Breedlove Brings Avant-Garde Performance Back to New York Nightlife

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"It’s a circus… Breedlove’s our ringleader and we are all his freaks," said a 21-year-old shivering in a sequined jacket outside Tammany Hall last Monday. He exhaled, "Where should I put this button?" He pulled the large American flag-inspired circle featuring the face of Breedlove from his lapel. He moved it down, fastening it to his leather pants just above his crotch.

Those who’ve frequented Breedlove’s Magic Monday party throughout the past two years are well aware he’s terribly underrated. Moving seamlessly between host and star, he manages to excite the otherwise antiquated fashion of cabaret, a talent which has earned him a growing cult following who gather every Monday to see him perform. With his first studio album soon to be released and a single available on iTunes that’s seen raves from the likes of Lady Gaga and Perez Hilton, Breedlove is set to blow. He’s raw and incredibly unique, an avant-glam lounge act, if you will. Self-deprecation drives the laughter, and his staggering emotional transparency is refreshing in a world where any from of rock ‘n’ roll has been diminished to phallic guitar battles and orange chicks in very small Motorhead (or worse, Pantera) t-shirts attempting to pass-off as knowledgable of the scene.

I caught up with Breedlove after his set backstage at Tammany. The black room was small and full, with scantily clad go-go dancers lounging on black leather couches and more than one bouncer angrily eyeing the smokers in the room. Here’s what he had to say.

Where are you from?
I was born in San Leandro, California, but then my parents went on tour until I was five. Then we moved to the San Joaquin Valley of California to my family’s orange ranch for three years, and then we moved to Marin County after that. I lived there until I was eighteen and then I moved to New York.

You said your parents were touring… What was that?
My mother was a cabaret singer and my dad was an actor and a singer. They did a show together. Well, they did many shows together. They traveled around the country doing them, and I went with them.

That makes a lot of sense. How long have you been living in New York?
I’ve lived here for twelve years.

What was your scene when you first came here?
The scene that I was introduced to first was through Lady Starlight. She started bringing me to Josh Styles’s parties. I would go to his party called Smashed! Blocked! and Lady Starlight would go-go dance. I was studying theater at the time, and I saw her applying all these techniques that I was learning at school just naturally in her go-go performances. There was a party called Shout! at Bar 13 we would go to. Nobody in New York was dressing up at the time, so we had to plan out what events were going on each week that encouraged serious looks and played the various genres of classic rock ‘n’ roll that were into dancing to. We went out as many nights of the week that there was a party going on, which at times meant seven nights a week. Our little scene at the time was so important to us and we were all so consistent about going out that it would be strange to see someone missing at one of the shows or parties. I miss those days a lot, but it’s cool that now you can walk into almost any bar on the Lower East Side and see people in really great looks dancing to really great rock ‘n’ roll.

How have you evolved as an artist?
I started as a go-go dancer at a party Starlight, Anna Copa Cabanna, and I threw together called Freak Out! Then Josh invited me to dance at Smashed! Blocked!, which was a huge deal for me. Then Anna started her own show at Bowery Poetry Club and cast me as one of her four dancers. She would let me sing one of the songs I had just started writing in each show. I would write songs just to sing there and soon had a whole set of tunes completed. When my friends Semi Precious Weapons went on a tour between dates on The Monster Ball, they told me to remove my vocals from my demo recordings and open for them singing to tracks. That’s how I started singing karaoke to my own songs. Now I’m working with a producer, Chew Fu, who is bringing me into the dance world, which is really fun. It’s extremely magical to see people dance to your music.

How has the downtown scene evolved since you’ve been around?
It’s way more acceptable to look crazy than it was when I first moved here. I remember one time Lady Starlight and I wore very elaborate outfits to the Roxy Music show at Radio City Music Hall, and this very straight-laced couple walked up to us and said, "You’re gonna win. New York City will be what you want it to be again," and it has happened.

Your method of performance is very specific. You’re in the crowd, engaging the audience, and on stage very glam while maintaining a palpable emotional availability.
Cool! (laughs)

It’s very unique! Where did this concept come from?
My mom, because she’s a cabaret singer. And because I was in her womb when she was performing the music of Jacques Brel, for instance, and a lot of Stephen Sondheim… a lot of really intense story telling in music. And when I was born—from the time I was a newborn—I had to hear my mom sing these songs, and I would watch her really live within every song she sang. When I started writing my own music, it was just natural for me to write very dramatic story-telling music and perform it in a very earnest way.

One of the things I love about you on stage is that you’re so raw. You’re not trying to falsely project anything…
I just want to live in that song.

I can tell, it’s very cool. Your single, "I Never Had," is out on iTunes now. And your album… What’s your album called?
We actually don’t have a name for it yet.

Well, whatever it ends up as, it’s out soon?
It’s not finished yet; Chew Fu is still working on the production. Most of the songs we’ve already recorded the vocals on, so as soon as he’s done with the production we have just a couple more songs to record the vocals on and we’ll be good to go!

What can we expect from the new album?
Everything that I’ve been performing for the last two years at Magic Monday have been demos. The music that I’m doing with Chew Fu are the first songs that will actually be available for sale.

Quickly, who’s Chew Fu?
He’s this really awesome dude who’s actually born on the same day as me. He’s a Dutch DJ who has done a bunch of remixes for Rihanna and Lady GaGa and, like, everybody. I’m really excited to be working with him on his first full production project. It’s a really cool opportunity for us to both debut this aspect of ourselves to the world with each other at the same time.

Awesome. But back to the album, what can we expect?
All the tunes from my demos will be on there, but totally re-imagined by Chew, plus new tunes that he and I wrote together. We also wrote a tune called “Heart Attract” with Bootsy Collins that I’m really excited about. He’s gonna play on it! Our first single came out on iTunes on Valentine’s Day—it’s actually the first song I’ve ever had on sale. It’s called “I Never Had” and it’s a love song.

It seems that your music is deeply intertwined with the fantastic performative aspect of your live show. Was it difficult to recreate the energy, to isolate music from performance in the studio?
Somewhat, but what’s really cool about working with Chew Fu is he understands me as a performer. The way we record is he just loops the track over and over again and I sing it probably like twenty five times over and over again without stopping. Inevitably about the fifth time my emotions really give in and I really start acting the song. About the same time, vocally I just sort of let go, and he gets a lot more tones in the recording process. Repetition is the key, by then I get out of my head, let loose, and perform the way that I do on stage.

You’ve mentioned Lady Starlight a few times during the course of our conversation. Who is Lady Starlight and who is she to you?
Lady Starlight is who I believe to be the most inspiring person alive. She is responsible for the early live performances and fashion stylings of Lady GaGa, most notably. But there have been many people in New York City who she’s influenced, including me. She gave me my name, she helped me develop my personal style and taught me how to shop, and taught me about the kind of music that… not that I should be listening to from the standpoint of cultural importance, but the kind of music from the past that I should be listening to based on who I am as a person and as a performer. She has a gift in that way of pinpointing what somebody needs to know from the past in order to inspire them and create something that’s really relevant and actually futuristic.

Photo by Thom Kerr