Copyslut, La Llorona, and the Radical Healing Powers of Pleasure

by Sep 5, 2019Interviews, Music

Copyslut flaunts the theatrical charm of a glam band, but that doesn’t mean they’re all flash and no substance. They make bold music about sex work, queer love, and mixed-race identity. I got to interview lead singer Chatz and lead guitarist Ray about their influences, the story of their band name, and how a karaoke performance of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” started it all. Their upcoming song, “Makers Mark,” spins the story of La Llorona as a feminist punk ballad. It comes out September 27th.

I’m quite fond of your name. What’s the story behind it?

Awww, thank you! We were inspired by two besties on Instagram with matching purple butterfly stripper heels and the caption #copysluts. On one level, a copyslut is a slut who enjoys twining with a fellow slut. It’s also someone who likes photocopying their genitals whenever possible… ha! But going further, unpacking what it means for us comes in two parts.

[First, there’s] COPY: It’s interdependence. Nothing in music is written in a vacuum. Consciously and subconsciously, everyone is influenced by the music they’ve heard. Instead of striving for originality, we honor those who have come before us and made us possible. We know that our inherited gifts and traumas will come out through our music. We do this happily and explicitly in our lyrics and instrumentation. Of course, we write from our own personal experiences and stay grounded in the present. We also think about what we can make possible for the future generation of powerful babes.

And then there’s SLUT: It’s a reclamation! We believe in the radical healing powers of pleasure. Our intention is to carve out shame-free spaces for people to connect. We facilitate healing through inclusion and compassion. Our bodies are our business and we celebrate all of our communities: queer & trans folk, non-monogamous babes, mixed race babies, sex workers, and sluts everywhere. We stand proud in our sluttiness. It’s needed for sex education, as well as resistance to the laws and cultural norms that replicate stigma, control, and death.

What’s the creation story of Copyslut? How did it all come together?

Chatz here. I met Ray about four years ago on my birthday after participating in a powerful MLK day event. We were at my local karaoke spot. Ray saw me ham it up while singing “I Want to Break Free” by Queen and said we should jam sometime. I remember being totally flattered, but with my choir and musical theater background, I didn’t think “secular” music was my strength. They laughed and called bullshit. Since then, they have continued to coax, muse, and encourage my growth as a performing artist.

Ray is truly the most gentle, badass metal guitarist in the world. Copyslut wouldn’t even BE if it weren’t for their ability to see the potential in others. They saw me as a performer with gifts to offer our communities and I’ll always be grateful for how we came together. It opened up an intensely beautiful time of transformation for me.

Our first show was a Queen cover set for a Pride benefit two years ago. All proceeds from the event went to The Universe is Lit (now called The Multiverse is Illuminated), a black and brown punk festival here in Oakland. We played with a few good friends – Kendal on drums and Santiago on bass.

We just played our third Pride show in June called Sex Work Is Gay, a benefit for the SF based Homeless Youth Alliance. The reception we’ve gotten from our community has the gusto to turn this beautiful love project into a movement. The songs we write are manifestations of the most challenging and deeply invigorating healing work that we do in our personal lives. They contain the messages that we need to be hearing. We hope others in this world will benefit from them as well.

I got a chance to listen to “Makers Mark,” your new song which is set to debut soon. It feels like a feminist take on the vampire myth: there’s ghost mothers, crimson oaths, haunted heritages. Tell me more about the song. What’s it about?

Ray here! Thank you for listening, and we absolutely can’t wait to share it with the world on September 27th. Makers Mark is a song written for all the mixed-race babies who experience the gifts and sacrifices that come with edgewalking power.

Yes, it is definitely a dark and sexy vampire song, and it’s also a cross-over with the Mexican legend of La Llorona. If you aren’t familiar, traditionally, she was said to be the most beautiful woman in her town. She married a man and had two kids. When she learned of her husband’s infidelity, she drowned her two children in a river to spite him. After she realized what she had done, she threw herself into the river, filled with grief. Her ghost still wanders the riverbed looking for children to take as her own. It is often told as a cautionary tale, used by parents to scare their children into behaving. I remember La Llorona and other ghost stories being used between me and my cousins growing up to scare each other into silence or compliance.

In Copyslut’s rendition, La Llorona is a bad ass hot mama who made hard choices for the preservation of her children and culture. We are bored of the “scary hysterical woman” trope. We want our mythologies to dig deeper and ask what might cause her or any oppressed person to make the choices they do. This was our first song that was a whole fan fiction short story: we created a world and took time to develop a backstory. It felt like a calling for vindication by empowering women represented in myth and history.

Ultimately, it is a way for me to explore the nuances of my mixed race identity and inheritance. When we play it, we work to make space for those in resistance to colonization, especially the brown & indigenous women of Mexico.

Copyslut

Copyslut. Photo by Kristen Wrezeneski

Who are your influences, musical or otherwise?

There would be no Copyslut without the majestic and illustrious Queen. Our band can be a bit hard to pin down because our influences are wide ranging. Chatz grew up on musical theater, church choir, and family songs around a piano. Ray was born and bred on heavy metal. Eli is a conservatory trained saxophone player who plays bass in Copyslut. Philosophically we are influenced by liberation movements, Audre Lorde, Nietzsche, and our therapists. A brief list of artists and bands we feel have moved us to write include Bobby Gentry, Jenny Lewis, Eartha Kitt, Ani DiFranco, Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, our parents, and our grandparents.

Chatz, I’ve read that you’ve also written for and edited a zine called “Don’t Hate My Heels.” Can you tell me a little about that project?

Yes, I am a contributor and co-editor for Don’t Hate My Heels: “A Confrontation with Whorephobia in Which the Whores’ Win.” This zine is in my close constellation of love projects with some of my dearest friends. It’s a collaboration between me and other sex workers, some named and some anonymous. We all tell personal narratives of everyday stigma, provide resources for sex workers and their supporters, and respond to the recent passage of SESTA/FOSTA (a series of new internet laws that directly harm sex workers). We try to push beyond basic humanization and advocate for self-love, boundaries, privacy, and decriminalization.

The zine was the first time I came out in writing as both queer and a sex worker. It was an important part of me finding my power and courage. It helps me feel strong and grounded in my choice to come out as queer, non-monogamous, and a sex worker when I perform.

It’s so disheartening to see how SESTA/FOSTA has impacted our communities since releasing this zine – we didn’t know all the ways in which it would actually manifest when we first wrote it. Even Copyslut’s social media platforms experience the ripple effects of SESTA/FOSTA with algorithmic flagging, shadow banning, and content removal. It’s like a giant censorship amoeba. Social media is an important place where oppressed communities find connection, others with shared experiences, education, and healing. When queer and sex working communities are censored it become more dangerous for us to exist.

Our band hustles hard for this zine, and we sell them at every show. It’s awesome to have something tangible for our fans to read – it gives them insight into some of our politics and philosophies. The zine’s relationship with the band makes me feel like I am in the most beautiful art-collective ecosystem. “Don’t Hate My Heels” is free for sex workers, and everyone else is asked for a donation. All proceeds support sex worker-led organizations that offer direct services to their community. You can purchase it online.

You describe the zine as a place where sex workers connect, defend themselves, and educate others. How does this sex worker advocacy influence your music?

In a fundamental way, it affects the music we write because our music is an extension of our lived experiences.

Our music is one of my therapies. I work through a lot of my real time healing projects in my song writing. I find that the constraints of writing a song help me get at the messages I need to hear in order to heal. I process the violence I have faced within the sex working community in our song “The Offering”. I process what it was like growing up a sheltered slutty queer Mormon and then becoming a sex worker in “Right By You.” “Hooker Homecoming” is a protective, money-making spell. I have been mostly closeted during my time as a sex worker, and I still live closeted in certain contexts. Now it is much harder to do this, both because I am so public and also because being closeted comes at a real cost to my mental health and overall wellbeing.

I feel our advocacy work strongly in our musical performance. I sometimes like to call myself a Stripper Off Broadway, not only because I’ve worked on Broadway in SF (a well known street for strip clubs), but also because I am so influenced by Broadway musicals. And who doesn’t appreciate a good dad-pun?

Part of my work as a performer is to bridge the gaps between sex working and queer communities, which have a long history of overlap and shared struggles. There are other wonderful people who are also doing this and I am honored to be working with and around them. I hope our impact encourages others to create spaces that do not exclude but embrace and find joy in our overlapping histories while honoring our different experiences.

You’ve described yourselves as “cabaret rock.” Do you like to bring the campy, sexy vibe of a cabaret to your music or performances?

Oh yea. We do the most and take pride in being hella “Extra.” First and foremost we are a live band, but we are definitely sluts for production. We always strive to take our performances above and beyond, with costumes, dancers, make-up, skits, and whatever’s clever really. Chatz’s background in musical theater definitely brings in the cabaret camp both in her vocal performance and her expressive movement. Her time as stripper brings in the sexy. She stages an elaborate striptease for every show, sometimes with up to 5 costume reveals!

We love to be extravagant and dramatic, but we also know not to take anything too seriously. Pleasure and sensitivity is our MO. Another lovable thing about Copyslut is our ability to connect with each other, have a sincerely joyful time being rooted in the moment, and inviting our audience members to join us and splash around in all the fun-soul-love.

Really though, we landed on cabaret rock because people think it’s best to check a box, but we actually like to think of ourselves as genre fluid. 😉

What’s next for Copyslut?

So many items. We have an incredible music video for our single Markers Mark soon to be released on September 27th, followed by a viewing and performance at PianoFight in SF on September 28th. It was a beautiful love filled production with a 45+ cast and crew involved in its creation, many of whom were talented friends and community members. We can’t say for sure that it’s gonna be the sexiest music video to come out of the Bay Area in 2019… but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

Keep your eyes peeled for our debut album coming out January 2020. We’d love for you to be on the journey with us, share your thoughts with us and be one of our beloved copysluts. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Thank you so much for your time and your thoughtful questions. If you are ever in the east bay, hit us up and we’d love to grab a bite together!

Listen to Copyslut’s latest single “Neon Razberries” here.

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