Monday 24 February 2014

Interview with Amber Taylor

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Amber Taylor, a charismatic leader, lead singer/guitarist and current business manager of the Atlanta-based band The Sexual Side Effects. Hello Amber!
Amber: Howdy!
Monika: The Sexual Side Effects is quite a unique name for the band. When asked about the origin on the name, you said that you were the sexual side effect. What did you mean?
Amber: Sex, in the context of gender is what I meant. I put a twist in the gender department. The band - which I am the primary writer and sole member through the years - has gone through many players and names as time has gone by.
It started as The Amber Taylor Band, then Amber Taylor and the Trashy Trio and eventually morphed into Amber Taylor and the Sexual Side Effects. Over the last couple of years it became simply “The Sexual Side Effects”.

It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll.

Monika: In 2012 the band released the debut five-song EP High Maintenance. On your Wikipedia entry one can come across the following description of your music: “SSE has a very solid, psychedelic sound – the kind you might hear when falling down a rabbit hole". How would you define your music and lyrics?
Amber: I have recently been writing a lot of new songs, working on bettering my craft and growing as a lyricist. I have always found lyrics the hardest for me to create and the one thing in my musical ensemble to focus a lot of energy on to enhance.
A lot of the new material I have been working on has had a focus on getting out of the “positive happy go-lucky love song” zone and exploring the spectrum of love songs, the despair, resentment, heart break, jealously, evil and the darker world that love also has. I have been through some turmoil in my love life over the last couple of years.
During this time I discovered Nick Cave’s lecture called “The Secret Life of the Love Song”. This really opened a lot of new doors in my writing and perspective. I also discovered that I am an “Erotographomaniac”, that is one who has an obsession with writing love letters and love poetry. Thank you Nick for helping me realize this! His lecture is extraordinary and worth a listen sometime. A lot of newer songs are a direct influence from this.
Monika: And your music?
Amber: As far as my music, I really like haunting and majestic sounds. If something sounds too basic or homogeneous, I try to change it a bit to add another layer of notes and give it a twist.
As a musician I technically approach this by utilizing more “Jazzy” chords. To be more specific, with Major 7 chords to make the “Happy” major chords have a subtle hint of melancholy. I also abuse Minor 9 chords quite frequently, as well as infuse a lot of open string ringing - on guitar - as I play different chords to give a different colors to a chord progression.
Other things I really like to toy with are the use of “Modes”, but to fit them in to a pop music form. I know this is a lot of technical musician hoopla, but that’s the basis of my technical approach to my style.
Also some Eastern music theory plays a part in my songwriting creative approach from time to time. I am a big fan of Harmonic Minor and other “Eastern” scales, the basis of scales that sound Middle Eastern/Hungarian/Turkish/Balkan etc. Styles I am influenced by range greatly. Post-Punk, Goth, Shoe-Gaze, Psychedelia, Folk, Post-Rock, Ambient, Brit Pop, Power Pop, Rock N Roll and New Wave all play a part in what shapes my sound. 
I am a big fan of space rock and Psychedelia, so there is a heavy influence in the new sound, especially the live shows with that twist. 

Monika: You toured the eastern and south-western US. Do you intend to have a tour in Europe too?
Amber: At some point yes. Right now I am an independent artist with my own label and very limited resources. We have done some marketing in the UK which has seem to spread into the rest of Europe a bit. One of my dreams is to tour Europe, so it is very high on our list of priorities!
Monika: What is the Band doing these days? Are you working on any new projects now? 
Amber: I am the songwriter of the band and in fact it is really my solo project parading under the guise of a silly band name. I have been hiding out in my home town Atlanta writing new material for another record over the last couple of months.
Monika: In 2011 together with other transgender: Mina Caputo, Angelica Love Ross, Our Lady J, Shawna Virago, and Sissy Debut, you recorded a fantastic David Bowie cover “Changes”, which promoted “Transbeats”, a documentary by Michael A. Simon about six talented transgender musicians that come to LA to make it in the music business. How do you find your participation in that project?
Amber: It was totally out of the blue. One day I received an email from the director Micheal Simon, telling me he really liked my music and he had discovered me through my website, when he was doing research for this pilot. I have since become friends with him and keep in touch from time to time.

I am an “Erotographomaniac”, that is one who
has an obsession with writing love letters and love poetry.

Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Amber: It seems like things are increasingly positive. More and more trans people are revealing their background in the public eye. This is great for helping people to accept us, but it’s also a little weird as one of the goals for many trans people is to fit into society in our new gender role.
If you do fit in, then taking the step to let everyone know you’re different is that much more compelling. It seems like there is a huge struggle in all of our live to just be accepted as our new gender role.
I think political correctness in the understanding of trans-folk in the mainstream conciseness is still warranted. Not necessarily from the choose your pro-nouns correctly perspective, but from the understanding of who we really are. Our sexual preference is not what defines a transgendered person. There are still many stereotypes we have to breakdown in the mainstream psyche. It’s not just choosing your words correctly, but actually understanding the difference.
The best way to help accomplish this is to continue to win the hearts and minds of the mainstream and the people we meet everyday. When someone has a trans friend and they see us portrayed incorrectly somewhere they will know the truth and that is a powerful step help understand who we really are.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Amber: Wow. I am not sure that I did. Perhaps, the people who guided me through my transition played the supportive roles I needed. My doctor - Dr. Richard Hudson - who was not trans at all played a bit part for obvious reasons.
One notable trans person who has always meant a lot to me is Jayne County, who is also a personal friend. Jayne is a punk musician hailing from the mid-70’s NYC glam and punk scene (Maxes Kansas City, CBGB’s). She started as Wayne and became Jayne during her career and publicly changed in the ‘70s! By a weird twist of fate she is from my home state of Georgia, where I met her and she lives now. Its truly a small world.

It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Amber: Accepting it within myself. After a lifetime of being ingrained to be male and do male things or face terrible consequences, the first and last enemy was myself. Even outside of our communities’ “gender condition”, all humans face the inner voice telling you, ”you can’t do it” and all sorts of negative things. It’s just part of being human.
I remember having nightmares years after my transition of being caught in drag in public. Sort of like being caught naked in the school cafeteria in front of all the students. It took years for me to be at peace with my new self inside, and breakdown the gender conditioning society had placed on me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Amber: Our society is not perfect, but it seems to me there is some progress. Being transgender is somewhat of an interesting phenomenon when it comes to adapting to our new gender role and how the outside world perceives us. There are many of us that most of the time have no issues, because we fit right in our new gender role in the eyes of the outside world or “pass” for lack of a better word.
But of course there are many people who are in the transition period and there is a big challenge there. Our society can be unforgiving. There are also those who hold posts in all layers of our government who let their decisions be clouded by their personal beliefs instead of scientifically proven facts, which is a huge risk is in our fair treatment.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Amber: Absolutely. Human rights, at it’s core, are about human rights. Unfair treatment of those who are different and do not harm others is universally wrong. There should be legal protections for the fundamentals rights of all humans to exist, and to pursue their happiness.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Amber: Am I political? Yes and No. In regards to non-transgendered related politics: I am a musician, and as a musician I sometimes have to distance myself from politics mainly because it’s not what I do as I am not a politician.
My art is primarily about the exploration of the human condition through song. That combined with the fact of who I am as a trans person holds a different message and angle to making political and cultural impact with a positive outcome for our community.
For me to go out and win the hearts and minds of the normal, every day people with music. To share so many special moments together, when they have a hard break up and listen to a song I wrote, or have one song that means the world to them, that seems like a way I can make the greatest impact.
Of course, I will always stand up and fight back against the bully in the room and in a political sense, but just as M.L.K. had a vehicle of non-violence to reach his goals, using music, being honest and vulnerable to the world is the way I think my lifetime can make the biggest difference for all of us.
Of course, trans people can make a difference in politics as well. We are a democracy and should be represented, since we are a part of this society too.

It’s all about the music. If you have that true in your
heart, it will carry you through all the mud and the blood.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Amber: I am Romantic. It defines a lot of my mannerisms, occupies my thoughts and heart quite bit as well. But don’t we all want to be loved?
Being a songwriter it has also held prominence in my writing, of course that and my “Erotographomania”.
I identify as a trans lesbian, and have been primarily attracted to femme woman. Being trans with my particular preferences has been challenging. For a long time I was with a straight woman, in fact we were almost married at one point.
In her mind, since I was different, she didn’t see me the way she should of. We loved each other very much, but she had needs that I could not fulfill because she really wanted to be with a straight man. We are still great friends and I learned a lot. There were other times in my life where I questioned my trans-ness, feeling I have sacrificed my love life to be who I am. I have fallen in love with straight girls who didn’t feel the same way and thought, “If only I never changed”.
Of course, this is all bullshit my head made up! I am who I am, and that’s that. I am much happier today being Amber, and since then have found people who love me equally the way I am. It is an interesting situation though that I am sure a lot of other trans people can relate with.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Amber: Truth me told, I am a road warrior, rock n roll reject. I typically wear jeans, a hoodie and a tee-shirts most of the time. Beyond my fashion sense - or lack there of - there is a lot that is masculine about me. It sounds weird and different, but that’s who I am. I am not woman or man, but rocker chick, it’s the new gender.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Amber: I think a more appropriate format for myself would be to compile a large catalog of songs I have written. I would love to have written and published over 400 songs by the time I leave our realm. I can see myself writing some a memoirs or other type of literature in the field of music at some point as well. Only time will tell.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls dreaming about such a career as yours?
Amber: It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll. You have to realize being in a rock band is really hard and there will be many years of poverty if not a lifetime. It is really fun, but not easy. You have to accept the fact that one day you will be 40 years old and sleeping on people’s floors on tour. You will sleep in a van at a truck stop on tour (true story).
There is nothing glamorous about it. A small handful of people reach a level of success after many, many years where they live a more comfortable life. It is more akin to camping. To have a tour bus it costs over $,1,200 a day, and to be able to reach the ability to have that as a budget is going to take 10 years of building your fan base.
I am a late bloomer in music, mostly because I did my transition first before setting out in music no holds barred. I think the bottom line is you have to do it for the right reasons. You have to do it for the music, not to be famous or get laid or whatever. It’s all about the music. If you have that true in your heart, it will carry you through all the mud and the blood.
Of course, there is an extraordinary amount of hard work involved that most people can’t hack. You have to work a day job, then you need to spend 8 more hours a day towards band goals, and writing music etc. One day you might be able to get a manager or team to help, but no one cares more than you do, no matter how much they are getting payed. Okay, I didn’t mean to scare anyone, lol! If you do it for the right reasons, with the music in your heart, nothing else will matter.
Monika: Amber, thank you for the interview!
Amber: Thank you! :-)

All the photos: courtesy of Amber Taylor.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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