by Alley Hector
Dynamic and energetic, I met the four members of Mattachine Social on a sunny Sunday in North Portland. Summer in our town increases the artistic drive and energy but creates an odd sort of toned down PDX style that members Andrew Klaus, Justin Warner, Ben Jansen and Tammy Whynot WELL express bridging the gap between casual nonchalance and eye-popping glitter brilliance. The quartet talk excitedly about playing Pride and other festivals, their forthcoming EP and the importance of being a queer-friendly band in an unfriendly world.
Q: How did Mattachine Social get started? What kinds of musical backgrounds do you each have?
Andrew Klaus: This was all my accidental fault.
Justin Warner: Andy contacted me because we both had pieces in Hump Fest.
Tammy Whynot: Did you guys say porn? I didn’t know it was going to get dirty this fast.
AK: [Justin] came to my Hanukkah party and I asked him to sing it because I didn’t like the way I sounded. We thought that was all it would be, an electroclash joke. We were wrong. But we got drunk one night at Crush and booked a show. We went and got Ben to play the guitar.
JW: I’ve known Tammy forever. We kinda grew up together in Vancouver. At first she was just emceeing. Then we discovered she was musically inclined.
TW: They just gave me a tambourine and told me to shake it real hard.
AK: She’s our Neko.
Ben Jansen: I grew up playing in punk rock bands. [Andrew] didn’t know if I was any good.
TW: Girl, lemme tell you, he is magically delicious. And he sounds good too.
AK: I had done electro-folk stuff, opened for the Butchies, on the east coast. But I was really out of practice. Our fourth show was as a local headliner for Pride. That was Tammy’s first official show. A mic, a big dress, and a triangle.
Q: That was last year?
AK: Yeah. Electronic music during the day in the rain. Ben’s first Pride.
BJ: I got free underwear.
TW: It was a visual feast.
Q: Are you playing Pride this year?
JW: We are. And we just got confirmed to play the 2nd Annual Queer Music Festival [in July] with Imperial Teen, which we played last year.
AK: We’ve also applied to play Seattle Pride.
JW: We applied for HempFest and the Capitol Hill Block party as well.
TW: Heavens to Murgatroid what am I going to wear to that? An all hemp tinsel dress? Justin will design it.
Q: What do you each bring to the table in terms of musical and fashion influences?
JW: I’m very influenced by all the glam rock that came out of the 70s and also the New Wave from 80s London. I kind of try to make everyone wear what I want.
Q: Fashion Police?
JW: We like to have a cohesive look.
AK: Color coordinate. Musically, I grew up on post-punk like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen…riot-grrl, college rock.
JW: Me too, but I’m also influenced by 20s/30s music.
AK: I also like difficult listening music like Sigur Ros. Fashion wise it’s between a schoolboy gone wrong and a corrupt professor. I don’t look good in jeans and a t-shirt. I like dress clothes.
JW: We like to sparkle on stage.
Q: You all have very different aesthetics that you like to bring together by theme or color on stage.
JW: Exactly. But I don’t push anyone to wear something they don’t want to.
AK: Gold lame cowboy shirt last time. Never doing that again. It was cooking me on stage. But it looked great.
BJ: Musically, I was into punk and 90s rock, Smashing Pumpkins, and some southern hip hop and rap. Now prog rock and jazz. Independent hip hop. David Bowie.
TW: I have a weakness for the tender mom hits. Everything you used to get a contact high in the back seat of your mom’s station wagon. Plus I like bad girls and Motown.
Q: Is it as much about the spectacle as the music?
AK: It went from being two of us and a laptop to four of us and video screens, and glitter canons and projectors…
JW: We like to put on a show but the music is most important.
Q: Tell me about your new album coming out.
AK: In June we’re putting out an EP with 3 new songs and 3 remixes but we also have a new album coming out in the Fall.
JW: Somewhat all recorded we just need a producer, although we sort of have one.
AK: …Jesse Holt up in Seattle, who has worked with a lot of amazing people.
Q: And what will the new EP be called?
AK: Nice is the new punk rock.
BJ: We’ll probably have videos for download.
AK: Holly Andres might be at the helm of one of them. She actually did the photoshoot for our album cover.
Q: You have a sort of neo-gothic/old-timey aesthetic to your videos. One even delves into the zombie craze. Where does that come from?
JW: “Risers” [their zombie video] was about a different subject entirely and we went literal with it. But it’s really about how culture has gone downhill…
JW: A comment on shallowness.
Q: So is Portland queer culture less mainstream? More interesting?
TW: I think the gay community here…they don’t think “I’m gay” initially. “I’m just here.” Everyone is more accepting and tolerant as long as it’s consensual.
JW: Every bar in Portland is gay friendly.
AK: The problem here is that all Portlanders look the same.
Q: And how do you feel being the token straight, Ben?
BJ: Just happy to play.
TW: We support minorities. Especially cute ones.
Q: Do you think it’s important to be seen as a queer band? On some level it must be as your name references one of the first gay rights organizations.
JW: A lot of our songs have to do with gay historical figures or those rumored to be gay.
BJ: Richard Nixon?
JW: [People] don’t know the history of our community.We won’t preach about it but we will write songs about it.
BJ: Because it’s not taught in school.
TW: Conservatives act like we’re in end times because there are all these “deviants” but we’ve always been here.
BJ: Every culture has had [queer and gender variant] people.
AK: Most of my educational background is film or feminist and queer theory and being in classes with young people who don’t know this history, the post-Ellen kids. They think Pride is just a party and Stonewall is just a movie.
Q: What are some other projects you each work on?
JW: We do a lot of video work.
AK: I’m wrapping up a 2 year feature film (I’ll have some Mattachine Social songs in there) called Spark and in July I’m directing a film adaptation of Tanna Hall’s play Leaving. And we’re going to make a 3D stop-motion porno, probably for Hump in October. We have a production company, TimeOut Films.
BJ: I just do weird experimental stuff for myself.
AK: I do weird Lebanese dance music for myself.
Q: Does that ever find its way into Mattachine? Is your music danceable?
BJ: We’re trying to move toward a pop sensibility.
AK: You can definitely dance to it.
TW: People have danced.
JW: Formed a conga line.
BJ: But people have also shuffled their feet and looked at the floor because its Portland.
AK: Our producer, Jesse Holt, was saying he could produce it to make it radio friendly even if that’s an ugly word, but we were all for it. Our stuff on the radio would be the most subversive and punk rock thing in the world.
About Alley Hector
Alley Hector is proud to be a Q, a PDXer and Just Out's Editor-in-Chief.