One of our favorite NYC rockers, Zohra Atash of Azar Swan and Religious To Damn, interviewed another one of our faves, Anna Copa Cabanna, about her new music video “Manners” — premiering exclusively on BUST below.
Anna Copa Cabanna is NYC DIY showgirl royalty from Down Under. Not only did she perform the wildly popular Rock and Roll Variety Show for years at Joe’s Pub, but you could catch her anywhere, from go-go-ing at Motor City Bar (RIP), to being the face and twirling body of The Pixies’ song “Debaser” on their Doolittle tour.
We’ve been friends ever since I worked up the courage to tell her I loved her dancing one night. Anna appreciated my nice manners — I’m guessing — and we’ve been chatting about art and good manners ever since. I was especially gratified to chat with Anna in conjunction with BUST premiering her new video for the song “Manners,” directed and animated by self-proclaimed surreal pop psychedelic illustrator Gregory Stovetop:
Zohra: I was asked to come in for a casting call this afternoon in SoHo by someone you just don’t say no to. Among the artists they’d asked came some models from agencies — most of whom were sweet as pie, but one of the boys sort of body-checked me from behind. I had to bite my tongue almost clean off. I don’t need every man I encounter to treat me with basic manners, but I think the a special place in hell those ladies were talking about are for them.
Given the nature of your job as the joyful centerpiece to any party that would dare play the Cramps, what are the worst manners you’ve encountered, and how did you navigate the situation?
Anna: I absolutely love singing and dancing, but I found out pretty quickly that when you put yourself out there like that — your body and your soul — you are also laying your head on the chopping block. It’s on display and you never know who is out there and how they will react. The “bad manners” I’ve encountered go-go dancing have been everything from rude questions about my bra size, age, and income to calling me every name under the sun, or offering me ridiculous amounts of money to, well…you get the picture. I’ve had people throw things at me, moon me.
I can’t really pick the worst…maybe the guy at Beauty Bar who took some tips out of my bikini bottom and tried to run after I rejected his advances. In that instance, I ran after him, grabbed the cash back and shoved him out of the bar, calling him a coward. I remember the bouncers all watched me, instead of intervening, and got a kick out of how I basically pushed this guy twice my size all the way out onto the street. There was a guy who said my stomach reminded me of his dog’s balls. I mean, it’s surreal. Most of the time, I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode, but with more swearing and bikinis. I will pull out my Mary Poppins when bad manners get out of hand. Schooling them in an English-sounding accent can stop people in their tracks more than “Fuck off.” After all these years, though, I see the humor in it first.
Zohra: Throughout the years, you have had these two sides that oscillate — seamlessly! — between rock ‘n’ roll tough mama and a sparkly ’80s, sweet, could-be-Pee-Wee’s-Swedish-cousin whimsy. Both parts are very much you, but not only that, they are two people that exist in a heightened reality. Your acts incorporate everything from go-go dancing to singing to acting. How did all of these disparate talent and ideas coalesce?
Anna: I grew up wanting to be Olivia Newton-John. And then Freddie Mercury. And then Gene Kelly and Ann-Margret. And then Kermit the Frog… the list goes on. I always knew I wanted to act and sing and dance and wear leotards and sequins. There’s so much joy to be found in entertaining people and telling stories, sharing who you really are with expression, be it a dance, an emotional leap in a play, a lyric you have to get out. The connection I felt to truth, to other people, to what life just might be about, to revelry…it’s intoxicating.
Throw rock ‘n’ roll in there as well?? YES. It’s where I felt most wild and free growing up. I liked feeling crazy, ferocious even, because I was really a very “good girl.” I also had a lot of rage in me as a kid. We all know the best way to get that rage out is to dance or make music, right? Dancing till I fell over to rock ‘n’ roll felt just as good as crying over Shakespeare, and was the best way to get that rage out. Eventually, after dancing like crazy at parties and nightclubs, people started asking me to go-go dance. Combining elements of acting and crazy costumes and rock and roll was a dream come true. And the music from the ’60s and ’70s just does it for me.
The Anna Copa Cabanna Show was sweet and sad and odd and funny and rock ‘n’ roll and mostly shambolic — but it was a variety show. I’m inspired by light and shade in shows, in life, in people. It might seem odd to some people that I can go from goofy to sexy or tough in my shows or gigs, but I think the best clowns have a dozen faces. All the best shows were like that, from Elvis in Vegas, The Muppet Show, Queen, Tina Turner, and most ’70s variety shows on television.
Zohra: The new song is hilarious and oddly really soothing, another juxtaposition of opposites that works so well. Was there a particular incident that spurred it on?
Anna: “Manners” is a song about a few real incidents. A few at Union Pool, the subway of course, the grocery store, Facebook, dating silliness, and people I knew who were miserable all the time and made other people feel bad about being happy. I’m definitely mellowing as I get older, but nothing gets me riled up like bad manners. It bothers me when people can’t see outside of themselves, when they won’t take responsibility, when they lack class and sensitivity.
They seem like small things — not tipping after being very demanding, knocking people over on a dance floor because you are drunk and have to storm out of the bar. Not saying “sorry.” Not calling someone after you said you would. The little things add up and make me feel like it’s a symptom of a really bad slip in humanity. Entitlement is the worst. Just have some respect and consideration for other people. It might actually be good for the planet. We are all brothers and sisters, as Walt Whitman said. It frustrates me when people forget that.
Zohra: I remember popping by Motor City to say hello while you were working a few times, and observing the dudes — from the little I saw, I can tell you must have dealt with a whole bunch of creeps. How did you minimize these interactions as make it clear a line was crossed? Any advice for ladies of the nightlife: Bartenders, dancers, DJs, etc.?
Anna: Like I said earlier, I try and see the comedy in most of my go-go encounters. I wrote a song (“The Go-Go Dancer Song”) about all the moronic things people ask me when I’m dancing. Honestly, I could write an album’s worth. On nights I got mooned or people tripped over in front of me, licked gross dollar bills or asked me crazy questions, I would say my job was not to dance but to watch people make fools of themselves. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, but it is wearing a skimpy outfit in front of drunk guys. So, just be on guard. Stay focused on who you are and why you are doing it. I’m in the moment and one with the music and vibe, but I am ALWAYS aware of what’s going on around me.
Women are good multi-taskers. Harness that power! Be independent and show you are independent , but also lean on your nightlife family — bartenders and bouncers —when people get too nuts. Most of all, it’s fun until it isn’t. Listen to your gut. Do you still love it? Then keep dancing and hopefully, love will win.
Top photo by Malgorzata Saniewska
More from BUST
I Was A Young (Afghan) American: How David Bowie Spoke To My Immigrant Experience
Azar Swan Singer Zohra Atash Talks Personal Style: BUST Interview
45 Minutes With Zohra Atash: Listen To Azar Swan’s New Single