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S.J. Tucker: The Girl in the Garden

Bisexual musician, fire spinner and actress S.J. Tucker has been traveling the country delivering her eclectic, fantasy-charged folk/rock music for the better part of the 21st Century. Only in her 20s, she has already produced seven independent albums including Sirens, Tangles, Haphazard and Blessings, a 2007 release that explores her pagan religious beliefs. In 2007 she also toured the East Coast with author and poet Catherynne M. Valente to promote her albums For the Girl in the Garden and Solace and Sorrow, two piercing, original works written to accompany Valente’s duology of original fairy tales, The Orphan’s Tales. Charming, theatrical and a little silly, Tucker’s music combines pixie dust with the song writing skills of the Indigo Girls and a voice comparable to those of Joni Mitchell or Ani DiFranco.

On Sept. 14, Tucker will pull into Salt Lake City for a one-night only house concert as part of the popular Magipe House Concerts series.

JoSelle Vanderhooft: How did you decide to go from doing theatre and music in college to doing both as a career?

S.J. Tucker:
I started performing as a songwriter when I was 17 years old and from there I went and did theatre as my major and got my degree in college. Looking back at it, I think my reasoning was along the lines of, “OK. If I study music for four years I’m not going to want to do it anymore because the theory is going to kick my butt.” It’s not that I don’t want to do theatre any more it’s just that music has picked up so wonderfully and everything has fallen so beautifully into place.

JV: You’ve performed at a lot of gay pride festivals and you’ve been, in the past, a fixture at the Memphis Tennessee Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Tell me a little about how you got these gigs.

SJT: It all started with the person who was my very first roadie ever on my first tour in 2004. He was just barely legal at the time and he’s now all grown up and is performing himself as DJ Tempest in the Memphis area and I’m very, very proud of him. He was working as the event coordinator with the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center when it first opened in – I want to say 2002 or 2003. He came to me and said, “I’m working for this brand new community center and they’re booking music. Do you want to see if I can book you a gig?” and I said, “Sure, honey!” So I performed for them for the first time and continued to do so once a month or thereabouts and the word got back to me at one point that they had had a board meeting and had named me the best thing to happen to the Community Center financially since they opened.

JV: Wow, that’s big.

SJT: It was huge. And that beautiful relationship continued. I was a regular and I performed there every third Friday of the month until my tour schedule got so heavy that I wasn’t in Memphis enough to hold that. They are an amazing group and I feel completely and totally comfortable being myself around them and I hope they feel the same around me.

JV: What do you think appeals to queer fans about your music?

SJT: Maybe the honesty. I don’t mess around really about who I am and what I am and what I think. I make space for [the fans] to be themselves because that’s exactly what I’m doing. I want to be always in the category of connecting with people and not having that fourth wall at all times. I mean, I’ll just cut up while performing, I’ll make jokes and be completely silly in a show, and it wasn’t always that way. I’m a much happier person than I used to be now that I’m able to do this [performing] all the time. There are a lot of people in the queer area of my fan base who are still figuring themselves out, and I love them no matter what happens. I like to be able to show them that it is possible to get where you want to be.

The other cool thing is that I’ve learned several things about myself since I started performing for queer crowds. I didn’t realize that I liked girls until I had all the other pieces of my life in order and suddenly, I realized, “Wow there’s this thing about myself it didn’t know. OK! Now I can write songs about that, too.”

JV: Like “Goddess” from the album Haphazard?

SJT: Yeah, yeah. “Goddess’ is a good one, especially for lesbian contingent, because I wrote that in about three minutes sitting in the living room of my amazingly talented lesbian recording engineer in Austin, Tex. [I was] listening to the Be Good Tanyas and thinking of my friend Ashley Brown, who has realized her nature as bisexual since she was somewhere in her teens and is not afraid at all. So there’s a whole amazing look at the effect my friends who are bi and lesbian have had on my life in that song.

JV: Quite a few of your songs also have their roots in myth and folklore. Your “Wendy Trilogy” about the pirating career of Wendy from Peter Pan is, I think, a really good example, and so is Mummy Medusa [about the battle between Rapunzel and Medusa over Prince Charming] which is really one of my favorites. What has drawn you to these topics in your music?

SJT: It turns out that “Mummy Medusa” is about the first instance of that happening, when I was a freshman in college I wrote that song in 1997. [Writing about these topics] didn’t really pick up until then and once I had firmly figured out that, no I was not a Christian anymore, thank you, and let’s try this paganism thing on for size that it really, really, really took off. The inspiration was just coming from all sides. It has grown into something I love very much, being able to tell an old story in a way that makes it not dull and not trite and not something that everyone knows how it’s going to come out again.
JV: You’re a very prolific artist. Do you have any albums coming out in 2008?

SJT: I’m not sure that I’m going to have any of the stuff I have currently on the docket finished before the end of the year. I have ended up touring a lot harder than I intended to and far, far away from my favorite recording engineer … If possible, at least I want to get an EP out before the end of the year. You see, I have a plan. I haven’t released a CD of nothing but pirate songs yet, and that needs to happen because there are so many fans of “The Wendy Trilogy.” I’m thinking I’m going to release an EP called Pirate Girls that has [pirate songs and] possibly the best live version that we’ve got of Wendy Trilogy. I’m also working on another full-length album called Mischief that has a ton of the new songs I’ve written in the past year. … There’s also going to be another album soon called Sayings that is going to have more of the Celtic sounding and possibly traditional tunes I’ve been working on.

JV: Your collaboration with Catherynne M. Valente was really awesome. Can you tell me how the project came together?

SJT: Catherynne and I got to be friends before she had the Orphans’ Tales released but almost immediately before she had it finished.. We were hanging out at her home in Cleveland and one of us said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if there were songs to go with the book?” And not one hour later I had sat in her living room and written the song “Girl in the Garden.” We all cried that day because we knew we were on the cusp of something really gorgeous. The songs kept coming and I also decided I should do readings [from the books] pared with songs. It all fell into place beautifully as so many things have. I may not be writing songs about The Orphans’ Tales yet. There are some things I want to go back and visit.

JV: Would you do something like that again?

SJT: One hundred percent yes!

Visit S.J. Tucker on the web at sjtucker.com, skinnywhitechick.com, or fireandstrings.com for more information about her fire spinning show with her partner Kevin Wiley. For more information on Magpie House Concerts and to reserve a spot in the living room, visit magpiehouseconcerts.com or call Grant at  (801) 487-5552.

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