Jodi Jolt and The Volt came together in June of 2011, playing the first gig at the old Club Gallery after the RI Pride celebration. Since then The Volt has been playing original fun high energy music and select covers in clubs all over the New England area. The Volt has been featured in Frock Magazine, Transformation Magazine, TGForum, Options Magazine, performed on the Tony Jones Show, at RI Pride 2015 and 2016, New London Pride 2016, and Hartford City Pride 2016. They have donated performances to benefit Aids Project New Haven, The RI Food Bank, local Veterans, local animal shelters, and RI Pride.
INTERVIEW WITH JODI JOLT (GUITARIST/VOCALIST)
(Interview conducted and written by Connor Sullivan)
Q: How did this project emerge?
A: Going back a bit, in 2009 I started dressing a bit differently, exploring my transgender tendencies. I was hanging around some of the clubs in Providence and I had another transgender friend ask if I played music and if I was interested in getting a band together. Even though I hadn’t played music in decades, I said “What the hell” and gave it a shot. It ended up not working out — creative differences, let’s say. But it whetted my appetite for playing music again. I kept on playing music and pursuing the dream and asking people if they wanted to be in a band. In 2011, I lucked out and found some people that would end up being great friends, Christina Jay and Mischa Johnson. Together we formed Jodi Jolt & The Volt. We’ve had a dozen members come and go through the years though. But as of 2017, we have seven members of the band that are able to meet and have been playing together all throughout New England. That’s the Cliffs Notes version of it all, anyway.
Q: When did you start getting in touch with the transgender community?
A: I was always curious about the whole thing since I was a kid. Then when I finally dressed for a couple halloween parties, it really felt natural. The first time I dressed like that it was as a New England Patriots cheerleader and I got a lot of compliments so before you know it I was buying miniskirts. I think it’s more of a gender thing than a sexual thing. Instead of going out and portraying the boy gender, I’m portraying the girl gender. The way people react to me is completely different going out in boy-mode versus going out in girl-mode. The biggest adjustment for me was getting adjusted to how people adjust to me wearing a mini skirt. I’ve never once woken up wishing I was the opposite gender. I’m kind of gender fluid though. It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed; it’s how I feel is the real test. In the band, we do have people that are transgender 24/7, male-to-female. Then there are also gender-fluid people like me whom you don’t whether or not we’ll be in boy- or girl-mode. If I go out tonight, who knows, I may be wearing a miniskirt.
Q: Is writing and playing music cathartic for you as someone that’s gender-fluid?
A: Actually, no. Most of the songs don’t have to do with the transgender thing at all. We’ve got a song called “Crazy Cat Lady” that seems to be a big hit. It’s about anyone that owns more than two cats. We’ve got a song called “Drunk Girls,” we’ve got another called “Total Bitch.” We’ve got a song called “Jenny Played With Trucks.” The only song we’ve got that has anything to do with being transgender is called “Endocrine Release.” It’s about going to your endocrinologist and making sure you have the right balance of hormones, testosterone, estrogen, whatever. Male-to-female, female-to-male — everyone’s dealing with an endocrinologist. I’m not on hormones and don’t think I should be on hormones. I’m happy just being the way I am. I understand that people aren’t comfortable though and have to go to endocrinologists. And that’s why we have “Endocrine Release.” For covers, I like to do songs like “Wipe Out,” rock ‘n’ roll stuff like Cream’s version of the Robert Johnson song “Crossroads.” As far as being in this band, it’s not really a transgender outlet for me. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll outlet. I’m aggressive and I like music. Put them together and you get rock ‘n’ roll. The people in my band happen to be gender-fluid and transgender, but we don’t really have an agenda and aren’t political.
We just want to get together and rock. You may look at our band as a sanctuary for transgender musicians that may not be welcome anywhere else. But do we have a “trans-”genda — a transgender agenda? No. Nobody wants to come to a club and hear my problems. Everybody wants to go to a club to have a few drinks and dance and leave with a smile on their face. I’ve learned from other bands that no one wants to hear damned ballads all the time. We always strive towards entertainment. I hate polite applause and want the crowd to be enthusiastic. The day I get polite applause is the day I hang it up. That said, when we go out and play a lot of places, we do inspire people from the transgender community just by us being who we are. I’ve been told we’ve inspired people, but that’s not really our aim. Our aim is to just rock ‘n’ roll and have some fun. But if I get an e-mail from someone out in Oklahoma saying, “Hey, I’m a transgender person out here in Oklahoma with no one to connect with and you folks help me feel like I’m in touch with the community. I follow you guys on YouTube, I like you on Facebook, and so forth. And it makes me feel better knowing you folks are out there.” If we’re going to inspire other people in the community, then great. That’s not our objective. But if it happens, so be it.
Q: How’d you meet the other band members?
A: I met the other band members at The Dark Lady and the Mirabar in Providence. At a bar called the Brass Rail in New London, CT. A couple of band members actually followed us on social media and sort of stalked us at shows and gigs we played. Props to everyone that’s in The Volt right now. We’ve only got one original member left, Christina Jay. She’s still rocking it on guitar and vocals. Our bass player, Angela Perry, joined in 2012 and has been rocking ever since. Our keyboard player, Emily Rose, joined The Volt in 2013. She was our sound person, and I actually taught her how to play keyboards. She has an aptitude for it, and has been playing keyboards with us ever since. Our other rhythm guitar player and also part-time bass player, Jess Firinn, saw us on social media and offered to carry equipment, and next thing you know, she’s in the band. Our present drummer, Sandy Summer Juneau, saw us on Facebook and was like, “Hey! You need a drummer?” And we did at the time because our other drummer, Jacqui Madrigal, is super busy being married with a couple of young kids and a job. So we actually have two drummers that finally met each other at a gig in New London. That’s the line-up now. Some gals are up on the Cape in Massachusetts, some are in Western Mass, some are in Connecticut, and the rest of us are from Rhode Island. It’s tough to practice, being all over the place. But we’re good enough musicians to just go out there and rock. Original members of The Volt that aren’t there anymore: our original harmonica player Mischa Johnson, our original keyboard player Angelina North, and our original bass player Selena Black. I’d also like to give a tip of the hat to Cindy Luna, who influenced me to play music again. She actually passed away a short while ago, and she’s the one who kicked my butt into playing music again.
Q: So was there a significant hiatus in playing music for you?
A: Very much so. In college, I was in some regular boy bands and had a lot of fun doing that. I was in a band called TC and the Tomcats that broke up in 1988. From that point on, I didn’t play much music at all for maybe twenty years. I’d just be jamming here and there. I tried a couple of start-up bands but it got to be a pain in the neck. I hated being in other people’s bands, watching people make the same mistakes all the time. In 2011, when I decided to get my own band together, I knew it was gonna be my way or the highway because it wasn’t going to work out any other way. Now it’s 2017, six years later, and I must be doing something right because the band’s all on the same page and we’re all happy to be there. I mean we haven’t had one band fight at all in six years. If you know bands, you know the members can fight like cats and dogs. It becomes like a dysfunctional family sometimes, especially when you start throwing in like wives and girlfriends and boyfriends and all that. It’s like a zoo. I’m blessed with this band. I didn’t want to bring with it any mistakes I’ve seen over and over again. So it’s my way or the highway basically. That’s why it’s Jodi Jolt and The Volt. Yeah I’ve got an ego, yeah I’m the front gal, but we’re all on the same page and that’s what makes it so great. We’re all very fluid– we’re all either air signs or water signs. We’ve got two Libras, two Pisces, two Aquarius, and one Cancer. It works for me.
Q: What kind of mood does your music evoke?
A: Fun. Smile, show your legs, have a good time, don’t fall off the stage. Get up and start dancing. We’ve got a song called “High Pumps” about shoes and dancing. We’ve got a song called “Country Barn Dance” about people that go to country barn dances and family reunions and try to find a date. It’s kind of a country song. We’re just all over the place musically, and when we do covers, we’re gonna do stuff like “Walk Like An Egyptian” and Manfred Mann’s old song, “Mighty Quinn.” It’s all fun stuff. If we’re on stage having fun, the audience is gonna be there having fun. We’re not political and don’t have an agenda. We’re just there to rock ‘n’ roll and have fun.
Q: Do you think music should necessarily promote an agenda?
A: It depends. Sometimes all of an artist’s music has an agenda. Like Joan Baez, who I can’t stand. People that always have an agenda, it’s like you’re always being preached at. And no one wants to be preached at, especially when the preacher is probably preaching to the choir anyway. Musicians that do have an agenda, I can only take so much of them. Musicians that want to rock and have a good time, like The Who, hell yeah. Now there’s an agenda. Our agenda is to rock ‘n’ roll and have a good time. And make sure other people are having a good time.
Q: What artists do you look towards as influences?
A: David Bowie was a huge influence on me. I was coming up in a time where, if you were a kid, there were no places to go if you were transgender. But I started listening to David Bowie, who has songs like “Rebel Rebel.” Lyrics like “You’ve got your mother in a whirl / She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” Those really inspired me. I came of age with the British Invasion — The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks. That’s what really inspired me. Later on, a little more psychedelic with the Grateful Dead, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane. I grew up on show tunes too, and my father took me to a bunch of shows on Broadway. I’ve seen Sammy Davis Jr. do Golden Boy on Broadway. I’ve seen Barbra Streisand do Funny Girl. My mother’s side of the family introduced me to gospel and all that Dixieland stuff. I’ve got a pretty good mix from just my upbringing. My own style flows from all of that stuff. I love singing gospel, even if there’s not much of a market for it with an electric guitar. I try and work some of that into the vocals that I do.
Q: What function does the trombone in your music serve?
A: I often will add trombone to the covers we do. Believe it or not, one of the reasons my first band broke up was because I wasn’t allowed to have fun — they didn’t allow me to play my trombone or to have any fun. I mean, they already had me on stage wearing a mini skirt. Were they actually worried that a trombone would be too gay or something? After that band broke up, I had it. If anyone tells me I can’t play my trombone again, I’m shoving it up their ass. I’m gonna play my trombone, I’m gonna play my harmonica, I’m gonna play my guitar, and if they don’t like it, well, there’s the door. The gals in the band love the trombone. The audience adores it too. Now every time I bust it out there’s a big smile on everyone’s face.
Q: Were you incorporating the trombone before ska came into vogue in the 90’s?
A: I’ve been playing my trombone since 1964, before ska was even ska;.I’m just doing me. Some of the stuff we do sounds like ska since we’re all over the place. But we’re not just ska; as long as it’s fun, high energy music, we’ll do it.
Q: Could you walk me through your songwriting process?
A: I’ve never had writer’s block in my life. In 2011, a friend Erica was over at the house and having an existential crisis about something. She had three cats at the time and just blurted out, “I don’t wanna die like a crazy cat lady.“ I immediately wrote that down. Two years later, I wrote a song about it called “Crazy Cat Lady.” The theme comes to me, and then the words come after. Totally a reverse process. Writing is different for everyone though. It all depends. I was at a friend’s house the other day and when he comes walking in, he yells, “The cops are at K-Mart again.” And I’m like, “Stop,” and ask why and apparently one of the band member’s friends was at K-Mart shoplifting. Again. I’ve had more birthdays then she’s gotten arrested. So we’re writing a song about it now.
Q: Are you writing about the comedic elements of daily life?
A: Bingo. Couldn’t have put it better. Live and let laugh. “Drunk Girls,” “Jenny Plays With Trucks,” all fun songs. We even have a song about pie fights called “Pie Fight.”
Q: What’s your vocal approach like?
A: I’m just a rocker and do whatever I feel like. I’ve got a pretty good range. Sometimes gals in the band will ask if I want to play a certain song. If I’m passionate about it, I’ll sing it. If I’m not, forget it. Some of the gals in our band can sing pretty good backing vocals. Christina Jay has a really beautiful voice and can sing her own harmonies. Our newest gal can sing and play guitar and is trying to put the two together, even if it’s a little rough for her. I’m usually the one doing lead vocals and the other gals do the backing vocals. Some of the members have vocal experience, but I told them all when they joined the band, “I’ll do the heavy lifting, you folks sit back and have fun.” If they wanna step out into the limelight, that’s fine. But they don’t really seem to want to. They have a lot of fun doing their own thing while I front the band. I’d like to get them to sing more, to tell you the truth. But for most of them, it’s the first band they’ve ever been in and playing and singing at the same time is an ordeal.
Q: How do you view Providence?
A: Providence is our home. We met here and still meet here. We’ve been hanging out at The Village a lot. Every three months, we’ll have a gig there. Their set-up is conducive to having a band. There’s actually a stage where you can have a band, unlike The Dark Lady, for instance, which just has bands outside. We do a lot of gigs in the Providence area. You figure we have the gals everywhere across New Engalnd, then Providence is the average and it’s just a nice place to meet up. Only one gal, Christina Jay, actually lives here. Emily’s down in Cranston, I’m down in New Westerly, Angela’s way out in the Berkshires, Sandy’s out on the Cape. When we play together, it’s a long haul. It’s tough to rehearse. But we’re good enough musicians now that we can meet at a gig and go out there and rock. We keep it pretty shallow too. We play real straight, 4/4 rock ‘n’ roll. We’re not gonna be covering Frank Zappa or Dream Theater or whatever. I love that stuff, but it’s way too complicated for our band. This is the first band some of these gals have been in, after all.
Q: What’s the group’s history with AS220 like?
A: I had seen a few shows at AS220 and asked about playing it a few years ago. They told me you can only play originals there, no covers. I figured we had enough originals so I got in touch with them online. They told me I could play at a Saturday and start getting a lineup together. That was maybe 2012. We played there once and had an awful lot of fun. And then a couple more times. I really like the venue at AS220. Nice stage, nice sound system. It’s separate from the bar in the restaurant area so you can go in there and have a drink. Great people working there, too. I like that they encourage you to play originals. Some club owners only let you play covers, which sucks because we like to mix it up a little bit. I went to Foo Fest last year and had a blast. And then I wanted to give it a shot. So I sent the Foo Fest people an e-mail a while back and they said they’d love to have us play this year’s bill.
Q: Any future plans outside of Foo Fest?
A: Lots of gigs. July 29th, we’re gonna be in New Haven, CT playing a benefit for our friend whose house burnt down. August 26th, we’re in New London, CT playing New London Pride Festival. September 23rd, we’re back in Providence playing The Village. Gigs just keep going. Sometimes we go out and search for gigs, but most times people will just call us and ask if we want to return. Last September, we played Lowell Pride after people just called us about it out of the blue. Six years together, and we’re just at the point where people are calling us. Pretty cool. Unfortunately, a lot of the clubs we’ve played through the years have closed. I wouldn’t want to be a club owner. Off the top of my head, Gallery One and Gallery Two, Club Hell, Providence Social Club, Frank’s Place, Randolph Country Club, Fatt Squirrel, Manchester 65. We’re still rocking, but the clubs are closing. All the power to you if you have a night club and can keep it going.