Interview: “Bye 2016, Hello Cliterati” – Ami Lawless and pals take scene by storm

Posted by Morgan Ywain Evans on Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 5:41 PM (PST)
band pics by Mary Henlin
band pics by Mary Henlin

“They texted me and I thought it would be whatever. I kind of put it on the backburner but when I listened to it I was like ,”holy shit! This band is an untapped bucket of awesomeness.”- Ami Lawless (on joining Cliterati)

Our final interview of 2016 seemed like it needed to be with someone who could give us some hope moving forward and punk/metal veteran Ami Lawless delivered. It was really enjoyable talking to Ami about this new project CLITERATI. Think a hyper meld of vital politi-punk, thrashing tempos and even a little Bolt Thrower influence down in the distorted trenches.

We have the scoop on the band’s upcoming plans with respected DIY label Tank Crimes (Ghoul, Connoisseur, etc.) and I also got to chat at length with the deep thinker but nonetheless fun and entertaining Lawless on topics ranging from yoga for punks to Ghost Ship to #NODAPL to Trump to the scene in Portland.

Thanks again to all our readers in 2016 and we hope you enjoy this last interview of the year for the site. May it take you forward with motivation to keep on fighting the good fight and banging your fucking head! We don’t have the luxury of taking out platforms for granted. It was never a good plan but especially as the world slides closer to the brink. Cliterati are doing their fair share right out the gate of inspiring and bringing the punk spirit to bang on your door.


.So you own a yoga studio?

Ami: I do. I own a yoga studio called Burning Spirits. It’s kind of the place where the queer punks, POC come. Kind of an “un-yoga” yoga studio. I bought a DJ set up. Joel from Toxic Holocaust is coming to DJ. Brooks Blackhawk from Atriarch and some other bands here. Just various people. They come in and play records and stuff. It’s geared towards people who might not be comfortable in a yoga studio, y’know?

.Yeah, yeah. And some of them probably have some of the most stuff to unload. Stress, trauma, whatever.

Ami: Absolutely. We are a sliding scale but also do donation based a couple times a week for Yoga Punx classes. If you can afford it cool but if not, that’s fine.

.That’s awesome. My friends do the Black Yoga East Coast stuff you might have heard of. It’s surprising to some people how well doom and drone can work with yoga.

Ami: Yeah, we have doom, stoner. All of our teachers are people who probably wouldn’t feel comfortable in a traditional teaching studio. We encourage all the freaks to come to us (laughing). An outlet to do their thing.

.It’s cool it is catching on in parts of the punk community.

Ami: Absolutely. Yoga Punx, our friends started it in SF and it is everywhere now. Southern California,
Berlin, Brazil, here.

.We have to try and take care of ourselves to. I saw someone tweeted today, I forget who said it that I
follow but they were saying ‘why is there still romanticism of starving artists anymore. You want to
suffer?’ Like, let’s succeed.

Ami: (laughing) that’s funny.

.But on your own terms, of course. There’s a lot of counter energy in the country of succeeding at any cost right now that is very unhealthy.

Ami: OMG, dude. I’m sure you heard what happened in Oakland. I’ve been in that warehouse. I grew up playing in those warehouses. I don’t know if you saw the documentary on the Ramen days. My band is interviewed it and I interviewed other bands in it. I was talking to the film maker the other day. I think it is time to dust that shit off and show it up here in Portland. Remind people that warehouse communities can be great but we get pushed out of the mainstream or don’t feel comfortable there. It’s been crazy. We’re doing benefits for the Ghost Ship victims. I knew two people. One was pronounced deceased and one has not yet but we know she is probably one of the unidentified.

.I’m sorry to hear that.

Ami: It’s just so shitty. Those are people we all knew. Everybody. It’s very surreal and heartbreaking.

.I was thinking about Burnt Ramen actually because I am from Woodstock so have known John The Baker a long time since before he went out there and he was the one who had told me first about the Burnt Ramen scene. I never got to go there but I was thinking how positive it seemed. But now after the Oakland fire at Ghost Ship it is sad to see people demonizing artists.

Ami: So, Burnt Ramen has been targeted. They were on the news twice yesterday. His name is Butts, if you can believe that. Cuz I think he’s an asshole. Mayor Butts name dropped not just Burnt Ramen but the address as well. By that afternoon the local affiliate was there filming and they did an online search and came up with different bands who filmed their videos there. They are being scrutinized right now. It’s the tip of the iceberg. So many warehouses in the Bay Area and it is such a real estate hotbed right now, a multi-trillion dollar industry. Of course developers want those big ass lots where warehouses are to knock them down and build high rise condos. Burnt Ramen is not the only one being scrutinized. It was in two newspapers and the local ABC Affiliate for the Bay Area, which is huge. People have always lived there and they have shows super down low. The guy who owns it Mikey Ramen, he owns the building. The city and fire department have been in there but the Mayor in the first interview I saw said they couldn’t get in there. That’s bullshit. I remember distinctly times people there said ,”Oh, I have to do this, this and this” because they knew it had to be up to inspection.

.So the mayor is trying to make places look bad now after Ghost Ship.

Ami: He doesn’t want to be holding the bag. “Oh, is this another Ghost Ship waiting to happen?”. It’s becoming another finger pointing thing in the Bay Area because there are so many warehouses. It’s much nicer to live in a community setting with multiple people, even if you are maybe putting creature comforts of lots of good electrical outlets at bay because you want to live in an art community and art space and have been priced out of other options. This is the tip. I think the next few months we are gonna keep hearing about “tragedy in the making” as a tool to get artists out.

.My best friend, The Mystical Sister she is a witch and lives in Berkeley. Which ha always been somewhat expensive but I am hearing even in
the last five years it is going up and up. Like, where do you go from up?

Ami: Dude, Morgan…I owned a house in San Francisco. An art gallery. I sold my house and was able to transfer my lease. Thankfully I had one of the good landlords of San Francisco. I was able to transfer it to another business without any rent increase. We got out deposit back. I moved out of there. It was too fucking expensive to have to work like a crazy maniac just to support yourself and have an “ok” quality of life. It’s shitty cuz I had been there since I was five and I just turned fifty. What are you gonna do? I love Portland. My wife is from here, from an old family. People say ,”Oh, it’s getting expensive.” I’m like ,”Pshhh. GO to the Bay Area. THAT’s expensive.”


.I heard it was just kinda starting there but not super bad yet. I was talking to Nathan from Witch Mountain about maybe moving there in a couple years and he said it was good to save up some money first.

Ami: Yeah. I mean, it just depends on what you’re used to. People who have been here long term and see people moving here from all over the place are likely feeling it. Portland is a great town. There is a great music and arts scene that reminds me of the Bay Area in the 80′s and 90′s. There is always another weirdo to meet. Whatever you are into. I love that.

.How did Cliterati get started? Obviously you’ve had different bands before.

Ami: Right. Randomly, for a quick minute I was in a doom, stoner metal band Bedrucken. Two of us moved to Portland and one to Chicago, so we knew it was over. We played two last shows. One in Oakland and one here. The guitar player saw me and recognized me from VOETSEK. So they started stalking me. People were saying ,”these people want your number about a band. Can I give it to them?” I kept saying no. I didn’t know who they were. Someone from Japan called me. A girl who was on tour here. She said she just landed and could we make it quick. I said,”you called me!” and she said ,”My friend wants your number.” And I was like ,”Is this about that band?!!” (laughing)

.They were trying hard!

Ami: Dude, they were trying hard. I’ve been kicked off Facebook for a year and a half, so they couldn’t figure out how to get ahold of me. She calls me and I was like ,”Are they any good?” and she said they were really good and I would love them. They texted me and I thought it would be whatever. I kind of put it on the backburner but when I listened to it I was like ,”holy shit! This band is an untapped bucket of awesomeness.”

So I wrote them back to meet me at punk rock karaoke on this night. If they all did karaoke I knew I would join, and they all did! They were all really cool. I told them if they did karaoke I knew they were down and if not then I wasn’t into it (laughing). And they are all really good musicians and it is cool. We hang out and go to practice and bullshit for an hour before we even get started.

.That’s important, to have the bonding.

Ami: Last show we played we still hung out in the morning to do breakfast/brunch.

.The EP is fantastic. It’s a nice surprise.

Ami: We were the first band that recorded there. It was kind of wherever we could get in. They could get us in but were their trial run. They were still setting the studio up. But the magic was there. The guy who recorded it Andrew Grosse was amazing (Caravan Studios in PDX). I’ve recorded a lot of shit over the years and this guy did cool shit like suspending microphones as I am singing into a main mic, to get the 2x vocals. Which came out really cool. He’s full of all kinds of cool ideas. Jode DeLara mastered it. And the studio is close to my house AND yoga studio! I made everyone breakfast and brought it in! Those guys are awesome. You’ll be the first to know…we are gonna release that demo as a 7″ and Scotty asked us if we would do a full length also for TANK CRIMES, so you are the first person I’ve told outside the band, so enjoy it with us.

.Awesome, thanks for the scoop.

Ami: I texted Scotty and was like ,”Can I tell Morgan?” and he said ,”yeah! Tell him whatever you want.” (laughing)

.(laughing) cool.

Ami: We’ve been writing like maniacs. The EP is ten minutes long. When we play live we have four more songs and a cover, plus other songs we don’t yet play live. So, there is a lot for the LP. A few that aren’t finished. As soon as we put the EP out online and got a lot of streams Scotty was into it. He’s my bro. I would rather put it out with him than anyone else. Tank Crimes, they are so good.

 .They really care and put the effort in.

Ami: It’s all done by our friends. They all know each other and came up together in the Bay Area, so there is trust and good energy. Y’know what I mean? Why would I want to work with another label before him? It’s our community? Punks, DIY to the 10th power. We are all doing it together. I’m stoked.


.It’s cool to see how many people are responding to your EP!

Ami: Yeah! We’re just this little band practicing out of a basement in Portland. We’ve played 5 shows but played to probably 15-16 hundred people in those five shows. Totally awesome. In the Bay Area you hustle for shows and pay house parties. Probably competition of venues and so many fucking bands. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great music scene. You are looking at a region with so many bands. Everyone is a drummer or in three bands, and they are all good. Portland has a great scene also but it is a lot smaller. And we have been lucky. Bands coming through already know us. Ghoul requested to have us on a show last weekend. Before that Choking Victim’s booker knew us and asked if we wanted to play. We were like ,”Fuck yeah”! It was 700 people! Not a bad show to open for a band with just a few shows. Our first show was with Juicy Karkass. Are you familiar?

.I don’t know Juicy Karkass. I saw Choking Victim like 20 something years ago at C-Squat, which was sick.

Ami: Oh wow. Awesome. Juicy Karkass is a punk rapper. Check out “Punch ‘Em In The Dick”. That’s the internet favorite right now. He’s funny and articulate, with lyrics that will make you think later. We did a split 7″ together in the 90′s. I put out one of his records. We did a show with him and a folky, train hopper jug band. So we have got on a lot of great shows from friends asking us on them. We’ve turned down more shows than we’ve played. So that is lucky.

.I wanted to ask about your lyrics on here. I like that each song is fast but you fit a lot of words in
each song.

Ami: I like to repeat a lot of shit, cuz I can’t fit as many words in. I remember reading some book about pop and how they repeat lyrics to stick them in minds. People hum it later. Oh. I didn’t know I was doing that. That’s just how it turns out for me. So, thanks. Yeah, some of those songs are really fast and it’s like ,”Fuck”! “Dude, really?”

.Even “Virtue” slides by, but you are saying some tongue twisters in there (and talking about slut shaming,

Ami: That shit was the hardest to record. I have some 25cent words in there.

.And screaming your head off.

Ami: That just happens naturally. Big words, getting them out…all that shit, I’d never heard me singing
it. I’d only done it in practice. I hadn’t heard myself sing a lot of it. Some of the songs changed as I
couldn’t fit everything or words didn’t fit the way I heard them in my head. So I changed it around in the
studio. After we recorded that I changed it to be the way I will sing it live.

.Hey, you managed to get “monogamous mongering” in there, which is an impressive mouthful. (laughing)


.That’s some Eminem shit.

Ami: (laughing) Eminem! Ha, probably never happen again. “Make America Hate Again” has some phrases too. It’s different than some other bands where I was just kind of barking shit.

.If you miss it live no one knows.

Ami: The first time Scotty and I went to Japan I thought no one would know the lyrics and three songs in I realized ,”Holy shit! These people know all the words.” (laughing) The fuckers had read all the lyrics! Now I had to be spot on! Turmoil for me (laughing).

.I was just reading about the Fossil Fuel crony tapped for the EPA under Trump, so your record is some nice counter energy to the insanity.

Ami: Dude, I read that too. Are you fucking kidding me? They gave this kid the keys to the candy store. I almost think Trump is selling positions off to whoever wants a position. All the people in position are not the people who should be in them.

.Yeah, like literal opposite. The worst person for every one, literally.

Ami: I just read a blurb about him regulating his own industry. Yeah, right? We have a song about the oil
industry. I worked in it and and am also Native American. So the #NODAPL hit close to home.

.Yeah, John the Baker said to ask you about Dakota Access Pipeline.

Ami: Punks united against #DAPL for sure. I met John down the street from Burnt Ramen as a health and safety inspector at a refinery. I was the person who could shut jobs down. If they weren’t working under code. I worked there a few years and they were looking for firefighters to send to school in Texas. Schooling and working twelve hours a day but they paid everything and the per diems were crazy. I don’t need $35-50 a day for meals. I just don’t. Drinkin’ money, baby! You’re exhausted because they are helicoptering you out of oil rigs all day. And they wanted POC, any marginalized they could show on paper. I became a firefighter for a few years but became really disillusioned with the whole industry. Anytime I would get hurt or exposed to something, you have no medical benefits. I was paid well but no benefits. Of course if it was on the job the cover it but if you are nauseous hours after leaving or exposed to dust, it is on you. The money was tantalizing but I got out and became a social worker. Since then I have worked for myself. The oil industry is more than pulling up and getting gas in your car. This is the first time withStanding Rock some people have seen all the other shit, politics that goes on.

.Real estate, zoning, everything.

Ami: Going on people’s land that has been treatied to them. It’s kind of an evil entity in my eyes. Re route that shit. That’s not your land. It shouldn’t even be a question. I hope it isn’t a diversion and they will plow through once everyone isn’t looking. It’s so sketchy. Obama is so close to the end of his term, so maybe if they drag it out Trump won’t care about it if he isn’t making money and is distracted, I don’t know.

.I’m wondering if things will get so bad under Trump that they will just scapegoat immigrants and Dems

Ami: That’s what they ran on. Smokescreen it. He wants to disenfranchise people. But there also were people who do feel the Dems count on People of Color and Immigrants votes but haven’t done much for them. There were states she didn’t even go to. She figured he was such a nutjob. And he won.

.Well, the electoral.

Ami: Yeah, why can’t it be one vote/one person?

.I hope whatever happens next we all ride it out together.

Ami: I have noticed people coming together. Or this thing with Ghost Ship. We lost so many people doing so much interesting stuff in one swoop, in one night. But Donald Trump gets to live another day? Where is the God Damn fairness in that?! Everyone has seen shows in some place like that. It’s very tragic and shitty and we have to try to not get pushed out further to the fringes.

.Yeah, cuz they also know that is where some of the strongest resistance is gonna come from. So you take away places to organize.

Ami: How do we not know each other, Morgan? (both laughing) We’re on the same page! But yeah, having good conversations and expanding the cycle of creativity and information is important.

.Which you are doing with your record and a good attitude.

Ami: If you’re a punk you are in it for life. That’s how I feel.


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