Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Interview with Performer Admiral Saint Grey

I first saw Admiral Saint Grey when she was opening for Lydia Lunch at an art gallery in L.A. called Lethal Amounts. I was so moved by her performance I swooped in on her immediately afterwards, to yammer about how her piece reminded me of older Miranda July live performances (Love Diamond in particular) and to get her contact information.

Facebook friendship is not quite as real as real life but its still worth something, and I feel a strong Facebook generated kinship with Admiral.  Shes funny, cool and smart and makes me glad to be a weirdo and a lady.

Me: When I saw you perform, opening for Lydia Lunch, it was a really amazing thing to witness. I really loved your performance. The thing is, it was a very visceral reaction, or else I was hearing your words but not consciously processing them. Because I really couldn't tell what was going on in your performance. I sensed the intensity but couldn't hear much of the words. It sort of sounded like a monologue being spoken by a tragic girl, like one of the sad kids out of a Southern Gothic novel. Your costume was a large part of what moved me, as well. You looked like a sad little girl from Little House on the Prairie. At one point you kneeled to pray (am I right?), and I think you were asking others to join in but that when they didn't, you didn't skip a beat, it wasn't an integral part of the piece. The vision of a young woman kneeling to pray is just so powerful, such a hopeful and futile gesture. So that's what I was experiencing from your performance. Was ANY of that what you were really doing? Tell me what that piece actually was, what were your intentions with it, what was the narrative?

ASG: Thank you. Hearing your recollection of it clouds my own memory of it and it's often quite difficult to remember performances because it is truly a living moment and afterwards it was too intense of an experience for there to be clear memory of it. But I have to tell you I feel very strongly that the magic in performance is not something where the performer’s intent is handed over and should be translated by the audience into some sort of correct interpretation, but rather a shared experience created by everyone in the room at the moment. Even if I could remember it clearly, I would not correct any part of your experience of it. I don’t recall kneeling to pray, but I do recall becoming physical yes, perhaps I went on my knees as part of one of the readings I was doing. It might have been one where I use part of the Episcopalian Liturgy in my song lyrics - "And if I say, surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night darkness is not dark to you, oh Lord, the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and Light, to you, are both alike. Darkness and Light, to you, are both alike. Oh, darkness, darkness.  Darkness, darkness, and light, to you are both alike."

Me: Why were/are you drawn to that piece of Episcopalian liturgy?

ASG: Grace Church, in New York City, is a beautiful mini-cathedral of a church that I was first moved by when I was 17 years old and in the middle of a nervous breakdown. I'm an atheist, but I'm very religious for an atheist. I believe in the sacred and the holy, and in ritual. I find a lot of religion to be quite beautiful and moving I just don’t believe in the common concept of "God". In any case. Grace Church became a bit of a haven for me in New York. And another time I was having a bit of a breakdown, my life felt like it was falling apart. I was sitting and crying in Grace Church, and reading the bible and the liturgy in the pew, searching for any sign of hope. And I read that line. It hit me so hard, and I read it over and over again while I wept. Then it became part of the lyrics for a song I've performed but never released and it's entitled "Grace Church.” In any case I think the words alone explain why I would be so drawn to it in such a trying time, where I felt as if I was devoted to destruction or some such thing.

Me: Wow. Geez, onto something so much less profound I feel like your style is a big part of your art, or persona. I see shades of Raggedy Ann and the Pleasure Model Darryl Hannah character from Blade Runner. Either of those true? Is fashion important to you? If so, who are your icons?

ASG: Haha. Yeah! I always shied away from the idea of a singular "style" because I was always afraid that it meant something involving rules. From a young age it was very important to me to express myself visually. It's hard for me to nail down things like that but I think you really nailed two influences for me that I never even thought of consciously. Of course! Raggedy Ann and Daryl Hannah as a Replicant are definitely part of my visual influences. It’s funny, just yesterday my friend said, ‘You look like a beatnik today. I think that's your favorite era, is it? The beatnik era?’ And I thought, not really, and, well I don't have a favorite era for clothing even remotely. But then I said, It's an interesting but clean look for the day to day, which is useful when, like me, you need to be playing music or making art or moving equipment or painting or building things or riding your bike or gardening or dancing or all of the things I like to do. But ideally I would be dressed every day with a look that was a conglomeration of all of my favorite styles of people all over the continent of Africa. That is my favorite grand inspiration as far as the way people dress themselves but a lot of the more elaborate concepts are not practical for my lifestyle.

Me: Why is Africa your style inspiration?

ASG: "Africa" is a gigantic continent of course, so it's extremely general for me to say that but a lot of sub-Saharan Africa, though insanely diverse, just seems to home endless clans and tribes and cultures with the most incredible style in all of the world, I feel. To me there is an excess of brilliant patterns and colors and aesthetics used in particular ways that tickle my brain and that I connect to viscerally. So whether it's the way the people who dress more
modern use color and pattern and fabric, or the way that certain tribes decorate themselves with bottlecaps, intricately crafted pieces, local flowers and pigments, or incredibly innovative beautiful masquerading costumes.

Me: What is your home base? Do you travel a lot? If so, is it for touring, or just for the adventure of it?

ASG: My home base right now is Philadelphia. I'm a recent New York City expat, but I am in NYC fairly often anyway as it's pretty nearby. It was kind of a secret that I moved here but now it's not, really. Philadelphia is an Arkansas of the mind, in some ways, but I am slowly becoming more engaged with the city, and not just my home and studio here. Since I do travel a lot, it's been slow going getting more intimate with Philly. It’s a tight-knit bundle of communities, and it moves slower than New York. But I do love it here in many ways. It’s a secretive city with lots of hidden treasures.

Me: Hey, I used to live in Northern Liberties [in Philadelphia]!

ASG: When did you move from Philly?

Me: I lived there 2006-08, uh, to put it gently, I didn't care for it, except for Rita’s Water Ice, of course.

ASG: Haha. Yeah Philly takes some time to love, I think. It's like a small town. 

Me: I don't know about that! I usually enjoy small towns. Philly is the place where they BOO SANTA CLAUS at the Xmas parade...

How many bands are you involved in?

ASG: Right now I’m actually pretty pared down, just working and touring with Cellular Chaos and The Simple Pleasure. And I’m always slowly trying to get this compilation out of loads of solo recordings.

Me: How often do you tour?

ASG: Every year it is different. In 2015, I have toured with Lydia and The Simple Pleasure, and I was just in Germany with a puppet show I work with called The Pigeoning. I’m hoping to tour with Cellular Chaos sometime this year when we finish the album, The Simple Pleasure in September, and The Pigeoning goes to Minneapolis in October.

Me: Where are you originally from?

ASG: The Atlantic Ocean. I’m a flightless bird of the Eastern Seaboard.

Me: What’s your favorite book, movie, song and icon?

ASG: I don't have a favorite book, but a book I often bring up is 1491, about the Americas before the Europeans came. It is shockingly different than what we are taught in school. Most people do not know that the Americas were densely populated rich continents of a far greater diversity of cultures and societies there is a recollection of the first explorers riding down the Mississippi river, and passing city after city of different peoples settled alongside it. What happened was, as soon as Europeans started coming over, their illnesses and violent acts quickly decimated the peoples here and wreaked havoc on their societies. Each time the Europeans came back, the place was more and more ravaged by disease and dysfunction of their own making, until finally, after the natives were pushed off of their lands and their cultures were degraded and destroyed, we called them nomadic barbarians because that is the state they had been pushed to after 400 years of plague, murder, persecution and disruption. Everyone should read this book not only to know the truth, but to see that the true history of where you live is rich and beautiful and very, very sad.

Currently I am reading Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.

Movie...again, that's very hard. I'm very guilty of having watched The Royal Tenenbaums 1,000 times. And I reference the film On the Beach a lot. And I adore the film Badlands; that has been a big influence on me. But there are too many to name.

Song...hmmm, no favorite probably something more mainstream, like a Nina Simone song or a Joni Mitchell song...or I kind of have an obsession with the song ‘Turn Blue’ by Iggy Pop. ‘Typical Girls’ by the Slits is brilliant.

Me: What is your goal? Do you want to be an artist forever? Do you ever think you could have a real job? Do you consider yourself a musician, artist or personality? Is sexuality important to you?

ASG: I don't WANT to be an artist forever I just am an artist. Sorry for the caps --  just to emphasize. I have had many jobs. I've worked in all kinds of industries in order to keep making art that isn't always commercially viable. I consider myself a general artist, because I write, I playwright, I act, I direct, I compose, I play music, I choreograph, I dance, I create costumes, I's all intertwined for me.

Me: I think the CAPS are good, I think it's good to work and not just to lollygag around being like "Oh, I’m an artist." It’s rad that you work hard. A person who records the world, as an artist does, has to actually know what's IN the world.

ASG: Yeah. The word “artist” is a dirty word now or perhaps it always has been, but I don’t care. It’s the best catchall phrase for who I am and what I do.

Sexuality is, of course, important to me as a human person, but I don't ever really reference it too directly in my art it's just part of the big picture.

Me:  What are you up to now?
ASG:  Next week I am doing a reading of Normandy Sherwood’s play “Gentleman’s Choice” in New York, then the next night performing with Caring Foxen (Craig Flanagin and David Watson) at a salon at Silent Barn. The first weekend in June I’ll be performing in “Garbage, Death and The City of Baltimore”, which is a piece by Ric Royer based upon a Fassbinder play. That will be in Baltimore.  We are putting the final sanding and polish on the second Cellular Chaos album and hoping to release that by the end of the summer. I’m working on developing a musical play of my own and finishing the compilation of my solo music. Looking forward to a couple of developmental retreats for various projects, taking fiddle lessons and…ya know. Keeping busy. Thanks for taking the time to talk. It was great to meet you and I really enjoyed reading your

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