Friday, June 30, 2017

Interview with The Bedroom Witch

This is an interview I conducted with an up-and-coming performer from here in L.A. who calls herself The Bedroom Witch. She is a fascinating and insightful person and I really enjoyed reading her responses to my questions:

+How old are you and where were you born?

24 years old. I was born in Tehran, Iran

+What was your introduction to music, or what music did you listen to growing up?

It started with my parents- they’re both musicians and I remember them constantly collaborating and composing traditional-folk Iranian songs with each other using very old Iranian instruments around me and my sister.  We came to the US from Iran when I was two years old and my childhood experiences with music here mostly consisted of the radio playing 90s pop stars.  I remember loving the chorus line of “What About Your Friends?” by TLC and obsessively reenacting the dance moves to “Oops I did it Again” while feeling so drawn to the space theme/tacky dialogue in that music video.  I don’t have that same attachment to the “classics” that people around me seem to have here.  Like, I came from a background of my parents only listening to Iranian musicians such as Ramesh or Vigen so whenever someone brought up a band like the Velvet Underground or the Rolling Stones or some shit back then I would just think “who?”  From then on, I don’t know, my interests were all over the place.  If I liked the song, I liked the song.

+ Your performance style is very unique, as it seems to incorporate theatrics into the music. This is reminiscent of the performance styles of artists like David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Where did you come up with this approach to performing your music, as opposed to having a full band onstage with you?
My approach to performance is set on the foundation that I don’t and literally cannot perform my instruments live as a solo artist.  Considering the ways that my songs are structured and layered with so many melodies, it would be just too much to recreate alone and to be honest, I’ve never been interested in recreating my songs live.  That said, I decided to take being asked to perform as a place where I could combine all the different mediums of art I practice and apply them to a show. I also want to apply parts of my childhood into performance. Something I really bonded with my dad over as a child was spending time watching Charlie Chaplin films together and I remember being blown away by how much pantomime and facial expressions could tell a story. A huge part of me and my sister’s femme experience growing up came from creating these fictional girl characters with magical powers who we would say we were anytime we wanted to talk about boys or just to feel like more ourselves or whatever.  These interests I had as a kid stuck with me so I don’t see how imagined characters and expressive movement wouldn’t come out of me in a context where I’m being asked to “perform” in the first place.  I never felt as if shows had to just be a place where people are watching you recreate a song you wrote however long ago and that’s not me trying to dismiss this approach.  If that’s how you want to express yourself as a performer or that is what you lean more towards experiencing as an audience member, I’m all about it.  That’s just not the direction or experience I want to get out of my own performances. I don’t really know what I want out of my sets.  I don’t really even know why I get asked to play shows and in the back of my mind before each show, I tell myself that the set I’m about to do is a performance piece on endurance to see how far in I can go being so exposed before collapsing and experiencing a total meltdown.  The terror of that is what makes performing interesting to me.  What I do know though is that I want to share my stories whether they make sense or not.  They make sense to me and I want to tell them by moving and making facial expressions and by talking to inanimate objects to experience my own songs in that way with the audience

+ Have you ever played in a full band and if so, how does it compare to performing solo?

I’ve never played in a full band so I don’t have anything to compare creating or performing alone to, really.  I think the control issues in me mixed in with anxiety has always made the prospect of committing to being a creative with other people a little scary.  Like, a few months back I asked my friend Daniel (of French Vanilla) to put saxophone on a track I was working on and the whole time we were in the studio, my anxieties of being too controlling/demanding about what I wanted were coming out really hard and that actually made it more difficult for me to verbalize what I wanted to hear. I ended up obsessively asking to redo takes over and over again even though the initial recording he did was perfect.
Overall, I look at making music as breathing room for myself.  When I’m recording in my bedroom, everyone and everything behind my door and out my windows disappear.  I go into a manic trance where my imagination starts to scatter everywhere and then, when I’m back in reality, it’s suddenly too many hours later.  I can’t really imagine sharing a space with people when that’s happening and I definitely don’t want to subject people to that process.  When I’m performing, It’s just me dealing with me and the people who are just watching me deal with me.  I’ve gotten comfortable with knowing that I have to get vulnerable like that without anyone there doing it with me to rely on. I’m trying to get better at the idea of working with people though because performing alone is a terrifying experience for me each time, actually 

+Who are your major influences?
My sister, Sepand (of SBSM/Placentaur) is my number one for sure.  All the bands that are on my list of favorites and how I even got comfortable with making self-produced synthesizer music accessible in the first place came from her passing that knowledge over to me.  She’s so brilliant and I’ve looked up to her my entire life.  Genius friends making music such as Wizard Apprentice, Softdrink, Beast Nest and so many more also inspire me by reminding me of how important maintaining support systems and getting through the vulnerability that comes from putting your creativity out there is.  There are also the well known artists out there that bring storytelling/theatrical elements into performance spaces who definitely inspire me.  It starts with my infinite love for Kate Bush and stretches all the way to local acts I’ve seen in my teens like Anna Oxygen and Geneva Jacuzzi who validated the types of performance I was interested in doing and all the ideas in my head I thought would be rejected in conventional show spaces before I ever even started performing live.  Sound wise, everything and anything will do it for me.  Right now, it’s the sound of drops of water landing on objects that are hollow and made of tin or the sound of ice cracking in a lukewarm drink

+ When did you start writing your own music?

If we wanna go all the way back, I started writing lyrics at 11 years old to imaginary songs that I heard in my head but never actually did anything with.  By the time I turned 17, I was gifted with a synthesizer that I’m still using now and that was when I really started playing around with electronic music and making complete songs with my first project I later renamed The Altar She Goes    

+ How did you get the opportunity to perform at Play Like a Girl?

Kimi Recor (of Dr√¶mings) reached out to me asking if I was interested in performing their event to celebrate the collective existing for a year.  We have crossovers with friends/other creators and I remember Kimi telling me that our mutual friend, Anya (of Petheaven) introduced them to my music.  Everyone at the event was so incredibly supportive and considering how I showed up alone, I was really grateful for that        

Play Like A Girl is a great way for people to discover more acts that are fronted by women, as the music industry is still dominated by men. Have you faced any challenges as a woman in music and, if so, how did you overcome them? Do you have any advice for women who may be struggling in the industry?

I experience that in very layered and complicated ways.  Being a trans Iranian girl who can very easily be tokenized on a bill and being someone who people might dismiss because they’re confused by me doing more “performance” type sets and invalidating what they just saw as a “live show” because of that. I mostly just attribute this question to the occasional cis dude passing strange, slightly backhanded compliments after my sets.  There’s the “that was really…different” or the “I liked your hand dancing (with no mention of the sound)” or the “ you looked good (with no mention of the sound)” or the “who produces your music (mentions the sound but doesn’t wrap their mind around me creating them)” or the excuse to flirt.  I sometimes incorporate my culture/language in my sets which means that every so often there’s the “oh that was Farsi?  I have a friend who (white noise)” and I’m just like “great, and you are?”  I don’t know, I definitely have positive experiences and then these just really bizarre, meaningless interactions.  Just as much as I can be freaked out by people, I sometimes feel like people think I’m scary so it all just clashes..   

To all the queer, nonbinary, women, trans women (specifically TWOC) people are going to say weird, hurtful, and violent shit and not believe you because we exist socially and systemically in a world that wants to erase us but fuck that and keep creating. You and I already know that this is a part of our survival. Be invisible with yourself/your art when it feels like you need to be and expose yourself and your art as much as you want when it feels good. Create and take up as much space you can and have the capacity to do so. People who are threatened by your radiance, specifically shitty man bros, will try and dim that light in you but you’re actually magic so who cares about them

+ Talk about the lyrical content of your songs. What topics or ideas do you like writing about?
Trauma, obsession, apocalyptic worlds, questioning whether you are in love with or are terrified of your reflection, ancestors in the form of various insects, distrust in love, Exile as your current and Nowhere as home.  The topics in my songs tend to phase in and out of reality and fiction.  The real is me actually trying to process traumas and shit that’s going on in my conscious present through words but I find that sometimes when I can’t find the words to describe what I’m feeling literally, I turn to story telling to do so.  That’s where the bedroom witch world comes in.  It’s me referencing myself but through a “parallel universe” approach.  I feel as if the fictional aspects come out the most when I’m emotionally having a difficult time looking at my issues for what they really are and saying them out loud.  Like, I process being an Iranian immigrant here and wondering if I’ll ever see Iran or my family there again by calling it Nowhere.  I process feeling that undercurrent of sadness and isolated feeling of now being here in the US by turning my family from Nowhere into “alien” type characters who abandoned me here in Exile and erased my memory.  You know?  Storytelling is escapism and it works like therapy 

+ What goes into the writing and recording process when you record your albums? Does music come first or lyrics? What software or technology do you use when recording?

My lyrics are definitely the last equation to my process.  Most of the time, the words in my songs are informed by however way the music I had created made me feel and the general mood the sounds put me in.  Words and language are complicated for me.  I feel as if what I’m thinking and feeling throughout the day goes through so many mood swings and wormholes that by the end of the night my last thought is usually “how did I get here?”  That said, when I conceptualize a certain theme or story to accompany a song, the emotions that materialize the words to describe what I’m thinking are all over the place.  This is so opposite from the music part – melodies come out of me so lucidly that I end up feeling like that part is the “meditation” to my process.  Words can seem so arbitrary to me.. sometimes faces and pantomime can tell you just as much or even more than a sentence does

I use garageband.  I’m considering learning Logic and getting “better” recording equipment, but I’m not really ready or interested in going there just yet

+ Do you compose your own music and, if so, what instruments do you play?

Ya, everything I’ve made has been done alone minus a few songs my dear sister made beats for during certain periods of time when I didn’t have access to a drum machine.  My setup is just a couple of synthesizers (Juno 2/mikroKorg/casio cz 101), a pink electribe I’m borrowing and a few kind of broken toy keyboards that are sometimes haunted if you turn them on late enough at night.    

+ The visuals that you project behind you in your live performances are intriguing. Do you make them yourself? Is there a way to find them somewhere (YouTube, DVD, etc.)?

I do make them myself, the process that goes into my video art is usually me just staying up too late and coming up with nonsensical story lines for the Bedroom Witch world that end up making sense to me sometime after they’re made.  It’s one of those “press record on the video camera then step into the frame and play different characters because I’m doing this alone” types of experiences.  The Bedroom Witch started out as a main character of a 7 act video story I wrote a few years ago called The Alter Shegos (or The Altar She Goes) and the first album ‘Moon Bathing’ was meant to just be a soundtrack to that video piece.  They didn’t end up complimenting each other that well at the end of it all since the story line kept changing which I think made that album deviate from its initial intention and stood alone as just that- a bedroom witch album.  That’s kind of how Bedroom Witch ended up being an ongoing project and I have my background in video art to trace as the source so I decided to keep going with bringing these two elements together in performance.  The projection at the PLAG show was the 4th episode of a series I work on when I get the chance called Bizarre Times with the Bedroom Witch

Oh, also I have maybe two or three of these video pieces on Youtube  

+ What are your future plans at the moment? Do you have any live shows coming up or plans to record another album?

Right now, I’m in the process of self-mixing and releasing a little EP follow up of Injury that will be titled My Sacrifices, My Demands as a birthday present to myself in August.  If Injury was sourcing and calling out my traumas by name, this EP will put intention towards where I’ll go from here with them/how I’ll let them go.  I’ll be performing at Fuss Fest in Fresno on July 15th with other really great acts such as San Cha and Sister Mantos.  After that, there will be a couple of shows back in LA later in the summer. 

For future-future Bedroom Witch, I plan on making more episodes of Bizarre Times with the Bedroom Witch, releasing another full length that I’m already working on when the season of my moon sign – Capricorn – is happening, and practicing better habits of sleeping before 2 am. 

And for the future x3 Bedroom Witch, I want to do a music/art performance accompanied by a full on symphony at some point – no joke          

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