Photography AGUSTIN HERNANDEZ
If you ask Actually Huizenga how seven years of solo work — culminating in one hell of a surreal Bruce Springsteen cover — bled into her new “snuff metal” band Patriarchy, the multi-medium artist is hesitant to call it a project at all. More like a much-needed storytelling medium, poked and prodded by the industrial productions of 3Teeth member Andrew Means.
“My work is an excuse for me to make my own world,” she explains over email, “to create situations with my favorite demons, to fall in love with my favorite fantasies.
She continues, “I purposefully search out the things that frighten me — the deep water. I need to swim out there alone; I am not here to throw people in.”
We found that very refreshing throughout our conversation: the fact that Huizenga isn’t creating provocative songs and videos with a certain audience in mind. As she’s quick to point out and admit, the act of making deeply personal art can often be a selfish one. Not to mention inherently divisive, as critics get so caught up in someone’s image they miss the most important thing: a record’s guiding principles and, ultimately, its context.
“I can’t control how other people choose to treat me,” she says. “I can only control how I deal with that treatment. I can only experiment with the situation, and perhaps learn from it and use it in my art…. But shouldn’t I be encouraged by ‘trials’? Aren’t these hardships some of the most important parts of the ‘hero’s journey’? As Joseph Campbell explains, in order to come home or be transformed, the hero absolutely must experience a crisis and win a victory. I can not conquer anything unless I am challenged.”
In the following exclusive, Huizenga shares the latest single from Patriarchy’s Asking For It LP — due out through Dero Arcade on November 8th — and discusses everything from her lifelong love affair with David Bowie to what we can all learn from Loki….
Halloween is almost here. Judging by your videos and the performance art aspect of your work, I assume you’re a fan. What’s the best costume you’ve pulled off in the past, and the most memorable party you’ve ever been to?
Yes, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays mostly because of the “dark” pagan aspects and the American mazes. As for costumes, I usually just put on whatever is hanging around. I would rather spend money on dressing up for a video.
This Halloween, however, I am actually putting an outfit together… I have decided to be Bret Michaels of the VH1 reality show Rock of Love. Last month I finally watched the three season show in its entirety, and I have to say that I was blown away. A priceless piece of American life-art if I have ever seen it! After I answer these questions, I am going to make some giant VIP Rock Of Love passes (with my favorite girls from all three seasons and blue shoestring lanyards) and then hit Santee Alley to try and find some baggy jeans, a bedazzled Ed Hardy type shirt, some silver jewelry, etc. (I already have a bandana, cowboy hat, rattlesnake boots, and hair extensions.)
If I notice anyone whom I’m attracted to at the Halloween party tomorrow, I will probably ask them to “rock my world” and once they annoy me, I will tell them “your tour ends here.”
I can’t remember not making drawings or taking photos. But I have one interesting story that has resonated throughout my art-life. In first grade (I think), all the kids had to paint some iris flowers with three water-based acrylic colors:yellow, green , and purple. I made my painting and as it was drying, some boy took my work and wrote his name on it (badly at that). I complained to the teacher, and she simply told me, “If you want to be an artist, you are going to have to get used to that.”
Were you more drawn towards visual mediums or music at first?
I began as a visual artist. I actually went to a magnet school / got into college for painting. Band stuff began as something on the side, usually because I was in lust of some singer. LOL. I played keyboard, but was too afraid to sing in public for the longest time. Playing shows was a great way to get into clubs without an ID — I was always attracted to the fantasy of an androgynous male singer — so I used to try and get close to them. Now I am trying to be one myself. Ha. I really owe my first boyfriend-bandmates a lot for pushing me to get out from behind the keyboard.
At what age did you start taking piano lessons? Did you enjoy them, or did they feel a little too regimented and by-the-book for your taste?
I started sort of late — like at 10 — so I never had the chance to be a virtuoso piano genius. Hahaha. But I really enjoyed my classes. Anything regimented and anything I don’t have to pay for… what could be better than learning? I never understood kids who hated school. As you can imagine, I was not popular and a loner for most of my life. But at least I learned how to play piano and enjoy the smell of study.
Did you sing or play any other instruments when you were a kid as well?
I was in the choir at church and at school. I also had guitar classes and was second to last chair cello in middle / high school; I am not great with strings.
What was the first record or artist that resonated with you on a deeper level and why?
DAVID BOWIE. He just latched onto, and into, my psyche. I suppose it started with me being attracted to him as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, which I think was playing on the Disney Channel once when I was like 11 or something. I was sexually attracted to him and it was my first sexual experience. For me, a lot of sexual experiences have been tightly bound to important artistic and intellectual episodes. Haha.
Is it true that you were so upset about David Bowie dying that you were going to give up music after making the soundtrack to your film The Art of Eating?
What’s your favorite underrated David Bowie album and / or song?
My go-to albums are Low, Station to Station, Heroes, and Lodger, BUT I would say that Earthling is awesome and fairly underrated. Everything he did with Trent Reznor is really great. Also anything with Eno and Iggy Pop. David Bowie was an excellent collaborator, and he really cared about the people he worked with; you can hear the friendship and the living of life in the music.
Maybe more people should know about “Heart’s Filthy Lesson” from Outside? Haha. “I’m Deranged” is super cool. If there is one song that can make me cry, however, it is “Lady Grinning Soul” from Aladdin Sane. That song made me want to live my life through art…. It gave me hope (at a young age) that “love” might be a real word, which is attainable outside of books and films, but which is dangerous and perhaps more real than reality.
I had that feeling about the dangers of the word “love” with that song as I listened to it in a neighbor’s backyard, under a rose bush with one of those cheesy portable boom boxes. I would cry happily alone in places outside of my house…. A neighbor found me there in that moment and yelled at me — breaking the spell with fear and shame. I will always remember that abrupt feeling of denial. I have been fighting that feeling my entire life, and I think I am finally conquering it with my own art.
How important was your family in terms of fostering your creativity and encouraging you to be such an open-minded person overall?
They paid for my education, and if I wanted something badly enough and practiced, I never had to beg.
Your grandfather (John R. Huizenga) was a key figure in the Manhattan Project and a world renowned physicist. Did any of your views on science and reason come out of conversations with him, or did you not really talk about that side of his life?
I wish I had more time to talk with him about it as an adult. As a child, I could not possibly comprehend the concepts. And now that I can (barely), he is dead. So I suppose that is a bummer! But at least I have good genes. Haha.
Shifting to your earliest records now, what’s one Actually video that best represents what you were going for with that project and why?
“Predator Romantic”; the song and the video encapsulate the concepts, sounds, and visual techniques that would best describe the “ACTUALLY” style…. If we are going to allow Actually a style…. If we are going to allow me anything.
I just make art as I live through life. I do not really go into “projects,” thinking about what I am trying to say. I create scenarios for me to enter and live in — if ever so briefly — a paradise of my own making.
What are a few major similarities and differences between Actually and Patriarchy aside from the fact that there are now two people bringing ideas to the table now?
Like I said before, I create my art because it IS my life. I am figuring it out as I go, and allowing others to analyze it after the fact. I use a combination of horrible life experiences (the collective unconscious slave mentality of being a woman); my aversion to the pushback, which I attempt to push off of my Self; and research into the gold mine of human history. We humans have created so much to be researched that I don’t understand how any human could ever seriously say the horrible saying, “I am bored.” How can you be bored, with all of this information and past experiences at your fingertips?
“Patriarchy” is just an extension of Actually — a phallus, if you will. I am embracing the ancient symbols of the phallus, researching the past to use it for my present. There was a time when this symbol meant fertility and joy. There was a time when the snake was a symbol of health and rebirth. These symbols Still Exist! It is all a matter of how you choose to look at these things. Just because society rebrands these symbols doesn’t mean that you must agree. You can choose whatever explanation makes sense to you. No one’s individual dream can be interpreted according to a rule of thumb guidebook. Every person is different, no matter what the algorithm is telling you.
We have and still live in a Patriarchy, so I use this word, in order to come to terms with this strange society-based structure. I am in it, so why not fuck with it? Don’t deny what you are…. Don’t ignore what frightens you. Use it the way it wants to use you. You might not get ahead, but at least you don’t have to give head.
Much of your work is satirical on some level, with dark humor sitting right alongside bigger, heavier themes. What is it about that approach that appeals to you? The fact that it challenges listeners and is willing to take risks, rather than playing it safe and holding everyone’s hand?
I am concentrating on challenging myself. Within this “challenge” of living, I have always felt a special bond with trickster-type gods like Dionysus or Loki — that joy of gluttony and laughter which leads to gruesome Bacchanalias, where someone always ends up getting their skin pulled off.
I don’t care about challenging other people’ perhaps they can learn from my self-imposed struggle, but I would never go out of my way to provoke someone else’s view of the world. I am too much of a selfish artist. I know that popular artists are supposed to cater to certain groups of people — to find something that “connects” them to a group. But I can not resign myself to any specific group or label; to me, that is an unfulfilled death.
What’s one artist, writer, musician, or filmmaker you really love who’s toed the line between humor and heaviness, or high and low art, particularly well?
People are pretty sensitive these days. Does that make you want to push everyone’s buttons even more?
If I actually cared about anyone else other than myself, then I suppose my answer to that would be “Yes.” Maybe instead of “pushing buttons,” we should be ripping them out.
Many people often miss the point of subversive art. Does that worry you at all, especially since so much of what we see and hear today is judged solely on its surface, as if we all forgot to not judge a book by its cover?
Well, there is something to both judging the outside and inside of a book. I believe that both parts have important meanings. The first book that I ever went out to buy on my own was The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I fell in lust with the cover. It was a slick painting of a black cat in a suit with a serpent’s tongue. I had to buy it; I didn’t even bother reading the back. (I usually don’t read those. I do not like “spoilers.”)
Likewise, many of my “best friends,” I was firstly attracted to because of their physical beauty or from the style of dress they wore. I fully admit and enjoy the fact that I technically am a superficial person. I choose to look deeper later and at my own leisure. Living life and discovering things through the senses, is one of the sexy parts of being fully alive. Sight is a really special tool; I am still overwhelmed with happiness everyday that my eyes are allowed to see the things that they do.
Speaking of books, can you take about a few things you’ve read that have informed your songwriting and lyrics on Asking For It in some way?
My book list would be way too long, and I need to go shopping for my Bret Michael’s costume, so I might as well just send you my Amazon browse history. LOL.
The writings of Seneca (along with a couple of his biographies) have really been important to Asking For It. That blend of stoicism and living in the dangerous hell of royal life. To have stoic leanings, but to be immersed in this world of hypocrisy, competition, torture, and power….
What about films or art since what you do is so visual?
On my Instagram, I was doing a list of 10 films, with a common theme for people to figure out, in 2018. I made myself do it every Sunday for a few months, with my self-imposed reward that I would finish my album and somehow get on Anthony Bourdain’s show. But then he died, so I stopped. I should’ve been able to hang out with that amazing guy before he hanged himself. Unless he was killed by the Weinstein people. But I don’t do politics. I’m an artist and not interested in becoming a martyr.
Given the name of your project, we gotta ask: Do you feel like our society has made any progress towards improving the way we treat women in the past couple years? Or are we as hopeless as ever — very two steps forward, two steps back in light of the Me Too movement and, well, just look at who’s still in the White House…. And the Supreme Court, for that matter.
In society, everything is two steps forward and two steps back — like that Paula Abdul video. The dark for the light / the opposites, etc., etc. That song simplifies a very important concept of ancient teaching.
I place myself outside of society, so in my own Self, I feel like I have made my own process towards the way I am treated or the way in which I deal with that treatment. It is difficult to change the way other people are raised — who are born with families who teach ignorance. When a society is blossoming, there is always a parasite in the form of degenerate fundamentalism. For many, progress is a dangerous thing, so it must be held back and snuffed out. Renaissances come back throughout history. Great civilizations are torn down, “devils” are blamed, people are killed, and then wars end, economies rise, art is made, and the whole thing happens all over again….
When art and science are allowed too much breathing room, the humans who control the society must pull back and use ignorance to push money and power back to the top. Again, politics is not my thing. I have a short life which I want to live as beautifully and introspectively as possible.
Finally, let’s bring things back to your new record. The video for “Sweet Piece of Meat” first came out a few years ago. Can you tell us a littl bit about its concept? Has this project been a long time coming in a lot of ways?
“Sweet Piece of Meat” came out about two Thanksgivings ago, yes. Haha. I have waited a long time to get this album out. I have held the concept close to me for a very long time; this album is a documentation of a very lovely struggle. Within the extended birth of this collection of songs, I have created videos, I have died within them, I have watched piglets grow up, I have held the ashes of my past.
You shot parts of the “It Goes Fast” video on the site of your family’s home that burned down during the Malibu fires right? Did that experience bring your family closer together in some ways? How did it impact you as a creative person, aside from the fact that you lost various aspects of your work in it?
Long story short, I got evicted from my Echo Park apartment (2017) for “illegally” Airbnb-ing (haha) and my father was living in Malibu at the time. He said I could store all of my “junk” (as he nicely called it) in a small room in the canyon if I worked for him out there. I made this room into a lovely little nest indeed. I absolutely reveled in waking up to my life’s collectibles; I did enjoy creating a frame for my sleeping, eating body.
I filmed “Sweet Piece of Meat” as soon as I was settled there. And then “Hell Was Full.” I got to wake up to baby deer eating tall grass outside my window; hawks fighting rattlesnakes; stars stretching out in a bluish, quiet darkness; huge aloe plants rattling in heavy wind. I do not regret the beauty that I felt totally alone and in nature. I was sad to lose all of my hard drives, photo books, sketch books, paintings, costumes, antiques, weapons, instruments, books, bones, etc.
But one day I will be dead, and will those physical possessions mean anything to me then? Do I really give a fuck about a legacy? Losing “everything” has freed me and forcefully pushed me to finally finish this fucking album. Plus, now I have no home or any possessions to hold me down, so I could realistically tour with my band like a crazy demon. The only problem is that no booking agent is responding. But, like I said, it’s all just a part of the struggle within the drama / fantasy that I am enjoying living. I think of death everyday, but I think of life even more.
What can we expect from you now that this record is coming out? Will you be touring a lot, or focusing on your film work again?
Hoping to start the Patriarchy Uncut: 2020 World Tour in Europe in February! Performing live is truly an amazing experience; I get to be loud with primal emotions which I normally have no place to really explore… and I love to meet other interesting humans through that display of emotion. I really only bond with others through performance or video and film production. If a Patriarchy tour doesn’t “work out,” I will go back to focusing on film. I will make a film in which my band is allowed to perform!