MEN's JD Samson: I'm telling secrets that I don't even tell my therapist

Categories: Interview
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Provided by JD Samson

JD Samson is more than a woman; she is a creative force of nature. With a new album out with her electronic music outfit MEN, aptly titled Labor, and a handful of other audio projects in the works, she has evolved considerably as an artist since her days in the feminist band Le Tigre.

Samson went from founding her high school's first Gay/Straight Alliance to becoming an international icon of the LGBT community. Gimme Noise caught up with her to talk about art and identity, before MEN's upcoming show at the Entry.


Gimme Noise: What was leaving Ohio and going to Sarah Lawrence College like?

I was like a kid in a candy store. Immediately when I got there, there were tons of lesbians hanging out, and tons of queer kids, and it just felt right. My mom always says that when we first got there she dropped me off and I was like, "See you later," and then I didn't even see her for two days. She knew that that was where I was going to go. For me, it was really exciting and I felt really lucky to be there. It was cool. I think having New York City at my fingertips was also really special.

You started working with Le Tigre as their projectionist while still attending Sarah Lawrence. Did you experience an automatic synergy with them, or did it take some convincing to officially join the band?

When I first met Jo she was like, "Wow, you're really interesting. You could be 12, or 40." That was like, the first thing I remember about Jo. Then Kathleen -- I just remember riding in the elevator with her, and I remember other people being totally like, oh my God, Kathleen is in the elevator with us. I remember being like, not starstruck about it, and confused by why everyone was so starstruck, because I knew who Bikini Kill was, but that wasn't really my scene when I was in high school. So it was confusing to me. When I started working with them it was really fun, but I didn't really know how long it was going to last. Once we started touring together it felt like, I'm in it for the long haul. We had a really good time, and we were all able to build a really good business together. It came really naturally to us, what our jobs were. We all worked really hard and it was a natural, rhythmic, organic kind of relationship.

After Le Tigre went on hiatus in 2006, how did MEN get started?

I was writing music on and off with Johanna Fateman and DJing with her under the name MEN, and we did a tour of DJ dates under the name MEN as well. At the same time I had been in a fun friendship jam band with Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Michael O'Neill, and our other friend Emily Roysdon. Basically what happened was I realized I needed to start a new project that was going to be my job, you know, and focus on it that way. Johanna actually got pregnant, and was kind of like, I can't really tour anymore. The first record was kind of a combination of the two projects. We kept the name MEN, and that was kind of how it started. We have all been working separately and together since 2007.

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Provided by JD Samson

You wrote a blog on Huffington Post in 2011. One line that stood out was, "I live with the stress of not knowing, not planning, and not understanding whether or not I will be able to reach my goals of having a family and feeling safe financially." Where are you with that now? Have things changed?

I found the conversation that transpired afterwards to be really interesting. I thought people had some good points in terms of me being privileged previously, and also, why do I live in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg? Those are all really good points, but I think the important thing that happened was that there was a conversation about class and money and artists that hadn't really happened before in my community, and I felt really excited that that was going on. And for the most part I had a lot of people come to me and say thank you. I really just had to change the way I made my decisions...

I said something about how I don't know how to make a cup of coffee in that article, but the reality is that I can do a lot of other things, and I just need to figure out how to get paid for those things, and although that can be really demoralizing and scary, I've just been having to step towards my fears and get out of the comfort zone a little bit. Its been an interesting couple of years. I'm happy to be public about it. I think its something that's so common and normal, so its good to hear people you look up to going through the same kind of things.

You've said that you "perform" your gender. Can you talk about that a little bit?

I think that's a common way to describe gender identity in more of an academic or theoretical way. For me, talking about performing my gender feels like its in a little bit more of an academic category... I totally believe that everything I do is a performance if its outside my house. I've been thinking a lot about that recently, just in terms of my role as an icon, or something -- whatever people have put on me. I kind of got obsessed with this idea that my persona and myself are two different things, and a lot of that is in the record as well. I think that the way that I present myself to the world is natural and organic to me, and feels comfortable, but at the same time its like, it's a performance to not change it, it's a performance to go against the norm and not try and fit in. That part of it's a performance for sure.

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