Leone Kraus

Queer Music Friday: Natalia Zukerman

Filed By Leone Kraus | February 25, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: Natalia Zukerman, Twitter, Zlides

Last summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing folk singer, Natalia Zukerman on how she uses social media to stay connected
with her fans while on the road. A lot has gone down since we last spoke. Earlier this year, Natalia toured The Netherlands and Germany with the band Winterbloom and accompanied Janis Ian for a tour in Japan. Now Natalia's doing a string of CD release shows across the United States for her new album, Gas Station Roses.

Check out Natalia's music video for Gas Station Roses.

In just a few weeks, she'll be performing in Brooklyn on March 26. If you'd like to join me and make a Bilerico trip of it, let me know. I'm always game for a good time.

Interview with Natalia Zukerman

Natalia, this is your second time to be showcased in Bilerico's Queer Music Friday series. How does it feel to be back?

Hi Leone! Thanks for having me back. So glad you asked.

The last time we chatted, we spoke about social media. You told us that you were going to enhance your presence via a blog to connect with fans. Did you achieve this?

Well I have a whole new website that's so much more user friendly. Every time I send out a newsletter, it appears on the website as a blog. I plan on writing more blogs in between newsletters but in the meantime, there's tons of great interactive stuff up there- videos, photos, etc. I also started a blog with my sister Arianna called SisterActz. She's an amazing opera singer and the format is through our ichats, part and parcel of the touring life- my whole family communicates via skype and ichat. On the blog we're gonna talk about our experiences as touring musicians because we come from such different perspectives via the same background. I think it's gonna be really fun. Here's the link: http://sisteractz.blogspot.com/

You texted me last week that you now love Twitter. What finally drew you to tryout this platform?

Well, I was kinda forced into it I have to admit. But I really like it now. I think it's incredible how fast the connection to people is through it and since I really don't know all that much about it yet, I just post and get outta there. It's not the time sucker that facebook has been in my life, as much as I love it.

Lots of things happened on February 11. Egypt experienced a revolution, Lady Gaga released her single 'Born This Way,' and you posted your first-ever music video for your single 'Gas Station Roses' on Facebook. How does it feel to have your music video out there, and on such a historic day? (I'm referring more to Egypt and not Gaga...sorry monsters.)

It certainly wasn't planned that way. We just wanted the video to be out before Valentine's Day. But I do think something happens globally on those important days- people need escape as much as they need information. I think art is doing that more and more. There aren't as many protest songs out there as songs about being a better human, working in your community, finding love, standing up for truth and being righteous despite majority opinions that tell you you're wrong. I don't think Gas Station Roses does that per se but I do think it's a great story about a woman finding her strength and her voice, being fierce in her sexuality and creating her own reality. Being able to express ourselves this way is still such a privilege that we have in this country. Days like February 11th are a good reminder of that.

The cinematography of the music video is excellent. Who's behind the art direction and overall concept for this video?

The bass player on the record, Bryan Mir, works in a great video editing studio in Milwaukee. I was passing through on tour in November so we booked a few hours in the studio with Dave Schoepke on drums and decided to get some band footage of us playing the title track. My good friend Susan Million came in and styled the shoot, bringing in props like the roses, the old suitcase, putting me in that cute hat! The vibe was awesome and the footage is beautiful but we didn't have much of a story beyond that. When we started editing the footage from that day we decided that there needed to be some extra shots. I had the idea of having another character and had a really clear idea of some images that we could intersperse with the band footage. Asia Kepka is the amazing photographer who took all the pictures for my album artwork. She's also a great cinematographer and so we started talking about her shooting the extra footage, how we might go about it, etc. As I was talking to her I realized that she was exactly the right person to play the other "part" in the video but I never thought she'd be into filming herself. But she was! Asia took all of that footage herself and then my incredible manager Michelle Conceison edited all of the footage together and made this incredible little mini movie. I have to admit that I had not much to do with the creation of the video beyond the initial ideas, the band footage and of course watching the final edits a million times and commenting. But Michelle and Asia really went above and beyond and I can't believe how beautifully it turned out.

Photo by: Asia Kepka

"Gas Station Roses" is off your new album with the same name. How long have you been working on the album and when was it released?

Well, the concept for the title track comes from a song I wrote about five years ago. I had a line about being wrapped up like a leftover meal, gas station roses in plastic, something like this. The song really sucked but I always held on to the image, the idea of last minute gifts and impermanence. I decided to try to re-write the song around this image last year. I guess you could say I've been working on the record for years but in earnest, I went down to a studio in Kentucky called Saint Claire back in April of last year with Willy Porter, Bryan Mir and Dave Schoepke and in two days we laid down the basic tracks with drums, vocals, bass, guitar. Then I sent the tracks to my friend Meghan Toohey in LA who added so much of the incredible guitar parts. I recorded one more tune in Brooklyn with Todd Sickafoose on bass and flew back out to Milwaukee to add all the lap steel parts, Willy's guitar parts, some of my vocal overdubs and to record Aaron Gardner on sax. We recorded all that in his basement. Then Adrianne and Garrison went over to Meghan's and recorded the vocals and sent those parts to us in Milwaukee and Patty Larkin did her vocals at her studio in Massachusetts and I drove up to a studio in Woodstock to get Sara Milonovich's fiddle parts. We weren't done with all that til some time in October and it's still not gonna be officially released until March 8th. These things always take more time than you want them to but in the end, it's really all worth it.

According to Wikipedia, you play dobro, lap steel, banjo, and slide guitar.  Your sound has been compared Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, and Ani DiFranco.  When did you pick up your first guitar, how often did you practice, and how did you know that music was the path for you?

Well geez, I don't know about any of that but I do know that I've always been completely obsessed with the guitar. I got my first guitar when I was about 6 or 7 years old and learned a few chords, some simple folk songs. I studied some classical guitar in high school and college and then gave it up for a long time. When I picked it back up I started playing around with alternate tunings and started writing songs. I haven't really practiced in years, not my own songs at least (I spend a TON of time when I'm learning other people's songs and am working as a side player) but I try to play at least a little every day.

You do more than sing and play, you're a painter as well. In 2002, you were praised by the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, for the mural project 'Alice on the Wall.' Below is a picture of the mural for Bilerco readers to see. Can you tell us the back story on this project? How did the project come about, who commissioned it, and who did you work with?

I moved back to NY from living in California where I started my own mural company called Off the Wall. I did a few community mural projects out there, one in Cuba and lots of private commissions as well. I looked around for public art programs when I got back to NY and found an organization called CityArts. What they do is send an artist into a school setting to work with kids to create a mural. I got hired to lead the Alice on the Wall project with students from Stuyvesant High School. Being so close to Ground Zero, those kids had really experienced a lot of grief and fear. This was a way for them to really express some of that and to be a part of a lasting project about hope.


You're openly gay but it's not something you use to sell yourself onstage.  On the other hand, you don't hide it. Has being an openly gay artist affected your music career, either positively and negatively (if at all)?

It's certainly something that has affected my career and for the most part, I think it's been really positive. I think the ability to have exposure on forums like this one is a great thing. The LGBT audience has been so supportive. But I love that I have gay fans, straight fans, questioning fans, folks in the Trans community and I hope that my music speaks to people because of and regardless of that. I think just being as honest and real as possible as a performer is a powerful thing. My art and my life are inextricably linked so my sexuality is a factor in that for sure. But it's just one part of who I am. My hope is that in being openly queer and living the life I live, making the music I make that it will become a neutral non-issue on a larger level.

Last one...Zlides...what are they and how can I get one?

AH! Best thing that's happened to me in a long time. I was on tour in South Carolina back in June of 2010 with Sam Baker and John Fullbright. We were about to play at a place called The White Mule in Columbia when a guy named Mr. B walked up to me and said, "I make glass slides. Will you try a few out tonight on stage?"?Well of course I did and I LOVED them. So Mr. B (Brenton Sandreameli) and I started working together to come up with my signature slide which we call the Zlide. They come in small, medium and large and they're all hand made with a Z on the inside. I like a tapered glass slide and I like em thick. They have the best sound that way. So they're all made that way and come in lots of different colors. I really love them. They're my favorite glass slide I've ever played and I am honored to have worked with Mr. B on the design. For now they're available at my shows and we'll have them on my site really soon too. You can also order directly from Mr. B at http://mrbsguitarslides.com/

A special thanks to Natalia for letting me chat with her a second time. To learn more about Natalia or to nudge her via her social media platforms, feel free to visit any of the following:

Twitter: @zukertweets

Facebook: Natalia Zukerman

Website: http://nataliazukerman.com/

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Bil, you should check out one of her shows next time she's in or around DC!