It isn’t too often that a show really surprises me — having spent countless nights at music venues, sometimes I think I’ve seen it all. But last week, I was thrown in truly undisturbed waters when Chicago avant-garde musician Forced Into Feminity turned Spacebar upside down. The music itself, semi-dancey electronic bangs, wasn’t too out-of-the-ordinary; it was the performance that left everyone looking around like, “WTF is happening?!” The set began with a pre-taped warning that cautioned anyone who was uncomfortable being touched, yelled at, or hearing lyrics about discrimination against transgendered people and other potentially triggering topics.
Jill Flanagan, the energetic bomb behind FIF, bounced around the audience screaming in people’s faces, giving piggy-back rides, climbing on top of the bar, and (in one case) stuffing a patron’s red beard into her mouth. And that was only when things were going according to plan. At one point the music and mic cut off, but Jill didn’t even blink. She proceeded to go outside (we all followed), climb onto the roof of Spacebar and start lecturing from up there. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to get into the head of this person. Enjoy.
Photos by Harryson T Photography & matthew warhol.
(I start recording in the middle of a conversation about Andy Warhol.)
Forced Into Femininity: I have this book he wrote about parties.
matthew warhol: Which one?
Forced Into Femininity: It’s just called Parties.
matthew warhol: Parties?
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, it’s just about parties. He interviewed all these different party promoters in the ‘80s. It’s a really interesting book.
matthew warhol: That’s aweseome. I’ve only read A to B and Back Again which is just his sprawlings.
Forced Into Femininity: Oh I love that.
matthew warhol: Really? You’ve read that one?
Forced Into Femininity: That’s his biography, right?
matthew warhol: Yeah, I would say it’s kind of like an autobiography.
Forced Into Femininity: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. It’s hilarious.
matthew warhol: So, for me, that’s the kind of writing I like to do. I’m just very — especially with the interviews — I keep it really real. So I’m recording now. How’s tour been?
Forced Into Femininity: Great, yeah it’s been really long.
matthew warhol: You’re from Chicago right?
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, I’m from Chicago. I’ve lived their most of life. I lived in Oakland for a couple of years, but mostly in Chicago.
matthew warhol: How long have you been doing Forced Into Feminity?
Forced Into Femininity: It’s been like seven years … seven or eight years.
matthew warhol: And what was the initial idea behind it? Did you make similar music before?
Forced Into Femininity: Well, it was different. I mean, I was mostly in bands. This was the first thing I did that was digital — like on a laptop or editing sounds. I’ve been in bands since, but the band at the time … my band broke up and I was really trying like, to do music and stay motivated. And just make music out of a laptop, because I’d never done that. I hadn’t really made anything specifically about being trans, ya know? I had done stuff that had touched on that but like …
matthew warhol: You hadn’t done something that was fully about you?
Forced Into Femininity: No, fully me, but I felt like I wanted to focus more on being trans. because it’s a big part of my identity and I hadn’t really talked about it.
matthew warhol: Has it changed over the last seven years?
Forced Into Femininity: It changes a lot. I mean, musically, it’s changed a lot because I’ve learned how to make music on the computer. And what I’ve wanted to do is changing a lot — I don’t know. At one time it was more dance-based, but I still dance a lot when I’m performing. Yeah, it’s come through a lot of different iterations. It’s kind of like whatever I want to do, so I’ll just change it sometimes. Maybe just play keyboards and sing.
matthew warhol: That’s really interesting to me. I was just talking to one of my friends earlier tonight about how a lot people are leaving bands and doing it more by themselves. Because they can — the technology is there. And like, you’re more … like, not waiting on anyone else. Do you find that you’re more productive? Is it easier?
Forced Into Femininity: It’s not easier. I mean, it’s just different playing in bands. It’s like, you don’t really know a lot of times, when you do things, if it’s like, “Oh, is this good?” I don’t know. I don’t know until I play the songs for people, then I’m like, “Okay, this is good.” You don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of or to cover your mistakes.
matthew warhol: And so like, how often, when you’re playing, does what happened tonight with [the sound going out] happen? Because at that point it’s really out of your hands to a certain extent. You can obviously adapt to it, which you did. But are you prepared for that?
Forced Into Femininity: I had this tour once where I played two shows where there was no P.A. or like all the power went out. So like, I learned from that. I like improvising and just talking, so I prepare like lectures and things I want to talk about.
matthew warhol: Does it change from night to night? Do you build on an idea? Like you have a topic and it evolves?
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, a lot of times I’ll say things and they’ll get more developed and I’ll turn them into lyrics, or I’ll stop saying them. But I have a lot of material that I’ve built up and fall back on. When I don’t know what to do, I try doing something old again.
matthew warhol: And does it happen a lot, where something will come unplugged and you’ll have to react to it?
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, if something goes wrong, instead of trying to fix it, I’m like, “fuck that, we’ll just roll with it.” And we’ll have silence, or I’ll do something else. Because it can be anything, if you’re too focused on it being one way, then it gets stifled.
matthew warhol: Does that keep it exciting for you?
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I enjoy not doing the songs more. Because it’s fresh. Because I can do whatever I want. Where as, since it’s electronic, the music is always going to be the same music. It’s nice to have freedom.
matthew warhol: That made me think of the interview I recently did with J.A.S.O.N., who’s the singer from Shania Pain. I did a story on him, and he was telling me about the reason he improvises. It’s because he gets really bored. Would you feel that way too, if it were to be the same thing over and again?
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, I have a short attention span.
matthew warhol: That’s exactly what he said.
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, I have a short attention span so a lot of times I’m like … “yeah, yeah, okay I gotta …” This time I’ve been … well, I’ve been on tour for four and a half months so I try different techniques to keep it fresh. Trying different songs, or now I have two different sets I play.
matthew warhol: What’s like, one of the craziest reactions someone has had to your performance?
Forced Into Femininity: I don’t know. I’ve had a bunch of weird shows. I had a show in a coffee house in Alabama where everyone got really upset and I had to stop. Yeah, everyone got upset. They were mad because there were children there and they got scared. So that was going on and there were angry parents and it was in a coffee shop, so they were more uptight about me climbing on tables, licking people.
matthew warhol: I mean, you have the warning at the beginning.
Forced Into Femininity: I have a warning, yeah but people are going to get mad. That’s what I realized about the warning, like if people are going to be offended, they’re still going to be offended. Like this guy the last time I played in Orlando, he was really mad that I licked him. And he wanted to fight me. And he was all mad because I didn’t mention it in the statement. He was like, “I heard touching! I didn’t hear anything about licking people!” I should make everyone sign a waiver.
matthew warhol: So like, what was something that was sticking with you tonight? Was there something specific in your head?
Forced Into Femininity: Well, I wanted to talk about the drag show in Key West that was really problematic. Yeah, there’s always a lot of things to talk about but I usually draw a blank when I’m up there. But I wanted to toss in a lot of things about that. It made me think about getting a dollar bill from the audience. Because, symbolically, you’re getting money and that money buys approval. And the drag queens that are less passing or more heavy-set usually don’t get as many people watching them, or they get a pity dollar. It’s kind of like a system of capital approval.
matthew warhol: Thanks for sharing that.
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah sure.
matthew warhol: It was really nice talking to you.
Forced Into Femininity: Yeah, nice talking to you.