Friday, August 6, 2010
Jessica Delfino is Magic!
I first met Jessica Delfino at the movie premiere of a friend of mine. I was there to personally witness my Oscar-worthy portrayal of STAB VICTIM #1. It was a horror movie about a New York City street vendor who made hotdogs out of people. As a warm-up to the movie, a tall, lanky, brunette girl with an acoustic guitar introduced the song she was about to sing as an homage to every woman’s dirty secret: the rape fantasy. There was nervous, scattered laughter, then Jessica began to sing: “I envisoned candles and chocolate and wine, floating in a bubble bath…while my lover gently rapes me to a Genesis CD. I was saving this rape for someone who looooves me…”
Within the span of a 3-minute song, the laughter changed from low and uncomfortable to loud and unending. This is the effect of Jessica’s music. She sets dirty – no, filthy - lyrics to damn catchy songs. The people in her audience rarely laugh without shaking their heads. Did she really just say that?
The next time I saw Jessica was in a viral music video that someone emailed me. I had to see this! the email read. This was the most outrageous song ever! I watched the video and, lo and behold, there was Jessica Delfino, suspended in a blue sky stuffed with rainbows, sparks springing from her crotch, singing about how her “p*ssy is magic.”
Enough was enough. I had to meet this girl. She agreed to an interview and we sat together on a bench in the Lower Eastside’s Seward Park, a short walk from her apartment. Across the path from us, noisy toddlers infested a newly-painted playground.
Jessica, you’ve certainly found your niche in performing and songwriting. How did you do that?
I come from a really musical family. We had a grand piano in the living room. We had a drumset in the living room. My family was rocking out a lot. My mom and my uncle even had this band together and my mom thought she was black. She had soul but we're, like, Italian so we're sort of crazy anyway and I don't know. I just knew I wanted to do something musical. From the time I was little, I thought it’d be great to just grow up and be Madonna. But at some point I looked in the mirror and I had kind of a heart-to-heart with myself. There was a snap in my mind where I was like, the mainstream "I'm a musician" thing is just not going to work for me. I really enjoy looking at things from a slightly skewered point of view and sharing that point of view. I've tried to write normal songs and they're just awful. I just shouldn't do it.
I like to walk around and have my eyeballs open. There's so much everyday to write about because people are freakin' hilarious and insane and amazing. So even if I'm not trying to write a song, it'll write itself to me. Sometimes it’s just something in the air and my antennae is up and it just kind of catches it.
Have you ever played a show in which the audience didn’t “get” your act and they became offended and turned on you?
It doesn't happen a lot anymore. I'm shocked almost at how appreciated my music is. I don't mean to say that in a way that sounds like I can't believe they like this crap. It’s just that I actually expect people to be more outraged. I expect them to be more, "Shame on that girl!" Maybe that comes from my arrested development.
But you have had an audience turn on you.
Not the whole audience. When I first starting performing and I didn't know how to ride the wave of an audience's approval or disapproval, I definitely experienced an audience turn on me. But after about a year of performing, I got to a comfort level where I don't know that I could alienate a whole audience ever again. I've learned how to dance with people a little. There's a back and forth, like trying to balance a conversation.
Do you still play in the subway?
I haven't for a while but I still will. I love playing on the street! I live right over there (points across the park) and sometimes I set up a little thing on the street right outside of my building and I’ll start playing music and singing. And neighbors will walk over to me and be like, "Uhhh, what are you doing?" But if ever I have an intention, it's to titillate myself because I enjoy playing music and I get a kick out of entertaining and performing. And also it’s fun to instigate people in a playful way. Jar them out of their day-to-day. Give them something to think about.
What would you say to anyone who accused you of relying too heavily on shock value?
Every once in a while someone will say to me, "Yeah, I get it. You do the shock value thing." And if people want to write it off so quickly, then I generally write them off, too. Because I figure the people who don't get it, they’re just not my audience. You can't appeal to everybody in the world. Some people like shock value and if they see my work as shock value and they're into that, then I win. And if they don't like shock value and they don't want to ever listen to me again, I win again because I don't have to have them around. The US Catholic League publically denounced my work and they would probably say that, "Oh, she's just being shocking…"
I read about that. Congratulations.
Yeah, it was flattering to be denounced. It got me a lot of exposure and when people hear about it, they get really excited. I don't feel like it hurt me. I was a little upset when I first heard about it though because you want to be liked; everyone wants to be liked. Part of me was thinking, "What do you mean they don't like me?" But then I thought: “Waitaminute. I don't want these people to like me. It's not my audience. They're doing their job by not liking me.”
How did the "My P*ssy is Magic" music video go viral?
I just put it up. It was interesting because I didn't know that could happen. I didn't know I could take this silly, funny song that I wrote and it would just be like: "Wooooooosh."
Brought me a larger audience. It also helped polarize people. People that saw it were either "I love this girl" or "I hate this girl." Right after the video came out, I got denounced by the Catholic League, so it was like those two things together gave my career a nice push. I got a record deal, I went on tour, and I did some other things like that, so it was very productive, career-wise.
And you’ve done some writing for television?
The reason why I try to perform every night is because you never know who you're going to meet. I try to never say no to a show. This one particular night, I was doing this show in a basement and I thought; "Eh, just a little show in a basement. Whatever." And I considered blowing it off, but I was like, “Aw screw it. I'll do do it." And that night Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) was there, the Beastie Boys and Dave Chappelle. They were really amused by my set and I talked to Morgan, and Dave Chappelle was really encouraging. He later put me in the Chappelle Show pilot, so that was pretty exciting. I got cut out but I was in it. Anyway, Morgan offered me a job writing for his show, which had just been picked up by MTV. And it was great because a bunch of my friends were writing for it and they were all guys and I was the female relief.
What's your biggest accomplishment?
Playing at The Reading & Leeds Festival. I wasn't on the main stage but there were still six or seven thousand people that I played to. It was amazing.
Which is more difficult, playing to seven thousand people or playing to seven?
It doesn't register. I don't see an audience as seven thousand individual people. I see it as one thing. It went really well. I did several shows over the course of a few days. Some of them were amazing. Others were just okay. But the fact that I was there at all and I got to do it was a huge honor to me. I mean, I've been on TV, I've been on the radio. I've performed with some my idols…
Idols? Like who?
Well, I really love Russell Brand and I got interviewed by him on his radio show.
Did he hit on you?
Yeah, he did. But I thought it would make a better story to say that I didn't have sex with him. I turned him down.
How have you seen the New York performance scene grow and change since you've been here?
It's changed in some interesting ways. The city itself is growing and changing, which changes our venues. It changes where people can perform. Some really great rooms that I used to love to go to and I used to love to perform at are not there anymore. Certain things are changing all around you all the time and you have to pay attention or you'll just get left behind. Maybe there'll be a point where I'll want to be left behind, though I can't imagine I'll ever say, "I don't want to perform anymore. I want to get a job at a hospital." But it is a struggle. It's a full-time job to pay attention and just to keep up, to perform on top of that and to come up with new material. And there are places now to get your word out that you probably wouldn't even think of. Maybe not even in New York. Sometimes you have to travel and get out there. But if you want to, then you can.