An interview with Johnny Iguana, founder and pianist in punk-blues act, The Claudettes
by Mike Huberty
June 2017

The Claudettes from Chicago

The Claudettes from Chicago

After spending the 2000s with Chicago indie rock/popsters, OH MY GOD, keyboardist and singer JOHNNY IGUANA started a piano/drum band in 2011 as the house act at a little Illinois bar called Claudette’s (and named themselves after the club and its wild owner.) Starting with good old American Roots music, he began borrowing elements from punk, blues, jazz, and even classical to create their sound and since the spare beginning they’ve added more musicians to the mix to fill out the sonic spectrum.

In addition to Johnny Iguana on piano and vocals, THE CLAUDETTES are Berit Ulseth on vocals, Zach Verdoorn on bass/vocals, Matt Torre on drums. We talked with Mister Iguana to discuss their upcoming show at AtwoodFest at 2pm on July 29th.

Maximum Ink: THE CLAUDETTES sound is a refreshing change from the mainstream, who were the first musical artists that you were influenced you?
Johnny Iguana: The members of this band have many different inspirations, from jazz to classical to blues to metal to punk. My earliest favorites were AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, then I worked my way backwards to blues musicians like JUNIOR WELLS, HOWLIN’ WOLF, ELMORE JAMES, OTIS SPANN, MUDDY WATERS and JOHN LEE HOOKER while also getting very excited about American punk like Minutemen, HÜSKER DÜ and MEAT PUPPETS. THE CLAUDETTES brings those blues and punk elements together, and doesn’t block out the classical and jazz stuff that moved me in my teens.

MI: Who are the acts that you all gel on as musicians?
JI: This particular quartet has only been together for a bit over a year but we listen to a huge range of music in the van, from new garage/girl-group/psychedelic bands to classic soul and R&B to Chicago blues to country and folk…Shostakovich string quartets, too!

MI: What’s a good musical introduction to THE CLAUDETTES?
JI: The new album, with this four-piece lineup, is not out yet (it is coming). But we have videos for “Give It All Up for Good,” “Don’t Stay with Me,” “Pull Closer to Me”…those are ones I love…also, our earlier albums are rife with the wacko instrumentals we still love playing live along with the vocal songs.

“Give It All Up for Good” is short for the original full title, “(Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off and) Give It All Up for Good.” I wanted to write an answer song to the self-satisfied celebrities who go onto daytime talk shows and congratulate themselves for getting back on the horse after alcoholism, drug addiction or other hardship. Sometimes, I just want to hear someone say, “I realized I had to just pick myself up, dust myself off and…you know, give it all up for good…just walk on down the road with my head hung low.”

MI: What’s gonna happen at AtwoodFest this year when you guys hit the stage?
JI: The Claudettes are full of excellent singers and musicians, but that stuff is so boring if you don’t put all your heart and emotion into what you’re doing. Mistakes don’t matter; heart does. So, you’ll see playing and singing that will impress you, and some dancing and moving about, but mostly you’ll get to know these people on stage and feel a kinship. It’s a moving experience, for the musicians and the audience. This band puts a whole lot of feeling into what we do. The instrumentals can have a kind of vaudeville feel…a burlesque blues feel…and the vocal songs range from cocky and swaggering to sublimely romantic to really downhearted.

MI: Anything else you’d like our Max Ink readers to know?
JI: Yes. Every time I have a microphone in front of me, or a newspaper audience (I’m also going to put this on a T-shirt soon), I declare my mantra…it’s sort of our band’s mantra: WHEN IN DOUBT, GO OUT! The economy of the arts… theaters… musicians… music venues… visual artists… galleries… actors… they’d all be so much better off if, whenever you’re considering going out to a show of any kind, you got off your couch and just went. Some people are hopeless. They’ve been eaten up by this Netflix world of ours. They have six shows they’re watching, and four more in queue. But those who still go out to see music, art, theater… whenever you’re even considering it, do NOT let drizzle, fatigue, the desire not to spend $15, a fridge full of IPAs or the opportunity to watch any TV show ever made stop you. Get up. Go out. I’ve never regretting going out. Don’t only put money into the hands of CEOs who ultimately own Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google…go support real artists in your community. Don’t just go see famous bands of your friends’ bands. See who’s coming, see who sounds interesting, or just go “prospecting” and go to a good venue and see three bands. Go commune with people. Talk, argue, get in a fight if you have to. Don’t just stay home. I’m right.

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