“Can I Ask What the Tampon Hat Is About?”: A Talk With JD Samson


[Editor’s note: In “Tweets Is Watching,” Phillip Mlynar asks local artists questions based solely on the contents of their Twitter timeline.]

JD Samson and her MEN ensemble will release a new album titled Labor on October 22nd. It’s a project that Samson says is an “experience of self-discovery and self-release.” Handily, there will be a release show at Union Pool on October 26th. Ahead of that shindig, we asked Samson about her Twitter talk–winning lottery scratch cards, the dynamics of hearing your music remixed, and the trials of crafting tampon hats.

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What’s the Bushmaster?
It was a shot that the bar-tenders at my weekly Sunday party dreamt up yesterday. We always have like a $2 shot and they usually have some sort of sexual innuendo tied to it.

What’s in the Bushmaster?
I think it had blackcurrant vodka and cranberry. But I did not drink it!

What’s the strangest shot they’ve created for the party?
Well my girlfriend’s name is Ariel and it was her birthday a couple of weeks ago and they had a shot that was the Ariel-a, so like areola, like a play on her name. I think the drink involved something that was pink or that involved peach.

So what would the JD Samson shot be?
Oh, gosh, it would probably include like Welch’s grape juice and lemon zest or something!

You’ve been posting up remixes to the song “Making Art.” Is it strange to hear other people reinterpret your music?
I love it actually. With this record it was interesting ’cause we worked with outside producers for the first time so it was really awesome to have someone else’s take on it. There’s something really precious about keeping your demo and there’s that whole thing called demo-itis which is when artists are beholden to the first version of the song. I think part of it is you can’t get it out of your head and it becomes this catchy thing and then that’s what it is and you’re loathe to move out of it. I’ve had demo-itis in the past but now I’m super into taking a new journey and seeing different elements and takes of the track so it’s been cool to hear the remixes.

How do you get over demo-itis? Does it just come with experience?
I think that’s part of it, yeah. I’m also kinda like a self-conscious person and that’s part of it for me, being unsure of my take on something and appreciating someone else’s take on it. Sometimes I trust other people more than myself.

Do you give the remixers much in the way of direction?
It’s totally in their hands. Generally we pick people based on other remixes and try and get a different range. It’s interesting to see what they all come up with and to see what people come up with while not knowing what the others are doing.

So for the remixes of “Making Art” did anyone do anything that totally surprised you?
Yeah, there’s actually a couple left that haven’t been put out so far. I think XXXChange did one that I really like a lot. I wouldn’t say it was super surprising but more exciting ’cause he took one little part of the vocal and the rest of it was just a whole other journey. I thought that was incredible, creating something new by taking such a small part of the song.

Do remixes make you think about your own song in a different way?
For sure, it’s really interesting to see what people think is the most catchy part of the song. In the process of remixing “Making Art,” most people chose a certain part of the verse to work with instead of the chorus. That was interesting to realize for me ’cause of course I thought the chorus was naturally the most catchy part.

You won $12 on the lottery recently, right?
Yeah, that was last week! My girlfriend and I were going for dinner and we were really early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet so we were walking around Bushwick and ended up in this bodega that was selling lottery tickets. I bought two and won both of them!

Which tickets were they?
One of them was the one where it looks like a crossword but you scratch off the letters you have and the other one was some basic one where you just scratch off and it tells you if you’ve won or not. That one was less exciting.

What did you spend your $12 on?
Actually I didn’t spend it. It’s funny ’cause I just put on some pants and found $12 in my pocket!

Did you consider reinvesting the $12 in more lottery tickets?
No, we actually talked about it but the guy in the shop was like, “I wouldn’t do it ’cause you only win once.”

See also: Q&A: JD Samson of MEN on Playing Occupy Wall Street on May Day

Are you a big gambler?
No, I’m not a big gambler ’cause I don’t really know how to play the games. The only thing I can do when I go to a casino is play the ones where you pull the lever down, the slot machines, and I usually say I’m going to spend $20 and once that’s gone it’s over.

So what’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had on the subway?
Well every once in a while you go down to the platform and it’s like the sign that says the next train will be in 30 minutes and you obviously account for that, and that’s pretty frustrating. Recently I was going to take the J train downtown and it was early in the morning and it never showed up but I realized it was my fault ’cause it doesn’t stop there during rush hour. That was really frustrating ’cause I was standing there like, “What is going on? I’ve been waiting for an hour!” Then someone was like, “Yeah, it doesn’t stop here at this time.” That made me feel really stupid. So I probably deserve some karma from the MTA.

If you were in charge of the MTA, what would you do to improve the service?
I actually think the subway is great and it’s far better than the taxi situation. That’s not an MTA situation but I think people should be able to get a taxi faster than you can at 4-5 p.m. I always think what if someone had a crazy emergency and couldn’t get a taxi? That stresses me out. But the subway, I think think the biggest complaint I have right now is that I live in Brooklyn and I think the attention to getting people all around Brooklyn from one neighborhood to another isn’t great. There’s much more focus on Manhattan, obviously, but I think the G train should run more often and shouldn’t have so much work always being done to it. There should be more options for people to get around Brooklyn.

Can I ask what the tampon hat is about?
Yeah, I made these hats that have tampon strings all around the brim of the baseball hat. I made one for myself last year. Before I go on tour I usually make my costumes and I kinda made it in the interest of having a discussion about women and hanging — like hanging the laundry out — and I made some for an artist’s catalogue. Then I decided to make some as part of a pre-order for a record that’s coming out, so I was making one that someone ordered.

Do tampon hats take a long time to make?
Yes, they do, you have to kinda poke holes all around and cut all the strings all around the tampons and then make one knot and put them through and then make another knot. Although that might sound easy I want it to be perfect, number one, and number two it’s really hard to get the tampon strings to not fray.

You called your upcoming show at Union Pool the most “conceptual” yet. What can people expect from it?
Well there’s a lot riding on this release as it’s our sophomore record and we were a bit confused about which direction we wanted to go in as a band and I think that’s something that’s apparent when you listen to the record — you can hear some songs that are definitely pop songs and some songs that are a lot more experimental. So we want to portray that experience of self-discovery and self-release — we put out this record ourselves too. So conceptually we will be presenting some of our songs differently to how we have before in a live setting. People can expect something new.

If someone were to win $12 on the lottery should they spend it on your new album?
Basically, yeah. It’s actually cheaper than that — you can even buy that and a shot.

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