Singer, DJ, and expert twirler Shaun J. Wright sat down with special !! omg blog !! correspondents Produzentin and Mary Messhausen for an exclusive interview leading up to his Toronto show this weekend.
Shaun will be performing a special set this Saturday April 6 at the legendary dress-up-and-dance party Hotnuts at the Garrison in Toronto. Buy your $10 limited presale tickets at Rotate This (801 Queen St W.) or Soundscapes (572 College St.) or pay $13 at the door.
And now, onto the Q&A:
Mary Messhausen: Your first band experience was with Hercules & Love Affair. How was the first show? It must have been so exciting and overwhelming.
Shaun J. Wright: I just remember that I had to put everything together in terms of my look and I just wasn’t able to accomplish it myself. All my energy was going into that rather than the actual performance because I had been performing for years as a dancer – never a super big professional level – but I was not very nervous about performing in front of people.
But the outfits couldn’t come together and Shayne Oliver from Hood By Air who was designing our clothes brought everything together for us. A load fell off my shoulders.
At the first sound check, one of my best friends came by and he started crying because he had never seen me perform.
We had done a little one-off show in San Francisco before our actual first two shows in New York with the full band. In San Francisco that was my very first show with Andy [Butler], Mark [Pistel] and Kim Ann [Foxman]. But the third show was the actual most impressive one because Solange was right there in the audience. And that’s when I freaked out.
M: It must be so exciting for you that you are in the process of starting your own solo shows.
SJW: Yes it is. I just came back from Australia and I got to perform with stereogamous a few times. I love those guys. We recorded new songs and I got to perform them.
I have been reluctant about doing my live performances because I always had this support system of Kim Ann Foxman on one side and Aérea Negrot on the other side, that kind of group energy. But now I did those few shows and I was like oh, this is nice too. You know what you’re made of. I mean it’s not a Britney production yet, but maybe one day.
Produzentin: So it feels good to be in the center now?
SJW: Yeah, all over, the front and the sides and take it back.
The Q&A continues after the jump!
P: And how did you meet stereogamous?
SJW: I met them backstage at a show. I was performing with Azari & III, who are my homies now. And Johnny and Mac of stereogamous came backstage and we just started talking. I didn’t know who they were, I knew of their music but I didn’t know them personally.
I was really not flippant but I told them, “Oh yeah, find me on Facebook.” You know, everybody wants to sing or dance together. If you’re really nice you can have a really friendly chemistry but it doesn’t necessarily translate into work. But then that meeting kind of changed my life. They are really special. I look forward to everyone hearing the new music.
P: So then you stayed in touch and the first song you did together was “Face Love Anew.”
SJW: Yes, so they found me on facebook and sent me some tracks. I went to the studio and recorded to one of the loops. It wasn’t even fully developed it was just like a nice little chunk of a loop. I was like: Wow, I like this one. Actually those lyrics that you hear are the demo lyrics.
Listen to “Face Look Anew”:
P: You mentioned you recently came back from Australia where you recorded more songs with them. Are you going to release an EP or an album?
SJW: I’ve been working on a lot of music and I have this really strong concept for a conceptual EP, but I think I might expand that into something more. I just want to make sure that what I present is authentic and I’m letting it shift and I shift. I started this process a year ago and it doesn’t look like an EP would suffice for what I developed as far as what I have to say now. Maybe an album, I’m open.
P: An EP can be more than 4 songs.
SJW: The one I’m working on now has 6 songs. But I have other material that could really fit into the grooves.
P: You’re also recording with your friend Alinka in Chicago?
SJW: Yes, my girl Alinka, she’s a really talented producer. We actually have an EP coming out very soon. It’s really underground and very house, very Chicago. We have other stuff that we’re working on that is more song oriented but these songs will remind you of Cajual, Masters At work, and Nineties. But it doesn’t reference in an obvious way that a lot of music now is referencing it. It’s more in the spirit of that time.
P: What is the EP called?
SJW: Twirl. We also have a new party that we’ll start in Chicago called TWIRL. We’ve done a few remixes, one for SSION, for Crystal Ark. We want to bring our idea of fun back into Chicago nightlife.
M: Is that going to be a monthly party?
SJW: Yes, and we’re probably doing some one offs at some other locations but we’re staring at Berlin, which is a Chicago institution. Of course I used to sneak in when I was in high school (laughing). You know it’s a small club but everybody comes through and everybody plays there. We are very inspired by A Club Called Rhonda. That’s our marker, that’s the goal. And everything is just like balls to the wall debauchery.
M: We were at the Hercules show when you were playing here in Toronto and I can still remember the outfit that you were wearing at the show.
SJW: I can’t wear that!
See Shaun’s outfit in this July 26 2010 Hercules & Love Affair show in Toronto:
M: That’s what I’m wearing! (laughing) I make almost all the outfits that Proddy and I are wearing and I was stuck by your look and your fashion. So I was really interested when I read that you went to fashion school in London.
SJW: I had a fascination with London my whole life. One of my earlier memories – I may have been 8 or 9 – is my grandmother showing me To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier and Lulu. Everyone was like the models in the Burberry ads now, I guess. The way the city looked was so starkly different from anything I had seen in Chicago. At this point I had not been to many places. But it felt really groovy (laughing).
I applied to St. Martins for journalism but it was a no-go, they were like, “Oh no, girl. You’re not journalism.” When I look back at the paper I know why I didn’t get accepted. I wrote this history exposition on Sarah Baartman. She was from South Africa and she was brought to France around 1810 and treated as a science specimen, a freak show for Piccadilly Circus in London. They found it grotesque. She had a very large bosom and a large bustier. I think she spoke three or four languages but was depicted as if she was not human. I say this is actual desire that was projected on to her and how we get a shift in fashion from not just being corseted but also getting large bustiers. So I brought that into contemporary fashion, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé and all this historical fashion shit.
The paper worked its way to the London College of Fashion. Someone sent it over there and suggested that I be part of the program.
P: So you were in the ballroom scene in Atlanta. Were you also dancing in Chicago or was that more in Atlanta?
SJW: I’m from Chicago originally and I knew about the ballroom scene and voguing and stuff like that. I didn’t start walking until I moved to Atlanta for college. I went to my first ball in Chicago and it was mind-altering. I didn’t know what was happening, what is going on? It was so intense and magnified. You know when you have those nights when it feels like a haze? It’s like a dream almost? That’s what it felt like.
My actual first ball walk was in Atlanta. And I had the same experience, everything felt kind of hazy until I stepped on the runway and everything got hyper real.
I can’t claim myself to be a really well known ballroom girl; I mean people still remember me in Atlanta and Chicago. I got nominated for New Performance and Butch Queen of the Year but I didn’t walk consistently. I was never interested in just walking balls, I didn’t like voguing for that reason but I like to watch other people walk. I was more of a spectator than an actual walker. But I did walk and I did win (laughing).
M: You have two very talented dancers joining you on stage this Saturday, that’s for sure. Our Toronto friends Dynasty Omega-Ninja and Angel Omega-Paciotti.
SJW: I saw them, they are really good.
P: They’re really excited.
SJW: Just as long as they don’t show me up. Those are young spring chickens!
P: You never know with the young chicken! What can the Hotnuts audience expect from your performance?
SJW: You’ll actually get a lot of new stuff that you’ve never heard. But everything is mania. So it’s going to be good. You’ll hear “Face Love Anew” and “Forever More.”
Listen to “Forever More”:
P: Do you want to share some of the new song titles?
SJW: Yes, I can. One is called “Nowhere to Hide” and one is called “Sweat” and “Homewrecker.”
M and P: Uuuuuuuuh! Mmmm, we love those titles!
P: We need sweat on those Hotnuts!
SJW: It’s conceptual, you know!
P: Yeah, it’s coming together!
SJW: I’m into audiences that participate. That’s from ball culture and my upbringing in general. I know that the audience is going to bring it. I can already feel that they’re going to be into partying. So I just hope to be on the same wavelength and help out and be a part of the exchange. That’s what it’s about when performing live: it’s to get to exchange with people.
M: Yes, the crowd that comes to Hotnuts they dress up with us as well. They put so much effort into their own looks, so everyone is part of the spectacle, part of the show.
SJW: So is it a drag show or a drag party or is it a party with drags?
M and P: It’s like the bearded lady has chased the clown slut circus into town!
SJW: And this time you’ll have a black queen singing her own songs.
P: Yes, we’re really proud of that!
SJW: I’m excited too.
Follow Shaun J. Wright on Twitter here.
The poster for Hotnuts this Saturday April 6: