by Frank Mullen
The next time you notice that the kid behind the counter of your favorite fast-food restaurant has his tongue, eyebrow, or nose pierced, thank Gen Vincent. Her band, the Genitorturers, has been spreading the gospel of body modification and "alternative lifestyles" (i.e. kinky sex) for over ten years, and are one of the earliest inspirations for the current rise of body-piercing as a fashion statement.
all photos by Frank Mullen
But there's more to it than that. While some piercees may just be following the latest hip trend (what's next, coolness through amputation?), the Genitorturers' music and performances are an extension of their lifestyle and beliefs. Do not think for a minute that they're a gimmick or joke band. They've made the most of their shock appeal, garnering appearances on Hard Copy , Playboy Latenite , HBO's Real Sex , and Fox TV, but they don't do it just to shock.
Their live shows offer a chance to experience the alternatives first-hand. Bondage apparatus, live piercing, and fetish performances are all part of the S&M lifestyle, and part of Gen's stage each night. A loyal crew of volunteers tour with the band to take part in the rituals, but participants are also taken from the crowd -- on any given night you could speak up and be pierced or punished, if you think you deserve it. Sometimes worshipful, sometimes penitent, always enthusiastic (to say the least), the audience is always willing to go to great lengths to please their Mistress of Ceremonies, Gen.
Musically, they've evolved from a fairly raw black metal band to a group of tightly professional performers, playing a more sophisticated blend of goth and metal. They've played all over the world at venues ranging from dingy nightclubs to rock festivals. Their latest CD, Sin City , is on Cleopatra Records, and they like to stay busy. Other projects include Gen's "Society of Genitorture" annual fetish ball, a video, an upcoming remix record (scheduled for October release), and a planned record of new songs.
Gen -- the vocalist, founder and driving force behind the band -- spoke with Ink 19 before leaving on a two-month US tour. There are some changes in store for the band -- they are debuting a new stage show and testing new material, but even if they weren't, there are always plenty of surprises...
How did you decide to start the Genitorturers?
Gen Vincent : Well, originally the band was something that was a fun thing, actually more like a cathartic ritual-type outlet for me while I was in college. It's gone through a lot of different phases -- when we started out, we were kind of like a three-piece punk rock band. I played bass and sang, and then it evolved into a heavier band, then we started bringing in more of the theatrical elements. The interesting thing is that from day one, we were "the Genitorturers," and the focus was on trying to marry the two elements -- the visual aspects and the sound. That was always very important to me, and probably only today am I starting to realize the things that I first thought about, because it's taken a while to really bring this vision to life.
Have you been working toward a specific goal all this time, or just going with the flow?
Well, there's always been a specific goal in mind, and there's always been a specific thing that I've been working toward.One of the things that I've been wanting to do for six or seven years is to incorporate some kind of other visual media into the show, and right now we are getting ready to realize that, to incorporate some video elements, and some different types of visual elements into the show along with the stage action. I think from the get-go, I was trying totake something even beyond what Alice Cooper did, in the sense ofpresentinga concept and a storyline, almost in a rock opera sense. Like a play, in that I really want to translate a story to the audience.
Sort of like the Sin City video?
Yeah, in the sense that when we started off we were presenting smaller fragments, and bringing certain songs to life. Now, what we're trying to do is make more of a cohesive pattern within the set, so that it really takes you somewhere, takes you on a journey from start to finish. Kind of like we tried to do with "Sin City."
I never made any connection between your band and Alice Cooper, because I always thought of him as pure theater, whereas you guys seem more committed to your show, and it's not just a gimmick.
I think in the '90s, the bottom line is that we are merging reality with theater, and that is something that kind of has a new twist to it. It's not just strict theater, we're involving passion and sexuality and things that are very real, not just fantasy.
Why do you think this hits people so much? I see people at your shows that are obviously into the lifestyle, but there are a lot of "tourists" and curious mainstream folks, too. It definitely seems to touch a lot of different types of people.
It really does. The band is different [from most bands] in that we have a very diverse audience. I think that's because of a number of things. The one thing you hit on was the lifestyle thing -- for many people, we do represent a lifestyle choice, in that people who are into the fetish scene -- they live it. We live it.
Secondly, we are a band, and music touches people in very intimate ways, as well. You can bring about a lot of passion from someone through your music. I think that our music audience is extremely diverse as well, because we have people that listen to punk, metal, industrial, alternative -- we have a lot of diversity there as well, because we don't necessarily fit into just one genre. We've always had these different elements and different styles of music in what we do.
Could you talk about personnel changes and where you are now? You're quite a bit different than a three-piece punk band these days.
Yeah, the music obviously is a reflection of who you're playing with. I was writing a good bulk of the music when we first started, and my influences were more from a hardcore punk background, so the music really expressed that. It was more raw. Also, my level of musicianship and my bass playing -- I grew up listening to Black Flag and Minor Threat, so that's kind of where I was coming from. As I started bringing different musicians in to the band, then obviously their styles influenced what we do.
Where we're at now is that we have a really good mix. I have my background which is very, very different from my bass player's background. He was in a death metal band and he has a really hard edge to his playing, very aggressive. However, his writing style is actually very pop, so that brings a very different element to it.
I never thought of Morbid Angel as a pop band.
Not at all, but it's interesting -- when you listen to people's music, that was one element of who he is. He is a very, very diverse musician. He listens to a lot of different stuff and he writes in a very diverse manner, and I think it's really brought a lot to the band in terms of the writing.
Well, on the song "Sin City," I can definitely hear a pop approach.
Well, also in terms of how things are put together. I think that's one of the things that we do in terms of our arrangements -- we may have some pop arrangements, but then we bring in some very different subversive underground elements.
Some of the imagery and other things you're involved with kind of preclude exposure in MTV or mainstream outlets -- is that really a big problem, or do you not care?
Well, we're more concerned about us and what we are doing as artists. We really don't function in the music world in terms of thinking about the concerns of the "industry." We tend to write with our passions in mind, and our audience in mind, and the record is for our audience. I think that you can really get into trouble -- I can hear when a band doesn't put their passion into it, you can really hear a band going through the motions.
Do you personally have a lot of control over the band's image?
The image comes from within us, it's not something that is concocted or dreamt up by some A & R person. That's something that I can really see through, too, and kids see through that. The reason why I think we have such a cult following and a very devoted following is that it is real. Although there are minor things that may change over the years, you're still getting a real representation of who we are.
How did the AC/DC thing come about?
We had toured with one of the Cleopatra bands, Electric Hellfire Club, so I talked to Cleopatra, and that was the first thing we did with them. They invited us to be a part of that. The song that I chose, "Squealer," was a song that I really liked growing up. It was something that I thought was very erotic, and I knew that I could make it a Genitorturers song, and I think that with a woman singing to a woman it put in a different twist than the original version.
Were you already doing it for your record, or did you add it to Sin City because you had it finished?
We just added it to Sin City because we had it done, and also because it flowed with the story line, and that's one thing that was really important with Sin City . The purpose of that record is to give somebody a record that you sit down and you put it on and you listen to it with headphones from start to finish, not like, "here's a cool single and the rest of the stuff is filler." Every element and every song has a meaning and a reason for being in the place that it is, just like a puzzle. And "Squealer" was something that fit into that story line.
You seem to be back to "DIY" without the support of a larger label -- are you finding any problems, or is it more fun?
It's kind of interesting -- even when we were on IRS, we were a very self-sufficient unit. One of the things I've learned from bands like Danzig, and especially KMFDM, who we toured with, was the importance of being self-sufficient. You really have to have ahold of the reins in this business. I'm kind of a libertarian in the sense that I really believe in self-sufficiency, and for us that means we don't necessarily require some sort of huge label just to exist. We have done things on our own, and have done a lot of touring completely without any tour support, and we can thank our fans for that, because we have that support structure. So for me, it's not something that I've really relied on.
I read about a film you were involved with, Preaching to the Perverted -- can you tell me about that?
It's a movie by Stewart Urban, and he contacted us, letting us know that he was interested in seeing us. He obtained some videos and saw the band and wrote the Preaching to the Perverted character around me, around an American performance artist, taking the story of someone that does what I do, going over into Britain, against the culture that's going on right now, in terms of the very oppressive nature of law against freedom of sexual expression.
His reason for doing this was the Spanner case, which was a case where a couple of people were prosecuted for having consensual S&M sex in their home, as private adults. Basically, the law is saying you don't have a right to your own body or to do what you want in your own house. He wanted to make a cultural statement and he saw what we do here in this country, and he contacted me to star in the movie. It coincided with the recording of Sin City and some things that I was doing here so it didn't work out,but it's basically the story of an American performance artist that goes over to Britain and has this show and there's a lot of our show elements that you see in the movie that show up.
How about your Fetish Ball?
The Sin City Fetish Ball is something I do here in Tampa. The first year that we did it, we did the Society of Genitorture video and we recorded a lot of the music onto the video. It's kind of interesting that the music that is on the video is kind of like demo versions of the songs from Sin City , they're actually different versions of the songs.
So that's something you'll maintain and keep going?
Yes. It's an event that we look forward to. It's kind of fun for us, too, because it's a little more freeform -- there are a lot of fans of the band, a lot of different performers who may not be able to tour with the band for different reasons, but a lot of people come out for the Society event and put together different performances. And it's also been a way to try out different types of performance things before working them into the band.
Well, that's fun -- do they come to you beforehand, or do you not really know what's going to happen?
There's a lot more free flow of ideas, in the sense that people have the freedom to put together whatever type of performance they want. The problem with the band is that when you're choreographing something that has to fit within a specific time and go to a specific song, it's a lot more rigid and its a lot more difficult. It's kind of fun in that the performances we do with the Society of Genitorture are very freeform.
You have no end of volunteers for the show, but I've also seen you just pull people out of the crowd.
I like to maintain that element of interaction with the audience, and I like to maintain a certain element of spontaneity, because while we do have a show that has a certain pattern to it, and there is a story line, I like to incorporate people into that story line. That's a lot of fun for me, and it makes it kind of new and fresh every night for us, too, to have different people and incorporate the audience. It's kind of a wild card, in the sense that you've got an unknown element.
You've been touring behind Sin City for over a year, what's next?
We've got a new tour, the Terrorvision tour, and its going to have a little bit different theme to it. It's going to have a very different look to it. We're adding some new music to the set, too.
You mentioned video stuff and some different visuals.
Yeah, we're trying to bring the story to life in a different way, and we're making a transition now into what's going to be our new record. We do have a remix record that's gonna come out on Cleopatra in October, and it's got some of the songs from Sin City redone by different people.
Who are you working with with that?
I'm not sure if I can mention actual names without getting in trouble. It's going to have some new material on it as well. And also, it's going to kind of be a lead-in to our next record, and there will be some clues to the story that's coming up in our next record. A lot of the material is written, and we're just waiting to let the cat out of the bag when we can.
What difference do you find between the audiences and the cultures when you play overseas? You mentioned the conservative attitudes, and lack of sexual freedom, but my impression would have been the opposite.
That's the interesting thing -- you really would think that. All I can say is that you start to really understand some freedoms that we have in this country that they don't have in other places. Every single culture has its set of taboos, and you find that those things may be slightly different in different cultures. Our society is set up to protect a lot of freedoms. They don't have a lot of those same things in place in different countries.
For instance, in Canada and the UK, our video is completely banned. If a video gets sent to a fan over there, they will call the person up and interrogate them. It's just ridiculous. Britain is very repressive when it comes to sexuality in odd ways. For instance, you can have a woman nude and you can show breasts in the newspaper or TV. However, if you even think about showing any type of erect penis anywhere in any magazine, forget it.It's extremely sexist, in my opinion.
It's very strange. For example, I was recently in Germany for a press tour, in Munich.Munich is a very conservative part of Germany, and you are not allowed to display any type of horror film or any types of horror props.I did an interview in a piercing shop, and in the back of the shop they had this secret room. And I'm thinking they're going to have really extreme fetish, you know, crazy urination films or something. I go back there and they've got like Halloween III videos.
Oh, the hard stuff!
Then they've got all these props that these guys built. And they had this really cool wedding cake that they built, and on the top of the wedding cake they had the little statues, and the groom had hacked off the bride's head and she was bleeding all over front of the cake. Now, he told me that if he were to put that in the front window of his store, he would be arrested. They also have severed arms and legs, just fake mind you, made out of foam, okay? Those things, if he were to hang them in his front window or allow anyone under a certain age to come into contact with them, he would be in jail.
Is that a reaction to the war?
Sure. That's why I say different cultures have different taboos, and you rally start to feel that and recognize that. Especially in Germany and some of these places, it's funny -- you can go to a store and find a bestiality film, but they've censored Rambo for violence. It's just really strange.
So, the challenge for us is when we go into different places doing our show -- when we go to Holland, you know, anything goes. We have penetration onstage, we have fisting, urination -- it doesn't matter. If you go into Germany, we could have penetration onstage, but if someone were to be whipped, that could be considered as violence and abusive and you could go to jail.
What we've always done is we work with club owners. We sit down wherever we are, whether we're here in America or over there, and we figure out what type of show the club wants.
It seems like there's always been an underground, whether it's with Bettie Page or bondage loop films, through Bizarre magazine and things like that. Why do you think people are drawn to these things?
I think at different times in history, different elements have been taboo and have been forced underground, and there are always going to be people that seek that out .
Is it just because it's taboo, or are people drawn to it specifically?
No, I think it's just part of who we are. I think that in terms of freely expressing your sexuality, it's just that at different times in history that has either been OK or not OK in different ways. Sometimes in the past it's been tied to religion, and sometimes it has not. It's been forbidden by religion.
When you're doing piercings onstage for yourself or for other people, is it more for the show or do you still get a lot out of it?
There's a lot of different functions that it provides. I see it at times as almost a shamanistic act, like the ball dance and some of the things that we do, leading the audience through, bringing them into that trance state with us. There are times when I have done piercings on myself and completely, for lack of a better word, left my body, and that's really elevated my performance. It puts it on a whole different plane, you're kind of on autopilot when you get into a trance state. It really ties into yoga and meditation.
So it's spiritual and mental.
As for the decorative aspect, do you get the same rush from your tattoos? The piercing are obviously decorative, as well.
For me, the decorative aspect is something that is not really at the forefront of why I do what I do. It's more the act, and I don't want to say I've outgrown the decorative outlet, but it's just really taken on a different character in the sense that what I do is more spiritual and is more personal, and that's something that hasn't changed at all. Do I feel the need to have a lot decorative piercings? Not really.
I saw some kid in one of these shops in Atlanta getting his tongue pierced on mom's Visa card. Do you appreciate that more people are exposed to something like that, or do you look down on people that seem to be jumping on the bandwagon?
I think that anytime anyone does anything, and they have reasons for doing what they do, that there can be hidden benefits to doing something, even if it's done for the wrong reasons. Sometimes you can learn more about yourself, and I think if it's creating more self-awareness (and I think that it can do that), then that can be a positive things.
It might surprise him?
Well, if he doesn't take care of it, his tongue is going to swell up the size of a huge sock in his mouth and he won't be able to talk and he's going to have an awareness of what he did and maybe caring for the piercing and thinking about that. If anything, sometimes it can spark a sense of awareness or an understanding of something that was not previously known, even if you did it because your friend did it.
I guess some people are doing it purposefully and thoughtfully, and some are doing it because they like Perry Farrell or whatever.
But then they discover something. One thing you realize is that there are a lot of unconscious people in society, people that walk around in this kind of fugue state, I call it, and you can only hope the light will turn on at some point. For some people that light turns on earlier than others. Some people that light may not turn on until they're seventy.
Why do you think you're more self-aware?
I think a lot of it had to do with my parents, and the fact that I had parents that were very supportive of creativity, allowed me to express myself, allowed me to explore things, and develop kind of a curious nature and question things, and didn't shut me down. It's sad, I see parents all the time that shut their kids down. Their kids may have a question about something or may be exhibiting a certain kind of behavior and their reaction to that behavior or to that question is what kills that spark. I think I was lucky to have parents that fostered that in me. Also, I think some of that had to do with where I grew up -- I grew up in New Mexico, and culturally speaking and socially speaking, there's a different acceptability towards artisticness and creativity.
Were you aware of rituals like the sundance out there, or did you not run across that stuff?
There are many different types of Indians in New Mexico and Arizona. My parents would go to a lot of the festivals, and we had a lot of close friends that were members of different tribes, so I got to see a lot of different cultures and realize that there's not just one way to do something, there's not just one form of spirituality. I think maybe that helped me to look beyond just what was presented and to dig deeper and to maybe seek out some things.
Have you done a sweat lodge ritual?
Did you have the same kind of experience as through your piercing?
Yeah, just like there's many roads to enlightenment, there's many roads to going to that next level, and that's one of the things I've found, whether your sexuality involves body modification -- whatever it is, when you undergo a trial of some sort, I think you will gain something.
Are you consciously trying to enlighten people, or is that just a side benefit?
I think there are some people that will be consciously enlightened, but I think there are a lot of people that are subconsciously enlightened by what we do.
Is it something that you're consciously trying to do, though? Are you trying to wake people up?
Of course. With the show, with the music, with everything, and I realize it's going to touch people in different ways. That's why I don't get too discouraged if someone comes to the show and is like "Oh, the Genitorturers, we're going to see some tits!" You know? There's that kind of mentality, then there's the people who "get it," who understand the music, who understand the passion behind it. But you know, I've seen the transformation in some people that may have originally come and said "let's go see some tits," and walked away feeling something, and that's important.
You have a lot more contact with your fans then a lot of bands, that's got to influence your music some when you recognize that your message is or is mot getting across. You get an immediate response, not just applause but from talking to people after the shows.
That comes from my punk rock roots, in the sense that growing up, I would go see bands, and you would meet the bands and talk to them, there wasn't this separation. That's just something that I've always held onto.
For instance, Black Flag -- I saw that band up in Vancouver when I was up at my grandma's for the summer one time. My neighbor took me, and I saw them with Ron Reyes. It was funny, because that's when I met Chuck Biscuits, DOA played and I think he was playing with DOA at the time, and he was like my same age, this little kid. I remember looking at each other and going, "Wow." I just thought that was so cool that he was my age and playing in this band.
As a band gets bigger or as you try to bring in more production and really make the show grander, it's one of the things that you really struggle with -- the loss of your personal connection of being in a sweaty club right in someone's face, versus being on a big stage with a barricade with people sitting down or something. That would be a nightmare for me. I don't know what I would do if the band got the size of Manson or something, where you're playing these places where people are sitting. That just freaks me out.
It's kind of weird, you want your music to touch a lot of people, you want to be successful, but I just don't think I really want people talking about what I ate for breakfast. I just don't want a whole message board or multiple web sites dedicated to who I'm screwing or what my shoe size is. That gets a little invasive. I don't know how you deal with that.
We're at a very comfortable level. We're at a level where people come to the shows, and people are excited and people buy the record and jump around and love the songs and the music and have fun, but it's not out of control.
It's really hard, though, because this record isn't on a big label, so you don't have the push to get the press to come see the new show -- people think you're still doing the same thing that you were five or six years ago, like, "Oh, I've already seen that." No, you haven't. It's different. And it's getting ready to get even more different.