When Black Sabbath was still performing blues covers in bars Jinx Dawson was turning heads with the groundbreaking band Coven. Long before pentagrams and upside down crosses became standard on metal records Dawson shocked labels and critics with her unabashed embrace of the occult. Coven’s first record Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls – pulled from shelves right around the time of the Manson murders – is now regarded as a classic, and the sound and look were the boilerplate for the vast majority of the occult rock bands that started a few years into the new millennium (for a deep dive check out Nick Green’s authoritative March 2013 feature). Dawson’s career with Coven continued intermittently through the decades. She also worked in Hollywood and as a backup singer. But Coven was always her passion and embodied much of how she viewed the world. Dawson has assembled a new Coven lineup that will make their long anticipated live return at Roadburn this week. She is also working on a memoir. Dawson talked to us about family, the return of the occult rock standard bearers and life as a spiritual rebel in a dogmatic age.
How long had you been thinking about bringing Coven back and when did things align for the Roadburn appearance and presumably other shows in the future?
I always wanted bring the band back but I had a period where my father was very ill. I had to take care of him for almost ten years. My father had cancer of the liver. After a few months we did a few things and his liver spots went away, which is very unusual. But things were starting to break down. He was 86 and had a lot of problems. I was the only one who was qualified to care for him. So I came back from Los Angeles to do that. After he died, it was very hard to get things going. There were a lot of problems in the country with the economy. Then, there was an estate situation and that took about five more years. I did have a reunion of the original players in 2006 and wanted to do something then. But I guess I didn’t push enough at that point.
When you did officially decide to put the band back together how did you find the right people to work with, who would keep the original spirit of the band alive?
You have to pull out the leather! (laughs). Ricktor Ravensbruck (The Electric Hellfire Club, Wolfpack 44) wanted me to sing a few songs on a project so I did that in Chicago. Then, I released another album a few years ago and he played guitar on it. The guitar player we had (previously) wasn’t going to do another show with Coven – he was always afraid of the band. He wasn’t coming back. The rest of them were into the occult and came back into the circle.
What do you think about how so many different generations have picked up on Coven in the decades after your debut? It’s almost taken on a life of itself.
It has. All of our musician friends back then said do not do that stuff because it will keep you from being a success and it’s too controversial. They said we should just do regular rock and roll. When you are the first one to hack a path you can get left behind because people are afraid of what you are doing. Now I see all of these bands trying to copy what we did. Actually, there were some bands that copied us right out of the gate.
When The Devil’s Blood came out the songwriter Selim Lemouchi was incredibly deferential to Coven and mentioned how much your music meant to him.
I do find it nice that newer bands recognize us. The bands that came after us, in the 70s and 80s, never recognized us at all. That was how the business was. You never said where you got things. The music might not have been quite the same but the occult situations were there, as well as the photographs and lyrics. You probably know who I’m talking about. We were probably copied within eight to nine months out of the gate.
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
They say that, but it would be nice if people said where they got the imitation! (laughs)
So, do you follow some of these new bands closely? What kinds of things move you in people that play a similar style as Coven?
I wouldn’t say I follow things closely but I do check things out. I am a music lover. But I don’t go into it in depth because I think some of these bands act too serious with the face make up. It’s almost like they are trying to do a hard sell. The occult is a practice and shouldn’t be a hard sell. I do feel that they should be into it rather than dabble. Maybe they are just trying to do a horror show or a film or something? I’m not sure if some of these bands are coming from a knowledgeable or sincere area.
How did the Roadburn gig come together?
After I went on Facebook people started realizing I was available. About six or seven years ago all of these festivals started contacting me. Like I mentioned, the band wasn’t a working unit. I was jumping onstage with friends and doing guest spots to keep my chops up. To try to keep a band together seemed like an impossible situation. Walter from Roadburn is one of the folks who contacted me. (Later) I was able then to say I think we can do it.
Roadburn seems like the ideal place for a comeback in that it’s an intimate and curated festival. It won’t be like you are dropped into a field somewhere.
(laughs). That’s good to know! They seem very sincere. You’re right: it’s a good place to restart.
What can people expect from your stage show? Will you curate an experience like the early days or will you update for a new time?
I don’t think there will be much updating to tell the truth. I don’t think I’ve changed much. I’ve just seen time pass and other people jump into the fray. Of course there will be some new sounds with a new guitarist and bassist. We don’t really go for the Halloween look. There will be some added things and some video footage. I think it’s going to stand out as very different. I’m excited about it.
How will you select a set from three classic Coven albums?
Most of the songs will come from the Witchcraft… album. I have to do “Blood On The Snow” because we have this incredible video we did with Walt Disney in 1974. And we’ll probably do a few songs off the CD that was released in 2013, even though some of those songs were from a 1970 demo for Elektra. I took a few of those into the studio and finished them and added some new songs.
What excites you the most about returning to the stage?
I always liked performing because as a child I was an opera protégé. I was immediately into the stage. I had a band starting when I was 13. So I do like the stage format and bringing a message. I think what’s great here is that everybody drew me out to do this. When we did shows (in the past) people didn’t understand the sign of the horns or the reason for the coffin or the upside down cross. Now that people understand these things I think it will be thrilling. And I just love to sing and love music and meeting people. I’ve been hiding away for a long time.
When you were ‘hiding away’ did you hear from people a lot through letters or the Internet or other means?
The Internet was a big piece of this puzzle, especially when I was caring for my father. Facebook was just coming around when I was caring for him. I did have a punk band in the 80s. I also went on tour with The Doobie Brothers and The Beach Boys. Nobody really knew who I was, which was interesting. I was always upset because I couldn’t do Coven again. But I always kept busy in some form. So I’d say I was hiding in plain sight.
What is it about your music that continues to speak to people after the decades?
That’s a good question. It’s almost like it’s the last culture to explore. Everything else in music has been explored. Religion has a bit to do with it. People are tired of what religion has done to the planet. This is all natural to me. But some people who were brought up Christian are looking at a pagan yet futuristic way to live. It’s interesting that it’s taken so long. It seems like this always happens to me. I will do it and it will be too much so people will overlook it. Then, thirty years later, it’s all over the place. I’m happy to see that.
You’ve been on a very different path your entire life. I have to ask what you think about where we are as a culture and the huge divide in our country between secular people and religious conservatives?
Of course I am against religion. I think it’s a path to destruction. It doesn’t bring people together. It tears them apart. It’s an archaic way people try to figure out why they are on the planet and their purpose. I’d like to see religion thrown out for a more progressive society. I think a lot of what is going on is terrifying, really. When I started in 1968 presidents were getting shot. Then, it kind of mellowed out. But (now) this is a dangerous place and people need to rethink things. People came up with religion in the Dark Ages as a means of control. It’s obviously not controlling anybody! Maybe we can embrace pagan things that are more intelligent and respectful of nature.
What about the exorbitant prices that people are paying for an original vinyl copy of your debut? Getting a copy of that is a financial challenge.
Even though I was from money when you see a record being sold for $500 you can be like: “I’d like to have some of that!” (laughs). I do wonder why people are getting that amount and why are they charging so much? It is a rare album because it was pulled when we left Chicago. The Manson murders didn’t help the situation. I can see (the charge) for the rarity situation. I have several and I didn’t pay $500 for them!
What’s been the most difficult lesson you have learned in your life journey?
I shouldn’t have ever told people I was from a Left Hand Path family! I probably would have ended up being a pop artist and would be retired now (laughs). But what are you going to do — you have to do what you feel now. My family wasn’t really happy about that, either, and my great aunts took me out of a will. But I was like every other kid: I was going to do what I wanted. There are many things and they will be in the book.
Will there be new Coven music?
I do see new music in the future. There will be another one, for sure