Kleenex - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Kleenex was a punk band from Zürich, Switzerland that was led by and consisted mostly of young women. They made remarkable music out of a few basic chords, some English words and phrases chosen more for sound than significance, and, above all, their own experiences of fun, danger and desire. After Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex® tissues, threatened to sue, the band changed its name to LiLiPUT.
Marlene Marder played saxophone in the ’77 Swiss punk band the Nasal Boys, and she was in the audience at Kleenex’s first show the following year. At that show, Kleenex consisted of bassist Klaudia Schiff, drummer Lislot Ha., and two unidentified men who left the stage before the show was over. (“The men slunk off in shame and disgust,” Greil Marcus wrote in the liner notes of the LiLiPUT CD compilation.) Their loss was Kleenex’s gain, as Marder stepped onstage to play guitar for the rest of the show and so became a member of the band. With vocalist Regula Sing, Kleenex recorded the first four songs they wrote together—“Beri-Beri,” “Ain’t You,” “Hedi’s Head” and “Nice”—for a Swiss 7-inch EP (Sunrise 1978), copies of which surfaced in England. “John Peel got the EP and he played it on the radio over and over,” Marder told Jason Gross in a 1998 interview with Perfect Sound Forever. “Rough Trade heard it and that was the contact.”
Rough Trade issued “Hedi’s Head” b/w “Ain’t You” (1978) in a poster sleeve and booked a UK tour for Kleenex. After the release of the next single “Ü” b/w “You” (Rough Trade 1979)—with its “Angry-side” and “Friendly-side”—and Kimberly-Clark’s threat of legal action, Kleenex changed its name to LiLiPUT, after the tiny-peopled island of Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels. The name change coincided with Regula Sing’s departure; the new name, and new teenage singer and drummer Chrigle Freund, first appeared on the group’s third English single, “Die Matrosen” b/w “Split” (Rough Trade 1980). This incarnation of LiLiPUT also contributed two songs to the compilation Swiss Wave The Album (Off Course 1980). On the sleeve of “Eisiger Wind” b/w “When The Cat’s Away Then The Mice Will Play” (Off Course 1980, Rough Trade 1981), which first appeared in Switzerland, the band is photographed in geometric costumes reminiscent of those Hugo Ball had worn in Zürich’s Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. (For more on the relationship between punk and Dada, see Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces (Harvard University Press 1989).)
Chrigle Freund left in 1981, and singer and violinist Astrid Spirit became the group’s third lead vocalist. As a trio, Schiff, Marder and Spirit recorded the group’s first and second albums, LiLiPUT (Rough Trade 1982) and Some Songs (Rough Trade 1983). Marder explained the reasons for the group’s 1983 breakup in her interview with Gross: “The idea from Rough Trade Germany for the second album was for us to tour. But then Astrid got pregnant and that was the end of the group[…] From the time of the last album, Klaudia and me wanted to stop the band because we were a bit tired with going on tour and everything. It was Astrid who said ‘Let's do another album and Rough Trade will pay for it.’ I thought it was OK as long as she did the business. I did it all the time [before] and I was tired of it—with the record companies and the money. So she said ‘We have to do it.’ So we had to go on tour and organize this and so on. Then she came to us and said ‘Now I'm pregnant. Sorry girls. Goodbye. Don't ask Rough Trade Germany—they put all the money into it and didn't get it back.’ I wasn't really disappointed. It was kind of an end.”
Marder published Kleenex/LiLiPUT: Das Tagebuch der Gitarristin Marlene Marder (Nachbar der Welt 1986), a diary or scrapbook of her years in the group. She formed a band called Danger Mice that lasted from 1989 to 1992, and since then she has worked for the World Wide Fund for Nature, known in the US and Canada as the World Wildlife Fund. Marder has not played much since Danger Mice, though in December 2009 she joined Deerhoof onstage in Luzern, Switzerland for a performance of LiLiPUT’s “Hitch-Hike.” Klaudia Schiff is a fine art painter and sculptor under her full name, Klaudia Schifferle, and maintains a website at www.klaudiaschifferle.ch. Footage of LiLiPUT appeared in Girls Bite Back (MVD 1995), a documentary about punk women directed by Wolfgang Büld. The first release of the group’s music in the United States was the 2CD compilation LiLiPUT (Kill Rock Stars 2001), which collects the complete Kleenex and LiLiPUT discography and adds previously unreleased recordings.