You formed pop-punk/new wave band RZA after attending NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) in the late ’70s. What was your upbringing like?
My dad was a Methodist minister and he ran Felicity Church on Chestnut. Between my dad and my Cuban mother we didn’t really have rock ’n’ roll in the house. I grew up transgender. I was born female and grew up and transitioned and went to school as a boy but no one really knew. It could be dangerous. There were a lot of challenges in a time long before trans youth were able to speak out and be on TV and talk shows. Not to say that it’s easy now.
How did you navigate your gender identity, both privately and publicly, growing up and playing music?
Even before I was more publicly out, my privacy was respected in the local scene—some people knew, some didn’t. But there was still a lot of intensity and anxiety in day-to-day life. My experiences as a transgender person have always informed my work and I continue that work now as an LGBT advocate. When my parents took me to Tulane Medical Center I met some really cool practitioners who just got it, that helped me to accept myself more. As I got older, when I attended NOCCA, I started going out and hearing live music. The energy was tremendous and I decided I wanted to play rock ’n’ roll.
How did you carve out your own place in the punk rock/new wave music scene in New Orleans?
I was 18 years old and just wanted to be loved. It was an adolescent desire for attention but what was driving my desire to play was coming out of WTUL. I worked at the Prytania Theater in high school and would listen to WTUL when they were playing the Contortions, the Ramones, early Blondie, the New York Dolls, the Replacements, X. As my band [RZA] got more popular, we got to play with lots of those bands because the club owners liked us. We opened for bands like U2 and Iggy Pop, XTC, Ian Hunter, X, Aztec Camera, the Selector, the Gun Club and others. Lots of bands on the USS President.
Why did you stay in New Orleans when you did and leave when you left?
New Orleans has always been saturated in jazz and blues and I was doing original rock material. After playing in New Orleans for a long time, I decided to move to New York with my girlfriend. I jumped in the car and threw as much stuff as I could fit in. That experience, my ability to put together bands [the Tailfins, Jenifer Convertible and most recently the Tenterhooks] and get them going in a city with thousands, literally thousands, of rock bands, and make them good, was based on everything I learned cutting my teeth in New Orleans—from starting out at Jed’s and Jimmy’s and Tipitina’s, to learning how to book a band and run a band. New Orleans and New York both have that beautiful ugly, a lot of history and dirt and grime, but a lot of beauty too.
What prompted this October 3rd reunion show at Siberia?
We’re all good friends and when I get to New Orleans I want to play with everyone. I’ve also wanted to see the band Norco Lopalco so I wrote them and said, ‘I don’t know how I’m ever going to see you unless I book a gig with you.’ So I’m killing two birds with one stone.