Join us for the first Luce Unplugged of the year next Thursday, January 14th at 5:30 p.m. Stronger Sex, a beloved local experimental noise-pop band, will kick of the concert series' first show of the year. The show is presented with D.C. Music Download, who recently named Stronger Sex's song "Temptation" one of the best songs of 2015. As always, the event will feature a staff-led discussion on an artwork selected by the band as well as a cash bar with snacks and drinks. In anticipation of the show, we talked with the band's leader Johnny Fantastic about seasonal music taste, the band's film ambitions, and the multi-sensory experience Stronger Sex promise to bring to the Luce Center next week.
Eye Level: Does your music taste change with the seasons?
Johnny Fantastic: Every time the temperature drops below freezing, I know that special time of year has arrived when I must listen to Bjork's Vespertine over and over again. That record is just frosty, snowy goodness for a quiet night beside the hearth. All I have to do is close my eyes and imagine my row house is a tiny cottage in the Icelandic tundra, and Bjork does the rest! Of course in summer it's all about Volta!
EL: Who handles the art direction for Stronger Sex? How would you describe its aesthetic?
JF: One person who has had the most impact on our artistic direction from this crew has been Jen Meller. When I first expressed my interest in wearing make-up, even before Stronger Sex was performing, she took me under her wing and taught me all the secrets. Jen's amazing because you tell her, "I want to look like a nymph cavorting around the forest," and she doesn't even blink. Before you know it, you're standing in your own homemade jungle. When it comes to things like album art, flyers, logos, and the like, we have relied heavily on the artistic brilliance of Benjamin Schurr. Ben's amazing because he's the person who suggested I eat raw meat in In the Summertime video and I think to myself, "That's why we have you here, Ben, because no one else would think of something so provocative." But these ideas just flow out of Ben naturally: always from a place of genuine artistic expression.
EL: What do you love about D.C.'s music scene? What would you like to change?
JF: DC has a kind of optimism that I don't often find in other scenes. The "I'm so over it" attitude hasn't infected DC too much, but then again we aren't oversaturated with bands trying to make it. No one here expects to make any major media impact because the record industry pretty much ignores us. To me, this is very liberating because the temptation to conform is totally gone. It also means that if any of us are to make an impact beyond our district, it can only be by our own blood sweat and tears and, thus, on our own terms. That's what has inspired us to engage in the time honored DC tradition of creating our own label called Blight Records. Together with Br'er, CrushnPain, Dais and a host of enthusiastic artists and photographers working for free, we are all able to realize our artistic visions. And we are by far not the only label in town. So I wouldn't change anything about our scene other than to say "more good bands please! More, more, more!"
EL: Is your stage self an extension of you or a persona?
JF: The stage is a place where I can explore myself freely with the encouragement of enthusiastic audiences. It's weird, I suppose I'm not a very private person, and when I'm upset about things or excited about something, my first instinct is to want to share it through my stage show. If I can share a part of myself with others in a way that provides them with wonderful and innovative music, it just seems like a win-win!
EL: Does the venue in which you play affect how you put on a show?
JF: When we find ourselves on a Saturday night bill in a sweaty, drunken basement at some random person's house, we always loosen up things. I'll probably roll around the floor a lot more with Leah Gage (drum machine) or throw teddy bears at the audience or shotgun a beer or something wacky like that. We'll often forget about being as precise with our playing and opt more for exciting the audience. When we play a space like SAAM, we use it as an opportunity to take our time and play a more refined version of our set. We'll often try some of our moodier songs in addition to our "bangers." We also put a lot more work into lighting and stage design. It's all about what kind of feeling you want to achieve together with your audience. Is it "let's go nuts" or "let's see something beautiful?" Is it punk or theater? Stronger Sex can do both.
EL: What's next for Stronger Sex?
JF: MOVIES!!! Stronger Sex will be featured in a film called "Venus," a fictional film which explores gender dynamics in the DC music scene, among other issues. The film will be directed by Jen Meller and feature us performing as the fictional band "Our Lady of the Flowers." So we'll be spending the rest of the month trying to raise money for our Indiegogo campaign to help with the massive production costs and in February, we'll be doing all the acting, editing, and ultimately submitting to festivals.
Don't miss Stronger Sex perform in the Luce Foundation Center next Thursday, January 14th at 5:30 p.m.