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Girl Germs Chats Up JD Samson of MEN and Le Tigre

March 14, 2011

Image Credit: Allison Michael Orenstein

JD Samson has been a gender-bending icon for nearly a decade. Best-known as one third of the trio Le Tigre, Samson has in recent years embarked on a new project titled MEN. Picking up where Le Tigre left off, MEN finds Samson spinning danceable beats while covering topics that range from money to power and sexuality. The group’s musical gravitas and D.I.Y. punk spirit make them a soon-to-be Girl Germs favorite. Lucky for us, MEN is touring in support of their recent release Talk About Body, and will hit up Minneapolis on Wednesday, March 16th for an 18+ show at the Triple Rock Social Club. We caught up with JD on the phone a few days before the group headed to the Midwest, and she brought us up to speed on MEN’s plans and the new Le Tigre Tour documentary, Who Took the Bomp?

Girl Germs: Hey JD! We’re really excited about the MEN project—Talk About Body was just released in early February, and I’m wondering how reception to the album has been.

JD Samson: The reception has been really great—there’s obviously been some people who don’t really “get it” in terms of what we’re saying, or our politics, but we don’t really care because we feel really proud of what we’ve made. We try not to read the press that much.

You’ve been making music for the past several years that speaks to gender and sexual politics. What are some of the issues that you address with Talk About Body?

I think when we wrote the record we weren’t really thinking about how all of the different songs were going to relate to each other. Once we listened to the record and it was complete, we kind of realized that a lot of the issues that we’re bringing up continuously came up during the length of the record; some of those things were money, power, and sex.

MEN’s lineup has changed since its inception in 2008. Your former bandmate Johanna [Fateman] has taken a step back for a smaller role and you’ve been joined by two new bandmates, Michael [O’Neill] and Ginger [Brooks Takahashi]. Has MEN’s approach to songwriting changed since the shuffle?

Not really- Jo and I wrote some songs originally and then Michael and myself and Ginger and actually another collaborator, Emily Roysdon, wrote a couple of the songs as well. It was always a collective effort, and people put their two cents in where they wanted to, and then we just split the writer’s credit that way. And that’s kind of how we’ve always done it. Recently, Ginger left the band and Tami Hart is now touring with us, so it just keeps changing, and you know we’re into that, cause it always gives us new, fresh ideas and personalities and all that stuff. So it’s really fun.

Are you exploring new themes and issues with your current bandmates that you hadn’t been before they joined, or does this feel like a continuation of the things you’ve been exploring in your work for a long time?

I think it’s a continuation of things that have always been interesting to me and to us as people, and interesting to the queer community at large. It doesn’t really change too much when people come and go from the project.

MEN’s music is more dance-centric than the music you were making with Le Tigre- have the live environments changed a lot in terms of your performance itself and audience reactions to it?

Part of the reason I think [the change] happened is that I’ve been DJing a lot in the time between Le Tigre and MEN, and I think I have just found what the kids are into these days, and what kind of music they like, and what triggers them to go wild and stuff. I think we’ve tried to use that to our benefit as much as we can, and those elements of dance music really shine through.In terms of the live performance , I’d say that sometimes it feels like a DJ set, where people are reacting to builds and things like that. Other times I feel people are pretty much reacting to the pop music structure and those kinds of elements, and I think that’s fun, too. I guess it varies, and that’s what’s cool about it.

What do you think people are going to take away from Talk About Body? What would you like people to take away from it?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think it’s really cool that this record is very upbeat and poppy, but at the same time it’s kind of depressing, because in a lot of ways we’re just stating the place at which humans are at right now, and it’s kind of, like, “hello, do you realize this is where we are right now?” but it’s not being overly didactic about what you should do about that. It’s just a place to state where we are as a reality check.

Do you hope people will become more active or more political from taking those messages away from MEN?

I don’t overtly have this greater life goal to change the planet, ‘cause I think it’s important to realize that I’m not a politician- I’m just an artist. It’s fun to be able to speak your mind, and open people’s minds, but I don’t really want to take on the challenge of changing the world [laughs]. We feel great when we connect with an audience, with people that are like us, or people that aren’t like us, even. I think it’s cool to experience sharing with all different kinds of people. We would be really happy to be mainstream and have really awesome people tell their really awesome friends about us and then continue down that line until everyone was awesome in the whole world!

You have a degree in film, and got into Le Tigre after being the group’s projectionist. Have you always had a close relationship to music or to music-making?

I’ve always loved listening to music, and I was always a huge music fan. I went to shows like, every day when I was in high school and in college, and was into all different kinds of music, too. I played the classical guitar in high school, but I wasn’t really allowed to play instruments before that because my parents thought it was really annoying. But then I started making electronic music when I was doing films, because that’s how I was making the soundtracks. That was really my first foray into making electronic music, but I didn’t really start making songs until I was in Le Tigre.

I was going to ask if you missed film and multimedia art, but it sounds like you really do get to explore those talents with MEN and Le Tigre.

Definitely. I think part of my choice in having my own projects and having them be punk rock and D.I.Y. are that I can continue to make visual art through the guise of a musical project. I feel like before every tour I’m sitting around painting something or drawing something or building something and I think that that part of the process it is really where my heart’s at.

It’s just been announced that the Le Tigre tour documentary, Who Took the Bomp?, is coming out in June, which chronicles Le Tigre’s This Island tour. That tour happened to be several years ago. Is it weird to see older footage of your previous work?

I saw the film for the first time in LA with a lot of other people at a screening, and it was actually really awesome. I felt totally unself-conscious, and I felt like “that was me five years ago”, and it really documents an amazing time in my life. It was really fun, and I feel like I’m so lucky to have experienced all that, and all of the amazing stuff that we did. Some parts of it are really embarrassing, where I’m talking about girls and stuff, but in the end it’s all just a cool historical document of that time period, and I feel proud of everything about it. It’s also cool because I never went to a Le Tigre show, I never saw myself play a Le Tigre show. But in this documentary, you kind of feel like you’re at a show- especially when you see it in the theater. So it’s really cool because when [the film] stopped, I was like, “whoa! I feel like I finally saw a Le Tigre show!”

So metaphysical!

Yeah. My life is pretty metaphysical right now.

Catch MEN on tour all over the US in March and April, and on Wednesday, March 16th at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 1:41 pm

    If you like MEN, check out Tami Hart’s other music project, Making Friendz. They were featured on last weeks episode of HOMOGROUND.

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