Often times in a relatively small knit community or subculture of people, it can seem like we all know one another and while there is certainly a general sense of familiarity to be had in such settings, unless a group is extremely tiny, you can never possibly know of all the folks who count themselves amongst its ranks.
That fact was a huge driving force behind while I launched the "Meet a Fellow Vintage Blogger" post series earlier this year and why I am 100% keen to interview folks not only from all around the world, but from all walks of life, backgrounds, fashion preferences, and personal passions.
Today, on this glisteningly gorgeous sunny July morning, I am seriously happy to introduce (or reintroduce, as the case may be) you to none other than a lovely rockabilly loving lady named Jessie Diamond from the blog Lonely Hepkat, who calls the most northerly state in the Union, Alaska, home.
As someone with my own strong family ties to the north (though mine are to the Yukon, not Alaska), I can't help but feel an instant kinship with those who hail from this hearty, often icy, strikingly beautiful expanses of vast wilderness peppered with pockets of civilization.
These far reaching corners of the world are not for the faint of heart and they take a lot of moxie to survive successfully in, something that our gal Jessie Diamond has in the spades. She also happens to be a passionate paranormal investigator, an avid outdoors woman, a devastated rockabilly wearer, and a die hard radio program fan.
Intrigued? So was I and that's why I recently chatted via email with Jessie to get the lowdown about her Alaskan life, her hobbies, and her rockabilly wardrobe. Read on for all the exciting details!
Welcome! You're the first interviewee from Alaska and it's a pleasure to have you here. Could you please share a bit about yourself and your blog?
My name is Jessie and I like to think of myself as a slightly unconventional rockabilly blogger. I'm super crafty (like many bloggers), but I am also a paranormal investigator (going on 16 years now) and I work out a lot (not the most popular topic on rockabilly/vintage blogs). You may notice that on my blog I use the last name Diamond, this is from Ultra Swank telling me that "it just sounds swanky".
What inspired you to start your blog, Lonely Hepkat?
My blog started out when I moved to Portland, OR in 2012 (for just over a year). I couldn’t find a job (2 BA degrees and no jobs) for the longest time and I didn’t have any friends. I was a bit lonely. I did, however, get my butt to Viva Las Vegas 2013 and that's when I made a full commitment to a full-time rockabilly/vintage lifestyle. Before that I was just a weekender, a term I use for those who do the rockabilly/vintage thing in their spare time like on the weekends.
Does the name derive from the fact that there aren't many fellow vintage/rockabilly enthusiasts where you live?
I've always been more of a loner, though I do enjoy having a small group of friends around. Currently, I'm back in Fairbanks, Alaska to help my parents and I have found a good small group of rockabilly friends. Funny thing, we're all loners who enjoy getting together once or twice a week.
How would you describe the vintage/rockabilly seen in Alaska?
The vintage/rockabilly scene in Alaska is very small. There are car shows, but they are small events, not a weekly event like you see in other places. We have a pretty good selection of vintage stores (clothing and antiques), more in Anchorage than Fairbanks. We also have one rockabilly band in the state (that I know of) – Wolves A.D. (previously The Avery Wolves). They opened up, last summer, for Reverend Horton Heat. The Rev played at the 49th State Brewery in Healy, which is just outside of the main drag at Denali National Park.
Do you identify more with the rockabilly subculture, the more traditional vintage scene, or both fairly equally?
I would have to say that it’s fairly equal for me. I tend to stay rooted in the 40s and 50s when it comes to vintage, but I have a few pieces that are out of that time frame. I am currently in the process of switching most of my clothes to rockabilly or vintage styles – the exception being my workout clothes.
When did your interest in all things rockabilly/vintage start?
If you think about it as an octopus, then I started out with interest, but no consolidation when I was very young. I had my Elvis and Teresa Brewer cassette tapes. My mom liked to do my hair like Shirley Temple. We watched a ton of old movies and tv shows (Addams Family and stuff). I actually had a vhs tape that my aunt recorded and sent to me that had Disney music videos at the beginning – including "Stray Cat Strut" by Stray Cats and "I Only Have Eyes For You" by The Flamingos. It wasn't until 7th grade that I bought "modern" music (for example, the "Mean Street" album by Van Halen) and started to comply with more modern styles – tried to, at least.
I was never much of a fashionista. I still stuck with my love of the 40s and 50s with little things (cat eye sunglasses, Grease soundtrack, etc), though I did move into more of a darkwave/goth scene in the later part of the 90s. I don't think I really cemented anything until art school in 2003 - 2006.
What are some of the ways that you incorporate this passion into your daily life?
I dipped my toes into the water of the rockabilly/vintage culture by having a few things here and there like my retro-inspired glasses (Seraphin brand), books, music, collecting retro/vintage sewing patterns, etc. I waded out into the water by becoming a weekender. I began to try old recipes, do crafts with rockabilly/vintage flair, sew more and more articles of clothing, always had issues of Dwell (mcm nd neo-modern designs), and the hair experiments began.
Now I'm a vintage-lifer. It's an everyday occurrence. I have a pink bathroom in my apartment (pink fixtures – not just accents), I have my grandma's old RCA Victrola radio/record cabinet from the 40s, I sew, I do crafts, and I've even considered becoming a little musical (I play bass guitar and keyboards, but it's been a while). My dog's name is Lono, one of the four major Hawaiian gods. I definitely was inspired by tiki modern when naming him. I am going to be selling some Lindy Bop dresses and retro-inspired hand-painted fishing lures pretty darn soon at the summer outdoor markets.
Do you work in a vintage related field?
Currently, I am an office manager for my dad who is a mechanical contractor – meaning that he does plumbing, heating, and cooling. It's nowhere near my art or history degrees. I also just finished a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer seminar. I like to think of it as being inspired by Jacques Lalane – who I have great respect for. I would like to get into retro fashion design, but I have no clue as to how to start aside from creating my own patterns (which I'm working on).
Given that weather is very chilly for a hefty chunk of the year in Alaska (being a Canadian, I can certainly relate!), do you have any great tips for wearing rockabilly/vintage styles during the colder months?
We have talked about this numerous times over lunch and dinner up here. We all tend to go more 1940s for the winter and 1950s for the summer. The 1940s gave us some solid gold with WWII work wear. I have a pair of Rosie the Riveter coveralls, as well as the same style for trousers. I usually pair these with sweaters from Rocket Originals, a work shirt or flannel, or a cardigan. I also have some retro shirt patterns that I really like to use. One of my favorites is Simplicity 1692. I keep an updated list of retro patterns on my Pinterest account.
In addition to the fashions and hairstyles, what are some things about the rockabilly/vintage world and lifestyle that really make your heart skip a beat?
I love classic cars. In fact, there's a 1948 Ford Deluxe down the street for sale that I would love to have. Starting in 8th or 9th grade, I helped my mom restore her dad's 1956 Nash Metropolitan. I've also assisted my dad with his motorcycles and dirt bikes.
I'm also a huge fan of design – art and architectural. Exotica makes me very happy. I love the music (Martin Denny, Russ Garcia, Yma Sumac, etc) and the primitive art/style – primarily Hawaiian and voodoo themes. I also collect old billikens, which fits with the exotica. Billikens are an old good luck charm and a lot of them come from Alaskan carvers.
You're a passionate paranormal investigator. Does this interest ever overlap with your love of vintage, itself so very embodied with the spirit, if you will, of the past?
I think it does overlap with the past, quite a bit. I am the Assistant State Director for MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) and I also investigate hauntings and cryptid cases (bigfoot primarily). There's a lot of research that goes into this field that often gets over looked by people.
People also tend to forget about paranormal events that happened like UFOs over the White House, UFO research by the military, presidents talking to ghosts and holding séances, New England vampires, and even Theodore Roosevelt's bigfoot sighting. I find that people seem to be more open with me since having switched my wardrobe and adopting new hairstyles. I think the rockabilly/vintage lifestyle is nostalgic and comforting to a lot of people.
Do you have any exciting paranormal related stories that you'd like to share with us?
Before I moved in 2012, I managed to snap a day-time photo of a ghost at Birch Hill Cemetery here in Fairbanks. I did a lot of research on the "Lady in White" up at the cemetery and figured out who she was.
Last summer was the wettest in Fairbanks' history. I found a bigfoot footprint, but it was not in a condition to cast. A few years prior to this, I was researching an old bigfoot sighting that happened in 2009. I did interviews, hiked through the woods for two months, talked to Fish and Game, and tried to figure out why the sighting occurred where it occurred.
The summer of 2009 was a big forest fire year and I believe that the bigfoot followed Goldstream Creek north (away from fires). The beastie was spotted next to an elementary school that has a school farm. With the edible plants (growing in the forest), forest animals, and the garden plants, there was a lot of food around. I sent my case file in to the Bigfoot Field and Research Organization (BFRO).
I am currently doing some historical research into Project Pinball, a military project from 1950-1959. I was reading about the Dulce Base in New Mexico when I stumbled upon a brief mention of this project. Looking into it, Project Pinball was a military project to utilize the Alaskan radar systems to track UFOs in Alaska airspace. The more research I do, the more it sounds like an episode of the X-Files.
Back to vintage...what are some of your favourite items of rockabilly/vintage clothing?
I absolutely love my leopard print bullet bra from Secrets in Lace. I wear it every day. It totally reminds me of that line from 'Cry Baby': 'Our bazooms are our weapons.' It also is nice to be able to fully pull of the "sweater girl" look.
While I was living in Portland, OR, I bought myself a pair of saddle shoes from Bass Shoes. They never needed broken in. They are absolutely wonderful and very comfortable. Not so great on ice.
It's not very exciting, but I have these LL Bean comfort fit pants that I wear all the time. I have big calves and a good set of hips on me, so pants have always been an issue for me. These are super comfortable and I can roll the cuff. I can squat and do the splits in these pants. I'm planning on getting a full length pant real soon – same comfort fit style (such as these).
Do you wear vintage/rockabilly makeup and hairstyles in addition to fashions?
I tend to keep my make up real simple: a little eye shadow, black eyeliner, and mascara. Sometimes I even throw on lip stain.
My hair, I do tend to wear in vintage and rockabilly styles all the time – except at the gym. I haven't figured out rockabilly/vintage gym hair. I'm currently in the middle of new hair discoveries since I went out and got myself some Bettie bangs.
Aside from rockabilly/vintage and paranormal investigations, what are some of your current hobbies/interests?
I go to crossfit 5 days a week and I just made green belt for ITF taekwondo. I draw, paint, sew, cook, write, and occasionally head out for a little fishing. I wrote a book that was finally published in 2013 called "The Professional Ghost Investigator" and you can find it on Amazon. I like plants and share a good size garden with my parents. Halloween is a big interest of mine. I know that sounds funky, listing a holiday, but I'm always looking for new recipes or costume ideas. I should just write a Halloween book.
Coffee is also a big interest of mine. I've been to a coffee plantation in Kona, HI, I've worked in the coffee business for a long time, and I have toyed with the idea of opening up a coffee-tea-chocolate shop for years now.
What are some things that you wish folks knew about Alaska that many outside of the State are not aware of?
Our temperatures range from -65F to 105F in most of the state over the year. You probably won't see these extreme temperatures, but it's possible to see a little snow in June or July and it's also possible to have a 50F day in the middle of winter. Just don't expect it to be cold all the time.
The best salmon comes out of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean side of Canada. I think we have the best recipes for salmon too (Jessica's note: as I west coast dwelling Canadian, I completely agree!!!)
If you could travel anywhere in the world in the name of vintage, where would you pick?
Oh no! [I love traveling, so this is a hard call]. I really want to check out Palm Springs, CA. I love Hawaii and I love London, so traveling back to these places would always be a YES! I would like to fix up an old camper trailer, hitch it to my boyfriend's old Chevy, and go on a vintage road trip across the states with the dogs (a Lab and a Doberman) – see the sites, go to some shows, hit antique stores, etc. I want to mention that my boyfriend loves this idea, too!
And what five items would you take with you on your travels?
Some of these answers are based on roadtrip travel, instead of flying to a destination.
1. An old coffee grinder (hand powered). I refuse to buy pre-ground coffee unless it's absolutely necessary. I even prefer grinding my own coffee for my Keurig. It's more work, but the quality and taste is better. Right now I'm enjoying Kauai Coffee ER Peaberry.
2. Portable record player. I've been thinking about getting a Crosley, but just haven't done it yet.
3. Sketchbook. I'd either take a sketchbook with me or end up buying one when I go somewhere. It's a habit I have. Sometimes I don't even use it, but I feel like I need it.
4. My Hawaiian Pin-Up Girl Dress that I made a few years ago (seen in the photo above). It's comfortable and I feel pretty in it.
5. I always find my iPod to be essential on trips. I have no problems being mostly unplugged, but my iPod is pretty important to me. I was always that kid with a walkman or a portable cd player or even a small radio. It also allows me to listen to podcasts and shows like Coast to Coast AM ( Jessica's note: I have been listening to Coast to Coast since I was a young child and Art Bell was still hosting) and Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation.
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Now, tell me you don't want to save up your pennies for a trip to Alaska so that you go hang out with seriously cool lady!
Thank you so much for the wonderful interview, Jessie. It was a joy getting to know you (and Loney Hepkat) better and I really appreciate that you jumped at the chance to take part in this post series. I love knowing that when I finally make up the Alaska highway one day, I'll know some vintage/rockabilly folks to visit there (my dear friend Cherry from She Knits in Pearls, also calls the 49th state home and I'd seriously flip at the chance to meet her as well!).
We're racking up more virtual frequent flier miles this year care of these delightful blogger interviews than a UN ambassador, I tell yah! Coming down the pipeline next, buckle in for another exciting transatlantic flight as we jet back across the pond and talk with one of the most stylish and inspiring vintage couples not only in Europe, but in the whole wide world. I am giddy with excitement at the mere thought and know that you'll adore learning more about them, too!