30th Jul 2012 4:25am | By Alex Harmon
The dreadlocked, rapping, no-bullshit poet is back with a new show about sex, politics and love. We chat to her about being a starving artist and what she thinks of Beyoncé
Tell me about Stories by Starlight
Well it’s a show I’m doing with a trio called Sloppy Joe, (keys, bass drums) and a couple of neo-burlesque performers called Betty Grumble and Ember Flame. And I am a poet, vocalist, performer and basically the show is an hour and a half long journey through politics, sex, love and all that is encompassed in being a human being these days.
The performance is described as tackling subjects such social injustice – which injustices?
Well basically, I tackle some pretty big stuff, pretty broad stuff. I don’t speak about specific instances, you know, because the world is just pretty fucked up. But I talk about war, feminism, global politics. And how we fit in to that as plebs.
Is the show highly sexualised?
Yes and there are a couple of reasons for that. One is that I don’t believe in anything being gratuitous. I don’t say fuck for the sake of saying fuck, I don’t talk about sex just because it sells tickets. I think that we live in a highly sexualised society and my work reflects that. Hence why my use of semi-naked girls do that. But it’s all subverted. If people are coming and excepting to see some sort of fun, light-hearted show, then they’re in for a shock. One of the pieces I do I called ‘Sexual Revolution’. And it talks about how far off the track of sexual revolution we actually are. And while I am doing that Betty Grumbe is half naked with words like “cunt" and "slut” on her. What I am trying to say is, if we are so liberated, why are we still living in a day and age where rape and sexual violence is still a daily occurrence? But we do it in a fun way. The music is upbeat, we’re there to entertain ultimately.
Would you say you're a poet first and foremost?
I call myself a performance artist these days. You say the word poet and people panic and run the other way. I’m a writer, I write my own work, and I perform my own work. I don’t perform other people’s work. Obviously the work follows a strong poetic narrative. And at the same time the songs follow a traditional song narrative, you know, verse-chorus-verse. But there is also a capella stuff, so it crosses a broad spectrum of performance. It’s very theatrical.
Are you sticking to a script every night?
Well we break up the show with a bit of chit-chat with the audience. I like to talk to the audience a lot and try to involve them in the show. I always say to the audience at the beginning of the show, it’s not one way, if you disagree with something, then tell me, if you agree them tell me so too. You can hiss, you can boo, or you can clap and cheer. I’m not a preacher, I’m not here to do that. There are parts that aren’t political, there is light-hearted stuff. But the parts that are political, people should have an opinion.
Tell me about the piece you wrote called 'An Ode to Journo’s
I got asked to perform at the Walkley Award’s Freedom of Speech dinner. So there was some really major media personal there. I think that in this day and age, people are so quick to say, “oh print media is so outdated... they don’t have a place in this digital age". I think it’s bullshit. Just because you can do a status update or put something on your Twitter feed it doesn’t make you an expert on a subject. And where are you getting your information from? Traditional media! So my piece was on how we shouldn’t forget how important the traditional journalists are, the investigative journo’s, the people that are eyes and ears for the places we can’t be. That is actually a line in the poem. And also the importance of maintaining freedom of speech, so I had a real dig at Gina Rinehart because it is unfortunate that eventually Fairfax, due to outside forces are going to cave into her requests. And I believe we don’t have much freedom of speech left in media and what we do have left we really need to hold onto.
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be the first female Prime Minister of Australia, but Julia beat me to it. She was the first sacrifice. I didn’t see myself doing this, but I have always been a writer. I got into performance poetry at about 18. And the past few years I’ve been getting busier and busier and working harder at it. I feel lucky to be doing this, I couldn’t do anything else.
Which artists do you look up to, respect?
I love Patti Smith. I love female singer songwriters, I don’t mean to be a cliché but I really do. I like them when they’re feisty like Bjork, Ani De Franco, I love hip-hop as well, so I listen to a lot of Sage Francis, Atmosphere. People whose lyrics are poetry. I think that if you’re a page poet and your work gets published in journals, then I think you have a very limited audience. And there’s a lot of elitism. And I think that poetry is for the people. I am against people that try to confine it to certain groups. And that is what I love about Patti Smith, she’s incredibly intelligent but she also has a popular following. Obviously she’s not mainstream like Madonna but if you took it to that extreme then it would no longer be poetry.
What do you think of the mainstream artists like Beyonce?
She's a terrible role model. You can say Beyonce has a great voice, but Beyonce also dances naked on television whilst claiming to be a Christian and making bucket loads of cash. And then the younger generations are looking up at her and saying "oh my God, I want to shake my booty like that and I wanna be really rich". At least she can sing, although with auto tune, most people can sing.
Is Gaga any better?
People say "oh well at least Gaga subverts it." But it’s the same thing, she’s still shaking her ass on TV. She’s doing the exact same thing she’s just appealing to the Goths and the other subcultures. But at least she goes out publicly and says she is anti-bullying and she is anti-homophobia. What does Beyonce do? She goes out with Jay Z, that says enough.
I read on your blog you didn't earn much last year. How does a starving artist live in Sydney?
With difficulty. I am really lucky in that I don’t pay exorbitant rent. I think that is first and foremost the difficult thing for artists – to cover rent. I think that there needs to be a shift in consciousness of artists and their roles. I think that they are very undervalued in Australia. In the US and the UK there is a much greater rate of private philanthropy and a much greater respect for artists. I think that what we do is important we are the visionaries, the challengers, not just myself, I am talking about all artists. And when we are chronically under-funded, trying to make ends meet, it’s not when we create our greatest work. That’s the greatest fallacy about artists. I heard an artist on the radio, who said, “would you want your plumbing done by a plumber who hasn’t been able to pay rent in two weeks? No you wouldn’t, his mind wouldn’t be on the job, they’re not going to be able to perform the job.” It’s the same for artists who have those worries, it’s hard for them to create beautiful work. So yes, I live very tight but I get to say what others don’t. And that is that I get to do what I really love.
Where is your favourite place in Australia?
I really love northern NSW. So Lismore, Byron, Nimbin, for the scenery actually, not for what people would expect – it’s not for the lifestyle. I think that there is some really stunning scenery. One of my favourite things is driving up towards Nimbin, the view of the rocks and the hills. It's one of my favourite things in the world.
Catch Candy Royalle at Red Rattler, Marrickville (Sept 7, 13 & 20). See candyroyalle.com