Hitting The ’V’ Spot with Mx Justin Vivian Bond

by BeBe Sweetbriar

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 14, 2011

The New Yorker recently dubbed Mx Justin Vivian Bond "the greatest cabaret artist of (V's) generation." Now if that ain't heavy, V's my brother! Recently undergoing estrogen hormone treatments to get in tune with V's transgender self, not to be confused with trying to become a woman, V is definitely exploring the nature of sexuality, gender identification, and the freedom of self expression with V's latest collection of songs on "Dendrophile," released in April 2011.

A Tony-nominated performer who has performed all over the world at such distinguished locations as Carnegie Hall, V (which is the chosen pronoun to identify Mx Bond) will be returning to San Francisco to embrace the aging of drag legend Heklina during Pride Month. I caught up with V one afternoon after lunching in New York City, and we chatted about the new "Dendrophile" album, V's love of 70s folk-pop and the banjo, the early days of V and Heklina, and special place San Francisco holds in V's heart.

An avowed "drendophile"

BeBe: This is your second solo piece after the success you had with Kiki and Herb. So, other than the number of songs that was part of your first solo EP effort, "Pink Slip", how does "Dendrophile" differ?

V: Well "Pink Slip" was recorded live at a music venue in the West Village (NY). So it was 5 songs that I took out of the show with a band I was working with at the time. Those were early versions of songs and the first few songs that I had written. "Dendrophile" was much more considered and just a much more thought-out record. It was recorded in a studio and with musicians that I particularly chose to work with. It was a thing where I had more control over the sound and it was a full-length record.

BeBe: "Dendrophile." Let's talk about the name. I know it means someone who is sexually aroused by nature. You chose that with a thought in mind, I'm sure. What was behind that?

V: Well, I wrote most of my songs in nature, I lost my virginity in a tree house, I get inspired by nature, and also, I get turned on by people who are really in touch with and honor their own natures... So, people who are not in denial about who they are, people who are accepting that there are a whole lot of different people. It's not necessarily about nature, but about nurturing your nature. I'm turned on by people who do that. And in order for me to get to the point where I could write this album, I had to nurture my nature to do that. I just love that word ("Dendrophile") and it made sense. And also it gave me a chance to talk about things I feel are important. You know like how there are a lot of variety of genders within the world. It's an entree to talk about that as well.

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Watch Justin Vivian Bond's video of "American Wedding" (From the album, Dendrophile):




Watch Justin Vivian Bond sing "We All Get It In the End" from "Shortbus":




Watch Justin Vivian Bond sing "The Golden Age of Hustlers":



"Take what you need..."

BeBe: The songs are definitely heavy in terms of gender and sexuality. These are definitely prominent themes you have written and also found in songs written by others. I really enjoy your lead track "American Wedding." It took me back t the feeling of the beatnik days with jazz undertones, the somber one note playing through with you singing over it. It is poetry. It is a poem that you are singing right?

V: Right.

BeBe: I feel that.

V: I wanted something that had that queer underground, jazzy vibe that you might have found in the East Village late night during the height of the AIDS crisis. You know people were just blowing on their clarinets, sweaty, and people were listening to these amazing poets baring their souls and giving the courage to go fight out in the streets. That is the sort of vibe I wanted to create with that poem (by late queer writer/activist Essex Hemphill). I was lucky because the guy who plays the alto sax on it is just amazing. He got it right away because he was around in those times. He made that sound perfect for the poem. I am real happy with it.

BeBe: Is "American Wedding" a little bit of an ode to Marriage Equality?

V: I don't think it's an ode to Marriage Equality at all. I think it's about living your life without feeling it has to be sanctioned by the State or the Church. I think it's a "fuck you" to Marriage Equality (laughs). It's not about a conservative kind of assimilation. It's about queer empowerment.

BeBe: You also have a preoccupation with the banjo on this album (laughing). I particularly love the track you wrote, "The New Economy." So, the banjo? A love affair with it?

V: I really do love the banjo. I grew up in Maryland and I was surrounded by country music. And of course, I didn't like it! I didn't think it was sophisticated at the time. And as I grew up and started hanging out with the Radical Faeries, one of my dearest friends played the banjo and we started performing together with him playing the banjo. We started writing songs, and I grew to love the banjo. The boy who plays the banjo on my album is adorable and a great folk singer who tours around the world playing his banjo and guitar, and singing his interpretations of old folk songs. I think he adds an unexpected sound to the record, and also, the banjo lends an air of sophistication which is sort of fun. Not what you would think the banjo would do. But I think it really ups the ante.

BeBe: In the song "The New Economy" you have that one lyric line that pretty much sums up the whole song that goes "take what you need, and give a little back." This is of course coming from your perspective of today's economics?

V: Well, right now the whole world is freaking out because we don't have anything, whereas, a few years ago we had too much. So, where did everything go? It is some sort of thing where they are making people freak out about the fact that there is not enough to go around. But, there is plenty to go around if people just take what they need and then give a little bit to someone else. Because we think we need a lot more than we need.

BeBe: It is kind of like why do we have those All You Can Eat buffets?

V: Right. You don't need to eat all you can eat, but all you need to eat (laughs). And what's left, don't throw it away, give it to the people who need it. The big secret is that we have all we need.

BeBe: One of the prettiest songs on the album is "Salome." I love how you sing it. It emotes 70s folk-pop music, of which I know you love, and the women who sang during that era. I really like this song. Can you tell me about it?

V: I wrote that song because I wanted to write from the perspective of a wounded fem. I always loved Emmy Lou Harris' version of "Wayfaring Stranger." But that was kind of from the perspective of this choadish, Christian guy. The chords and sound of it was so beautiful, and it was about him going back to see his mother, and I'm thinking this is such a matriarchal culture. And I thought, that is not really what that song is about. So, I thought I'm gong to write a response to "Wayfaring Stranger" from the perspective of the fem who has been ostracized and punished for being open and free about sexuality, and then manipulated for being that way. So, I think of Salome as a tranny rather than woman. We are desired and punished all at the same time for being who we are. So, I wanted to write a song from that perspective.

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Watch Justin Vivian Bond and Rufus Wainwright sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":




Watch Justin Vivian Bond sing "Who Knows the Time Goes":




Watch Justin Vivian Bond sing "Superstar":



Born too late?

BeBe: When I saw you here in the Rrazz Room in San Francisco in 2010, you did a 70s collection of songs.

V: That was fun!

BeBe: It was so fun! Do you feel you were born in the wrong era? I mean you may have been a great contributor to the era had you been born 10-15 years before.

V: That may be true. I think that's why I didn't record before because that music that I grew up with kind of influences me. When I was in my 20s everything was dance music. It was all synth-pop. I didn't really know musicians who could play or wanted to do music I wanted to do back then. I guess I kind of had to wait until it could be appreciated. And most of the musicians I work with are in their 20s. I guess it is just a timing thing.

BeBe: Isn't that funny? I was speaking with Debbie Gibson (the Original Pop Princess) the other day how things are circular and come back around. You look how people who are 20 years younger than those who put out certain music are now enjoying and duplicating that music.

V: It is funny. And I am sort of in the middle because the young people are doing that kind of music and the people who actually made that kind of music like Emmy Lou and Judy Collins and Linda Thompson, all those people, are 20 years older than me.

BeBe: You kicked off this "Dendrophile" release back in April by doing a three city tour of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. How was the reception to your music in those three cities?

V: San Francisco was the one I was most excited about because that's where I started singing on stage. And of course the Castro Theater, and bringing my band out there and playing with my band to a San Francisco audience was really, really fun. I have so many friends there. It was such a dream come true. The Castro Theater is where I learned so much about culture and art. In that way it was amazing. New York was great because it was the first concert for the new album. Then I went to Los Angeles, where I have played before, but it was while I was with Kiki and Herb and at small theaters in West Hollywood, but this time it was at the Red Cat. The Red Cat is a huge theater and it was two nights that were both sold out. A lot of really fun people came to LA. So, that was the really first time I felt good in LA. And also, my girlfriends there got pools (laughs).

BeBe: Well you will be back in San Francisco in the middle of Pride Month on Jun 17th to celebrate one of your good friend's birthdays. Heklina, the legend of Trannyshack, is celebrating her birthday. You'll be there performing. You and Heklina go back quite some time.

V: We go back 20 something years! I was at her very first drag performance which was in the Miss Uranus Contest (for those of us who know Heklina, how appropriate). She came out with a can of cream corn and, I think, she sang "Do You Know The Way To San Jose" in Icelandic (both V and BeBe bust a gut with laughter). I was like, 'what the fuck'? And of course that was a night a monster was born.

BeBe: It was definitely unleashed.

V: The world has never been the same since.

BeBe: Well, I'm in need of my V fix.

V: I'll be doing a couple of tracks from "Dendrophile," so it will be fun.

BeBe: Then you go on to London from San Francisco?

V: No, I come back and finish my run in New York, and then I go to London. Then on to Paris before coming back on tour here in the States.


Justin Vivian Bond and "Dendrophile" at the celebration of Heklina's Birthday and the command performances of the year at Trannyshack at DNA Lounge in San Francisco, June 17. For tickets and info www.dnalounge.com or www.trannyshack.com

Upcoming stops on the Justin Vivian Bond "Dendrophile" Tour: New York City, Joe's Pub, June 19 & 26, 2011; Provincetown, MA, the Crown and Anchor, July 22 - 24, 2011; East Hampton, NY, The Guild Hall, July 30, 2011; Cherry Grove, NY (Fire Island), August 5 - 6, 2011.

For more information on Justin Vivian Bond and to order a copy of "Dendrophile," visit his website.

Watch Jake Shears and Justin Vivian Bond sing "The Rose":




Watch Justin Vivian Bond sing "I Hate Spring" by Noel Coward:




Watch Justin Vivian Bond sing "I'll Never Fall in Love Again":



Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty's" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off".. As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media's next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.