Photos and text by Harry James Hanson
I walked into Lucky Cheng's in the East Village expecting to meet some fabulous drag queens but instead I met Angel Eyedealism, the internationally controversial performance artist. In her own words, she is, "Just shocking enough to get your attention, and charming enough to keep it." She got my attention immediately: pink hair embellished with rosettes and red lights, glitter eye makeup that extended all the up way to her brows, and ample cleavage that drag queens can only dream of. She looked so familiar, and then it struck me that years ago I had purchased an album entitled Aggressive Cheesecake (2001) and it was her visage on the cover that had compelled me to do so. I introduced myself, and after disclosing my own artistic inclinations she was kind enough to invite me to her apartment where this photo shoot and interview took place.
What new sounds are you working on?
I'm often called a human theremin, because I can modulate my voice in a similar way. This is different from most performers because they hit notes or they don't hit notes, and I hit them but then I do a warp on them. So that's led to me actually playing the theremin, which is an instrument that Leon Theremain invented in the 1920s. So it's been in my head for a while that I wanted to play the theremin, and I've never actually played an instrument before. I've been a singer, and I use my voice as an instrument, too, so it's like I do a vocalese. Sometimes I get hired for performances or recordings as a vocal percussionist. I've been doing that for some time, but the theremin is new and I'm actually doing concerts with it.
So how has your sound changed since Aggressive Cheesecake?
Oh my goodness, Aggressive Cheesecake was like a few minutes ago. And on Aggressive Cheesecake I used live musicians, it was like trip-hop, and we used samples obscure things and cut and pasted them and fucked them up. I've definitely gone more into electronic music since then. After Aggressive Cheesecake there was Acid Opera, for which I took classic pieces that anyone could recognize, and worked with a producer to turn them out as extravagantly opera and as insanely electronic as possible. So, dance-opera.
And then there's Post Queer:Pre Come, yet to be released. Post Queer:Pre Come is a travelogue, it was recorded in Prague and New York and produced and mixed in Lisbon, Portugal. And that is definitely using my voice in a different way, it's definitely... well, the Euros would call it 'electro' but they had mullets on so... it's hard to say.
It's just amazing how living in a foreign country will change you sensibilities, will change what you'd want to write a song about. I wrote a song called Medieval Theremin, which has to do with a wench in a swamp, and she sings this crazy siren-like vocalese, and attracts fucked up men to her so when she hits a note they stop being fucked up. But walking around the streets of New York City I wouldn't really be thinking about castles and moats and swamps and trying to change the way fucked up men think with the tone of my voice. Here it's like pavement and attitude and makin' rent and makin' connections, you know, New York New York. And it's priceless, I could not have come up with that unless I was traveling all over Europe; 'She was pure luxury darling / She flew from town to town starving...' like, I wouldn't go to New Jersey and starve, you know what I mean? I just was filled with wanderlust and going from city to city I really didn't have it all figured out, I just had to exploreexploreexploreexplore, and get all these crazy lyrics. For instance, on my next album, I'm writing a song: 'I'm a tranny chasin' lesbian / I've got a reason to go on / I'm a part time thespian / I am waiting for the call / I am waiting for that call...'
As a classically trained vocalist, how does that influence you styles/work?
In order to keep your pipes to stay with you for years it's important to train your voice so that if you want to sing fucked up you're singing fucked up on purpose. But I stopped the classical training at one point because my opera teacher, he wanted me to go full on into opera.
I remember at Carnegie Hall I was about to on stage and sing Madame Butterfly in this faux-drag queen style with a huge red wig and black and white feather boa and cleavage and a long gown and it was totally camp, and I had this huge atomizer, I was going to spray my throat and then sing. And my teacher, even though he was a big ol' queen, he was like, 'You are not going out on Carnegie Hall's stage looking like this! You are not, and give me that fucking atomizer!'
At that point I decided to stop opera, I felt I had enough training to really work my voice and I think at a certain point if you go too far into opera everything soOOoound liiiike ThIIIiiiiisss. And you can't get down. You can't be flexible because you're so studied. And I wanted to be, ich bin über spontan, I wanted to be spontaneous. And I also trained in jazz and blues, most of my early songs were written in a jazz format. And opera was super fuckin' traditional, so as much as I enjoyed the opera and really value the training and it really taught me how to go gracefully from the head to the chest voice, I still needed to get down and do crazy fucking shit too.
Tell me about the process of putting together a performance:
Well I'm doing it right now baby!
It's definitely cathartic. And It's just the way I am, let's say I'm walking down the street and then I hear the rhythm of my feet on the sidewalk. Or the rhythm of screwing, or maybe you had a fight with someone the night before, it's like it all has to come out. I can not keep things inside. The rhythm, the lyrics, the inspiration comes from natural movements.
The thing is with me and performance art is its rarely put together. Performance art involves props, always. Period. But when I do performance art I don't rehearse it. It is very spontaneous, so involving props means a whole lot of shit can fuck up. But it's the fuck ups and the people freaking out in the audience that I cannot believe that she just had someone from the audience pull down her pants and she was wearing an orange merkin and had some guy put on Edward Scissorhands and cut her pussy hair. You just don't rehearse that shit. And you know he's gonna drop one of the hands and shit's just gonna happen, but for me it has to be that way. Certain things must be structurally sound I suppose, but for me the essence of performance art is that insane things will happen spontaneously because I'm putting myself all out there in a very vulnerable place, doing Edward Scissorhands, or doing 'E.T. finger me: E.T. / Finger me / believe in me / I said now E.T. / I'm stuck to you / like crazy glue / I love you boo!' But when I've got E.T.'s finger, and it's like will it light up this time? Even if it's all fucked up everything just flows and it's perfect in its insanity.
I have a bank of knowledge just from many years of performing, of lines I've written, some of which I've just memorized that are like a stream of consciousness, a thread that goes through the pieces. And I never audition for anything. I aim for synchronicity, I try to be in the right place at the right time. The Church of the Universal Crack Whore one day, Carnegie Hall the next.
What is your rehearsal process like?
Sometimes songs are fully formed with lyrics, melody lines, the bridge, the chorus, but I like to thrash it out with the band and then I listen to little recordings on cassette recordings. A producer from Atlantic Records that I met in a tranny bar one night, and he'd been the quality control for AR for like 30 years, and he told me he'd rather hear a recording on the shittiest player he could find than in the studio, because that's when you hear all the flaws. I never forgot that. And you can hear everything, you hear everything that's wrong first. Whereas in the studio, it sounds all nice but on a little shitty thing you can tell. It's not about trying to be perfect, it's about jamming out with the band. Sometimes we'll just segue, like I'll start doing bass with my voice. I am ich bin über spontan, ich bin hologram, I don't give a damn.
Sometimes I am just hired to be the spontaneous über diva performer, and then there is no rehearsal. I remember in Berlin somebody said we have to rehearse the freestyle set, and the musicians all looked at the booking agent and were like, 'Let's just smoke a joint and blow it in your face.' The point with spontaneous music and freestyle is that there is no rehearsal. It's not that we're being lazy, it's that it will ruin the essence of the performance.
For whom do you make music?
I don't have a target audience. I think of bombing my target audience. Getting them all in one place, and dropping a bomb. Every once and a while a producer will come along who's like. 'You're amazing, there's no other diva out there like you. Let's talk about marketing.' No thanks.
It's either do this or be a serial killer, targeting boring people wearing beige-- and you can quote me on that --targetting mediocrity, in the guise of beige and I would just be so busy, I wouldn't have time to do music because I'd be killing people all the time.
A famed jazz musician who shall remain nameless, he said, 'Make music for yourself.' And I said, 'How selfish.' And he says, 'If you don't love it, who else will?' So you can be altruistic and say oh, I make music for the people, but on a real tip, it'll come through if you're really enjoying what yo
u do. Even if it's a slow, sad song, if you really enjoyed it and put all of you into it because you loved having those noises coming out of your throat and the feeling it gave you, then other people are going to resonate to that, like 'Oh I felt that way' but you have to put all of yourself into it.
When I write something I don't think, how will others perceive this? It just comes out of me. I enjoy the stream of consciousness that is the thread that goes through all things. If you enjoy the catharsis of realizing that idea, which could come from a universal pool of subconscious knowledge, that way there's no ego credit for that. It would make one feel self-conscious to take credit for that.
How does your sound relate to your look?
Well they're concurrent. Whatever I'm influenced by at the time, you know, op-art, pop-art, stomp in the streets, 'I love you young / I love you young James Dean / Don't wanna kiss your leather jacket / Love it when the sun melts your shirt / Just lick off your orange / Just lick off your orange / Just lick off your orange shirt young James Dean.'
But I don't think there's a direct correlation. I mean I'm always looking at myself in the mirror, but my sound changes, my look changes, it's just an organic thing, where I'll think: 'I need to have a stegosaurus in my hair piece today, or flowers, or aardvarks or what have you.'
So I believe that they are inspired spontaneously, and more from there. And morph from there. I would like... for brilliance to be what everyone dreams of achieving. Not... what beige outfit could I get next. Or, how much money can I make. But, how could I make the world a more brilliant place? If every single fucking person thought that- am I like sounding like Kennedy or something now? But just to be brilliant and kind, that should be the number one thing.
Going back to spontaneous, I'm not a contrived performer. I do spend some time of course thinking about how to structurally enact the crazy shit that goes on in my head, through rehearsals, through writing, but at a certain point it's about just a spontaneous conception of the visual, like this is the fabric, this is the texture I want for the outfit. And this is the fabric and texture I want for this piece.
Tell me about some of your collaborations.
Musical collaborations have been varied and extreme, I will accept nothing less. I've worked sometimes just a stand-up bass player, because I do spoken word. Which means prose pieces that I write, memorize, and then use rhythmically. Some of the spoken word or prose pieces become actual songs, with full instrumentation.
My very first band in New York City was called Womb Service. I must have been like a fucking fetus and shit, like on the fucking phone. I was a fetus on the phone! / I was a fetus on the phone! / Talking shit before sexting! I did this before I had operatic training, and I just screeeeamed. It was some really raw shit. I wore wire hangers on my head, it was insane. I also did a performance art piece called Madonna Dearest, where I beat my adopted gay son with wire hangers. I would catch him putting on my makeup, just like Christina did.
For a time I worked with The Ism Kings, and I would call that mutant jazz because I don't know what else to call it. It wasn't freestyle jazz. Double entendre, 40s, blues, jazz, double meanings. Ooh, and I have a VHS tape of the Ism Kings! I heart VHS, that kind of old school fuckin' technology. It doesn't wear well, it doesn't stay over time, but I've digitized the radio star. I digitized my VHS tapes and I heart them, I want them. I want to decide what punk is! You haven't asked me about punk at all and I'm fucking pissed off! Where are my razor blades?
So tell me your thoughts on punk!
I know people say 'Punk's dead,' or 'Punk's not dead,' but smelling really badly is not punk. Punk doesn't stink. Punk was sublime. Punk is an attitude, it is putting your energy out there in a defiant way. Punk is as punk does. It's not rock'n'roll, rock'n'roll is fucking boring and classic. Punk rock crossed a whole lot of genres, fast. It was, in my estimation, an original format. It was truly eclectic, when you could take many, many influences and put them all in one space. Punk is a juxtaposition of opposing forces irritating each other and projecting forward. And coming up with things that never would have happened. The real punk, it was black and white, tersely convulsing, edgy fuckin' shit. It wasn't anything you could say in words, it was a thrashing, a movement.
How do you feel when you perform?
Ethereal Pterodactyl. I mean, that says it all, you know?
But I also feel relieved. Like, it's coming out of me now. All of the intensity is coming out of me. Usually the worse my mood is before a show, the better a the show is. I get very tense and coiled up, don't want to talk to anybody at all, and then once I'm on stage and the lights are on, the music is on, and the musicians are there, it's just all pouring out. It's like if you haven't breathing, and then you breathe. If you haven't been fucking, and then you fuck. If you're starving, and then you find food. That is how it feels when I'm on stage.
And it depends on the gig. I'm more comfortable on stage than I am in real life, whether for good or for bad. It's just a natural place for me to be. And I've been on every possible kind of stage, like really shitty grungy stages and massive stages with incredible sound, just every extreme. I think everyday life is often not ready for my exuberance, and that's the place for it, for exuberance, for expressiveness, to be outrageous.
What do you want audience members to take away from your performance?
Definitely to be inspired. Feel more open minded. Not just about me, and what I do, but to be inspired in their own lives to think more, think deeply, fuck more, fuck more deeply, be more intelligent, ask more questions, defy what is and make what can be into what is.
I want them to be thrilled, thrilled with life. They left mediocrity for an hour, but hopefully for their lifetime. And that they're not afraid to be who they are, to be unusual. People, especially really young people, they all want to sound and look like someone else. I was raised to be an individual, and to not be afraid of that. It's about you, and your experiences. If you think too much about what other people think, you're fucked. And I want people to laugh/cry/wet their pants, you know. Let it all go. I want them to forget that they have a dentist appointment tomorrow, and that they just caught their boyfriend fucking someone else or that their husband is gay or you know, whatever it is that's stressing them out. Just let that all go and have an open palette.
Where do you perform?
In strange gardens in New York where unusual sounds, vibrant, effusive utterances of pure joy and angst; where this is welcome in a multidimensional, multivibrational situation of extreme urgency... It could be Broadway, it could be bunk. It could be blues, it could be funk. But as long as there's a space where I can go trapezoidal on your ass, then it's not square.
What's the future vision for Angel?
I am imposing the idea on the universe that I will have my own TV show! I'm seeing myself having it, feeling myself having it. With NBC, or maybe online. I've also sort of changed my name to Angel Eyekon, to reflect my current status as an internationally controversial performer.