Jody DeMarco, lead singer of Sixteen Jackies, defines his queerness as, “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in f**k you.” Infusing ’50s nostalgia with camp horror, Sixteen Jackies, whose members are all Philly locals, combine queer themes with an audacious vibe that rubs off, leaving the listener feeling bold and defiant. Their performances, often involving theatrical blood, have been attended by fans and even LGBTQ+ hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. DeMarco chatted with PGN about Sixteen Jackies’ newest album and navigating the stage — in boundary-pushing, bloody, babydoll-dress glory — during the pandemic.
What did your introduction to music look like?
I started playing music when I was in seventh grade; I don’t know what year that was… a good bit ago, 16 years. I started playing live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, my hometown in ninth grade. That would be 2006. It was just solo acoustic guitar. Sad, boy stuff. Ninth grade was the era of Bright Eyes for me. I was heavy into that atmosphere. I was in a bunch of little fun, small projects with friends. I was in a band called Wayward Spiders. I was in a band called Electric Womanhood. I was in a band called Ghost Pussy. I put out a record and toured Europe and half of America with a project called Teenage Mysticism a few years after that.
How did the pandemic affect your newest EP, “Hostile Architecture”?
It was recorded in the year before the pandemic, and then we were just sitting on it tinkering with the mixes for a long time. And then the pandemic hit. We made the decision to hold on to it so we could play shows to support it instead of just throwing it into the void of the internet. My boyfriend and I were really strict during the pandemic, I was not going out in any way. The band hardly saw each other for most of the pandemic. Once we were vaccinated, we started up again, and we finished the mixes for “Hostile Architecture” at that point and released it later that year.
That sounds like quite a journey.
Yeah, it was strange too. We were on tour with The Districts when everything shut down. We were doing a week’s worth of dates with them, and we actually played the day the shutdown happened. We had just gotten back to Philly and we played Union Transfer the last day it was possible to have shows. It was actually so scary because it was 1,100 people in the building. While nobody knew what was going on, I’m very grateful to have had that experience. We were living it up right as things shut down, and then boom. We made the most of that last week. Then, when I went into the pandemic, I got very heavy into movies. I watched a thousand movies between 2020 and 2021.
I’m assuming horror is your favorite genre?
I have been through the trenches of horror cinema. But I’m very into everything now. I love ’50s melodramas.
You use horror iconography and blood often in your performances. Are folks ever taken aback by that?
I’m a very frantic performer. Blood is a regular part of our stage show. I usually have a fake bloody nose at some point during the set. It just really adds something with the tone of the music. In general, it’s a striking visual cue, people respond to it. When we play something like a daytime street festival or something like that, that’s when everything about us is the most jarring to people. It’s always fun when somebody’s like, “Oh my god.”
Have you had any memorable audiences?
Our first show back after the pandemic was an outdoor picnic Pride festival in Doylestown. Westboro Baptist Church showed up. We had legit “God Hates Fags” people with a bullhorn 50 yards away throughout our set.
They’re still active?
Honestly, at this point, I feel like you can just like, download a PDF of the flag that lists all the things that they hate, and print your own flag. In this case, it was just a handful of people with big sign and a bullhorn. It was wild though because most of the people there were teenagers having a great time. It was super wholesome. It was older people and queer teenagers; it was awesome. But then the Westboro people were just goading kids to kill themselves. It was horrific. They were like, “We’d ask you not to come back next year, but we know you’re already committing suicide by then.” So bizarre. There were cops there that were basically just acting as a buffer between the Pride people and Westboro. The cops left alongside of Westboro.
I would love to see you up there bloody in your dress screaming at Westboro Baptist people.
Yeah, the look was crazy that day too. It was a red velvet babydoll dress. Our set ended, and the DJ just played YMCA and the band Dead or Alive as we danced in front of [Westboro Baptist] until they left.
What do you hope your audience takes away from your music?
I want them to get out of it what I get when I listen to a Bowie record or Roxy Music record–the brash, queerness of the band and just the outrageousness of it…. It’s affirming and fun and gay and crazy and people really like that. I want an ideal world where things like that would resonate with everyone. I talk a lot about masculinity. I make fun of masculinity quite a bit in the lyrics. I kind of want to piss off people of a strict conservative mindset, lyrically. But also not in an intentionally antagonistic way.
How do you personally define queerness and how does it impact your work?
My personal relationship with queerness is inherently tied with rebelliousness, not like the actual sexual side of it is a rebellious choice or anything. I mean, I think my relationship with queerness is very rooted in the in the saying, “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in f**k you.” I just want to excite the people that are into the same things as me and piss off the people who are morally against the things I’m into.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
I mean, obviously Bowie is a huge one. Bowie was the Rosetta Stone that led me to Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, and Roxy Music, Brian Eno. But I also really, really, really love Nick Cave. Nick Cave and Bill Callahan AKA Smog are all people that I have studied, that I have really tried to absorb what they were putting down. Right now, she just died last year, but I’m resonating very heavily with Sophie. I’m really loving, brash, in your face, just a new kind of weird. There’s a lot of Perfume Genius songs I love.
When is your next show?
Our next show is April 20 at Johnny Brenda’s with the bands Twen and Number One Lovers, and it’s going to be a really good show. It’s going to be our first show of the year. Twen is a really, really, really good band. Number One Lovers is one of our closest friend bands in Philly, and the lead singer of the band played organ on “Hostile Architecture” so we’ll be doing a special five-piece version of the band for that show with organs and pianos.