Bile Sister’s Julie Reich talks to Terri about being made fun of, making holiday music, and opening for Marilyn Manson.
Few artists lay claim to a title like “worst music video ever,” especially one with four million YouTube views. Chicago’s Jan Terri had minimal budget for the VHS clips from her early ’90s rock and country songs, but whether tackling themes of heartbreak (“Losing You”), space travel (“Journey To Mars”), or original holiday hits (“Rock and Roll Santa,” “Get Down Goblin”), her unvarnished charms have resulted in a lengthy cult career.
Terri originally released 1993’s Baby Blues and 1994’s High Risk via her own JT Records. After her reputation grew while working as a limo driver, 2000’s The Wild One was recorded with Nashville session musicians then shelved for another 10 years. Following Kate Schultz’s late ’90s documentary The One, The Only Jan Terri, her bandmate Darren Hacker is now set to release Jan Terri: No Rules, a box set including a new documentary film and autobiography with reproduced collector’s items.
Alongside fans including Marilyn Manson (Terri opened for him in 1998), Mike Judge (two of her videos appeared on Beavis and Butt-Head) and Cameron Crowe (Terri’s song “Excuse My Christmas” is featured in his 2015 film Aloha), Toronto’s Julie Reich of Bile Sister is another devotee. Inspired by Terri’s DIY tenacity and real-person originality, the experimental electronic pop group have closed many live sets with a dramatic cover of “Losing You.”
To get a sense of the person behind the cult, Reich called Terri at her home in California with her beloved dog Denny to discuss video inspirations, behind the scenes info, and the pros and cons of going viral.
Julie Reich: When did you start making music and videos?
Jan Terri: I was 17 making music in high school, but didn’t start doing videos until I formed my band Cool Blues. I tried to do videos cheaper with the help of my friend Mike Houtz. I didn’t have thousands of millions of dollars to spend on production.
Your video “Losing You” is kind of a sensation – there are over four million views!
It has over four million hits because it’s listed as one of the world’s worst music videos. But I think there are worse videos than mine out there. Even videos artists spend a fortune on aren’t that good.
Why do you think people like it?
If you know the hooks in my songs, they’re simple. I’m not a complex writer. Beatles songs had simple writing. It’s got a nice beat and it’s catchy, but people make fun of me. They say I look 300 pounds, and I’m not. They say my hair looks like spinach. My co-worker was a hairdresser. She did my hair and made it poofy.
For “Journey to Mars,” where did you get that spacey sci-fi stuff?
The outfits were sauna suits. I wore a fanny pack belt and Star Trekmerchandise from Toys R Us. We shot it at O’Hare airport.
I gather that your lyrics are about things that relate to you. I’m curious about “You Want A Divorce.”
I wrote that about my parents. When we were out in Jersey my dad was acting up so I said to my grandma “I want a divorce from my dad.” [laughs]
How did you come up with the title “Fax My Love”?
I had a partial hysterectomy and I wrote that in the hospital. I was allergic to the morphine and had my finger on the trigger. I was in a goofy mood and had my pad of paper and a pen. That’s how I started writing it.
I wanna jump to 2011 and ask about your song “Excuse My Christmas.”
These two girls emailed me two pages of lyrics. They wanted me to write a song as a Christmas present. Guy Bauer has a cable show and he asked if I was working on anything. We booked studio time with the engineer Andy Shoemaker and the next day I went there. Within three hours the song was written and recorded. They suggested I do a music video, so we did it on a green screen.
You’ve done a lot of holiday music, like “Get Down Goblin.”
There weren’t any new Halloween songs. The only one when I was a kid was “Monster Mash” and I don’t consider “Thriller” a Halloween song so I wrote, “Get Down Goblin.” For the music video, we used the castle on 103rd and Longwood, a church on the south side of Chicago, and the cellar of a haunted house in Iowa, Illinois. We filmed in the cemetery along the ride back.
What about “Rock and Roll Santa” from 1993?
Again, all the major artists like Mariah Carey were redoing old classics at the time. I wanted to do something original. It’s pieces of country and little pieces of hip-hop. The country people said that was unheard of.
Is that something you aspire to do – make genre-bending music?
Well, I had one album that was going be country songs but with disco. The record company said there’s no such thing.
How did you meet Marilyn Manson?
My friend Jim Thompson worked at Tower Records where a lot of famous people came in. The store had a little section for local independent artists. I sold my CDs and VHS tapes. One day, Manson was in the store, and Jim was talking to him about me.
That Thursday I came home from work… I was driving a limo at the time… and my mom said I got a call from Manson’s manager. I called him right back. He said, “Do you know who Marilyn Manson is?” I said “No!” Then he said, “Well, do you know Rose McGowan?” It was her birthday, September 5th, and Manson’s is January 5th, and Denny [Jan’s dog]’s birthday is January 5th. He said “Manson wants to know if you’ll do him a favor. We saw your album, would you sing at her birthday party?”
They flew me out to LA and drove me someplace where Manson and Rose McGowan were having dinner. They had one section of the bar closed off. I was their entertainer. After that, Manson’s manager told me he wanted me to open for him in Chicago, and he’d give me 20 minutes. I was the first act to go on at the Aragon Ballroom. I opened for him in Wisconsin too.
Finally, I wanted to ask about your dog Denny.
Denny and I are gonna run for president, and every day he will have McDonald’s, Starbucks, and quesadillas! He has dog food too.
Well, I’m afraid for Canada. All these people here are saying if Trump wins they are going to move to Canada. You are going to have to close your borders! I’m not a politician, I’m a rock and roller, but I would do a lot more for the homeless. I’ve been rich as a kid, I’ve been middle class, and I’ve been poor so I know what it’s like.