Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Namoli Brennet, an Iowa-based singer and songwriter, 4-time Outmusic award nominee, recipient of the Tucson Folk Festival Songwriting Award and finalist in the ISC songwriting competition; her 2010 album "Black Crow" was named one of KXCI FM's 50 best albums of the year. Hello Namoli!
I had always felt like I wanted to write, record and tour but I think in part I was underconfident, and I also hadn’t begun to deal with transitioning yet so I felt kind of stuck. Seeing the show “RENT” when I was 29 was a pivotal moment that made me feel like, “I need to do this - now.” The theme of that show is “No day but today” and it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
Monika: You are a very prolific artist. Since your debut in 2002 you have already released 10 albums. Where do you get your inspirations from?
Songwriting for me is often more about discovery than intention - kind of like sculpture, starting with this rough idea and chipping away at it until what’s underneath is revealed. The inspiration is kind of an internal thing, a desire to create, and a big part of it is this mysterious process of tapping into some kind of creative wellspring, something that seems to come up with better ideas than I could think of on my own.
|Courtesy of Namoli Brennet.|
In this case some of the staff and teachers were kind of complicit, and there was some anti-gay sentiment in the community too, so they weren’t really taking it seriously. I think this documentary really made a difference and started a conversation that needed to happen.
That being said, it’s hard to create any kind of meaningful work if you’re not living authentically - so coming out and transitioning was an important step for me to take, if only because it meant I was no longer filtering myself in such a destructive way. And it freed me up to create in a way that I just plain was not able to do before.
Very little of my music is overtly about being trans, but there are ideas - trying to find a sense of place, some kind of self-acceptance, inner peace, whatever - those are tied into my identity.
|Courtesy of Namoli Brennet.|
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s still an unacceptable amount violence directed at trans women, particularly trans women of color; access to health care is difficult, finding a job - in many places you can be fired for being trans with no recourse.
And then poverty, just being able to afford transition is a huge obstacle and it’s not an even playing field at all. And in many ways we’re still misunderstood and constantly working to correct people’s misperceptions, to just be treated with respect and dignity. But progress is happening.
But I also realize that there are a lot of different ways that human beings suffer and that some of them are probably much harder than being trans.. And that some of them also intersect with being trans. So it would be hard for me to say we’re the new frontier, but I think we’re part of a growing movement to recognize the humanity of groups that have been historically marginalized.
Main photos: courtesy of Namoli Brennet.