With her podcast ‘Nymphowars’ and her album ‘Endless Kindness,’ Macy sends us spiraling out of our comfort zone.
Macy Rodman wants to push your buttons. Since her arrival in New York from Juneau, Alaska in 2008, Rodman has become a key figure in the queer art and nightlife scene that has grown up around Brooklyn–and Bushwick, more specifically–over the past decade. Coming to music by way of the drag, Macy has made a name for herself as an uncompromising performer, dedicated to pushing unassuming audiences well beyond their respective comfort zones. Singing, screaming, and rapping over tracks equally as informed by Britney Spears, Skinny Puppy, and Dashboard Confessional, Macy gives voice to the experience living and working as a trans woman in the 21st century, confronting listeners with a variety of perspectives on topics usually considered too taboo for pop, like addiction, rape, mental health. And while all that may sound heavy, Macy manages to broach those serious issues with a consistent sense of humor, fun, and musical creativity. We had a chance to speak to Macy about her evolution as an artist, her experience working in the service industry, the creative outlet of her new podcast, NYMPHOWARS, and the inspiration behind her latest album, 2019’s Endless Kindness.
Rhodes Murphy: I want to start out by asking, what is your astrological sign?
Macy Rodman: I’m a Sag.
Rhodes: You’re a Sag?
Rhodes: I was curious because the opening track on Endless Kindness is called ‘Scorpio’ and I was wondering, are you a Scorpio? I’m kind of an astrological novice so I was hoping you could explain what you’re trying to get into there.
Macy: Well, I am a Sag(ittarius), which means you’re independent and kind of a devil’s advocate and, like, a shit poster. You like to travel and if you don’t like your surroundings you’ll drop everything and leave–that’s kind of what Sags are all about. We’re sort of aloof assholes. But the song ‘Scorpio’ is about several people in my life who were Scorpios that I happened to get super close to who really influenced the album. But, at a certain point, I broke up with one of them and found myself distanced from another, so it became this mournful time in my life where people I loved weren’t as close anymore. That song is kind of a wail of pain that I wanted to start the album with just to get out of the way. The rest of the record is about me trying to figure out what my deal is on my own without these codependent, all-consuming relationships. That’s really where it started, this emotional breaking point.
Rhodes: Kind of like a ‘Stevie-Nicks-leaving-Fleetwood-Mac-and-doing-solo-records’ situation?
Macy: I guess in a way, yeah. The song’s not meant to be a ‘FUCK YOU’ to those people. More like, ‘I don’t want to be away from you, but I know that I have to be for my own sanity, and to find my own independence.’ So it’s mourning a time in my life where I was codependent.
Rhodes: How did you get to becoming a musician in Brooklyn from Juneau, Alaska? What was your journey from the hinterlands to here?
Macy: I always knew I wanted to get out of Juneau but it’s isolated on one side by the ocean, and on the other by mountains. You can’t get in or out without getting on a boat or flying. I knew I wanted to come to New York and I always romanticized it. I’d retreat into my own fantasies a lot as a kid. What ended up sending out photos to try to get booked on a modeling gig. I got the job and I went on a road trip to New York in the summer of 2008. I had a really great experience and came back for fashion school at Parsons but realized that wasn’t really my bag. I dropped out and was lost for a little while until I found performing and was finally able to build community and friendships.
Rhodes: Was Sarah Palin still in Juneau when you were there?
Macy: She was. She used to go to my sister’s basketball games all the time. I went to high school with Bristol for a little bit.
Rhodes: Oh, my gosh. Have you ever met her?
Macy: Oh yeah, I used to see Sarah Palin in the grocery store all the time and at my little sister’s basketball games. My sister knew the younger one more than I knew the older one.
Rhodes: The one that had the baby. Well, cool. What do you think makes Endless Kindness different from your last two albums, what are you trying to do with this one as opposed to the previous records?
Macy: So I guess with this one I had a specific vision of what I wanted and where I wanted to go with my sound. I wanted it to accurately reflect a lot of my inspiration when I first started performing. So there’s elements of pop music, dance music, punk performance that I didn’t know about until I moved to New York, some emo that I loved as a kid. I wanted to expand my process and figure out how to write about different things. This record ended up taking a really long time and spanning this really intense period of my life, and I think the final product shows that. It ended up a lot angstier, a lot more all over the place than I thought it would be, but I guess that’s pretty much in line with what I set out to do.
Rhodes: How long did this record take to make?
Macy: It took about two years.
Rhodes: I was wondering if you could talk about the song ‘Greased Up Freak.’ What does that song mean for you? What’s the message behind that?
Macy: Well, I’ve always had reservations about sex; I’ve always had a weird relationship to it. I’ve had some pretty intense, pretty bad sexual experiences—like, violent ones. And then I’ve also had a lot of complicated feelings about my body and how I interact with people in sexual encounters. For a while I just felt so uncomfortable that I really didn’t have sex for a long period of time in my adult life. ‘Greased Up Freak’ was written from a space of imagining what it would be like if that weren’t the case; what it would be like if I were as freaky, reckless, and without reservations as possible. It ended up coming out as this kind of comical, funny, fantasy version of how I would be if I were totally carefree.
Rhodes: Between your musical persona, your personality as a podcaster, and I’m sure some people might think of you as a nightlife figure in New York—is there a specific Macy persona? What part of that is the music, what part of that is the performer, and then what part of that is just you?
Macy: The use of different personas has been a part of my work since I began performing. I started as a drag performer, and I’ve also had other monikers that I’ve performed under, but [over] the years, the Macy Rodman idea has changed. When I started releasing music under Macy Rodman the idea was to be this ‘pop star,’ and then that changed into something with a little more, like, rock edge to it. But now Macy Rodman is what I go by in all my professional pursuits so it’s become this weird combination. I’ve given myself the permission to be whoever at any point. That can be performative or not performative, it can be vulnerable, or it can be clownish. I’ve given myself permission to go back and forth.
Rhodes: So it’s become a more nuanced character as it’s become more of your day-to-day identity.
Rhodes: I didn’t write this question down, but I am really interested in it. How do you feel about the balance of working in the service industry and maintaining an artistic career? I always think it’s so interesting when people are like, ‘Oh, yeah, I do these performances and I’m working on all these things, but I’m also bartending tomorrow night from, like, 3pm to 2am.’
Macy: I mean, I hate it, to be honest. I wish I didn’t have to. I wish that I could always support myself by doing things that I like to do. But the thing about working in the service industry is that it does give you some elements of freedom and flexibility. Like, the place that I have worked for however many years has given me a lot of leeway, where I can get my shift covered pretty much whenever, and I go do whatever and still make decent money. But it sucks to have to like people. It’s very draining. Especially, I think, as any trans person who works in the service industry will tell you, it’s so exhausting to deal with people’s reaction to you in those spaces. And for me, my reaction to their reaction was to drink excessively, and I still struggle to find my balance with that. I’ve been sober for periods, I’ve come off sobriety—it’s a lot to manage, especially now that I’m at a point in my artistic career where people familiar with me are coming into the bar like, ‘Oh, it’s so weird to see you working here.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re telling me. I wish I didn’t have to.’ But I like to be able to independently create my own stuff and the only way to really do that is to self-fund it.
Rhodes: Have you experienced any similar difficulties working as a trans artist or performer?
Macy: I mean, it’s not as much of an issue as it is in the service industry, because in an art context or a performance context I can always say ‘no’ if someone’s being fucked up or treating me badly. In the service industry, I can’t necessarily pick and choose how I’m being treated. But I can’t really do one without the other.
Rhodes: Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit more about your podcast? How long have you been doing that?
Macy: I do with it Theda Hammel and it’s called NYMPHOWARS. We’ve been doing it for over a year now and have two seasons out and a mini-series we’re working on right now. It’s mixed-format, meaning it’s alllllll over the place; sometimes it’s scripted narrative, sometimes it’s chat, sometimes it’s interview. We started it thinking we were going to work on a music project together and it ended up morphing into this weird narrative-musical-surrealist-comedy thing. We love doing it–it’s really gratifying in the way it allows us to create this whole world and share it immediately.
Rhodes: You’re doing a live show soon?
Macy: Yeah, we’re doing a live show in Los Angeles on February 7 and 8 at the Lyric Hyperion.
Rhodes: And will that be a scripted performance?
Macy: Yeah, so we’re doing this mini-series right now called the ‘OUT 100.’ The story of that is that we’re trying to get on the OUT 100 list. Not to give anything away, but the live performance takes place after the events of that three-episode podcast arc.
Rhodes: I really liked the latest episode; the yacht party with Andy Cohen in the middle of the Dead Sea. You’ve been writing and performing for a long time, the podcast seems like kind of a natural fit to be able to make these fictions that are also critiques.
Macy: Yeah, I’ve written music obviously, and over the years I’ve also had to come up with narratives for drag performances and stuff like that. But the podcast has actually provided a creative outlet that I’ve wanted for a long time and never had the opportunity to explore. We’re having a lot of fun thinking up new stories and different ways to collaborate.
Rhodes: Going back to Endless Kindness, can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind the song ‘Berlin’?
Macy: So that song was one of the later ones written for the album. I had some raw emotional songs and some funnier ones, but I needed something that would be kind of a bridge, to anchor the album in the middle. And I was trying to think of something funny, but also real, something everyone would just know what it is. And then I literally just heard someone talking about Berlin and was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I constantly hear how Berlin is this utopia for millennials where your art is always funded and you always have this fabulous apartment that doesn’t cost any money and you don’t have to have a day job, which I think is probably true for a very, very small set of people. I’d heard this so many times I was finally like, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ So I basically just recited what I’d heard and that became ‘Berlin.’ I’ve never been there. I’m sure it’s great.
Rhodes: I mean, I guess that also is one of the perks of working at a bar. You get to, like, observe and overhear what people say when they think no one’s really paying attention.
Macy: Yes totally! And I’m not trying to roast anybody, honestly. But I love trying to inhabit a different point of view, and I guess that’s something where the album and the podcast share a similar sensibility; the idea of trying to get into another pair of shoes and see things from another perspective. The idea that all the songs have their own identity, their own character, that’s something I’ve always been really interested in.
Rhodes: It seems like there’s this prevailing notion that New York nightlife is totally dead and that everything has gotten tamer or something. Is that your experience as a performer?
Macy: No. I mean, there’s always people doing cool, boundary-pushing stuff. I think it’s hard for people to, like, focus their attention on it a lot of times. But yeah, I mean, I’m always seeing really amazing acts. I honestly don’t really love to go out that much unless I’m performing. I’ve done that for years and I’ve tried to keep myself balanced and I’ve found the only way I can do that personally is to, like, not party all that much. Which sucks because I love to go out and be social and see what people are doing and what’s happening. But I know myself and I know what kind of damage I can do. So, I don’t know, it’s kind of a kooky thing for me to answer.
Rhodes: Do you think you’ll be able to tour on this album or do you have any shows lined up?
Macy: I do have a couple of shows lined up, but yeah, it’s been hard for me to get tours together, I think maybe because I don’t fit in easily with many other acts. I’m not in a punk scene or a noise scene, I’m not a DJ, and I’m not a drag act. I don’t fit very cleanly into a lot of spaces. It’s great because I end up getting to perform in a wide variety of spaces, which I love, but in a tour context it’s a little more difficult to work out. But I would love to tour. That’s been one of my goals for a long time.
Rhodes: Do you have a final message for your adoring fans out there?
Macy: Book me for a tour! Love you!