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Transvocalizers — Justin Vivian Bond

| Jan 30, 2012
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Justin Vivian Bond is one of those artists who doesn’t confine themselves to any specific medium of expression. While known primarily as a cabaret performer, V (as he wishes to be referred to), is also a well known writer, songwriter, recording artist and actor. Stage credits include performances in London at The Soho Theatre, and the Southbank Center; The Sydney Opera House in Australia; and San Francisco’s Castro Theater. V has won Obie, Bessie, and Ethyl Eichelberger Awards, and has been nominated for a Tony. In 2009, V received rave reviews for writing, directing, and starring in Christmas Spells.

Television appearances include Ugly Betty and Late Night With Conan O’Brian.  Film credits include a starring role in Jon Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus; Charles Hermann-Wurmfeld’s Fancy’s Persuasion and Imaginary Heroes; and Jon Moritsugu’s Mod F**K Explosion.

Recording releases include V’s debut EP Pink Slip in 2009; Justin Bond Is Close To You (2007), a reinterpretation of The Carpenter’s classic Close To You album; and he was also a featured vocalist on the London Readers Wife’s single Nostalgia. As part of the performance duo Kiki And Herb, V toured the world and starred on Broadway in the show Kiki And Herb Alive On Broadway. His tenure with this act included the release of two CDs — Do You Hear What We Hear?, and Kiki And Herb Will Die For You At Carnegie Hall, and a DVD Kiki And Herb Live at the Knitting Factory.  Other past musical endeavors include a stint with the band Pantychrist.

Just last year, V released a new album entitled Dendrophile and will be touring the West Coast next month in support of the project. (We’ll be featuring a review of this project in the coming months.)

On top of all this, V somehow manages to find the time to regularly emcee the performance series Weimar New York, which plays at various locations throughout NYC.

Photo by Amos MacSo, we’re actually fortunate to have caught V while he had adequate time to participate in this interview. We’re glad he did.

TGForum: You’re originally from Hagerstown, Maryland, correct? I read that you studied voice and was involved in youth theater while growing up. Also, what were your musical influences while growing up?

V: Yes, I was born in Hagerstown, MD, a small town in western MD. My grandparents on my mother’s side owned a small farm nearby in Beaver Creek and a bunch of my cousins lived there and our church was there so I spent a lot of time on the farm playing with my cousins. I had some older cousins who were girls and they had records by Judy Collins, Bobbie Gentry, and The Carpenters, who remain very strong musical influences to this day. I still listen to Bobbie, Judy, and Karen all the time. I began studying piano when I was around 13 and voice a few years later when I was in high school.

TGF: I also read that you graduated from Adelphi University in 1985, correct? What did you do immediately after college?

V: After graduating from college, I lived in New York City for about six months. I had been an acting major and thought that was what I wanted to do, so I did a play with my friend Nancy O’Connor at a place on the Upper West Side called Patio in which we played two sisters from Texas. It was very funny and people liked it. I’ve always been pretty good at comedy. After that, I moved back to Maryland and started working in dinner theater in the DC area so I could get some professional experience under my belt. I worked pretty solidly for a few years but ultimately decided acting wasn’t for me and left for San Francisco.

TGF: There’s one interesting statement you made about your mother sometimes referring to you in the feminine. Were your parents/family supportive? Also, how old were you when you started dealing with your gender issues?

V: I started being aware of have gender issues as soon as I started being aware of myself. I don’t think I actually started dealing with them until I was in my late 20s. I prayed to be turned into a girl every night for years when I was a kid, but I never talked about that with anyone except my best girlfriend.

TGF: Was your work in Kiki And Herb the first time you performed in drag in a musical context?

V: I’ve never performed in drag. I also never correct anyone who may have mistakenly asserted I did out of respect for my friends who identified as drag queens. I would not be the person I am today without the love and education I received from some amazing drag queen I knew in San Francisco who were very influential on the development of my world-view and philosophical perspectives, who died in the early nineties. I honor them and still miss them terribly, but I’ve never been a drag queen.

TGF: Are the two Kiki And Herb albums still available? And, would you ever work together again?

V: Kiki And Herb Will Die For You At Carnegie Hall is available online and you can sometimes find Do You Hear What We Hear? on amazon.com. I doubt we’ll work together again. I haven’t spoken to Kenny, who played Herb, in years. I haven’t been avoiding talking to him, we just haven’t run into each other which is strange because we run in the same circles.

TGF: I’ve found mention of two other bands, The Freudian Slippers and Pantychrist. However, there is very little information about them out there. Could you sort of fill in the blanks a bit?

V: The Freudian Slippers was my backing band when I started working on developing something musically independent from Kiki And Herb in the early 2000s. I never recorded with them. Pantychrist was actually a pretty brilliant experimental record I made with Bob Ostertag and Otomo Yoshihded. We toured Europe and I have to say it’s a really fun record to listen to. You can download it for free off Bob’s website. I should make it available on mine, too. It’s hilarious!.

TGF: Let’s talk a bit about he new album, Dendrophile. First off, what does the name mean? I know that you’ve toured in support of this project already, and I’d like to ask how it was received? What kind of feedback are you getting from both fans and critics?

V: A dendrophile is a person who gets an erotic charge out of nature — literally a tree hugger. I am a dendrophile and I also get a charge out of people who honor their own nature and who work very hard to be their most authentic self. In order to make this record, I had to get honest with myself and to write my own songs. I wrote most of them while straddling a log on a mountain in Tennessee. The record has been very well received. I toured the U.S. and Europe with it for most of last year and there wasn’t one show I didn’t enjoy immensely. The record itself and various tracks made it onto several best of 2011 lists, which is very flattering.

TGF: What instruments do you play?

V: Piano.

TGF: What do you currently listen to for your own enjoyment?

V: Aside from the old standbys I mentioned earlier, I’ve been listening to St. Vincent, Midlake, Fleet Foxes, Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks — always Stevie Nicks.

TGF: In selecting music to record and/or include in your live performances, what criteria do you use? Is there anything you won’t use or any genre’ you would not include and if so, why?

V: When I cover a song, I like to feel that it’s a story I could have written myself. When I chose material for Kiki I chose songs that were either seemingly antithetical to her character or songs that an audience would hear in a new context coming from her. As a solo artist, I don’t really sing songs that are antithetical coming from myself, but I do sing songs within the context of being a transperson that were more than likely written by cisgendered people. Conversely, I like to sing songs written by transpeople who are not necessarily well-known to mainstream audiences-people like Benjamin Smoke and Bambi Lake.

TGF: How political are you? How involved are you in GLBT politics?

V: That’s a funny question. I imagine if you’ve seen my performances you would know that I’m very interested in politics and I consider myself to be a political force. However, I’m not deeply involved with any specific political organization or individual politician. I support various organizations by appearing in benefits and fundraisers. I’ve done things for The Ali Forney Center, The Sylvia Rivera Law Project and TLDEF because I think what they do is vitally important. I was honored to be invited to sing at the “Trans-Form The Occupation” rally at Zucotti Park the day before it was raided and I was deeply moved by the whole event. The speakers were all amazing. I’m a huge [fan] of Pauline Park in particular.

TGF: Besides the new album and your last tour, are there any other projects that you can talk about at this time?

V: I’ll be touring the west coast in February. I’m playing the Red Cat in L.A., February 18-20, then The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on February 23rd. I”ve got a book coming out in March which I collaborated on with my friend Gina Garan called Susie Says. It’s being published by Powerhouse Books. I’m going on the Sister Spit tour with a bunch of radical feminists in April to promote my memoir, Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels (Feminist Press) and also Susie Says. Then in May I’m doing a play at La Mama with Scott Whitman who co-wrote the musical Hairspray in which I’m going to play Jackie Curtis and in June I’m release a new CD. I hope I don’t die.

TGF: What advice would you offer to anyone who is considering music, or drag (or involvement in any form of entertainment for that matter) as a career?

V: It’s a strange thing to be both envied and destitute. I hope you can deal with it because it takes a lot of work and sometimes it can get you down. I always heard the words “rich” and “famous” mentioned at the same time and in reality they don’t go together all that often. On the flip side, it’s a wonderful thing to be an artist because you quite literally make magic happen just by imagining things.

TGF: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

V: Haven’t I said enough?

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Check out V’s web site justinbond.com. V’s solo music and books are available on amazon.com.

ALSO THIS MONTH

Rumer Seasons Of The Soul CD review

This is most definitely not dance music. Rumer is a vocalist with a rare vocal quality similar to k.d. lang, and is a songwriter as well. The reason I’m mentioning this album here at this time is simply because I really like it. It’s a nice change of pace. This is the kind of music that’s just not produced much any more and that’s a shame. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a candlelight dinner served with fine wine. “Romantic” is almost an inadequate word to describe this album, but it’s the best I can think of. (Personally, I”ve always used the instrumental music of either Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider or jazz guitarist Larry Carlton for mood setting purposes. I’m now going to include Rumer’s Seasons Of My Soul in that very narrow category.) Produced by Steve Brown, with most of the songs written by Rumer. You’ll have to check out the CD insert for full writer and musician credits.

Storm Miguel Florez, who is usually featured and mentioned in our companion Perpetual Change column, will be performing on February 11th in San Francisco at El Rio with Joshua Klipp, Joe Stevens (of the duo Coyote Grace), and Eli Conley. (El Rio Bar, 3158 Mission Street, San Francisco, 6-8 p.m., no cover.)

Florez also posted a YouTube video called Girl Scout Cookie Boycott (& What Is The Girlscout Law?) Check this out, as well as his web site at www.stormflorez.com.


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Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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