During the latter part of the 1980's, many bands in New York City were undergoing a musical transition for a post disco, post punk rock hybrid sound called New Wave in order to capitalize on the growing MTV trend of "alternative" music. Others bucked this trend and took their punk rock angst to a more somber and dark level and began the trend that eventually became known as Goth, borrowing from the name given to the stark and ornate architecture from a bygone era.
The Plague, featuring Margot Day, was one such band at the outset of this Goth explosion. They have often been credited with being one of the early progenitors to the sound and style, along with other bands such as Bauhaus, Specimen, et. al., though the recorded work came much later in their career. The Plague's self-titled album was initially met with much excitement from the little indie record shops that sprang up in the city at that time. Word of mouth made it a hot selling item as new fans jumped aboard this type of music that seemed to speak to their dark natures in ways that the glam pretty new wave bands couldn't.
The Plague's vinyl album eventually sold out, never to be seen again except on bootlegs that managed to travel around the world a few times. With the advent of new technology, Margot Day has re-released this classic body of work through the auspices of Mp3.com, making it possible for fans, old and new, to experience the Empress of the Goth underground on a much wider scale.
This recording creates a bittersweet longing for this era when the genre was still in its transitional stages and not overcrowded with pretension. It was a period when there wasn't a snob appeal categorization with Goth, death metal, doom, punk, etc., simply because these genres had not been as yet named. All alternative music was placed together, so one could simply hear the darker bands along with some of the New Wave artists, with some veering towards a darker side of the musical spectrum. The Goth genre had barely become warm when the corporate labels started to pour excessive amounts of money and PR into campaigns designed to coddle and cultivate the underground bands for the next hot attraction. Once a band was in the label's lair, the music "giants" had the bands recreate their sound for a more mass-market appeal. Blondie was only one of many bands that underwent such a transition from punk to pop.
This was an era before the Internet and the power brokers of the major labels reigned from the ivory towers to determine the music choices of the generation. Independent artists found it quite expensive to pour every dime they had to cut a record, find a distributor and then try to find additional cash to promote their gigs. Fans of the underground were true supporters in every sense of the word. They were fueled by the passion for music that dared to defy the constraints of society and the dull idle thinking of the major market. The small shops that carried items catering to this bohemian lifestyle became a boon for many longing for alternative artistic expression. Despite the ardent fans who embraced the scene, most did not have the financial resources to support the many endeavors in the underground. Band's anticipated the day that they were offered a contract simply because it meant more exposure and they could make a full time living from their music. Without the major assistance of a major company, most bands would fade into obscurity simply because there was no financially practical means of networking to reach a larger core audience.
Margot took some time out from her busy schedule to give us some highlights of life during that era.
MV: When did The Plague actually disband?
Margot: Spring 1989, and at the time it broke my heart. I felt total desolation. I went in search of my soul mate and then lived on dreams and pain. Fortunately my muses stayed with me and I went on to sing and sing .
MV: Describe life in the lower east side during that period. You touched upon it in the interview that is posted on your website, but I want to get a feeling for the element that was around that seemed to spark the muse for so many people back then.
Margot: Hot, sweaty, sexy, dirty, dark, intense rebellion! Graffiti and drugs were everywhere and no despair. Freedom, oh such freedom. The Plague, as part of the gothic genesis was right before AIDS really hit hard, and way before the war on drugs. Orgies were common, and cross-dressing was part of the fashion. Anything goes... I remember a unity between the punks and skins and even some of the left over glam rockers. The anarchy was against the normals, against society, and so there was a convergence in the underground. And a passion against the establishment because it was soooo strong then, and we were unique, exotic, uncanny and different - very "Us" verses "Them."
MV: What was the musical environment like while you were gigging?
Margot: The environment was exciting. We played with many great bands and we played everywhere. From the dark dingy lower eastside basement shows to the main stage at the Limelight. We had a strong following that came to our shows.
MV: Was Goth more popular then or now?
Margot: We were not popular to the normals; we were considered pretentious and frightening. The Gothic life style We were the dark clad tribe, we were the magic ones, and we were the ones that made-love in the graveyards. High fenced in graveyards, where we escaped the cement and asphalt to drink red wine and lie in the moonlight. We entwined what others couldn't or wouldn't understand. Our music was about immortality, death, pain and the supernatural. Unique, and elite, we embraced the darkness where others didn't dare to tread. I am thrilled that from the spark that was gothic then, a fire has grown, and Goth today has spread around the globe.
MV: How have your stage shows developed since the early days?
Margot: I was very very young then The Plague was known in part for our live shows, wild and erotic my shows are still called wild and erotic. Having just gone on various mini tours from Seattle to NYC, my voice is more intense and I'm more able to sing with the muses and part the dimensions then ever before. Come visit my live show page at on my website at http://www.margotday.com.
The cover of The Plague depicts Day as the driver of an antique horse-drawn carriage bearing her other band mates. The image helps to conjure subliminal impressions that declare that the work is classic, driven and eternally stylish. It is almost as if she sensed the timelessness of the band's music even from the outset of their beginnings.
Naraka paints a sense of summer in the city during this period of time. The punk element was privy to seeing people in the gutter, strung out from whatever chemical of choice they had imbibed in. They also saw the horrors of a world that the so-called normals of society refused to acknowledge, such as the homeless, the runaways, the abused as well as people suffering from illnesses without the health coverage for obtaining adequate medical attention. "Sweating in the city, charred bodies remind me of you, people lying in the gutter, people crying in the night, people fighting for their lives, people dying by the knife " In a sense the song is almost prophetic in what is seen on a more massive scale these days in major cities across the globe.
Never Die harkens back to the age when real instruments were used. Guitar, drum, flute and bass combine beautifully around a song about immortality. It could also be stated that this song helped to give rise to the growing vampire theme in music as well. "I have the mark of Cain, I am one of the special ones, don't give me the last rights, I'll live forever in the afterlife " Empress boldly opens with a heavy sound that segues into an alternative ballad. It gives us hope in sorrow and darkness with a world ready to swallow us whole. "On the road again, it's a wet moon tonight, wear your cape of darkness, wear your cloak of light, for only you can find your way, In the dark-eyed night, you are the empress of laughter/ you are the empress of sorrow/ you are the empress of dreams "
Suicide Queen really gets in with the fast speed of the punk era without losing a step. This song was also sampled on a later song Day recorded entitled SoBeautifulSoDeadly. "The razor blade shines, it wants your blood, flirting with death, run for your life, running on the razor's edge " OnMurder guitar and flute open the track that progresses to dire lyrics of murder, sublimated as a reverse metaphor for a sexual release. "Danger rides in the dead of night, he crawls up and down my spine, danger rides in the dead of night, he crawls up and down my thighs, now I found you drowning in the red rum, you were the darkened one "
SoBeautifulSoDeadly is a bonus track on the MP3 CD that was not initially available on the vinyl recording. This is a song of longing to get away from the present world that seems unenduring and inescapable. Samples from Suicide Queen are strategically placed within the song. This track is part trip hop and part Middle Eastern and demonstrates the progress of Day as an artist to venture into a multitude of sound and still come out sounding fresh and unique. Paradise of Pain is sonically the darkest song on the album and demonstrates the rise of the Goth movement as it veered from death like lyrics to also begin to include haunting sounds and macabre chord changes.
The Plague deals with subject matter that ranges from death, immortality, murder, and suicide. This was not exactly the type of lyric content that made the music industry comfortable. Their blindness to elements of society that were not pretty only helped to alienate the consumer further. Eventually this gave rise to an ever-growing body of consumers who patronized the indie market that the major labels did not anticipate as impacting on their bottom line. Today, however, they are singing another tune as they realized their blunder and are starting to lose money in record-breaking figures. However, during 1987, the time of The Plague's release, the period gave rise to songs such as Heaven is a Place on Earth by post Go-Go's Belinda Carlisle along with U2's With Or Without You. This was a major transitional period in society as the AIDS crisis was in full swing, taking away friends and loved ones in record numbers. Death was everywhere and most people were afraid to talk about it. Society had begun to veer towards an element of paranoia and avoided anything that dealt with mortality. The music companies fed this paranoia by providing the masses with songs that had religious undertones to embrace the "New Age" that was to dawn. Yet in the underground, they saw the harshness of the real world firsthand and realized it had to be dealt with as a part of life and its ever flowing cycle.
The Plague stands out as a body of work that demarcates a timeline period in New York history. It demonstrates that the underground, though part of the outer fringes of society, gave a voice to our discontent, angst and ability to see reality in all its abrasiveness. The CD sounds as fresh today as it did in 1987; only viewing it in hindsight clearly indicates the prophetic visions that our chanteuse, Margot Day, seemed to channel while the rest of the world was falling apart.
Web: http://www.margotday.com/, http://www.mp3.com/margotday