Interview by Jenna Meyers:
Fronted by JD Samson of Le Tigre, MEN bring a plethora of jams that speak to the realities of queer culture and young politicos at large. From the ironically somber drive of “Simultaneously,” to the pulsing beat of “Take Your Shirt Off,” MEN’s latest LP, Talk About Body, has a lot to offer. Written by a collective of artists during the current economic downturn, the record is an honest look at artistic production and life within a post-Bush reality. As part of Revel and Riot’s series on working artists, Jenna Meyers interviewed JD to hear more about what this project is all about, and where it’s going in the future.
R&R: MEN have been described as an “artist collective band” with free flowing collaboration on all artistic fronts. Would you consider “artist collective” accurate? How would you describe MEN?
JD Samson: MEN began as a collective effort from visual artists/ writers/ producers/ and musicians and I believe that we have continued on with that definition throughout the years. We have continued to work with other artists/ writers/ producers and musicians for each tour. It has been incredibly exciting and invigorating to shape each tour off a new concept and feel connected to new people to create a new work. I see MEN as an ever-changing project that sometimes has a musical focus, and sometimes has a different kind of medium focus.
R&R: Your album Talk About Body engages with the potential of gender and all of its forms. Dancing and queer political lyrics are not often seen in the pop genre. At the intersection of dance and politics, what type of change do you think is possible?
JD: The only change that I feel possible with our music is the ability to see what is really and truly happening on this planet. War torn economies and identity politics, In-fighting and deep love or hate. I can only tell my truth and hope that some people can relate, or grow from it. It’s a reality check, personally and community style.
R&R: Your song “Who am I to Feel So Free” feels like a queer anthem. A layering of humor and clear visibility feels very new. Could you please elaborate on the evolution of “Who Am I to Feel So Free?”
JD: The song was built out of a text written by longtime friend and collaborator, Emily Roysdon. We wrote the track as a pop anthem on purpose because we felt it had anthem possibilities. Paola Maorabito and Techa Noble conceptualized the video, which was shot in Sydney, Australia last December. The song has changed in genre many times, and it is one of our favorites. It feels like one of the tracks that are such an intense collaboration by all of us. When we play it live I truly feel like all of us are on stage together.
R&R: The video “Off Our Backs” has a lot of sexy characters having a real-life tug of war. Finally, a dance video with many different types of bodies! Who do the masked people represent?
JD: Director Bryce Kass had the idea for the masked people. I think it’s an incredible comment on identity. It’s a sexy mysterious body feeling free to take up space, to move and be human.
R&R: “Credit Card Babies” outlines the difficulties of establishing a genetically bonded queer family. Many other songs reference class or various financial woes. What is a queer family to you?
JD: Yes writing a record in the financial crisis was real! And so was writing a record while I realized my mixed class background. Yikes. But a queer family to me is the people that I have chosen to share my life with. The people that I trust and who give me unconditional love no matter who I am or what I do.
R&R: MEN’s polished D.I.Y look extends onto the stage. Ranging from references to David Wojnarowicz’s piece, “Burning House”, to painted backdrops. What other artists inspire MEN? Collaborate with MEN?
JD: Judy Chicago’s dinner party influenced a video we made for the Brooklyn museum of photos of women from the Internet eating. We loved working with Celeste Dupuy spencer in Mexico. We had outfits made by Emma Price of ‘Birthday Suit’ from Australia. We have worked with Leidy Churchman and A Branford and K8 Hardy and Matt Wolf. Lee Free, Tami Hart, Christina Bouza, Mayra Casales….
R&R: What are your thoughts on the idea of a queer aesthetic? Do MEN attempt to define one?
JD: I’m not sure that there is a queer aesthetic. I think aesthetic is personal and has nothing to do with sexuality. I can say that aesthetics can feel queer, as in not LGBT but different from the mainstream. And I guess I think that’s the big thing for me. I have an aesthetic. A fingerprint on it kind of a thing, like dirty but clean. Like falling apart but beautiful. I like to see the strokes.
R&R: What future projects and shows do MEN have coming up in the future?
JD: MEN opened for CSS this fall in the US and Canada. We are also in the works of finishing a whole new group of songs. Record? Who knows? We may just put them out one by one.