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New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
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"Kristeen Young makes amends with Morrissey, delves into film on new EP!"

Had Kristeen Young written 'It's a Wonderful Life,' hero George Bailey would have wound up with Violet Bick, a character the art-pop songstress hails as a sort of proto-feminist icon on 'V the Volcanic,' the title track from her latest EP.

Comprising seven songs, each written from the perspective of a favorite film character, 'Volcanic' marks the culmination of a decidedly less-than-wonderful stretch in Young's own life. In 2007, an off-color stage remark cost her a job opening for Morrissey, and soon after, she claims, Lady Gaga began copying some of the elaborate costumes she'd designed for her own live shows. (Check out pictures of Young's "bubble dress" and decide for yourself.)

Having emerged from her funk and recently launched a tour that includes residencies in several major cities, Young chatted with Spinner about her love of cinema, repaired relationship with Morrissey and inability to see the sweetness in 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

You went through a rough couple of years before making this EP. Were your troubles mostly personal or professional?

I think it was all professional. I'm very affected by what's happening in my musical life. That's really my whole life.

I was affected by a bunch of stuff that had happened ... the firing that had happened from the Morrissey tour and the Gaga thing, feeling like, "Who am I now?" and [dealing with] a lot of the fallout from all of that. It was the first time in my whole writing experience I just didn't feel like writing. I'd never had that before. I was sick of myself, and I didn't want to be me. So it was liberating when the idea came to write from other characters' perspectives. Of course, I'm in there, but not as much as I would [usually] be.

Joseph Llanes for AOL
Have you always been a big movie buff?

Completely. I love old movies, and I quote them all the time, which is annoying. It's an annoying trait to have. I'm very affected by a lot of stuff.

The decision to write from the perspective of Violet in 'It's a Wonderful Life' is interesting. What drew you to her?

Every time I watch that movie, it doesn't make sense to me, a lot of the message of it. [George Bailey] is never doing what he wants to do. He's doing what other people want him to do. Everyone else is happy, but the message of the film is, "Don't do what you really want to do, so you'll have friends," or something. Really, I don't understand the message of the film. And then he seems to settle for Mary. Why would that be a good message? He always seemed to really want Violet. When he runs into her at some point, he gets all excited about the life they could have had -- they'd go running through the fields. That seemed so much more exciting to me. And then Violet has lived her life how she wanted to. She didn't really care how the people at the time are treating her, until at the end, when they have to deliver their message.

It's almost masochistic: You take it and take it and take it long enough, and you'll find happiness or something. The other thing that cracks me up is that 'The Wizard of Oz' has that message too: "There's no place like home." Stay at home, and that solves all your problems. But when you think about it, the actors who are saying those words, they don't believe that. They left home to follow their dreams!

Watch Kristeen Young's 'Fantasic Failure' Video

You go from Violet, this sort of minor, tragic character, to Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, who's obviously quite a bit different. Elsewhere, you write from the perspective of Pris in 'Blade Runner,' Lucy Westerna in 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' and even the Angry Apple Tree in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Was the intention from the beginning to pick supporting characters?

I started off with supporting characters. I think the only one who's not a supporting character is Cleopatra. I thought the message of Cleopatra was in character with all the other ones. In a way, she was a failure in the end, and so it kind of leveled her out. If you're going to fail, fail huge.

The supporting character idea -- I relate to that in some ways, because I feel often like I have this small part in the world, or in my world, or in the music world. So I'm attracted to that. People who you don't hear enough of their voice -- I want to know more of their voice, or whatever they're saying. I think that attracts me in some ways.

You mention having a small role in the music world. Your producer, Tony Visconti, has said that he knew right away you're a major talent, and he's compared you to people like David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Are you disappointed you haven't become a giant superstar, like he thinks you should be? Is that something you've aspired to?

Giant superstar? I don't know if that's ever been a cognizant goal, but I definitely have always wanted mainstream success. I never set out to be indie person. In fact, the indie people don't even like me. I really don't fit in anywhere. But yeah, I definitely want main - Kenneth Partridge

"Kristeen Young, live at the Hotel Cafe, 5/16"

The St. Louis singer-provocateur Kristeen Young put on quite the fascinating one-woman show at the Hotel Café, defying the boundaries of technology, the laws of gravity and the mood swings of a fussy soundman. She was decked out in a style that was truly all her own, with a witchy black hat tilted rakishly at an odd angle on her head, partially obscuring her eyes, and dressed up in a decidedly non-goth outfit that included a tight yellow skirt, patterned white stockings, black pumps and a puffy white blouse with ridiculously large, sail-like, billowing sheer-chiffon sleeves.
Young alternated between dancing to programmed backing tracks and playing her keyboards, aggressively hammering down dark and foreboding chords with her left hand while tapping out a weirdly demented nursery-rhyme-like counterpoint with her right, as she grinned mischievously at the unholy racket she was conjuring. Sometimes her keyboards tinkled like a music box, and at other times they groaned and shuddered with the onrushing momentum of a crashing airplane.

She debuted dense, febrile tunes from her new EP, V the Volcanic (produced by David Bowie main man Tony Visconti), which is one of the more unusual concept albums in recent memory, with the lyrics sung from the point of view of supporting characters from an eclectic range of classic films, including the android Pris (Blade Runner), Sarah Jane Johnson (Imitation of Life), the misunderstood Violet Bick (It's a Wonderful Life) and even the Angry Apple Tree from The Wizard of Oz.

Lest you think the concept was merely cute, Young propelled the songs with her trademark forcefully decisive piano accents and her operatic vocals, infusing them with unexpected passion that evoked deeper, darker and more unsettling emotions than one would normally associate with those films. Her impressively soaring banshee vocals often trailed off into eerily childlike laughter and sobs.

"I am Egypt and you are Rome," she sang on "Fantastic Failure," as her synth whirred with madcap spinning sounds. "We'll be gods, not kings/'cause our dreams will be supernatural offspring." On the other hand, "Why Can't It Be Me?" was comparatively straightforward, a ballad whose yearning melodicism was almost heartbreaking.

When Young wasn't tethered to her keyboard, she pranced about the club's small stage, continuing to sing even after she stumbled over the house drum kit and fell to the ground. When she tried to get her revenge by daintily kicking the bass drum over, the soundman cut the power, and the show came to a sudden halt.

"I'm just trying to be dramatic," Young sheepishly explained. The soundman -- who was perhaps more accustomed to sensitive singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars -- climbed onstage, fiddled with the cords and microphones and moved the drum set out of the way before finally allowing the set to proceed. Undeterred, Young continued belting out her complexly arranged new songs, as well as older favorites like the soul-stirrer "Everybody Wants Me to Cry." She didn't have to worry about trying to be dramatic -- there were plenty of exhilarating moments in each of her songs. - Falling James

"Kristeen Young’s ‘V The Volcanic’"

Kristeen Young is continuing her legacy of being a revolutionary artist. She just released a very interesting album last month. The album has the unique title of V The Volcanic.

So this CD is just flat out intriguing. The music and lyrics displayed in V The Volcanic provokes thought after thought.

This is one of the most interesting listens I remember. Not only are the stories that are told in the music awesome but also the music and her voice are so inviting.

Kristeen Young is a master on note control with her voice and she drops it like she’s hot on the keys.

The best part is she has taken a very unique approach to the creation of V The Volcanic. She looked at seven of her favorite movies and used her songs to tell some of their stories.

Here are the movies that match up with her songs:

It’s A Wonderful Life: “V The Volcanic”
The Wizard of Oz: “I’ll Get You Back”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula: “Why Can’t It Be Me?”
Little Big Man: “Now I’m Invisible”
Blade Runner: “The Devil Made Me”
Imitation of Life: “Imitation of Life”
Cleopatra: “Fantastic Failure” - Jon Duck

"Kristeen Young Talks "V the Volcanic", Favorite Films, and More"

Kristeen Young didn't just passively watch her favorite films. Instead on her new EP, V the Volcanic, she actually inserted herself into them. Young penned an enigmatic, entrancing, and engaging collection of tunes each derived from the perspective of one of her favorite film characters. As a result, the EP comes to life with a cinematic brilliance, conjuring a myriad of visuals via warm, wild soundscapes.

About her choice to use her favorite movies as a muse, Young exclaims, "They were all movies that had really spoken to me at some point. I also quote them a lot in my own life!"

Now, Young quotes them within her songs. The music on V the Volcanic echoes Florence and the Machine's daring take on pop, while emanating strains of classical and electro. In essence, it's just the kind of journey that pop culture desperately leads right now—ballsy, bombastic, and utterly brilliant.

Kristeen Young sat down for an exclusive interview with editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about V the Volcanic, becoming her favorite screen characters, and so much more.

Did you have one complete vision for V the Volcanic as a whole before you went into the studio, or did it come together track by track?

Lyrically, there's an overall theme. However, musically, I started out wanting to write a funk album. It ended up being all over the place, but that's what I originally set out to do. Then, I just decided to experiment with a lot of different styles.

What were some of those styles?

Well, opera was definitely one of them. There was a little classical, but I didn't want to go too far in that direction. I wanted to keep it in the pop medium with a verse-chorus format. I wanted it to be feasible for people to catch everything. I didn't want it to be too much.

How do songs typically start for you?

It's always different. Sometimes, I'll get a musical idea. Then, I'll just go to the keyboard and write in that direction. Maybe, I'll have an idea that I want the verses to be really sparse and then the chorus to be heavy and angular. Then, I'll improvise until something I like comes out. Other times, I'm playing and a song will come out. It's always different.

What's the story behind "Imitation of Life" in particular?

I came up with that beat, and I liked the minimalism of it so much in the verses with the spiky horns coming in all of a sudden. That inspired me. I love contrasting moments. I love it when you think things are going in a certain way and something comes in and messes it up a little bit. I like the idea of it being so laid back. I wanted to do a vocal over it that was manic. I wanted the chorus to be huge to where I could belt it out river-deep mountain high-esque.

What threads V the Volcanic together?

I was going through a strange period psychologically or creatively. I was tired of writing songs the way I had been writing them, and I didn't feel like going back to that. I like old movies a lot, and I was spending a lot of time watching TCM. There are certain characters in movies who I quote a lot, and I really would love to know about their lives. Suddenly, I got the idea that I'd like to write songs from their perspective. Once I got that idea, all of the writing went really fast. Each one of the songs is from the perspective of a supporting character in a major movie of the past seven decades. There's the Apple Tree from The Wizard of Oz, Violet Bick from It's a Wonderful Life, Sarah Jane from Imitation of Life, Lucy from Dracula, Pris from Blade Runner, Old Lodge Skins from Little Big Man, and Cleopatra from Cleopatra.

Which song comes from Pris's perspective?

Pris is in "The Devil Made Me." There are a lot of quotes. Each song has quotes by those characters or from those movies.

Did you watch the movies numerous times while writing the album?

I only really watched them again once, and then I wrote down things that were inspiring to me. It was a lot of fun, and it went really quickly. Of course, it's from my perspective because I'm the writer. It's part me and part that character. However, I loved not writing completely from my life. It was fun to get out of that. It was liberating to be even partly someone else for a while.

Have you seen any good flicks lately?

I liked the Joan Rivers documentary! It was wonderful. It was such a great story, and it was a part of her you get to see that you wouldn't think, and it was inspiring. She really persevered for so long. In my songs, I talk about how war never ends because war is life. The war just goes on. The struggle, fight never stops. It was inspiring.
- Rick Florino

"First Look: Kristeen Young's "Fantastic Failure""

Kristeen Young, one of the most unique and talented singer-songwriters we've ever come across, is currently setting up shop at a handful of venues across the country in support of her most recent release, her V the Volcanic EP.

The EP, which features seven new tracks including our favorite, "I'll Get You Back," is somewhat of a departure from Young's last album, Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd On-Looker, which had a more straightforward rock feel anchored by her weapon of choice, the piano. On V the Volcanic, Young thrillingly experiments with synths and beats, like on the first single, "Fantastic Failure," (below) without divorcing herself from her previous trademark sound and the songs feel like smartly evolved new material rather than feeling forced or like poorly executed experiments. - NOAH MICHELSON


Kristeenyoung is the poppy, piano-driven ruckus of Kristeen Young and friends. The kind of smart and edgy songwriting found within her newest Tony Visconti (T-Rex, Bowie )-produced disc, Music For Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd-Onlooker, is the kind of "commercial" pop we need more of. Her (allegedly) four-octave voice swirls ethereally, all Kate Bush-like, but then counters those stabbing percussive piano and drum attacks with PJ Harvey heft. Bet she's a hoot live. - by Sean Bosler


Kristeen Young appeared wearing what looked like a bagpipe made of broken piano keys slung over her left shoulder and a chimneysweep hat from Tiffany’s perched rakishly on her head. And she brought shard-songs, with a Bjork Amos attack.
And I do mean attack. While Jef White pummeled heavy drum rolls and fills, Young vaulted through her extraordinary upper range, pounding her keyboard (she must have been wearing the previous one) with enough percussive force and emotion for a five-piece.
Fearless, and still something of a broken mirror, songwise, she will eventually dial this into something fierce. She certainly accomplished the rare and coveted feat of frightening some in her audience. The new album is called Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd-Onlooker. She has a backstory: asked to leave a Morrissey tour slot for making a joke about the headliner’s supposed prowess in “going downtown” (a compliment, one would have thought). She’ll have a frontstory, too.
- by Mark LePage


They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and there are precious few others that have eyes as telling as Kristeen Young's. She gazes out the corner on the cover of her most recent, Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker, looking like the girl that never quite grew up and we regard her in monochromatic tones as a fleeting figment of our imagined past. It's little wonder someone like Morrissey could be so taken with her.

Although not a household name, Kristeenyoung (both the band and the woman) has cut its teeth as a touring act and across four studio albums to varying degrees of success (that being mostly creative). The fifth, Music for Strippers..., finds Young at a point where she seems to have absorbed some of her more eccentric past tendencies to create something that's palatable to a wide audience but retains much of what has made her such a unique and endearing performer to her cult.

Moments of sweet passion and tender mercy are mined throughout Music for Strippers..., however this is not to say Young's latest is without its bite. "That's What it Takes, Dear," "The Depression Contest," and "Stop Thinking" play like highlights for a bitter night, contrasting the more whimsical efforts put forth on this release. Clearly this woman has an axe or two to grind and as a listener you feel it, identify with it. That's the power of a great imagination at work.

As a band it's hard to pin down what exactly it is that Kristeenyoung does. Young herself seems possessed by the same theatrically-inclined rock demons that transformed David Bowie, Tori Amos and Kathleen Hanna, sometimes all at once. Of course comparisons to the Thin White Duke are almost obligatory seeing that Tony Visconti has served as producer on all of Young's albums and has seemingly taken Young under his wing as a protege of sorts. That Young is able to pull off such a balancing act and produce something that's not only original but (for lack of a better phrase) good is refreshing.

Young is certainly not the first girl to take to piano and espouse neurotic but there is a welcome lack of irony to her lyrics that makes everything she says that much more vital and necessary. Make no mistake, Kristeen Young is a bonafide talent and Kristeenyoung is a band that is only beginning to find its stride.
- by Joe Cortez

"Lady Gaga’s Bubble Leotard"

Kristeen Young was the first artist to do this dress, not Gaga.
She says this about the dress: the NY Times is bashing gaga because they say her dress is a rip off of a Hussein Chalayan (designer) dress. I've seen this dress and yes Gaga's is exactly like it. My dress was inspired by an Abbott and
Costello movie, Abbott and Costello go to Mars. I'll explain. You'll notice that my dress is an actual dress and Gaga's and Chalayan's are bubbles over a leotard. Mine also has an X over the right breast with
dots of blood…and a hoop over the right shoulder…..a reference to Amazon warriors who cut off their right breast so they could shoot arrows better.. In the Abbott and Costello movie (a favourite of mine when I was a child)…..Abbott and Costello try to go to Mars but end up on Venus where it is inhabited by Amazon women. They have a truth
machine (a lie detector) there where they make men hold a bubble and if the man is lying (when asked a question) the bubble bursts. THIS was the inspiration for my dress. I actually said something about
this, on stage, when I started wearing the dress. Having said this, I think it is perfectly fine for artists (who aren't clothes designers) to take ideas from clothing designers…..and re-work them. That's what art and culture is about…..AND clothing designers are putting their designs “out there” to influence how people dress. BUT, I do not think it's ok for well known artists to copy lesser known artists in their own field. I know there is a vampire tradition in RnR. But, it's sickening…..and usually leaves the lesser known to have nothing but a heroin problem.
If the internet is here for the whole world to know
INFORMATION…..fine, let the vampirism live on…..but, just let it be known where they are getting their food.
I know, I know…'s JUST a dress. But, it's not, you see. I spend a lot of time (and what little money I have) making music AND my outfits. It's part of who I am… identity… creativity.
When someone comes along, and is more known, and claims it as HER identity…..even for the moment……it's gutting. She has the money
and team behind her to consume and consume…and shout it from the mountaintops. I obviously don't. And NOW, who am I? If I continue in the same vein I have been (for quite some time) will people say I am
copying HER and dismiss me? See, it's much more than a dress. And by the way, I don't think it's HER who is copying…..I think it's stylists searching the internet for ideas…..I've encountered this
before. - Amanda Dobbins

"Need To Know: Kristeen Young"

When interviewing and reviewing musicians is your job, you can grow woefully hard to impress. With so many promo CDs and press show invites making their way across your desk, it takes a lot to truly be blown away by a band. I don't consider myself a music snob (if anything most of my colleagues think my appetite for low-calorie pop is problem) but these days I usually need more than a good bass line or a perky pair of tits slathered in glitter to really get me going.

So when my friend (and Popnog partner in crime) Jessanne Collins suggested I give Kristeen Young (who performs with drummer "Baby" Jef White as KRISTEENYOUNG) a go, I was a bit skeptical. Jessanne knows about my thing for women who play the piano and when you've grown up listening to Kate Bush and Fiona Apple and (vintage) Tori Amos, the newbies usually sound at best derivative and at worst just plain ... bad (I'm looking at you Vanessa Carlton).

Kristeen Young is neither of those things. While my first reaction to hearing her new album Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd-Onlooker was "WTF? Did Kate Bush record an album between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love that's been buried until now?" (Though Young says she didn't begin listening to Bush until after she began making her own music, some of Bush's early experimental whelping and thrashing piano do seem to manifest themselves on Music for Strippers...), I quickly realized that Young has created her own weird, wonderful brand of piano pop.

Young doesn't so much play the piano as assault it. In fact, she has a dress made out of piano keys fashioned from keyboards that have fallen victim to her Jujitsu-like approach to playing (see above). "I really wanted to expand the vocabulary of the piano, to show it could be a modern rock 'n' roll instrument," she told Jessanne recently for a profile in Out's February issue. Combined with White's drumming, Young says of Music for Strippers... "I wanted to make it a machine, really layered -- a wall of pianos, but like that moving, decapitating wall in Caligula." Songs like "Son of Man" and "That's What It Takes, Dear" -- a duet with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump -- stutter and stomp, gnash and wail but Young never loses her hold on melody and she offers no shortage of beautiful moments even when spitting lines like "I, once, swallowed you / Then, you swallowed me / Now it's all shit, son." All in all the album -- daring, biting, and utterly unlike anything anyone else is putting out right now -- is one of my favorites of 2009 and deserves every bit of the praise and attention it will hopefully continue to get.

To hear samples of Young's music, to learn more about her, and to pick up a copy of Music for Strippers (or any of her previous releases) head to her MySpace page and/or her official site. And if you're in New York City this Wednesday, January 13, make your way to The Bell House in Brooklyn, where she'll be performing with White at 11 pm. - NOAH MICHELSON


V The Volcanic (2011)
Music For Strippers, Hookers, & the Odd On-Looker (2009)
The Orphans (2006)
X (2004)
Breasticles (2003)
Enemy (1999)



There are no small parts, only small minds. But KRISTEENYOUNG has never suffered from a deficit of imagination. For the new EP V The Volcanic, songwriter and performer Kristeen Young drew upon the cinema, writing originals inspired by supporting characters—some of them quite unexpected—in seven different films: Violet Bick in Frank Capra's 1946 favorite It's A Wonderful Life("V The Volcanic"); the Angry Apple Tree of 1939's The Wizard of Oz ("I'll Get You Back"); Lucy Westenra in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 take on Bram Stoker's Dracula ("Why Can't It Be Me?"); Old Lodge Skins in 1970's Little Big Man ("Now I'm Invisible"); the android Pris from 1982's Blade Runner ("The Devil Made Me"); Sarah Jane Johnson in Douglas Sirk's 1959 melodrama Imitation of Life ("Imitation of Life"); and Cleopatra in the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton adaptation of Cleopatra ("Fantastic Failure")....the exception to the supporting character rule.

At the outset, Young intended the follow-up to 2009's thunderous Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd On-Looker to be a funk record. Only at the time, she was in a bit of a funk herself. "I was going through a particularly dank depression," she reveals. Mired in the midst of this protracted "blue period," she sought solace through immersion in her favorite movies—and from that escapism sprang new inspiration. "I didn't want to be me, so I decided to use what was killing my time and become other people." Not real people, but her very real-seeming companions at the time: movie characters. Now she had a legit excuse to spend even more time disappearing into the world onscreen. And "disappear" is the right word, as that theme crops up throughout V The Volcanic—not just in the sense of getting lost in the alternate realm of movies, but also apropos of how the expanding virtual universe crowds out the "real" world.

Young admits she isn't entirely certain what drew her to each of these specific characters, although she pinpoints some clues. "Some of them, like Violet Bick in It's A Wonderful Life, I can always imagine having another life. And because she's a minor character, I want to know more of what's going on in her head." On the EP's explosive and kaleidoscopic title track, KRISTEENYOUNG delves into Violet's psyche, demanding "how much can be swallowed 'til she explodes?" Violet displays a confidence in who she is that George and his namby-pamby wife Mary lack, yet is painted as somehow lacking because she doesn't aspire to the same ideals. "I always feel sorry for Violet. She was a woman ahead of her time." Underscoring that notion, "V The Volcanic" calls out a litany of revolutionary women: including Josephine Baker, Camille Paglia, Yoko Ono, Harriet Tubman, Benazir Bhutto, & Courtney Love.....women whose unique behavior or words (in their time) upset people.

One of the record's most arresting turns comes courtesy of a very unlikely character: the Angry Apple Tree from The Wizard of Oz. Her voice effortlessly flipping into its highest register as murderous piano pounds beneath her, Young runs the listener through a bitch-slap spelling bee inspired by the sheer gall of young Dorothy Gale. "I relate too much to the Apple Tree," the composer admits. "The idea of doing all this work and creating something, and someone just happens to pop by and pluck it from you. That was my complete experience of the past couple years: being food for thieves."

Musically, V The Volcanic marks a departure from earlier KRISTEENYOUNG releases. Having set out to restore the piano to its rightful place alongside the guitar as one of the most fearsome instruments in the rock music pantheon, and feeling that she'd finally met that goal with 2009's Music for Strippers…, Young was now interested in going back to her roots, drawing on the electro-funk grooves she loved in her Midwest childhood: Prince, Rick James, Teena Marie, Cameo. Yet as the new material took shape, she began to lose interest in mining just one musical vein. "I started branching out into other styles a bit, opera, dark wave, and other sounds that felt cozy to me." V The Volcanic may not sound precisely the same as its predecessors in the discography, but it always sounds like KRISTEENYOUNG. With Young's thrilling four-octave vocal range and dramatic performance style, it couldn't be anyone else.

V The Volcanic was recorded with legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, Morrissey), who also contributed bass and guitar. The arrangements, however, are solely Young's handiwork. Former Fall Out Boy front man, Patrick Stump, also plays guitar, as does NYC noise maker, Lou Rossi. Since much of the material was written in St. Louis, or inspired by notions of what constitutes "home," Young worked with several players from the Gateway City, including longtime percussionist "Baby" Jef White, bassist Chris Sauer, and guitarist Richard Fortus.

The Village Voice hailed KRISTEENYOUNG's last record, Music for Strippers,