Heidi Barton Stink on Guante, Pride and staying positive
PRIDE weekend in the Twin Cities is known for its epic parties, spectacular parades and over-the-top everything. Behind the hoopla, of course, you can find countless organizers, performers and activists working tirelessly to rally the masses under a banner of equality and self-love.
Gimme Noise caught up with self-proclaimed transgender community organizer, activist and hip hop artist Heidi Barton Stink this week to chat about Pride, and her role as an activist in the Queer community, her debut full-length A Charming Gut, a buoyant, thought-provoking boom bap effort with memorable contributions by rising star Guante.
GN: On A Charming Gut, you touch on a range of heavy topics, but still "celebrate the bittersweet." How did you develop this positive approach to music (and life) and why is it so integrally important to who you are as an artist?
Heidi: I'm not actually a positive person, but I look up to positive people and want to be a positive person. Positive hip-hop was what I wanted to make originally. I grew up on A Tribe Called Quest, a lot of that stuff. In actuality I am really a cynical person, but See More Perspective [the album's producer] is a really positive hip-hop artist, a positive person who takes that into everything in his life. And so I think he really helped me put that influence back in the direction I was going. If I have a song about an issue, I try to have some sort of resolution or some ideas for change or hope and action. And not just be like "this sucks" or "I'm against rape." Everyone's against rape. So instead I rap about some ideas to help people practice better consent, see that as an issue they can personally in their life make changes and not just be against.
GN: So is the transformative power of the art you hope to create something you also get to reap the benefits of?
Heidi: Absolutely! You know, what's the Stuart Smalley word... affirmations. I get stuff tattooed on me so I remember not to be a sad sack. It totally helps me and I've had those experiences where someone tells me to listen to my own song. Practice what you preach. It's hard to internalize good ideas come out of your head and mouth.
GN: How does your buoyant aesthetic bolster this philosophy?
Heidi: That's born out of doing a lot of live shows. There's a couple songs on the record that I would probably never do live since the audience would just stand and look at me. But if it's a catchy song, maybe they'll go home and have it stuck in their head and listen to the content.
GN: Was it the influence of See More Perspective that really brought out this boom bap-heavy sound, or was that what drew you to him in the first place?
Heidi: That's what brought me to him in the first place, not that it was just the vinyl boom bap, but that it was in an interesting, weird way. Like I definitely didn't want something that sounded like DJ Premier circa 1993, like that stuff's good and everything but See More really brings his own flavor to that kinda boom bap stuff.
GN: You worked with Guante on this album as well - what role did he play on the record?
Heidi: He helped me A LOT, in many ways. In terms of organization and as far as just being an influence - like you can be out there in the hip hop scene AND give a shit and do a lot of community work. He's also an honest ear, what's working and what's not working. So yea, Guante for President. I was also kinda mad that he showed me up [on Intersecting Lines] with the best verse on gender on the whole album [laughing]. And that's what I wanted to get - he's this straight guy, but rape culture, patriarchy, patriarchy and the media and how that affects a dude and affects a dude that's really smart and aware of it.
GN: Sincere is a word often used to describe your music. Do you feel sincerity is often missing in hip-hop?
Heidi: I feel like even some rappers I really respect have a false machismo as the starting point for their music. I'll talk about this issue, but as a tough rapper. So at some level it feels a little bullshitty. From the inside it's hard for me to tell if I'm always as sincere as I try to be, but I try to be. I try to keep it into check.
GN: Yet a lot of performers talk about needing to assume a character when they come on stage.
Heidi [eye rolling, laughs]: Maybe I do that sometimes, but I feel like it's real. If I'm angry on stage, I'm probably angry. I have social anxiety so I am no more nervous on stage than I am at the coffee shop right now. I might even be LESS nervous on stage than in the coffee shop, because I have the context of a performance.
GN: Is it about control? Do you have more control on stage?
GN: Or are you not in control on stage at all?
Heidi: God I don't know, I was ready to jump on board with control, but when you said not in control...hmmm..[laughs]
GN: Your lyrics touch on a lot of prevalent social issues facing the trans community -violence, suicide, tough sexual issues, etc...
Heidi: There's a lot of media coverage and hype around trans people and the violence we face, and I think I fell into that on a couple songs, and I think if I was writing an album now I would steer away from that, as if that's the only identity for us. But it's on a lot of trans people's thoughts all the time.
GN: How do you circumvent assumptions? Does it require you to be more upfront about your identity? It places this unfair onus on you to explain yourself, doesn't it?
Heidi: I think most, if not all trans people get really sick of having to educate people all the time and answer the same stupid questions every day for years on end -- and I was really angry about it for a little bit. But I've kinda made peace with it -- as a performer, as a public person, it's helpful to other people. I have a line about that in the first song on the record. "I'm glad to bare my soul if it saves someone some time/ as saves some grief or speaks at least to who I am"
GN: So as an activist and performer, what is PRIDE to you? What are you looking forward to?
Heidi: [laughing] Well, as somebody that's involved with a lot of activist groups usually it's a lot of footwork. This year I'm doing a different performance everyday Wednesday through Sunday, Queertopia at Intermedia Arts Wednesday through Saturday and at the Power to the People stage [in Loring Park] Sunday at noon...so we'll see what happens. The show at Intermedia will be all over the map - performance art, so not just like drag. And also the Dirty Queer Show will be in the gallery, with a bunch of great dirty queer art to explore in that space, which is always great!
Heidi Barton Stink performs w/ Queertopia: A Cabaret Celebration of Queer Love at Intermedia Arts Wednesday through Saturday, June 20-23, Doors 7 p.m., main stage Cabaret at 7:30pm.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.