Annabella Lwin looks forward to a tour and back on 25 years of Bow Wow Wow
Bush sloganeering is the last thing one expects to hear from the mohawked Burmese beauty plucked from a North London dry cleaner as a teen to front a band that in a mere four albums traversed musical territory as diverse as spaghetti western twangs hung on Afro-Caribbean beats.
There’s even a certain Zen to album titles like “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy .” “Jungle” only happened after their second label, RCA, objected to Ronnie Reagan being part of the band’s original title.
So maybe they always were Republicans, but whatever else they were, the members of Bow Wow Wow were first and foremost minimalists. They needed only a slight two minutes and 44 seconds to sum an entire generation with their 1982 hit “I Want Candy.”
And they didn’t need Boy George or Adam Ant. But Bush wasn’t the only surprise the singer born Myant Myant Aye had in store. Annabella Lwin described herself, in decidedly rock and roll terms, as “just a fucking Buddhist.” And she’s up every morning at the most un-rock and roll hour of 7 a.m. for morning prayers.
As she prepares to leave her adopted home of Los Angeles for another tour that could well be Bow Wow Wow’s last, Lwin reflected on 25-years of fronting a band whose humor and vigor still stand as a beacon against the gloom of early 80s London New Wave.
TONY PHILLIPS: Annabella, it’s been a while since Bow Wow Wow.
Annabella Lwin: I know. And you’re trying to say that I’m old and gray.
TP: I’m just trying to say it’s nice to have you back.
AL: Thank you, it’s nice to hear that. When was the last time you saw us play?
TP: God, Webster Hall, but back then it was called The Ritz.
AL: Oh, my goodness me. Definitely. That was a great gig. I remember seeing Tina Turner at that club.
TP: So how do you and Tina avoid being trapped by the dreaded VH1 syndrome?
AL: “Don’t try and trap me, you might as well slap me.” I wouldn’t say it’s a trap. I guess it’s nostalgia-based, obviously, but it’s about supply and demand. If people want to see us, we’ll play. If they don’t, then fine. It’s not like it’s supposed to be a precious situation where we’re trying to be a band from the 80s making a comeback. But I must point out that next year there’s a tribute album that EMI is releasing that’s 25 years of music from the band Bow Wow Wow.
TP: So who’s your idea of the dream cover band for the record?
AL: I’d love to hear someone like Aaron Carter. Someone like Joan Jett would be great for covering one of our tracks. She’s actually one of my fellow artist women in the business and I have a big respect for her. I think the Chili Peppers should cover one of our songs. And Madonna. It would be great if she could cover one of our songs. I think she could probably relate to “Hello, Hello Daddy, I’ll Sacrifice You.”
TP: And like Madonna, you’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with London.
AL: Well, I don’t live in London anymore. I live in L.A. And I’ve never felt an affinity with London because I was born in Rangoon, Burma, and I lived on and off in London. I love the pubs, though.
TP: Does Bush remind you of Blair?
TP: Come on, Annabella. Let’s compare Bushes.
AL: I’m more of a spiritual person than political. Obviously I have my own views like everybody does in this world, but I respect the politicians’ standpoint because they do have a hard job. It’s not easy to run a country. People look at it from the outside, but getting up and doing it is another thing. It’s a bit like being in the music industry. People think that being an artist looks so glamorous and you find out that it’s a completely different thing, but I think Bush and Blair are compared because they look similar. They could be past brothers or something.
TP: I think they look like that gay couple that’s trying to date themselves.
AL: Well, they obviously get on really well. There is so much support and I think Blair has done his best and utmost in London to keep the people together on certain issues and I think Bush in his own way tries to do that.
TP: Okay, don’t say anymore.
AL: What? [Laughs] Why?
TP: Because I’m not putting it in!
AL: Well, I think when he’s doing his speeches, he doesn’t follow through as well as his heart says. His heart speaks better than his mouth, basically. But I think his heart is in the right place and you can tell he really is a caring, caring man. He does care about Americans. And he does care about the world at large, but I guess when you’re in a position of power like that you have ten people telling you this, that, and the other. At the end of the day, hopefully he gets a chance to put his feet up, have a cup of tea, and chat with his wife about it all.
TP: This idea of Bush being influenced by people behind the scenes has an interesting parallel to Bow Wow Wow. Let’s talk about Malcolm McLaren.
AL: We were definitely in a class of our own and I believe that one of the reasons was that we had a manager like Malcolm McLaren. We had the rawness as individuals both musically and otherwise to create a chemistry that seemed to work onstage and inspired a lot of people and hopefully, when they release our 25th anniversary album next year, it will prove to a lot of people that we belong up there along with all the other artists that have been remembered. I always see things about the 80s and they talk about Spandau Ballet and they even mention Boy George, for God’s sake!
TP: Who auditioned for you as Lieutenant Lush and you politely deferred, no?
AL: Bless his cotton soul. But the point is, we were out there before all these people and it’s nice to be appreciated. He’s always had immaculate makeup, George, so well done there. I think he’s had his fingers in a lot of pies, but then again he doesn’t need to worry these days.
TP: Okay, speaking of cotton, is it true you were discovered in a dry cleaner?
AL: I would be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every time I told this story. I auditioned for the band through a guy called Dave Fishel. He came into buy something in the shop I was working in. We were listening to a Stevie Wonder song and I was just singing along with the radio. He came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for a band and I thought uh-huh. As young as I was, I wasn’t stupid. Something told me take a friend along, you never know. I thought he was trying to pick me up, actually. This older man with long hair and a funny face, but he was true to his word. He picked me up, me and my friend, and took me to an audition.
TP: And the band was looking for more personnel because?
AL: Well, they had just kicked out Adam from Adam and the Ants.
TP: Jeeze. Now, how old are you at this time?
AL: I was twelve.
TP: What did your parents make of all this?
AL: My mother didn’t know anything about it and she’s all I had because my parents had split up when I was very young.
TP: So when did your mom find out you were this bright, young—really young—thing?
AL: Well, I posed for an album cover when I was underage and she had a big problem with that. In fact, I left home over it. Thanks a lot, Malcolm. He was using my mother for the publicity machine he had built up around him. My mother was obviously just concerned like most mothers would be. It was also the way they did it. The three guys in the band went ‘round to see my mother and just rang on the doorbell until she answered because she refused to have anything more to do with the band. And I’d already decided I’d had enough because I’d been kicked out a couple of times in the first few months and was getting confused. Was I in the band or out of the band? I love music, but this was doing my head in and I was still in school at the time. So I think she got a little upset when they kind of threw the album cover down on the table and she saw me for the first time on the front cover with nothing on. I hadn’t actually told her yet. It was a little bit of a shock, but she got over it and she dealt with it the best way she knew how.
TP: So what’s a typical day for you in L.A.?
AL: Well, I’m up at seven every morning…
AL: What? I am. I do my prayers.
TP: You’ve got me beat, even with the time difference.
AL: Well, I have to. I have commitments. I’ve never been one to sit around and twiddle my thumbs. And I have to do my prayers every morning because it keeps my mind, body and soul together. I’ve actually just recently joined a gym, but I’m not going every day. But the point is I try and fill my day and reward myself with at least one thing that’s good and I think everyone should do that. Whether it’s to sit down and read a good book for a half hour or to have a cup of…
TP: Oh no, don’t say it!
AL: Okay, how about have a really nice meal, then? Or go out and get some fresh air. I get fresh air every day. I make a point of walking around, at least, because everything I see, hear and do affects me and my songwriting. It’s like, when you’re in a studio process in the writing stage, which is where I am now, you need inspiration. The environment is you and you are one with the environment. Esho funi. It’s important when you’re writing to actually be one with your environment and people because you’re writing songs for people to listen to.
TP: Are these prayers you’re doing Buddhist?
AL: I chant nam myoho renge kyo, but I’m not what you’d call a prayer book basher, I’m just a fucking Buddhist. It’s a way of life. It’s not about trying to stick it down people’s throats. Each to his own and with all respect. It’s all about the same thing anyway. It’s just what works for you and your own life. I was born a Buddhist, but it’s only been the last 15 years that I’ve been practicing. It helps me personally, spiritually, emotionally, and now it’s obviously affecting me physically. I chant for everyone’s happiness because it’s not about the me. It’s about the other side. We’re here to support one another and hopefully we do that everyday. It’s also about remembering that everyone has their own karma to deal with on a day-to-day basis. So I chant because it basically helps me a great deal.
TP: Okay, this is a complete non sequitur, but you must look at gay culture today and see every other queen sporting a Mohawk and just think… well, what must you think?
AL: Well, I was over it a long time ago, but I think it’s wonderful that it’s a fashion trend again. I’d just like to add, though, that it wasn’t me that came up with that idea. It was originally from the Iroquois Indian tribe. They should be the ones getting the credit for that particular look. And then it went into the 40s and 50s with the rockabillies. I don’t know if there were any women getting it done. I was told I was one of the first. I think anything that’s different is cool. Fashion is absolutely hand-in-hand with music and it’s wonderful to see something different and new going on. Also something regurgitated, as it were.
TP: Do you have any other thoughts about your gay audience?
AL: I almost did the gay pride festival this year in L.A., but unfortunately they said I couldn’t perform in it because there was a problem with the amount of space being used on the stage. I was like, well, it’s only little old me. But I do hope to appear next year, or anything else that comes along in that respect, because I’m a great believer in causes. I recently did a charity show and helped to raise money for Marriage Equality California, which is the way it should be. Everyone should have the choice. I think anything that’s different can sometimes freak people out, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? We’re here to push back the boundaries slightly and just basically live our lives and be allowed to do so without any boundaries. So my message would be right on to the community and also to say I love you and come see me.
TP: And can someone who comes up and sees you expect?
AL: To get hot and sweaty, honey!