Sounds x Interview: José Rivera Jr.

José Rivera, Jr., (@joseishere) is a queer, nonbinary, Puerto Rican recording and performing artist, who has been making major waves in the music scene in New York City. They create glam electro-pop music and athletic dance for stage and screen, and has made work for YouTube, Radio City Music Hall, La MaMa ETC., NYU Tisch, The Flea Theater, Fordham University, with features in The Advocate, Logo NewNowNext, and WNYC/NPR.

Right. Literally, an icon.

With the recent launch of José’s Kickstarter campaign to fund their latest work, LQQK—a visual album—it was a downright necessity for us to sit down and chat with them.

First off, congrats on your Kickstarter launch, can you briefly tell us about the project?

LQQK is a queer experimental visual EP.  It is my first original music release ever.  LQQK EP features four singles, two interludes, and a cover track.  Each of the four original songs will have their own music video.  It’s totally about what it means to grow up queer and feel like you have to fit a certain role or play a certain game to be who you are supposed to be – when in reality, queerness is all about being exactly who you should be, which is everything you already are inside of you.

And I see you’re a creator in residence at Kickstarter. I’ve never heard of that before, sounds pretty badass; what does it mean?

It is badass!  It’s a dedicated workspace in their (incredible, mammoth, beautiful, state-of-the-art) office space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  There’s a recording studio where I’ve been laying out all the EP demo’s, and a theater where I rehearse, bang on plastic and other things I think make interesting sound, scream sing, and filmed the LQQK EP Kickstarter Campaign video.  I also have a desk and hours of mentorship by the most giving artist-staff members at Kickstarter to create a campaign that was as genuinely me as could be.  

Let’s talk about this visual EP, what inspired you to create art in this format?

I wanted more people to see my art, and for my message to reach little ol’ Jaime in middle-of-nowhere Denmark to see what Queerness means – can look like – can be, and to inspire them to create beyond what I’ve made.  I live to sing and create what I call musical paintings by using dance as my medium.  By doing this, there’s something inherently queer about that.

Speaking of inspiration, tell me what inspires your lyrics and your music overall?

Every song on LQQK is a love song – for the person I was when I first came out, for someone I feel I’ve known my entire life, for a person who changes my life every day, and for me.

Everyday, Everynight – which is the song you hear in the Kickstarter video – is about loving someone so deeply you spin and burn out to make it work, and no matter how hard it burns you’d do it all over again because they feel that good. 

Body, (the lead single off the EP) is the real fantasy of future – finding the infinitely beautiful in what is and in what is yet to come. It’s about transcendent love.  

Like That is really pop-y like lots of arpeggios and is about learning and growing from mistakes, whereas Hey SongTalk, and Manufacture are suuuppper experimental….a never-ending homage to my downtown NYC performance roots.  

I’m so lucky to have the support of my incredible team Cesar G, Alexander, and Karl Ronneburg who arranged, composed, and collaborated on these words that we’ve made more beautiful each time we work.

Where are you from and if outside of New York, do you feel more freedom of expression to create here or has what you created always had these elements?

I am from the BRONXXXX BABBYYYY hahahha!!!!  I currently live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I love being from New York City – as stressful and isolating as it can be, I can’t work anywhere else and feel as driven or as inspired to create.  My best friends are here, and JFK is only a 45-minute drive to get anywhere in the world.  I do travel a lot outside of New York to play gigs and just for pleasure, but there’s only one place I rest my head right now.

As a lot of the bands we cover tend to be CIS gender primarily heterosexual musicians, I would love to hear your take on making music as a non-binary artist and what your experience has been?

I make music from who I am, exactly as I am, in whatever state I am in always.  Because I happen to be non-binary doesn’t mean that my experiences with love can’t relate to yours.  In fact, my perception on living, growing, and being, might inspire someone who identifies as Cis to find new perspective in their own relationship to themselves – or in fact they might find that there’s not so much difference between us at all.  We all live, we all love, and it is all about how we can be more gentle with one another and understanding of our intersections.  

We all live, we all love, and it is all about how we can be more gentle with one another and understanding of our intersections.  

I wanna add that I get told I sound a lot like an old crooner when I sing – someone said I had a sound so much my own that they reminded me of Tony Bennett.  That’s like, the coolest thing ever. I want my voice to be timeless.  Gender(sucker) free and timeless.

It’s also important to provide feedback or suggestions to help out our CIS straight friends — when it comes to pronouns, what is the best way to ask someone? Or is that something we should stop making such a big deal of?

Just ask if you’re uncertain – it’s better to know than to misgender someone.  That shit can be really hurtful and is the worst first impression.  I think it’s super important to ask how someone identifies if you’re like, having a respectful conversation with them.  

Alright let’s go a little lighter, what kind of themes can we expect in your upcoming EP?

Metamorphosis.  Glamour.  Fierce gender-fuck lqqks.  What do you want from it, cuz I’ll put it in the video.  

Finally, what does success look like to you?

Success means walking down the street and everyone looks, dresses, and acts just how they want – how they choose.  They exist without an impetus of learned behaviors or ascriptions that have been imposed or handed down to them by traumas or words they heard when they were young.  They are proud, listening, and accepting when it comes to others.  I want people to be free. 

See José perform live at the Blonde Artist Management Showcased, presented by us, Left Bank Magazine, on November 19th in NYC. Event details here.

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