Joan Jett looks back on her successful career, from her early band The Runaways, to her acting roles to her big solo hits. She talks about some of the bigger misconceptions about her and why she thinks The Runaways were threatening to people when they first burst on the scene in the late '70s. She also talks about her new acoustic album, Changeup.
LYNDSEY PARKER: So you just released your first ever acoustic album, "Changeup." It's acoustic versions of your classic songs. So I'm going to start with the obvious question of why you decided to revisit your material in this way.
JOAN JETT: This past year-- last year-- and this year, is the 40th anniversary of both "Bad Reputation" and "I Love Rock and Roll" albums. [INAUDIBLE] in a way to try to, you know, give fans some extra material, some things to listen to that might be interesting and different. We thought, why don't we try and record a few songs to give to the fans?
And once we got in the studio and started recording stuff, we just kind of kept going. And we recorded pretty much everything that we could do live. And it sounded great. We did the hits, too. But we didn't necessarily want to revisit that, specifically, on this new album.
LYNDSEY PARKER: What is, like, the one song you would say is the most transformed in that way, when you do it stripped down?
JOAN JETT: "Victim of Circumstance," only because it's an-- if you know the melody, it's an obvious change. Right away, it hits you when the melody starts that it's different. To me, that's dramatic. But you know, something like "Cherry Bomb," it's really fun and different. And I love the way it came out. It was just really different because I like to stay in a pattern that I know and I'm familiar with. So this is kind of really stepping into the unknown for me and the band. But we're having a great time.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Well, you're talking about anniversaries. The 35th anniversary of "Light of Day--"
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LYNDSEY PARKER: The song from "Light of Day" is the last song on this album. You don't seem like someone who's intimidated by much in life, Joan. But I do wonder if it was a daunting experience. It was your first acting role, I believe-- first at least lead acting role. It's Paul Schrader. It's a Bruce Springsteen song. It's Gena Rowlands. It's Michael J. Fox at the absolute height of his post- "Back to the Future" fame. And you pretty much have to carry the film. Was this a daunting experience for you?
JOAN JETT: It wasn't because, I guess, I wasn't thinking about all those things that you just named. I was aware of it. And yeah, it could have really been daunting because I can get very anxiety-ridden. You have to figure out a way, if you're an entertainer-- or figure out how to control it because it's tough.
Apparently a lot of performers have anxiety issues, which is really weird. So like-- so why would you choose these professions where you are almost inducing anxiety every day? I don't know what that is-- if that's, like, human nature, to work on your issues. You know? And you kind of find things to conquer, because you'll always have another chance to be anxiety-ridden and get a hold of it.
LYNDSEY PARKER: It seems like nothing intimidates you. And you said you do have issues with anxiety, because I think people would be very surprised. You have this very tough, steely, bad-ass image. Like what do you-- is that image kind of, like, something you do to protect yourself, I guess? You know?
JOAN JETT: Exactly. It is. I think it's armor. It's something that, you know, early on I probably just, sort of, felt safer. I'm not saying that I can't be tough and I can't be strong. I am those things. But I think people also-- they are fearful. And I don't want people to be afraid that I'm mean. That's not it. I just don't want to be taken advantage of as a woman or as a person at a younger age, when I couldn't really put a finger on what I was doing.
And I realize now, as I look back and reflect on it even now, that it is sort of an armorer and a protection against being hurt, having people get too close, being intimate. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It was just the only way, I guess, I could feel safe.
But then, it's weird because then it's tough to let those walls down, as well. Because you have good reason not to trust. There's good reason to have all those ideas about how people can treat you, because that's all around as well. So you just have to live and learn as part of it. And you know, if you're a naive, trusting person, which I tend to be, you got to watch your ass.
LYNDSEY PARKER: What made you feel like you needed to put up that armor, so to speak? Did you get burned a lot in the industry?
JOAN JETT: No. I don't think it was anything specific. I think it was preemptive.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Mm.
JOAN JETT: You know what I mean?
LYNDSEY PARKER: Mm-hmm.
JOAN JETT: It was preemptive. I knew when we started The Runaways, we were like in rehearsal to go on the road for the first time. You could just feel that there was going to be stuff coming your way. I couldn't put my finger on it. You could feel that there was this threat in the air. People felt threatened. You know? And I didn't really get it. You know? Because it's just-- we're just girls playing rock and roll. We're not hurting people. So I didn't really get what was so threatening initially.
But you know, now, it's like just girls playing rock and roll-- rock and roll is sexual by its nature. So girls singing about it is them owning it. And people, they're intimidated to hear teenage girls think about sex. Well, it's a reality. So you can either acknowledge it or hide from it. And I think we chose to acknowledge it and just express it in our own way. And we did the best we could.
We took [BLEEP] from feminists for using our sexuality. And it's like, but shouldn't we be able to? If Mick Jagger can, why can't we? So you're saying we have to cut off a really big part of who you are just to satisfy what? I don't know. I don't know what you're trying to say here. You know? I mean, you're not-- I don't know who wins with that.
You just have to be careful all the time, and vigilant all the time. And that can get tiring. So I think part of it was preemptive. And part of it is genuine. It's real. It feels like who I am. So it's not an act. It's who I am. But it's like an extension. I bring those characters out of myself, so they're stronger. And I just try to learn to not be in my mind so much.
LYNDSEY PARKER: You've definitely had an image that-- it's very clear you've called the shots and taken control of-- and it's a certain form of sexuality that isn't, maybe, the typical image for the male gaze. But did you ever feel pressure in the industry-- like, wear this thing. Do this sexy video-- that wasn't on your own terms? And how did you deal with that?
JOAN JETT: I didn't feel any pressure from within our own world. I'm sure, you know, there were a lot of record companies and things like that, that wanted to see us in different, sort of, softer, girlier kind of image. And I think, even if you look at the stuff that happened when we went to Japan. There was a book-- a little booklet that came out-- that was put out, that we didn't know, the rest of the band, we didn't know it was happening.
Cherie did a photo shoot with all these, looked like, soft-core porny kind of things-- posed shots. It just totally freaked us out because we didn't know that was going on. And it seemed know very calculated. And it was exactly the opposite of what we were trying to do. Because you know, the whole corset thing was one song. It was "Cherry Bomb." It wasn't what The Runaways were all the time. And that sort of got stamped as our look.
We were coming out of, I guess, a very theatrical time. You know, we kind of dug the British glitter stuff-- at least me and Cherie. And also, I was coming out of, sort of, wanting to be an actor-- coming out of loving cabaret and stuff like that. The sort of campiness, over-the-top make-up, over-the-top dress was par for the course in the '70s.
Same time, Queen came out-- did "Bohemian Rhapsody." I remember, we even tried to do a song similar to that, that we called "Dead End Justice." And the Cherie was-- had blood packets in her shirt. And it was like-- it's about girls escaping juvenile hall, breaking out of jail.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Mm-hmm.
JOAN JETT: And on stage, you know, we act it all out. You'd have to listen to the song to hear it. And in it, like, Cherie escapes. And Lita's the police. And she shoots her with her guitar, doing riffs. And Cherie jumps and she-- blood comes out of her mouth. And this was like every night, part of the show. We didn't walk around with blood.
So people definitely took advantage of the narrative of The Runaways. So I think we were too naive or young to know that that was what was going on, and the press was taking control of your narrative, and how to sort of combat that.
LYNDSEY PARKER: But you obviously took control of your narrative. And I think it's interesting that, like I said, there's this idea that you're, like, tough and bad-ass. Which you are, but this "Changeup" album shows a softer side. What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about you, in general?
JOAN JETT: Not that I'm mean, just people are scared. You know? And I don't want to scare people. I want to scare you if you're supposed to be scared. You should be scared if you're doing the wrong thing. Don't do that. You know? I'm just saying, any wise guy. That to me, I think, is a misconception. I'm not mean. I'm not going to bite your head off. But that's nice. I get to meet people and allay their fears that I'm not so scary. And they're always so scared, and then they're not. And that's good.