Safe. Mutual. Respect.
JD Samson (wo)mans up for the Gay Place.
By Cindy Widner,
3:56PM, Wed. Mar. 30, 2011
[Our intrepid managing editor and all around lady music maestro Cindy Widner had a chance to chat with everybody's favorite prom date, JD Samson, who is bringing her band MEN to Austin. MEN play the Beauty Bar Thursday, March 31. See you there! – Kate X]
Austin Chronicle: So we missed you at GayBiGayGay this year.
JD Samson: I knowww…
AC: ... and also and South by Southwest, where the Le Tigre doc showed. So we're really looking forward to you coming to Austin.
JD: Yeah, we’re really excited. I know, this year we skipped the SXSW insanity. But we love Austin so much, so we’re so happy to be here now on our terms.
AC: Besides promoting Talk About Body, your new record, what do you want to accomplish on this tour?
JD: Well, we have a new member playing with us. Ginger [Takahashi] left the project to pursue her visual art career. So on this tour, we have Tammy Hart, somebody I’ve known for a long time. I've loved her work since [her early days with mutual record label] Mister Lady. She has been a really a big part of this tour for us. We're appreciating what she brings to the project and enjoying being onstage together and feeling inspired. It’s been really awesome so far. It’s a new page in our book.
AC: She was involved in Mister Lady?
JD: Yeah, she had her own solo record she made when she was 18. She played a couple shows with Le Tigre. That’s how we met her a really long time ago. We’ve kind of kept in touch. She moved to New York, and we were looking for a new person to play on this tour. We immediately thought of her.
AC: This is Men's debut album, even though some of the songs are three years old or so. Why did you wait so long to release a full-length record?
JD: In 2007, we started jamming together. So I guess you could say we started writing it. But we didn’t really have an incentive to make a record and put it out and make it our job at that point. We were just having fun. Then, later that year, we all kind of had a talk and decided to really push for making a record, getting a deal and a manager, and all that stuff. So that all came about in the next three years. But we had this real excitement over touring and ended up playing shows to make money to make the record. Also, we kept getting asked to go on tours with our friends' bands to play amazing shows all over the world. So we took those opportunities instead of getting the record out really quickly. We started as a live band more than a recorded band, so it was important for us to build a community as a live band first. I thought it was a really interesting way to do that. I mean, it wasn’t a business decision to keep touring instead of putting a record out.
AC: I’ve been watching the band's videos, and I noticed the "Off Our Backs" video is politically and sexually charged and at the same time comes off like you're sort of kid-like, playing in a playground. How did that come about?
JD We had made a lot of videos with our video artist friends before we made budgeted videos, and our label said we have to make a real video. We talked to a lot of directors. We picked the director we wanted to work with [Bryce Kass] based on having friends in common and feeling comfortable with a collaboration. We threw around ideas together; it was important for me to not have a video power struggle. But that video was pretty simple. We were in a van, and I was like, 'What about a Tug-o-War?' and then I brought that up to the director, and he just kind of just went with it, creating magic. We showed up, and there was a cast and choreography and an amazing producer and a great location. All that stuff just came together really well. I went to film school and have done that work, so it was really fun for me to just stand behind the monitor and tell people to grind on each other.
AC: You did a good job with that.
AC: At the Outfest film festival in L.A., you introduced a screening of Hustler White and talked about how the film influenced your aesthetic. Your Men shows have an kind of art-school look, really, with painted backgrounds and costumes, and such. Can you talk about the line or connection between those two aesthetics, if any?
JD: I think what happened to me is I became punk, and I realized that you have to do it yourself to really get what you want. Financial restraints have made it so, so it’s way easier and cheaper to do things myself. That’s just my aesthetic in general. Something I learned from that movie and that time of my life was just that putting your own hands on things and touching stuff really brings an incredible element to any kind of art. That film looks like its been touched by hands. I want that same thing, that same quality to come across in our costumes and our backdrops and in everything we do. I think definitely you can call it "art school" but I …
AC: I guess I’m just saying "art school" because you studied art and your parents are artists …
JD: I don’t take that in a negative way.
AC: I read an interview in NY Press where you talked about performing and the body, how the music becomes secondary to the body performing. It made me think of how you emerged out of Le Tigre. What are the differences for you – being in a band with kind of three front people to being the focus of a band?
JD: There are a lot of differences every tour. It gets harder for me, I think. The audience looks to you for emotion. I notice if I’m happy, then people are smiling. If I’m inquisitive, then people’s faces change. If I’m angry, it’s such a trip. I’ve noticed how I feel going onstage every night. I have to get to a point where I’m ready to hand myself over to a bunch of strangers; it’s been really interesting to trust them to hold me and take care of me throughout the show. That’s all kind of new. I think in Le Tigre, I could get lost in myself because I didn’t have as much to worry about. Kathleen had to deal with it. I'm in a more interesting position now for sure, but I’ve tried really hard to give myself to the audience completely. That trust is what creates a good show and a good stage performance.
AC: I did notice you Tweeted about having to "get aggro" at a recent show and asking people not to be mean.
JD: On this tour, we’ve noticed there are a lot of other kinds of people are coming out or there’s a bigger fandemonium. There’s more emotion with the fans or something like … I don’t know why, maybe we seem like we’re bigger stars now or something, but in San Francisco somebody was playing my keyboard. They were reaching over and playing the keyboard. I asked them to stop, and they did it again. I felt really frustrated about that. They ended up getting thrown out of the club. I had to say, "Please don’t touch me without asking." These things happen. I have this crazy trust for people and for the fans, and when I get disappointed, feeling like I’m not being respected or being responsible with my body or my gear, I feel really sad about it. That’s what I felt. Last night someone stole my shirt, my costume. I felt really mad. This person is a really big fan of ours, and I felt, "What is he doing? Does he realize this is hurtful to me?" I know he wanted to keep it as memorabilia, but it felt like this distrust that made me feel sad. When you give someone respect, you deserve respect, and sometimes I don’t think people realize how they can affect you.
AC: It seems that was a big thing with Le Tigre – being accessible to their fans.
JD: Yeah, I think that in a way, some people are afraid of Kathleen because she can really tear someone apart on the mic. My personality is a little too nice. Do people think they can get away with this? I almost need to be a little more strict or something. I need to be meaner.
AC: Well, you are awfully nice. I hope you don't need to get too mean. How is your songwriting different from how it was with Le Tigre? Is Johanna [Fatemen] still involved?
JD: Honestly, there's kind of the same songwriting plan – the basic structure that Le Tigre had, where everyone just gives whatever they can and want to the songs. Each song happens totally differently. Michael brings a lot of things to the project. Johanna does definitely work on some of the songs with us depending on how much time she has. She has a lot going on. But she's added maybe three or four tracks off the record. We think of her as a production consultant. She’s so honest. She’ll just be like, 'That part sucks!' and we’ll replace it! So yeah, she’s really good to work with. We still write songs together and collaborate often, still.
AC: Do you have any arty surprises planned for the show?
JD: We do have some arty elements planned for the show. We’re excited for our show at Coachella. And we’re working on a new record which is really fun.
AC: How is that going?
JD: It's going really great. That last record took so long … We've been working pretty hard to be prolific and make sure we get something out quickly.
AC: Are you performing any of those songs on this tour?
JD: No, we're not, but we are performing songs that we haven't performed before from the record that just came out, so that's new for us.
AC: Do you have any safe audience participation parts planned?
JD: There's going to be some audience singing and maybe clapping – yes, safe, mutual respect.