Advertise with The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover Issue #94
MORE Interviews >>
Subscribe to The Big Takeover


Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs

Follow us on Instagram

Follow The Big Takeover

Interview and Premiere: Holly Ramos of FUR

4 April 2024

Photo by Marti Wilkerson

In the early 1990s, the downtown rock scene in New York City was flourishing, particularly in the eclectic, anything-goes East Village. The band FUR, led by vocalist/guitarist Holly Ramos, was a beloved band in the circuit. Ramos had earned her stripes as a teenager in the city’s hardcore punk scene, where she co-wrote songs with Jesse Malin, who was also coming up through the ranks with his band Heart Attack. With FUR, though, Ramos took a more melodic (but still edgy) approach. In 1994, the band made a video for the song “Beautiful Wreck,” directed by Joe Kelly, but it was never released – and eventually the clip went missing. Recently, Ramos stumbled across the footage and, with this article, is premiering that video thirty years after its original creation. Calling from her L.A. home, Ramos explains how the video was lost and found, how it captured a unique time in New York’s musical history, and how her career has unfolded since then.

How did you come across this video again after it was lost for so long?

HOLLY RAMOS: It actually was the person who does my childcare – she was in college studying video art, and I was cleaning up and I came across a box of VHS tapes and I was like, “Can you transfer these? I want to see what’s on them.” And so she did, and the video was one of the things on them. It was never finished. At some point, Joe [Kelly, director] had edited in plane crashes he stole off the TV – you would see the USA cable network logo on the footage. You can’t do that – I’m the one who’s going to get in trouble. And [then] we all outgrew it. I moved away from that scene; my life changed. We weren’t really in touch. And it just became a forgotten thing.

How did you feel after seeing it again after all that time?

HOLLY RAMOS: It was cool. I was like, “Why didn’t we release this? It’s fine as it is.” When you’re so close, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Like when you’re perfecting a piece and trying to finish and get it out there, you’re caught up in the details. And then you step back and it’s like, “This is so good!”

So the elements that we see in the cut now, such as the drag artists and the blood – were those all Joe’s idea, or did you contribute to that?

HOLLY RAMOS: All his. I knew him mostly from the drag and queer scene in New York, because I was in this theater group called Blacklip Theatre Cult. It was mostly just queer artists, and somehow I was in it. I was some version of queer, you know. It was a lot of drag people, trans people, and gender non-conforming people. Just this cool crew. We did these plays on Monday nights, and I knew him through people in that. We’d see each other around, and he’d come to my bands. So when he had this idea for the video, it was very based on Blacklips, which was very cathartic. It was at a certain point in the AIDS crisis where people were doing a lot bloodletting to express feelings. People had a lot of rage. That’s just what the sensibility was at the time, so the video made sense. It was all my was friends who he brought in; I think I just didn’t know who all the men writhing around naked were. I’ve done all kinds of research to try to get to their identities, but I haven’t come up with anyone.

Maybe now people will see this and recognize someone and you’ll find out now.

HOLLY RAMOS: I would love someone to be like, “I remember that day!” And then I can be like, “Tell me!”

Was there any kind of theme that you were hoping to get across with this song when you wrote it?

HOLLY RAMOS: Yeah, the song was about this different beauty standard. This different definition of what’s attractive, or what’s desirable, or what’s cool. The people I was hanging out with and what we were doing wasn’t necessarily a reflection of mainstream beauty standards, or what was fashionable. My friend Marti Wilkerson was kind of the muse of the song, that I was thinking about a little bit when I wrote it. I don’t even know if Joe knew that, but he put together the cast, and she was in the video.

What was the vibe in the East Village scene at that time, and how did you feel you fit into it?

HOLLY RAMOS: I really believed in my work. Like, I really understood that what I was doing was a true manifestation of myself; my art was coming from the realist place that I could make art from. So I think there’s some weight in that. I’ve always been the kind of artist who doesn’t really fit into conventional molds and the way art works with commerce, with capitalism. It’s like a race to keep producing, right? And I knew I never fit that mold. I knew I couldn’t force myself to do something because I was supposed to, because I had to, because I had a deadline, because I needed the money. All I knew was that what I did was very authentic. [FUR] never did great commercially, we never got signed. But I always loved the record. It’s a really great record and it still holds up today.

How did you find out about New York’s downtown rock scene in the first place?

HOLLY RAMOS: I grew up in Manhattan, uptown, in Inwood. And the A train took you down to West 4th Street [in Greenwich Village], so as a young teen I would take the train down and walk around. I knew that the energy was different than uptown, and that it was something that I was interested in – the way people dressed, the music I’d hear in stores. Eventually, I ventured across town and found the East Village and I just knew that those were my people, that this was where I wanted to be.

Then how did FUR come to be?

HOLLY RAMOS: I think I was extremely shy and not the type of person who could even say I want to be in a band, much less make one. At some point someone I knew was like, “Let’s make a band!” And they kind of did everything – they would book rehearsals. I knew how to play guitar enough, and I was in a studio with a microphone in a very non-judgmental space. I was like, “I want to try singing and playing guitar,” and I just did. It was something cool that I could do. We played a show or two live, and it was all very low stakes. So then I knew that I knew how to do it, and then I kind of wanted to: I just felt ready to write, and I knew how book a rehearsal space, how to ask somebody to come play bass or drums. At first, it was all-female trio, so it was just very primitive, and people liked it. We played our first show, I think it was New Year’s Eve, between ’91 to ’92, and it just took off from there. We did a single on Sympathy for the Music Industry [record label], which was kind of a big deal. Alternative Press gave us a really nice review, and it put us on the map a little. We were like, “Let’s make an album!” It took a really long time. It was really new for me to birth a creative full length project. A lot of stuff came up because it was all very personal and very emotional for me. It wasn’t just like churning out stuff. So the album took a while, and eventually it came out in ’95 on Blackout Records. It charted on college stations. We did a U.K. tour and a U.S. tour, in ’95 and ’96. We recorded a second record, and that did not come out. It wasn’t that great, and things were just changing. And I was changing. I don’t even remember when the last show was, but I feel like it was in 1999.

How has your career gone since that band ended?

HOLLY RAMOS: I did a solo record in 2004. I did a small tour of the U.S. and Europe. I was going to acting school, and I did an indie New York film. I was a DJ. So I was always doing creative stuff, [but] music became limited by money. At the time, there wasn’t access to easy recording. You still had to go into the recording studio, and things cost money to do, which I didn’t necessarily have. Then I put everything on the back burner to start a family and became a mom, and that’s its own creative project. I moved to LA in 2003. Being in a new city, I had no connections on how to do music here. Who is going to play, who is going to produce, where do you even rehearse in L.A.? It’s a whole different culture. Then in 2015, I started doing music again because my kid was in this public school starting kindergarten, and someone there was like, “Do you want to play a song at the Halloween fair? You can play with the Dads Band.” And I was like, “I have to show these kids the moms play, too!” It was a political mission. I did not want to do it. I hadn’t played live in an eternity. But I couldn’t play when the dads band was playing because I had a commitment that day, so I just did a full set in the morning. It was a really cool experience. I asked somebody, Norwood, to do one song so I wouldn’t have to learn the guitar [part because] I don’t have the bandwidth to learn any more. Then Norwood was like, “We need to make a band!” So we did OSO My Brain for a bunch of years. We’ll see what happens next. I manage to have these bursts of creativity every five to ten years. I just recorded something for the tribute record of Jesse Malin’s material [that’s coming out soon], which is pretty cool. I did [Malin’s song] “Brooklyn,” and that was really fun to do.

Maybe that will launch you into your next phase now.

HOLLY RAMOS: You never know, right?

Photo by David Robert Newman