Need to Know: Kristian Hoffman

1.20.2011

By Courtney Nichols

How is your sexuality expressed in your recent release, Fop?
First of all, the cover -- my father took that picture of me in a dress. My mother was an actress, and she had what she called a 'rainy day trunk' of discarded costumes from her various plays. We were encouraged to play, act, and make believe. Her world seemed full of beguiling fantasy. On rainy days all the kids would just pick a costume out of the trunk and run around the house pretending we were old ladies from a Marx Brothers movie, or Gilligan's Island, or whatever we had seen on TV that afternoon. My dad took that picture of me, thinking it was cute, and even before I knew what 'gay' was, my incipient defensive self knew it was embarrassing -- I could sense the condemnation to come -- just this side of blackmail, really, and I never wanted anyone to see it. But now I want to embrace that person -- that spirit of play actor, role changing, and adventuring into outr' areas of dress that are outlandish and provocative. It doesn't seem 'gay' to me anymore. It seems wonderfully playful and fanciful. It seems to have a spirit that should be celebrated. It may seem 'gay' to others. So, by that picture, I out myself as that person who is willing to take the risk of 'seeming' gay, and ultimately being found out to be gay.

The whole album embraces that concept: often, whether true or not, the 'fancy man' has been presumed to be gay, and therefore dismissible: 'light in the loafers,' 'half a man,' etc., and his concerns where thus thought of as the provenance of wispy irrelevant florists and hairdressers -- a sort of eunuch slave class.

I wanted to out myself as that fancy man -- that fop -- which was originally a pejorative term for a person too much concerned with surface to have substance. I wanted to say in a dark era where art and intellect are suspect, surface is substance. The statement you make by being 'fancy' -- excessive, opulent, over-orchestrated, flamboyant -- is a revolutionary statement. Instead of hiding, you say, 'My comportment is my art.' In that sense, you come out. There are other approaches -- pristine, elegant, minimalism. I love that. The punk squall railing against the establishment. I love that, too. But those are not the album I made. My slap in the face to the drabness of contemporary culture was to make an album where not only is there a sturdy framework of disciplined craft, but where artifice is the art. Everything will be as big and highly realized and crazy and unpredictable as possible, and celebrate excess through all the eras of music at which hopefully I have some small semblance of command.

The fop, who has so often been ostracized by culture as shallow and marginal, who has been beaten and persecuted for being different, who has been cast as an irredeemable sexual predator without any evidence, who has been ignored or ridiculed, is outed on this album as a true revolutionary: one who dares to aspire -- and perhaps fail -- to display all that is florid, rapturous, opulent, all that is theatrical and passionate -- which is so often dismissed as 'gay' -- as a dizzying unapologetic psychedelic merging of sound, vision, and comportment through a world that would rather rob one of all color and texture. Fop describes the 'fancy man's' journey through that dark world. So Fop is not a sexually 'gay' album as such, but it embraces and celebrates what the world often dismisses as gay. The will to live is an 'event' in oneself.

What do you think of music in this contemporary moment?
I sort of have a disclaimer because I am a DJ on this radio station called Luxuria Music. It's been established for six years and I have been playing there for five. It was founded on the notion that people who have gone to thrift stores their entire lives have peculiar record collections. They have a lounge DJ, and an exotica DJ, and a bossa nova DJ, and I am a DJ that plays light psychedelia from 1966 to 1971, which, not coincidentally, impacts how I write music that is very adventurous. I listen to a lot of old music so I have to make a new show every week. Before the show I would be examining all the songwriters I admire and how Conor Oberst structures a song or older people who work in the same milieu. Now I don't listen to too much new music. Friends recommend the new music I listen to. Occasionally I will sit through a morning of VH1 to see what the hits are and it just seems completely vacuous and corporate. But since I am not young and in college, I am sure there are wonderful songwriters out there that I just don't know about. I have to default to the fact that the records I love didn't sell much music, but mainstream music doesn't interest me. Even though I perceive my songs are expensive, they are also full of hooks. Now I might be wrong, but I perceive myself as an editor. Others may argue.

It seems that your relationships in the musical world are lifelong.
I have been extremely lucky that way! I don't know how that happened! A lot of us hold tight this sense of community. People like Rufus Wainwright have been swept up into this ethereal headspace that I don't have access to. He is not a Top 10 hitmaker, but he travels the world and sells thousands and thousands of records and yet he does keep in touch with me. Part of that is generosity on his a part and part of that is that I do manage to make real friends. Artists bond together. They are hungry for that. Friends stay friends. Or at least I hope.

For upcoming Kristian Hoffman performances visit KristianHoffman.com

Tags: Music
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