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Posted in: General by Michael Iafrate on October 19, 2010
Bianca Valentino is a writer engaged in an assortment of projects in the punk rock community. She has written for various music publications, produced several handmade “zines,” and co-founded the Papercuts Zine Collective. Her latest zine project is a spin-off of her popular Conversations With Bianca website which features interviews with underground music and culture makers. The project is called Conversations With Punx: A Spiritual Dialogue, a 12-issue zine series full of interviews with punk rock icons on the topic of spirituality in/of punk. Some of her conversation partners include Ian MacKaye (Fugazi/Minor Threat), Henry Rollins (Black Flag/Rollins Band), Vic DiCaria (108/Shelter), Greg Graffin (Bad Religion), Efrem Schultz (Godspeed You Black Emperor), Ray Cappo (Shelter), and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (The Mars Volta/At the Drive-In). When Rock and Theology found out about her project, we knew we had to hear more about it. In the following email interview I asked Bianca about punk rock zine culture, the details of her project, and of course the “spirit” of punk.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where you are from, how you became interested in punk rock and DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture, etc.
Hi, I’m Bianca Rosemarie de Valentino. I’m an Australian native with a Mexican-German-Irish-Chinese heritage. I love writing and creating things. I love the rhythms of words and sentences. I love communicating with people and sharing information. I love listening to the stories of others and sharing those with others. I have a keen interest in ancient history, pop culture and anthropology.
I became interested in punk rock after my brother gave me some of his punk records. The lyrics and messages really interested me. Along with hip hop lyrics, punk lyrics helped educate me about the world, politics, social issues, spirituality, and nutrition/diet. Being involved with those communities and contributing to/and documenting the culture for half my life has also empowered me with important life skills and business skills. I am also attracted to its energy.
As for DIY culture, it’s something that has just come naturally, it’s something I embrace and celebrate. It’s something that I want to do; I want to be involved with as many of the processes of my projects as possible. To me that makes sense. Every part of the things I do is from the heart, from me to you guys that read/view my work. I love the handmade touch to things. When people put that much time and effort into something you know they really care about what they’re doing and that the potential that it is something very special is highly likely. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, doing things for myself is something that has been encouraged from a young age.
From your website bio, you have a lot of experience as a zine writer. Can you say something about the role of zines in punk rock culture, for those readers who might not be familiar with them?
Zines gave (and still do give) the punk community a voice. Zines document what’s going on from an insider’s point of view and from a fans perspective. It gives you a chance to express your thoughts and feelings. It’s an art form to me. I love zines because absolutely anyone can make one and the possibilities for it are only limited by your imagination. Making a zine can also help connect you with like-minded people all over the world, reciprocal networks stem from that—as does amazing friendships in many instances. I love the communities that zines and those that are involved with them create. Zines provide an alternative to mainstream media. I have read some of the most powerful and moving stories ever in zines.
In pre-internet days, zines were, among other things, a primary way for punks to learn about new bands, records, etc. The internet has had a huge impact on punk rock, as it has on music as a whole, and speaking for myself, the internet has caused me to sort of lose track of zine culture. Has zine culture changed at all since the rise of the internet and if so, how? If not, why not?
I can’t really answer that question as to be honest I have never ever felt a part of a ‘zine community’ as such until recently since forming the Paper Cuts Collective with a couple of friends from my hometown Brisbane, Australia. In the past primarily creating music based zines, I’ve found it kind of puts you on the outside of the zine community. I often ran into trouble with zine distributors not wanting to stock mine because it wasn’t personal enough. And often it was considered too magazine-like to be a zine.
I just forged my own path as I’m doing with the release of the Conversations With Punx: A Spiritual Dialogue project. I didn’t just want to bring out a book and that was it. I’m really interested in building community and encouraging others to utilise their talents and contribute positive things to the world. If we work together we can achieve great things.
In my own experience of punk rock culture, many if not most of the people I encountered and became friends with in “the scene” were spiritual seekers. Why only now is the connection between spirituality and punk rock being highlighted?
I think it has previously been highlighted in the art of bands like Bad Brains, the Cro-Mags, 108, Shelter and many others. There was the Krishna-core movement in the ’90s and various fanzines that spawned from that. More recently you have Noah Levine and his Dharma Punx work and Heidi Minx and her Built On Respect project highlighting a spirituality and punk connection.
Tell us about how the idea for the project came about, how it took shape, and what the final product will look like?
The project came about for many reasons. One of the main ones being I wanted answers in my own life and I decided to seek them through avenues I know best—punk and interviewing. Interviewing and writing helps me make sense of my own life and work through my stuff.
It took shape slowly over six years, it was an idea a year or so before that even. I’d find after each conversation that person would usually recommend someone else I could speak with, it was all very organic. Nothing was forced, maybe that’s why it took so long!
The final product is a couple of things. First, a limited edition 12-zine series that is currently being released over the next 12 months. At the zine series conclusion it will be released as a collected concise work in book form. The book version will include never before seen interviews.
You interview an impressive cast of people involved in punk rock, including some figures who are outspoken atheists (Greg Graffin) and people who have been reluctant to speak about their views on religion in the past (Ian MacKaye). What was the most surprising or interesting interview you conducted and why?
There was no one interview that was most surprising or interesting. They all are in their own way. I have gotten something from each one of them so they’re all very dear to me. If I had to pick though, my conversation with Vic DiCara (from the band 108; he’s also a Vedic Astrologer) is a favourite. He’s experienced some amazing things—a near death experience, a train crash to name a couple—and he is an intriguing individual and wonderfully creative.
My interview with Heidi Minx is another I love. She has project called Built On Respect (I mentioned it earlier) that works within the Tibetan refugee community in India to teach English, sustainable business practices amongst other things. Heidi is a Buddhist and has a very wonderful DIY approach to living life.
Although it is quite diverse — and I’m sure your project will highlight this diversity — from your interviews have you come to think of punk rock as having a sort of spiritual impulse?
Records & zines are punk’s bibles. Gigs are its worship & ritual. To me spirituality is life, punk rock is a big part of my life (but I don’t let it define me) so to me personally, punk does have a spiritual impulse. It has an energy.
What kinds of contributions do you hope to see this project make, for punk culture, for religious communities, for the academic study of punk culture, etc.?
I’m not so concerned with the contributions my project makes to the communities you’ve mentioned, I care about it helping individuals. I hope it opens people’s hearts and minds to other people’s perspectives, new ways of thinking, new ideas, new opportunities, and new connections. Many people that I have grown up admiring and whose work I have the utmost respect for that have been in contact with me because of the project have told me they think that this is an ‘important book’ which has been very humbling and lovely to hear.
So many touching and special moments have come about from its release. At the launch of the project here in Brisbane, Australia I had amazing conversations with many who came to the event. One particular guy I spoke with told me he was a huge Omar Rodriguez-Lopez [from The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In -- Michael] fan (he has all of his releases on vinyl!)
And finally, how can our readers get copies of the zine series?
They are available via my site:
Thank you so much for the interview and interest in my project, Michael. I enjoy the work you guys at Rock and Theology do… it is appreciated.
[Bianca photo by Michelle Aziz of Mischa Photography http://www.mischaphotography.com.au. Zine photo from http://conversationswithbianca.com/order-conversations-with-punx/.]
Morgantown, West Virginia