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Pleasure As Healing: An Interview With Oakland Rock Band Copyslut

"We feel a cosmic pull to take up space to play for the world we want to live in, not necessarily the world we live in now."

October 24, 2019

July Westhale
Eli, Chatz and Ray. Photo courtesy of Copyslut

ou’ve gotta love a band that not only preaches for everyone to “find their own yummy”, but also provides the bangin’ tunes to do so. In this heartfelt, honest, pleasurable, and gorgeous interview, Copyslut shows us their true colors — and all of them are vibrant.

When I first heard this illuminating, important band I had come to see my pals Side Pony at San Francisco’s El Rio (which boasts itself as being “a bar with a heck of a lot to offer”) where I’ve been cheering on friends, donating towards community fundraisers, and fucking in bathrooms for nearly fifteen years.

And onto the stage came Copyslut. My first thoughts — that I’d wear every single one of the outfits on stage — was quickly replaced with man, this jam! then the next one. Then the next one.

There’s a magical moment that happens when you find a band whose music you love, whose aesthetic you deeply get, and whose lyrics are in line with your core politics. I give you, sweet babes, Copyslut.

If you aren’t sure who Copyslut is, you can thank me by going to their site and supporting their phenomenal, vital talent.

You can also read on.

“​This Oakland-based edgewalking foursome makes music filled with sex-magic, catharsis, and healing vibes. They bring their fans into a rich experience, letting go of shame and re-sensitizing their bodies through earnest storytelling and groovy hooks. It’s the full spectrum of entertainment: musical theater meets stripper meets rock & roll. It’s both playfully campy and intensely authentic.”

What would you say Copyslut’s origin story is? How did you all come to be, and come to be together?

Our origin story is one of healing through pleasure and letting go of shame. It’s a love project. A self-love project. A love of music. A love of art. A love of community, those who stand by our side and those who have made us possible.

Being non-monogamous has definitely helped us with navigating individual and group needs. Copyslut’s founding members and primary songwriters are Chatz of Love and myself (Ray Zamora).

We played our first Copyslut show—a Queen cover set—over Pride weekend 2017 with our friends Kendal Blum and Santiago Rix-Casillas. Shortly after, we started playing out more and writing original material. We’ve now finished recording our debut album set to be released in January and just released our first music video for our single “Makers Mark.”

Our current line up is Eli Maliwan (on bass), Chatz (on vocals) and me, Ray,(on guitar). We are playing with friends filling in on drums while auditioning some amazing babes.

What are your core values as a band?

At our core, we believe there are radical healing possibilities through feeling pleasure. We are committed to self-love and healing our wounds and trauma through transformation.

Our deepest intention while performing is to create shame-free spaces for our Edgewalkers — a term we use to describe people who live on the margins of society. Our communities who are straddling the fringe are also often navigating multiple identities and marginalizations.

We invite our Edgewalkers to show up exactly as they are with their unique complexities and wisdoms. We play to feel more connected with our communities and we hope that our impact creates spaces for this type of connection — through our overlaps as well as our differences.

A good friend told us “pleasure is the hook, but Copyslut brings people into their bodies and asks them to feel the full spectrum of experiences.” We loved this articulation because we are trying to do this for ourselves and express our art with our full range of embodiment.

Do you think Copyslut’s messages have changed since inception?

We started first and foremost as a healing project, and this still absolutely still a key part of our message. But like all healing journeys, the messages we’ve been receiving have developed and become more complex.

We’ve always been about pleasure as a radical healing medium, embracing the saturated cosmic and splashing around in joy and celebration.

We do that, and we’ve also used this project to express pain, longing, and loss. Ultimately, we believe it’s important to acknowledge and accept what makes us hurt in order to heal and feel deeply into our pleasure. It’s a balancing act because it’s easy to get too fixated on one side of the spectrum. Our M.O. is full integration of the present moment, and loving acceptance of where we are right now.

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// Makers Mark video

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How do you see political landscape/political duress as contributing or not contributing to (your) art (but also all art in general)?

We think that everything says something political, and it’s impossible for the political landscape not to influence our art because it influences our daily lives. It shapes the context and culture that we were born into. Our music is always about our personal experiences and one of the ways we process our trauma, both lived and inherited.

The duress that our communities are facing makes us feel it is more important to connect with one another through our art.

The first song that we ever wrote, “The Offering”, processes the violent impacts of outside oppression within a relationship between Chatz and a fellow sex worker.

Sometimes when the world comes after us we redirect that energy and attack each other. How do we come back and heal from these moments when we lack support from the outside and it breaks us down? Current political duress like the impacts of SESTA/FOSTA on our online communities, the fentanyl crisis, violence against immigrants, and homelessness make it more important for us as artists to be in spaces with our community and create containers where we can transmute our energy and pain in life-affirming ways.

I’ve read that Copyslut is a very sex worker-friendly band, which is so awesome! To what extent, if any, do you all feel you weigh in on SW’er issues like FOSTA/SESTA, or the way SW’ers are represented in the media? We here at PULP are interested in taking on more perspectives and think pieces about media representation, across the board, since it’s a deeply complicated issue.

Chatz here: You are right, we love our sex working babes and we face many deeply complicated issues that are wide-ranging within our very large community. I appreciate your acknowledgment of that. I am also interested in media representations of sex work, especially since I am a sex worker often representing my lived experiences in my performances on stage, in our music, visual art and also in my writing.

Sex Work is not a monolith, rather it is used as an umbrella term to communicate how people in the sex trades and industries share some similar sets of stigmas. It can also be used as a way to protect both legal and criminalized forms of sex work. I use the term sex work with those intentions. I can only speak from my own experience while celebrating, listening, and learning from the differences of experience other sex workers courageously share.

And the extent that I weigh in is on a deeply personal level. I experience sex work as a white, non-binary, bisexual babe and have been for almost a decade. I come out as a sex worker on stage in some of my work uniforms.

I play songs like Hooker Homecoming with magical spells of money-making and protection embedded within it.

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// stills from Makers Mark video

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I am also a contributor and co-editor of a zine called “Don’t Hate My Heels: A Confrontation With Whorephobia In Which The Whores Win.” We wrote it as a love letter to other sex workers and as a protective weapon right after the passing of SESTA/FOSTA. It’s filled with personal narratives of both anonymous and named contributors such as Vanessa Carlisle and Reiko Rasch. It’s sprinkled with some analysis of stigma and resources. (You can find it at our Copyshop on our band website). I have felt the impacts of the recent passing of the internet laws SESTA/FOSTA.

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I have witnessed the effects on my close friends who have had their Venmo money seized, Paypal account shutdown, Instagram accounts removed, loss of access to platforms for ads, vetting tools, and bad date sites.

All of this has directly impacted my community’s ability to access basic needs like housing, food, education, connection, etc. Online access decreases the violence that we face and provides protection for many sex workers. This is one of the reasons why decriminalizing sex work is a worldwide human rights issue supported by the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and the ACLU.

It’s not a sentimental stance — numbers show that violence and death decrease in areas where sex work is decriminalized.

You just had a new video, Makers Mark, come out, and it’s gotten a lot of press! We featured the song on one of our The Pulpit Presents Playlists, to much fanfare. Can you talk to us about the inspiration behind the song? I saw that it’s inspired by the tale of La Llorona — can you talk about the tale a bit? What was making the video like?

What started as a desire to create an archetypal vampire song turned into a feminist retelling of a Mexican ghost story that still brings chills. La Llorona is traditionally depicted as a hysterical woman who drowned her children in a fit of jealous rage, and wanders the river beds at night looking for lost children.

When writing Makers Mark, we ask, what could possibly drive this woman to kill her own children? Then we think about the hard choices many mothers make under duress.

What if she was facing a vampire takeover, and chose to voluntarily engage with the vampires in exchange for her children to become vampires instead of being brutally killed?

Yup, sounds about right — “Better damned, than dead.”

We use vampires as a metaphor to bring insight to the complicated choices that we and our ancestors make while surviving under present-day colonialism. In this telling the children are mixed-race Mexican and vampire and there is a whole fan fiction-style back-story to this song, and we wanted to explore more of the complexities and imagery. So of course, it became the perfect candidate for a music video.

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The video was an absolute JOY to make. It was months of pre-production, mood boarding, scripting, costume design, a 45+ roster of cast and crew, and beautiful queerdo SW magic, performance, and celebration.

Our director and choreographer Janet Huey (the vampire dancer in the first scene of the music video) is a force and together we were able to manifest hours of breathtaking footage. All the actors in the music video represent La Llorona’s “lost children”—resisters of systems that are designed to erase them.

In the video, they are catapulted into a dream world where they expand and can be their full sexy weird queer AF selves.

La Llorona is not looking to snatch them up and kill them, she is grieving, and looking for those of us who need nurturing and care.

Since the song is based on Mexican folklore and inspired by me and Reiko’s shared mixed-Latinx identity, we had a lot of our Latinx friends on set who knew the story well and got to participate in a paradigm shift. It truly was a world that we all dove into—it wasn’t until after we left Pianofight that night when we heard about the mass shooting that happened in El Paso, which was a targeted attack toward Latinx people shopping at Walmart.

It was devastating, to have been totally present in the co-creation of a world that celebrated Latinx & mixed-race heritage, to re-enter the “real world” on a tragic day for Latinx folks in America. It validated the importance of getting this video out there.

Lastly, do you feel that artists are responsible for engaging with their communities and helping them heal/addressing issues that face the most vulnerable? If so, why? Or why not?

This is a tricky question because on a foundational level we can only be responsible for ourselves. Not only do we feel everyone has their own roles, journey, and process — we don’t like telling people what they should or should not be doing.

We make our art to connect and engage with our communities and the issues that face us. Responsible or not, it is one way artists can use their truth and help push the edges of change our world needs. At the same time, art can be used for so many different things.

Art can give us something worth fighting for. We do not underestimate the changes that emerge from small interpersonal interactions or moments spent alone.

We trust that every artist is navigating risk and making choices based on a myriad of factors: location, support system, mental health, access to community, basic needs, etc.

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// Makers Mark video

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Sometimes we do art in private for our own self-healing and sometimes we do it in front of a camera for money. Every artist is a unique conduit for the electric impulses of the cosmos. There are no dogmas or martyrs in Copyslut’s ethos. No “one right way” to be an artist.

We don’t believe in being “role models” except for ourselves, and we allow our imperfect whole integrated selves in our art and performance. That being said, when we chose to be public, we felt it was important to accept and welcome that we will be called to be accountable for our impact and grow from the gift of living.

We are artists who not only value but try to facilitate connections, and we are devoted to uplifting our edge walking communities.

We are lucky enough to have the platform and reception that we do, and we feel a cosmic pull to take up space to play for the world we want to live in, not necessarily the world we live in now.

We put ourselves out there in the way we do to make pleasure more accessible. We want everyone to get some of their own unique yummy. We take the risks and push edges with the intention to pay homage and make proud those who have made it possible for us to make the art we make.

We also do it with the intention to make it safer and a little less lonely for the generations of artists that will follow us.

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