Alexis Gideon, a musician and visual artist who’s performed and exhibited throughout the world, and Michael O’Neill, a musician who’s collaborated with JD Samson of the indie rock acts Le Tigre and MEN, first formed the art-pop act Princess back in 2004.
After taking a hiatus in 2006, they returned to the group in 2017 to create Out There
, a new video performance piece. They come to town on Friday, March 29, to perform the piece at 7 p.m. at MOCA
The piece opens with "Hello (This Is How We Go)," a poppy number that features rapping and a propulsive drumbeat. They then proceed to explore the role men ought to play during the current cultural reckoning. The video’s science fiction narrative explores the power of the "Divine Feminine" and features collaborations with JD Samson, visual artist Jennifer Meridian and the band TEEN.
At MOCA, Gideon and O’Neill will perform the music alongside the projection of the video.
In a recent phone interview, they both talked about the piece.
The first show of the tour was at the Warhol in Pittsburgh. What was that like?
It was a really fabulous evening. We had the world premiere there. It was a great night. It was sold out. It was really fun, and people seemed engaged. We had a wonderful time.
When people do the art thing, cities like New York and L.A. get the main attention. For us, it was good to do it someplace different. We felt connected to the staff at the Warhol and were excited to have it there.
Another thing that made it make sense is that the piece itself has affinity with Warhol’s work. It features bold, saturated colors. It’s campy but still tackling issues that are relevant.
What’s it been like to play at all these cool spaces?
It’s really gratifying. We’re only eight shows in, but it’s been awesome, and we’re having such a good time.
Talk about your background. How’d you get into both music and visual art?
Princess was formed in 2004 in Chicago. Alexis and I had known each other for years in college. We broke up the band in 2006, and I joined Ladybug Transistor and joined with JD Samson, who’s a Cleveland native, and she was a member of Le Tigre. We then formed MEN, which toured for a number of years. We had a crossover experience. We were mixed in with the art world and music world. Our music was really political and related to queer issues and women’s issues. We had our hands in playing in a few different art environments.
From the beginning, even before we were Princess, it was never just a concert. We were always pushing concepts. Our interests were always aligned with performance art more than just straight music. When Princess split, I was performing solo stuff. I then made a shift, and I wanted there to be a narrative element, so I made these videos based on mythology. I would make these videos and play the music alongside the projection. The context changed, and it was more museums and galleries, and it developed from there, and I got more entrenched in the visual art world.
Your latest project is a concept album in the tradition of Ziggy Stardust and Deltron 3030. Talk about your take on the concept album.
The concept album tradition of telling a story from beginning to end is obviously there. We started making the music more casually in the beginning. That was just before the 2016 election. As soon as that hit, and we attended the women’s march in 2016 in Washington, D.C., that inspired us to make something bigger out of this musical collaboration that was just intended to be fun. We took what we had been working on — music and lyrics — and when we dug deeper into it, we realized all those events politically and culturally and socially had informed the music, and we discovered the narrative at that moment. From there, we decided to make the story about two white men in this culturally significant moment for women. We want to show our support for the women’s movement and to understand our own feelings about what’s going on. We want to try to make sense of it and process it through a story.
It’s an examination of masculinity in this moment culturally.
It looks like you have some outlandish costumes. Is that the case?
Ever since Princess started in the beginning, we had really wild costumes. I would often perform in a baseball cap and a tutu. It’s at the foundation of what Princess is about. It’s about blurring lines not just in terms of gender but artistically too. It’s a concept album and performance art. Musically, we have such a wide range of influences from classic ‘90s hip-hop to avant garde jazz to country music. The outfits are an expression of that ethos.
Talk about the band TEEN. I know they contributed.
They’re a trio of three sisters. They’re friends of ours and they live in Brooklyn where I live. Once we discovered the narrative of the piece and we were shaping it, we came up with this idea that there would be this Divine Feminine Planet that guides Princess. We asked some women to collaborate with us and we asked TEEN and they agreed. Their voices appear throughout the piece.
Pittsburgh artist Jennifer Meridian made all the imagery to represent the Divine Feminine Planet. JD Samson collaborated and co-wrote one of the songs that was the transmission from the planet. It’s amazing how it came out. The piece is about how men need to take a more passive role and be more receptive. The piece is about how it’s time for men to listen and take a less passive role. The women did things their own way, and it was a million times better.
What do you hope people take away from seeing the performances?
For me, the piece is so driven by the women’s movement, and I’m interested in knowing what men take away from it, and if they get the message that relinquishing power and control by listening is the idea behind it. I feel like the message can be taken to the extent of world leadership and major powers, but even in your own life and daily experiences, it’s about how you participate in a model where the man is the controller or dominator, and it’s about how you recognize that.
Building on what Michael says, it’s even about trying to change simple things, like how men interrupt women more often in conversations. Also, for me, there’s an inherent contradiction in that we’re saying that men need to listen and then we’re doing shows all over the country. We’re not saying we have the answers. If it opens people up to want to discuss and start a discourse, that’s what I hope people get out of it. We poke fun at ourselves. We don’t present this as a finished idea or solution. We’re saying that we need to talk about these things, and we want to figure these things out together.
Out There, 7 p.m. Friday, March 29, Museum of Contemporary Art, 11400 Euclid Ave., 216-421-8671 Tickets: Free, mocacleveland.org
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