Music and Mayhem with Maddie: an interview with Jon Ginoli

In this weekly column, our managing editor Maddie Walters talks to musicians about their craft.

Music and Mayhem with Maddie continues with lead singer and guitarist of Pansy Division, Jon Ginoli. The San Francisco band is lauded as the first openly gay rock band, forming in 1991. Ginoli and bassist Chris Freeman formed Pansy Division to create a community they felt was sorely missing from both the punk scene and the LGBTQ+ community. “We wanted to carve out an alternative to a sort of pre-packaged gay culture that didn’t speak to us in a lot of ways,” Ginoli. And that was exactly what Pansy Division did.

Known for their infectious pop-punk sound, Pansy Division stood at the forefront of the emerging queercore movement. Their second full-length record, “Deflowered,” saw them open for Green Day during their seminal Dookie tour, which opened a lot of doors for the band. Seven albums and 28 years later, Pansy Division has been an inspiration to artists from all different kinds of mediums, such as being the subjects of Michael Carmona’s documentary “Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band” and having been rumored as the reason Frank Iero named his infamous white Epiphone Les Paul “Pansy.”

2016 saw the band’s latest release, “Quite Contrary,” complete with a nod to a previous album “Wish I’d Taken Pictures,” whose cover features two men on a bed — one wearing pajamas, camera poised in hand and the other’s bare legs are the only thing that can be seen. “Quite Contrary” features the same two models from the original cover, even donning the same signature pajamas. On this cover, the two men are seen lounging on a bed, laughing together. When asked about the significance of this cover, Ginoli says it’s a metaphor for the passage of time. “We’ve gotten older, and so have our cover models, but they’re still cute even though we’re older and less skinny as before,” Ginoli says, “Time has passed, but we’re still here, singing songs about being horny and desiring men, even though some of us are coupled (and married!).”

It goes without saying, the world has changed quite a bit since 2016, especially in regards to LGBTQ+ rights. “It has made us sad about how the things we had fought for and thought we had won are subject to backlash and the same kinds of vicious attacks as the bad old days. It made our music seem more political, but at the same time we were not sure how to respond,” Ginoli says.

Since the band hasn’t been as active due to everyone living in different cities and states, Ginoli had planned on making a solo record in 2017, but he soon gave up on that venture. “It felt like making music seemed futile. Do you write about what’s happening right now? That will get dated soon. And what do you say that isn’t obvious and hasn’t been said already? I still don’t have the answer to that one,” Ginoli says.

Pansy Division

With half the band living on the East Coast and the other half on the West Coast, it changed the band’s dynamics substantially. Though he loves the band endlessly, Ginoli says that it unfortunately doesn’t pay the bills. “To play a show, or even rehearse, somebody has to be flying somewhere, so it’s a major expense to get together.” But when they do get together, it’s like time hasn’t passed a day.

Ginoli refuses to make music virtually — sending files back and forth to one another online – because he believes the music loses some of its personality through this impersonal process. He craves the camaraderie: “A lot of the joy of being in a band is being in a room together, making adjustments and decisions in real time and playing off of each other.” He’s very adamant about making any further records in person, saying that if to make a new record they have to do so through online files, then he simply won’t do it. “We’ve already made a lot of them anyway!” he jokes.

The queercore scene has exploded with bands and artists like Laura Jane Grace, Dog Park Dissidents and Worriers. Now, we’re beginning to see more queer artists bridge the gap to mainstream music, such as Lil Nas X and Orville Peck.

Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. Ginoli remembers a time when it was hard-pressed to find other “out” bands or musicians. The impact of being an openly gay rock band made waves in the LGBTQ+ community, allowing a new group of people to find community. It was far from uncommon that when fans met Pansy Division, they would thank them for finally being able to feel represented in the music scene. “Getting out and playing shows this year was a reminder of how much people have been positively impacted by our music, because they tell us so!” Ginoli says, “I’m glad that queer artists in wildly different genres are making music and being out.” In fact, one of Ginoli’s current favorite musicians is Orville Peck.

As for the future, Ginoli says he plans to eventually release a solo album at some point in the future. Chris Freeman too has started his own musical endeavors with AC/DC cover band GayC/DC, touring all across the country. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that Pansy Division will release new music in the immediate future. But don’t despair, Ginoli says the band is working on scheduling a tour for next year, making the tough decision as to whether it’ll be a U.S. tour or European tour (it would be their first full European tour since the 90’s). To date, Pansy Division has played 976 shows with the aim of making it to 1,000 soon.

It would not be a overstatement to say that Pansy Division is a cornerstone of queer history. With songs ranging from the bawdy (like “Bill and Ted’s Homosexual Adventure”) to the serious, tackling important issues with their tongue-in-cheek wit. Take “That’s So Gay,” which deals with the word gay as being used as an insult; with lyrics like, “I heard what you said, just a figure of speech? / If you meant nothing by it, practice what you preach.”

Pansy Division’s music can be streamed on all major platforms, including the group’s Bandcamp which can be found at Keep an eye out for the band’s tour announcement.

Post Author: Madison Walters