Natalia Zukerman and The Secret Songwriting Lesbians' Club
The Lilith Festival is on the decline, k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge aren't in pop culture the way they once were, and neither are the Indigo Girls. Is the lesbian music culture on the wane? What's next?
This is a tough one. Because the answer is yes. Culture as we know it is in total flux. The way we buy and listen to music is shifting, and so is the way we consume it as audience members. It doesn't mean that it's over, but it means that it is changing. The Indigo Girls and k.d. lang will always be musical geniuses, and there will always be people who love and appreciate what they do, but I know that their audience has been affected by economy and the shift in the way music is consumed. It doesn't mean that they are not viable or relevant, but I'm sure they're figuring out how and why they fit into this new paradigm.
The other side of this is that perhaps there isn't as much of a need for lesbian music culture anymore. Meaning, we don't need the public gatherings on that scale to feel like we are part of something, that we belong. Lesbian culture is much more in the mainstream than it has ever been, so we don't need to seek out these alternative spaces to feel safe as much as we did when k.d. and the Indigo Girls first started out. What's next is that there are more gay men and lesbians, trans, bi and queer people in the music world than ever before. And it is less of a big deal than ever before, less of an anomaly.
A lot of women in pop music are more likely to call themselves bisexual than lesbian. Is it riskier to a person's success to be a lesbian?
Of course. I'm afraid this will always be true. Being bisexual as a women still leaves open the market to straight men, and in pop music in particular, where so much is about marketing and sales, that isn't a market anyone wants to alienate.
Who are you writing for? Do you consider lesbian fans in your music?
I don't really think about writing for a particular audience when I write. If and when I do, it's stifling. I can't think about what anyone else is going to say or feel about the music I make. I just have to trust myself enough to make it and follow it wherever it wants to go.
Which lesbian artists influence you now?
I am constantly influenced by other artists and musicians, whether they are gay or straight. And honestly, most of the time, I don't know or care how anyone else defines their sexuality. I've never listened to music solely because the artist defines themselves as gay. OK, well... not since college.
How is your painting a different outlet for creativity than writing music?
Most of the painting I do is commission-based, so I'm realizing someone else's vision, whether it's a portrait of their dog, a wall painted in a house to look like venetian plaster, or an image based on a lyric from a song — mine or someone else's — that has a specific meaning for someone. I think of myself as an illustrator in that way.
Music comes from a much more personal place and for the most part, I'm writing what I want to write, when and how I want to write it. I definitely think I write from a visual place; I'm much more interested in what something looks like to describe a feeling, create a mood.
Music and painting have certainly been overlapping for me, especially as I've delved more deeply into illustrating my own songs, and the set of questions you ask yourself when creating a painting, or a song, are starting to be one and the same. In fact, the best lesson I ever learned about songwriting came from a painting teacher of mine in college who said, "If you know what you want to say, you'll figure out how to say it." He meant that it didn't matter if the piece was a photograph, etching, installation, or clay pot — it was the idea and concept that mattered. I think the same statement can be applied to writing songs: if you have a story you want to tell, or something that needs to be said, it will find its way out.
Do you ever get inspired to write a song by a piece you’re painting, or vice versa?
I just finished a commission for a couple in Alaska based on my song "The Right Time." They wrote to me and told me of their tumultuous beginnings, how hard it was for them to get together in the beginning. Now they're celebrating 20 years together and wanted a painting to commemorate their anniversary. That song has meant a lot to them and it was so cool to get to see it and hear it in a different way, knowing it meant something so different to these women than it has to me. It changed the song for me and in the end, is probably more a gift for me than it is for them!
Check out the making of Gypsies & Clowns and get to know the fierce females whose marks are all over this record in the video below.