Hether Fortune (neé Hether Fedewa) has probably been in your favorite Bay Area rock act at some point or another, whether it be your affinity for Blasted Canyons, Bare Wires, or Hunx & Hix Punx, Fortune has punched her time card with each one of them, to say nothing about her time with Wax Idols. In his 2013 review of Wax Idols’ sophomore set Discipline & Desire, he admired Fortune’s unique attitude and bravery for evolving from snotty garage rock kid to a post-punk craftsman, noting that debut album “No Future was Hether Fortune sounding angry. Discipline & Desire, her follow-up on Slumberland Records, is the sound of Fortune digger deeper into the root causes of this anger. Remarkably, she’s turned a corner on the morbidly engaging Discipline & Desire and exposed that aforementioned trouble that was originally lurking around the corner. Discipline & Desire may be the title of the record, but what’s heard throughout the record is an unabashed sense of desperation.”
For this year’s American Tragic, the band, which was initially a four-piece, is now down to just two members: Fortune and her dear friend, drummer Rachel Travers. Recorded almost entirely by herself with an assist by Mark Eitzel producer Monte Vallier, American Tragic grooves and pops like nothing else she’s done prior, full of indelible pop moments hidden under a veil of goth-friendly moodiness that actually adds depth to her sometimes-haunting lyrics. It’s never morbid for the sake of morbid however, as even with its more serious poses, one can hear how much fun Fortune is having in constructing her own sonic universe, like on opener “A Violent Trnasgression”, which sounds like if TV on the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” got remixed by VAST, or the great “Severely Yours”, which struts like Ani DiFranco doing a cover of the Cure (and yes, in that sentence you just met your daily quota of alt-rock namedropping).
To celebrate the release of American Tragic, Fortune sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, and in doing so revealed a profound appreciation for Lou Reed’s Transformer, the surprising tear-jerking that goes on in Real Housewives, and the two pieces of advice she received from Jimmy Page directly.
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
It doesn’t take much to make me cry. I cry during Real Housewives reunions, any commercial that has anything to do with rescuing children or animals, Simpsons episodes, etc. Most recently though, a poem called “ODE TO SILENCE” by Edna St. Vincent Millay brought me to tears. This was the stanza that did it:
“I tell you, you have done her body an ill,
You chatterers, you noisy crew!
She is not anywhere!
I sought her in deep Hell;
And through the world as well;
I thought of Heaven and I sought her there:
Above nor under ground
Is Silence to be found,”
The idea of chasing silence and peace of mind like a ghost is something I can relate to on an intensely personal level.
2. The fictional character most like you?
I am a fictional character.
3. The greatest album, ever?
This is actually an impossible question to answer and I think you know that! Lou Reed’s Transformer is perfect though, as far as I’m concerned. It was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, musically and socially, plus it’s just a shining example of incredible songwriting matched with impeccably subtle production (thanks to the always on point Bowie/Ronson team effort).
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Anything that can make me feel like I’m not on this planet is cool in my book.
5. Your ideal brain food?
All my brain really needs in order to work to its fullest potential is a little peace and quiet. My best ideas have occurred to me while meditating or taking a shower. There’s so much going on in there as it is; outside stimulation is typically a distraction.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Honoring my passion as an artist and following that path into adulthood is my proudest accomplishment, by far. When I was growing up, nobody thought I could do it. Everyone thought it was just a phase I was going through, that I would eventually give up and go to school to be a lawyer or something. There really wasn’t anyone in my corner as a young person saying, “Yes! Go for it! You should be an artist!” I don’t come from a background like that. I grew up relatively poor in the Midwest and the last thing anyone wanted me to do was “waste” my intellect on what is largely considered to be an unimportant endeavor in this society — that is, being an artist.
But I have felt called since I was a child to do what I’m doing and I never let anyone dissuade me from following my heart. As the years have gone on, most of those naysayers have been forced to acknowledge that this is my job and that I’m actually quite good at it, regardless of the fact that I haven’t achieved mainstream success. If I could meet my 13 year old self and tell her everything that I’ve done with my life so far, she would be so mind blown and hopeful for the future. That makes me proud.
7. You want to be remembered for …?
My work, my mind and my heart.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
This is one of those questions that I always blank on when asked, but later on I think of 50 names that I should’ve mentioned. I’m inspired by anybody who walks through life in a great jacket with their middle finger up. All the glam rock heroes, the black sheep in the family, jet boys/jet girls …
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I haven’t made it yet.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
If I tell you, they won’t be hidden anymore.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
I met Jimmy Page at a record store many years ago. We hit it off immediately, for whatever reason, and after talking for a while he said some things to me that I’ll never forget. 1) That I was “on the level” and to never let anyone tell me otherwise; and 2) That I need to play guitar every single day no matter what. I’ve followed Piece of Advice #1 to the T but there are some days that go by where I do not play guitar. Sorry, Jimmy!
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I borrowed an e-bow (a handheld string resonator for guitar) from my partner while I was working on American Tragic and it totally changed the game for me. Best fucking piece of guitar gear ever. It basically turns the guitar signal into a synth. Daniel Ash uses one all of the time and god knows I follow that man’s lead when it comes to production technique and guitar tone choices.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
Wearing a one of a kind item that a friend made for me is the absolute best feeling in the world. It makes me feel proud and safe, cloaked by the love and support of someone I love and support.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I would be interested in having a sit-down with Hitler before he came into power to see if I could get him under hypnosis and convince him that basically every thought he will have in the foreseeable future is a very, very bad idea [and] that he should walk away from politics forever and just be a painter or something. He was always into occult shit so I feel it would be relatively easy to convince him that I am some all-powerful wizard who is going to guide him to the location of the Holy Grail or something in order to get him to agree to the hypnosis session. If the hypnosis doesn’t work, I’ll just give him a good kick to the nuts.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Get me off of this planet and into the distant future because nothing that’s happened previously is worth revisiting, clearly, as it’s all led us to where we are now. Hell.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
A combination of the three.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
If you’d asked me this question two years ago my answer would’ve been “Everything in excess always!” but I’ve had to give up a lot of vices due to health concerns and am currently trying to quit smoking. Life is stupid. The only essential is that you don’t die.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I like a little bit of both. I’m not good with these extreme choices you are giving me! I’m not a one-dimensional person, goddamnit.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m preparing for our upcoming U.S. tour. That’s really all I’m focused on right now. I just want to get out there and do this album justice. Rachel, Monte and I worked really hard on it and I am very proud of these songs and the form my current live band is in.