Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1984
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Live photo by Jim Downs; other images from the Internet
This interview was originally published in FFanzeen 12, dated 1984, by Julia Masi.
Julie “Jigsaw” Ashcraft was very sweet when I met her at the same time and place as Julia, during the taping of the Cable Access show “Videowave.” I have never been a fan of hip-hop, but I do find her video and song to be… charming in an absurdist kind of way. A link to Julie’s blog is HERE, though the last time I check it had not been updated since 2013. – RBF, 2019
|Julie Jigsaw on "Videowave" (photo by Jim Downs)|
Julia Jigsaw is the personification of a kaleidoscope. Her words tumble together with the acceleration and enthusiasm of a game show contestant trying to slip in every last syllable before the buzzer sounds, or more likely before her infectious laughter brings her latest idea to a screeching halt. Decked out in a florescent Day-Glo graffiti dress that she painted especially for an appearance on Cable-TV’s “Videowave,” she flutters around backstage, fidgeting with a collection of plastic dinosaurs that have come to symbolize her band, Ja Ja Ja, and inspired the first cut of their four song EP, “I Am An Animal,” on Cachalot Records.
She appears in their video dressed up as a pale blue money, singing amidst breakdancing dinosaurs and leprechauns. Visually, this song is as adorable as a window display at FAO Schwarz. But through the soft focus you can hear the nard-edge of horror, masked like a penitent. If the analogy is to be recognized, then Julie, as a singer, and Ja Ja Ja as “a real band with real drums and a real bass,” are in danger of extinction in an era when so much of our popular music is created with computers and machines.
“The song is a social statement. It’s important ‘cause in Germany (where the band is based), it’s a lot. And they control each other. They have a way of controlling their behavior that’s very robotic.” She remembers a feeling of alienation as she walked down the streets of Dusseldorf. “The people there act like robots when they’re walking down the street. And they get angry ‘cause I’m not. So I used to say, ‘I am an animal.’ I like to jump and play with dinosaurs and things.”
The small plastic dinosaurs that Julie pins to the shoulders of her shirt and ties, along with plastic food wrap in her hair, were consciously ignored in Germany. In New York, her plastic pets elicit stares or ignite a conversation. “If you show someone your dinosaurs they either act real bored or they get real excited. You can really tell what kind of a person they are just by the way they react to your dinosaurs.
“We don’t want to be too analytical,” she confesses, but she’s always willing to talk at length about the parallels between the extinction of her favorite prehistoric animals and the possible demise of human musicians. She sees dinosaurs as a powerful animal that, in modern times, can only be compared to a machine. And she sees music as a powerful force which is also being replaced by machines. Therefore, one of the goals of Ja Ja Ja is not to be primitive, but to bring a very human touch of emotion to the music.
“The music we do is influenced by the New York street culture. Our new bass player (Billy Grant) is from the Bronx. Our original bass player was really from the New York streets. He slept in Central Park and took showers at the Hare Krishna Center.” Julie was raised in Texas, but now lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Which leaves drummer Frank Sanden as the only member of the band who is actually a German resident.
The band was formed in Dusseldorf, Germany, while Julie was visiting some friends who had a band. Her friends also had a small demo studio and, to amuse themselves, they would make tapes. After a while, Julie began to enjoy singing and recording. “I didn’t have the idea for sure, that I’d make a band,” she recalls. “I had an idea, but these people were jazz-oriented.”
Even though she’s a jazz fan, she also approaches other styles of music, and she wanted her band to reflect a variety of tastes. Her friends introduced her to Frank and a bass player. “It happened by destiny. We started to play gigs and we liked it. We just did it because we liked doing it, and we kept at it. “They’ve built a following in Germany, and recently they’ve begun to book dates in Manhattan. New York audiences are a tough sell, but so far the band hasn’t had any problems. “In New York, everything is tied together, (dance) breaking music, graffiti, rap. A lot of people who do it, do it all. I do, too. I don’t know how to break, yet.”
Julie is particularly interested in graffiti, as the song, “Graffiti Artists International,” off her EP suggests. Given a spray can and a blank wall or clean sweatshirt, she’s been known to exhibit a colorful talent that as stimulating as her songs. “I’ve like graffiti for a long time. I remember I read this book on graffiti by Norman Mailer [The Faith of Graffiti, 1974 – RBF, 2019] when I was 17. I did my first piece of graffiti in Texas in 1979. And I did graffiti in Dusseldorf, too. I did it all on the trains and things. I did it with markers. But now, I’m starting to take cans out. I want to go back and do a train.”
While in Manhattan, Julie’s art work is mostly restricted to clothing, like the jackets she sprayed for the Alan Boys, who hang out on Alan Street, and the sweatshirts she decorates for friends. But her time in New York is a hiatus in which she is gathering strength for when she goes back to Europe. On the band’s next trip abroad, she plans to flood the airwaves with songs from their EP, and give the German subways a vibrant new look.
* * *
Please note that the editors of FFanzeen do not condone the use of graffiti on public transportation or monuments unless under certain conditions, such as commission permission by the City, or with the use of washable paint. Graffiti style is an art form, but it is not when its use is abused. – RBF .