Birth Name: Alicia Armendariz (aka Alice Bag, Alice Armendariz Velasquez)
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
November 7, 1958 – present
Years Active: 1970s – present
Although Punk lore primarily focuses on the first wave New York City and London scenes, Los Angeles was a hot spot for the music and movement in the 1970s. Chronicled in director Penelope Spheeris’ 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, the film features performances by many of the LA scene’s most acclaimed bands. This includes Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks, Germs, X, and a captivating performance by the Alice Bag Band. Alice Bag and the bands she worked with and led were essential to the development and style of the roaring LA music scene in the late 1970s, 80s, and beyond. With a multifaceted career now spanning more than four decades, Alice Bag is more than a Punk pioneer: she is a singer/songwriter, musician, author, artist, educator and feminist.
Alice Bag was born Alicia Armendariz and raised in East Los Angeles by her Mexican immigrant parents. Her family maintained their Mexican cultural traditions at home, which allowed Alice to establish a deep and lasting connection to her roots. Although her parents’ relationship was fraught due to her father’s violent behavior, Alice was nurtured and encouraged by both of her parents to cultivate her inherent musical talent, brilliant mind, and strong spirit.
Outside the home, and primarily at school, Alice struggled to make friends and establish a peer group. Her Mexican American identity wasn’t always welcome in dominant white cultures and communities throughout Greater Los Angeles. The struggle others often had in simply pronouncing her Spanish first name, Alicia, led her to begin anglicizing her name to “Alice.” Regardless of her social struggles, Alice did know that she had musical talent and ability: she’d been recognized at home and in school as a promising vocalist at a young age.
With a passion for Glam Rock as it swept over popular music in the 70s, a high school aged Alice befriended other fans and began immersing herself in Los Angeles nightlife and music scene culture. Influenced by the emergence of proto Punk artists like Patti Smith and a thriving youth culture in LA, Alice joined up with her friend Patricia “Pat” Rainone to form a band in 1976. Initially called Femme Fatale, the band name soon changed after evolving out of an early stage performance gimmick where Alice and Patricia would perform with bags over their heads. The band Bags was unveiled.
Further cementing their new band, as well as their artistic identity, Alice and Patricia took on pseudonyms by replacing their last names with “Bag,” and Alice Bag was created. With Alice as lead vocalist and “Pat Bag” playing bass guitar, they were joined by Craig Lee and Rob Ritter on guitars and Terry Graham on drums. The band played their first show on September 10, 1977 at the illustrious Masque venue, a club that became vital to the relatively small and close knit LA Punk music community. Bags shows were explosive events, with Alice leading the charge due to her aggressive stage performance style and high powered vocals that were laced with screams and forcefully delivered lyrics. Although there were a significant number of women and girls playing in the scene’s bands, Bags, and Alice in particular, stood out as leaders in the community.
Bags released their first recordings in 1978 via the independent label Dangerhouse Records, a stable for many of the era’s LA Punk bands. However, Pat Bag soon left the band and a protracted disagreement ensued over the name “Bags,” since Pat claimed ownership of it. When Penelope Spheeris documented a performance by the group without Pat for the Decline of Western Civilization film in 1980, their band name was in limbo and they were billed by the film’s creators as the “Alice Bag Band.” The band would break up before the documentary was released in 1981. Alice would go on to work with numerous groups over the next several years, including: Castration Squad, Cholita, and Las Tres. The latter two featured Spanish lyrics and vocals and brought the group’s members Latin roots firmly to the front and center.
While continuing to be a creative force in the music scene, Alice received a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and began working part time as a teacher’s aide in Los Angeles public schools. Discovering that she had a passion for being an educator, Alice committed to an accelerated teaching program in the 1980s. She was soon in the classroom full time while finishing her teaching credential coursework. As part of her studies, Alice read Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s landmark treatise on institutional education, Pedagogy of the Oppressed while also noticing that many of her students had deep Central American roots. Folded into her teacher training, Alice traveled to Nicaragua and lived with a local family whose matriarch was a former Sandinista guerrilla. Through their friendship, Alice realized women and girls who had fought as Sandinistas to achieve national liberation had also experienced gender discrimination and thus had two battles to fight. Alice’s experience would later be documented in her 2015 memoir, Pipe Bomb for the Soul, which draws from her diaries during her time in Nicaragua.
Alice would work as an educator for over twenty years in Los Angeles. During this time she also married and had a child. The constraints of parenthood would later influence her to form a new band, Stay at Home Bomb. Comprised of all stay-at-home parents, Alice continued to contribute artistically to her community. In 2011, she published her first memoir, Violence Girl: From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage — A Chicana Punk Story. The book provides intimate details on the homelife that inspired her later live performance style on LA stages, and is written from a Chicana feminist perspective. A critically acclaimed book, the accompanying promo tour in support of it found her performing songs live and she began recording a solo record.
Alice’s first solo album, Alice Bag, was released in 2016 and received excellent reviews. She established a strong and growing fan base consisting of longtime fans and newcomers. A second album, Blueprint, followed in 2018 and included a guest appearance from Riot Grrrl movement founder, Kathleen Hanna. A video for the song “77” from the album included Hanna, Allison Wolfe, founder and lead vocalist of the band Bratmobile and a Riot Grrrl leader, as well as Shirley Manson from the band Garbage. The song features a blistering vocal performance from Alice as she addresses the issue of pay inequity and how women frequently earn 77 cents for every one dollar a man earns in the workforce. As an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles, Alice performed at and participated in the ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Department of Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies at the university in 2018. At the event, she performed a number of songs, including a musical interpretation of Nikki Darling’s poem “A Street Called Dolores Huerta” in honor of the civil rights and women’s rights champion, Dolores Huerta. Alice signed with the independent label In The Red Records and released her third solo album, Sister Dynamite in 2020.