Post-Le Tigre, JD Samson gets vulnerable
SWEAT IT OUT JD Samson writes dance music
with a message
Months after the release of the electrifying, politicized dance album Labor, artist and musician JD Samson brings her post-punk dance project MEN back to SPACE Gallery this week. From her days as a member of Kathleen Hanna’s post-Bikini Kill electropunk band Le Tigre to her recent activism in support of Russia’s Pussy Riot, Samson has acquired icon status in queer and feminist circles; Labor finds her approaching familiar themes in an uncharacteristically personal way. We asked her a few questions about getting sweaty, getting vulnerable, and the political capacities of dance music.
There was a lineup shuffle before this record. How did the new lineup cohere for these songs?
Our previous record Talk About Body actually began with five members in the band, and as the band developed from an art collective into a proper music project, a lot of our practices changed as to how we wrote songs and thought of touring and performing, etc. The first tour for Talk About Body was done with Tami Hart who wasn’t actually part of the band from the writing process. Part of the band has been changing the lineup from every tour, almost on purpose, with the focus of getting a new show and new feeling. Right now it’s Michael (O’Neill) on guitar and (New York artist) Lorna Dune playing synths. It’s the first time this particular lineup is coming to Portland.
A few of your songs are about how people experience music, from the form it takes and the rooms that people collect in. Has that always been a focus for you and how has that changed since this project started?
I think I always try to think of the work that I’m doing as an all encompassing piece of life. So in that sense I really think about all the aspects of the projects simultaneously. And with the same importance for each element -- so the costumes and the backdrop and performance and sequence and instrumentation, all those elements come together into one cohesive experience of the music. And that has a lot to do with the audience and the pace that we’re creating. And I think production-wise it’s important to produce music from a conceptual place, to focus on what the music is about and how I can make people feel that without literally saying it.
Your songs do a really impressive job balancing their message and lyrical content without sacrificing any pop appeal or danceability. How do you find dance music fares as a vehicle for that sort of thing compared to folk music or punk?
I think my intention is that it’s a great vehicle for it. That juxtaposition is really interesting to me. Dance music is about moving your body, feeling safe in a space, and being with a community that can be vulnerable with their bodies together. And I think the music and lyrics we write are also about body politics and vulnerability. I think the music I was making with Le Tigre, we were coming out of a riot grrl place of angry rock and roll feminist music — like in order to make feminist music you had to be depressed — and we tried to switch that up.