Need to Know: Our Lady J
By Noah Michelson
You're not really known for making electronic music. What pushed you in this new direction?
I've been performing gospel music -- I call it 'Gospel for the Godless' -- in major cities around the world like New York and Berlin and London, but I found it has a limited audience because of having to have an orchestra and gospel choir every time I perform. And I really want my music to reach other people, so, I buried myself in my computer and discovered the mass appeal of electronic music -- not just because it's super listenable but because it's portable as well. So I've taken these huge vocal arrangements for gospel choirs and I've put my own voice through synthesizers and computer software to make my one voice sound like a choir. That's how I'm performing live now, although I'm in London right now performing with the choir. But the hope is that I can go to other towns more easily and not have to hire a choir every time I travel. Though, eventually I do want to travel with a choir everywhere I go.
How would you respond to hardcore fans who might say, 'We want the old unplugged Our Lady J'?
Luckily that hasn't happened. I've been performing the new music for two or three months, kind of workshopping these new songs in front of my audiences, and they've been more than enthusiastic about the songs. That's also why I kept going with the idea. I put it out there to make sure I'd still reach my fans and they came back and they loved it, so I continued with it.
I sometimes ask queer artists about their sexuality and if it's had an impact on their art. Half of the time they say it hasn't -- that it's just another part of who they are and really doesn't influence their output. But others, like Jonsi from Sigur Ros, have responded by saying, 'I wouldn't be a musician if I weren't gay.' How does being trans influence your music -- if at all?
I didn't find my voice until I transitioned and it was because I wasn't able to be honest with myself musically until I was able to be honest with myself personally. I've always made music but it didn't have words. I'm a classically trained pianist so a lot of my life was spent interpreting other people's music and making instrumental compositions and when I finally transitioned, suddenly life made sense. I was able to write words and I was able to summarize what I was experiencing through music. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now if I hadn't come out as a trans woman and if I hadn't been born as a trans woman. I wouldn't have had the path that I had. I might be a classical pianist, but this where I am and yes, it has had an incredible effect on my path as a musician.
The tabloids had a field day last year when they discovered you and Daniel are friends. Did your that sudden push into the spotlight freak you out?
I was born for the spotlight [laughs] but -- and it's a big but -- I was misrepresented by the media. People were calling me a 'Dolly Parton'impersonating drag queen' which is just outrageous. I do perform songs by other people occasionally and Dolly is one of the artists that I cover, but only because I love her music. I have no desire to impersonate her and I'm not a drag queen. I think it's pretty simply stated -- there's a difference between a trans artist and drag queen. There's a big difference. So I was freaked out by that but I was also freaked out because I wasn't sure how Dan would respond to being associated with me in public. We hadn't known each other for all that long and I'm more than relieved to know that he's not ashamed to be my friend and by going forward with the Out story it just shows what an amazing guy he is.
Right. When it all happened, instead of sending out a press release to refute your friendship -- as I could imagine a lot of other straight leading men in his position might consider doing -- he simply said, 'I think she's wonderful,' and left it at that.
It really shows that he's confident in himself as a person and an artist and that's really rare, as you and I both know.
Regarding being called a drag queen instead of a trans woman, even in the queer community there's still a lot ignorance about the wide spectrum of gender expressions. Do you ever get annoyed that you're constantly put in a position of having to educate people?
I'm not annoyed by it because I wanted to know what trans was years ago and I wanted to see if it was me. None of us are born with an instruction booklet and I think it's our duty as people who are on the frontier of any minority -- a public frontier, we've always been around but it just hasn't been public -- and as it's becoming more exposed I think it's our duty to educate people and it requires a lot of patience but I think the result is worth it. The positive effect it has on society is definitely worth the slight annoyance.