Interview: Cindy Lee

Posted by Joely Kelzer

On Sunday, October 23rd, the Turf Club stage was set with an amp, a guitar, and a drum machine with some flowers tied to the microphone stand. The crowd was waiting for Cindy Lee. I was looking forward to my first time seeing Cindy Lee, their record “Malenkost” was the first vinyl I ever bought years ago.

The Turf welcomed Cindy Lee for their first performance in Minnesota, opening for Preoccupations. Cindy Lee performed in white go-go boots, a black mini dress and a white fur-cuffed coat. The audience swayed, and danced slowly to the sound that Cindy Lee describes as “confrontation pop”. A sound that is both haunting and noisy, subtle and glamorous.

After a beautiful set performing songs from their release “Cat O’ Nine Tails” playing guitar, manipulating the drum machine and singing, all solo on stage, I was able to meet up with them after the show for a short interview. Standing in between the Turf Club mural and their trailer, we had a nice chat.

Would you like to introduce yourself before we get started?

Cindy Lee: Yeah, I’m Cindy Lee. I am from Calgary, Alberta and I have lived in Durham, North Carolina for the last two or so years.

Amazing, I heard it’s your first time in Minneapolis? What do you think of it so far?

Cindy Lee: Yeah I’ve never played in the states before, we saw a tumbleweed when we rolled in that’s all I saw… and the venue. There were some comedy moments, my brother goes “Come check out this mosaic” then immediately, my friend Monty who’s driving the van immediately drove in front of the mural with our van and trailer and obscured it, it was really funny – it was very fast like Looney Tunes.

So, since you mention Looney Tunes, I have to ask what is your favorite cartoon? Do you have a favorite cartoon?

Cindy Lee: Ohhhhhh! When I was a kid it was Spiderman and even at the time it was old it was the one that was kind of ‘jittery’ and there was a lot of watercolor in the background and amazing music that I still listen to from time to time. So, the original Spiderman cartoon, and then Care Bears.

Wow, that’s great. Since you still listen to it from time to time would you say it has any influence on your own music?

Cindy Lee: Maybe! I’ve been listening to a lot of schlocky, easy-listening type stuff lately and it’s kind of in that zone, it’s just studio musicians goin’ for it.

What else have you been listening to? What did you listen to on your drive here?

Cindy Lee: We’ve been listening to the Flames game on the radio, there was a hockey game last night, me and my brother are huge hockey fans. We couldn’t watch the game because we were playing last night so we watched it in the van. I was listening to some Calgary radio because I thought I was starting to lose my accent, I was starting to mimic my partner and the people around me and getting like some twang in my voice– which I didn’t wanna do. No issue with that, but for some reason it was a weird comfort for me to listen to some Calgary broadcasters.

When I’m on my own I mostly listen to the AM radio. I’ve been living in North Carolina, initially I was pretty culture-shocked, I came from Montreal directly to East Durham. So, I’ve been liking the guitar heroes lately – lots of Johnny Smith, Chet Akins, Link Ray, some really foundational stuff.

Wow that’s a great variety, some hockey radio and some classic guitar.

Cindy Lee: Yeah and actually I just stopped doing it but I have this series of episodes on NTS, called Realistik Radio. So that’s what I’ve been listening to. I did it for over a year, there’s a bunch of installments so people can get a feel for what I like or what I’ve been into over the last couple years.

Yeah that’s awesome! I used to work for a radio station so that is great to hear, I’ll have to check that out as well. My next question is: Is this your usual outfit you wear for performances, or do you switch it up everytime, or how do you go about choosing what to wear for performances?

Cindy Lee: Oh yeah! I’m not that flashy with my drag, I’m more of a cross dresser than a drag queen. It’s not very elaborate or high fashion or anything like that. Yeah I just have some simple dresses and then actually I’ve been wearing some of the same dresses for like a decade, which I think is like a cardinal sin in the drag world, but I don’t give a f*ck… also I feel like if I were to see Roy Orbison or Patsy Cline or whoever and they were wearing what they were wearing in the picture I’d be pretty hyped you know? They kinda turn to this cartoon or something…

Yeah, like a character?

Cindy Lee: Yeah kind of, I mean you just turn it into something else. I don’t see it that way when I’m playing, I just don’t like to make a huge kind of fuss about it I guess. I started cross-dressing as a teenager and it kind of worked its way into the music… I feel like what I’m wearing tonight is kinda fun, the gold dress I have is more old school. When I wear that one I feel a bit older, a bit more mature. This one’s more fun. The other dress I have is a silver one and a dear friend of mine, Julie, who played in the original Cindy Lee band made it for me. It’s the only thing anybody’s ever made me, so I still have that and I still wear it sometimes.

Wow, that’s beautiful.

Cindy Lee: Yeah Julie was the best, amazing bass player, amazing human and amazing cook!!

That is awesome! Do you have any words you’d like to say to the people that I haven’t asked you about yet?

Cindy Lee: I think I just try not to take things so seriously, try not to take myself so seriously. Try to keep busy, which is hard for me. But also who gives a f*ck? Not in like a sh*tty Nihilist way, just I don’t know why you need to compete so hard, I don’t have a lot of competition in me. Rent’s paid. Life’s good.

Survival is triumph enough…

Yeah there you go.

To keep up with Cindy Lee and to check out their new album visit their website:

Joely Kelzer

Music lover and local DJ MOJO JOJO, Joely enjoys sharing her passion for music in many different ways, such as through reviews. Currently at the University of Minnesota and a previous Marketing Intern at First Avenue. Her favorite concert memory is her first concert ever in the main room, Playboi Carti.

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