Entertainment » Music

The name’s Bond... Justin Bond

by John Russell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 23, 2009

Justin Bond has one of the most distinctive voices in New York's downtown scene. It's deep and intense, maybe a little dark, and at times it can be almost frightening. All of which made Bond's alter-ego, the boozy octogenarian Kiki, an icon to rival Hedwig.

But after over a decade of performing as Kiki and Herb along with Kenny Mellman, Bond has shaken off the shackles of that character to tackle another larger than life personality: himself. His debut EP, Pink Slip, is available now at CDBaby.com and to celebrate its release, Bond and Co. are taking over the Highline Ballroom on Wednesday July 22nd.

We had a chance to chat with the man himself about Kiki's legacy and being Justin Bond.


Girl! You write monologues

EDGE: What made you decide to lead off with this EP instead of a full-length album?

Justin Bond: Well I’ve never made a full-length album before, so I wanted to do the EP just because I had this goal of getting something out and I wasn’t really sure how. So I decided I was gonna put and EP out to demystify the process. So I had them record those songs at Le Poisson Rouge and now hopefully, because I’m doing everything myself, the EP will help fund a full-length CD.

EDGE: And that album is due sometime late this year?

Justin Bond: Yes, I’m hoping to start on it the end of August.

EDGE: Will that all be original material as well?

Justin Bond: I would imagine it will be mostly original material. I mean, this [EP] isn’t all original material, because the song "Weird Fishes" is by Radiohead. But I think it’ll mostly be original material.

EDGE: You’ve kind of always been known as someone who does cover songs. What was it like writing your own songs for the first time?

Justin Bond: Well, I started writing songs a long time ago, but I was deep into my collaboration with Kenny [Mellman] with Kiki and Herb, which was all about interpretation. And it just took so much of my focus and I think I was slightly intimidated. I didn’t want to write songs for [Kiki’s] voice. I wanted to write songs for my own voice. I was intimidated by the idea of writing songs, I have to say. So I had people encouraging me to write my own material. Lots of my friends were encouraging me to write my own material. So I started asking my friends who are songwriters how to do it. Our Lady J helped me, and Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters helped me. And Taylor Mac helped me. He was the one who said the key thing, which was "Girl! You write monologues. That what my songs are! They’re just monologues and I put chords behind them." And I thought, oh I can do that! And that’s how I thought of it when I started writing, because I was much more comfortable doing that than sitting down to write a song.


Good being Justin?

EDGE: The EP sounds so much like the kind of genre and world that I’d associate with Justin Bond. You know, not that anyone expected you to put out a Lady Gaga-esque CD, but how did you develop the sound that you wanted?

Justin Bond: Well I just really tried to make a record that sounds like what I like to listen to. I like acoustic instruments. My favorite instruments are the flute, the cello, the guitar, the piano and the drums. I don’t have a guitar on this record, but I have the flute, the cello and the piano. I just love those instruments so much. And I also feel that they blend well with my voice, because my voice is kind of woody and full with a lot of vibration. I didn’t want to create a record that was me putting something on. I wanted to create a record that was me letting something out. If I’d done a dance track it wouldn’t have been something that I’d want to listen to, and I seem to have recorded a record that I want to listen to. I never wanted to listen to any of the Kiki and Herb records and I never wanted to listen to my Pantychrist CD - although I think it’s really fun and I like it. But this record is the kind of music I like to listen to.

EDGE: It’s funny that you say you’ve made a career making music that you weren’t exactly into. How did that happen?

Justin Bond: Well, I didn’t make the character of Kiki or those performances for recording. Those were intentionally meant to be live performances and experienced in the moment. So I think that the brilliance of Kiki and Herb really had to be experienced in the theater. That’s why the Carnegie Hall record... I think people enjoy it because it’s the only opportunity to experience Kiki and Herb now. Whereas for me personally, the joy was in the performance, not listening to it. With the songs I’m writing, I’m actually writing music that I would like to be heard.

EDGE: I’m curious what the legacy of Kiki is for you. People love that character so much and associate you with her so much, but is she kind of a ball and chain for you?

Justin Bond: It was something that I enjoyed doing that was reflective of what was going on in my life when I created it. And I’ve had a lot of success with that character and I enjoyed that character, but it comes to a point when you think, well is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? And it took a lot of energy to have a career as Kiki and with Kenny. It was a full time job. And I decided it was time for a career change. I knew that if I kept doing Kiki I wouldn’t have the energy to focus on what I really wanted to do, which was write and perform as myself.

EDGE: So, is it good to be Justin Bond doing Justin Bond right now?

Justin Bond: It’s what I enjoy, yeah. It’s a lot less agro! Kiki was a very angry and intense character and I somehow managed to remain sane playing that character for 15 years. But it was getting a little dicey toward the end!

EDGE: How much does your identity as a gender queer and a radical faerie inform your work?

Justin Bond: I think it gives both ways. My identity informs my work and my work informs my identity. Because I think that as an artist a lot of what you’re doing when you’re creating art is exploring either your own psyche or your relationship to the world or your relationship to your community. I get so much strength and power from my community, from the people that I hang out with, from the radical faeries, from the downtown performance scene, from my friends. So all of those things come together to create who I am and make me feel good about my life. Putting those thoughts into words and those words to music, it all sort of forms one great big interactive circle that just keeps feeding, one thing off the other. So this incarnation of being Justin and making Justin’s music makes me feel a much more integrated and whole and fulfilled person. I don’t have to leave my life behind and assume this very dark think and then try to shake that off and go into my own existence again. It’s less intrusive. Kiki was very intrusive in my life.


Sad music that makes me feel better

EDGE: The music on the EP almost has a kind of mournful tone. Is that something you intended?

Justin Bond: Well, I don’t know. It might have a mournful tone. I think certain songs do. But I think "New Depression" is more of an aggressive song. And I think "May Queen" is a celebratory song. It’s also aggressive in terms of addressing the need for change in the world. But I don’t think it’s mournful. I definitely think it’s got a lot of feeling. For me, when I hear sad songs, it makes me feel happier. So maybe they are sad songs, but because when I sing them or when I listen to them they make me feel better, I don’t think of them as mournful.

EDGE: So what can we expect at the Highline show this week? You’ve got The VGL Gay Boys...

Justin Bond: Yes! I’m excited they’re gonna be on hand. I think they’re just great and they inspire me. I have Clint Michigan and I love their music. I think it’s beautiful. Again, sad music that makes me feel better! I mean, this is what I’ve been doing for the past year and half. When I did Lustre, I got all these amazing performers to be backstage with me. Because, although I love Kenny, it was just the two of us backstage for all those years! So when it wasn’t the double act I thought, lets get as many exciting people backstage! Cause it’s so much fun in the dressing room when you have people like Glenn Marla and the Pixie Harlots and Taylor [Mac] and Our Lady J, and we’re all putting on a show! So whenever I can I like to have as many fun, positive, exciting people backstage and involved in the show as possible.

EDGE: So the party’s backstage, huh?

Justin Bond: Yeah, I like to think so.

EDGE: Will we get to hear a little preview of what might be on your upcoming album?

Justin Bond: Well, there are four songs on the EP and there are about five other songs that I’ve been performing... I don’t know what exactly is gonna be on the full-length CD. And I’m debuting two more original songs, so there’ll be some new things that people have never heard before and some things that aren’t on the EP and some songs that’ll be on the record as well.

Justin Bond appears on Wednesday, July 22 for his Pink Slip CD Release Party. at the Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th Street (between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue), Accessible via 14th Street A, C, E trains. Doors open 6:00pm, Show at 8:00pm. $25. 866-468-7619. On the Web: http://www.ticketweb.com.


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