__PERPETUAL CHANGE TG Forum Interviews StormMiguel Florez
Pam Degroff | Jan 17, 2011
It’s usually a bit of a challenge to come up with something interesting for my first column of the new year. This year is different, though, for two reasons. First off, I planned ahead months in advance. And secondly, I found StormMiguel Florez.
Florez is, in his own words, “…a Mexican American FtM, genderqueer, singer/songwriter, performance artist, and live sex show instigator.”
I first learned about him a year or so ago, and partly through Shawna Virago who was featured in our companion Transvocalizers column, we were able to make arrangements for the following interview.
I have always personally felt that transmen are the most under-served segment of our community. Well, TGForum will always work to change that. And talented people like Florez will make the kind of dent in the collective consciousness that can’t be ignored. He has a great interview with NPR that’s still posted, and is a published author as well as a musician with extensive past experience. Florez has also recently released his first solo album project since transitioning, Long Lost Sun, which we plan to review next month.
TGForum is pleased to introduce Storm Miguel Florez to our readers as the first installment of Perpetual Change for 2011.
TGForum: I read that you’re originally for Albuquerque, and started writing songs at age 10. There’s a quote from your promo material about not many male singer/songwriters learned to write songs while at Girl Scout camp.
Storm Miguel Florez: When I was in 4th grade, I was hanging out with a ‘friend’ and singing a song. (I was constantly singing as a kid.) She was annoyed with my singing and told me to stop singing because I was tone deaf. Around that time, a choir was forming at my elementary school. I decided I better join, so that I could learn to sing properly — in case my friend was right.
I was in school choruses from 4th grade through 8th grade. I learned a lot about music and singing through music offered in school. I also took guitar lessons at the Y when I was in middle school.
TGF: It’s apparent that you listened to a wide variety of music while growing up. What were your biggest influences?
SMF: So many. When I was little, by biggest influences were the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, the Grease soundtrack, and Helen Reddy. We also listened to a lot of ’60s country like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and Elvis. As I got older, I got into new wave — The Cure, Depeche Mode, then into a lot of female singers like Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman. There are way too many influences to mention!
TGF: In your NPR interview, you mention Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Tom Petty. Vocally, I hear influences for all three in your style. Would this be an accurate statement?
SMF: Yes, all three.
TGF: Anyone ever tell you look a bit like Elvis Costello and sound a lot like Dylan at times?
SMF: Actually, yes.
TGF: What does Storm Florez listen to for enjoyment?
SMF: Just about everything. Right now, I’m listening to Bob Dylan Radio on Pandora.
TGF: Being of Mexican American heritage, growing up in the Southwest and coming from a culture that has clearly defined gender roles, how hard was it for you growing up?
SMF: Interestingly, as a masculine child, I got more crap from my white friends than I did from my family. I got to dress like a boy for the most part, except on holidays. I looked a lot to the men for cues about how to be in the world, and was also very much influenced by the women in my family. I like to think I got the best from both!
TGF: How old were you when you really started dealing with your gender issues? What about your family? (Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but I’m assuming you were raised Catholic. If so, any problems from that perspective?)
SMF: I guess I was a child when I started dealing with my gender. My gender was masculine, and I was not freaked out that I was different from other boys. I knew I was a girl, in a way, but didn’t really think I need to act like other girls for most of my childhood. My friends and I would pick pretend names for ourselves when we played, and I would always pick a boy’s name like Mike or Bill. I guess when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I started to understand that something was different, and not ‘ok’ about me. My female friends started making me pick girl names when we played, and they would make fun of me or get mad at me for acting like a boy. I even had a teacher who complained to my mother that I was too masculine.
My family only started tripping when I came out as a lesbian, and later as trans. I left the Catholic Church when I was about 16 because I didn’t feel like I could be both Catholic and gay. I still hold onto many Catholic traditions and rituals, but I don’t go to church.
TGF: Since you were active in the lesbian folk music scene, did you have any problems (i.e. rejection, misunderstanding, etc.) When you decided to finally transition? The GLBT community can be cruel to its own at times.
SMF: Funny thing is that the LGBT people that had a big problem with my transition were very distant ex’s from when I was in my early 20s. I transitioned in my early 30s. I guess I was already in community with queer folks who were aware and embracing of trans folks.
TGF: Talk a bit, if you will, about Too F.I.N.E. Minds, the all female rock band you were in.
SMF: Too F.I.N.E. Minds was a rock band in the early ’90s. We were heavily influenced by ’70s and ’80s rock. Some folks compared us to Jefferson Airplane. The albums are sadly not available. I play some TFM songs on my queer/trans Internet radio station, Bad Flower Radio.
TGF: In your NPR interview, you mention your “Peter Brady Experiment,” which had to do with how your voice was changing during transition. That took a lot of courage to perform under those circumstances. What type of reactions did you get from audiences and promoters?
SMF: I got a lot of support from folks. I would let folks know about the experiment before I started singing, and when I would hit sour notes, I would smile, and people would often laugh or clap in a very loving way. So basically, I got a lot of support. It was hard to let go of control of my voice, but I really had to put my money where my mouth was and sing because I loved it, as I always encourage people to do.
TGF: Did you take any formal voice training during this time, or after? Also, I take it that your voice is still undergoing subtle changes, correct? What do you do to take care of your voice?
SMF: I did not take formal voice training during my transition. I basically was careful not to over do it. I sung within my range as much as possible. I feel like my voice is pretty much settled, except for the fact that I keep noticing that over time, my higher ranges are still coming back. It’s pretty cool to have a much lower range, and be able to access some of the higher ranges. It has taken a lot of patience and surrender.
TGF: Since you’re very open about Long Lost Sun being your first album after starting testosterone, what’s it like for you to go back and listen to your older recordings? Would you re-record any of the older material?
SMF: I enjoy listening to my old recordings. I was never dysphoric about my singing voice. On Long Lost Sun, I re-recorded Song For Bridgid, which was on my previous solo CD. I will probably end up re-recording more of my older material.
TGF: I noticed on Long Lost Sun that you use other musicians on only four tracks. Did you purposely want to keep the album simple?
SMF: I had more ideas for other instruments and musicians, but didn’t really have the time or budget to make it happen. I like keeping it simple, but would really love to record with more instrumentation. Alex Andrist, who recorded the CD, played banjo and played percussion….will probably be joining me in future performances. We are working on more songs together. He is a very talented musician, and a dear friend. I feel very lucky to get to work with him.
TGF: When you perform live, is it strictly as a solo artist? Will you ever work with a full band again?
SMF: If I could afford it, I would hire musicians to play with. I love playing with other musicians, but I don’t know that I would join a band again.
TGF: How political are you?
SMF: I would say I’m pretty political. I am involved with the San Francisco Trans March. I got involved because I wanted to see more representation and inclusion of trans women, and trans communities of color. My politics are about coalition building. I feel that it is very important to build bridges across all anti-oppression movement.
TGF: If you had one thing to say to the transgender community, what would it be?
SMF: I would say that the idea of a transgender community is a myth. There are several trans communities. It is important for us as a movement to look out for each other, and learn about each other. I see a lot of predominantly white FtM communities calling themselves the trans community, where there are so many others to consider and advocate for in trans communities. Trans women of color, trans immigrants, and incarcerated trans people are often overlooked.
TGF: What advice would you offer to any other musician, singer/songwriter, just starting out?
SMF: I would say to find your individual voice and style. Learn a piece of music well, whether or not you wrote it, and then fully put your emotion and love into the performance of it. Do it because you love it.
TGF: I really like this quote of yours I found: “I’m strongly attached to the tradition of the record album that tells a story…” I am too. I miss albums…the flow, and the overall concept. Plus, personally, I prefer analog recording over digital any day. Care to comment?
SMF: Ah yes…analog. Too F.I.N.E. Minds recorded on analog. I love the sound we got. As far as albums vs. singles, while I’m definitely a participant in the purchasing of digital singles online for $.99, I am also saddened that the art of recording a full album is possibly declining because of this option. I took an A&R class recently, and learned that we are headed in the direction of singles and subscription-based music consumption. Every time this would come up in class, the energy in the room would be noticeably tense. There were a few of us who would become very agitated at this idea. I grew up with LP’s, then cassettes, and later CDs. My favorite albums were the ones that took the listener on a journey from the beginning to the end. Some that come to mind are The Velvet Underground and Nico (produced by Andy Warhol), Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, Def Leppard, Pyromania, and Ani Difranco, To The Teeth. All of these albums are complex works or art in my opinion.
TGF: Any future plans you can share at this time?
SMF: I am dreaming of creating a record label for trans and queer artists, focusing, although not exclusively, on artists of color. I’m also hoping to tour in the spring with Shawna Virago. Readers can contact me: (storm (at) stormflorez (dot) com) if they want me to come to their town.
TGF: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
SMF: Check out my website and buy my CD Long Lost Sun. Also, check out my queer and trans Internet radio station and blog at http://badflowerradion.blogspot.com/. I welcome suggestions and submissions for my play list. Send submissions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Storm Miguel Florez’s main web site is www.stormflorez.com; also check out www.badflower.com. Mailing address for Storm Miguel Florez and Bad Flower Music: 740-A 14th Street, #147, San Francisco, CA 94114.
About Pam Degroff: Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician. View author profile.