Pioneering all-female Sixties band Ace of Cups have released “Made for Love,” a tender, timely new song about remaining connected during difficult times.
Featuring Bob Weir, Jackson Browne, and David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane, the track centers around the mantra “We were made for love” against spoken-word verses. “Remember what we came here for/It’s not for hate, it’s not for war,” Denise Kaufman sings.
“We felt that with the coronavirus, we just wanted to put something out that expressed how we felt,” Kaufman tells Rolling Stone. “We wanted to dig down into the place that we ultimately all know we’re connected. We’re all here together, and we’re made for love.”
“Made for Love” is the second half of a two-part medley, which will be featured on the band’s upcoming album Sing Your Dreams, out August 18th on High Moon Records. “The date that we chose is the 100-year anniversary of when women in the U.S. got to vote,” Kaufman explains. “Although I have a caveat: many of our southern black sisters (and brothers) were not allowed to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Voter suppression is still a huge issue and we will continue to fight for everyone’s right to vote.”
From her home in Kauai, Hawaii, where Kaufman has owned an organic family farm since 1981, the singer discussed the new track, San Francisco in the Sixties, and Ace of Cups’ legacy as an all-female band.
How did “Made for Love” come together?
Mary [Alfiler] wrote the basic melody and the mantra of it, and then we had our friends Jackson and Bobby and Dave sing with us. So we started out with just that, and then I wrote the spoken-word verses and finished it just a week before the pandemic. For us, it expressed what we were feeling at that time.
How was the video made?
We thought it would be really great to do a video, but we were all [in] separate places. Our friend Stacey Printz is the choreographer and founder of the Printz Dance Company — which is this wonderful dance company in the Bay Area. Stacey, who was my daughter’s roommate all through college and one of our dear friends, has gotten into doing a lot of video work lately. She directed and edited it, and our office reached out to our friends and fans and said, “Send videos and photos of you expressing love in your life.” It definitely grew out of these last few weeks, people’s experiences.
Ace of Cups had a live LP in 2003, but didn’t release a debut studio album until 2018. Why did it take you guys so long to release a record?
In the old days, we never got a record deal when all of the bands that we were playing with in San Francisco did. There were no all-women bands in the area that we knew of anyway. I think partly, we didn’t get a deal because we were all women, and they didn’t know what to do with us. We were five hippie women, and we all sang and played. There wasn’t just one lead singer to focus on — there were five different singers and a lot of different musical styles. We wrote pretty much everything that we played — it was all original. But we had a lot of different musical energy, we never felt we had to box ourselves in. I think that we didn’t get a deal at that time for a number of reasons, but a lot of bands had a singer in front.
Did you ever interact with Joy of Cooking?
Yeah, they were wonderful.
They were signed, but they weren’t all female.
What was it like playing in a genre dominated by men?
We had never seen an all-female band. When we first started playing together, we just didn’t have anything to look to. So we just started playing, and because we were having such a good time, we kept on playing. I was the last one to join, the other four [Alfiler, Marla Hunt, Diane Vitalich, and Mary Ellen Simpson] had already met and started playing. I was the last one to connect with them. I had been in other bands before — the last band I was in before them turned into Moby Grape. At the time, I was working for Fantasy Records in San Francisco, a little record label that was really cool. So when we started, we had some support. We started writing immediately.
My friend Ambrose Hollingworth asked if he could be our manager. He used to manage Quicksilver. Ambrose was in the hospital in San Francisco; he had gotten in a terrible car accident and he was paralyzed from the waist down. He was a paraplegic at that point. We went to his hospital room and stood around his bed and sang some songs for him. He asked if he could manage us.
Things happened really quickly. I met Mary Ellen [on] New Year’s Eve 1967. I went over and met the band members the next week. By June of ’67, we opened for Jimi Hendrix in Golden Gate Park.
Not that there wasn’t some sexism — and not that there weren’t some guys who had an attitude about women playing electric guitars [laughs] — but the truth was, we got a lot of support from the people around us. A lot of the bands that we played onstage with were supporting and encouraging. The Jefferson Airplane were so good to us.
I was playing guitar in those days — in the band now, I play bass and harmonica more. But Jorma [Kaukonen] would say, “You know, Denise, you should try one of these 355-Gibsons. Borrow this guitar for a while.” And he’d lend me a guitar. I’d see him and say, “Do you want that guitar back?” He says, “Oh, no, keep it.” I’d have it for like a year. That kind of support.
It was the ethos of the time in San Francisco of brothers and sisters. We were all trying to support the community by doing as many benefits as we could to support the institutions, like the Haight-Asbury medical clinic or legal aid or the Straight Theater that was trying to stay open. We’d play benefits to keep the doors open. There’d be the gigs where we’d get paid at the Fillmore or the Avalon, and then there’d be as many gigs that we played for something in the community.
What’s your earliest memories of Bob Weir, and how did he end up singing on the new track?
Bob, we were on the bus together with Ken Kesey. Bobby and Mountain Girl and I, we were all basically 18 when we were on the bus. I went to my last two years of high school in Palo Alto, and that’s where he was and that’s where Jerry was. I used to go hear Jerry play when I was in high school when he had his jug bands. That’s how far back I go with Bobby.
Around the time that the Seva Foundation was formed [in 1978], Bobby came to Kauai. I had been living here for about six or seven years, and he came and stayed with me and played with the band that I had here. He’s just always been a good friend. We’ve done a lot of yoga together through the years.
On the first album, he sang a song that I was writing called “The Well,” and it was at that time we started working on “Made for Love.” He was really busy, not very much time at home, touring a lot. Natasha [Weir] totally gave him blessings to come and record with us, so I thought that was a really generous move from his family, to let Dad come and record on his few days home.
What about Jackson Browne?
I didn’t know Jackson in the Sixties, although he said later that he used to come and listen to us practice outside the Heliport, this great place that turned into a hub for bands to rent rehearsal studios. He said he was staying on a houseboat in Sausalito and he used to come and listen to us play, but he didn’t know that he could knock and come in.
I met Jackson somewhat later in Los Angeles. We’ve become good friends a little bit later on. He’s got a big connection to Kauai — he and his wife, Dianna [Cohen], have come and hung out with us on the farm. He did a benefit for my grandson’s school when he was about six years old. He’s such a generous, kind, amazing person. As Ken Kesey used to say, “Put your good where it does the most.” Jackson’s done that his whole life.
Does the band plan to tour once it’s safe to do so?
Yes. We were touring this summer, but things got scheduled. On [August] 18th, we had scheduled a live event in San Francisco in Golden Gate Park, celebrating both our album release and the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. We still haven’t heard from the city that it can’t happen, because when things start to open up, outdoor events might be safer than indoor events. So we don’t know yet. Our plan is to put together something virtual if it can’t happen.
Is there anything you want to say to fans right now?
In these times, we need to bring out the best in each other and we need to stand for each other. As a white person, I want to say that we need to step up and fight for justice and equality in every way we can. Vote. Support others to vote. We truly are in this together. As Wavy Gravy says, “It’s about sharin’ and carin.'”