By Peter Lillis. Photo credit: René Trujillo.
“Tell me how I’m supposed to love without my precious polyamory?”
This seems like a rhetorical question, but for the misguided characters found on Stronger Sex‘s self-titled debut, it might as well be a wounded statement of purpose. Fronted by the enigmatic Johnny Fantastic (Raindeer), and produced in collaboration with Benjamin Schurr (Br’er, Pree) and Erik Sleight (Joy Buttons, Br’er, Tolva), Stronger Sex is the electro-erotic lovechild of Randy Newman’s fearless story telling and Bjork’s fearless experimentalism. Just so you know, that’s a good thing.
Stronger Sex came out of nowhere, released only a day after it was announced. [Insert Beyonce reference here]. Since then, much of DC’s independent music scene has descended upon the weird world of the six-track record. The synth and sequencer-based backing tracks provide the right conditions for Fantastic’s pheromonal crooning.“But I like the way it makes me feel,” he repeats at the end, without apology. Sorry I’m not sorry, but I too like the way this record makes me feel.
Stronger Sex plays Above The Bayou this Sunday with Young Rapids and Brooklyn’s Half Waif. We spoke with Johnny Fantastic in advance of the show about the record, his influences and fake orgasms. (Read BYT’s December profile of Young Rapids here.)
Is there a stronger sex? If there is a stronger sex, does that mean there’s also a weaker sex? Or, is stronger sex a state of mind? If so, is it worth aspiring towards?
Yes, there is a stronger sex. The stronger sex are the individuals who transcend the chains of their gender, who recognize their identity within their gender, or recognize their identity in another gender and dare to embrace that realization. The stronger sex also recognize the power of sexual diversity in society and urge individuals to be open and confident with who they are. In that sense it is most certainly a state of mind rather than a matter of anatomy. That’s not just something worth aspiring to but something that could make the world better. It certainly makes for better parties.
The cold synths of Stronger Sex make this record feel appropriate for winter time. Was the January release purposeful? What do you think is the ideal setting for listening to this record? For me, it pairs real well with the mind-numbing blandness of my desk job.
Well, the release of the record was totally due to the fact that I got the masters on a Tuesday in January and couldn’t fathom sitting on them until some far off release date when the hypothetical gravy train has rolled in and Pitchfork has written its 6.5 score review. Let the people hear the music now! Fuck, and sure, why not, it’s cold and some of us don’t have blizzard buddies. So here, warm up with some interesting new music. I guess that makes the ideal setting for this record lying in bed with headphones spooning a body pillow.
Your previous act was known simply as Johnny Fantastic: what has changed this time around? How does this new project compare to your previous work? Is there an overarching thesis or mission to the Stronger Sex project?
Johnny Fantastic is just me. When I made my first record Bluebirds Bluebirds Bluebirds, all I had was a desire to make cool songs in the weirdest way possible. Since then I have settled on the people who I want to be a part of this group, and have a concrete sense of what this music is and what it means. That identity matches the new name. There is a real emotional voice in this music now, struggling and overcoming, winning and losing, and dealing with it all right in front of you: through the music. And it’s no longer just my voice.
Is that a real orgasm on “Off The Deep End”? Have you ever had a sexual partner fake an orgasm? Would you be upset if they did? Have you ever faked an orgasm? Have any good orgasms lately?
Had her fake an orgasm? As in, like, asked her to fake orgasm to make me feel like a sexual God? No, I want the honest truth in that situation. It’s better to know you failed to give her an orgasm, even though it’s painful and confusing to deal with. Pain embraced can be learned from. It makes for a better me and a better you, not just in bed, but in life. And, no, that is not a real orgasm on the song. That is me faking an orgasm (to answer your fourth question) in a recording studio next to a rock school (sorry, parents).
You got me to dive deeper into the work of the phenomenal songwriter/storyteller Randy Newman. How is his influence heard on this record? What other bands/records/songs would you recommend to listeners to provide more context to your songwriting on Stronger Sex?
Huge influence. Randy gets inside the characters of his songs and let’s them say the things they would only ever tell their spouse or best friends drunk at 3 am. He lets them say the ugly truths they hide from polite society even though it’s he, the artist, who has to deal with the fallout when the satire is lost on some group of concerned citizens. I think that’s extremely brave and inspiring.
How has your interest in Icelandic culture influenced this project?
What’s next for Stronger Sex?
February 8th at Above the Bayou, a March tour organized around going to see Björk at Carnegie Hall, and 20 days in Iceland playing shows, visiting glaciers and volcanoes, and trying to master the Icelandic Language. Þó þetta er rosalega erfitt fyrir okkur!!! New collaboration EP with Crushn Pain due in March.