over again, and I was impressed! I had forgotten a lot of the little nuances in places, too. When we went to rehearse them, it’s one thing to plow through a song–but the way we ended up playing them, or recording them, certain things we did here and there, and it was fun to listen to that–and brought back memories of actually recording those things in the studio.

The biggest thing it brings up is the camaraderie of the band. The biggest thing for me with Boss Hog, is that I couldn’t stand to do it when it seemed too much like work. We were not enjoying each other’s company as much as we did in the beginning. It just got kind of intense, and we were touring so often that–touring is very…you’re sleep deprived, and you’re often behaving badly…it’s this very intense rollercoaster of paranoia and exhilaration. It got to be too much, and that sort of ruined the whole thing for me. But listening to the songs, I could only remember the good stuff that got us there in the first place. That made me really want to go back and play them.

Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez, back in the day

One of the things I had to consider very carefully when we were asked to do this ATP show, is whether or not I would be able to get up and be really invested in what I was saying. Because so much of what I had written was so timely. It was when I was pretty messed up and pretty angry. And I don’t have that same set of emotions anymore; thankfully, I have grown and things have changed for me. So, I knew I had to tap into certain things and I knew that it would also be difficult to perform in front of people again. Because I did do one show, about two years ago. And I had a very hard time with it; it wasn’t a Boss Hog show…it was something I was writing with someone else. A very low-key thing, and it was so hard. I had a very difficult time getting over it the next few days…I was sort of kicking myself about what I could have done better. I put myself through a lot of angst–unnecessary angst, because of it.

So, when we received the invitation for ATP, that was the hurdle I had to overcome. I knew I was going to have to get past that, and find a way to tap into the feelings of when those lyrics were written. And I sort of went on blind faith, thinking I was a good enough performer to do it. And in rehearsal, it was easier than it ever had been in my entire life. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s a bit of letting go and not be as self-conscious. Having the right mindset of wanting to do this now; having it be casual and fun, and there’s no weight behind it. Because we don’t have to put out a record, we don’t have to sell a record. And that freedom really opened it up in a weird way. And we’ve had so much fun on this tour because there’s no pressure. There’s no one we have to please, you know, besides ourselves. And that’s been thankfully, very easy.

Sounds kind of liberating.

It is, it really is. After all of these years, to come back and do it where it feels even better–I truly think that the shows we’ve played are the best shows we’ve ever played. I can say that with full confidence. At ATP, I saw other bands that were my contemporaries ten years ago, come back and do the same thing. And I didn’t think they had their heart into it, and some instances thought “They’re really just phoning it in for the check.” It’s really weak and I don’t want to see [it]. I’m really glad we don’t feel that way and I don’t think people feel that way about us.

Right when you all took a step back, the music business was at its breaking point. In a way, you didn’t have to deal with a lot of crap that a lot of people have had to weather. Well, I guess Jon [Spencer] is still in it.

Yeah, I’ve watched Jon in it.

Watching from the sidelines, what have you thought?

I’m glad I’m not a part of it [laughs]. It’s incredibly difficult out there for people to make a living. There’s no middle ground. It’s sort of like the economy. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There’s not a lot of middle, so, I can see Jon suffering through it. It slowly gets worse and worse, but I don’t think it’s tanked out yet. I still think the worse is yet to come. I’m glad that I’m not beholden to that right now. I don’t know what I would do if I had that weight on my shoulders constantly.

Do you ever think about recording again?

Well, we’ve thought about it now that we’ve had such a nice time. What we’ve agreed to do is play these shows, then sit down and talk about if we want to do something else. I think we’re going to wait and be very thoughtful about what to do. I’m not so sure now is the right time to do what we want to do, but we did have a really good time together. It’s likely, but I can’t really say. We haven’t had that meeting yet.

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