Drab Majesty's Deb Demure Wants to Whisk You Off to an Icy Dreamland Where Gender Doesn't Matter
Watch the icy new video for "The Foyer."
Photo courtesy of Thomas McMahan
Drab Majesty mastermind Deb Demure looks like a cross-dresser from outer space who’s about to graduate from a UFO cult into something ten times more bizarre. Depending which night you catch her on, Deb’s makeup might be a cross between Ace Frehley and Aladdin Sane-era Bowie or—in Drab’s latest video for “The Foyer,” which was directed by Thomas McMahan—Alice Cooper and A Clockwork Orange. If you can ignore the three-day stubble and the fact that she’s 6’4”, Deb just might be a woman. If you can’t? Well, Deb is clearly a man. But her creator and masculine half, Andrew Clinco—who also plays drums in Marriages and Black Mare, both of whom have enjoyed premieres here on Noisey—would prefer it if you didn’t think of Deb as a woman or a man. As an apt pupil of the Genesis P. Orridge school of gender-bending, Clinco would rather you abandon genitalia-based expectations and train your ear-holes on Drab Majesty’s music—an icy, dreamy, occasionally dancey confection that blends classic ’80s new wave textures with a deliciously strange and futuristic elegance.
After winning his/her hometown of Los Angeles over with the 2012 cassette EP Unarian Dances, Deb is set to go global with Drab Majesty’s full-length debut, Careless, via Dais Records. Deb recently ventured to Noisey’s secret L.A. outpost to discuss his/her origins over vodka-sodas, a Death In June soundtrack, and a light dusting of rare ceremonial powders. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I play in Black Mare with Andrew/Deb, but we did our best to keep this interview strictly professional.
When you started writing Drab Majesty material, did you know you’d be performing it in character?
Deb Demure: Absolutely not. The impetus was that I had songs that were continually accruing in my head, but I was playing drums in a band that didn’t sound like any of the songs. I didn’t even know why I wanted to write them. But these lyrics and this overall aesthetic just came to a boiling point. It was a complete catharsis in my bedroom at this time, which was 2011, just for the sake of recording my own music where I played all the instruments. I wrote about four or five songs, and then listening back I just didn’t feel like I was listening to myself. It was alarming in a way. It just didn’t sound like me at all. It sounded like someone else.
So Deb was born.
Yeah. Andrew was kind of alarmed at what was taking place with the drum machine and this new wave aesthetic that the songs had. At the same time, I was very much—and still am—into my occult studies, and I’m very into the idea that I’m not responsible for anything I create. Or we aren’t as people. We’re just vessels channeling these ideas and making sense of them. So I decided I had to put another face to the sound because I just couldn’t take ownership as Andrew, the drummer of another band who wanted to make some songs. So I figured, why not completely detour from who I am?
What was the first step, then?
[Marriages guitarist/vocalist] Emma [Ruth Rundle] and I made a video for that song “Pole Position,” and that was literally the first Drab Majesty song I wrote. It’s an analogue about doing cocaine and the Winter Olympics and luging and slalom skiing—a very basic cocaine reference. Hitting the slopes, pole position. So I decided I wanted to be this “ice goth”—white face, icy lips—but also counterbalance it with something kind of menacing and fucked up. So the character just kinda came out. This is the person who needs to be making this music. It’s very easy for me to get into character and feel confident that this is the sound that character produces.
Did it take a while to fully develop the character?
I knew right away what I wanted Deb to be. My grandmother is very much a reference for Deb’s world. A lot of the clothes are actually my grandmother’s. I got them after she passed away. Her home was definitely a big stylistic contributor as well, as far as textures and color palettes and things like that. She lived in a really old midcentury modern home in the foothills of Beverly Hills. It’s this old, dying part of L.A. that you’ll never see unless you’re second-generation like myself or up with some weird, high-society old-money shit. My grandpa—who I never met—was a superior court judge in Santa Monica, very well-respected, and he was able to hook her up with a sweet pad before he passed. He actually awarded [Frank] Zappa tons of money from Warner Brothers—millions in royalties they never paid him. But I don’t come from any kind of rich lineage. I grew up in a middle-class home.
Deb’s starchild look strikes me as more Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie than, say, KISS. Even though your music doesn’t sound like either one.
Aesthetically speaking, yes. But I wouldn’t point to Bowie as a musical influence at all. There’s very much a Genesis P. Orridge influence. She’s an extremely big hero for me. All of her projects are things I’ve really gotten into and strike me as some of the highest art out there. Her pandrogyne project is something that I wish I could actually have the balls to do—or not [laughs]—but I do love Genesis in that she’s had lots of looks over time. At one point, after the whole Lady Jaye merging, I really thought that was interesting—the crazy polarity or tension she creates between the masculine abrasiveness of some of the music she makes combined with the feminine touch of the reciting of lyrics and poetry. I love that. I’m not evaluating Genesis as a man or a woman. I’m seeing this genderless vessel delivering the sounds and the message. It’s really powerful.
So you don’t want people to focus on whether you’re a man or a woman because it’s not important.
No, it’s really not. It’s like listening to a sculpture recite a song, or something like that. Even if the sculpture is a man or a woman, it’s still inanimate.
The Deb character seems to be aesthetically at odds with Drab Majesty’s music, but that makes me like the whole thing more.
Oh, absolutely. The face and the tension between the masculine and feminine in a sloppy, gender-fuck kind of way, comes from just riding the bus in Los Angeles. There was a period of time in the early 2000s when I was only riding the bus, and there was an absolutely distinguishable network of transgender, transsexual transients on the bus. I’d see a lot of these recurring characters and many of them spoke to the old Hollywood, this flickering flame that hadn’t completely burned out.
Totally. But there was something delicate and non-threatening about them. So the music is dreamy and friendly and easy on the ears. It’s not texturally or sonically challenging. There’s three levels: The sounds are dreamy and ethereal, the look is playful and kind of clown/harlequin/mime, but then I try to be more threatening with my facial gestures. Not like metal threatening, but more stern. So there’s a constant balance.
There’s a certain disembodied aspect to Deb as well. Is that on purpose, and does that allow you—in addition to being neither male nor female—to be not human as well?
Yes. 100 percent. I’m really into the idea of Deb as an orator. A lot of the more priestly garb I wear comes from going to church with my grandma on Sundays. There was always something fascinating about the lector, the orator, addressing a crowd. Also the space was extremely ambient and the reverb was amazing in this church.
Yeah, it seems like your reverb style is heavily influenced by church.
Absolutely. But the priest is interesting because what he’s saying is “the word of the Lord.” The priest really has no personality. Yes, he gives his sermon and maybe there’s some injection of humor or anecdotal stuff, but for the most part the orator is merely reciting the higher word. So that’s how I think of what I do: The word of the Drab, or the word of the Majesty. That’s what comes through. That’s why I personally don’t try to take too much ownership. If you look at the insert on the new LP, it says, “All songs were received by Deb Demure.”
The title of your first EP, Unarian Dances, was inspired by a UFO cult here in Southern California. What can you tell us about it?
I stumbled onto the Unarius Academy through this amazing time in public access television in Los Angeles. There was this group of artists called the Threee Geniuses—three e’s. Don Bolles [formerly of the Germs] did the audio, Dan Kapelovitz, who is now an entertainment lawyer for weird cases, was involved, and then there was Giddle Partridge, who was a collaborator with Boyd Rice, and they had this big cast of rotating characters. They’d go into the Hollywood public access studio and take over for two hours, doing the most psychedelic improvisational video art of all time. It was a crazy time in L.A. TV history. You could turn on the TV at three in the morning and see some of the most intoxicating visuals ever, and one of them was this woman who was in one of Unarius initiation videos called “The Arrival.” It’s the first installment of “The Arrival.” If you ever stumble across this on YouTube, it’s like striking gold. It’s the craziest, deepest repository of incredible videos that they would use for initiatory purposes within their cult.
What inspired the title of your new album, Careless?
Initially the record was gonna be Care Less, or maybe Careless with an extra “s” or “l,” like it was carelessly spelled. But I cut it back down to just the word itself because I think it’s a pretty loaded word. It can mean you’re not focused on things that are important, or it can mean you’re apathetic. For me, the title came from a transition from the former meaning to the latter. It’s about learning to embrace apathy as a way to mitigate harmful thought patterns that come from experiencing a lot of pain. But also experiencing a lot of pain through someone being careless, and then you caring less as a result. Every song was written more or less as a response to some painful event. Also, a dear friend of mine named Nathan Gammil recently let me move into his place when he moved to New York to become a nuclear physicist, and he bestowed upon me all these incredible songs he wrote. One of them was called “Careless,” and it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. It affected me really deeply, so I wanted to make a record that was a nod to him.
It makes me think of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless—not only because of the similarity of the title, but because MBV totally immerses you in atmosphere above all else.
Yes. I love that. Sonically, I want you to be immersed. I want to put you in a non-space. When I listen to shoegaze music and ethereal music, it’s emotional but it’s not “emo,” you know? It’s uplifting. It’s like cocaine, which is a very large factor in my work.
It’s funny you say that, because one of the only words I can make out in “Unknown To The I,” the first song you did a video for from Careless, is “cocaine.”
Oh, yeah. [Laughs] “Cocaine is a merry-go-round.” That song is absolutely about finding false epiphanies in drug-induced states, the cyclical nature of drug intake and the false deities that come with the experience. That’s why I chose the song to be in 6/8, too. It’s a very cyclical, round time signature. It’s very floaty.
You play all the instruments on the Drab records yourself, and your current live setup is just you and a drum machine. Do you see a future in which you play with a full band?
As a drummer, there’s maybe only one or two drummers I would trust to suit the songs well on an actual acoustic drum set. Dan Tracy from Deafheaven is one of them, because his time is so good—but he’d never do it because he’s so busy. At this point, if I incorporate any new members, it would be on bass or synth bass. That’s the position that’s potentially open right now.
You also play drums in Marriages and Black Mare. Do those bands fulfill other musical needs, or are they purely keeping you lubed up as a drummer?
It’s a hundred percent both. If I didn’t have Black Mare or Marriages, I probably wouldn’t even have a drum set. But they also fulfill my desire to use the instrument of drums to improve a sound and carry out a larger vision. I like that in Marriages I get to be completely responsible for what happens on the drums, and I really like that in Black Mare, I’m given some aesthetic direction that forces me to bridge the gap between someone else’s language and what I might naturally do on my own. It was a challenge at first but now that we’ve been playing together for about two years, I can help shape that, maybe, one snare hit at a time.
J. Bennett plays bass in Black Mare and wishes he could wear makeup like Deb’s.