This week I had the pleasure of interviewing queer artist AB SOTO. I recently saw him perform and was blown away by his energy and message. His dance moves come from sources as varied as street posturing and Paris Is Burning-style balls. When combined, they ask the questions: What is butch? What is femme? What makes someone sexy? The best way to understand what I'm talking about is to check out some of his videos in the slideshow below. You won't regret it.
If you're in New York, AB SOTO will be performing at the BUSHWIG afterparty at Bizarre in Brooklyn on Saturday, Sept. 7. He's also preparing to go back on tour next month, so check his website for tour dates and locations.
Phillip M. Miner: When did you start making music?
AB SOTO: I started making music in 2009. I knew I wanted to perform; I just didn't know in what capacity. I started out studying fashion. That got boring. Then I was a backup dancer for years. That got boring too. I tried acting, and I hated going to auditions, because it was like, "You're a Latino, so you're up for this commercial," or, "You're up for this audition with this recording artist," so I would have to shave and play this Ricky Martin role, which isn't me. I hated that I couldn't just be myself. I had to fit into some stereotype! Just because I'm Mexican doesn't mean I'm like that. Eventually I didn't want to shave anymore!
Miner: Did they ask you to butch up?
AB SOTO: They would, but I've always been a little rough around the edges, so that was easy. I moved to Hollywood from East L.A. to pursue my dream, and it was killing me. Every time I stood in line for an audition, I had to go back in the closet for these roles.
Around Christmas 2009, I was stuck at home, and I had so much to say, and I just started writing. I realized it was a song. I thought to myself, "What am I waiting for?!" So I put it all together -- my fashion, my dance, everything -- and started making my own music. Everything became so clear for me. I think people saw that I had something to say and my energy, and that's when everything took off.
Miner: You tour a lot. Do you mostly perform at gay bars and clubs?
AB SOTO: Not always. I've performed at concert venues for a mixed crowd. The response from the straight community is great. [Laughs.] "Straight community," like they have their own community! I love that! Make them the outsiders for once! Anyway, I love at the end of the show when straight guys come up to me and are like, "I don't know what you did up there, but that was fucking amazing. You got swag!" To have straight people out there be touched and moved and inspired by my work feels like I'm making an impact. If these men ever have a gay brother or gay son who comes out, they might be more accepting because they remember liking my performance and it was completely gay. That makes me feel really good.
Miner: So you think the straight community is ready for a gay breakthrough artist?
AB SOTO: Yes. I think the world is ready for authenticity in everything: in music, in our government, in everything. Everyone is sick of the bullshit. People may not be able to directly identify with you because you're gay, but they'll still see that you're being authentic and your work isn't fake or a façade. And they'll see that artist onstage and maybe they'll think they need to change something to make their life more authentic too. So I think regardless of sexual orientation, people are ready for authenticity.
Miner: Speaking of authenticity, many people criticize Madonna and Lady Gaga for ripping off urban gay culture. Do you have an opinion on that?
AB SOTO: I like Lady Gaga. She has talent. I love her visuals. That said, it's one thing to pay homage to somebody or something, but it seems like she's just taking things. That's not cute. I love what she's pushing. We all have to embrace each other and support each other, but we have to do it right. I don't believe in stepping on other people or ripping off other people. I believe in being a trailblazer and keeping it classy. But I'm rooting for her! I'm right there, Gaga!
Miner: Your songs contain words that some of our readers might not know. Do you mind explaining them? "Banjee."
AB SOTO: It means a lot of different things. It's a street vibe. It's independent. It's strong. It can be gay and straight. Some people say it's a homo thug. Some people say it's rough around the edges. I say it's crunchy. "Crunchy" is a new word I'm using. It's like "ratchet."
AB SOTO: "Huntress" is when you've graduated hunty school. [Laughs.] "Hunty" comes from "cunty" and "honey" put together, so it's like the sweet version of "cunty." But when you're a next-level club kid or butch queen, that's "huntress." The definition is it's like a superhero, someone who hunts.
Miner: "Fag out."
AB SOTO: That was inspired by the movie Party Girl. [In it] Parker Posie tells one of her gay friends who's acting effeminate, "Don't fag out, Derek. Don't fag out." I'm like, "No way! Let's fucking fag out!" Fagging out is about embracing who you are.
Miner: Your work plays with the concepts of feminine and masculine. Care to tell me more about that?
AB SOTO: When I was little, I would dance in front of the mirrors when no one else was watching. What came out was both my feminine side and my masculine side. Like I said, I feel like I lost that for years working in Hollywood. I wanted to go back and embrace [both sides of me] and have that be a big part of my work: Can you be turned on by a man who's wearing nail polish? What does it mean that I'm wearing a wig and still have facial hair? What is it to be sexy? I love to play with all of that in my clothes and my dance moves. It's all about getting people to think and see things differently.
Miner: What was growing up queer like for you?
AB SOTO: It was very lonely. The only outlet I had was dancing and performing by myself when no one was watching. My mom and dad always knew I was gay, but they never mentioned it. My dad couldn't understand it, my mother embraced it, and my brother just didn't speak about it. For me it felt like I grew up in a battlefield; it prepared me for the world and everything I'd have to face. I was always comfortable with who I was. I was like 11 years old, and I would tell my dad, "Dad, do you mind if I use the living room for a few minutes?" He'd say, "Are you going to perform?" And I'd say, "Yup!" He'd go outside and do some yard work so I could play [music] videos and dance and perform for myself. My dad knew I was gay. That was his way of accepting it. When my first boyfriend started coming around, he wasn't as accepting. It was this huge thing. He passed away shortly after that. I never actually said the "I'm gay" to him. I actually came out the same day he passed away. It all sort of happened in the same month. Those were the two hardest things I had to deal with. After that everything is cake.
<em>Photo by Daniel Jack Lyons</em>
Soto plays with ideas of masculine, feminine, and what's sexy.
<em>Film by Eli Rarey</em>
To read more about AB SOTO and his music, and to see a whole lot more of him, click here.
Follow Phillip M. Miner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PhillipMiner