Anji Bee is a Southern California based singer, vlogger, author, podcaster, and zinestress. She is best known as a co-creator of the vegan lifestyle YouTube channel Happy Healthy Vegan and part of the indie-pop group Lovespirals, doing both with her husband Ryan Lum.
Anji has released two cookbooks, Keep It Carbed, Baby! and Happy Healthy Vegan Cookbook, but a lesser known part of her life is that she grew up with hardcore punk music and created a number of fanzines including Positive Influence, Substitution , Desperation, and Duranies Unite.
In 2019, she was approached by the hardcore imprint Shining Life Press to release a book anthology featuring all the six original issues of Positive Influence. This amazing collection also includes 21 pages of bonus material such as archival photos, flyers, ads, and artwork that accompany an introduction written by Anji herself and an interview with her former zine partner, Buster, as well as her brother, Brian, and several other of her friends who either contributed to the zine or were part of the Positive Influence story.
Anji was one of the few girls in the straight edge hardcore scene in the late ’80s and we were excited to hear from her about the experiences of creating DIY fanzines. Now in her 50s, Anji is still living up to the positive influence values as a respected vegan influencer, podcaster and a musician. So let’s hear more from Anji Bee herself…
Hi Anji, it’s great speaking to you! Let’s start with the basics. How did you get into hardcore punk in the first place? When was your first contact with punk music and zines?
I actually relate a few stories of my early experiences with punk music in my intro to the Positive Influence Anthology book. My brother, Brian, shared a story of he and I hearing 7 Seconds on the radio while driving with our stepdad, and I mentioned seeing bands like The Plasmatics and The Cramps on late night video shows. I talked about seeing The Clash on MTV and then meeting some skater kids in Arizona who were into JFA, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Circle Jerks and those kinds of bands. The following year I started listening to Iggy and the Stooges and Sex Pistols, as well as early Siouxsie and the Banshees. Then I moved back to San Pedro and started meeting some of the kids I talked about in the intro; Bruce who was into death rock, psychobilly, and old school punk, Jenny who was into UK punk and old school American punk, and Bill who was into the local hardcore scene. After he took me to my first show at Fender’s Ballroom, I was hooked and wanted to learn more. There were a lot of kids into punk and death rock at my high school, as well as older kids who hung out with the younger students.
Besides big shows, I also went to some house parties where hometown punk bands played, listened to records with kids from school, went to underground record stores, and just generally soaked up as much as I could about the bands and different punk genres. I couldn’t tell you what my first zine was or how I saw it. I remember reading MRR and Flipside, obviously, as they were the big ones. I shopped at Zed Records when I could get over there so I must have seen low budget zines there at some point.
What’s the story behind Positive Influence zine? Can you go a bit more in-depth about your favorite articles, interviews and the whole concept around the zine? Why did you find it important to document the scene through a fanzine?
Well, the “story” behind the zine is covered in the anthology for sure. The concept was both being inspired by Posicore music and trying to inspire others in return. As I talked about in my intro, I was living in a fairly dark time and wasn’t in the best life circumstances, either. My partner Buster was going through a lot of personal stuff, as well. I thought this project would be a good way for us to channel our energies in a positive direction, to have something to work on outside of our jobs to give our lives meaning and purpose. I wanted to be a part of the scene, meet the bands, and have interactions with people at shows. Sharing our thoughts about the music, the venues, and the scene itself gave us much needed connection.
The Youth Crew was blooming around 1988 when you started the zine. Can you talk about your way into the straight edge and the values that you found inspiring in the scene?
I had already been going to shows for several years before starting the zine, so I had seen the rise of the Youth Crew and all the changes it brought to hardcore culture. I was all for it! Shows at Fenders and the Olympic could be quite violent and chaotic. I saw John of Fishbone get stabbed at the Olympic Auditorium in 1985, I saw tons of fights at Fenders, lots of underage drinking, skinheads, gangsters and honestly, I really appreciated going to shows where being straight and alert was the norm. The vibe was just totally different. I feel like there were more afternoon shows, too, which was another nice change of pace. The crowds just felt more fun and less threatening.
Besides the Youth Crew bands at the time, you were also influenced by more political hardcore punk bands like MDC, Dead Kennedys, and Final Conflict. Is it true that MDC were a bigger influence for you to get into animal rights and vegetarianism than Youth of Today or Gorilla Biscuits? Were you interested in other kinds of politics besides straight edge and animal rights?
Yeah, I heard MDC a few years before I heard Youth of Today. Like Buster said in the intro to the anthology, San Pedro kids were not into straight edge stuff. Minor Threat famously played our Dancing Waters club once, and I was definitely into them in high school, but for the most part the locals loved Black Flag, Minutemen, Circle Jerks and other local bands. I didn’t hear much about East Coast bands right off the bat. Honestly, I can’t remember how I heard MDC but I think it may have been from a kid in my art class. Arturo and I and his friend Russell took an oath to give up eating meat after reading the information inside the MDC’s Chicken Squawk single. The punk kids would all go get chicken from this nearby mom and pop grocery store during lunch break, so the three of us said we would get the potato logs instead. Ha ha, it sounds so cute now, but that was our rebellion and it’s one that stuck with me my whole life. I literally create vegan videos and write vegan cookbooks now, 30 years later.
As for other types of politics, back then I was very concerned about nuclear war and you know, I looked into anarchy and fancied myself being into “peaceful anarchy” for a minute. One of the reasons I embraced going meatless was reading about how we could solve world hunger by stopping animal agriculture practices, too. My fanzine after Positive Influence got into other political issues, but I guess that’s another time and topic.
So how did you make the transition from vegetarianism to veganism?
Oh man, I was vegetarian for like two decades just really out of sheer ignorance. Honestly, Buster and I did make some attempts to omit eggs and milk products during the time we knew each other, but I found it difficult simply because I had no idea what I was doing. Many things changed as the decades wore on, information became much easier to find with the Internet, plant based alternatives to eggs and dairy became widely available, restaurants started catering to vegan clientele, but most importantly I learned a lot more about cooking whole foods from scratch. Knowing how to shop for and prepare produce really has been key for a successful transition to full time veganism for me. For a long time I was primarily vegan but technically still vegetarian. I wish I had made the commitment sooner.
You made Positive Influence with the help of Buster Cates and your brother who was also into punk. Did you know any other girls making zines or being into straight edge and hardcore around you? Was it difficult for a girl to be involved in the same way as all these men in the scene?
Well, to be fair, my brother just mailed me two interviews of local Arizona bands he was connected with and he wrote an opinion piece, he wasn’t really involved in the zine production or distribution. Buster, on the other hand, was there for the day to day stuff; reaching out to bands for interviews, stores for distribution, writing reviews and articles, making doodles and comics, some typing. I did most of the layout and design but Buster had his hand in it in a major way for sure.
What bugged me back then, though, was how many people assumed it was his zine. He and I talked about that when this anthology project got started. Buster didn’t realize how marginalized I felt at the time by those assumptions. It absolutely was difficult in many ways to be a girl in the scene and that was ultimately what drove me away. I mean, I wrote a big opinion piece in issue one called “Girls in the Scene” to make my grievances known. I never felt truly accepted and seen for who I was and what I contributed. And no, there weren’t any girls I knew who were making zines or designing art for bands like I was. I wanted to shine a light on the few girls I knew back then by sharing stories about them in the intro to the anthology, like Michelle who shot the photo of Reason To Believe on the cover of issue 2.
Tell me about your other zines and hardcore related projects besides Positive Influence? I think you made another two zines, what’s different between Substitution, Duranies Unite and Positive Influence?
Well, Duranies Unite kinda started out as a homegrown fanclub for the band Duran Duran that I started in Jr. High. But as more people joined my club and contributed content, my monthly newsletter got bigger until it honestly became my first zine. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I did that project because it couldn’t be more opposite of hardcore punk lol, but that was how I learned to create cut and paste zines, build an audience of readers, and many of the skills that went into creating Positive Influence years later.
Substitution was the zine I launched directly after quitting PI, and the name was meant to imply that it was a substitution for the former project. At that time I was exploring other sides of the underground music scene in Los Angeles and Orange County, going to different clubs, and hanging out with new people. During the time of Substitution, I bought my first home computer to create cleaner more modern layouts. I had two different partners on that project, the first of whom liked writing socio-political articles and opinion pieces while the second was more into writing poetry and doing artistic things, so it ended up morphing into a super short lived zine called Descent to differentiate itself as being as much about art and culture as music.
Then there was also a mini-zine called Desperation that I put out in between issues of Substitution just to share breaking news and smaller stories, poetry and art. In the early to mid-’90s before the Internet had really taken off, there was a thriving mail art scene and pen pals were a big thing, so having a small freebie zine was a nice outlet for sharing stuff via the mail. I got involved in a lot of other people’s zine, as well, sending poetry, art, stories, etc. I guess I should throw in that I also started bands with both of the guys that I worked with on these zines. Sam and I had a band called Figure 3 that recorded a demo tape, played some shows and did a live radio appearance, and then I joined Justin’s solo project, Ravensong, and we started writing and recording music together and doing shows and college radio live appearances under various names and with different collaborators. Not much came of any of these musical projects but they were good learning experiences.
Do you think that DIY ethics are still influential in your life? Is there an overlap between Happy Healthy Vegan, Chillcast and your hardcore punk past? What’s different between being an ‘80s straight edge zinester and making a vegan cookbook in 2022?
I am still 100% DIY all these decades later. To tell the truth, both of my vegan cookbooks benefitted from the skills I learned during years of fanzine creation. Not only did I create all the recipes, but I took the photos, authored the text, did all the layout and design, and handled the distribution and sales. I created the Apple Book, the Kindle Book, the PDF and did all the work to get them online, did all the promo on my various social media accounts and websites. There’s literally no support team.
My husband and I do all of the Happy Healthy Vegan stuff ourselves, as well. Ryan films and edits his videos and I create my own vlogs. I do all the photography and posts for our Instagram account and now I’m doing some TikTok videos, too. I still struggle a bit with people assuming that Happy Healthy Vegan is Ryan, replying to my posts as if they are speaking to him and giving him praise for content that is mine. I guess we still live in an inherently sexist world, where people assume on a subconscious level that men are more technologically savvy or inclined to create content than women. I don’t know. It hurts my feelings, to be honest.
You sing in an indie pop band called Lovespirals with Ryan. What are your musical influences? Would you say there’s some influence from the emo scene or modern bands like Title Fight, etc.?
Yeah, Ryan and I have been releasing music under the name Lovespirals since 1999. He composes and plays a number of instruments as well as records and produces the band while I write lyrics, create the vocal arrangements, and assist in production. Our songs are extremely collaborative since we live and work in the same space. I’ll hear him playing guitar and come in to offer up some vocal ideas which we’ll then work on building into songs. Our band has been constantly evolving over the years as we discover and embrace new genres of music. Neither of us seem to stay interested in one thing for long, as you could probably tell from my various music zine projects. I enjoy exploring new things, taking a deep dive, and absorbing what appeals to me. Lovespirals reflects that musical journey.
I should mention that Lovespirals is also a DIY project since not only do we create all the music in our own studio but I also handle the release, distribution, and promotions myself. Ryan was on a label when we met so our first album was released on CD by them but we opted to retain the digital rights. I’ve been handling the digital release of all our music plus his music before I joined the band. I’ve done most of the album designs, as well, and Ryan and I created and still maintain our website and social media. Honestly, all the skills I learned making zines still come into play in everything I do. For better or worse, I’m fiercely independent with all of my endeavors.
Do you listen to any current hardcore punk bands? When was the last time you went to a punk gig?
The closest thing, I guess, would be a Joyce Manor show in 2018 when Barry got me into the VIP section. I really love their song “NBTSA”, it has such an old school vibe especially on the 2017 polyvinyl 4-track single. But yeah, I don’t really keep up with hardcore or emo music anymore.
Thank you so much! Anything else to add?
Eh, I feel awkward reading this interview back as it kinda seems like I’m bragging or something. I generally don’t like to draw attention to myself and prefer to shine a light on other people’s accomplishments. But I appreciate you reaching out to hear my story so I hope I’ve done an OK job filling you in!
You can buy the Positive Influence Hardcore Fanzine Anthology from Shining Life Press. Positive Influence t-shirt, long sleeved tee, hoodie, or mugs available from Happy Healthy Vegan. Positive Influence is also on Instagram now @positiveinfluencezine