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One of the first things you notice about Simone Grey is the violet eyes. They're contacts, of course, but set against her black hair and beautifully sculpted, unmistakably Middle Eastern face, the effect is still striking.
And, like a lot of things about Simone, carefully calculated.
There are the black toenails, the gold nose ring, and the laugh--a silky trill that comes often, lasts long, and cuts through the conversation with a manic, self-reverential edge that says "I may be out of balance, but I'm also bright, and let me assure you, it's a grand combination."
A solo performance artist as of this winter, Simone appears around the Valley under the name Bare Wire, singing selections from her recent, self-released "ambient blues" album Delicatessen. It's a theme recording. Like the young singer/songwriter in Say Anything . . . who only writes about an ex-lover named Joe, Simone writes material that deals with the same failed relationship (it's Henry, in her case).
But Simone doesn't play guitar. She just sings, gliding atop stagnant pools of pre-recorded ambient tracks in a voice so powerfully emotive and haunting that it transcends her one-trick lyrics, which read like the heartbroken missives of a 15-year-old bedroom-journal writer, blasting the Cure and scrawling their pain in finger-pricked blood.
When she talks about her life and work, Simone talks hard. A single prompt can yield 15 minutes of seamless, stream-of-consciousness word jams, splattered with whiplash subject changes, vivid metaphors and glaring, self-critical neurosis. She says the on-again, off-again affair that inspired Bare Wire began nine years ago and ended only last summer. So you ask her, "What do you miss most about that relationship?"
And this is what she says:
"I miss wanting something and being deprived of it. I was usually the other woman in this relationship. I was always the girl who wanted what she could not have, and he would always quite happily not give it to me. And I thrive on that. I thrive on the turmoil and the angst. I get pleasure in hungering for what I can't eat, and if I feel full, I feel weird, like the waves have stopped and the wind has died down.
"I've spent a lifetime accepting, justifying, reasoning and working with not being happy, not being balanced. I suppose if I were a better person, I could probably make the switch, but I'm not, so I won't. I try to imagine what I would be like if I were dating somebody that really loved me and treated me well, and I realize that I couldn't handle it, and I would do things to sabotage it.
"I'm like this little kid, about 5 years old, and I desperately want to be held, to feel arms around me, the security and affection. Only the thing is, no one will ever put their arms around me. Or at least I think that they won't. Or maybe they have put their arms around me, but it feels like they don't really mean it, like they just have their arms on my back but they're not really touching me. And so out of frustration and anger and hostility, this something within me that is really sinister and self-destructive, I get this irresistible urge to push that person away. And then they fall down, and they get hurt, and they walk away. And that's what I do to people.
"I write about this stuff all the time, and I have people read my writing and I'm so proud because I'm like, 'Look, this person is so disturbed, and they're aware of it.' Most people aren't really impressed, but I always thought it was kind of a talent to be as neurotic and psychotic as me and be totally philosophical and self-aware about it."
And then she stops, breathes, takes a sip of her iced tea and looks at you like, "Okay, now what?" And you're sitting there thinking, "Get the fuck out of here." The tortured artist as pretense. What a put-on. And then when Simone cries during a performance a few days later, you cynically wonder where those tears are coming from.
They start to trickle down her cheeks five songs into an eight-song set on a small stage in the courtyard outside the Willow House, a central Phoenix java joint. The song is called "On Grade," and it goes a little something like this: Please watch me, watch me crawl for you across, across the floor, you bastard, watch me crawl, make me crawl, oh, how I want to crawl, crawl to you.
Stark on paper, the words sound like cheap dialogue from an S&M porn script. The music on Delicatessen is no help. It's just minimalist synthesizer lines and ambient wave patterns that Simone wrote herself as a perfunctory backdrop to her vocals. The album also has no beats. "I don't play drums," Simone says. "And I don't have a band, because being in a band involves getting along with people. And I don't play well with other children. Eventually, I always do something to ruin it."
Before she began Bare Wire, Simone was in a project called Urethane with Tempe musician Chris Bailey, who also plays guitar for Beats the Hell Out of Me. Urethane had a strong studio track on the Exile on Cameron Harper Street local compilation CD released earlier this year, but broke up in June after Simone wrote Bailey a list of demands, including total control of the group's image.