Text by Oliver Kupper
Photographs by Matt Lambert
Drag terrorist or gendercidal maniac, Christeene is a fucking sensation. The first time I saw her play was out of the Printed Matter Book Fair at the MoCA in Los Angeles. Convulsing, screaming, genital grabbing, torrents and torrents of sweat – the experience was both horrifying and tantric. Knowing where her hands had gone and been during the performance, I was slightly reluctant to offer my hand for a mutual greeting after she stepped off stage. But that reluctance quickly dissolved, much like my expectations and preconceived notions about the fearlessness one can have as an entertainer, and the electric connection a performer can have with the audience. In our interview, Christeene talks about her connection to the audience – I use the word ‘tantric’ because of its sexual connotation, but also because it’s a Sanskrit word that can loosely be transcribed as the stretching and weaving of shared energies. Her connection to the audience also extends to micturating directly on them, but apparently that only happened once. In her new music video for the track Butt Muscle, produced by designer Rick Owens, and directed by Matt Lambert, Christeene can be seen offering a steady, arched jet unswervingly into Owens’ welcoming mouth with steam drifting, angelically upward. I got a chance to speak to Christeene from Austin, Texas – her home turf – about Rick Owens and the making of the Butt Muscle music video, which premiered during Paris Fashion Week, and the chrysalis-like transformation of Christeene.
OLIVER KUPPER: How are you?
CHRISTEENE: I’m good.
Thank you for taking the time to chat.
Thank you for calling on time.
I try to be punctual.
Oh good, sometimes they don’t call for days. [giggles]
Oh yeah, or ever.
Or ever, sometimes they never call - which is nice sometimes.
Sometimes it is nice, I am actually really happy when people don’t get back to me.
Yeah, I agree, especially in this day and age, I have no brain capacity for it all.
How are you doing?
I am good.
We met at that book fair!
Yes, we met at the book fair after your performance.
It’s a haze for me!
Yeah, you were completely drenched in sweat and we shook hands afterwards. I think Mel introduced us - how do you know Mel?
I met Mel at the book fair! I was running around the stage and Mel was running around the stage, we kind of made eye contact and I think we had met before, but again, the hazy brain, you know. We just kind of knew that we should talk to each other and we did and we discovered that we had other people in the orbit of our lives, so it was a very nice meeting in Los Angeles with Mel.
It’s funny how a lot of our orbits connect.
Yeah, there’s a lot and it’s fun when the planets get closer and closer and then you get that super-nova bang, it’s really good.
Yeah, it’s kind of magical.
Yeah I’m believing in that these days.
So, what are you up to these days? Are you performing? Where are you? What part of the world are you in?
Well right now I am in Austin and I am hanging out, listening to some John Grant and eating some pineapples, and I have a new collection of work, it’s coming out soon. So now I am speaking with lots of other planets and we are getting lots of things aligned to start setting out this fine new collection that I’ve been carrying in a little backpack on my back.
Do you feel like you are getting a lot of attention after that music video came out?
There’s a lot more conversation going on and it’s kind of been a wonderful way of being able to plug in with a lot more people out there who have possibly the same feelings or who have great fears about the whole thing. It has definitely brought about a lot more to the table in terms of sharing this work with more and more people which is what I very much, very much love to do.
Yeah, absolutely, it seems like it’s reaching a lot of people.
Yeah, it’s all due to the respect of the platforms that I was able to kind of ride up on, which was Rick and Matt and those wonderful people. They have wonderful homes and it’s nice to visit those places. When they let the monster in we all get to sit at the table and make a lot of food to share.
I feel like Rick Owen’s house in Paris is incredible. I have never been there, but it looks incredible.
It’s like a piece of work. It’s never the same and Michele is always running around changing it. It’s like a very dark Auntie Mame house. It’s always changing, but it’s not extravagant. It’s as bare bones as a piece of stone. It’s always got life inside of it and it’s very calming and soothing and it’s a wonderful place to rest within.
So how did that video come about? Did Rick Owens reach out to you? Did you know Rick already?
Yeah, I met Rick a long time ago in 2011, I think. He brought me and my boys to Paris to perform at his Spotlight Club party. It was a fine affair and we kind of fell into each other’s lives and maintained a nice conversation over the years and kept seeing each other when I had the fortune of jumping over the ocean and going there for tour. So, you know, we got to a stage in our relationship where I said: “Hey Rick, why don’t we make a baby?” I was very curious to see what our baby would look like and he was, of course, all about it. Then he mentioned that Matt Lambert was also talking to him about doing some work together because Matt had been to their home and Matt saw a picture of me on the wall - some terrible picture, I can’t remember - and then the planets crashed and we all decided that it would be lots of fun to use all our efforts to make one hell of a baby. It coincided with me being ready to release my first song from the collection and so we decided that it was a good time to fuck.
I feel like the world needs that right now.
I do too and I did and I do and I continue to. That wasn’t my plan, I want to continue to build and share and work with people I love and try to put a dent in this shit we are dealing with. Not intentionally, but I know it most probably will, especially with the way it looks out there right now. I am glad that many people have let us know that the work has inspired them and let them find a hole to lay inside.
I want to talk about Paul. Do you like talking about that or is that something....
I don’t usually talk much about that. I don’t know man, not really, I don’t really associate with that one over there.
Well my question is: Do you avoid questions about Paul?
I do. I came to life, I remember, about nine years ago and there’s some sort of life force that brought me here and I just remember dark places and dirt. I feel some sort of life force coming from some sun and if we are going to stick on this out of space conversation, I think there is a bit of a sun that I am revolving around. I do hear mention of Paul and I do believe that whatever that Paul essence is, it’s definitely keeping me alive.
I have been watching interviews and stuff like that and over the years you have been becoming who you are now. It seems there’s a very chrysalis-like ring to the name Christeene. Does that make sense?
You know, nine years is not a long time but a lot can happen in nine years and I have found myself in ways of meeting other people and listening to the bird in my throat that sings to me and expressing those songs. I have watched my hair grow long, I have watched my eyes turn a brighter blue and I have watched the things I wrap myself up in take new shapes and forms. It feels empowering and it feels like something I can believe in. I just want to continue to follow those changes and let the bird keep singing inside of me.
You have a lot of amazing attributes that make you Christeene. When you are getting ready for the day or a show, is there one definitive thing that defines Christeene?
It’s my hair. It’s got life. I take on lots of objects, I like to see life get thrown into these objects, these symbols that we have and wear and draw on ourselves and surround ourselves with. I have seen many things that I personally like to put on me or that have somehow, slowly become their own organism or their own life force. One thing that never seems to change on me, except for the length, is my hair. It has lots of life and it gives me strength.
You and Rick Owens have amazing hair.
(Laughs) He’s got some hair on him! That’s what I liked when I met him because me, him and even Michele was like, “this is a nice little circle of power here.”
And it makes a pretty good cameo in the Butt Muscle music video.
It makes a great dick up my butt.
Cameo if you will, to be polite.
I was reading the Dazed interview and they say something amazing: that you are this generation’s Divine, but they censored parts of the video, how do you feel about that?
I was unhappy with it. They didn’t remove parts, they just put a little bit of square of blurry over ass or [Ashley] Ryder putting his hand up the butt. I don’t subscribe to that kind of shit. Rick and I both were talking that we do not like to compromise and it was a situation where the compromise was very small. Then we were very happy just to know that once that first compromised piece of work was sent out you could immediately reroute yourself to the original form and see it for yourself. I don’t feel super happy about that because I don’t think anything like that needs to be compromised. But we had to sit back and understand, or they had to explain to me this wild animal, what was going on. At the end of the day we agreed that it was okay.
It’s like Japanese porn - in Japanese porn they blur out all the exciting parts.
Exactly, and what’s so much fun about that? Nothing.
You really want to make sure that people see everything.
There’s beauty in all of that and there’s so much beauty. That’s why I asked Ashley Ryder to be in the video because I find what he does and his personality and his heart are so pure and sweet. I think that the actions that he does upon his butt are very reminiscent of the feeling that I have right now, that’s all.
Was it you who called yourself a drag terrorist or was that a journalist who called you that?
That was a long time ago. I make most of my videos with P.J. Raval in Austin. He’s a filmmaker and many times he was bombarded by people trying to compartmentalize what the fuck I was and what the fuck we were doing. We were always inspired by Vaginal Davis, who was always the drag terrorist and that was the title that Vaginal walked around with – with a lot of pride. It was the only thing we could find that made any sense, and just told people to fuck off.
It’s perfect, it sort of encapsulates a lot.
I have a friend in San Francisco named Chloe and this past week she said that I was committing gendercide on all fronts. Gendercide I thought was a good word to just smack drag terrorist out of the way.
That is pretty great, we’ll have to credit Chloe with that term. Do you think that queer communities need to take a more active role in demystifying the stigma to gain an equal playing field or do you sort of enjoy the fringeness in queer culture?
Do you mean like demystify the mystery of us all?
Yeah, I mean...
I don’t like demystifying things. I don’t like when queers go on the television machine and break it all down. I think that we need mystery and we need our secrets and we need our gallery spaces - be it a bar or a cemetery or a parking lot at night in a dark car. I think those places are sacred to us and I am not so keen or excited to demystify our mysterious lives. I think that they need to stay in their own magical place. I think they obtain and hold onto a lot more power that way.
A couple of years ago I was talking to Bruce La Bruce about this - who is very extreme. His view is that he wanted to exist on the edge because the edge has opened all these avenues for creativity.
They always will and if you’re on the edge you’re going to be the first to see something out in the darkness that no one else can see.
That’s a really good way to put it.
You have to be brave enough to stand on that beautiful point. You have to be brave enough to stand close to that darkness.
I think artists in general should be standing on that edge, no matter who they are.
I think many of the ones we like, do.
Yeah, exactly. Some get crucified for it but...
Absolutely, some of them fall into the darkness and we never see them again.
But at least they did go that far.
Yeah, and hopefully they tied a rope around their leg and we can hold on.
Or some kind of anchor, to find their work later or something.
Going back a little bit, growing up, where did you find your creative outlet?
I found it a lot in aggression and I found it a lot in sexual situations that I was curious about, or that were unattainable, or that were just swimming through my atmosphere. I found it in a great curiosity of who I was. I kind of landed in the middle of this madness and images thrown at me. This pop culture madness, and these strange people all around me. I just felt the need to devour everything at once and let it go to my bowels, shit it out and serve it back and see what these things around me would feel about looking and smelling and tasting their own shit. It was a very mechanical, monstrous kind of beginning for me. I just devoured everything.
There are a lot of punk vibrations to your music. How would you describe your music?
I think the music represents a bit of what I just said in that the music is many layers of shit that reverberate different sounds from different styles of music. It is the digestion that I did with things that were in front of me. The sounds that came out were just the product of all of these different things that were bombarding me. I don’t like to find myself in a particular boat for all time’s sake, listening to the same sounds. I don’t think we have one sound within us and I don’t think it’s possible. So I try to find the song inside of me and I try to find a producer around me who can tap into all the different sounds but create a family of it - a body of work for it. But I don’t know how to classify my sound. I do hear punk and when I sound punk, I felt punk and it made sense to me. So I slept with and I let it take over me and that’s the sound that came out of me.
And performance is a really big part of who you are. Is it more cathartic to perform than it is to make music in the studio?
I much prefer to perform. I want to plug into people, I want to be up on that stage and I want people to continue to bombard me with everything they brought in that room. I want to take it in and I want to explode with it or die with it or turn into a fucking rainbow with it. I don’t know, I just want to be a vessel for it and the stage is the most real, pure, raw, fuck you can have with people and it gives me the most pleasure and it strengthens me.
Do you have a ritual before you go on stage?
Well, I always take a piss in a cup because I always gotta piss unless I want to hold it and pee on stage which I like to do sometimes. I peed on Jonny Woo in London and that was fun. I always give my boys a strong hug and we look each other in the face and a kiss on the lips and we pat each other on the ass. I always take a sip of Jack Daniel’s and I like to do some push ups sometimes too.
To amp you up.
Yeah, to turn on my guns.
My last question: So Christeene is here to stay?
I don’t know! I am here to stay but I like the idea that I can die right now. I am here right now and I am thrilled right now and I am ready to fuck stages right now. I have no intention of disappearing right now.