When Sex Police's Alexis Ford says, "Any good artist has a little crazy in them," you could be forgiven for thinking that she's waxing lyrical, invoking a cliché to appear more interesting than she is. In fact, no such efforts are required. Ford, a fascinating 30-year-old Niagara-esque art-rock-vixen, says she spent a week in a mental institution three years ago because of the unspecified mental illness that has plagued her all of her life. Her song "Let's Have Sex in the Crazy House" is semi-autobiographical, she says, proving her point that great art often comes out of troubled minds.
"I was in for one week," she says, before laughing when met with the suggestion that one week isn't too long a stretch.
"I try to avoid going to the hospital at all costs. A week is bad enough. There is only so much bland food you can take. It was boring. Insanely, mind-numbingly so. It is the most sterile environment. For a lot of people that's a good thing. You get a moment to get away from everything. That's good. But the trouble for me was that I was in this terribly sterile environment and it's not helping me at all. They're just feeding me tranquilizers and bland food, and making me go into horrible group sessions, and I knew that somewhere the clock is ticking and I'm going to get out, and all the problems that I was faced with before I went in are still going to be there when I come out. I've been in therapy since I was 11, and it's always a struggle, but if I can figure out how to start a music project and use art as a way to express myself, and express things I have difficulty with, then it works for me and I don't have to go to the hospital."
At least Ford was able to enjoy creating music. Sort of. "The one fun thing every day was to sit around in the cafeteria with the music therapist and sing some song," she says. "A woman came in with an acoustic guitar and she had a song book, and she passed around her sheets and we all sang popular tunes from the last 50 or 60 years. People would pick songs, and we'd all sing them."
In conversation, Ford is captivating. She questions every question like an angst-ridden teen ("What do you mean by that?"... "I don't think that's true"), yet she laughs continually. She's a challenging interview in that sense, but not in the least bit unpleasant.
The music of Sex Police genuinely does sound like she is exorcising her inner demons. Much like Grosse Pointe's Man Inc., Sex Police is a one-person project. Ford plays a bass guitar, distortion hitting maximum, while smacking the shit out of a kick drum, all the while wailing for all she's worth.
"I've tried to work out other projects in the past," Ford says. "I've been playing bass for a few years now. Nothing ever worked out, which is part of the reason I just decided to do something by myself. There's advantages to being by myself as well. I don't need to work to anyone else's schedule, I don't have to worry about people not showing up to practice."
Ford, who is unemployed, describes Sex Police as a creation of necessity. "It's a combination of what I can sing, because I don't have the world's greatest vocal range," she says. "In fact, my mother always told me that I can't sing at all. It's a combination of the equipment that I've got to use."
The world's greatest voice or not, the music Ford is creating with Sex Police is wonderful. Intensely passionate and droning, violent, unpredictable and filthy (in every sense), the recent self-titled and self-released EP is available for free online, and it is everything that one might hope for from a metro Detroit punk rock record.
"I like living in Detroit because you've got the rock 'n' roll, the soul music, the jazz — everything," Ford says. "It's pretty diverse. I don't know that I have any direct influences for what I play but when I think in my mind of musicians that I idolize, there are a lot around in the Detroit area, and women in particular come to mind. Wendy Case, Nikki Corvette and Niagara. The list goes on. Amy Gore, the Detroit Cobras. That's only the rock too."
As a youngster, Ford bounced around America with her family. Now, her parents are settled in Plymouth while she is based out of Ypsilanti, a city with a fascinating scene of its own of late. Is there something in the Ypsi water?
"People in Ann Arbor actually drink different water to what we do here," Ford says. "Maybe it does have something to do with the water. It's an interesting city. It's small but it's close to everywhere. It's small enough that a lot of people can figure out how to network without being overwhelmed."
Lyrically, Ford pulls inspiration from all corners of her life. "The lyrics deal with where I emotionally am," she says. "Sometimes it comes out in weird ideas or fantasies but the emotion is still there. I suffer from some pretty nasty nightmares, and, about two years ago, I started writing them down and keeping a journal, and I don't know that any of the songs have come directly out of the journal but bits of pieces here and there."
On the EP, Ford covers the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." There's a comparison to be made there too. Like the Stooges, Ford performs using whatever equipment she has. Music scholars might scoff at the suggestion of any discernible talent in either project, and, if Ford is to make any money out of Sex Police, she might have to shut the project down for 20 years and wait for it to be appreciated.
"The music I enjoy the most is people who make do with what they've got," Ford says. "The people who are able to express something with limited materials. Every now and then I'll go to a show and I'll see some band, and it's a bunch of nice young kids and they get up on stage and they've all got these shiny, fancy new instruments. It's wonderful that they've got some money, gone to the music store and bought a fancy Rickenbacker and a nice amplifier. Good for you. I'm glad that you decided to go do that and create music. But that's not a reality for a lot of people. Sometimes people really do have wonderful songs from that reality. But they don't often resonate with me, because that's not been my reality."
In conclusion, and due to that provocative name, we ask Ford if she is indeed a policewoman of sex, or at least an authority figure.
"You've got to call yourself something," she says. "It came out of a conversation that I had with my best friend about sex. Sexuality and sex in general is a very important part of the way I interact within my relationships and with other people. Going to a rock 'n' roll show is a very sexual experience. They are two words that hold very different meanings for a lot of people. Most of my friends enjoy sex and don't like the police. So it's a polarizing combination."
Sex Police plays the Blowout at 9:40 p.m. on Friday, March 2, at Paychecks. Her self-titled EP is available for free at bandcamp.com.