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Tranna Wintour on Your Inner Child and Protecting Creativity - Tunes Tuesday Interview Transcript

Maud Mostly: Hi, I'm Maud Mostly my pronouns are they/them, and welcome back to Tunes Tuesday, a weekly series where I sit down with Queer/2SLGBTQ+ musicians and bands to talk to them about their music, their experiences, and so much more. Today, I am joined by Montreal-based comedian and singer Tranna Wintour. Thank you so much for joining me here today. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Tranna Wintour: Sure. I'm Tranna Wintour. I am a comedian and singer, podcast host, I host a show called Chosen Family on CBC podcasts that I'm really proud of and love, and I think when it comes to creativity and the work that I do in the arts, I really see myself as a performer, first and foremost, and I think in performing I’m able to really bring all of the elements together like music and comedy, and even aspects of hosting. But obviously in this last year, that has not been possible, so it's weird, I feel kind of disconnected from that thing that really is one of my most defining things, but I'm still a performer through and through. And my pronouns are she/her.

Maud Mostly: Thank you for sharing all that, and we're definitely going get into some of those performance aspects later, but the first thing I want to bring up is, as you mentioned, you co-host a podcast. So since 2017, you have been co-hosting the CBC podcast, Chosen Family with Thomas La Blanc, and this has led you to just connect and have deep conversations with so many incredible people. What's your favorite part of hosting that show?

Tranna Wintour: Well, it's those conversations. I think it's such a blessing to be able to have these really deep conversations with people that I never thought I would ever get to talk to. Like one that really stands out for me is Margaret Cho from our second season, and Margaret is a trailblazing comedian and a musician too. And her work was so vital and important to me when I was a kid. I'm a millennial, and when I was growing up, there really wasn't a whole lot of queer representation in the mainstream. It was really just sort of starting with Will and Grace and things like that. But Margaret was so radical in her queerness and watching her stand-up specials back then was like exactly what I needed to hear, and then getting to talk to her on our podcast was this really emotional full circle moment. After the interview was over, I just started crying, like I couldn't believe that it had happened. And then more recently, we spoke to Linda Perry, former frontwoman of 4 Non-Blondes and writer of so many early 2000s pop hits that were really the songs that I grew up with. So again, it was just this surreal experience of getting to talk to someone who's behind a lot of work that really shaped me growing up, so I think that's really the best part.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, I love that. And you bring up such incredible people, and I think I kind of relate those feelings to you really powerfully talked about in one of your recent podcasts, that kind of inner child and how queer people in some ways can be really disconnected from that inner child, but also so connected to them, because they kind of want to protect them and hold on to them in ways that they weren't then. So I love that you're bringing up those kind of full circle moments because I feel like they go back to what you were saying in that episode where it's like, that matters to me so much now, because it mattered to me so much then.

Tranna Wintour: Yeah, exactly, I really do carry that inner child with me. That episode that you're talking about, I think was definitely one of the most personal episodes that we did. I did share a lot about the experiences that I had growing up as the queer kid in my suburban elementary school, and finding this video footage of me from that time, and it really didn't make me realize that as much as I've been carrying that inner child with me, this whole time, I think I was so focused on the sort of pain of that time that I really lost sight of the things that were good and joyful about being a queer kid. And finding that footage of myself from that age, I think allowed me to see that it wasn't all bad. You know what I mean? Despite everything that went on during that time in my life, there were still really good things, and there were so many things as a kid that I was so excited about.

Maud Mostly: Definitely, yeah, and I think that's something that's so relatable to so many people with the homophobia and transphobia, if you continue to face that in your life, it kind of does cloud your memories because it has that overwhelming feeling, and it can be really nice when we find moments outside of that, and remember that those existed. But moving on to some of your more recent work, because obviously the podcast is continuing, but now on top of that, just earlier in 2021, you kind of moved outside of comedy outside of that podcast world and released your first album called Safe From Your Affection. I was wondering, did you find it difficult to move into and explore this other industry?

Tranna Wintour: That's a great question. I don't feel like I have yet. About five years ago, I left my day job — customer service at a bank in a call center, not glamorous, not fun — to really pursue comedy, but all of my creative outlets full-time and to really center my life around my art and find a way to support myself and make a living through that. And in that process, some of the joy has been lost because now my livelihood and my financial survival depends on the success of the projects that I work on, and I think I grew up with this idea that if you love what you do, you don't have to work a day in your life. And that is just not true, or it definitely has not been true for me, because since repositioning or re-organizing my life around this new way of making a living, it's just been so stressful and so much work and rewarding and worth it, and I wouldn't change a thing, but again, it has sucked out some of the joy that came with these creative endeavors. And so for this music project, for my album, there's a part of me that really wants to allow this project to remain joyful because with comedy with the podcast with almost everything else that I work on, it's this industry hustle, getting noticed, getting the work out there, and I think that's where a lot of, that's where the loss of joy occurs. And so when it comes to the music that I'm doing, there's a part of me that wants to just allow it to exist without having to get involved in all the industry stuff, because I feel like I need an artistic outlet in my life to sort of remain untouched by all of that other shit, because all of my other creative stuff is related to the industry and making a living.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, I really love that you mentioned that, because I do think a lot of people do have that idea that certain work doesn't feel like work, and it's like, no, you can still burn out, you can still get exhausted as you mentioned. And especially when it comes to creative work, I feel like people outside of creative industries are especially not understanding about that because they think like, oh, you get to have fun for a living, you get to play for a living, you get to make jokes for a living, why are you so stressed out?

Tranna Wintour: Exactly.

Maud Mostly: And that's definitely not a full picture of what's going on, so I really like that you're kind of finding ways to continue to find joy in this certain aspect of it. Especially because I feel like now more than ever is we're putting pressure on so many people that you like every hobby has to be monetized.

Tranna Wintour: Exactly.

Maud Mostly: Or it doesn't have value, and you shouldn't do it, and what's its purpose? Where is its meaning? And it's so hard to move away from that mindset that's kind of overwhelming all of us at this point.

Tranna Wintour: Exactly, and I think that's sort of where I'm at now with the release of the album also, the plans for the release got so derailed by covid. The album was supposed to come out like March of 2020, I think, mid-February, I received our vinyl pressing of the album, and I was so excited to carry those albums with me to all the shows that I'm doing and sell them after the show and get this album into people's hands. And literally the release coincided with lockdown in the first wave so it all just got really buried, and a lot of artists that were releasing things like in March, April, May of 2020, a lot of them delayed their releases. So I kind of just sort of settled on this idea of a soft launch. So in March of 2020, I just had it up on Bandcamp. I didn't really publicize it much, but I still wanted people to be able to access it if they wanted to, so it was just sort of like this quiet sort of thing. But lately, I just felt like, and this whole year, I've been so unmotivated, it's been really hard for me to even get a lot of the simplest tasks done, so I kept putting off getting the album on Spotify. I had also never done that before, and I always get sort of nervous when it comes to figuring out new things, so I kept pushing it off, thinking getting the album on streaming platforms was going to be this arduous task.

But I used this thing called Distrokid that was suggested to me, and you just sort of upload everything and it puts it up wherever it needs to be, and it ended up being really easy. So I think of this now is like the official release. Obviously, we all know that the way that most people consume music now is on the streaming platforms, so now that that's done, now that the album is available wherever people stream, now it feels like, okay, it's released, it's officially out in the world, but again, I think it's still, I'm still approaching it as a just sort of soft release, just sort of letting it exist in the world and whoever wants to listen ,can. It's easily accessible now. I think right now, my biggest struggle is that I really want people to listen to it, I do want this to connect with the most amount of people possible, but I also can't really bear the idea of promoting it and getting into all the industry stuff that we were talking about a moment ago like. I don't know how much of that I have in me right now.

Maud Mostly: Absolutely.

Tranna Wintour: How do you get people to find out about it if you're not willing to do that sort of promotional hustle stuff?

Maud Mostly: And that balance is so hard, and I'm so glad you brought that up because I was even seeing you've kind of speak to that on social media, talking about that honest grief that is kind of surrounding releasing this album during a pandemic, because there's so much that that surrounds an album release that you haven't been able to do, and particularly around your first album, there's these ideas for putting yourself out there in a way that you maybe haven't before and having that taken away. So I was just wondering how have you managed that grief, and how have you found ways to continue to celebrate and feel supported and its release outside of that grief?

Tranna Wintour: That's such a great question, and it really did feel like a sort of loss because I really never thought I would ever get to make an album, although it's been truly the biggest dream of my life. When I was a kid, and I still am completely obsessed with music and the art of the album specifically, you know what I mean? I'm still very much like an album person, I want to listen to an album from beginning to end, like I love having a physical format and holding that in my hands as I'm listening to an album. So I'm obsessed with all of that, and I think that there was a time when I was a kid, I was in the fifth grade, I wrote a few songs that were really terrible, and I recorded them by pressing play record on my boom box and singing into the speaker on a blank cassette. And that was sort of literally before doing this album, that was my last time really writing anything, and I grew up really thinking that it was something that I couldn't do because I don't play any instruments, I'm not a composer, so I just felt like this dream was never going to happen.

And then my producer and bandmate Mark Andrew Hamilton of Woodpigeon and front person, came into my life, like really organically. He covers a lot of events for Queer Montreal, which is like Tourism Montreal's queer offshoot. So he was seeing me perform a lot, and sometimes in my comedy, I would do sort of like I would incorporate music that it was always done sort of comedically. I wasn't taking myself as a singer seriously. I think there was a part of me that was scared to do that because I didn't feel like my voice was everything that I wanted it to be, so I didn't feel comfortable presenting that seriously. But meeting Mark and him just sort of seeing something musically in me, and then wanting to collaborate, that sort of really took me by surprise, and Mark really taught me how to sing, how to control my voice in the ways that I wanted to, and how to sound the way that I want to sound. And it was such a transformative and incredible experience, and it all just snowballed really organically, and I felt like I can't write a song, and he kept pushing me to write these lyrics, and I'm so glad that he did push me. So this is a long way of saying that I never thought that I would get to do this.

And then finally, this dream comes true, the music is like, I remember when we would be in the studio, we'd finish a song, and then we’d just lay on the ground in the dark and listen to it on these big speakers, and I swear I just couldn't believe it. I'm like, I can't believe that that's me, I can't believe that we just made that, and I was so excited to share that. And then to not be able to share it, yeah, definitely felt like a loss. I don't know if I necessarily grieve it because I think, I don't know, early on in the pandemic, especially as a performer, there was just so much that I had to accept because there's no way around it. The situation is what it is. I'm not the only one, obviously, so what good is it really going to do to be sad about it, although I was still sad about it. But I think the thing that allowed me to sort of not dwell too much in that sadness is just that I really am so proud of this music and to me, just the fact that it exists is almost enough because again, I never thought that I’d get to do it, so I think that the gratitude that I even got to make this sort of surpassed the grief and the sadness.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, it's incredible to also hear just how supported you are in the creation of this album, and I think that really comes through when you're listening to it honestly, and I also just wanted to pick up on something you were mentioning on how, when you were originally doing those music parts, how you were doing it comedically to almost protect yourself from taking it seriously. Because I think that's something you know so many of us still do, even when we are already in the creative world, there's just some things that still scare us in that way. And I know sometimes when I'm showing work to other people, I have that tendency to go like, oh, haha, isn't this so bad? Even if it's something that I don't think is terrible, and I think it's incredible that more people are starting to acknowledge that that's a way we cope with things and deal with things and protect ourselves, and I really love that more people are starting to meet language like that with like, oh no, I think this is actually really great, or like, oh, I really like this line you wrote, or like, oh, I really like this thing you did. So I think it's really incredible that you bring that up because I still think that's a really vulnerable area for people.

Tranna Wintour: It is! And I remember when Mark and I first started collaborating, it was really for live shows, so the first thing that we did together, which is the first track on the album was — well it’s the first track on the Bandcamp version of the album — there were some tracks that I couldn't get on Spotify because of legal stuff. One of those songs that I couldn't get on Spotify is a cover that we did of Lan Del Ray’s Summertime Sadness, which we matched up with Bananarama Cruel Summer. So because of that mashup, there was just no way to get the rights to put that on Spotify, but it's on the vinyl and it's on the Bandcamp version. But it was the first thing that we really put that together to do it live, and then we loved it so much that Mark was like, we should record it, and that's where things sort of started. But I remember when we did it live, it was my first time really doing a performance fully as a singer, not as my comedian self, just really singing and sharing this new voice that I had discovered working with Mark. And I was so terrified, like way more terrified than I've ever been of doing comedy, to share that, especially because I think the parts of my voice that Mark taught me to access are these softer, more delicate, fragile parts of my voice.

So I was just scared out of my mind. And I think it's hard when you are a comedian and everything that you've done up until that point has been about making people laugh, and then now it's like you want to be taken sort of seriously. It's daunting, it kind of reminds me of Joan Rivers, who obviously is the legendary comedian, but she felt that way about her acting, she really felt like she was a serious actress, but she kind of knew that she'd never get treated as one because of comedy. But I think that for me, what makes it sort of different is that when I get to do my solo shows where I'm not part of the line up, where I'm really just doing my thing, like my favorite thing to do is to blend comedy and music in an hour I make an audience laugh, but also move them on an emotional level. I like things that are varied, I want to take my audience to lots of different places. So I think for me, the marriage of music and comedy has been a really natural one for me, and I do think that the people who enjoy what I do, they get it, and there's not this switch that they need to turn on and off, they come hand-in-hand.

Maud Mostly: Absolutely, and I love that because you go back to talking about how you know, at your heart, you're a performer, so being able to bring all those things together, bring those different feelings, bring the audience on that kind of journey, all those different things is just so, it feels very authentic to you and that performance you're speaking about at heart.

Tranna Wintour: Yeah, definitely, and I think now I knew that I could make people laugh. So even when I was doing these more comedic musical things, it's still part of that, so it wasn't really a challenge, you know what I mean? It wasn't necessarily anything new for me, but to sing in a way that you want to make people feel something that was really new for me, and I didn't know if I could do that, and to me, as a music lover, I don't really care about technically perfect voices or technically powerful voices, what resonates for me is voices that hit an emotional chord. And from the shows that I've done, the musical elements, I've seen the music that I do, hit people on those emotional chords, and that's the most surreal, like amazing feeling in the world to be even better than making people laugh is that I can use my singing voice in a way that actually resonates emotionally. Because again, for me, that's where the bar is set for me personally, in terms of what I love and what I respond to. So that, for me, being able to reach that bar myself is very surprising, and I didn't know if I really had that in me.

Maud Mostly: Definitely, that's so powerful. And thank you so much for speaking with me about all of this today, I wish this conversation could go on forever, I want to stay updated, if you want to check out her music, you can make sure to go to any of the links below. It's really been such a joy to have you here today and make sure to stay tuned next week's Tunes Tuesday, in the meantime, TrannaWintour will be playing us out.

*Everyone by Tranna Wintour begins to play*

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