Debasish Mridha said “The moon is the reflection of your heart and moonlight is the twinkle of your love.”
They’re words that fit this week’s Portrait. A singer/songwriter, performance artist and event producer living in Philadelphia, The Moon Baby got her start in Pittsburgh in 2012 as an artist in residence at Waffle Shop, an experimental performance residency run by Carnegie Mellon University. A description of The Moon Baby’s journey states “With the grace & grit of a shining star sent from the heavens to save us from the white cis het overlords of cruelty & xenophobia; Moon Baby brings styles & a sound of satisfaction that feels raw, real, yet refined in both attitude and execution.”
Descriptions of her music are almost as poetic as the songs themselves, “The decadent track “Rome” that takes the listener for a slow & sweet Roman holiday getaway switches from the previous street-brawler mode to a hazy & sensuous cool croon of hedonistic delight. The glittery “Pumps By the Pool” ft. Biblegirl666 brings an early and indulgent summer scene that basks in the sun-kissed glow of positive body image and a whole lot of significant other stealing conspiracies. On “True Blood”, Moon Baby’s reiterations of getting anything from you is like getting blood from a stone shines like an ultra-fab strutting and swaggering anthem sung over blistering Wise Blood-esque rhythm arrangements of timeless design. Keeping the craft of chronology in full-on oscillation, “Under the Ocean” offers up a whole other sort of future-funky rhythm and blues that ain’t your average “Under the Sea” party.”
I spoke with the charismatic performer, also known as Sam Perry, about her music and inspirations.
What was The Moon Baby baby like?
I was born in a little town about 20 miles North of Pittsburgh. I went to Grove City College which was a Christian School nearby. Grove City was named the least LGBT friendly campus in America the year I graduated, so that was fun. [Laughing] I had a very interesting upbringing, I’ll put it that way.
Tell me a little about the family. Who did you get your artistic genes from?
My dad is in sales and my mom is a Spanish teacher. She’s really charismatic and loves to connect with people, that’s why she loves language so much and I think that there’s an artistic or creative aspect to that which I grew from for sure.
Were you creative from the jump?
Yah, I told my parents from Day One that when I grew up I wanted to be an artist. I would make little crafts all the time and yeah, I was obsessed with it.
What was your best class in school?
Art but also English, I loved reading, and writing about what I was reading.
Your first or favorite book as a kid?
I loved Frances; “Bread and Jam for Frances” was one of my favorite books. In high school, I loved Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” and “Invisible Man.”
Awww, my brother LOVED the Frances’ books. What was your claim to fame in high school?
Well, I was an art kid and I excelled at printmaking. I won a scholastic key in printmaking during my senior year.
You went to a Christian college; were your parents very religious?
Well, they wanted a certain thing from me. And they were scared of the dangers and struggles of what life would be like for a homosexual, so they wanted to place me on another path. In Grove City, the only way to survive as a homosexual was to be closeted. I knew so many people who were expelled or had to drop out; it was a difficult place to be out.
What was the toughest moment for you?
When I tried to come out, this is so insane, but when I tried to be open about my sexuality, my frat brothers practiced exorcisms on me. [Scoffs] That was very, very difficult.
Well, thankfully they didn’t seem to take.
No, it didn’t take, [laughing] the spirit is still there!
When did you get into music?
I’ve always been involved in music, whether it was in the church or wherever. I started writing music when I was young and then started recording in my junior year.
And did I read that you started out as a folk singer named, “Danke the Cowboy?”
[Laughing] Yes! When I was a kid, I loved to dress up as a cowboy. There are home videos of me with my mom asking me, ‘Hi cowboy, what’s your name?’ and I responded, ‘Danke… Danke the Cowboy.’ So when I got older and started singing, I was like, ‘I’m gonna keep that name. It’s kind of iconic.’ But Danke didn’t last long because I started doing drag soon after.
Who was your first drag persona and how did you get started?
I had an experimental residency through Carnegie Mellon. The emphasis of the show was asking questions that I felt I wasn’t allowed to ask. I’d gone to my first drag show and it made me uncomfortable, so I decided to face my fears and try it. At the time I was going through my first queer heartbreak and my boss gave me a kitten to cheer me up. I named it Moon Baby, but unfortunately, two of my roommates were allergic to cats, so I couldn’t keep it. But I decided if I couldn’t have the moon baby, I’d be The Moon Baby! And that’s where it came from.
When did you come out to yourself and then others?
I was very out to myself for a long time, I just didn’t feel safe being open. Coming out to my family was very difficult because it was hand in hand with me doing drag and they were very uncomfortable with that, as were all of my friends from Grove City. So it was a goodbye to a lot of people.
Describe your first time doing Moon Baby.
I wore a horrible blonde wig and instead of doing contour with makeup, I used sharpies to create this Picasso-like drawing on my face. It became a signature for her for a while, this sort of abstract monster.
And who is she?
The Moon Baby is a Swedish pop star who was discovered on the moon. Neil Armstrong found her when he touched down. She’s modeled after those failed “It Girls” who become media moguls selling shitty perfume products. [Laughing] That’s her.
You sing mostly original music, do you do both music and lyrics?
I write and record my music and my melodies and I work with a producer from Pittsburgh.
What was the inspiration behind Maralago?
Oh my gosh, a producer I knew sent me the track. I’d never tried to rap before but we were all dealing with the hater-in-chief at that time and I was like, I want to write a protest song! It’s starts out, “I’m just a made up girl, singing songs that she made up in a made up world” and goes on to say to the arrogant orange one, “If you come into my city, Im’ma fuck you up!” Cause I will!
Speaking of which, did you ever have to defend yourself growing up in such a restrictive town?
Not there, but in Pittsburgh doing drag, there was a time when this guy was getting a little handsy. He kept touching me and I told him twice to knock it off. On the 3rd time, I put my fist to his neck and said, “If you do it again, I’m going to punch you in the throat and no one here will care.” He laughed as if I was kidding and grabbed me again, so I punched him in the throat and he was kicked out. And no one cared…
A most memorable performance?
I was performing at Honcho Campout, which is an amazing rave-like techno festival. My song, “Everything is Cute to Me” had just come out and not only were people dancing to it, they knew all the lyrics! It was incredible, but what made it memorable, is that the festival was held at a ‘men only’ campground and the folks doing the festival approached the site owners and said if we do it again, we want women and trans folks to be welcomed and the owners said no, so they found someplace else to go. That meant the world, for me to be out there showing femininity and have people stick up and welcome me was really special.
A lot of your songs have a very personal bent.
Yeah, one of my most personal songs is about my roommate who was horrifically killed in a biking accident. The song just poured out of me but it’s so hard to perform. My newest music, “Super Natural” is much more upbeat. It’s a personal song about falling in love with my partner Zach. Lyrically, I think it’s the best song that I’ve ever come out with.
How would you describe your music?
I like to say, it’s a barbershop quartet having group sex in the body of Natalie Ambruglia. But it’s actually in the rave, synth pop, dance genre, but with an emphasis on the lyrics and vocals. The layering of the vocals on the songs that I’m releasing now are really wild.
Your videos are really cutting edge. Are the images we see all you or is it CGI?
It’s a combination; the video for “Super Natural” is real a mix of things, it’s part fashion film, and I’m giving a lot of different looks that change what my face looks like for each of them. It’s fun to delve into, not just drag, but fashion and beauty, makeup, it’s very stylized.
That’s for sure, did you have an inspiration board or…
Oh my God yes! The mood board was huge! With inspiration from “Barbarella” and sci-fi and mythology.
Who are some of the notable people you’ve worked with?
I’ve opened for a lot of people. I opened for Big Freedia, which was such an electric show. I’ve opened for Princess Nokia, Christeene, a lot of amazing powerhouses. Up until recently drag music was not really considered, so it was really special to be a part of it.
How did you end up in Philadelphia?
As I said, I started performing in Pittsburgh about a decade ago and then started event producing, and about 3 years ago I moved to Philly. My partner Zach got an MFA at Penn so I moved to Philly to be with him.
Okay, some random questions. Who would you contact at a seance?
What did you get into the most trouble for when you were young?
Getting lost! Always, I would just wander away, all the time! The number of times my parents thought I was abducted or drowned is beyond.
What’s a favorite family tradition?
We always had an artificial Christmas tree because my brother had allergies. So erecting this big 80’s relic of a tree every year and putting all of the decorations on it? I always thought it was funny.
I have a tattoo on the side of my head that says “moon baby lol.”
What’s the worst way you’ve been dumped or have dumped someone?
I was dumped by text. Not fun.
What color annoys you?
Most unusual job?
I was a youth pastor.
Get out! What’s a favorite piece of clothing or what’s something of your partners you’d like to throw out?
My favorite piece of clothing is a sweater that was my roommate, Susan’s. I wear it religiously. She’s the one who was killed. It’s threadbare and it has all these little holes in it but it’s so comfy. I love it and it always feels familiar to me. And I’d want to throw out Zach’s socks! He keeps every pair, no matter how many holes they have. It’s the worst thing in the world. I’ll put on a pair of his socks and be like, “And there’s half my foot.”
How many hats do you own?
Many, many, many and if you add in the wigs, it’s indefinite!
Swap day, who would you switch with and why?
I would swap with Vin Diesel, my biggest celebrity crush.
What are you listening to right now?
Janet Jackson, Sally Oldfield & Johnny Osbourne
Do you believe in extraterrestrials?
Absolutely! I’m one of them!
To learn more about The Moon Baby, visit www.themoonbaby.com/.