New Exclusive: Jyl Porch Revisits Legendary 1984 Masterpiece, Jyl
Jyl Porch appeared on her first and only full-length album, — titled simply Jyl— in 1984 . A flawless artistic statement that fits snugly into what many today might dub “minimal wave”, the album was composed, recorded, and released in Germany, alongside a UK release. The Jyl album is every bit enchanting as it is mysterious, and though it’s been over thirty-five years since the masterpiece was recorded, it remains largely unheard by mainstream audiences.
Soon after Jyl came to our attention, we found ourselves deep into this album, enthralled by sounds, lyrics, compositions, and associated imagery that all feel astonishingly ahead of their time. Illustrious names associated with the album included Klaus Schultze, Ingo Werner, and Angela [Werner], which only added to its significance and near-mythological mystery. Nonplussed by the relative obscurity of such a fully-realized, forward-thinking, and enjoyable album, our curiosity only increased when confronted with a confounding dearth of information on Jyl Porch and at least part of the backstory to the Jyl release.
Not to be deterred, we persisted our sleuthing until we finally were able to be in touch with Jyl Porch herself for answers to many of our questions. During the course of the following conversation, Jyl graciously pulled the proverbial curtain back on this prophetic masterpiece for us, sharing details about its origins and process, as well as those of the striking complementary “Mechanic Ballerina” video. We are profoundly grateful to Jyl Porch for her generous insights into an important album that will surely only grow in popularity and acclaim as it continues to find new appreciative fans in the coming months and years.
Bobby Weirdo: TheJyl album was recorded and released in Germany, but you’re American, right?
Jyl Porch: Yes.
BW: How did you end up living in Germany?
JP: My mother was a painter and I’ve been around creative people my whole life. I’m from Carmel originally and a California girl at heart. When I was young all I wanted to do was leave Carmel and see the world as soon as I could. My father motivated me to take chances because he always told me I couldn’t. Even though we were from Carmel, we had no money. It propelled me into -- at times -- uncomfortable situations and seeing the world.
I was recruited by Marcia Plevin while I was in UCSB, and I graduated from University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Modern Dance. Marcia started a small company in North Carolina called Marcia Plevin Productions, which I danced in. It was an incredible time for me and I was so excited about performing. I loved the discipline and creativity of school.
I quit the dance company after graduation, and while most of my friends went to New York, I wanted to go to Europe. Marcia hooked me up with some people she knew in the dance and theatre community in Rome, so I bought a one-way ticket to Europe, which was all I could afford. I wiggled through until I ended up where I did – living over ten years in Europe.
My first day in Rome I was robbed on the train. The Italian men in Rome were so aggressive and never left me alone the whole time I was there. So I went from sleepy North Carolina to crazy fast Rome. It was really scary and all I would do was run from gangs of young men. This was 1979.
Then I got a job from an American choreographer living in Rome who told me I could model and do TV work as well as dance in his company. It was too much of a leap for me and I couldn’t handle the harassment I was getting in Rome. I always regret I didn’t have it in me to stay in Italy, but I had to leave. I wish I could have handled it -- I like Italian food so much more than German food, and Rome is incredible.
Another friend of mine from the School of the Arts told me he’d heard of an audition for a production at the Academy of Art in Berlin, so I left Rome and went to the audition and got in with the choreographer Leonore Ickstadt. I called Marsha Crews, who went to the School of the Arts with me and was living in New York. She auditioned for Leonore, came with me to Berlin, and then ended up marring Michael Kocáb from the Czech Republic.
This was when you had to go through East Germany to get to West Berlin, so that was intense. But I got a job at the Academy of Art in Berlin, and that started my performing arts career after school. I was there a year, and then I did some touring as a modern dancer and performer. During some time off from working on a modern dance performance at the Acdemy of Art, I ended up going to Munich and became friends with a lot of people: Joachim Ballon from Gallo Studios, Eisi Gulp -- who was a political clown -- and young fun people who were doing stuff.
I met Ingo Werner – my music producer -- through Joachim. Ingo was looking for a dancer for a production. When we met, [he decided] he wanted to make a solo production with me, and that’s what started the production Jyl.
We ended up working with Ingo in our own music studio for about ten years. We did a lot of productions, and it was some very interesting work. He’s incredible – I just got off the phone with him after [speaking for] three hours. He is so creative.
BW: So when you say “production”, it was a recording project that also had live performance elements?
JP: We had a recording studio in their house, and in the back we built a huge room where we could practice choreography. It was a very creative house: his wife Angela Werner, Christoph Haberer, Mimi Poulakis, Peter Braunholz, Amin Stöwe, Reinhard Karwatky …all the people on the back of the Jyl album. Both the Jyl album and Angela’salbum were recorded there. And it was never about the money – we lived poor so that we could do the work.
I actually slept at Ingo’s mother’s bed and breakfast at the end of the road in this little village Bauschheim --which is outside of Rüsselsheim -- and then worked at the house. For Angela’s projects I brought Kirsten [McKenley] over from New York, and we did full-blown choreography to multiple songs.
Around that time, Klaus Shulze got hold of Ingo because he was interested in my solo album [for his label]. It was a very prolific, exciting, and hard-working [time] that was really focused on the music, which we put everything into. I was interested in performing, which I got to do [in Germany] in many unique ways -- I was a model, I was in the music industry, in a punk movie, on TV, on stage, in videos, and I was in theatre.
BW: What years comprised this period you’re describing?
JP: There were a couple periods with a break in-between. It was around ’79 – ’84, and then I moved to Munich. After that I went to Egypt for my last dance job. Then I went back to America before returning to Germany. So there were two big blocks [of time] in Germany.
BW: What was that last dance job you did in Egypt before you returned to America and eventually Germany again?
JP: I worked in a nightclub in the Nile Hilton as a showgirl for a French revue company. I was the only American in that group.
BW: Speaking of being an America abroad, how were you received as an American in Germany during the years you lived and worked there?
JP: It was great; people were really kind to me. It was an interesting time to be living in Germany as an American, and there weren’t many Americans there. I lived there for a long time, and for a while I didn’t even feel like I was American anymore. I felt in-between, and thought I was going to stay.
I was well received and cute enough to get away with high fashion. I did high fashion, avant-garde modeling on stage, modeled bathing suits, and I worked with hair stylists on stage. I loved the avant-garde modeling because you could wear these different outfits and be this other person, unlike the normal modeling. I did the regular walking stuff [too], but with the avant-garde [modeling], you could have a lot of flair onstage, according to what you were wearing. It was creative freedom, and it was fun, but [ultimately] everything was for the music.
By the time Kirsten, Angelica [Angela], and I got together, the three of us were focused on Angelica’s productions. We bought our own film camera, and I was the cameraman a lot, because I loved being behind the camera. Kirsten choreographed eighteen full-blown modern choreographies to songs, which we performed while we played our films.
We worked in discos in those days, like Dorian Gray, and we also did a big concert in Augsberg. They were multi-media performances with our music, choreographed dancing, and our films. We did it all ourselves, and nobody was doing that kind of thing then. My video, though, was even earlier.
BW: The “Mechanic Ballerina” video?
JP: Right. I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t have any clothes on in the video -- it’s total body paint. It took all these people with brushes two hours [to do], and I was freezing. It was a one-take thing, we finished it in two days, and it won a prize in France.
BW: Did you do the choreography in the video?
JP: I did, but it got cut up a lot because I wasn’t wearing any clothes, and was controversial. I thought the lights were good. It was Joachim’s concept, and pretty much nothing turned out the way it was supposed to. Joachim for some reason put that bodybuilder in there. I wasn’t happy with how it turned out, but I looked pretty.
BW: It really does come across that you have a dance background in the video, though.
JP: Thank you for saying that, because I am creative. I put my heart into it – as anybody does. I’m not a diva performer, but I am a performer, and you do everything for the show.
BW: On the topic of live shows, were there any live Jyl shows during this period, or was Jyl only a studio project?
JP: I did live shows, but I don’t have anything to show from them. I was also on TV a couple times.
BW: What inspired the lyrical themes on the album? You reference technology, computers, and even Silicon Valley. Did you have a particular connection to those related subjects?
JP: I’m visual, so for me, some of the lyrics were visual. I saw [the lyrics as] pictures, and [those subjects were] part of the concept of electronic music. Jyl was German electronic music with an American performer and a small group of different artists.
BW: One thematic lyrical departure from the subject of technology on the album can be heard on the track “Positions”. Were those lyrics inspired by something you’d seen in the modeling world?
JP: I don’t know -- I had a little sexy thing going on there, and it just kind of came to me. When I write lyrics, I feel like I’m channeling, and it’s another way of being. I [made myself] a character for every song [on Jyl], like on “Electric Lady” and “Universe”. We started to make a video for “Universe” but ran out of money.
I felt those songs had a beginning, middle, and end, and each song was like a little pearl that had an emotional feeling to it. It was the characters I made for each song, the dance, the music, and the lyrics that created that pearl.
We pared down a lot to get to the songs on Jyl. I did 100 songs before narrowing them down to the ones on my album, and you can tell by listening to it. Which one do you like the best?
BW: I really like “Computer Generation” a lot… “Dance and Death”, “Electric Lady”, “Silicon Valley”…It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I like playing “Computer Love” when first talking about the album with people in order give them an idea of what the project is all about.
JP: “Computer Love” is good. It’s commercial, and there’s just so much sound in it.
BW: It feels like something that you almost can’t believe came from 1984; it’s ahead of its time.
JP: I think so. Labels and production teams always wanted us to be different than we were – they wanted us to be a copy [of something else]. That’s how they were in those days, and they didn’t want to take chances. But we were just unique.
BW: There’s a photo of you in a silver outfit. Is that from unreleased Jyl footage, or was that a still photo?
JP: That’s a still photo. It was Mylar, and it looked really pretty. I don’t have the negatives to those photos, and don’t know how to get them. I also did the graphics and drawing on the back of the album. I wanted to do more, but Klaus liked the picture from the video, where they’re pouring that glue over my head.
BW: There’s also a photo of you in a black and white bodysuit, reclining.
JP: That was going to be for a perfume commercial. Veronica [Vasicka] has a lot of my modeling photos, because at one point we were going to do a coffee table book.
BW: Besides the Jyl album, you were also involved with the Angela track “Fantasy”.
JP: I did lyrics and background vocals for “Fantasy” and “I Gotta Little Love”.
BW: Are the lyrics to the Jyl album written anywhere?
JP: No, but I could write them down. I did have them in a portfolio, but I’ve moved so many times, and then [for a time] nobody was interested in my work.
BW: You have some kind of connection to the label Minimal Wave.
JP: Veronica [Vasicka] got hold of me years and years ago, asking if I was the Jyl. I’ve done a radio interview with Veronica, and she wants to put my album out. But Ingo was my producer and has the master tapes, so it’s been on hold for a long time. Hopefully it will come out this year.
A lot of people from Europe have gotten hold of me about the album, and I sent them all to Ingo, because he was the producer. The only one who got through to him was Josh [Cheon] from Dark Entries, so he’s releasing the Angela Fantasy maxi-single.
BW: At this point, how many people in your life know about the Jyl album?
JP: Not many people at all. People do get a hold of me, like Veronica, who’s been my friend for years and years and years. It’s obscure and under-the radar, but I think it’s a really good album.
BW: I so appreciate you sharing some of these details about the story behind the Jyl project. My feeling is that it’s important to document this, because it’s such a remarkable album, and I think more and more people will appreciate the album once they encounter it.
JP: Like anything, this story has a lot of disappointments in it -- huge dreams for long periods. We were very prolific, but lost a lot of master tapes, so there’s very little to show of all the work I’ve done.
BW: And that’s because the tapes and footage simply don’t exist anymore?
JP: Exactly. Someone just threw all the tapes out, so a lot of the filming and music we did was tragically destroyed. This is what remains, and I think it’s beautiful.
BW: What does remain is a masterful album that many people are just finding out about now for the first time. Clearly, your relationship with the album and work it reflects is a complex one, but it’s such a major part of your important artistic life. I also don’t believe this album’s story is finished. Do you have any final thoughts -- for now -- on the album that you would be willing to share?
JP: It’s bittersweet when you put your whole heart into something and it doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would. But now it’s coming back years later. Authentic music and authentic art lives.
Special thanks to DJ/musician/curator Benjamin White (weird_shit_la, Unknown Subjects and formerly of Gogogo Airheart, Softboiled Eggies and Part Time Punks) for introducing us to the Jyl album.