In late October, Dr. Martens Presents released a a new documentary, Redefining Feminism in Punk: Los Angeles, showcasing the changes throughout local music communities.

Featured in the film is punk-rock Backstage Pass, we got the chance to catch up with Marina Muhlfriedel and Genny Schorr about the film and more.

In the recent Dr. Martens Presents: Music and Film Series Backstage Pass is focused on, highlighting one of the first shows you played with Elvis Costello. Could you expand more on this experience?
MARINA: Gen and I got to know Elvis Costello and his band, the Attractions, in 1977 through their manager, Jake Riviera. They were first starting out, and Jake was staying at our apartment off Hollywood Blvd., using it as a place to launch Stiff Records in the U.S. Jake was the one who gave us a well-needed kick in the butt to get ourselves out of our rehearsal space and up on stage. Adding us to the Elvis shows at the Whisky a Go-Go was monumental. To be such a new band suddenly playing sold-out shows changed everything for us. It got real really fast.                                              

GENNY: It was an amazing weekend at The Whisky, November 1977. The Attractions were an incredible band, and EC was in his full-on, angry young man phase. At one show he threatened the audience with a broken beer bottle. I was terrified but thrilled. He told me he like my guitar playing. Afterwards, we had an impromptu party at Marina’s parents’ house, as they were out of town. It couldn’t have been more fun.

It was mentioned that men didn’t like women playing an electric guitar and that being in a band, you didn’t want to be told what to do. What measures did you take to create your own atmosphere around the band, essentially playing by your own?    GENNY: As a girl in the mid-70s who played electric guitar, I didn’t find acceptance from the male musicians at my high school in the San Fernando Valley. They said it would be cool if I played Cat Stevens songs on an acoustic guitar, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I finally met kindred spirits at a Kinks concert in 1973. I auditioned for an early version of The Runaways, but their manager, Kim Fowley, told me I was too chubby. It was humiliating and looking at photos from the era, I know it wasn’t true. Still, that kind of insult affected my self-esteem and left me with body image issues. I eventually met my future bandmates at a party for the British pub band Dr. Feelgood, and the rest is history!

MARINA: I play keyboards, and doing so, never felt disparaged by men. I suppose keyboards don’t seem as threatening as guitars to male musicians. When I started Backstage Pass, one of the fundamental absolutes was that no one, particularly no one of the male persuasion, would ever tell us what to do. Succeed or fail, we would look, sound, and show up as who we were. We loved hanging out on the scene and were very open to whatever came our way and that invited all kinds of adventures. I remember us being so sure of ourselves, and that confidence probably helped us etch out our own space in the scene. 

The L.A. punk scene appeared and still appears to be electric and thrilling. What was your experience like within it and what are your thoughts on it today?
GENNY: The L.A. punk scene was great because anybody could fit in. Diverse kids who were looking for a place to belong met each other on street corners, at clubs like The Masque and the Whisky, and hangouts like the Canterbury Apartments. My adult child, Eden Hain, has been in a couple punk bands that have been amazing, and I really appreciate LA Witch and the Linda-Lindas because they have so much fire and energy. I also still listen to a lot of ’70s punk bands like The Jam, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

MARINA: The original L.A. punk scene was incredibly fun. It was like a great big club of people who didn’t feel connected to the mainstream late-’70s culture, so we made up a new one. People pulled bands together to see what would happen, and so much of it was amazing! Anything might happen any night. We knew we were at ground zero of something entirely new and different, and it invigorated us.

The early scene not only attracted people who were into making music, but also art, fashion, writing, and photography. Like so many other people, I would draw flyers, make a lot of my outfits piecing together things I’d buy at thrift stores and reconstructing them. Backstage Pass grew out of a glam and rock ‘n’ roll scene and initially had those influences at play. I loved David Bowie and bands like Roxy Music and Queen, but once we met The Damned, attitude-wise, there was no turning back.

I’m not sure about the punk scene today, but it seems like a cool and growing scene. Bands from our day still go out and play, and the music really holds up, but all these new young punk bands who grew up listening to their parents’ X, Clash, and Ramones’s albums seem to have the same drive we did to make it their own, which I totally love.

The band is passionate about putting out to the world your expression and generally putting your hearts out there in the punk scene. With the way you interpret punk to be, was there any fear of your sound and overall style not being received the way you intended it to be?
MARINA: We were pretty fearless. We were new to the whole thing but went for  the whole idea of Backstage Pass was quite bold. We weren’t copying anyone. I doubt we had any specific sense of how we intended for the band to be received. We wanted people to like us, of course. We wanted play more shows and record, but we knew we had a way to go in refining our craft, but we just got on with it.

GENNY: I don’t think we put much thought into what people thought of us. We were just happy to do things our way. It was the perfect time in the most rebellious phase of my life to have an outlet.

In the early days of women in the punk scene, Backstage Pass showcased creativity throughout your music and stage presence. What message did you want to convey to your audience in the initial stages of the band?
GENNY: My early-stage look was half masculine and half feminine. I wore makeup and a bra on one side and a white shirt, vest, and bow tie on the other. It was an early nonbinary statement in a way. Basically, I wanted to play electric guitar regardless of my gender.

MARINA: As a band, I think we hoped to convey a certain cheekiness and brazen attitude, but personally, I was into a vampy kind of goth look. I was pretty shy and liked to hide behind a mess of black hair and eye makeup and my keyboards. It made me feel mysterious and intimidating, although I’m sure I wasn’t at all!

You’ve exuded raw energy throughout your career. What is your outlook on punk today as you see more women punk bands on the rise? What is your advice to any band that turned to you for guidance?
MARINA: I love seeing them out there. These are fierce times, and it’s so great to hear young, female punks calling it out, igniting their peers. There are some great new bands, and their power, presence, and artistry seriously make my heart swell! My advice? Keep it going—write, play, declare yourself, and people will listen. Find your voice, and use it to speak up!

GENNY: My best advice is to be true to yourself, and don’t be afraid to break down barriers. Do what’s in your heart, and don’t worry about trying to be successful.

What are the members of Backstage Pass up to now?
GENNY: We reformed in 2018 when we got asked to play a reunion with Radio Free Hollywood at The Bootleg Theater.  It was nerve-wracking because we hadn’t played together for about 40 years.  We enlisted a few additional band members and have stayed together for the past three years.

MARINA: Gen and I are in the new version of Backstage Pass with four other cool musicians from a variety of bands and backgrounds. It’s amazing to see it how the band has transformed into something related to but quite different from what it was circa ’77, ’78. Such a blast! Some days, I can hardly believe I get to do this again! Beyond that, Spock lives in Nashville, Che Zuro and Rod Mitchell both live in Salt Lake City and play music, and Holly Vincent is still an incredibly talented songwriter.

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