Pop escapism and playing song Tinder with genderqueer musician Sir Babygirl

PHOTO: Tonje-Thilesen

PHOTO: Tonje-Thilesen

A self-described gay clown, Sir Babygirl is the moniker of producer, performer, and songwriter Kelsie Hogue. They’re a student at the school of pop divas that’s equally comfortable in rich home studios as they are in rowdy basement shows. Their music reflects the omnivorous taste of today’s music fans even as it calls back to mid to late 2000s pop smashes. It’s got all of the cathartic thrill of a Kelly Clarkson chorus but with surrealist addition of a puppet chorus welcoming you to Dumont.

Unlike the first American Idol, Hogue’s not content to stick to singing songs about heterosexual romance. An out genderqueer (he/she/they) and bisexual, their songs explore the dark reality of partying, how disorienting your first queer romances are, and the sugar rush of defying rules and expectations.  Lines like “Flirting with her is like losing your keys/ what the fuck is wrong with me” seem destined to become massive crowd singalongs.

PHOTO: Tonje-Thilesen

PHOTO: Tonje-Thilesen

During our interview, they frequently would spiral off into quick asides, making nonsensical noises when words wouldn’t come fast enough, speaking in funny voices when talking about different points of view or conflicting ideas. It’s not hard to imagine them as a hyperactive yet awkward theatre nerd, socially awkward yet oddly charming.

All these bubbling ideas and hammy tendencies are on display on their debut album Crush On Me, out Feb 15th on Father Daughter Records. On “Haunted House”, Hogue loops panicked vocal samples over hiccuping synths. They belt on the chorus of “Pink Lite” like they’re performing the final song at the end of a musical. There’s orchestral flourishes, monologues, layers of harmonies and ad-libs.

When I saw them on tour with singer songwriter and fellow genderqueer musician Petal, they came off like a student of alternative drag queens: there was a mix that threw the heteronormative Avril Lavigne song “sk8r boi” into a genderqueer blender, two outfit changes, plus charming banter to fill time while dealing with technical difficulties.

The gay teens in the crowd with glitter smeared on their faces ate it up, singing along to a Jojo cover and gleefully rushing onstage during the soaring bop Heels. It seems destined that Sir Babygirl will soon be headlining their own tours in far bigger rooms. WUSSY got on the phone with them to talk about the dark underbellies of their escapist pop music, their long journey of queer self-discovery, gushing over Grimes and Kathleen Hanna, and pegging LMFAO.

I thought the first thing we would do is play some song Tinder.

ok let’s do it!


So I’m going to send you a song, you’re going to listen to it and say swipe left for no and swipe left for yes

oh my god. uuuuuuhhhh. You don’t under, uuuuuuAAAAAH. This song changed my life! Okay aside from the fetishization Harajuku situation which was obviously not awesome, not great, this song… I remember watching that video in 6th grade. You remember AOL sessions?

Yea *laughs*


Yes! So I was so into AOL sessions and I remember this coming out with the video and I was just like “what the fuck is going on to my body.”  So yes, 6th grade I would swipe right on that song. Thank you for bringing that back.

Of course! This one is a little more unknown. Maybe you know it maybe you don’t.


Let’s go! Let’s see. Test me. I love a deep cut. Imagine It’s like a GG Allen live version. I’d have to swipe no on that.


What is this? Oooh. Miss Kitten?

Mhm


This is adorable. Woah. I’m gonna need to just hang up and listen to this song for a while. This is so cute. That sounds like Princess from Powerpuff Girls had a punk band. Yup love it. Swipe right.

*laughs*

I mean.. so…yeah…. Fuck you. *laughs*


There’s nothing I can tweet that hasn’t been tweeted about Grimes and Elon Musk and Azealia and all that shit, but what I will say is I love her using nu-metal.  Think it’s so fucking funny and amazing that she’s using that vibe.

I like this song. I don’t listen to it actively but Art Angels is at the core of my love of Grimes’ sound. She’s really been the only hyper-visible producer and engineer that gets the exact credit (she deserves) because she forces it, which is what you have to do. When I was playing in my hardcore bubblegum band in the Allston scene in Boston and I was tired of just like yelling all the time on stage, I went to see her do her Art Angels tour and I remember I was just like “I don’t know how I’m gonna get the money resources and foot in the door to do this but I have to do this kind of music.” What she’s done for me visibility-wise is so important and she’s definitely the biggest catalyst of me being really intentional and overt about talking about my production in the press.


So we love Grimes but are we swiping right or left on “We Appreciate Power” the specific Grimes song?

Umm I’m gonna swipe right because I really liked the performance on Fallon


Is this LMFAO?

Mhm

Lol. I love thinking about them. I’m gonna swipe left just because this song, their vibe, I feel a lack of understanding of consent from this overall vibe. So for my overall safety, I’m gonna swipe left. Unless they want me to peg them. I would peg LMFAO.  


Oh man . I gotta say I don’t know he doesn’t have insane vocal damage from the notes he has to hit live. But you know what this song… eh… would I …. I would swipe left. I feel like this song, even though it’s a bop, would like to mansplain to me.


Now let’s get into the meaty questions. You already mentioned your hardcore bubblegum band phase I just wanted to you to go into more detail on what that meant. What is a hardcore bubblegum band?

I went to theatre school.  Freshman year I randomly ran into a kid who was like “you wanna play in my band?” and I was like “sure.”  I met some music people and just started working with these two kids all throughout college. One of them was like a rich kid who has a home studio so he would just let us come in a tinker. We first started making really Chvrches-like electro pop. They would make the beat and I would write the melody and lyrics. We never played live. It was just tooling around in the studio.

Then I had a white girl ukulele phase and that happened in there too, and then we let that go thank god. You gotta go through it to get out of it.

Then it switch turned in Junior year when I found out about Kathleen Hanna and was like “what?” because I was such a latent feminist and queer. So I was like “What? Riot grrrl? What is all this?” So I got really into that. I had always listened to divas like Christina and Mariah and that was like where my vocal world lived and then I was like “I can yell?” and “I can just rant?”

So the band totally turned and started playing with live instruments, cuz I played in instruments and so did everyone else. I also discovered Karen O and got to see her live and that was life-changing, fucking best performer ever. So we started playing basement shows and to fit in we had to assimilate a grungier sound to book gigs cuz *laughs* no one wants to dance in Boston. It was kind of a Sleigh Bells meets Yeah Yeah Yeahs, still pop-driven but very absurd. I had a song called “New Pet” about wanting to turn a boy into my pet. Just very cunty bratty music. It was really fun but I didn’t wanna be angry all the time, I kinda wanted more range.

I had vocal nodules at the end of college which was when we started playing in the scene and then I got vocal damage from trying to scream in basements where no one cared about the vocalists at all or turning on the monitors on at all, or even having monitors. It was a fun crazy time to experiment, it was not sustainable, but there are def aspects I pull from that I weave in now.


You mention finding Kathleen Hanna, which was also a big moment for me. Do you remember how that happened?

I saw The Punk Singer. People were like “you have to watch The Punk Singer” and I remember watching it. I’m not a good crier. I have a lot of toxic masculinity. From a very young age I was very tomboy, grew up with brothers. I got congratulated on not crying when I got hurt. I just remember watching that movie and the floodgates opened and I had my bi-annual cry of the year. It just fuckin rocked me. I remember watching it the next day again.

That was my introduction to feminism and then I read Girls to the Front, but as I was reading Girls to the Front I started making more friends with overt activists that were not in the theater program. I was like, wait this (Riot Grrrl) is cool but it’s all about white girls, mostly cis, mostly straight, but for the time it was amazing. It helped bridge the gap into a more intersectional approach (to social justice) where I was like oh I’m starting to understand things they were missing here. It moved me into exploring and trying to find new things and reading Toni Morrison and being like “WOAH! OH!” It was a great catalyst. That was my formal interdiction into feminism. Thanks Kathleen! And I got to meet her once.

PHOTO: Eli Raskin

PHOTO: Eli Raskin

Oh you did? What was that like?

So I lived in Chicago for a year and started to do PA work. So I somehow got onto the video team at riot fest 2016 and it turned out I was put with a behind the scenes dude and he was like “listen I have intense social anxiety and I’m supposed to interview people backstage, guerrilla style. Can you do the interviews and I film?” So I would just approach performers after or before they went onstage and just be like “hey what’s up! I’m with Riot Fest can I talk to you for a quick minute?” Omg so horrific. So Kathleen was playing with Julie Ruin and I interviewed her. She was truly the fucking kindest most grounded person that weekend that I talked to. Just as you imagined she was just chatting it up with random girls in their twenties who were geeking out about her.  So I got to interview her and she was so sweet and I have a picture with her. I remember we were hugging for a picture and I was like *sighs* “Kathleen, what’s your sign.” And she was like “I’m a Scorpio” and I was like “AAH me too” and she was like “everyone hates us because they’re so attracted to us like we’re sexy teenagers.” It was fucked up and incredible.

I love the image of you running up to people and being like “can I interview you” because you have a comedy background too. You did stand up while you were in Chicago right?

Yes. I started theatre and music the same year in 3rd grade and started playing the Saxophone. They’ve always been intertwined. Grew up on All That and the Amanda Show and SNL. It’s been this thing where I’m like “What industry do I want to try and enter into” cuz I have no industry connections. I’m from a middle-class family in New Hampshire.  I’m not like Oh my god I have nothing, but I have no industry connections and no clue how to even fucking enter (the industry) because they’re so well gatekept and that’s how they want it. I was always the quirky charter in every school play that would come on and say three lines and people would be like “What?” and then leave. But I didn’t talk in school at all. I was so guarded and shy but I’d do these crazy characters and people would be like “Who the fuck is this bitch?”

Do you feel like Sir Babygirl as a persona is another kind of character you step into?

I just think it’s the cartoon character of me. It’s curtained heightened aspects of me.



I’ve watched the FLIRTING WITH HER 101: A GAY LECTURE video. Are you planning on doing more comedic stuff under the Sir Babygirl moniker in the future?

Oh yeah! I love Carrie Brownstein’s trajectory that’s so my shit. I have a lot of film, comedy and tv friends that’s like more where my circles align. I love people from slightly different creative industries and bouncing off that. The thing I figured out when doing standup is I’m gonna be harassed and abused in any entertainment industry so which one is worth the abuse? I think any marginalized person has to think what is worth the shitty experiences? Stand Up for me was just not worth it. I could not.

I love music enough that I’m willing to put up with awful men and other people to try and get what I want and do what I want to do. I don’t like the expectation of laughter or any emotional expectations. What I love at music concerts is that there’s no inherent expectation. I like having comedy being an element of surprise, and it’s part of it and you can laugh if you want but you don’t have to. When you’re at a comedy show you’re like “oh fuck I’m supposed to laugh tonight” That kind of ruins it. That how I figured out I want to do music with elements of comedy.

In my live show I do a whole intro where I compile different clips from the mid 2000s and America’s Next Top Model and Hit Clips and The Proud Family theme song and The Amanda Show and stuff like that. I want to infuse that into my show. I have different transitions that are absurdist quick audio clips. I think Sir Babygirl is a gay clown. There’s inherently the idea that Sir Babygirl is a clown first and foremost.

The press release said that in Chicago you came to terms with your queerness and realized more about it. Was that in a more of a nightlife context or just hanging out at friend’s houses?

It was kind of none of that. I had my first experience when I was twenty and I liked it but I didn’t know anyone that was bisexual. I only knew lesbian or gay dudes. I didn’t understand it existed (bisexually).  I was just like “well I’m still really attracted to men and I really wanna date men” because compulsory Heteronormativity is soooo EASY! I was like ok I’m gonna have sex with girls and date men because my mind was like “that’s how it works.” So I dated a dude for a year, and while I was dating him I was like “I keep being attracted to women what’s going on?” So when we broke up and I started more seriously trying to date women and but was just like “I don’t know how to do this!” Cuz I was out but no one asked. I was really femme presenting had long brown hair. I identified as a cis woman, I didn’t even know that term because I didn’t have the language. The only queer community at my school was just gay white cis dudes, so (I had) just all the femme and bi invisibility.
So I knew I was queer but I didn’t know what to do with it. When I was in Chicago I was trying to date people and it was just that thing where I want so badly to have a girlfriend or have a queer experience that I was dating the wrong people and being like oh maybe I’ll like them more the next day. I was trying to force it because it felt so hard to find anyone to date. It was this trudge of attempting to date people and it being kind of whack and continuing to repeat the same fucking mistakes and being super depressed and not dealing with trauma from, and I’m not trying to center the campaign around this at all, not trying to do a #metoo commercialized moment, but it’s just inherent to the whole thing that I had all this repressed sexual trauma I wasn’t addressing. I didn’t even have a sex drive and was trying to date people and I was like “fuck am I not gay if I don’t wanna have sex with anyone?”

Going home was a huge thing cuz I finally found an actually good therapist who finally addressed my trauma head-on. That was the floodgate for actually starting to really understand my queerness while I was making memes about queerness. Those really helped me because I was actually able to see that other people related to really specific things about bisexuality that I truly thought I was insane for thinking. I was doing recovery therapy and doing memes. It really wasn’t until this past year that I started to feel more settled in it. It really wasn’t until I landed in Brooklyn and I started walking around being like “oh my god this is so cool!” I’m openly attracted to so many people here! It actually feels good and I’m not questioning it as much. Internalized biphobia is not as strong as it used to be.


You mentioned earlier that Grimes gets the credit that she deserves for being a producer because she pushes it on people. Now that you’re in the press cycle for your the first album, are you similarly trying to force the idea that “I had to produced and engineered these songs down people’s throats as much?”

Yes. And I like to be clear that I produced it I didn’t not engineer it, my engineer Lee engineered it.


PHOTO: Eli Raskin

PHOTO: Eli Raskin

Right, okay

But the problem is that if I mention Lee too much people are going to say he produced it, but I want there to be clear credit and Lee was so involved and is an incredible collaborator, but these are all my productions. I think that people don’t even care about production. A lot of journalists don’t even think about it. I’ve been in so many meeting where people halfway through will be like “who wrote this” and I’m like ME. And they won’t even ask about production. I was in a meeting once where halfway through, they had heard my music, and they were like “can you sing?” I was like no, I’m really good at creating a robot voice on Ableton not mine.

Empress Of had this situation. It was during her press cycle and press came out and said the dude that co-produced it with her produced it. And she was like “I fucking co-produced. So help you god you said you co-produced you’ll never get credit. It’s this fucking weird game.

Production is this really ephemeral thing that no one really talks about and you don’t really know, and It’s so integral and important and it’s so often overlooked cuz its just thrown over to the men to do. I have been very intentional about being aggressive cuz I still have a lot of hang ups on my production work. I don’t think I’m amazing on it still and that’s just real. I wanna be like yes, I fucking produced this but do I feel super confident? No! I’m still trying to figure it out and both exist. I’m confident that I made this album but there’s still a lot I wanna learn. I wanna work with more people but I want it to be very understood that I produced the album and I am capable of that, and I am capable of that because I went and taught myself. It fuckin is possible but it’s fucking painful and it sucks. It’s not fun. A lot of it is not fun and it's a lot of trudge work. I just wanna be very transparent about production because I just didn’t even know what it meant.

Yes, like I don’t have a clear distinction between engineering and producing.

Totally! I think everyone has slightly different definitions but the way I easily define it is production is creating the sound and engineering is fine-tuning the sounds. I was gonna engineer my album but if I tried to engineer my album and wanted it to sound the way it sounds, I could have easily spent 5 years on it.

I’ll give you an example. On “Haunted House” I want on Ableton and made the whole intro part with all the midi sounds. I create those sounds and then I take it to lee. So maybe with the synth sound, it was like “alright we need  to take out the high end it’s a little shrill and round it out.” He does a lot of EQ work which I don’t do as much. He mixed the album, and mixing is something I wanna get better at but it’s such a like crazy world to me. I’d be like okay I want this synth to sound like a ballerina taking a dump on the street and he’d try to edit that sound. So that’s how we’ll work. I’ll do verbal production like “I want this synth to sound like *vocalizes*” and he’ll try to help me find the sound, or I’ll just make the sound myself.

Do you feel like your music is escapist or grounded in reality?

Oh it’s completely escapist. It’s a surreal take on the minutia of experiencing trauma in real time and the little things. It’s a surrealist take on a collection of moments. I don’t write songs inherently about people, that makes me so bored and uninspired. All my songs are conversations with myself or conversations with a bunch of different people, different moments.

Pop escapism is really important to me because we’re in a zone right now, especially in the queer community, we’re so obsessed with a lot of minutiae that I don’t necessarily know is productive. Some of it is and some of it isn’t but sometimes our focus gets so lasered in. Especially with white queers there’s just so much discourse, and sometimes I’m like “but also our bodies need to breathe and we need to be able to dance.” It’s just dumb but it’s worked forever. Its physical therapy. Dance music as therapy is so fucking important.

I call this album a love letter to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” It’s the subcategory of crying in the club music. You’re gonna confront your darkest shit and you’re gonna transform it instead of falling victim to it.





Mo Wilson is a writer and sometimes DJ living in Brooklyn. He also throws indie rock/punk shows with the booking collective Booked By Grandma and loves plastic jewelry. You can find him on Twitter @sadgayfriendx and Instagram at @djgaypanic