ARTIST INTERVIEW: A CONVERSATION WITH BONNIE BANANE

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Bonnie Banane was a terrible clown. She told me so herself when I called her in February. She was stationed in Paris, France, her center of operations. 

While studying in a three-year program at the National Conservatory of Drama Arts in Paris, Banane took a year-long “clown class.” It is exactly what it sounds like. Every school day for a year, Miss Banane learned how to embody a clown.

“It was a fucking struggle, man,” she tells me. “I dreaded that class. I hated it every day. I wanted to quit so many times.” 

“What kind of clown were you? Happy? Sad?” 

“I was neither a sad nor happy clown. I was a talking clown,” she says. 

My eyebrows are up. “A talking clown?!”

“A talking clown. This was not easy for me. I’m not some stereotypical fast-talking French woman. I’m not at ease with eloquence. It’s not necessarily common for clowns to talk - a lot of clowns don’t talk. But my clown wanted to talk. I was a lost clown who pretended to know the way. I would suddenly appear amongst the other clowns and they would ask me for directions. I would pretend to know the way, but I could only make a concrete list of what exists on Earth...being a clown is a super mystical experience.”

On the Friday afternoon I called Bonnie Banane, it was a sunny but crisp cold day in Los Angeles. I always like to ask the person I’m interviewing how the weather is in their parts. It’s a grounding question.

“It was a big, wide sky today,” Bonnie tells me. Paris had been storming recently and, while it was a proper winter day, this was the first clear sky day in a while. 

She asks me what the weather is like there in Los Angeles. She tells me that she’s been to Los Angeles once before, in 2016. Having performed at Mustache L.A., the landmark queer dance party, she was touched by its founder Nacho Nava’s recent death. I wish I could say that I’d attended Mustache L.A. and could say more, but I hope my readers resonate with this. 

My second favorite question to ask in an interview is “Do you have any questions for me?” But Bonnie beats me to the punch. “Who are you? Why am I talking to you? My PR people kind of just steered me toward you.” 

Which I loved. Because I love talking about myself. 

I told her about my experience in radio, first at KCSB and then KXSC Radio, and how long I’d been in radio. Bonnie also asked me how I’d first heard her music, which I honestly couldn’t recollect. It was probably her first single “Muscles.” Somewhat mirthfully, she tells me that her track “L’appetit,” from her EP Soeur Nature, was featured in a Chipotle playlist. I can safely say that’s not where I discovered her. 

She also tells me “the more I go to the United States, the more I feel the illusion of it.” I call the U.S. a façade and she agrees. 

I say, “I think more people here are seeing the illusion, the façade.”

Her voice gets very serious and low when I say this. “You really think so?” 

All of a sudden I’m not so sure. “Well, I have to believe so,” I respond. 

Sensing that we’re entering murkier territory, I ask her about the imagery of the Transatlantic Slave Trade present in her song “Leonardo” from Souer Nature

The lyrics: 

Oh... Léonardo

Rejoins les autres

Qu'on a noyer dans l'eau

De l'Atlantique

O…Leonardo…join the ones that we drown in the water from the Atlantic. 

Bonnie tells me that no one she talked to in France really “got” the meaning of those lyrics, which I frankly don’t find surprising. France’s national “colorblind” approach to addressing racism seems ridiculous, even by United States standards. Such an approach probably makes talking about the history of slavery very difficult. I’m quite heartened to see a white French artist willing to engage in cultural production that addresses these things. 

“That’s one of the angles of the song: the Atlantic Slave Trade” she says, and then relates how she became very concerned with the subject of slavery when she was about 4 or 5. Her father told her straight about the atrocities of this trade, in which all of Europe participated. The music that Bonnie was “exclusively listening” to at that time was African-American.

Bonnie was heavily influenced by the United States’ cultural exports in her childhood: the music, the culture, the movies, the television. She even learned English this way – by consuming American media.

I ask her about collaboration. What is the process like for her? “It’s always in a dialogue. I need the feedback in creation. Somebody plays something, and you react. I admire people who do it alone, but it’s a bit sad, I think, to do it alone.” 

She tells me that she creates with people who she admires and loves - and only people she admires and loves. To her, creating with these people is like creating souvenirs, capturing little moments in time that say “we were here.” 

Dialogue. Feedback. These are both themes (and literally song titles) on Bonnie Banane’s mixtape from 2017, Undone Tape. So naturally, I inquire about this project, which she released with this note on July 2, 2017 (Her birthday. She’s a Cancer).

Surprise!

Here's an unfinished, unachieved, unperfect, undone tape I chose to release now on my birthday for us to celebrate the summer and the joys of creation and destruction we' ve experienced through the making of these drafts. 

Thanks to my dear friends and to all the generous contributors, their commitment and support. I m grateful for you, for everything.

Passionetly, 

BB

The Undone Tape was released that July, but I did not know how much I needed her album until January of the next year. After a break-up that left me in shambles, the Undone Tape let me mourn the love I had lost. 

As it turns out, the Undone Tape has similar significance for Banane. The tape comes as a “Point Z” in her fruitful collaboration with Walter Mecca. Without going into much detail, she tells me that at this point she could no longer work with the musician and producer. 

“[The tape] came out in three days,” she tells me, but she struggled with completing it, at the time thinking, “I don’t want it to be finished because it will never be finished.” She was faced with two options: “I could put it in the trash and never release, or perfect it. [But] perfection is vain. I’m proud of the unperfected stuff.”

I’m delighted to learn that a lot of Bonnie Banane’s songs are inspired by heartbreak. Her first single in collaboration with Walter Mecca, “Muscles,” is one of these post-breakup bops, striking lyrics undergirded by an irresistible synthesizer:

I break my hearts good

I break my hearts good

I break my hearts good

I break my hearts good 

You’re just another but you look like

The Other

You’re the only one that can break my heart

I know it’s just a muscle but

You’re the only one that can break my heart

From her tone of voice, I sense that Bonnie Banane and Walter Mecca’s collaboration might have gone past the music. But I can’t ask a question like that. So I ask the next best question. Stumbling over my words, I finally spit it out:

“What do you think about love?” 

She laughs heartily and replies: “When you start to sing, it’s about gesture. What you put outside yourself. What you show, what you give. I remember when I gave it not when I received [it]…[On Undone Tape], I’m talking about eternal love, and being a bit cruel… the main aspect of love for me is when you give it.” 

She tells me that after finishing Undone Tape she was devastated, and frightened. And she speaks of alchemy: how what you can write can manifest itself. “When you write stuff, it can happen [to you], that shit is a fucking curse.” 

And she speaks of grief: “You can be in grief with someone who is alive, you can be in grief with someone who is dead.” 

I want to return to this question of love, but first I enquire about her recent work on Varnish La Piscine’s “film-auditif” (audio film) Le Regard Qui Tue. I can hear Bonnie’s eyes brighten up when I ask about it. 

“It’s a whole story,” she begins and relates how she, enamored of the beats behind Makala’s “Youjizz,” discovered the Geneva-based producer and began to collaborate after sending a gracious Instagram direct message. “That’s how it works now!” 

Varnish La Piscine returned the compliment and promptly invited her to Switzerland to collaborate.  

Banane agreed on something of a whim, because she did not truly know this man or where exactly she was headed in Geneva. Upon the early morning of her train ride, she stayed up late partying, miraculously ending up at the train station, still drunk. On to Geneva. 

Miss Banane is effusively generous to Varnish La Piscine in their collaborative process, which blossomed quickly in their first few exchanges. Soon after these exchanges, they began preparing demos. Bonnie describes him as “a fucking genius” and “weird editor” whose “brain works like a dream.” To Banane, collaboration is all about working with the people you love and believe in.

And it is all love isn’t it? And how to love. I try to steer our interview back to love. As quoted above, Bonnie says she remembers the times she gave love, not the times she received it. And I generally agree with that, though I cherish the times I receive it. 

And I think of this particular passage on love that Miss Banane posted on Instagram. The original quotation was in French, so I asked my pal Jade from KXSC (Deathless Gods With Human Bods, Nightjars) to translate it, and I think he did a great job. It is an analysis of love in Hagakuré (Book of the Samurai): 

The ideal presented in Hagakuré clings to two words:“secret love.” Hagakuré affirms without faltering that love, as soon as one confesses it, begins shrinking; true love, the most elevated and the most noble, is the one whose secret is carried to the grave. The art of love that is practiced in America consists of declaring, asserting one’s rights, and seizing the opportunity. No one ever lets the energy engendered by love accumulate on the inside; one diffuses it constantly on the outside.

But paradoxically, the electric current of love falters in the instant it is transmitted. 

I read it back to her and ask how this line informs how she writes about love. She refers me directly to a track from the Undone Tape, “Heaven & Hell Combined,” which as it turns out was inspired by a clown exercise. 

I know the lyrics (mostly), and we stumble over them together. 

You trynna sort it out / But You not even close yet 

I see you trynna guess my feeling / But you not even close yet 

It s hidden for a reason / On the low 

Boy It depends on the seasons  / You should know 

It s never as simple as it seems / Conception and beliefs 

Are duh /Hybrid 

When you hang around me / It gets so mixed up 

I like to keep it down baby / Till it blows up 

How I’m getting shit together / Speak my mind? 

I ll explain my feeling when it s all aligned 

Not just hope / Not just pride 

Not just fear / Not just love- 

It s heaven and hell combined! 

It s heaven and hell combined!

“Is this feeling mine? Let it rest and give it time,” she tells me.

I let the interview rest a little bit, let it germinate in my mind. After writing a good portion, I reach out to Bonnie again via text. I want to know her favorite exercise from clown class.

“My favorite exercise in clown was walking in a room with the indication of feeling like we’re walking in heaven and hell at the same time. It’s really hard to combine those. But if you succeed you end up walking like a [fool]. You should try it out. Also it inspired a song on the Undone Tape.”

Heaven and Hell Combined.

- Aida Rogers, former Music Writing Director

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