Have you heard of trans slut rock? I didn’t know how to visualize it or even think of how it could sound until my friend and I walked down the flights of stairs into El Cid. We came there for the band, Um, Jennifer? We kept our hopes up that their iconic band member, Jennifer Coolidge, would arrive, but alas we were stuck in a crowd of gays waiting for two of them, Fig and Eli, to step up to the stage and claim that they were the band.
After an electric and exciting performance (which you can read about in our coverage here!), we got to chat with them. We ended up in the back alley of the venue, sitting criss-cross applesauce in a circle as if we were back in kindergarten or waiting to summon the dead. My fellow gay, Dylan, and I picked Um, Jennifer?’s brains and discussed their music, who they are, and everything about gender.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity purposes
Interviewed by Chloe Gonzales
Assistance from Dylan Simmons
Chloe: Please, give me the introduction to Um, Jennifer–I want to hear everything.
Eli: So we met at a mutual friend’s birthday party about a year and a half ago. No, two years ago, two years on New Yea–
Fig: yeah two—two years on new years
All: *audible gasps* OOO!
Eli: –and we didn’t even interact that night– we like hung out but then we didn’t get each other’s numbers. We kept bumping into each other in the city at different gay bars and parties and things like that. And I kept coming up to Fig and being like “Hi, it’s me!” and then Fig was like “Hey.”
Fig: –That’s not true! I didn’t know who you were!
Eli: To be fair I showed up in drag. Blond wig, serving cunt. And then a little while later I started dating Fig’s friend and so we [Fig and I] started talking more and saying “should we make a band?” Or, actually, Fig posted “I wanna be in a band!” and I DMed them and said “let’s play.” Then Fig texted me saying “let’s be in a fifth wave emo band” and for some reason that set it on fire. That was literally the match and we were like “let’s fucking go!!” and then we started writing over text, boom first three songs done, literally “Girl Class” over text during winter break.
Chloe: Oh my God?? Wait so then, I know y’all have three songs on Spotify, but the first one is more so an audio clip?
Fig: So basically, that was us trying to get the comma into “Um, Jennifer?” and we were trying to like– it was so fucking silly. We were trying to populate Spotify and Apple Music with the name Um-comma-Jennifer-question mark before we put out “Girl Class”. And so we’re like, “Okay, why don’t we put out a short little song [“Jennifer Journals”] that has our proper name.” And we did that and there’s no fucking comma!
Eli: No, it didn’t work.
Chloe: On anything??
Eli: On nothing. Not even the handle.
Fig: Yeah, so we have that silly little song now.
Eli: Did you listen to it?
Chloe: Yes! It’s that audio. I don’t listen to it compared to the other two–it’s like my third favorite from y’all.
Eli: That’s the secret best one! Well, we say we have two and a half songs out.
Chloe: Yeah, it’s one of those interludes—
Fig: Just play “Jennifer Journals” backwards…
Chloe: *laughs* Yes, put it on the vinyl– [says] “go to hell,”
Dylan: *laughs* Wait, okay I was hoping this was a joke you said on stage, saying you “don’t want to talk about it.” But can I ask about the [band] name?
Fig: So the thing about Jennifer is that she’s perpetually not there. She’s always leading us on, like“yeah I’ll come to your party” and then doesn’t show up.
Eli: –Sometimes she’ll hit us up and be like, “do you wanna hang out later?” like, “book a show in LA!” And she’ll say that and then we’ll show up and–I think she does it just to fuck with us–she won’t show up.
Chloe: –She fucking flakes! And then you see her on the fucking screen? [Context: Jennifer Coolidge] So you know she’s around LA.
Eli: We kno–she’s literally across the street partying with her girlfriends.
Fig: Yeah, with all her girls and they’re all like 40.
Eli: They drink heavy.
We then go into a tangent and create a show called “Jennifer’s House,” hosted in a one bed one person apartment in New York City starring rats
Chloe: I want to talk about New York– and I know you guys have been here for two days– but I mean, the scene’s gotta be different, right? Like, are there similarities in crowd or venues [between NYC & LA]?
Eli: This [El Cid] actually reminds me of a venue in New York called Union Pool. I feel like the LA scene from what I’ve seen a bit and from what I’ve heard is pretty different from New York. Just like vibe, energy.
Chloe: Could you tell us a little bit more?
Fig: I don’t know if I can even speak on it. We’re here recording so we only leave the house to eat. Hopefully we get out more but I have noticed that people wear more colors here.
Eli: Yeah, New York is a little bit more angsty–scary but it’s cool. I fuck with it hard but it is dirty and scary and LA is a bit more just–people are into love here. Like vibing. And New York people are vibing on anxiety.
Chloe: Wait, back to the first EP…. can I get the scoop?
Eli: Yeah, it will be “Girl Class” and “Cut Me Open”
Fig: –and then three secret ones.
Chloe: Ohh in the vault!
Fig: You heard some tonight [at the concert] but one is a pretty ballad–that makes people cry!
Eli: Highkey makes me cry.
Fig: You fucking wrote it babe.
Eli: Yeah, yeah we are really excited though.
Chloe: And “Girl Class” is really the one that started it all right?
Fig: Yeah, I mean “Girl Class” I brought to Eli over winter texting. It came out of frustration of being like a newly minted woman in a way. And I don’t identify as a woman but something closer to that. And just being frustrated that I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I didn’t grow up with it. Eli wrote this verse that was from the perspective of like the patriarchy that just kind of gave it more meaning.
Eli: I really connected with the initial lyrics and concept that they had. It spoke to me having grown up a girl and a lot of the “you have to go here, you have to do this, you have to do” whatever. And hearing that spoken from a trans perspective just hit home. It was these very real things about these different angles and perspectives about femininity, social training, and gender training generally. It was also kind of like what can you do but like fuck the whole thing up and laugh about it.
That verse [“FUCK YOU!”] is kind of every guy I’ve dated and like “oh! All you have to do is everything I say and be my perfect wife and act and dress like this!” It was kind of funny to be imitating that voice of the patriarchy.
Chloe: I agree wholeheartedly–and having those attributes of what gender is and then trying to experiment a little bit more–it’s such a fucking journey. And we are having more and more representation, for example like Weird Sister Records [label the duo is under] signs non-binary and women artists, but it still feels like I hear about only a few.
Eli: Yeah, and it’s a thing where I feel like everyone’s kind of teaming and being like, “can we talk about this?” And on a large scale and hear about it everywhere from every different perspective and angle. I think it’s just a really exciting time and I feel really grateful to be doing this and to be a trans band.
Dylan: I think it’s an interesting dilemma of trying to feel more feminine internally without abiding by what the patriarchy defines femininity as because really there is no definition for femininity and that’s kind of the tricky thing. I would imagine as a trans person it might be like, “well, then what do I do?” You know, “if I want to be perceived as more feminine without going full 180,” “I’m just going to be a nice little housewife”
Eli: Yes, exactly. I mean, that’s what I always thing about being trans is like– and I see this with a lot of my friends, especially early in transition, it’s just a different form of heightened consciousness because you start really looking and considering different nuances and aspects of yourself that a lot of us don’t consider until you start questioning your gender.
Fig: Like all of those things are totally okay and yes, gender is a construct but also it’s so real. It’s a relationship to gender or a divorce from gender but it’s always there.
Dylan: And I can imagine it would be kind of freeing and very frightening. And I’m not trans but I imagine it’s scary at the beginning but also kind of like having this conversation and realizing that femininity or masculinity is just kind of absurd. It’s just whatever you want it to be.
Fig: Yeah, I identify as non-binary and always I’ll have days when I’ll be like, “God, I don’t feel like a girl,” “I’m having a really hard time being a girl” And then I’ll be like, “Oh, currently I’m non-binary, it’s fine.” Identities are helpful, to a point. And this is such a big conversation.
Dylan: Did you guys seriously get together yesterday to practice your set?
Fig and Eli: Yes.
Dylan: That’s incredibly impressive.
Eli: They [bassist & guitarist] are outstanding, top notch musicians. Sarah co-fronts a band called Kid Sistr, they are LA-based.
[Context: Eli & Fig met the two musicians for the first time the day before!]
Chloe: Tell me about “Cut Me Open,” y’all’s second single.
Eli: This one’s got lore. Basically, two years ago I went into this bookstore and found this author Dennis Cooper, who writes really really transgressive crazy literature. Drugs, violence, he wrote this series of books, a cycle, called the George Miles Cycle about a real boy he was in love with in high school and the story is basically that he was in love with him and then they went away for school and didn’t talk to each other. It was this obsessive, intense love, George Miles was very very mentally ill and had episodes of psychosis and such. And so Dennis Cooper was obsessed and loved him and started writing these books about him. And then by the fourth book, he found out that George had committed suicide before he had even started writing them So he spent his literal life’s work, all of his art, writing story after story, reimagining the love for this guy that he adored. And all of the stories are different, they’re not connected and all different characters, but they’re basically all just different versions of himself and the love of his life, only to find out the love of his life had been home.
Dylan: That’s really poetic.
Eli: I’ve read his entire discography two and a half times through. I’ve never connected with an artist or anything like that before. He goes to real extremes of feelings and situations and just does it with so so much empathy and so much complete sociopathic callousness.
So I think having that kind of thing is very much like a lot of where I write from, sort of explore the most tender part of healing and then act like, “Cut Me Open”, like act like you’re a total asshole when you don’t care about anything and it’s sort of this sardonic band aid of the rawest thing you could imagine.
Fig: But also the way I kind of see the song is loving somebody so much that you consume them.
Eli: Yeah, “Cut Me Open” is about that. It’s just about wanting to be ripped open by the love of your life.
Chloe: Is the song like a juxtaposition almost? With a fast-paced, catchy, upbeat song but with darker undertones?
Fig: I wouldn’t say upbeat necessarily, more fast-paced?
Eli: The energy to me is very, very sexually–it’s so scary. And some of it is kind of funny the whole like, “Would you buy it if I said that, I want you more than anything. I’m a liar. I’m not taking it seriously.” It’s kind of playful. I think it’s funny that it ended up being kind of hot–
Fig: Which a lot of our songs do end up being.
Eli: *laughs* Yeah, it happens, it’s accidental. We really try to keep it under wraps.
Chloe: *laughs* Okay, I don’t wanna keep you guys for much longer but literally name drop right now–any bands you love, anything you want to shoutout, I wanna know!
Fig: Okay, favorite bands, favorite New York bands… Oh SKORTS.
Eli: SKORTS… and Raavi.
Fig: Been listening to Piper Toohey a lot.
Dylan: That sounds like a drag name.
Chloe: OH! Drag, yeah what is your [drag] name? [to Eli]
Eli: Ashley Tisdale.
Fig: I will be real, that is already a woman.
Eli: *laughs* I don’t know what you mean?? I’m not a woman.
Fig: My drag name is Oblivion Westwood.
Chloe: Ah! I love.
Catch our concert coverage of Um, Jennifer? here and watch out for their first EP coming early 2024!