Justin Bond

Interview by
Adam Baran

For years, Justin Bond has been known to fans all over the world as the bitter, boozy lounge singer Kiki, the riotously funny character he played as one half of the legendary duo Kiki and Herb. In the time between Justin was first interviewed for BUTT Issue #15 he played Carnegie Hall twice, was nominated for a Tony Award for Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway, and then had a split-up with performing partner Kenny Mellman (Herb), which gave him the opportunity to go solo. Now Justin has a 5-song EP titled Pink Slip coming out on July 22nd, so we invited him to come by the BUTT office in New York to have a full-on discussion about his new work, Michael Jackson, the possibility of a Pantychrist reunion tour, and no sex questions, for a change. It was a treat speaking with him, as always.

Adam: Tell me about your new EP.
Justin: It’s called Pink Slip and it’s five songs that I wrote and recorded live at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. When I decided that I didn’t want to do Kiki and Herb any more, I wanted to make a CD, but I wanted to figure out what kind of music I wanted to do…
When did Kiki and Herb end?
The last show was March 20th, 2008. People had been trying to convince me to write my own songs, and it was a mysterious process. I justified my performances as a music interpreter, a song interpreter, and so I was asking my friends who write music, ‘How do you write music?’ I talked to Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters and my friend Our Lady J, which helped, but it was really my friend Taylor Mac who said, ‘You can write your own songs. You write your own monologues don’t you? That’s all my songs are, they’re just monologues and I put chords behind them’.  So I started writing songs and melodies, and knew I wanted acoustic instruments. I like cello, I like piano, and I like the flute, because you can actually feel the vibrations. I don’t like electronic music, because when you hear the keyboard or the computer or whatever, to me it doesn’t have any life to it. I don’t feel that sensual pleasure that I get out of the actual vibrations of the instruments.
You’re not making a techno album? (laughs)
No techno album for me. So I made the melodies, and I recorded the melodies after I wrote the lyrics, and I made suggestions for how I wanted the arrangements to sound, and the bridges and stuff like that. And I sent them to Our Lady J and she arranged them, and then we tweaked how the arrangements were, and then they were songs! The first song I wrote was in May 2008. I went down to Tennessee to the Radical Fairie gathering at Short Mountain, and I decided I was gonna write something while I was there. And then they asked me if I would write a chant for the Beltaine Eve ritual.

Can you explain what that is exactly? I’ve never been down there.
Beltaine is May Day. The pagan thing with the maypole is that the maypole is a hole in the earth that they put the maypole in, and everybody dances around to welcome the fertility season. And in Tennessee – I don’t know about other places – they take the old maypole out of the hole, and they chop it up and they burn it. And they burn it and they keep the bonfire going all night until the coming of the light the next day. So it’s about ushering out the darkness and bringing in the light of fertility. People decide that, if they have something that they’re holding onto, something that’s burdening them, and something that they want to release into the universe, that you can burn it in the fire. Write it down on a piece of paper, like, ‘I wanna get rid of this’ or something like that. So..
It’s a big deal?
It’s a big deal for me, I take it seriously, but also with a grain of salt! So they asked me to write this chant for the ritual. And I got all these people chanting, and I hadn’t really written a melody for it, but it sort of developed, and I got everybody chanting it, and I decided that I was making it my intention to write music. And we did this ritual where we walked into our future that we were envisioning – and mine was my music, so I took that chant forward, and I wrote a bridge and we wrote the music, and it became the song May Queen, it’s on the CD. And then I started writing music for the neo-Pagan revolution! (laughs)
I’m always curious with the Fairies, ’cause I know tons of them, but I don’t know… What’s important about it to you?
I got into the Fairies because my girlfriend – her name was Miss Kitty Litter Green – she was this Radical Fairie who died in 1995 I believe. And she was a wild woman, but amazingly powerful and intense and beautiful. She invited me to go to Wolf Creek, which is the Fairy sanctuary in Portland, Oregon. And I was like, ‘No way, I’m not gonna go hang out with a bunch of hippie anarchists’ – I just didn’t know what it was gonna be like. It intimidated me. But she would take me – we would go camping in the mountains, and we’d go with people and just sleep under the stars, and hang out, cook, and swim in a stream, and just get all back to nature. But still with lots of glitter and drag, on the mountain, just for ourselves. So one of the few regrets I have in my life is that I never went to Wolf Creek. And this friend of mine invited me to go down to Short Mountain, and I was like ‘Well, okay.’ So I went down there, and it’s this beautiful mountain retreat, and they have a main house where they cook, and people live there year-round. And people get all dressed up, and they’re just feeling themselves. They’re very free, it’s a very sex-positive environment. And they have a different theme for dinner, and some groups cook for everybody, the entire meal – communal meals. So the first night I was there I put on this silver lamé dress, and all this makeup, and I put on this chiffon scarf, and I thought that I just looked amazing. I go down walking through the garden path, and nobody noticed me. And it was the first time I’d been anywhere where I just blended in. And I wasn’t feeling like I was being stared at, or that I was on display as a queer or a gender-varient person. And I was walking through there and it was the most profound thing. And I burst into tears, because I’d never experienced that. So it’s very powerful, and so I think it’s a place where people can go and just, really, feel safe – unusual people can be unusual and feel safe. So that’s why it means a lot to me.
Was it hard to move away from a persona to just being yourself? You’re still strongly identified as Kiki.
The thing that happened that was really good for me was when I went to St. Martins and I did my M.A. program which was about Scenography and live art, and world-making performance. And I had this teacher one day…
World-making performance?
Yeah, it’s where you create your own world. And with Scenography it’s conceptual – like, the space that you perform in and all of that stuff. But ultimately, the space you perform in is really your body. And my teacher made this thing where he played us Nina Simone. And Nina Simone’s performance and the songs that she wrote and how she lived were all integrated. You know, crazy angry black lady – but her work was so powerful that you’re like, oh, this is world-making, this is a whole narrative and a whole story and a whole reality projected and created by this one woman. So hearing that, this one little flip of the switch in my mind made me realize that I can do that. That’s what I was doing with Kiki – but I was creating this world that was full of so much anxiety and anger and chaos and I’d been doing it for a really long time, so I was basically ready to move on. So I guess part of that, eventually, manifested itself in writing my own songs – so that my world, and my work, and my art, is all integrated, so it’s more fun.
So is there an album in the works?
Yeah, I’m working on a full-length one, and I think that Thomas Bartlett – Doveman – I think he’s going to produce it. I really like his sound, and he really understands the kind of instrumentation I like, and I like the people he works with too.
Okay, so if there’s one person whose opinion I want on Michael Jackson it’s yours.
Well I’m doing this show in London called ‘Justin Does Tragedy’ which is a meditation on the life and roles of Vivien Leigh, who always inspires me, because she was a tragic figure – she was bipolar, and she died – she had tuberculosis and she got up to get a glass of water and her lungs filled with fluid. She died on her bedroom floor. And the question in the show is – when the phoenix goes into the flames, how many times can it rise back up out of the ashes before it just no longer has the will to do so. And I think that’s what happened to Michael Jackson – he just couldn’t fucking do it. They say that his final rehearsals were amazing, but he was probably like, ‘Jesus Christ…’ It’s nuts, it’s mythical.
What did you think of the funeral?
I didn’t watch it.
Oh my God, it was sick. When they trotted those kids up at the end I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Joe Jackson all over that’ – if that kid Paris has an ounce of singing talent, they’re gonna take her right out on the road.
Yeah, I didn’t watch it, I was somewhere else. I assumed that it wouldn’t be on normal TV.
Well I think that’s all I wanted to ask. Oh! One last thing. Will there ever be a Pantychrist reunion?
Oh that’s hilarious! You know what, I don’t think there will with the original artists, because Otomo found it frustrating because he didn’t speak English. So he found it difficult to be on tour ’cause he couldn’t really tell what was going on. Which is strangely ironic, because when we recorded the CD, the two of us were the only ones in the studio – and he would just gauge what I was doing by looking in the control booth to see if people were laughing or not. And if people were laughing, he would do something funny, and if they looked serious… – he responded to what people’s facial expressions were. And that’s how the CD came out. Of course Bob edited and re-cut everything. I dunno, I don’t think there will be a Pantychrist reunion!
That could be the phoenix rising again with that act! Bands you never thought would get back together do it all the time nowadays.
Pantychrist reunion tour! It could happen, I wouldn’t be against it.

Published on 13 July 2009