It was fifteen below zero with the wind chill and every time the door swung open at Café Southside, a trans friendly coffee shop on south Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, the thought once again crept into my mind as to why I stay in this state. It was February 17th and Venus DeMars walked in, looked around and headed towards my table. She was finishing up the final mixes of her new release “Flesh and Wire” and was here to talk about her upcoming acoustic CD, a new 12″ vinyl single for “Take My Shoulder” featuring Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! and to reflect a bit on the past.
Produced by Barb Morrison, who has worked with Blondie, Rufus Wainwright and just finished scoring a film called MA/DDY, recorded it at Sacred Heart Studio, a Cathedral built in 1894 and converted to a recording studio in Duluth, Minnesota, where there is a natural six second reverb that proved to be the perfect place to record “Flesh and Wire.”
“It was almost as if Sacred Heart was MADE for Venus, the whole grand, dark vs. light, on the Goth side vibe just lent itself perfectly to her style.” Producer Barb Morrison commented to me in an email, “so for this recording it was clear to me that these songs were a bit more colossal in composition and at the same time Venus made a very bold decision to strip them down and let the room act almost as an instrument. ”
Fourteen tracks with five covers, seven acoustic remakes and two new original tracks, Venus said, “I choose to do cover songs because they mean something to me…it’s the emotions behind the songs that mean something to me which I feel is part of my life’s journey.”
Take My Shoulder is the trans focused track on the album and features backing vocals by Laura Jane Grace; written in the early 2000s about the mindset of the trans community, it encompasses everyone’s voice. “I could be you, you could be me and everyone knows what it’s like to be an outsider. The core of the song is that its us together, not us against the world. It’s not an angry or rebellious song, it’s a sad song about trying to instill hope and possibility. I wanted to give back when I was trying to get through.”
Was it Me is one of the new original tracks and is a break up song, “its a song of running away from a relationship and all my original music deals with the human condition and about what we do to survive.”
Locust, another acoustic original, was taken from the first All the Pretty Horses album and is about their original drummer. “He was struggling with addiction and it was a pinnacle point in the band whereas he produced the first album and recorded it. He was the driving force in the band at that time and he was getting serious offers from prominent bands, but his addictions got the best of him and he ran away from the band [and the city]”
“I have always been a fan of Venus, even before I was a dancer [in All the Pretty Horses]” commented Dawn Michelle Fanberg at the pre-release party, “Her voice gives me goosebumps and it still did at her acoustic show. I can’t wait to get my hands on the new CD.”
“When Venus first came to me with the prospect of performing solo/acoustic I was shocked,” All the Pretty Horses current bass player J.Evan LeFreak said, “not because it meant I would be out of a job but because our band plays in-your-face, knock-your-socks-off thunderous rock-n-roll. When she explained that most of her music was originally written on acoustic guitar it began to make sense”
“There is so much more to the songs of Venus DeMars than bellowing vocals,” LeFreak continued, “screaming guitars, booming bass and crashing drums. At their core is a subtlety and sensitivity that gets over-shadowed by a rock band. By stripping away the electronics and chaos, what is revealed is the heart and soul of a true artist. It really is a beautiful thing.”
Fast forward a month to the pre-release party where “Flesh and Wire” now has an announced street date of April 7th and the much anticipated solo acoustic album by Venus DeMars, sans All the Pretty Horses, is about to be heard live. I’m holding my autographed copy of the new 12″ inch single produced by Barb Morrison, and the front and back jacket have pictures of Venus from today, and from the past.
The back insert photo is now almost 20 years old and was taken in a photo booth in London and when compared to the recent photo of the front cover, Venus says, “the whole album is really reflective, very looking back on my life and reconsidering everything that I’ve gone through and what I’ve done and my experience, which is a trans experience.”
Flesh and Wire is a culmination of twenty plus years of putting music out, choosing the ones that mean the most, stripping them down to bare bones and putting them out there and wearing them on her sleeve. It’s bold, brash, sad and stunning.
“You can always tell if a song is a really GREAT song when you strip it down and do it acoustically,” Producer Barb Morrison concludes, “Venus is first and foremost an artist and a real composer. there was never a doubt in my mind that an unplugged record of hers would be anything less than stellar. it was humbling watching these songs come to life with very little decorating.”