Wednesday 16 March 2022

Interview with Stacy James

Monika: Today I am talking to Stacy James, an American musician and guitar virtuoso from Los Angeles, the founder of two bands: Dante's View and Death Valley Daisies. You can follow her guitar masterpieces on her YouTube vlog "Stacy James Guitar". Hello Stacy! 
Stacy: Hi Monika! Thank you for having me and thank you for your support of our community!
Monika: Jimi Page used to say that every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it. Have you done it yourself?
Stacy: I feel like I have. I've been playing guitar for over 30 years, and in guitar they say "it's all in the hands" which yes, takes time to develop. It took me time to develop a guitar technique that is like one's thumbprint or DNA on your music, like a vibrato. It can be just how you touch the guitar. I feel if you can combine developed skill and technique, you're almost there. Last would be note choice or how you choose to express your techniques through notes themselves. It's all about finding your own personal expression through the instrument.
Monika: Did you always know that you would be a musician? Do you remember your first guitar?
Stacy: I knew at 9 years of age that I wanted to somehow do what ZZTop's Billy F Gibbons did on guitar because the sounds he made were magic to me, but I didn't really know I'd become a musician at that age. I didn't know if I could because the great players were so skilled. I didn't actually get my first guitar until I was 14, and by then I had heard all the incredible guitar players like Hendrix, EVH, Jimmy Page, and more and it only made me want to learn that much more. I just wanted to play, but it seemed like being good enough to actually be a paid musician was a million miles away. And I do remember my first guitar! It was a red "Memphis" brand, 3/4 scale, kid's starter electric guitar. I didn't even know how to tune it. It was $70 and I bought it from a local music store.
"I've been playing guitar for
over 30 years."
Monika: And your first concert and band?
Stacy: My first band was in college and the first gig I ever played was a backyard party. We were not good. Lol
Monika: How did your musical career evolve?
Stacy: I actually had been in a number of cover bands early on where you play popular music that people know. Sometimes you play gigs with other bands as well, and the more people you meet, the more you find opportunities to play with other talented musicians, and so on. The more you play with others, and better players, the more you grow as a musician. Eventually, joining original bands and writing music came into the fold and I'm still having fun doing it.
Monika: Dante's View and Death Valley Daisies are two simultaneous projects, right?
Stacy: Yes. Dante's View is a rock collaboration with a very talented artist/producer named Pepe Espada from Northern California. He has his own fantastic solo project called Banjo Bones and in 2019 we formed a friendship at a Southern California guitar show and eventually, during the pandemic, decided to work together and thus we started our band Dante's View. Our debut album called "Doors & Mirrors" came out on July 4 of 2021. We're quite proud of it.
Death Valley Daisies is another project I have that is still in the writing phase as of now. It's based around the sound of fuzzed guitars similar to a number of bands in a rock genre called "Desert Rock".
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now? Where can we see your live performance?
Stacy: I just finished writing some guitar solos for an album called "Misinformation Land" by an Americana Rock project called Clive’s Code, and currently my collaboration partner Pepe and I are working on the 2nd album for Dante's View. We haven't had a chance to play any live shows yet. Part of the reason has been the pandemic but we're also located roughly 600 miles away from one another and write music in separate studios, then send each other the tracks and material we write. It was how we wrote the first album during the pandemic. It's definitely a different way to collaborate, but it was a challenge we wanted to take on to not be stopped from creating during the pandemic and lockdowns.
Monika: Given my own experience as well as that of many girls and women that I interviewed, I wonder whether we should be called ‘runners’ instead of transwomen. We run, run, and run away from our feminine self until it catches up with us. The only difference is how long we can run away…
Stacy: I'm certainly guilty myself! I knew when I was 6 years of age that I had something going on with me, dressed secretly in my 20's and 30's, and yet I kept it hidden and tried to run from it all until I was 40 before I had to turn, face my gender dysphoria once and for all and eventually come out publicly as trans to everyone I knew. Prior to that, I had attended a couple of transgender conventions in Las Vegas, Nevada where I met hundreds of other transwomen, and it really gave me the inspiration and courage I needed to know I could change my life like so many of them had for themselves. I still attend these conventions to see great friends and the many trans sisters I've made.
For any trans person reading this and looking to expand your community, look up "Diva Las Vegas" and "Viva Wildside Sin City Soiree".... held each year in the spring in Las Vegas. It's literally a few hundred transwomen and some trans men from all over the world for a week of fun, socializing, and empowerment. I think we get people from at least 12 or 13 countries every year. It's a big family and we love welcoming new friends.
Monika: Did the transition change your artistic perception of the world?
Stacy: Absolutely. It's funny that when you accept yourself how your filter on the world can change. Just embracing ourselves seems to be a catalyst for emotion, feeling, creativity, and much more. For me, I certainly started to think about music differently and I wanted to manifest my unique transgender gift and filter through the music I make like I never had. It also meant I could happily and confidently play a pink guitar! Ha!
"It's funny that when you accept
yourself how your filter on the world
can change."
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Stacy: I'm lucky to have had a minimal loss in terms of friends, family, and colleagues. There were some losses, but nothing so significant that it deterred my resolve. If anything, those that seemed to evaporate from my life only served to build my resolve. I always told myself that they don't have to all understand dysphoria, but they need to accept that I'm dealing with my life in terms of insisting to be happy and fulfilled. And if anyone can't do that for us, we're better off without much as it hurts... we're still better off being authentic to ourselves.
Monika: Were your industry friends surprised by your transition?
Stacy: Yes there was some surprise, but I'm fortunate that the music industry is already a rather open-minded community. I had more positivity than anything. In fact, a couple musicians I've known for years mentioned early on that they thought that my coming out as trans and embracing my authentic self would be an asset to a band or project. I agreed with them. We are very unique people when we let ourselves be authentic, and I think that takes a degree of boldness. I also think people appreciate and respond to boldness in others.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Stacy: For me, I know there is value in knowing where we've been in our respective lives. To be able to pass completely is fantastic for those who have sought out that existence, but I also know the grace, courage, boldness, and authenticity it requires to be trans when we don't pass as we'd like. It's not an easy life any of us have led, but for me personally, I carry a deeper sense of self-respect for just leaving the house daily when at one time I was too intimidated to do so. To me, trans people are some of the most powerful, courageous, and inspiring souls that walk this planet. I endeavor daily to include myself in this same category.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Stacy: Reneé Richards the Tennis player and Christine Jorgensen were the first Trans women I remember seeing on TV. I was young and didn't equate myself to them or even understand that that may be my path someday, rather I just remember being totally amazed and fixated at what they had done for themselves, especially seeing old black and white footage of Christine Jorgensen from the 1950s. Before seeing that footage, I had no idea that transition was feasible for anyone.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Stacy: I consider some of the great friends I've made at the Las Vegas conventions as totally inspirational role models. Friends who are dynamic, courageous, and who were self-aware enough to transition years if not decades ago, and who are thriving and successful post-transition. Friends whose transition was only part of their ongoing journey in life inspire me. Some are entrepreneurs, some have P.H.D.s., some are leaders of their industry, some endlessly give back to our community through outreach and leadership.
Deena Kaye Rose is a musician friend of mine that inspires me. Deena was a successful Nashville songwriter for Johnny Cash, Bob Denver, Jerry Reed, and more and actually had a career for herself before her transition. She details her amazing story in her book called "Some Days Are Diamonds". It's a fantastic book and I recommend it. Deena and her story have inspired me to no end.
"People need to meet more of us to
see that we are normal human
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Stacy: I think that transgender women certainly face some ongoing struggle in this country to be accepted, but there is more acceptance now than there was even 10 years ago. I think our society is still in the early stages of being exposed to our community and gaining a collective understanding of what it means to have gender dysphoria, but we're slowly moving in the right direction.
I know many of us meet people in the world who say we are the first transgender person they've known personally and that is the slow and healthy exposure our society needs more of. People need to meet more of us to see that we are normal human beings, dealing with our lives with practicality and seeking our happiness through living our truths rather than denying our realities. These are endearing qualities for anyone to respect.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Stacy: I do love fashion! I love the expression that an outfit or a look can represent and don't like to limit myself. My style varies from something I may wear in a music performance setting...often hats with boho dresses and boots to dressing up in high heels for dinner with friends or what rocker style I may wear to a desert roadhouse to see and support friends who perform. I love having options and can dress differently in looks from day to day, or season to season or even just depending upon my mood. I definitely enjoy being feminine and having all the options we women have. I'm fond of it all!
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Stacy: I don't mind being complimented, but It's not something that I may require to feel self-esteem. We all have insecurities about something, and by we I mean most people. It can be difficult for cisgender people to live in a culture where beauty is uplifted if not rewarded in some ways. For instance, I may not think I have the most feminine of a particular feature, but I'm not going to let it define my self-perception. I've had enough of that negative energy from myself prior to the transition. So, by contrast, hearing a genuine compliment now and then is something I don't mind at all. I consider it an act of kindness from the person who gives it.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Stacy: Currently not as much as I'd like. I used to be a co-organizer for the Diva Las Vegas convention and put together a number of events that brought our community together. That, in addition to being a "big sister" every year to those who were new to attending the convention was always a rewarding experience. I'd like to get back to more of that at some point.
I still love to see the faces of those who were daunted by the thought of just leaving their hotel room at first to a few days later crying tears of happiness and feeling their life changed simply because they felt entrenched and established within the trans community...and they felt related to and could relate to others. To know that you are not alone is invaluable. And in fact, if you are struggling with dysphoria, you are NOT alone my friends.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Stacy: Love is important but it's not something one can have on command. I was married once and would love to find love again, but I'm also happy being single and pursuing my craft of musicianship. I know if I keep pursuing my path and staying positive, love will find its way back into my life again.
"You have to believe you can do this."
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Stacy: I haven't really thought about it. I feel like I'm still writing the story of my life through my music and I have a whole lot of things to do before I could ever feel like a book could be in order. Even at my age of 49, I feel like I'm nowhere close to being done with life's journey. Maybe someday I'd think about it, but I'm certainly not there yet.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Stacy: I would begin with a quote - "20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain.
We all know life is short. It's certainly too short to have regret. I'd advise anyone who is afraid of transition to try to make and reach out to as many transgender friends you can and listen to their stories. Attend a convention local to you or even in Las Vegas with us. Do your best to just take it all step by step. We can do anything when we set a series of small goals for ourselves and work to achieve just the next goal or task ahead. Step by step. Also, find your community and listen to their stories and get out with those friends in public as frequently as possible. You'll find that in reality, we are too often the only ones placing restrictions on ourselves.
You have to believe you can do this. Yes, it took me time to find that self-belief regarding my own transition, but once you know deep down, that you CAN transition and you CAN manifest any reality you wish for yourself, you'll have done more than unlocked life's rewards you possibly never knew existed or felt so strongly before.... self-esteem, self-respect, and love for oneself are just a few of those many rewards and trust me...many, many more await you.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Stacy: Absolutely 100%. Dealing with dysphoria is only one aspect of who we are as human beings. We can still retain who we've always been as people and simultaneously build on what we want to become or what we want to do once we've dealt with our own whatever extent that may be. In many ways, I feel like my life began after the transition. Not that life can't be highly rewarding prior to it, but life can also be a whole new chapter of knowing anything is possible for ourselves.
And I agree, don't compare yourself to anyone. Some of the best advice I was ever given by a friend was that this is not a race and there is no definitive finish line. Always move forward. Just take it step by step and remember to always keep that P.M.A... Positive Mental Attitude!
Monika: Stacy, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Stacy: Thank you so much, Monika! Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you and share this journey. Keep up your great work my friend. Much love to you and all! ROCK ON!

All the photos: courtesy of Stacy James.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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