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INTERVIEW: JAIME PAGE – April 2016

INTERVIEW: JAIME PAGE – April 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

Photographs of Jaime Page by Don Benson

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After thirty-five years in the music business local guitar legend Jaime (nee Jamie) Page releases her debut solo album Dark Universe this Friday, 29 April, at The Charles Hotel, just a few months after coming out as transgender. SHANE PINNEGAR finds out that Jaime’s finally discovering her True Spirit.

A teenage member of hard rock band Gypsy/Black Alice, who went on to great acclaim with power trio Trilogy, Jamie moved to England in 1985, where we worked with legendary drummer Cozy Powell. A song they co-wrote ended up being rejigged and recorded by Queen guitarist Brian May, whilst Jamie returned home to Perth and released three heavy metal albums with Black Steel, toyed with the comedy metal of Angus McDeth, and commenced a stellar career as guitar expert at Kosmic Sound in Osborne Park. Jamie has mostly played in tribute bands in recent years, making a few guest appearances on albums by local acts such as Project X, but at the same time as realising it was time to be true to HER inner self and commence gender reassignment treatment, came an outpouring of music that just had to be released.

“It’s been the most crazy year of my life, for sure,” says Jaime, with admirable understatement, of a year that saw her rebrand and reboot every aspect of her life.

Dark Universe is the result: an epic, emotional journey from darkness to light, recorded with backing band True Spirit, that combines progressive rock and melodic metal with superb musicianship, forming a piece of work that is an album in the true sense of the word: six songs over forty minutes, which form an amazing and more complete whole. Jaime says that publicly acknowledging her transgenderism freed up her musical spirit.

“Completely and totally. It was an ongoing process that really started with writing the songs. There’s a group of other songs as part of that group that we’re saving for hopefully a deluxe edition later in the year, that literally all led up to that, the whole thing. I’ve just been musically and personally liberated through that process. I didn’t even realize what was going on until it hit me!”

Jaime is quick to point out that Dark Universe, whilst tracking her own journey through gender dysphoria from sadness to happiness, isn’t an album ABOUT transgenderism. The strongest theme is being true to oneself, so the album can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of whether the listener knows she is transgender or related to the subject or not.

“The songs weren’t consciously written with transgenderism in mind,” explains Jaime. “They were just written from the perspective of anyone, and I did say that at the very outset, when I first blogged about the album: that it was an album for anyone in any way who was displaced, sad, downtrodden; anyone who’s felt those emotions, because the emotions are very generic – anyone can go through them. I would like for people to make up their own mind about what they feel and put it into their own perspective, and relate to it in their own way, making the songs their own.”

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We all have challenges in our lives, and Dark Universe is all about overcoming them and being true to yourself, and that’s what really hit 100% ROCK in the heart when we heard it.

“That is what it is – what you just said sums it up beautifully!” Jaime agrees. “Someone yesterday said to me, ‘what is the meaning of life to you?’ And I said exactly that: ‘it’s about being true to yourself, that is the meaning of life.’ That’s the key that unlocks everything. You can live a lie as long as you want in whatever form… [but] if you are true, you’ve got somewhere to go, I guess.”

Dark Universe’s songs came organically at various times, and coalesced into a cohesive whole over the past twelve months.

“It was basically me sitting down in various states of melancholy or depression or whatever you’d want to call it,” Jaime says. “One thing I love doing in life is pouring emotion into music, so I was doing it totally for my own joy and enjoyment, so to speak. It’s something I just love to do: ‘how can I make something that is going to make people cry or feel what I’m feeling? How can I make music that moves [people] on that level?’ Everything just sort of naturally flowed out subconsciously into that, if that makes sense.”

Being Jaime’s first music with her own name on it – especially with her new name – was it important that every song was totally personal and meant a lot to her?

“It was just songs I loved, to be honest,” Jaime explains. “I really wish I could have gotten the rest of the songs on, too. If only we had had the time, but it was just literally a complete and total labour of love that could well have sat forever doing nothing, if it wasn’t for Donna [Greene, singer] or Craig [Skelton, bass & keys], Stewart [producer] and Michael [Burn – drummer] egging me on to finish it. It was not calculating at all. It was just, ‘wow, we love this one – oh my god, what have you done there?’ And it’s just a natural progression, you know? I can’t wait to finish the rest of them, another five or six songs sitting there that are all basically part of that same journey that we just have to finish to complete the picture. I’m really, super proud of what we’ve been able to achieve, with what we’ve done here.”

There’s no denying that recent photos of Jaime see her looking different – and I don’t just mean the feminine clothes and makeup: There is a glow about the guitarist: an inner shine and happiness that hasn’t been there for a very long time. She openly admits that she went through some pretty extreme emotions carrying that secret around for decades before deciding to go public and then getting to this point.

“Absolutely. Truth be known, I was battling it all the way through that early period [playing with Trilogy in the early ‘80s.] That was the one period where it was getting really out of control, and I pretty much almost lost my mind through that period, which is the reason I ended up having to go to the UK in the end, because once I’d got some treatment to discuss the problems, it opened like a genie from a bottle and scared the absolute bejesus out of me – scared the shit out of me. I just collapsed. At the time, I couldn’t look at anyone. I couldn’t face anyone. I had to go to gigs, and it’s indescribable. The feeling of, ‘has anybody said anything yet? Has anyone noticed anything?’ I just didn’t want to kill my career. I didn’t want to hurt my family. I didn’t want to cause anyone any problems. It’s been a long time carrying that one.”

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Deepest Black, the opening track on Dark Universe, features the line, ‘I can’t go on.’ Jaime admits it was difficult to survive years of living what was effectively a lie?

“It was. It was an absolute and complete nightmare, but in some crazy way, I looked at it as a penance for the musical side of things. If I didn’t know what it was like to feel that way, I would never have had the musical ability, all that emotional ability, to mine those depths and create that music. I guess it was a blessed curse, if that makes sense. I had a positive view on it, and even with Deepest Black, even though it’s got a most dark, horrendous sort of theme going through it, there is still a light at the end of it that naturally comes through with me. I can be as negative and dark and deep as I want, but at the end of the day, it’s like a rubber band. It always comes back to a positive person at the end of the day, regardless of circumstance.”

Another track on the album, Letting Go, sounds like 1980’s-era Heart, with Donna Greene singing like her life depended on it. If there was such a thing as rock radio anymore, that would be a number one, without a doubt.

“That song means so much to me for so many reasons,” Jaime elaborates. “Writing that was a joy, and then seeing the reaction when we first did a play-through last December at a True Spirit gig – it was incredible. That was actually a real turning point and catalyst to get the album finished. It was just unbelievable. There were people queued up at the stage wanting to know what the hell that was, where could they get it.

“It is also probably the most autobiographical song of the lot, at the same time, so that means a lot. When we recorded the song in the studio, there were tears. Donna was in tears. Stewart, the producer, was in tears. Strangely enough, I’m usually the first person to break down, but it’s just a wonderful thing. It is just my favourite song I’ve ever written, to be honest.”

As vocalist, Donna Greene is integral to Dark Universe’s success. Although she has fought her own battles in recent years with MS, Jaime said there was no hesitation in asking her to participate, and she delivered 110% as always.

“No hesitation at all,” she says. “Funnily enough, I’ll never forget the first time that I played Donna Deepest Black. We’d just done a gig at the Rocket Room for charity, and she was struggling terribly at the time – it was really hard to lead her through the club and organise a clear path to get her in and out, because she was really unwell at the time. She got in the car, as I took her home afterwards, she said, ‘well, what have you been doing musically?’ I put Deepest Black on, and she started convulsing. I knew that she was going to be the singer for it. A few people had heard it, and were keen to do it, but I just felt that Donna was the vehicle for it. She just doubled over and went, ‘oh, my god, I’ve got to do this.’

“It was a really easy decision, to be honest. I truly believe that this has really helped her immensely in her recovery: the music and the release of the emotion. And the whole journey has seen her rise to wonderful new heights, both physically and as a performer. She’s looking better than I’ve ever seen her. Everything is positive.

“We had a bit of a connection there in the adversity factor, but we also had a strong connection from a lot of gigs we’d done, like the Rock For MS shows, we’ve just got a natural connection as performers, so it was really easy. It was actually a load of fun and we absolutely had a ball doing it.”

Dark Universe is obviously a quite different musical beast to Black Alice, Trilogy, Black Steel and Jaime’s other work. Does she think long-term fans are going to find something to connect with in this album?

“Not totally,” she says, with admirable honestly. “I think there’s elements of some of the songs that they’re going to like. There’s elements of some they’re not, but even if you go back to Trilogy, and listen to that

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, there are a lot of the same characters coming through. Wasting Time was probably the first real nod to what I was going through, and there were a few soft songs there that were a little bit more sensitive.

“Literally, [Trilogy song] Wasting Time, which was originally called You Can’t Hide, was very autobiographical back in the day, even though I didn’t really realise it. I think a lot of people are quite open to the more progressive nature of what’s there. I don’t think the Black Steel fans are going to take much to it, I really don’t, but I was never worried about playing to other people, to another gallery. It was always like, ‘this is what I really am.’ If people want to come along with me for this ride, then it’s great, but we’ll pick up a whole lot of new people that maybe we never had before, anyway, so that’s fine. I respect Black Steel, like I respect the Trilogy fans, and I hope they do come along.”

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Jaime goes on to say that her internal struggles have influenced his songwriting for decades, consciously or otherwise.

“It has. I went through it with [a former bandmate] the other day,” she explains. “He was trying to come to terms with it, and so, you know, we listened to this song that we did or that song we did, and had to think about it. What were they? The song I specifically mentioned to him was a song called Breaking The Chains from the [Black Steel] Destructor album, and once he listened to it and he sort of started to twig. There were lots of other little things in Black Steel that certainly were seeds for what was to come, songs like Hellhammer certainly had a lot of Deepest Black in it, for example, so there was a lot synergy there at the same time.”

Following an interview Jaime did with Perth Now, the piece received a slew of positive, supporting comments, but sadly also a few disparaging comments from emotionally retarded people who remain stuck in the unenlightened past. One went do far as to say they would not shop where Jaime worked any more – a ridiculously bigoted stance probably fuelled more by their own fear than anything else. Thankfully Jaime says she hasn’t encountered much personal unpleasantness either at work or out and about.

“Not really. Work has been fantastic: one hundred percent supportive. I think the way Kosmic would view that, is that if someone feels that way, then we’re more than comfortable not having them as a customer, because we’re a very diversity-accepting company. I’m not the first person to come through as transgender at Kosmic. There has been another, so [the boss] has been fantastic. He would be disappointed that someone felt that way, but you can’t help ignorance.

“I mean, I haven’t seen [those] mean comments,” she continues, “I’d find it sort of hard to read them. Certainly my family have seen them and it’s upset them, some of the things that people did say. They were encouraged by the nice things, at the same time, but it was always par for the course. I thought things would be far, far, far worse than they have actually been. I’ve been incredibly pleasantly surprised at the amount of love and caring and support that I’ve had, way beyond my wildest dreams. In the greater scheme of things, I feel very blessed and lucky.”

Does she feel anger that there’s that bigoted minority still out there and that people can’t be more open-minded?

“I feel sad for the people that are suffering,” Jaime says thoughtfully. “I’ve been lucky. I might get the odd stupid comment in the street or whatever else, but I’ve been super lucky. I’ve had friends that are not so lucky. It’s sad that people have to move house because they can’t deal with neighbours that abuse them, for example. That’s terrible. I guess more so, I feel sad for the kids these days that are struggling with it that are getting abused. That’s a very huge reason for me putting myself out there, to try and give kids an example to say, ‘look, if this person is willing to put themselves out there, it can’t be so bad.’”

Jaime has publicly acknowledged that part of her expected that she would lose her job and career by publicly announcing that she was transgender. She even considered becoming a counsellor to help others if that was the case. As we’ve explored already, Dark Universe itself is uplifting, positive and encouraging, and has a counselling effect on anyone who is struggling with their own issues.

“Well, certainly I’m getting a lot of feedback to that effect,” Jaime agrees. “I remember when I first made the decision to do this, I just sort of felt like there’s one good, decent thing I can do with my life to make up for everything in my life, and I hope this is it, that this is my path to a greater good, so to speak. That was a very strong thing, and I am doing as much as I possibly can behind the scenes to learn and to get involved with people that are trying to help people, via groups like PFLAG, who are very helpful to my family, personally, to my partner, and helping a lot of parents and friends to come to terms with what their kids are going through.”

Jaime says knowing that her wife and kids have been supportive has made her journey infinitely easier.

“I’m just totally, totally lucky. I guess when we connected, we just had an understanding from day one. She saw me for who I was, whether we acknowledged it publicly or even to ourselves, maybe not, but I think we always knew who we were. She went through a very difficult period a couple of years ago, which really was a catalyst for some of these things happening, where she suffered a situation with breast cancer. It was a very scary time for us, and we just sat there and talked about everything. She said to me, ‘look, I’ve always loved you for you, not what you might pretend to be. It’s not about your appendages, it’s not about anything else. I just love you, so you be who you want to be.’ It was a wonderful moment.”

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After the album launch at The Charles Hotel on Friday, 29th April, Jaime has her eyes further afield.

“I don’t see a lot of gigs for me coming up in Perth, so this is probably going to be the last big gig for me for quite a while,” she explains, “and I’ll be working very strongly on looking at trying to get launch shows on the east coast, and a long-term goal is the dream that we started with: to be able to get to German or European festivals. That’s where we see our area of opportunity. I think that music in that environment would go really well. A lot of it was written with that in mind, too. That would be great. When I was writing the songs, I was literally visualising playing there. Fifty thousand strong crowds, lovers of progressive heavy metal and rock – I think they’re our sort of crowds. That would be my ultimate dream for this music.”

INTERVIEW: JAIME PAGE – April 2016

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