Saturday, August 10, 2019

Interview with Tibbie Skye West of MADAME ST. BEATRICE by Dave Wolff

Interview with Tibbie Skye West of MADAME ST. BEATRICE

Before getting into how you joined your current band (fronted by vocalist Madame St. Beatrice), explain why your previous band GASH parted ways. 
When I started that band I wanted to bring new energy to the world by charging a new force into the punk/hardcore scene. My intent was to GASH the separation between band and audience with an interactive, sexually charged, spontaneous BDSM-themed offering - of myself - while performing. Also to destroy the separation between “grrrrrlll” rock, macho tough guy hardcore and specific LGBT events and make it a show for everybody. I purposefully booked us with old school DC hardcore bands mixed with artsy Trans new wave bands to get everyone in the same space all together; as I called it the legion of the streets!! Because that’s what nightlife really is. In rock-n-roll we are all part of the rebellion no matter what our sexual preference and there’s more power in numbers so it was my intent to give myself to the night to unify all these different tribes.
It became a lot to blindfold myself or ask audience members to cuff me so I started bringing in performers. Domme Stephxecutioner and Leather Pup Chris Wiz became regulars. For a while things were glorious; we were doing something new. Nothing was planned or rehearsed performance-wise. We fed off the energy of the crowd and were led by our interactions with whoever showed up.
The guys in the band always seemed to resent the presence of the extra performers, and just weren’t on the same page with the spiritual messages that were so important to me. Mainly I was trying to communicate through every means possible; mind, body, and spirit; that we all have the right to exist in freedom as our real selves, with truth and with solid consent there should be no judgement in love, but Absolute Liberation for All.

What were the positives and negative points of being GASH’s frontwoman?
On the positive side I met literally hundreds of people. I believe, in a non-narcissistic way, that we succeeded in creating a wave that changed the former misogyny and dullness of a nearly stagnant scene. On the negative, I was judged by those who were closed to change as being “slutty” or using sex for attention. My former husband was our manager and a trans-woman at the time. As our relationship became problematic and we separated, I needed time off from everything to focus on organizing the most important part of my life: my home with my son, and my physical and mental health. It was a lot to take on as I suddenly needed to support us both, find a safe place to live and figure out how to move forward on my own.
In times of turmoil it becomes apparent who real friends are and those who were along for the ride as long as they are getting one. The guys, without speaking with me, fired me from my own band and attempted to continue it without me. They publicly bashed me online, blocked me from the website and deleted our show videos. I really don’t understand it as I only supported them, especially my one guitarist who I brought into my other band Reagan Youth and wanted to tour Europe with us. My ex-husband bought him a new guitar and, despite what happened, I still believe he is an instinctively naturally talented musician who could have a lifetime career should he choose to pursue it.

What do you think are the reasons for the ire you received for the efforts you made with GASH?
I think maybe it’s a generational thing. I wasn’t fitting into the stereotypical “punk” format and they were getting a lot of shit from their friends. In the bigger picture we were headlining gay pride events in other countries, on the verge of a record deal and touring Europe. In the smaller picture, locally, their friends hated me and were writing horrible things about me online, childish, but concerning how I should kill myself, I deserve a boot to the head, plus a lot of slack about “pussy pandering”, lies about how I’ve never worked, etc.
Paul, my guitarist in Reagan Youth, in an attempt to stand up for me online, went full on nuclear assault and basically threatened to kill the entire Philadelphia punk scene. It didn’t help matters but I love him for standing up for me. He has always been the family I never had, and continues to support and challenge me as a musician and real friend. I’ve known him closely for years now and he is far from being racist, homophobic, and violent. But when he’s mad his words are like a tornado of doom. There was no coming back from that. I just wanted everyone to chill the fuck out and stop fighting. Soooooo I just left it. I left it alone and refocused my life on a new career, my artwork, obviously my son who is #1, and I continued in Reagan Youth.
I do wish to repair the relationship with the former band members, specifically Domme Stephxecutioner as there was a lot of mistranslated issues that are not true and could be easily resolved. I don’t think it benefits anyone, especially during this politically conservative era to hold onto petty resentments that divide us. But anyway that’s the past... on to now.

Describe your experiences touring with Reagan Youth as their bassist. Did you still see unity in punk during this time? I noticed Spike Polite of Sewage was involved in the band for this tour.
Having the chance to join Reagan Youth was an opportunity to step back into the punk world that had become my family, as when I was in my old band X-Possibles. I worked my ass off writing music, recording, performing, traveling and supporting other bands, and was genuinely dedicated to a scene I felt had the power to exist as an alternative reality full of creative people supporting each other in an oppressive society. Living on your own terms, happily, with freedom to be genuine is not easy. I felt grateful that I was in NYC. Even though I struggled to live there I was surrounded by inspirational people and places. Then our drummer died, things got messed up and I was back in the 9 to 5, pay rent, take yoga classes, go to bed early, try to be “healthy” reality. I was on antidepressants and getting fat and stagnant, and people would say “you’re doing so well now”.
I couldn’t take it! I tried to get X-Possibles back together, but it was difficult line up wise to travel to the past in a city that had changed. Then I got pregnant with my son Severin and moved to Philadelphia. With my son, that was the first time I had ever experienced true love. I really felt I had a purpose and place in the world. It was a great time when I heard Reagan Youth needed a bassist. I could be a part of something real, not only for myself but for my son. To show him you can follow your dreams and have them manifest into reality if you work for it. Paul had me audition on bass with the two songs “The Whipping Post” and “Green Grass and High Tides”. Since then we’ve had our adventures all over the country and Europe. Spike is one of the many band members that came and went, but because the songs are meaningful to so many people we just continue on.

I’ve noticed how people “slut shame” punks and goths for putting on sexually themed performances, while praising mainstream rockers and pop divas for it. How much of a contradiction do you see in this? Does it have to do with the general public’s definition of beauty?
I don’t know; I think mainstream rockers and pop divas get a full on negative attack about everything since they’re part of the system. It’s a big advertisement, all products are marketed by making people feel shitty about themselves so they “need” whatever’s being sold to fix whatever problem is being dictated. Then the media uses famous people to prove a product works while running stories about how crappy that person is so people who are not famous can judge them as a way to feel better, and hate at just the right level where they are still envious and motivated to buy products to be more like that person. I think in punk and goth things have gotten a lot better in terms of “slut shaming”. Ignoring Facebook in real life I don’t think it’s really even much of an issue. What’s amazing is the activist work within the scene geared toward legalizing sex work. Check out Dominatrixes Against Donald Trump.

The media sets up public figures to simultaneously envy and want to emulate, to keep the economy going and continue the cycle of greed and consumerism. Is this another form of herd conformity? What solutions do you believe exist?
For me, I have to have my freedom on all fronts. With intelligence, I believe it’s possible to exist in a healthy way without sacrificing inner truth for someone else’s reality. It’s not the easy route. I’m not anti-work or even anti consumerist; I’m talking about not soul sacrificing personal truth to be in good with the majority. If that’s someone else’s truth, they should have the freedom to do what I perceive as drudgery. I teach preschool. In a small way, being a part of a child’s first experience with education and respecting their individuality in a creative and caring environment is a hopeful solution to the inevitable soul-annihilation bombardment of the system. Maybe some kids will grow up with self-confidence and awareness to continue to a future they chose for themselves, without mindlessly falling into the preset pattern of GMO-poisoned fast food, blank consumerism, work drudgery and inane loveless life slavery. My parents were artists and I watched their lives change during the Reagan era. They became obsessed with money, having a nice lawn and a car, and they switched to business. This once happy couple now fought endlessly over petty nonsense. My beautiful mother got a weird perm and suit jackets. She developed a host of stress related diseases. My dad hit the prescriptions hard in some attempt to cope and grew fat, ugly and mean. They worked, bought frozen dinners and watched TV. Before that we had a free life, love and genuine happiness. They were unaware they were indoctrinated into a system that inevitably leads to sickness and death. As far as herd mentality, it’s not easy living outside of the cage. People are happy within the confines of their dictated reality, and threats to their comfort are usually met with retaliation.

Do you feel the situation is worse today, where Independent thought is not only discouraged but ridiculed? Where it’s hard to tell real news from “fake news”? Do you see a backlash growing?
I don’t think it’s any worse today than it’s ever been. Throughout history, as far as we know, it’s been a struggle to be an individual and to separate from the herd that chases the monster out of town with pitchforks. I focus on those close to me and am trying to exist in a genuine way. My son Severin is emotionally aware as we discuss things a LOT. I don’t lie to him to hide anything. Obviously I’m protective about exposing him to things he doesn’t need to infiltrate his innocent mind at his age. We don’t watch Disney movies, haha. They kill the moms left and right in those films; what’s up with that? He hasn’t grown up watching a ton of TV since I don’t have one. I notice a difference in his personality when he’s exposed to what’s supposed to be “funny” violence for kids. My kid is not desensitized or controlled. I present options for him to make up his own mind about how he feels about things. There is no sports/religious indoctrination or political agenda. I don’t mean to sound pretentious; it’s just not easy to strive for a different reality than what the mainstream offers. I was trying to define the concept of anarchy recently, explaining that I don’t believe in it as a chaotic, free for all or communist camp. I think freedom of choice and non-judgmental acceptance are important, with options in a classless society, and it’s something to work towards even if it seems impossible. Why not believe in yourself and strive for your dreams?

Are there any artists you are recommending to your son, to encourage him to choose his own path?
He knows he has the freedom to be honest with me, and I always have his back, so he has the security to exist as his genuine self. From listening to my stuff he loves the Dead Boys, specifically “Sonic Reducer”, and of course the Ramones. A lot of the punk classics but his favorite song right now is “Imagine Dragons” by Believer. He says he relates to the lyrics.

Do you have an opinion about internet programs like What Would Jello Do? (Jello Biafra) and cable programs like The Henry Rollins Show, or other programs you may have recently seen?
Oh man, I haven’t even heard of them. I barely use my computer, and whenever I have to it’s like a dysfunctional catastrophe. My friend Chris put me on his Netflix, so I’ve watched stranger things on my phone. But finishing a college course recently to get certified as a preschool teacher and trying to print out papers is beyond stressful.

How long were you acquainted with Madame St. Beatrice, and what inspired you to play guitar for her?
I really just wanted to play rhythm guitar as I’m not even a singer. I kinda had to be a punk storyteller to get what I wanted manifested into the world. I’ve known Madame St Beatrice since I joined Reagan Youth eight years ago. We briefly had a band with Paul called Dust Angel that toured with them. Paul really pushed for us to play together. What a gift. It’s really beyond anything else. He stands up for me as a friend and musician. I’ve heard him shouting about me not sucking up to guys who are like questioning why I’m in the band. He calls me on it when I suck and it has helped me improve tremendously. I think we are on the same energetic grid, and share the same passions and beliefs. It just makes sense for us to play music together.

Aside from your old band, how would you further explain the term “punk storyteller” and how else can you express the idea besides being a musician?
Having survived hardships alive and still maintaining my freedom to exist authentically has been an ongoing thing. I love talking to people, connecting and sharing life experiences. Working in a preschool has been a dramatic reality shift. All of a sudden I’m in this safe, structured environment with a whole new group of people I never really interacted with. It’s an honor to be a part of a child’s first school experience and to be given a chance to be creative and helpful in these families’ lives. It’s an ongoing story...

How would you define “feminist fronted rock”? As a member of St. Beatrice’s band, are you meeting other female fronted bands with similar world views?
That’s a very fluid term. I just looked up “feminist” and the definition was “a person who supports feminism”. I’d love to see what Roxy Epoxy gets together. I was going to play bass for her but it was difficult living in separate states. I’ve been playing music with Paul and Beatrice for years and now it’s musically instinctual. I would love for music to be music, and a band to be a band without separation. It’s weird that a female fronted band is a special oddity that needs defining in the first place. I love booking shows without caring about genre classification or gender. Which is tricky because people generally like their identities validated.
It’s strange to me to seek art and music to continue a singular belief system. I think the purpose beyond personal expression, and fun, is expansionist and at best influential for changing and challenging stagnation. The music I’m playing with Madame St Beatrice fluctuates between heavy soulful bluesy rock and roll, punk influenced thrash and melodic seventies songs. I think we might use “soul punk” as a label.

I imagine “soul punk” works as a label since we had something similar with Death (Chicago), Bad Brains and 24-7 Spyz. Do you think Madame St. Beatrice has anything in common with those bands, or can progress into a band with a different sound altogether?
I love that band Death. I used to listen to them a lot with Severin. I saw the reincarnated band at a really small space in Philly years ago. I’d love to play with them. The bands aren’t similar sound wise really but are spiritually similar in terms of originality and personal lifestyles.

Did you see the documentary about Death that came out recently? It’s called “A Band Called Death” and it recounts their history including the making of their unreleased demo.
I saw it years ago. The guitarist was right to refuse to commercialize and water down his own band. It’s sad that alcoholism took him away from this world. I really hate thinking about all the people I knew that aren’t around anymore just from trying to feel alright. Yesterday I was looking online for photos of a friend who died, Derek. He had a bunch of bands but Plastic Letters from Los Angeles was his last. We had matching Pac-Man tattoos and used to refer to each other as “twin” like our hearts were always connected. Then one day, he’s just gone. I want eternity. I don’t want to be disconnected from the people I love ever, no matter how painful it is to continue through this life.
One of the many amazing quotes from Reagan Youth’s Paul is “you can put the drugs in, but you can’t take them out. So be careful.” I wish that replaced the unrealistic “just say no” brainwashing campaign.

Is Madame St. Beatrice as theatrical as GASH as far as their stage show goes, or do you present an entirely different concept?
In GASH I was crossed-over into subspace publicly while performing. It was a whole different thing. I was purposefully trying to alter a small part of reality energetically physically and musically, in myself and for anyone in hopes that it would radiate out and change the world. It’s hard to explain, but in Beatrice’s band I’m playing rhythm guitar and I’m not crawling through the audience and stuff.

Have you gotten to write any songs with Madame St. Beatrice? How many shows have you played since you joined?
Madame St Beatrice wrote all the songs with Paul Cripple. I feel synchronized with the lyrics and drive of the music. I feel connected to it as if it’s perfect to me. It inspires me to want to spread it around get it out in the universe. I really want to make videos; I see so many visuals. The bandmates are great. It’s been so many years and it’s a gift to be included in something new again. We’ve only played two shows in Brooklyn. I want to practice more and there are more songs being added to the set. Right now I’m looking for unique bands to play out with and it feels good to have the drive to seek out new music. I never want to be complacent or detached from the night/street/dimension of musical passion.

How many more songs are being added to the live show? If material is available from Madame St. Beatrice, tell the readers where it’s posted and which songs you suggest in particular?
All our songs are my favorites but I particularly relate to the lyrics of “I’ll Do Me” and “My World is Falling Apart”. I think they are beautiful, real and visual. I did a drawing/painting of Beatrice titled “My Insanity is My Lullaby” based on “I’ll Do Me”. We have a full set; it’s just a matter of getting everyone together. I haven’t played guitar in a long time and my guitar is literally taped together. Before I had two broken amps, and Paul brought one over for me. It’s a huge relief that I can practice. Blake the lead guitarist is super talented; Kenny and Mark are the rhythm section. I live in Philadelphia and travel to NYC when I can to practice, so I have to make sure I don’t slack at home. Otherwise it fucks things up for everyone else, and I don’t want to suck live or not know my parts.

How often do you have to travel to New York from Philly to practice with the band? Would it be easier if you were able to relocate to New York? Do you see Madame St. Beatrice playing shows in Pennsylvania in the near future?
I can’t relocate back to NYC for a lot of reasons but I miss NYC from the past. I miss the 90’s in general. I guess it’s like that for every generation when an era passes.
I lived in the East Village for eighteen years before I lived in Philadelphia. I sometimes lived in Brooklyn during that time. Sometimes I didn’t have a place and just suffered it out couch surfing or crashing in cafes and stores to save up money to get a place. At the time I felt it was where I needed to be, to be connected to music, inspiration, the underground and the sacrifice of stability and safety of having a place to live. It wasn’t really that important as long as I could be a part of the nightlife/art world there. I miraculously stayed alive, I have my son and we need to have our apartment. I found a job that doesn’t drain my soul. Like I care about the work I do, the people there and where Severin and I live is our home.
Haley Alyssa is a tattoo artist from Baltimore. She drives to NYC and back sometimes. If I can I’ll catch a ride with her which is the best. We have a blast. Or I’ll take the bus back and forth which takes forever, but I’ll always sacrifice for music. It’s like feeding a soul to a monster only it gives you more soul back as payment for your suffering. No matter what it has to happen.

Is St. Beatrice’s band planning to release any material in 2019? If so, how many songs do you expect will be on it?
St. Beatrice has a bunch of songs recorded with Paul which they are remixing and releasing. Paul doesn’t use tuners and the songs are in Paul’s tuning, so it’s really hard for me to learn the parts on my own. When we tune it’s all different from what I’ve been playing along with. I don’t know how many songs there are but I know Paul has many amazing songs; at least two albums’ worth. It’s kind of been torture not getting the new Reagan Youth album out, and some of those songs are being done in St Beatrice’s band.

How soon is Reagan Youth planning to release the new album? Are they releasing it independently or on a label?
Cleopatra records is putting out two holiday songs we recorded this year. We plan on recording the new album hopefully this year probably in Texas. I really hope to get that done; again there is a ton of really amazing songs that are long overdue. I’m guessing Cleopatra would be putting out the new album but we have to set up recording and teach our bandmates the new songs.

Through what other forms of expression do you want to indulge your passion for creativity and NYC culture? I remember in our last interview you mentioned having gotten into ballet, for example.
I did ballet when I was a kid. I’m super excited to get back to hot yoga and sweat out this past year of eating crappy and not exercising enough. I’ve always been really healthy and strong and I got sidetracked with getting certifications for work going to college and setting up our home here, trying to have any savings because I’m fearful of the future, fearful of being 75 and homeless with major medical issues. I really want to be around for a long time, for me and my kid. I started painting last year and I want to do that a lot more.

Is painting a new interest for you, or is it something you’ve wanted to do for a long time? Do you have any of your paintings on the net where people can view them?
I post my work on my Facebook under Tibbie Skye West. I let people email me and name a price that works for them if they want to buy something. Having sold stuff to old friends makes me incredibly happy. I feel like connected to them having something I made in their home. Painting isn’t new to me but I didn’t have a plan or preconceived idea of what I was going to paint. It kinda turned out to be a lot of occult imagery and psychedelic demonic vampire women based off the Qlipoth. I love them. When I’m working on them it’s a kind of interaction. I’m probably very lonely but if art comes out of it it’s ok.

Where does the inspiration for your demonic and occult imagery come from lately? What is the appeal you see in female vampires?
I love reading about occult religious practices especially the role women played in mythology and offshoot magical cults and witchcraft. Quimbanda is this Brazilian Lust cult that is ruled over by the concept Goddess “Pomba Gira” the Devils Mistress. She is legion as in there’s hundreds of manifestations of her throughout history. It’s basically an uncensored celebration of the divine feminine without biblical moral judgement. Qliphoth demonology is also influential to me. It’s too much to explain but basically it’s the dark side of the tree of life like the underground. These characters just make sense to me and I love them- they started coming out in my artwork. I’m a kinda ghost vampire having survived dying twice so I personalize the mythology and relate to being an outcast. I love Jean Rollin movies where the monsters are always these beautiful tragically misunderstood creatures and it’s the Vanilla peasant minded society townsfolk who are truly evil. 

How much of your work is posted on Facebook for people to view? Are you receiving feedback from people who have seen it online?
I’ve posted all my work on my Facebook and sold almost all of it. I’m currently working on an online store I will link to my Facebook so I can sell t-shirts and prints of my work. I really hope people want them. I’d love to be connected visually with people who like my work like that. 

In what ways do you intend to develop as a painter if you decide to pursue it further? What statements would you want to make?
I started painting again because I went to an art therapy group awhile ago and also some teachers I worked with were inspirational to me. I realized I could just paint at home and wouldn’t have to deal with the therapy people and that I would probably always be part depressed because I’m not stupid so I gave up on therapy. Painting is a part of me that I’m glad came back. I think if I just keep doing it my work will evolve and more and more hidden subconscious ideas will emerge.

-Dave Wolff

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