Hi Fashion is ‘Amazing’: The Band Talks Art, Music, Sex and New Music
Donned in dramatic makeup, flamboyant flair and towering powdered wigs, Hi Fashion combines art and music on a catwalk. For more than five years, this doublet, made up of the striking vocals of Jen DM and backing beats by Rick Grandone, has been delivering wicked glam, electro, hip-pop.
The out runway rockers fuse punk, rock, dance with campy, fetching 1990’s-dance club-style empowering anthems. Think Grace Jones, Scissor Sisters, Ziggy Stardust, Price Poppycock and Tracy Thorn. With backgrounds in music and creative arts, their elaborate live performances are nothing short of interactive art showpieces.
With the help of the internet, the band has released two independent EP’s. 2011’s Sprechen Sie Hi Fashion? produced the hits “Amazing,” which appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6 with the video featuring alum Raja, and “You Tuk My Luk.” 2013 marked the band’s release of their latest EP, You Are Gorgeous. Among its hits are the self-tiled track, “Eighteen” and “Lighthouse,” which appeared on the indie LGBT coming-of-age hit, G.B.F.
Earlier this month, the band hinted at new music. They took to their Facebook page, posting photos from, what appears to be, a video shoot. The photo caption even teased a song title “Where is the Party?” Grandone said, “we have a ton of new music, moving in a slightly different direction.”
I chatted with the ‘Gorgeous’ glam-rockers. Our conversation ran the gamut from drag queens and bears to their libidinous love of pupusas and Hobbits.
Fire Down Below: Jen, you went from almost being in all girl metal band to this synth-glam duo. How did that happen?
Jen DM: Basically, I was in talks with someone about doing a project. We met a few times. It was somebody I had worked with on a fundraiser. We had performed together and had had good chemistry. So, we thought, “let’s do this” but it wasn’t really lifting off. In the midst of that, Rick approached me more than once and was like, “Hey, do you want to do some music?” I told him I was busy and doing this other project. Additionally, I had sung back-up for Rick in a different show. But because I was involved with this other thing, he went away and wrote the instrumentation for a few songs that turned out to be Hi Fashion songs. Then, he came to me again and was like “How about you just do one song with me? No commitment – no expectations.” And then, it never ended. [Laughs]
Rick Grandone: It was the day you never left.
Jen: Yea, I started wearing your clothes.
Rick: It was a very lesbian experience. We were married instantly.
Rick, how did you get your start in music to becoming part of this “power queer duo,” as I call it?
Rick: I love “power queer.” It’s so hot. [Laughs] I had a band like 10 years ago in New York that was called Optigraph and we had like a little bit of a moment. That was really the only project I had ever done. Then, I kind of stopped playing and moved to Los Angeles. I studied music when I was young, piano for like 10 years as a kid because my dad’s a musician. So, I was always in love with music – making music. I just hadn’t really thought of doing a larger project again. It was really Jen, in a lot of ways, that really inspired everything. Writing those tracks, it was more of experimentation. But then, when Jen and I played together for the first time, I had a vision of what she would be like on stage. [Laughs] She was definitely my muse. There was always this vision of Jen doing things. I was trying to be really casual on that first day I met her, but in reality I was thinking, “I wrote these songs for you. You need to sing them.” [Laughs] I was hoping I wasn’t too stalkery or weird about it.
Rick: At the end of the day, the other things I’d been doing hadn’t really been making it above ground since Optigraph. That was also kind of different than this. That was more hip-hoppy, Beastie Boys – not that this isn’t NOT Beastie Boys but different. It’s always an interesting thing – Jen and I talk about this all the time – the kind of energy that people create together, is not necessarily your individual taste or what you’re intending to do. With Hi Fashion, that is what is fascinating about it. I love the music that we do and it definitely has all the influences that we both care about but it stems out of the two of us; the energy of us being together.
Jen: It’s also inspired a lot by the way we joke around with each other; our rapport and our banter. What we say to make other laugh ends up in a song half the time. [Laughs]
Rick: A lot of it. [Laughs]
With that, “I’m Not Madonna” is a great, campy song. Was that song inspired by real life events?
Rick: “I’m not Madonna” was entirely that experience. That track happened because we were texting each other one time. Jen had just gotten this bob haircut where she looked like Halle Berry, who was on the cover of Vogue at the time & Jen texted me saying, “Why does everybody keep calling me Halle Berry? It’s really driving me crazy.” Two hours later, there was a song called “I’m not Madonna.”
You’ve really utilized the internet as a platform for your career and even Kickstarter to launch your EP’s.
Jen: It truly is the power of the internet. We’re running with it. While we’re not touring everywhere – though we’d like to – our music is getting out there. It’s thrilling!
Rick: Thank God for things like YouTube. It was a piece of a show that Perez Hilton saw and how he found out about us. It was something that really opened up the door to the way people speak to each other now. We try to put out as many videos as possible. We did four or five in 2013, which is a lot. Videos are really the way people see you now. If you have a cool video, everyone will post it or send it to their friends. Everybody finds out about it that way. When Beyonce released her last album [Beyonce] with all videos, we were like, “Oh, Yes!” That’s everything we’ve been saying. You have to be able to watch the music now.
You’ve been working together since 2009, and become especially big on the East coast and the UK. Recently, your popularity is growing slowly across the states, with the 2010 single “Amazing” and most recently “Pupusa.” What do you attribute that to? Is it just that Europeans have better taste in music? [Laughs]
Jen: [Laughs] I think that electro-pop/electro-house music is more popular in Europe. It’s just – I don’t know – more celebrated there. That’s part of it. We’re more “mainstream” and popular there.
Rick: Yes. The word “mainstream” kicks something in my head. I feel that, in some ways, there’s an ability for independent acts to bubble up in Europe. Especially when you’re making things with any kind of pop-ness to them, it’s so difficult when you’re up against these gigantic record label machines. To try and separate yourself and come forward, especially when the labels don’t spend money on development anymore. It is true that the electro-pop kind of stuff is a little more mainstream in Europe than it is here right now. Although, I think that a lot of what we do sort of fits closely with what’s happening individually. For example, there’s aspects of Nicki Minaj songs that make me think, “That’s so Hi Fashion.” There’s moments inside all of those kinds of rappy acts that are similar to us.
I read that you said you knew you made it when you saw a drag queen perform your song “Amazing.” It was actually my favorite drag queen/bartender Addison Taylor, at Parliament House here in Orlando, who introduced me to your music a while back, by playing your videos during happy hour.
Rick: Awesome! Oh, my God, that’s so great! We’ve been very lucky that in the United States, that the drag community has embraced us. It all kind of trickles from RuPaul’s Drag Race. People like Raja and Jinkx Monsoon have been performing our music all over the world. Plus, we love a bitchy line in a song. [Laughs] So, it’s easy for drag queens to totally latch on to the fabulousness of what we’re doing and try it on, if you will. We’ve been really lucky that way.
Jen: I love that! It really does feel like it’s been the drag community that’s gotten our music further than we ever could’ve. Being on the RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 trailer has been really integral and exciting. Yes, it is Raja and Jinkx but it’s also Yara Sofia and tons of other queens all over. We get sent videos of “whatever” queen from “whatever” club performing [to Hi Fashion.]
Rick: Years ago, [the first time we heard about it], we were sent a link of a queen performing “Amazing.” It was like 10 people in a bar and his wig fell off. We were both crying and laughing over it; we were so thrilled. When someone performs your music, that’s such a high compliment. They want to act out the world that you’re creating. There’s no bigger compliment than that. We had no idea how this guy had even heard of us.
I love that we’re in a society that really acknowledges the power of the gays. [Laughs]
Rick: I feel like it’s about community as well. We both identify as part of the queer community. We’re making music we love based on our lives. So, it’s satisfying to have people say “Yes, this speaks to my life, too.” It feels like we’re kind of nailing something. Sometimes it can be difficult making music, always worrying about the abstract notion that “I hope all of these people like me.” It’s nice to be able to make stuff that is honest and true to you and then have people in your community say, “Yes, it’s honest and true to me, too.”
Where do the concepts for your videos come from? Is there a rhyme or reason to them?
Rick: I think there’s a rhyme and reason. [Laughs] We definitely talk about concepts a lot. We’re pulling tons of images from fashion magazines or performance art stuff, that feels like it has something to do with the music. We both have strong art backgrounds. Jen has a lot of performance art background, and I went to school for Art History. So, we’re both very arty in that way. We tend to approach it as a “Fall Art Project.” Sometimes, we’ll go, “This an unbelievable, crazy concept. We have to use this!” But most of the time, it’s mapped and thought out in terms of follow-through. When we’re working with other directors or artists, we like to give them space to do their thing.
Jen: We work with a great choreographer, Danny Dolan. He was in our very first show. He wasn’t our choreographer then. We were doing extremely experimental movements early on. We still do, if you’ve ever seen footage of our live shows. He approached us and said he wanted to choreograph some stuff for us. We were like, “Great. Do it. Awesome.” We need help. [Laughs] I mean, we had about 20 people on stage for our very first show, all in costumes. We set the bar there and never backed away from it. So, yea, we talk about concepts; we talk about it, we laugh about it. We nix things; “I hate that,” “I like this.” At the last minute, we might not use something and save it for the next show. We talk it out, which is great. We all put in our two-cents.
Rick: Totally. When we made the “Pupusa” video, we just gave some basic ideas and [the director] ran with it. Nina McNeely, who directed the “Lighthouse” video was so spectacular. She just brings a completely other aesthetic that feels really related to what we were doing prior. We want to expand the range of the way the music is and the way to present it. So, I think working with other people is a great way to do that. They just bring a totally different view to the room. It’s exciting.
With that, what’s with the song “Pupusa?” Does someone have an affinity for tortillas? [Laughs]
Jen: [Laughs] Yes. The reason that song came to be is because, for a really long time, Rick and I had this ritual. We would go to band practice, then after go to this pupusanilla, which was in our neighborhood. We had, like, a little business meeting over pupusas. One night afterward, we were waiting to cross the street at a red light and we both were dancing and singing about them because they are so ridiculous good. We were both like, “Oh, no. Now we have to write a song about them.” We were just so ridiculous, over-the-top in love with them. And obviously, there’s a double entendre there. It’s totally slang.
Rick: I liked the idea of a girl singing that as well. Another nod to the queer background. Plus, we’re both Italian, so food and sex are inexplicably linked.
Jen: [Laughs] A straight shot to the heart.
You’ve played some interesting live shows; “Folsom Street Fair” and “Hey Tranny it’s Tranny.” Any interesting stories or encounters you can share?
Rick: Oh, my God, I think when we played Blowpony [in Portland], somebody got pregnant.
Jen: Oh, my God, Blowpony was epic! Everybody got naked in the audience. It was literally like, I said, “Take your clothes off” and everybody did. I was thinking, nowhere else would they do this. It was insane. Folsom is a blast. We really feel like we’re at home there. It’s interesting, we have a large Leather Community following. Our fan base is expanding but for the longest time, it seemed like all Leather Bears.
Rick: Performing in San Francisco, there would be a wall of giant, hairy men singing all of our songs. These would even be songs we had just written.
Jen: I know! I was like, “You’ve never heard this.” [Laughs]
Rick: We played Splash in New York for their anniversary. They sent a bunch of their dancers up to do their thing. At the end of the show, I was like, “Where’s Jen?” I look over and see this tiny person in a jumpsuit, surrounded by these giant guys with huge smiles on their faces. Everybody wanted a selfie. There was no way to get to her.
Jen: [Laughs] It was funny. People ask me a lot, “You’re in a band; you must meet girls all the time?” I tell them, it’s actually mostly huge, gorgeous, beefy gay men. I have all these new best friends. [Laughs] It’s fun. It works for me.
Who’s your celebrity hook-up fantasy?
Rick: Oooh, so decadent. No one’s ever asked us that. I’m going to say Lee Pace. I’m going for gay. When those posters came out for The Hobbit, with him as King of the elves, I was like (gasp). With him in all of his King of the elves glory – that’s my guy. Right there. [Laughs] Yes, I want to be with the gay King of the elves. [Laughs]
Jen: Oh, my God. Celebrity hook-up? I mean, is this for a month? A weekend? A season or a lifetime? [Laughs] I love this question! I’m completely stumped. There’s not a ton of celebs that I like. I mean, I love them, but I’m not hot for them. I’m going to say, Ryan Gosling. There, I said it. That’s easy. That’s a no-brainer.
Rick: I’d gladly do a Ryan Gosling sandwich. You can make-out and I’ll deal with the rest of it or vice versa.
Jen: [Laughs] We can work it out.
Final Question: when are you coming to Florida?
Rick: All we need is a invitation. We had this conversation with our old booking agent about doing a bunch of dates, including Parliament House. We know we want to play there, for sure! I love me some Miami, too.
Jen: My mom [who lives in Florida], would be at every show. She’s the Queen of the queens.
Rick: She’s the leader of the fan club. She’d be dragging every gay from Sarasota to wherever we were. It’ be awesome!
Jen: We’d love to come to Florida. It’d be a blast!
Rick: We’re easy dates. Any invitation will do. Just get us there.