1985 Passport

Robert Lund - Man About Town
"I get all my news from the Waste down!"

Interview with
Karmen Guy & Sami Yaffa of Mad Juana

New York Waste, Nov., 2003


Deep in a rat cave beneath Don Hill's, we displaced serious BITCHes from their makeup space to have this little conversation. And I'm SO glad we did!

RL: Mad Juana! - Tell me when it all started.

Karmen: Wel-l-l, it started years ago. We were in Spain when we came up with the name, actually.

RL: You and Sami have been together, what, like eight years now?

KG: Oh, we're going on ten.

RL: So you'd been together a while when you decided to do this Mad Juana thing?

KG: Oh, it was pretty immediate. Sami was in another band when we met.

RL: Was that here?

KG: Yeah, that was over here. And I had my dad's Fender tube amp in my house, and I was just playing bass and singing, you know, doing my thing. This was a vintage 1968 Fender amp. I was basically raised in a barn, or garage, which was a rehearsal space; a guitar case was my crib - I'm serious.

RL: What was your father doing?

KG: He was in a psychedelic rock band. He was a singer, and we just lived like hippies.

RL: This was where?

KG: This was in Iowa. And after a while Sami & I moved to Spain.

RL: How long after you two got together did you put out the first Mad Juana CD?

KG: Well, we went to Spain, played around in Scandinavia, and went to Finland to record.

RL: And what was the setup? Did you have a band?

KG: It was just the two of us. We wrote everything, we laid down all the parts, and then we had some amazing players in Finland come in and record. It was just AMAZING - musicians in Finland are just NUTS!

RL: What was that CD?

KG: "Skin Of My Teeth". We wrote the whole thing at that time, came up with the whole concept. And the name came up at that point too. I was reading Patti Smith's book of poems, and there was this poem called Mad Juana. And then I discovered the history of Juana la Loca. She was the daughter of the queen who gave Columbus his orders to come to America.

RL: Oh, from back then - Queen Isabella's daughter.

KG: Yeah! She married Philippe, this handsome guy...

RL: So then, the name derives from a Spanish princess, not a drug.

KG: Oh-h-h, multiple entendres!

RL: Alright - so, "Skin Of My Teeth" comes out, and then what, where were you?

KG: We were still living in Spain, touring Europe, Scandinavia, playing festivals with a varying assortment of players. And I was doing Flamenco dancing at carnivals. But we made our bread and butter playing on the streets. We would have shows, but between shows we'd have three months off, so we played in the streets. We were there for about two-and-a-half years.

RL: Now when I met you a few years ago, it was the Mad Juana incarnation that included Harri, Jimmy, and Wiley.

KG: Oh yeah, that all started at Transporter Raum [formerly on E. 2nd St.]. We were mixing our second album, "In Your Blood" at the studio. And around that time we were featured in the film "Freaks, Glam Gods and Rock-Stars." And we started playing with those guys at Transporter Raum. Then the group went on this European tour and there was something of a falling out.

RL: Yeah, I first saw you all together in a show at TRUE back in 2000...

KG: OH YEAH, I remember that show! That was great

RL: And then in the summer of 2001 you all went over to Spain, and wound up deciding on a change of direction, to rearrange the makeup.

KG: [very quiet murmuring...]

RL: Okay! So then you and Sami came back, and for a while you were playing with Rob Watts on bass and Joe Rizzo.

KG: OH YEAH! That was a great time!

RL: And now you're different again.

KG: Yeah, now we're very earthy, a very Bohemian vibe. BUT - Mad Juana has a Dub Conscious. WAIT till you hear this. It's gonna be Mad Juana's Dub Conscious. Hea-VY, man, boom-boom-boom, heavy bass.

RL: You've been rehearsing with different people then?

KG: Yeah, we've been rehearsing.

RL: You're not going in the direction of that Boo-tay thing you did last year, are you?

KG: OH BOO-TAY! No way. That was a glam project, a beautiful people project. No, we're NOT going there again!

RL: So you've been playing with other people we haven't seen you with. Are you gonna keep doing this Gypsy thing as well?

KG: Oh yes, we'll keep doing this.

RL: Wow, this'll really be something. Sami's told me he was always really into Dub. And that he found that his son over in Finland, was also deeply into Dub, after they'd been apart for years, so it wasn't Sami's influence, just synchronicity. That was a great connection for them.

KG: Yeah. It's really essential to get some spirituality in the music, try to bring it back.

RL: I haven't listened to much Dub music - it's related to Reggae, right?

KG: Yeah, basically, it hits you right here (hand indicating groin area), it hits you in the SPOT.

RL: You know, I love what the band's doing now, but one thing I really miss is Sami on the bass.


RL: When he'd get into a bass groove, it drew me into a meditative kind of space. And you have new music, songs?

KG: Oh YEAH, we have an entire album - two albums of songs!

RL: And do you have any time frame in mind, when we might get to see this new Dub Conscious?

KG: Yeah - we'll do something before Xmas.

RL: People come away from your performances so mesmerized, so mystified. Even in a rock club like Don Hill's you captivate audiences. It'll be great to hear you play music with a heavy beat while maintaining the sprituality of it. And all that Spanish dancing - I can see now, that experience served you well. You bring us to a place that we don't see much of.

KG: Oh we need that diversity, what we can get from different cultures.


KG: OH! Let me tell you about surfing in Hawaii! We met up with an old friend of The Duke. You talk about surfing - Duke invented surfing. Way back in the day, he surfed in Australia, California, in Hawaii. Duke was an olympic champion, an amazing person and spirit. And we had the experience of surfing for the very first time with a comrade of Duke's, his partner on the team, still a surviving guy. He was like 80 years old, surfing every day, and that was our instructor! And we were out there, high-flying baby, 30 feet high. THAT was an experience!

RL: And you had never surfed before?

KG: No no. And you get up there on the wave, and you feel that you're in with the movement, the earth, the wave.

RL: And you were able to get up there right away, he just showed you what to do?

KG: Well, I used to be a speed skater, that was my thing. So the waves, that was the same thing in another realm.

RL: Ah, here's Sami Yaffa - he claims to have something to do with this band.

Sami Yaffa: Hey, that's me.

RL: Karmen's been telling me Mad Juana's goin off into Dub space. I'm dying to see what you mean by this - it's a genre I'm not all that familiar with, but it sounds exciting.

SY: Well, it's a genre that I got familiar with when I was like 12 years old. I was goin to school, and my best buddy's brother was living in Christiani, which is in Copenhagen. It was a free town, where no laws applied. It started as a hippie commune in an old barracks, a 20-block by 20-block area, and it still is pretty much self-governed. And people live there, you see scales and drugs in the street, but like there's no crime.

RL: Hey yeah, no laws means no crime!

SY: Right, people behave themselves and they take care of business, whatever. So anyway, when I was about 12-13 years old, my friend's brother would come back with all these Lee Scratch Perry records, singles and 7". And that's the first time I tripped out on it, like 1973-74. And then I got into Punk. And then suddenly The Clash came up, started doin all kinds of Reggae things, and you know, I got back into it. And Hanoi did a bunch of fuckin Reggae songs - if you know the history of Hanoi Rocks, we had 3 or 4 Reggae tunes that nobody knows, like B-sides of singles. And the first band that I played with, before Hanoi Rocks, Pelle Miljoona, a Finnish punk band, we had two Reggae songs on every record we did. I always loved it all the way through, but I kinda distanced myself. But then about four years ago, I hooked up with Seth on St. Marks Place, and he had a great collection of shit, and I started buying all those old records that I used to have. And then I realized how fuckin brilliant they are, how spiritual and intelligent...

KG: And radical - radical!

SY: I think it's one of the most beautiful forms of music on the planet, I really do. And you know, there are great Welsh Dub bands, and great Dub bands in Scotland for example. And that's the result of the Punk movement, when there were no distinctions, none of the wedges people drive into music. These should not happen, these class or racial connotations. It's about the music - if you really feel it, you just gotta do it regardless of that, if you feel it's true. So that's what we've been doing, me and Karmen, we've been writing songs in our apartment with acoustic guitar, for the past four years we've been doing Dub, sometimes with a drummer. And now we've got a lot of it, and we're gonna put together a band that'll be able to play it.

RL: Karmen says by Xmas?

SY: Yes, we'll be doing it by then.

RL: Wow - Juana la Loca.