Interview with BETTY and Ticket Giveaway

If you think BETTY is just ‘that band that wrote the theme song for The L Word’ (love it or hate it, you know the words), then you are due for a rude awakening. For almost 30 years, Elizabeth Ziff, Amy Ziff, and Alyson Palmer have been rocking the airwaves and speaking their minds all across the globe. Notorious for their support of all things equality; for LGBTQ’s, for women and girls, for all under privileged members of all societies, BETTY performs show after benefit show and travels the world to get their message heard. I was lucky enough to be able to catch Elizabeth right after BETTY returned from Argentina, to catch up on what they’ve been doing, her time as a composer/music director/co-executive producer on The L Word, how cancer got her some free stuff (but she’s not planning on doing that again), and being a trailblazer by third grade. And oh, yeah, the President is a fan. This is an interview you don’t want tomiss…and the show on December 19th at the City Winery is bound to rock your face off. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, this single musician may do more than just that…she does have a soft spot for the Chicago ladies.
The L Stop: Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you! It’s very exciting….you’re part of a band that’s been iconic forever; you’ve done so much good and put yourselves out there for the whole world to see.
Elizabeth: Well, my life is exciting. I’ve been lucky.


TLS: Didn’t you guys just get back from Argentina [the day before]?
E: Yeah. We’re Art Envoys for the U.S. Embassy, so we go to different countries and do concerts and talk to people about anti-bullying, and LGBT[Q] rights and women’s rights…it’s pretty intense. HIV and things like that. It’s an amazing thing. We get to do these concerts and also do things that really matter to us. It’s pretty awesome….We’ve been doing it a long time. We travel a lot.


TLS: Amazing….OK. So why don’t we start with some basics about BETTY. How did the name come about?
E: Well, if you ask any of the three of us we’ll come up with a different answer because it was a while ago. I mean, we’ve been together since we were kids. I always say it was the name of my first bicycle…which is….well. They’re all lies [laughs].
TLS: It’s like when you ask married couples how they met and eventually they all have different stories.
E: Exactly. It’s been close to 30 years.


TLS: So, let’s talk a little about Chicago. I know you have a show coming up DECEMBER 19TH [at the Chicago Winery].
E: Ya, it’s pretty exciting. I don’t think we’ve played [in Chicago] for like, four years! It’s pretty cool. I love Chicago. We all love Chicago.


TLS: It seems like there is a soft spot amongst BETTY for Chicago. Your musical ran here at the Lakeshore Theater [BETTY Rules], you played here after the Gay Games [2006], and met up with Ilene Chaiken [of The L Word] and made the connection to start doing L Word stuff here too, right?
E: Well, originally the connection was made in Los Angeles. But Ilene came out [to Chicago] because she is a fan of the band…and we did a benefit for lesbian breast cancer with our musical and she came out and introduced the show and was a special host. But that was the first time she’d seen us live, so after that she asked us to submit a theme song [along with four other bands]. The rest is herstory, babe!


TLS: Well, Chicago is still going to take a little piece of the credit for that! It’s a point of contention for us that we’re always over looked in lesbian movies and shows.
E: There’s a lot of great stuff coming out of Chicago! ….Oh, hell ya. I loved it there. I had a lot of girls, that’s for sure [laughs].


TLS: [laughing] Ya, well, we do have that benefit going for us!
E: That’s for sure! That was some…fun times.


TLS: Well, I know you haven’t been here in a while and obviously haven’t played at the City Winery because it’s a new venue…
E: No, but we played at the one in New York. It was cool, it was fun. I liked the venue…I wish it was a bit more diverse, though.
TLS: I was thinking that it was kinda cool that the crowd that goes to this venue is not going to necessarily be the same crowd that would go to a, let’s say The Metro. And it’s really cool that your fans are that diverse.
E: I think so too. It’s really a great venue to see people….I hope our audience gets reached and they come out to see the show…but I hope it’s not fucking freezing. The last time we came to Chicago it was fucking freezing! And we just got back from Argentina, and you know it’s summer there.


TLS: Well, it’s going to be fucking freezing compared to Argentina, but it’s actually not so bad for Chicago right now!
E: Alright. I just remember one time we were there, I think we were playing The Metro, and Alyson [Palmer] and I went out to get breakfast and we were fucking crying it was so cold. But more power to you guys. I love Chicago. I love the music, I love the people, and the food is awesome.


TLS: So, the music you are playing on the 19th…is this a concert just for you guys? Is there some kind of shout out for a benefit? We know that 9 times out of 10, when you play it is tied into some kind of activism…which is amazing.
E: This is a holiday show. If you wanna get your holiday on [laughs]! It’s really fun. It’s not a benefit…well; it’s a benefit for us! We just want to reach out to Chicago because we hadn’t been there a in a while.


TLS: And it’s stuff off the new album [Bright & Dark, 2009]? I know there’s a song out right now called “Did you tell her?” and I was just curious about the motivation behind it; on the surface it’s a song about cheating. The clips in the background feel political to me, though. So I didn’t know…how much of the inspiration of your music comes from personal life and how much comes from outside influences?
E: My sister [Amy] wrote that one, so you’d have to ask her. We are very political with what we do, and where we play. But our music isn’t really political. I mean, it’s pretty much what it is. It’s a song about cheating…it definitely has a good groove…people really relate. It’s a fun song, and fun to play. I don’t think it’s politically motivated but you’d have to check with her!

TLS: It just seemed very apropos with all the sex scandals going on in politics in recent years.
E: Oh, well, ya! That’s all tied in. It does say “sex scandal” in it. I don’t know! I think the initial motivation is not political, but it definitely speaks to that whole world…for sure.


TLS: Alright, since we are a queer website, I’m going to ask a little bit about gay stuff [laughs]
E: Fine with me!


TLS: I know that from the get-go, you’ve been out as a lesbian. I saw an interview with you  where you said you didn’t know if you were comfortable with the label any more. Would you still consider yourself “a lesbian?”
E: …It’s a good question. I know that when I [first] came out, it was important to label myself as a lesbian. More importantly for me would be [labeled] as a feminist. That has always been more important for me. Equality for women, and girls. Working worldwide for that. For freedom…there’s a long way to go. But as far as being lesbian…I’m totally a lesbian. I’ve fucked a lot of guys, but I still identify as that. I also really identify as queer. For me, what’s happened with gay rights has been so important and we’ve been a part of that. The right to marry, to adopt a child, or have a child and have your partner adopt them, to be a part of the military. Basic civil rights that we still don’t fully have. But for me, I’ve always been peripheral. I never want to get married, I never want to have kids, and I don’t want to be in the military. It’s not anything against people that do that. I think we all have the right to do that, it’s a human right. But I’m a freak….my politics are very radical.


TLS: I don’t think you’re as peripheral as you may think. There are a lot of us who agree with you, and who just want the choice to not do it, instead of being told we’re not allowed to.
E: Absolutely. We need to be recognized and have the civil rights….As the movement has become more mainstream, which is totally necessary and what we’ve been working for, I find myself stepping outside a bit more. More where gender is fluid, into the queer realm… When I need to stand up and defend lesbian rights, of course I do. But there’s a whole transgendered world…and a gender issue in total. It’s very complicated, but you know what I’m saying.
TLS: Absolutely. You don’t want to just be identified as a voice for lesbian rights. It’s about gender equality in its entirety, whether gay, bi, transgendered, queer…everything.
E: …Right. It’s like what Gloria Steinem said, and I totally agree with her, is that until everybody is equal there is no equality at all. So, I definitely identify as queer, but first and foremost I identify as a feminist.


TLS: Speaking of Gloria Steinem, I thought it was a very good use as a platform [on The L Word] to not only bring in musicians but also have Gloria Steinem on there. That kind of exposure for this generation was really important….how did the decision get made to bring in these relevant, real figures on to the show?
E: I think it was accessibility, and responsibility. Gloria Steinem is a very good friend of mine, and we’ve [BETTY] been friends with her for about 25 years. We’ve been recording her for the last 7 years, doing an audio project. Little bits of her lectures etcetera with her commentating on them now. It’s a really long project. But things get in the way; like cancer got in the way…I’ve been really lucky to have amazing mentors. The reason she did the show is because I asked her to….I thought it was necessary. Without her [and others like her] that show wouldn’t exist.


TLS: Very true.
E: So, as much as we could fit in stuff, iconically, we did. We were lucky that it was such a good show that people wanted to do it. They wanted to reach out to the community. Like, Nana Hendricks is a friend and I wanted to introduce her to a whole new generation who maybe didn’t know who she was. I am lucky to have been in that position, and I have been political for so long, that I do have a lot of friends (luckily) who have been active for so long. You know, Gloria Steinem has been active in lesbian rights for a very long time…she’s very vocal. She has been since the late 1950’s. Way before it was popular!


TLS: You brought up that cancer got in the way. I know you, as a member of BETTY, have done a lot for breast cancer awareness even before you were diagnosed. Just to be clear for all your fans, are you in remission? All cleared up?
E: I’m not nervous…I don’t like the word remission…but I’m done. I did my cancer thing, it was interesting but I’d rather not do it again.


TLS: Fair enough.
E: I’ve done cancer, been there, looked at it. I’m happy to help people through it. It was pretty brutal. It was three years of chemo and it came back 4 or 5 times, and I had a mastectomy, and it was a very long arduous process. I was very lucky to have a lot of support and insurance. I don’t know about “cured,” I don’t know what that word means, but I definitely don’t feel like I have it in my body right now….I am really blessed. I had a huge support system. Any one who wants to talk to me about it, I don’t have a problem with that because I think we need to help each other through it. You know, it happens. It happens a lot.


TLS: It’s good that there is at least increased awareness about breast cancer now, especially amongst lesbians.
E: Yes. It’s a pandemic, worldwide. Everywhere we go, in the world, there’re many many people who come up to me after shows and talk to me about it.


TLS: And you’re lucky enough to live here…just the access to basic healthcare in a lot of these places is nonexistent; so if you have a disease that requires so much care like a cancer, or an HIV or AIDS, getting the therapies that are needed is impossible in many situations. I think just seeing a survivor, in any realm, is motivating for people and get’s the word out.
E: And it’s not just around the world, it’s in America. If you don’t have insurance you’re fucked.


TLS: Oh, I know. I am aware, I am fucked. I don’t have insurance. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Chicago’s Cook Country Hospital…
E: Well, hopefully with Obamacare, things will change. I think the republicans will try and block it as much as they can, but I think it’s an amazing thing that he has done. Whatever problems we have with Obama, thank God he’s in office.


TLS: Exactly. He’s done some major stepping stone policies towards real, concrete changes and differences. I’m still on Team Obama.
E: Oh, I’m all over Obama!


TLS: And he’s a fan of BETTY! He said so!
E: [laughs] Yeah. I like that!


TLS: So one of the things that sticks with me about your breast cancer is that I know you had to cut your hair…
E: I lost it! Well, actually…it started to fall about the 3rd round of chemo. It started coming out in patches, and I didn’t want my goddaughter [Ruby] to be afraid of all that. She was about four then. We made a ritual, Amy, Alyson and a couple of my other friends, and we brought Ruby to an African-American hair cutting place…and we shaved my head and made it a celebration, as opposed to something that was going to be scary for her….we did it for all of us. Losing your hair, and losing your breasts, is very intense for a woman. It’s very challenging….but it was very freeing. I never would have cut my hair. But I’ve had all these different hairstyles, that I really like! The breast thing, not as freeing. But the hair thing…I never would have cut my hair. Being bald was challenging. But I also got a lot of free stuff! I got discounts on everything…I got a discount on a refrigerator! It was awesome. Free pizza! I’m not saying I would do chemo just to get free stuff again, but at the time…why not? I’m a musician, we love free stuff




TLS: Well, it’s nice to get the positive! I’m fucking loving the faux hawk you’ve been rocking, by the way.
E: Oh, me too!…Thank you. I don’t know what the fuck my hair is doing right now, but it’s whatever. A lot of people with cancer, or any sort of life threatening illness or accident or whatever, they go through this whole cathartic thought process of “what I really want to do with my life,” where they’re all like going to quit their jobs, or get out of their relationships, but none of that happened to me. And I waited. But it didn’t. First of all, I’ve meditated for a long time so I have a spiritual life as well as a crazy life, but I’ve also done pretty much everything I’ve wanted to do my whole life. Even though it’s difficult, I’ve always made my living doing music. I’ve been with my best friend and my sister for a long time, I’ve had really great, great relationships with women. So I didn’t want to quit my job or anything like that. But I did…I sort of don’t suffer fools anymore.


That’s the only thing that’s really changed.
TLS: I think that’s a reasonable thing. It maybe would have just come on its own anyway! On that note…are you single? I don’t need names…
E: I talk about my personal life. My sister [Amy] doesn’t, but I do. I’m single, actually.


TLS: Amazing.
E: [laughs] Yeah, I like being single. It’s fun!


TLS: I’m going to plug that December 19th, maybe if any of the ladies want to hang out after the show at the Chicago winery…you can have your pickin’ [laughs] because Chicago and you have some good women memories and we want to make sure that stays up!
E: Chicago has hot chicks. No doubt….the whole gay scene there is really hot!


TLS: It’s a different kind of attractive than you find in LA or NY I think, too…We’re a little bit more real. Maybe it’s from the bitter cold.
E: I think you’re right. It’s more real, and more friendly. I think NY is friendly, but it’s out pricing itself and artists have to leave. I think there’s a real thriving community in Chicago that supports each other. The [Center on Halsted], we played at the last time we were in Chicago, it’s a great place. You have a strong sense of community and culture, and everything there. Theater, art…the museums are amazing. I’m a big art fan.


TLS: Speaking of art and expression…you’re sort of due for a new album. Any ideal collaborations?
E: We’re actually work shopping stuff right now. There are a lot of people we’d love to collaborate with, but we just can’t afford them! I like the whole art form of collaboration. Because I have the studio, I think we might produce our record ourselves this time. We’ve done it before. But it’s challenging because we fight all the time. I mean, it’s really deep. Three chicks who have been together for 27 years and we’re sisters…our creative fights are so deep. They’re wow. But, you know, we’re chicks [laughs]. We’re passionate. We’re Jewish and black and you know…


TLS: and you are opinionated! But it seems to work. Your music is never the same, it doesn’t stick into any singular genre, but it’s always amazing. So whatever is going on, whether it’s fighting or not, the fact that the end result ends up being amazing and you can still walk away saying you love each other and you support each other…that’s a lesson that lots of women can learn.
E: Oh, hell ya. And now we have a whole new generation, Alyson’s kids, who are growing up and seeing that and it’s pretty great.


TLS: Do you think it’s important for this new generation of queer women who are musicians to come out and take a stand from the get go, or do you think it’s moved on past that point?
E: I think all artists have to take a stand. I don’t think it’s past that point at all. I think it’s our job. We are the Greek chorus of our culture, and it’s our responsibility to speak up for people who don’t have a voice. Which are a lot of people. Anybody who has a platform, a politician, or an artist, who doesn’t stand up for rights…pro-choice, or for equality, I think it’s a missed opportunity. For yourself. Because, how great to be able to use your voice.


TLS: Use your voice, and actually get listened to. It’s an opportunity not a lot of people get.
E: Yeah. I’d like to have a bigger voice.


TLS: You? You are loud! You are heard!
E: I’m heard, but I’d like to really, really be able to change stuff….a friend gave me really good advice when I was depressed about the world [when I was 21]; he said, “in your whole life, if you talk to 5 people who you influence and change in a positive direction, those people will go on and on and that’s really the only way things will seriously change.” And that always stuck with me. And I thought, ok. I’m doing alright


TLS: I completely agree. I always try to talk to people, to help educate them if they have questions. Maybe one out of every 50 listens, but that person will go on to spread the word.
E: Exactly….We grew up in an area where there weren’t a lot of Jews, and we had to teach people about Judaism. I learned that at a really young age. And I learned about things being fair. My mom was pretty rad, she was a rad feminist. And I led this riot in 3rd grade because girls couldn’t’ take their shirts off in P.E. and boys could. And I just felt…it made no sense to me. So I took my shirt off, and all these girls took their shirts off, and we ran through the school screaming, “We’re free! We’re free!”
TLS: Trailblazer, third grade!
E: I’m great because my parents were really supportive about that stuff. They instilled in me this deep sense of fairness. I think most kids actually have that already inside them…it’s intrinsic. We see it all over when we travel. We’re born with it. They all have it, but it’s pushed out of them. Mostly, it’s pushed out of girls. But it’s our right, it’s our nature. That things should be fair…and, they’re not. Given the opportunity and the growth that people are allowed, or should be allowed (especially girls and women) I think that’s going to change. People really believe in fairness, I think. Maybe I’m an optimist.
TLS: I think that’s totally true. But I come from amazing radical parents as well! I think the older people who already have had that loss of fairness are being pushed out; younger ones are being more vocal. I think real change is coming….I think because there have been bands like BETTY who have been doing this for so long, it has influenced how the newer musicians act and what they find to be acceptable and necessary…. We have a musician in Chicago right now, also an out lesbian making a mark, who wrote a song about the Trevor Project and performs it. It’s not because she’s a household name yet and gets some kind of credit for it, it’s because the concept of equality and being able to live as you are is important to her and she has an intrinsic need to spread that message. I think you are making change [for the new generations]; I just don’t think you’re aware of how much.
E: Wow. Well, I hope so! I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from the change that other people have really, really suffered for. Harvey Milk, and Gloria Steinem, and god…the names go on and on. All the women who worked for the abolitionist movement, and all the suffragettes, who have done so much work and are the unsung heroes. People who work from home!


TLS: I think every generation benefits a little bit more, so even if it feels like one step forward, two steps back at times…I think we’ve opened a flood gate. I think it’s just a matter of time until marriage equality passes, until the Employment Non-Discrimination
Act passes.
E: Oh, hell yeah! I mean, Obama came out and said he agrees with gay marriage. I mean seriously, this is going to happen. I think the younger generation doesn’t give a fuck; who cares if you’re gay?


TLS: Yup, the younger generation watches reruns of Will & Grace and doesn’t give a shit! Well, I’ll quit taking up so much of your time. Thank you so much for talking with me and for all you do. And we look forward to your show, December 19th at the City
E: Yeah, thank you. Get the people out, we want to entertain you!!

Tell us your favorite BETTY song to enter our ticket GIVEAWAY!

For more information about Gloria Steinem and the Ms Foundation click here.

For more information about breast cancer and how to be more aware, click here

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About Leah Schein

Leah is a born and bred Chicagoan, and considers herself extremely fortunate to be raised by amazing liberal parents in Logan Square. Coming from a long family history of equality activism, the crazy world of politics feels like home to her. Her upbringing allowed her to fully appreciate her love of tacos, and provided the support needed to be independent and insane. She is a happy survivor of the public school system, all the way through her undergrad years, culminating with a BA in anthropology. Her love of travel and all things adventurous led to the pursuit of a Master of Science from sunny ol’ England, where she happily grasped a conservation degree and ran off to live in a number of rain forests to research nocturnal primates. Through the amazing diversity she was fortunate to be raised amongst, she has an unwavering appreciation of all cultures and peoples, and has used this to form the foundation of her outspoken support of civil rights. You may have seen her running around Boystown/Tuna town over the last decade, or at events she volunteers at for the Human Rights Campaign. It’s possible you spied her at the Silent Film Festival. That strange woman getting into a wrestling match in the leaves on Foster Ave beach at 3am…that definitely wasn’t her. She couldn’t be more excited about sharing her love of science, and it’s role in our daily lives, with the community she loves. Nerds are cool, people. They drink martini’s too.


10 Responses to “Interview with BETTY and Ticket Giveaway”

  1. The l word theme song

    Posted by leja chavez | December 17, 2012, 5:00 pm
  2. I’d love a ticket.

    Posted by Bethany | December 17, 2012, 5:13 pm
  3. I like their song Nerves

    Posted by Bethany | December 17, 2012, 5:15 pm
  4. I like “Did You Tell Her.”

    Posted by daruma | December 17, 2012, 8:32 pm
  5. I love their cover of Windy!

    Posted by Brenda | December 18, 2012, 2:44 pm
  6. “A Fix of You”

    Posted by Vloo | December 18, 2012, 4:25 pm
  7. I already have my tickets…Betty shows are so much fun!!!….Just wanted to say..Nice interview!!

    Posted by marla nitti | December 18, 2012, 8:57 pm
  8. I Love The L Word Song & What They’re Doing To Stop Bullying….

    Posted by michelle figueroa | December 19, 2012, 11:41 am
  9. Congratulations to BETHANY! You’ve won 2 tickets to Betty tonight!

    Posted by Vivian | December 19, 2012, 1:40 pm
  10. Thanks so much for all your support!!

    Posted by Leah | December 20, 2012, 5:40 pm

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