Editor’s note: Dose Of Dash (me, Miró) and Dashing Man (Andy) had the opportunity to interview electronic duo Hi Fashion last week. Their second EP, You Are Gorgeous, was just released and band members Rick Gradone and Jen DM will join the Austin community to perform during Pride Week at Werk! a fashion show emceed by ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 3 Winner Raja.
Andy: Thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview. I’m really excited I have a number of your songs, actually, that I listen to on repeat. SO, I was reading about how you two met and I think it’s a pretty hilarious story. [Rick hit on Jen at a club because he thought she was a gay man]. So Rick, what was it about Jen that made you think she was such a hot guy?
Rick Gradone: I mean, when you see Jen in person as you will some day, it makes sense. She’s got a lot of facial bone structure, and I’m an Italian so I grew up around Guidos from New Jersey, you know, and when Jen is out of her female drag, I sort of feel like she’s the hottest Guido guy I went to high school with, in a way.
Andy: Jen, what do you think of that?
Jen DM: [laughing] He’s so kind! He is so kind.
Rick: It’s true!
Andy: Jen, what did you think when he walked up? Were you like, “Oh my god, I am a woman — back off.”
Jen: When he walked up to me I was so not freaked out at all. It was totally flattering, and frankly I identify as queer. I’ve identified as like a lot of different things throughout my life and I was probably trying to pass as a guy a little bit more then. But, like, total utter compliment, you know. It’s not like I was getting hit on by guys all the time but I definitely was getting called “Sir.” I was totally flattered and Rick is gorgeous.
Rick: Wow! And we fell in love with each other anyway, so…
Jen: We’re like, gay married.
Rick: We are gay married. We are very gay married.
Andy: I’m a huge fan of Ru Paul’s drag race, so I think you know what I’m going to say about the ‘Amazing’ music video with Raja. How did that happen and are you a fan of Raja?
Jen: Oh, we adore Raja, and we didn’t know Raja very well. I will speak for myself, I don’t know if you did Rick, but I didn’t know Raja very well before…
Rick: I knew her to say ‘Hi” in a nightclub.
Jen: Yeah, I’ll give you like, the thumbnail story of it. We went out to New York to perform at Absolut Vodka’s 30th birthday party.
It was November of 2011 and some of the queens from Drag Race were there, also, including Raja. Raja saw us for the first time that night and was like, “What the hell is this?” I found out after the fact that Raja approached our dear friend, who is a DJ — his name is Josh Peace, he’s an LA DJ — and said, “Can you send me some of their music I love what they’re doing,” and then cut to Raja on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars tour. They tour all over the country, they tour all over the world, and Raja was doing ‘Amazing” and we didn’t know that until some people started contacting us like, “Oh my god I saw Raja perform ‘Amazing’ in like, Kentucky.”
We started getting random new fans from places that we had definitely never been. When we decided we were going to make the video [for ‘Amazing’], we were like, why not — let’s just ask, you know? It was perfect union and she was fabulous and she was so easy to work with.
Rick: Perfect to work with.
Jen: she’s joined us on stage since then. and obviously now we’re going to be in Austin with her, which is great. Some of the other queens have also performed that song and also ‘I’m Not Madonna,’ which is, again, the highest honor.
Rick: It always kind of makes us a little teary-eyed, which I think is funny. Actually, the first time that we ever saw anybody perform any of our stuff was a YouTube video of this one drunk, crazy drag queen in Toronto doing ‘Amazing’ and we all cried over it.
Jen: She was literally throwing pizza at her go-go boys, like slices of pizza.
Rick: We were like, “Oh my god — we made it, we made it!”
Miró: Do you feel like working with Raja was like a turning point?
Rick: There is something insane about watching that. It would be someplace that we’d never been before and there was this entire room of people and they’re all singing the song back at [Raja]. That was such an overwhelming experience being a musician. Just to know that your music hits people that far away that you have nothing to do with and that know it that well and are enjoying it all on their own without you; that seems to me what’s so meaningful about it. Raja’s the perfect ambassador.
Jen: I will also say that Jinx Monsoon has been an incredible advocate and has given a lot of accolades and has performed ‘Amazing’ and ‘I’m Not Madonna’ all the time.
Andy: One last question before we cover your new EP. What would your drag name be if you were a contestant?
Jen: I mean, I really just have to go back to like, “what’s your first pet, what’s your first street name.”
Rick: That’s a porn star name, but go ahead…
Jen: Oh is that your porn star name?
Andy: Either one. Porn star or drag queen, whatever you want to be, Jen.
Jen: Well if I was just gonna stick to the rules — your first dog, your first street — it’s Peppy Barlou.
Everyone: Ohhh, that’s great I love it!
Jen: That’s reasonable. She’s not outrageous, she’s just like, she’s, you know… She’s a busy woman.
Rick: She’s happy. She’s wearing LA Gear sneakers. She’s walking to work. She’s got her heels in her bag.
Mine has always been Celery Stick. So, I don’t know.
Rick: Yeah, Celery Stick. That was always who I was going to be. I mean, I think I am Celery Stick in my mind. But she never actually made it out of my mind. I don’t even think that that woman in the ‘Eighteen’ video is Celery Stick.
Andy: I love celery stick. Celery is a negative calorie food, so that’s perfect for the gay world. It’s like, wonderful. Innuendo and 0 calories.
Rick: But I also have always been obsessed with the name Celery for a girl. I think it’s so cute. Why doesn’t anyone name their daughter celery? I don’t get it.
Miró: So I read that you call ‘Lighthouse’ your “tears on the dance floor track,” and I can definitely feel that track moving away from party and fun and towards a more emotional path, both music-wise and also visually in the video, in the fashion, in the lighting. So can you talk a little bit about your departure and is that something you want to explore more? Or was that just the mood of the moment?
Rick: I don’t feel like we’re moving away from anything we were doing before as much as we just want to expand our vocabulary with what we do. That was kind of how we were feeling with that song. Also, it definitely was the mood of the moment. Jen was — I’ll speak for Jen — Jen was ending a long-term relationship that was ending in a beautiful and favorable place where they still loved each other but they were dealing with the aftermath of trying to figure out how to re-negotiate this relationship.
I feel like for both of us in general, it was just kind of in the air. There was all this change going on and questions about who was going to be in the next phase of your life and who was not going to be. We’re always trying to be really honest about what we’re going through at the moment, whether that is, you know, taking your pants off and dancing on a box or trying to negotiate the issues of your life. All of those things are real things and we do always seem to push them through a dance beat someplace, but I feel like Lighthouse gave us an opportunity to try something that was bigger and a little bit different, but still in the realm of what we do, so that was really really exciting.
We’re actually starting to do that in a lot of different areas. A lot of the newer music that we’re making right now has a lot of a wider breadth of variety to it. But on that CD we still have ‘Pupusa’ and we still have ‘Eighteen’ and those have a lot of that kind of wild, crazy, funny…
Miró: I’m always really interested in the fashion aspect. To me, I feel like I see a lot of inspiration from Japanese designers from you.
Miró: There’s a blue structural piece that reminds me of Yohji Yamamoto. Or the red outfits that are slightly bulbous that you’re wearing on the cover of Special Delivery – those are kind of Comme des Garçons circa 1997 to me.
Miró: Is that what you were going for?
Jen: Yeah, like, completely.
Miró: So talk about your fashion inspiration, and I know Rick, you make some of the clothes as well.
Rick: Yeah, actually kinda most of them.
Jen: We make almost everything.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. Almost everything. It’s at least styled by me a lot of the time. Although in the ‘Lighthouse’ video, that stunning white costume was made by Sami Martin Sarmiento who’s an amazing designer here that we got to collaborate with on that one.
Sometimes we perform with as many as 12 or 14 dancers. There’s just so many people to be outfitting all the time that it ends up being me a lot of the time. That said, yes, Japanese designers are a huge inspiration. Jen and I both have a theatre background so we’re also always really inspired by Robert Wilson theater and Richard Foreman and a lot of performance art. So on the one hand there’s the fashion part of it and on the other hand there’s the art part of it and we try to squish those two things together. Part of it is just to be able to create your own silhouettes from some kind of theater that happens on stage. I feel like Japanese designers have that incredible way of making the clothing sort of have a whole theatrical story to them in the first place. So I’ve always responded to that and I think that we both get really excited about it.
We were laughing that there’s this one picture of Butoh theater that Jen always sends to me. When they’re like, “What are you thinking about doing for the next show,” she’s always like, “I’ve been thinking about this…” It’s turned into a joke.
Jen: Because truly so much of our — I mean it really is the root of so much of our inspiration.
Rick: Yeah, yeah it’s true.
Andy: So obviously you guys are coming in for Pride. I always feel like we need more queer allies or out individuals in music and television. That said, with marriage equality being at the forefront of politics and DOMA and Prop 8 being struck down, have you felt any changes in the music industry?
Jen: You know, I don’t feel a huge difference but I will say how thrilled were we that Macklemore & Lewis did their marriage equality song [Same Love]. That brought me to tears at the VMAs – that was beautiful. We don’t know what his sexual orientation is and it doesn’t matter. He’s singing a song and he’s got the whole world listening to him. I feel like for us, you know, we’re an independent band and we’ve been out the whole time and we’ve been doing really, really queer work the whole time, so that for us has not changed. I do think that the music industry is so massive and expansive that, in terms of us, we’re a niche group, so we’re gonna find our spot no matter what.
Rick: I feel like the change started happening to some extent when the music labels started collapsing. I mean that’s really how far back I would say it went, in a way. Because it sort of created an industry that’s so much more DIY. So it just allowed everybody to be challenged to find their audiences the way that they wanted to. And the computer and Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and everything else has created a way for you to just find your group of people no matter who they are. Now the world is recognizing that there is music that large groups of people are interested in that don’t have this kind of corporate structure around the creation of it in the same way. The music industry is being forced to follow the interest of the people instead.
Andy: That must be exciting as artists to have that happening as you are hitting your stride.
Rick: Oh my god, totally! Ten years ago I was in a band in New York and we were kind of doing rap stuff, and it was dance-y and rap-y and everything else and it was right when the record labels were all starting to fold and everything was getting confusing around that whole moment. The way that we talked about it at the time — ’cause we were two gay guys and a girl in this band — I was still at a moment where I felt like, “Will the world accept who I am on some larger level no matter what that is?” For me that happened to be being a gay guy from New Jersey. But in general I feel like marriage equality is a part of that world where people are making things for themselves and being able to find their audiences.
Our whole career has happened because of this accessibility that exists now. I don’t think that this could have happened before this moment. And the reality is that there’s gay people everywhere. Our music isn’t just gay, either, obviously. I mean it appeals to lots of different people. But certainly from the RuPaul’s Drag Race standpoint and all the ways in which it does have a queer angle to it, there are all of these people that get to find out about it. We have fans in every country. It’s such a strange, amazing phenomenon.
Miró: My last question is: Miley. Sunday night. Faux pas or rah rah?
Rick: You know this is so crazy because I’ve been doing a job and I feel like I’ve been reading posts about it. I personally have no idea what happened. I heard, ‘latex,’ I heard, ‘flabby butt,’ and I heard ‘twerking,’ and I didn’t hear anything else.
Jen: I will share my thoughts on it. I saw it. So I know that a lot of the press right now. She’s getting slut-shamed for how she was behaving. And they’re saying like, she acted like a man but is getting judged like a woman. None of her behavior bothered me but my critique is actually about the performance on a whole in that she had this amazing platform, she was at the VMAs, and it just felt like a messy show. It just really felt like she missed rehearsal, I don’t know. I hear that she’s trying to go for something and keep it relevant. She keeps trying to reinvent herself. That happens all the time in this industry.
Rick: Yeah, which I appreciate
Jen: But I just thought it was a sloppy show. It was a really sloppy performance and I’m just not – it was a very well-considered performance so it didn’t really grab my attention.
Andy: You were like, if Hi Fashion’s up on that stage we’re gonna bring it.
Rick: OH my god!
Jen: Yeah, you have no idea. I mean we bring it when we play like the smallest rooms and the biggest rooms. Because that’s our approach.
Rick: I realize that I didn’t see it but it’s sort of reminding me of the way everyone ripped Lana del Ray apart when she got on SNL. And again I ended up walking away from that moment thinking, “she just didn’t rehearse enough. She just wasn’t ready to get up in front of those people and do that.” It ended up being sloppy. And being somebody that’s a performer we still go into rehearsal and do ‘Amazing.’ We still sing ‘Amazing’ in rehearsal. We’ve been singing it for years. And we still go to rehearsal every week and do ‘Amazing.’ It’s not that you don’t know it, it’s just that the way that you perform it changes and it sort of slips out of your mind in a way if you’re not really working on it all the time.
Andy: Well I know Miró and I are really excited for you guys to come to Austin and we’re going to see you perform. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules.
Rick: Oh my god, such a pleasure. Thank you for having us!
Jen: Thank you so much for having us!
Miró: Thank you both!
Check out Hi Fashion’s website and see you at the show!