Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Venus de Mars, a transgender artist from Minnesota, poet, singer, songwriter, painter, and leader of punk-glam band All the Pretty Horses. Hello Venus!
Venus: Hey Monika ;)
Venus: Ha! OK... well Hmm. I guess it started as a desire way back when I was a kid... you know. The glamour... seeing the portrayals, lifestyles etc. in media from back then. That kind of attracted me to it all...but I was way to shy to sing... didn't think I could really, so I just concentrated on playing the guitar. Started on acoustic when I was like 10 years old... and did basic lessons, but I branched out on my own and tried to learn classical, and flamenco... all that stuff, but rock still called to me.
Eventually after I'd graduated from high school, and tried a bit of college (and dropped out), I fell into that old dream and formed a punk band back in the early days with friends... and tried for the first time to sing a bit. I think the Punk era ushered in possibilities. Back in the 70's everything was so crafted by the record labels... it seemed impossible to imagine how to break into that business...and frankly I didn't like the music, aside from Bowie's stuff as Ziggy... I loved that early glam stuff...but that wasn't what you usually heard on the radio. Mostly it was top 40 stuff, and I hated all that.
Well, anyway, Punk broke into the scene... The whole DIY stuff. You know, "Fuck the Record labels, let's put out our own records" kind of attitude, and that's what I needed.
I think once that happened, I actually felt like it was possible to make it a career, but of course I still didn't know how to do it. But that was the turning point. Deciding to try and make it my profession.
|St. Paul Amsterdam Bar. |
Photo by George Roedler.
Growing up in the Midwest and all, I had to rely on the underground access for music, work of mouth, record stores friends, college radio, etc... they had the cool edgy stuff. And I began to collect it all up.
Eventually my inspiration, and style, became a combination of New-York Punk and Early 70's Glam mostly...but I try and draw from wherever too. If I hear something I really like, I'll analyze it... think about it...try some of it in a new song or whatever.
For me, I was just happy to finally just be myself. Doing what I loved. The band went through a lot of phases over the years. I took it over when the first album was released and after my initial drummer Bill dropped out. I brought in a new drummer, and basically became the leader of the band in all ways. I kept bringing in new members as old ones left, and sustained the concept now for 20 years! Kind of crazy. Though now it's become more of a back-up band for me. I've brought my name into its official title: "Venus de Mars & All the Pretty Horses."
The intimacy of that style of performance is pretty incredible. And I've been wanting to capture it somehow. So this year I decided I'd do it. I brought in my producer Barb Morrison who's worked with me on 3 past albums, and asked her to help me figure out how to capture what happens when I perform in this style. And I believe she's done an incredible job on that!. I'm expecting it to come out sometime nearly next year.
|First Ave Main Room.|
Photo by Charles Robinson.
Finally admitting to one's self who you are is so important. I had become very suicidal, and had already been married for about five years, and that was falling apart because of my depression. So when I finally came out to my wife (and myself,) I was both relieved but kind of stunned. (...quickly on my relationship... my wife and I are still together and doing well. We really beat the odds, and survived everything. I'm very proud of her and our relationship.)
Musically: That changed too... It gave me a voice. Something I could write about. My lyrics became much more focused on my own experiences. My songwriting became something much more personal. I could tackle subjects I understood first hand. Though it was hard of course, I wouldn't change a thing. Coming out as trans totally closed all the doors for me in the traditional music-biz world. At the same time, it also resulted in a very fierce and loyal fan-base.
Something which sustained me when things got really hard. I broke all the rules really. I couldn't get anywhere officially, the music-biz world wouldn't touch me. So I had to go it alone. Truly an indie-band. I became my own record label. I booked everything. I brought the band out to New York and became part of that punk scene which I'm SO thankful for. Those times performing at CBGB's, the Meow Mix, etc... all the cool punk-goth clubs there during the 90's are experiences I very much value. I toured the U.K. twice, New Zealand twice, had a documentary done on me "Venus of Mars" which brought me and the band ever farther out into the world. All this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken that fearful risk of coming out way back then.
|At a performance in their warehouse space studio.|
Photo by Neza S.G. in Minneapolis.
I'm still not sure why I wasn't heard. I had all my document, receipts, etc. in order. Was it because of my being trans? I don't know. The initial auditor did seem terribly accusatory and talked about me being a "big transgender rock star..." but it didn't go further than that, so there was nothing I could specifically point to.
|In the basement greenroom of "Bourbon Theater" in|
Lincoln NE, 2014, while on tour with "Laura Jane
Grace & Against Me". Photo by Dan Chick.
|Taken in Duluth MN, 2014.|
Photo by Paul Whyte.
The state of Arizona for example proposed a bill in 2013 that public bathrooms must be used according to birth gender. Trans people who have fully transitioned are still legally bound to use the public bathroom according to their birth gender. It was ridiculous.
Oh and everything has to have a bit of an edge to it. A little black-leather, a few studs...etc. I've just kind of fallen into that style over the years. But I love it all really. Always willing to try different things now and then. But "basic-black-tough-girl-fetish-punk-rock" is my usual starting point.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Main photo credits: Gretchen Baer/Bisbee AZ - during their 2014 PRIDE.