Since the beginning of her recording career in the mid-noughties, Planningtorock’s in-imitable performance, both on and off stage, has evoked a plethora of images and identi-ties. Continuously transforming – visually, lyrically, vocally and musically – her eclectic style gives away an abundance of influences, but still always seem to be one step ahead of trend or fashion. At one occasion Jam Rostron might be crooning to you in a dark voice, reminiscent of Elvis, but in the next a high pitched voice seems to come from a different universe altogether. She will come to you on stage, or in her videos, emulating a John Lennon look-a-like, and then disappear in a wild head of hair. Planningtorock has many faces, she is elusive and offers a multiplicity that denies to be categorized. With her newest album ‘All Love’s Legal’, Planningtorock has embraced the power of pop anthems to address issues of sexual politics and liquid personality, finding a way to avoid the worn out manifesto, and luring in her audience through dancey seductive tracks.
Maaike: Congratulations with your new album All Love’s Legal, I really enjoyed it. Does it feel like a surprising shift in your musical evolution? Can you tell me about how this album relates to your former album W?
Planningtorock: After touring W – I mean, I love W, it’s a very important album to me… After that album was done I toured for about two years and then last summer I got a bit down, because there are things I tried to do in that record, certain issues I wanted to touch upon, which did not come through for me. It led me to question the whole point of making music, the point of making a record. In the middle of this process I thought, okay what am I going to do with music…
In the new album I really tried to push certain issues, like liquid personality, binary oppositions, sexual politics, patriarchy. The reaction so far has been really surprising. It feels like people are ready for these issues to be talked about in music, and I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m really happy. It’s a good surprise…
I now have even more bold sensuality going on than before! (laughs)
Maaike: Patriarchy is a matter you addressed over the years. Do you feel you have been able to achieve what you wanted to with the song Patriarchy, Over & Out on your latest album?
Planningtorock: For Patriarchy, Over & Out I tried to write the lyrics in a way that would really attack the subject, and go for the construct itself that is patriarchy. So not to personalize it, not to make any particular individual feeling that they were being attacked, but to make evident the attack is on this construct. This song made me realize what I was going to do next and it paved the way for the rest of the album. I recognized I wanted to be more clear, more direct about these issues and express that that in a way that was challenging and inviting at the same time.
Maaike: The new style that you use fascinates me. Looking back, W seduces through all the musical elements used, so many different layers are created that call upon so many different atmospheres. In Doorway your distorted voice and the dark tones submerge the listener, while The One and #9 are musically rich and complex due to the choice of instruments, rhythm and the layering of the various voices. Your new album, which is highly remarkable, reminds me a lot of the nineties. We hear Peruvian flute bands, Arabic-like influences, and Indian tunes. There’s a lot of humor in the way you build up certain songs as well. In Misogyny Drop Dead for instance, there is something particularly humorous about how you use the rhythm. This becomes an element in the music that almost internally disturbs the song.
Planningtorock: I’m glad you get that, I also think it is really funny; the pan flutes, this quirky voice on the chorus. There’s something slightly ridiculous about it. It is important to take something that is a brutal topic like misogyny, but then allow the song itself to make fun of it, just through its music. With W, I enjoyed making the songs on the album a lot, but there was one thing I missed. Now, for the first time I wanted to make a record that was more dancey.
Maaike: It works out very well. You definitely moved more towards a dance album. Music, eroticism and sensuality are always entwined; does this development make you relate differently to your audience, do you try to communicate the sensuality of your music in another way?
Planningtorock: I think I now have even more bold sensuality going on than before! (laughs) Human Drama is one of the most personal tracks I’ve ever written. It’s very open about my own sexuality as an ongoing process, which is a fun and liberating experience and happening in my life. I am trying to put that in a track with a lot of attitude. It is quite sensual, I think.
It empowers you when you take on another personality, it gives you a different attitude…
it gives me a different sensual power on stage.
Maaike: You play with androgyny in the use of your voice by tweaking, twisting and pitching it. Also in the visuals of your video’s and your stage presence, like the prosthesis on your nose and forehead, it is present. In your latest video, you appear as a female reincarnation of John Lennon. Do you connect your own sexuality to this as an ongoing journey?
Planningtorock: I know what you mean, but I think I’ve gone beyond that, or tried to go beyond androgyny. I really like the Judith Butler idea of gender being a performance, almost like a plaything. I guess I’ve been a cross-dresser all my life and I honestly go on my own terms of gender. There have been periods where people say, ’yeah you dress more like a man.’ And then periods where I’ve gotten into far more – such as the sculpture of the face on the previous record. It is like playing with the gender of my bone structure. For this new record, I talk and play around with notions of sexuality and gender in a more lyrical sense. The tour will let me explore using video and music in the live moment further, instead of working with myself. I will probably still have some wigs in there, because I do love playing with identity. I am cautious not to do this in a way that at a certain point becomes clichéd, and rather try to find a way that allows me to keep exploring something.
Maaike: You like to cover your face with your hair and also with the prosthesis and masks as if they were veils. You call it adding information instead of masking. This connects to the range of personalities that you create. The appearance of diverse hair types can also be eroticizing. I’m interested in what the sexuality could be of your look and hair.
Planningtorock: The wig that you referred to just now with the glasses and the short cut, came through just playing around on the day of the shoot. Hermione Frank (who is also in the video and performs with me live) and I, were trying to create a character of which you’re not quite sure about its gender, but who has so much presence, is so solid in whoever it is, and therefore has a clear sexual power. At least for me. At the same time, those characters look like gender police or gender detectives or lesbian women in a sort of 1950s style. I love all those references. I like to play with age as well, also in relationship to sex and sexuality, and sexual and sensual power. It’s fun and interesting in terms of thinking in more than stereotypical terms of the binary genders that more mainstream culture constantly considers.
Maaike: Is there a certain way that you play with the gender roles on stage? I mean are those elements a way to make your audience feel more attracted to you?
Planningtorock: I hope they’re attracted to me (laughs). To talk about using hair as a kind of vehicle, it’s very interesting actually because hair is so genderized. I definitely like the whole long hair-short hair. In private life I have very long hair, because I’m lazy and I just can’t be bothered to think about it. I guess on stage it’s a mixture of being a bit more a character as well. It empowers you when you take on another personality, it gives you a different attitude. A few times I’ve worn either really short curly wigs or really long red wigs. And also just playing with that, I like that it makes me feel like a character and it gives me a different sensual power on stage. It can pull you into another direction, so I like that.
Maaike: Your play with veiling and unveiling, is this a sensual way to add a different layer each time? It is fascinating how you use your videos to emphasize this: on stage whilst wearing wigs, and then have the video projected on you, you almost dissolve as a person. This becomes very attractive for the viewer because you’re really on the edge of your seat; you just really want to see who you are, you know? So you’re…
Planningtorock: I’m not really into this essentialist thinking that there is a real me. I had this also with the vocals, my manipulation of my vocals on record in a way gets closer to how I feel than anything else. This is an interesting thing about identity and identity politics as well. There is something very political about that; hiding from categories, resisting to be pinpointed, which I want to explore in the next tour…
For example, how you look on stage, you might prepare yourself for the male gaze. I definitely will, and I think I already do, challenge that, because I don’t want to be sexualized. That doesn’t mean that I’m not sexual. So that’s something that I also deal with on stage. Through all the years of performing I have had women come to me after the show and say, ‘Oh, I never knew that a woman could be so powerful and commanding on stage, and not have to show lots of their skin, or be overtly sexual.’ I think this is still a very important thing. It just gets more and more politically important, the body politics on stage.
Maaike: By taking this strong stand, in which you deliberately choose for manipulation on all levels in combination with acting tough, it shows a certain power that also becomes eroticizing. It is interesting to find the balance in how you want to deal with the male gaze. You create confusion for your audience with your voice and looks, retaining a powerful appearance. Does this neutral image contribute to making the performance more sensual? Is it a play on attraction?
Planningtorock: Absolutely, I think it’s a very fine line. Within that narrow debate of reducing women and objectifying them in this mainstream sort of way, it’s a fine line between owning your own sexuality in the public arena. You should definitely not censor yourself on stage though. It’s absolutely important for you to be as sexual as you want to be. But at the same time you should not allow anyone else to sexualize you.
Maaike: What kind of responses have you received that you had not anticipated?
Planningtorock: When I first started performing I really enjoyed it, but the responses always amazed me as well. A lot of men would say they found me scary (laughs), which I never understood. It surprised me, and well, of course that translates to the binary: women found me powerful. I didn’t really think about it, but I guess that is what also made it political at the time. I wanted to test acting out the male/female duality within music and just did it. I was not anticipating a certain response actually. And so now, having performed for so long, you have that wealth of understanding. Now I would like to challenge that even further, to the point where what is it when a woman doesn’t perform at all on stage, what it means when she stands on stage with her hands in her pockets and does nothing. That actually is a truly powerful image, just as much as going wild and giving everything. This is something to try out, not at the expense of actually having fun and enjoying yourself, but to find out what it means to be on stage. I think about that a lot.
Maaike: When do you allow yourself to become vulnerable? Like, in your voice or on stage…
Planningtorock: Mmm. I mean being on stage is being vulnerable. Yeah, it is. It’s a big agreement that you step into with strangers. It’s vulnerable and an opportunity all at the same time: An opportunity in the sense to share, and to hopefully achieve and learn something.It sounds a bit boring, but it really is like that, because every time I perform I learn something else, and I find it really interesting. I think performance is such an amazing language.
Maaike: Is there a different response to you when you’re on stages in different countries? Do people in Germany for instance understand your aims better than in the US? How is that different?
Planningtorock: That’s an interesting question actually. I don’t know if this is my fantasy, but it always kind of feels that people just tend to think Planningtorock does her own thing. They already know that it’s going to be different to anything else, in the sense that it’s something that is not at all trying to be like anything that’s in the mainstream, and it’s cer-tainly something very self-defined. People already come prepared for that.
Maaike: Your new style of music could be a way to go beyond that kind of niche audience. With the more dance-like tracks you might reach another audience, with whom you might develop a more intimate relation.
Planningtorock: I wanted All Love’s Legal to be a track that would get into your ears almost like karaoke style; that you would just be able to sing it, because I think the mixture of the sentiment in the song was as important as the song’s sonic qualities. I was very clear about that, and it works on me at least. I listen to the record because I like singing along with it (laughs).
In a strange way, I got a more intimate relation to it, which I didn’t expect. I think that’s the first time that I realized how populist music works. If you write something explicit people connect to it much faster. For me it is the first time I’ve ever had this, and it is exciting. When people get it and they tell you they want to sing about this, they want to hear about this, they wanted a record like this: That is brilliant, that’s really exciting.
Maaike: And that’s also something that you do with your voice, you alternate this very low voice with a coquettish voice, and then a very feminine sound.
Planningtorock: With the vocals it’s about a kind of presence. The way I achieve this lower register; because when I sing my voice is very low. I have an alto voice anyhow. But I over-emphasize that by taking the track, and pitching it up, I will sing it high, and then I will bring it down. Singing high is actually very hard for me. It makes my voice strain, so when I pitch it down it has this extra tension in it, which I really like. I think it brings a really nice attitude and a different strength in the presence of the voice, and I love to play with that. You know, with Misogyny Drop Dead it has this strange attitude. Maybe not strange, but just this kind of cheeky, powerful kind of attitude, and it was quite open because it’s hard to actually specifically say who or what it is that is actually singing this, and I really like the freedom of that too.
Maaike: This brings us back to the gender neutrality that you’re searching for in all kinds of ways. How would that relate also to the erotic side of life? Where do we find attraction if gender tension does not function as a catalyst?
Planningtorock: Well, I think with gender – I find for example that the transgender movement is one of the most important movements of this time, because transgenderism definitely is expanding our ideas of gender, and really shakes it up. Gender should be bigger and more; multiple and individual, and just… more and more and more. If you think about how we’re brought into the world, the minute you’re brought into the world there’s a gender slapped on you, and a bunch of rules and a bunch of conditioning. And it’s very hard actually. Some people don’t ever get the opportunity to discover their personal sexuality on their own terms, without the propaganda, and without the book. I talk about it in Human Drama. For me it’s a liquid, a fluid ever-changing thing, depending on who I’m with, who I’m dating, where I am in the world. And its complexity and its potential is massive. I’m like, let it get more and more messy… Bring it on.
I allow myself to fall in love or to be sexually attracted or to be sexual for different reasons,
on different terms and with all kinds of people, certain openness was and is an ongoing sort of liberation…
Maaike: What does it mean for you when you are this open-minded about sexuality and relations?
Planningtorock: I allow myself on a personal level to fall in love or to be sexually attracted or to be sexual for different reasons, on different terms and with all kinds of people, certain openness was and is an ongoing sort of liberation. Also in terms of relationships, I like having open relationships. This is very personal, I mean, that’s a different topic, monogamy and all that. Then again that’s also very socially conditioned…
Maaike: With your record label Human Level Records, you hope to try and find all these different gender neutral voices, but you produce mainly for women, right?
Planningtorock: It’s a label that attempts to support queer music producers and people who identify themselves as women. And I say that because also for the transgender community it is important to have a place.
Maaike: I have been following you over the years, and it is fascinating to see your musical development, but also development in style and visuals. From your quite rough and stalwart performances with the beautiful masks some years ago, via the subtler and precisely chosen sounds in W – where your face became almost unrecognizable – your work evolved into the direct, lively and colorful album that you recently released The way you combine radical standpoints and being tough, with humor and sensitive melodies is very inspiring.
Planningtorock: Thank you! One thing that I also didn’t feel like I achieved, or what happened after W was, there was a certain realization, there were certain things in my private life, or in my real life, that were very important to me that were not happening in my music. And that made me very unhappy, very sad. And for the first time now I feel that what happens in my real life is in my music too, and that is very important for me. All Love’s Legal is a record for me to learn as well, you know, it’s a record that I needed too.
Maaike: What about the choice for a colorful cover?
Planningtorock: I wanted it to be happy. I wanted it to feel exciting. Because I find it very exciting, and I find it stimulating that people are up for it. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been I think, or at least the happiest I’ve been in a long time.