JD's Color Theory
JD Samson is back in town with a new album and style to burn
By Sarah Marloff,
3:10PM, Wed. Nov. 6, 2013
Strong coffee is the fastest way to JD Samson's heart. So when MEN play Cheer Up Charlie's this Saturday, don't even bother with the "lemme-buy-you-a-beer" line.
Samson has been in and out of Austin a lot lately. Austin Pride go-ers endured the blistering afternoon sun to revel in her dance-driven DJ set during September's fest, and Le Tigre lovers likely caught Samson's turn on the turntables coinciding with the screening of the documentary, Who Took the Bomp earlier in the summer. But Wendy Davis devotees might not know that the June filibuster happened around the time of the film screening, and that Samson rallied her audience and packed up early to stand with pro-choice supporters. Now, with a new album and a new tour, Samson is headed back to Austin with her band MEN.
And for anyone still wondering who exactly is in MEN these days, Samson clarifies. Michael O'Neill and Samson are the two core members, and then there's a "rotating cast of characters," she says. "For every performance, we find out who's available depending on their other work. It's great; every show has a different feel." This weekend, Lorna Dune will fill the role of third bandmate.
"I love being able to play a city so many times in different ways," says Samson. "And I love the feeling of Austin, especially the quiet parts." Canoeing along the river, and swimming in Barton Springs are just two of the noteworthy things that makes Austin stand out to the artist, but Samson confides her favorite time to be here is any time other than South by Southwest. "The layout makes Austin a great town for festivals, but the scene is just so intense."
This time out, MEN are touring with their second album, Labor. Unlike Talk About Body (which could have convincingly been entitled, The Gay Agenda for all its delightful didactics) Labor aims to be a bit more universal.
"In Le Tigre," explains Samson. "I learned how important it was for me to speak to my community, and I've felt incredibly proud of that. But I've started to feel like my music wasn't inclusive of everyone." Don't panic, her views haven't changed, her approach has. While writing this album, Samson and O'Neill let the music take them more inward. The result is less literal. "It's interesting, because I made it for a broader audience, yet it's so personal. But then, feelings are easier to relate to than specific political beliefs."
Samson's music is not the only vehicle for her beliefs, however, they are also clear in her own gender performance. While Samson uses female pronouns, she doesn't get offended if people refer to her otherwise. "I think there's a 'normal,' so I know I confuse people, but that's not my goal," she muses. "I present myself as I always have – even as a kid. I have a mustache and pass a lot of times as male, but I'm just me, and I'm happy just being me."
"There's been an incredible trans* revolution in the past 10 years. There's now this idea that we can actually be gender-nonconforming, and [the passing of] laws like gender-neutral bathroom laws are great changes," says Samson. But like every queer, Samson knows there's still a lot of work to be done. "People shouldn't be shamed for their gender-identity, and it's so stressful to be told: Pick One!" A well-lived stance she learned as kid from some of her queer idols, specifically Tribe 8's gender pirate, Lynn Breedlove.
Samson's front-and-center androgyny is what inspired Refinery29 to name her as one of nine new style stars "taking over" the fashion world. After an "Oh gosh…" Samson says her style is all about being comfortable while still taking some risks. "I don't like wearing anything too tight, but I like to take chances with colors. I think color is exciting." She uses her glasses as an example. "They have a lot of different colors in them, and they really change my outfits." The artist frequently passes as an adolescent boy, and most days she's content with that. Though, she did admit to Refinery that as she gets older, she's starting to appreciate the "J.Crew-meets-I-just-painted-the-house vibe: I want to look like that guy!"
With style like that it's no wonder that this gender-bending icon also loves Cheer Up Charlie's. "It's a great place with great owners," exclaims Samson. "And we're really excited to play with Gretchen and Christeene too!"
Of course, long-standing Le Tigre fans and die-hard Bikini Kill devotees already know that this weekend not only brings JD into town, but also Kathleen Hanna. The Julie Ruin, Hanna's latest project, takes the stage on the final day of Fun Fun Fun Fest. Is it possible that the goddesses conspired to reunite these two idols on one stage?
Sadly, the answer is no. Or, at least the official answer. There's no bad blood between the two. Quite to the contrary, the two both support each other's work: Hanna was in the audience for MEN's last Brooklyn show and vice versa. But as far as playing together again, "I don't think either of us have thought of it," Samson admits with a laugh. "We're both doing such different things right now. We [MEN] don't play any Le Tigre songs, and Julie Ruin didn't play any the day I saw her [they did, however, play a few Bikini Kill tracks]. We've just never talked about."
Like ships passing in the night, MEN will be en route to their next destination as Hanna's set begins. But for anyone who believes in fairies and unicorns and makes wishes on 11:11, it's unconfirmed when Hanna arrives in Austin. So maybe – just maybe? – the pair could reunite at Cheer Ups? A girl can dream. But either way, MEN is a band and Labor is an album that wont disappoint, and you can still buy Samson that cup of coffee.
Cheer Up Charlie's starts the queermo party Saturday, 8pm. Cover is $5 for 21+ and $10 for kids under.