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Escaping Big Brother
(VH1.com) By Marti Zimlin.

No one said fame is easy. Just ask Elastica's Justine Frischmann, who became the U.K.'s "It" girl after her band's debut topped the British charts in 1995 and the notoriously invasive British tabloids used her relationship with Blur's Damon Albarn for daily fodder. After a five-year hiatus/band implosion, rumors of excessive drug usage, and Frischmann questioning the underpinnings of fame and the music industry, Elastica are back with a new lineup and a heralded new album, The Menace. VH1.com's Marti Zimlin sat down with Justine Frischmann and filed this story.

When I finally meet up with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann at a coffee bar on London's trendy Portobello Road, I am surprised she's on time - let alone that she shows up at all. Especially in light of the interminable five years between Elastica's debut and their new album, The Menace.

Back then, Justine and company climbed the U.S. charts with punk-driven and danceable songs like "Stutter" and "Annie" from their self-titled debut and Justine was Britpop's reigning pop/punk princess. But when Elastica embarked on their first big U.S. tour, Lollapalooza, the whole shebang fell apart. Bassist Annie Holland left the band midway through the tour. Instead of packing it up and returning home, Justine recruited Sheila Chipperfield to fill Annie's vacant spot and finish the tour. Elastica were never the same. Meanwhile, the situation was exacerbated by Justine's relationship with live-in boyfriend Damon Albarn from Blur, rumors of drug addiction, and incessant arguing amongst band members that made its way into every tabloid and music rag in the biz.

But today it seems as if none of that ever happened. While Justine remains the rock goddess I had always imaged - she's dressed as if she just rolled out of bed in a denim jacket, jeans, T-shirt, and surprisingly a rather demure purse - she is friendly, hospitable, and genuinely concerned about my jet lag. After ordering lattes we sit outside and chat (just as the Clash's Mick Jones happens to stroll by). Justine is older (she turns 31 on September 16) and wiser - a byproduct of all the turmoil that once engulfed her. She seems resigned to the music industry's machinations and is extremely candid, but less rebellious than I imagined. She has but one request: that I refrain from asking questions relating to her personal life, past or present. This - especially after spending most of her twenties giving the finger to the NME's gossip page - is understandable.

VH1.com: So where have you been the past five years?
Justine Frischmann: Two years we spent touring. Then Annie [Holland] left the band. We got home, recruited a new bass player, and got Dave Bush involved. We did some demos, which I wasn't really happy with. Time went on and we spent more and more money in the studio and it just wasn't clicking between us. I started having serious doubts about whether success, money, and fame were making me happy on a more spiritual level. I just felt a bit homeless when I got back to England. I just didn't feel like I could relate to being in England. All my friends hadn't seen me for quite a while, and I know it's not supposed to affect people but it does.

I just had a lot to sort out, and basically for about a year it didn't seem like the band was going to continue. Then I bumped into Annie and she said that she really missed playing. By this point Donna [Matthews] and I were just so sick of each other.

Were Donna Matthews and you recording during this time?
No, we hadn't recorded for like six months. We hadn't seen each other.

But some of Donna's songs are on the new album?
Yeah, like three of them. None of my songs were working without Annie and I realized how bass-driven my songs were. I phoned up Paul Jones, who I had seen playing, and we booked a rehearsal and it was like "OK, f*ck it, there's nothing to lose, everyone thinks the band is over anyway. Let's just make a racket and have a good time."

I got such a buzz playing with Annie and Justin [Welsh] again. We decided to book Reading just to give ourselves a deadline and put an EP out of demos. I think that the EP f*cked it up big time here. The press really wanted to do a really big comeback and that wasn't what I was into.

Do you think that the press in the U.K. was expecting something similar to your first album?
The thing about the British press is that they want bands to come along and save the music business. They can't really understand if people aren't up for total success. There are so many journalists who work in the English music press who are frustrated musicians and who can't understand how you could not want to be huge. Our first album did a lot better than any of us expected. I had serious doubts about being huge. I am not scared of the work, I don't think I am work-shy, and I resented being called lazy 'cause I felt like there was a period of time where I was probably one of the hardest-working people on the planet. But I don't think I am very good at being driven by my ego, and I can't help feeling a lot of pleasure from being in a band. Being successful comes from stroking your own ego and it's just not really what I am into. I am looking for something more spiritual in my life.

Were there a lot of clashing egos in the band before the break?
No, actually I think it wasn't clashing egos, more of culture clashing. You often see in bands a couple of people have been brought up together and there's a sort of trust there. Where as us lot, we had only known each other a year and a half when we were on tour in America for like six weeks. The album had gone to No. 1 in England and it was such a quick thing for us and we didn't really know each other that well. I think that was 'cause we were young and we got increasingly isolated from each other. We were finding it harder and harder to communicate.

Do you think the British press has torn into the album a bit too much? I remember reading the reviews where they just panned the record, but the focus was more on your personal life than on the music.
Well, they were really f*cked off with us for taking five years to make a record and they just couldn't forgive us for it. I think that all the people who originally supported us felt like we should have been more grateful and that they had a lot to do with our success. I was actually pretty pleased with the reviews. There were like three real stinkers and then there was everyone else, who gave it pretty much a 9 or 10. The interesting thing was that everyone who reviewed the music seemed to like the music and all the bad press was very personal.

It's kind of weird for me because in America we have had much more of a chance for people to actually listen to the music and not to judge us on my personal life. It's kind of weird to think that in this country people know more about my personal life and like my music less for it. I don't want to think about that too much because it has to do with the way Britain is, and I think there has been a degree of anti-Semitism here toward me in the press, but that isn't really something that I want to go into.

How do you think The Menace will fare in America? The music scene has changed so much since your last album. Kids are wild for boy bands and Limp Bizkit. Do you think that Elastica could be the return of "real rock"?
I hope that people will hear the energy in what we are doing and hear that it's something a little bit different. I have high hopes. It's the same here. Everything has gone very pop here and I think that Elastica is a really good band and there are enough people who liked the first album who will give the second one a go hopefully.

What bands are you into at the moment?
Le Tigre are f*cking brilliant actually. I really like Clinic and Echoboy.

How did you get involved with the Fall's Mark E. Smith for The Menace?
I am a long-term Fall fan and Dave Bush was in the Fall. I kind of headhunted him. Mark was recording around the corner from where we were recording and Dave bumped into him in the pub and invited him over. I found him to be absolutely charming and very inspiring and supportive.

Are there any other rock heroes that you would like to work with?
I don't know really. I am always sort of amazed when my heroes like what we are doing. I never really expect it. So there are plenty of people who I would like to do stuff with, but I think it needs to be quite spontaneous. I am not the kind of person that could deal with the rejection of being told that someone isn't into working with us. So I don't think that I would ever really ask someone.

What is your general feeling toward the music business?
In a sentence? I feel jaded and hateful towards the music industry, but I don't feel jaded and hateful towards music. There's a big difference.

The past few singles Elastica have put out have been enhanced. How much input do you have in this process? And how do you feel about Napster and downloads?
The idea of getting rid of record companies is really cool. I like the idea of direct communication between bands and their audience. I also think that people should realize that bands aren't going to be able to survive with everyone downloading their CD for nothing. I am not Net literate, but we are involved with all our videos. My friend Mya did all the artwork for the album and the video, and my boyfriend did the last video and some of the artwork as well. It's been very cool. Very in-house like Santa Clause and his 10,000 gnomes working. A team effort.

About halfway through our interview, Elastica's newest addition, keyboardist/vocalist Mew arrives breathless on her bike and craving cigarettes. She is friendly and chatty, with opinions on everything. She's an effervescent soul filled with life. It's obvious that her sparkling personality has rubbed off on Justine, as they giggle like schoolgirls over private jokes and gossip.

When do you think you're going to start on another new album?
Mew: Our priority at the moment is this record. It's only been out a few months here and hasn't been released in the States yet. Letting people hear it - you know what I mean?

How are you adjusting to the band?
Mew: All right.

Have you become the new hot indie London sex symbol?
Mew: No.
Justine: She so f*cking has. Everyone fancies Mew.
Mew: That's rubbish.

I am trying to avoid asking you personal questions - everyone always asks personal questions - but what have you been doing to relax?
Justine: I like yoga, but I don't want to talk about it.
Mew: I love talk shows, but I have really gone off them. I used to love Jerry Springer, but after a while it's the same thing every day.
Justine: I have really gone off TV, except for documentaries or Learning Zone on BBC2.

Have you seen Big Brother?
Mew: I have seen the Dutch one.
Justine: The funny thing is by the second day they were all naked and they had made body prints on the wall. That hasn't happened anywhere. I saw it the other night and they were all in tears - everyone was crying. I don't know what it says about the British mentality that one day you can get naked and seven days later you're crying. It's hardcore. Apparently someone closed herself up in a cupboard 'cause that was the only place there wasn't a camera.

I take it neither of you would want to be on Big Brother?
Justine: I absolutely know that I couldn't handle doing it.