By Cher Guevara
Monday night, I sat down to talk with up-and-coming underground queer singer-songwriter Bette Combs. Bette released her debut album Better Days earlier this year and was eager to talk about her art, her life, and her decadence.
So after putting on a be-bop record, I talked with a slightly hammered Bette who was all too ready to be as raw and honest with me as she is on her album.
What follows is the complete transcript; nothing has been edited or censored.
Cher: I’m here with the trashy and talented Bette Combs. Bette, introduce yourself to the readers of Country Queer.
Bette: Hello fellow bumpkins, I am the fuzz queen herself, Bette.
Cher: Earlier this year, we ran a review of your album “Cheat Days”. Tell us about it. What inspired you? What was the production of the record like?
Bette: What inspired me? Probably the quad of psychedelic mushrooms I would nibble on every couple days in place of proper nutrition…or are they at the top of the food pyramid next to fried foods? Anyway, as far as production I did it all using my iPhone headphones and the GarageBand app. I want my music to sound accessible and attainable, you know? Like anyone can make music, it just takes effort and inspiration.
Cher: Sounds like a mix of Hunter S. Thompson and raw honkytonk blues.
Bette: Cher, those are literally two of the most important things in the world to me. If Hank Williams, Hunter S. Thompson, and Kurt Cobain had a three-way and a demonic lovechild was conceived I’d like to think it’d be me.
Cher: I definitely dug the raw production, it reminded me a lot of the garage tapes I heard when I was involved in the local punk scene.
Bette: Punk is what I grew up on and what will always be deepest seated in my heart; the raw passion and energy of punk, the lack of conceit, the honesty. It’s what I live for.
Cher: And you mentioned Hank Williams. I think country music, especially the old country, Hank, Johnny Cash, George Jones, those guys, definitely had that same raw passion. It was punk with steel guitars.
Bette: Exactly! I first heard Hank in a college course on Bob Dylan (I also took a course on Hendrix, attended none of my other classes and dropped out) and was struck by how raw and honest it was. Before that, I had this preconceived notion of country based on the radio nonsense.
Cher: Country and punk have crossed paths many times; the Meat Puppets had a country flavor to them, Mike Ness of Social Distortion did a couple country albums, alt-country legends Uncle Tupelo had a strong punk spirit on their debut album No Depression and of course, GG Allin did a country record, Carnival of Excess.
Bette: The Meat Puppets and GG Allin are some of my favorites. Also I’m sure you’re aware of Blaze Foley? Not the most punk in sound but the ethos is there, “Duct Tape Cowboy”. I actually used to duct tape my patchy clothes together in college.
Cher: You think my editor would get mad if he knew I was doing this interview for a country magazine while having a Miles Davis record on the stereo? [Ed. – I did not get mad. Who’s cooler than Miles?]
Bette: Hahahahahaha! I would hope your editor would have an open mind. I mean I’m listening to the Cure right now. Talking about country music, it all works together, authentic music is beautiful music.
Cher: True facts, good tunes are good tunes and if they’re true tunes, people will dig it.
Bette: That’s my mantra every time I release a project.
Cher: So you’ve mentioned Hank, the godfather of modern country music. Any other big country influences? You know what would be awesome? I know you’ve done cover songs before — I remember seeing a clip a few years ago of you doing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — if you did a few Hank Sr. songs.
Bette: Johnny Cash (I’m a basic bitch), David Allan Coe (problematic but fun), John Prine, Modern Wise, Benjamin Tod/Lost Dog Street Band, The Builders and the Butchers, the Black Death All-Stars, and Tyler Childers. Oh I actually work at an old folks home and I used to do sing-alongs and one resident in particular we would sing “Lovesick Blues” all the time! It was a heartwarming experience. I’d love to cover it! And I’ve been known to play “Lost Highway”.
Cher: Nothing wrong with Johnny Cash, find me the most hardcore headbanger on the planet and I guarantee they will still know the words to “Folsom Prison Blues”.
Bette: That song goes hard as hell. A chill comes over you every time you hear “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”. It’s like gangsta rap for geriatrics.
Cher: So tell us about your live shows. I know you and I have shared the stage a time or two. But for our readers, what are you like when you get up there?
Bette: I really internalized the idea I read in this book (the name escapes me); I read in the early L.A. punk scene, punk broke down the barrier between the audience and the performer. I love to hop off the stage and go into the audience sing at/with the people; really feel their energy and let them feel mine. I also definitely let go of the reins a little bit and let myself be who I really am, freak flags were flown.
Cher: I definitely dig that, it’s why I like what we do with TLT (Transylvanian Lip Treatment) — we get right in the crowd’s faces, sometimes sitting right on their laps.
Bette: Hahahaha! Cher I miss seeing you do your show. We should do a dual event sometime with other equally raw diamonds.
Cher: Oh man, that would be hip! Do some sort of all-day Indianapolis Freak Power Festival and have poets, singers, drag queens, whatever people wanna do on stage.
Bette: Yes Cher! I wanna do that so bad, like a real underground fest!
Cher: Well maybe once this pandemic shit cools down; we can talk to Dale over at the Irving Theater and book it. Shit, maybe even get some out of state acts to come in on the fun.
Bette: Ahhhhhhhh that’s such a good idea! This pandemic is a big stagnant pool of water and all I want is some flow. I’m sure some beautiful weirdos from abroad would love to join.
Cher: So let’s get heavy for a minute, I remember in the review of your album, it mentioned how your vision of queer politics is different from the assimilationist, every-one-act-like-the-straights that the major LGBT groups seem to be pushing.
Bette: Well, yes. I want everyone to be wholly and entirely themselves, even when that doesn’t fit into society’s pretty little niches and boxes. Everyone is so puritanical nowadays and it makes me sick. I am me. I am Bette. I’m too much for some people and that’s okay. I’m gonna rattle some cages and compose a sonata out of it.
Cher: I can dig that. Your next album will feature a classical composition called “Guitar Sonata No. 1 Suck It HRC in D Minor”.
Bette: Actually its D Major ‘cause I’m trying to carry that big D energy, even if I’m not too fond of having one in the first place. Speaking of which, I just recorded the 8th song for my second album today.
Cher: I was going to ask if you had a follow-up album already in the works.
Bette: My work on writing and recording is so compulsive; like a line just pops up all shiny in my head when I’m in the shower or I sing a little tune at work then I have to sneak to the back and type something up.
Cher: It’s like Kerouac’s spontaneous poetry; “first thought, best thought.”
Bette: Exactly, there isn’t much revision when it comes to my art. If I fuck up there’s always the next song.
Cher: It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, the essential rawness of your work.
Bette: It’s like every time you play a song that’s what it is in that moment. A recording of a song is like that too. It’s just one expression of an idea.
Cher: Well, I don’t want you to give too much away, but what can people expect with this new album?
Bette: The cover is going to be leaked nudes from my OnlyFans. Hahahaha! Well I got better at production and there may even be a couple songs with a more “full band” sound.
Cher: Do you have a time-table for release yet?
Bette: Ummmmm I’m almost done with it. Early next year seems fair. I’m going to intentionally miss the Christmas deadline for anti-marketing purposes.
Cher: Always anti-capitalist, Bette. It’s one of the many reasons I love you. Well that and I think you’re sexy as fuck in a paisley shirt.
Bette: I love you too, Cher. [Bette immediately hits Amazon to cop more paisley.]
Cher: Anything else you wanna say to your burgeoning legion of fans out there reading Country Queer?
Bette: [Clears throat.] I will have sex with you for a pint of whiskey. That is a rather economical offer, consider it.