Susanne Oberbeck is the not-gay gay icon and gender transcender behind the deadpan and super thoughtful band No Bra. I snagged some time to talk with her about toying with gender steretypes, her affiliation with the label Hood By Air, and new video "Date With The Devil"—premiering above—where she plays two dudes who are "beyond hedonistic and jaded and kind of semi-committed to everything."
Who are you? Where are you from?
I'm Susanne Oberbeck aka No Bra, I was born in Germany but I lived in the UK for a long time. I've been in New York for four years now.
Is music your main focus art wise? What else do you do?
Yes, music! I used to make films and i've directed and co-directed some of the No Bra videos, I've also written for magazines.
Where's the name No Bra come from? Is it because you don't wear a bra when you perform? Because you don't.
When I lived in England I used to occasionally buy this so-called tits and arse mag The Daily Sport because it was available at the garage near my house, and one day there was a headline on it "Rachel Stevens with No Bra!!" and a picture of Rachel Stevens (English pop star from the early 00s) with her naked tits covered by a white bar and I took it home and me and my friend Fanny (who started No Bra with me) kept laughing about it and started saying "no bra" around the house because of the alleged shock value and the bad grammar. Eventually we decided it would be a great name for a band. I had been making these really heavy industrial tracks and we thought it would match really well. The fact that I perform topless is actually not directly linked, but I can see that it would seem that way.
But you DO wear a gorgeous mustache when you perform. Why the mustache?
I rarely wear it anymore, only for special occasions, like maybe at the gig you saw I wore it because it was an art event. [I saw her perform with Mykki Blanco for the Performa 2013 closing party]. It can be misread as a gimmick when really it was supposed to be a visual appropriation of the stage persona, and draw attention to the different perceptions or standards for male and female performers.
I used to wear it a lot maybe 10 years ago, also when walking around town during the daytime, with some really feminine clothes like tight red disco pants because I loved to see people's reactions—I like when people can't tell what you are or what is going on. It seems to disturb some quite a bit because most people believe in the reality of gender. Like straight guys in cars trying to hit on you or make some sort of comment then see the tache could often be quite scared.
No Bra used to be based in electronica before and this album sees more of an analogue/rock element. Is that still you playing all the instruments?
Actually on the new album the majority of the songs are still electronic, but for the ones that have guitars and drums on them I asked other musicians to record them, Alex Niemetz plays bass and guitar and Emil Bognar-Nasdor plays drums, and Matt Mcauley plays saxophone.
Hey, wait! We're premiering your video right now. I love the relaxed hedonism of it. Can you talk a little bit about this song?
Yes it was inspired by two male musician friends of mine who started dating and they seemed to be quite a good match, except things went sour and bitchy really quickly because it appeared that their egos had clashed. So I wrote this kind of fictitious conversation that is mixed in with personal experiences and things people have said to me.
It's not really that logical or linear, it's more about a theme of people being beyond hedonistic and jaded and kind of semi-committed to everything, other people. Skirting around each other, refusing to relate. It's a parody of that but it's supposed to work on different levels and not be judgmental either way—you can read into it.
Did you come up the video concept?
Director () and I developed the ideas together. We looked at some Jean Genet videos and also this series of videos that came out recently, where two stage actors act out these YouTube comments under One Direction and Nikki Minaj videos in a really dramatic way that were hilarious. And something else, oh some 90s Madonna videos, haha.
That wrought iron gate int he video is pretty iconic. Can't mistake it. Did you film this at Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick, Brooklyn?
Do you like that venue? What's your affiliation (if any)?
Ursula works there sometimes and she suggested it! I had never been but it turned out to be perfect.
There are a bunch of gorgeous people in this video. Who are they?
Yes it's the amazing De Se and Sadaf, both of whom I know through the party I run called Gay Vinyl (on Tuesdays at Home Sweet Home) and various other night clubs. Also my friends Slava Mogutin the Russian dissident artist/writer/photographer/porn star and artist Brian Kenny. I met Slava nine years ago after my Russian friend Lotta introduced me to his work, and I saw a photo on his website I really wanted to use as the cover for the first No Bra single "Munchausen," a kind of S&M fetish shot of two guys in track suits, so I got his number somehow and called him up to inquire if that was possible, and amazingly he said yes. Since I've moved to New York we've become friends and he introduced me to Brian. I'm a huge fan of both of their work; Slava just released a book of pornographic poetry which you should check out.
You're wearing a ton of Hood By Air. What's your affiliation? And why'd you choose to rep the brand in this video in particular.
Yes! $hayne is an old friend who often DJs at Gay Vinyl. I modeled in one of his shows last year and think his clothes are amazing and in this video in particular really work for the characters I'm playing beading a more futuristic or abstract quality to them so the characters become less literal. The one guy is a leather daddy but not in the old school way—he also wears these cowboy leather chaps and is kind of female so it's something you don't see in real life so much yet. But it also roots it in a kind of real place where the other character would actually wear HBA because he is quite fashion conscious. And besides I think it's cool because it's mostly been worn by hip-hop artists and you could try to imagine there being a vague musical connection.
OK that's it. You're amazing. Any general announcements for the public?
Sorry no announcements right now, it's all in the music!