Hailing from Oakland, California, cabaret rock outfit Copyslut pumps out raw potent music. The band’s latest music video, “Makers Mark,” witnesses their blend of visceral rock with punk textures coalescing into tantalizing soundscapes.
Currently laying down tracks for their debut album, slated to drop January 2020, when the opportunity to interview the band presented itself, I jumped at it. How could you resist a band using snakes in their music videos?
Totally into tattoos, Copyslut performed the interview while getting new tattoos. Now that’s commitment!
Introduction from Copyslut:
We love tattoos – the experience, the meaning, and the community. This interview inspired us, so we reached out to our good friends at Sacred Rose Tattoo in Berkeley, CA. We answered these questions while under the needle, and this sacred ritual gave us a unique frame of mind. We were carved open and in a mental state unlike any other. We paid with hundreds of one dollar bills stacked and ready to go. The blessed stripper money going to our favorite tattoo artists was a visual poetry that brought a special energy to the experience. It gave us the gift of a unique frame of mind, ready to approach this interview in a physical state unlike any other.
How did the band come to get together?
Chatz: The stars aligned at a Karaoke bar in Oakland, CA. It was my birthday outing, and my first time meeting Ray. They were sitting at the bar like a little broody boy with a beer. I love to connect with people, to make them soften and see what’s underneath the exterior. I asked them if they had seen Queen’s music video “I Want to Break Free.” As a huge Queen fan, it is one of my favorites. I love how it takes you into the closet and shows what sacred queer magic can happen in there. It’s both campy and sincere – something Copyslut definitely has a splash of.
Ray had not seen it, so I gave them my best Freddie impression and sang it out. They told me they were playing guitar in a metal project called Kairosphere, and then asked me to jam. I was flattered but definitely had never been in a band or jammed before. I grew up a Mormon Choir girl who was involved with community-theater from elementary and middle school. Singing karaoke was one of the ways I began to heal my relationship with my voice since leaving the church.
I started learning covers with Ray for fun and those were the seeds that were planted and eventually grew into what is now Copyslut. Ray is still that broody metal head and they are also so much more than that. They are a healer. They have coaxed my voice out in ways that I never believed possible.
What’s the story behind the band’s name – Copyslut?
Ray: I can speak on the “copy” part of Copyslut. We celebrate and pay homage to all the artists and family before us who made us possible. Part of our philosophy as a band is that we accept that nothing gets created in a vacuum. The less we focus on and worry about being “original,” the more interesting things we create. The question isn’t if we are copyslutting, it’s who are we copyslutting. Our influences are clear, and yet we are often the sonic and visual outlier on many of the bills we play.
Chatz: I’ll take the “slut” part. It is a reclamation! A celebration of body positivity, sex positivity and our sex working/queer communities. We lean into pleasure and have experienced the deep and radical healing potentials of pleasure. We encourage ourselves and others to follow the yummy. This is a great way to live more embodied and gives us the power to feel, integrate and transform ourselves. We like to help people feel pleasure, but not in a superficial or value based “good vs. bad” kind of way. To feel pleasure, we must also include our grief and pain. We are not just love and light. In fact, some of the more soul stirring yummy can be found in our shadow sides, growing from the rich soil, in the middle of the night.
Who is in the band (names) and what instruments do they play? Who is the lead vocalist?
Chatz Of Love is our lead vocalist, costume designer, dancer, and campy stripper. Ray “Cuervo” Zamora is on guitar and backup vocals, while Eli Maliwan is on bass. We are currently playing with friends filling in on drums while we audition some fantastic drummers. Of course, we have to include Reiko Rasch, our visual artist. You can check out her work on our merch and our single releases’ cover art.
Is there one primary songwriter, or does the whole band contribute?
Chatz and I are the primary songwriters. We are intentional as we develop the underlying messages of each song, craft the melodies, lyrics and chord progressions. The process for every song is different, but they are all filled with deeply personal meaning.
Many of our songs start as a simple melody or progression, and then we take the time to carve out the meaning from the initial sonic mood. And then there are songs like “Kitchen Sink Gin,” when Chatz just freestyled the first verse while we were tincturing juniper berries that we collected during the 2018 total solar eclipse. And I was like, oh shit, that’s a song. Chatz is an infinite well of inspiration and creativity. Melodies just come pouring out of her, and I’m always like, get a voice memo of that girl!! And she’s like, already did because that Capricorn/Virgo is on it.
“Makers Mark” started with the desire to write a vampire song, but I didn’t want it to just be a spooky Halloween song based on euro-centric vampire lore. I also had a few riffs I was playing with as we threw around ideas while on a camping trip in Yosemite. While walking along a riverbed at night, a supernatural experience gave me the idea of including La Llorona, making the song a crossover. The creative juices started flowing and vampirism became a metaphor for colonization and mixed-race identity.
We enjoy collaboration and have encouraged anyone playing with us to add their own personality and style. As part of our pleasure-centered ethos, we want playing music in Copyslut to feel satisfying for all. Eli came up with his stylized walking bass lines when he joined the project last year. His playing is greatly influenced by his conservatory training in jazz saxophone, and he brings a unique bass flavor. We love to call him Eli McCartney because of the similarities we hear with the Beatles’ bassist. As we developed our musical relationship with Eli, we got a little more intimate and Chatz collaborated on a song that he brought to the band called “Sorry,” which you will be able to hear on our upcoming album.
What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
Ray: Currently, it’s “Jerome” by Lizzo. My God. Such a wonderful song about having loving but firm boundaries with that someone who just isn’t meeting you.
Chatz: When I’m in a belting mood, I love singing songs from the classics I grew up with like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. If I’m feeling more contemporary I’ll whip out Wicked or a song from The Book of Mormon.
What musicians/vocalists influenced you the most?
Chatz: Copyslut started as a Queen cover-band and we definitely have that Freddie/Brian dynamic. Growing up Mormon I didn’t have a lot of exposure to pop culture or secular music. That changed in college and I’m still discovering artists that are new to me all the time. Freddie Mercury, Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, and Jenny Lewis are some of the vocalists who have influenced me.
Ray has a long background in heavy metal, death metal, and of course, emo. You can probably hear traces of Ray Toro from My Chemical Romance in every riff they write. Both of their parents were music buffs and took them to many shows. Their guitar playing in Copyslut is also influenced by Brian May (Queen), David Gilmore (Pink Floyd), and all the epic riffs of Iron Maiden.
What kind of guitar do you play? And why?
Ray: I’m a Fender babe all the way these days. It’s a little surprising, I used to be deep in the metal scene, and all I wanted to play was Ibanez through the crunchiest amps I could find. But I always had an affinity for the Telecaster, so when I started this project, I took an opportunity to dip my toe in the tele world and it totally reformed my sound. I currently play a cream and black American Special with a maple neck through a Blues Deluxe, and I craft my tone through my pedal board. Eli plays a tealish blue Fender P bass (whom he named “Mystique”), through an Aguilar head.
Why make music? I mean what’s the point?
On a fundamental level, we make music to connect and hopefully help ourselves and others feel a little less lonely. We use music to internalize messages and lessons we’ve gathered on our healing journeys. Music is the medicine we are currently using to bring more self-love, pleasure, and transformation. We play to make life affirming spaces for all edge-walkers (those on the fringe in marginalized groups) in a world that doesn’t often want us to exist. There is a wisdom and strength on the edges, and we give life to ideas and create little worlds that push for cultural shifts. We feel called to make sex worker and queer celebratory art. Music gives us something worth fighting for… even if we are just fighting for our own lives.
I once read body tattoos represent a search for the sacred. What tattoos do you have? And what does each one represent to you?
Chatz: I think, tattoos, like sex, can carry a lot of different significance. Sometimes it marks an event, sometimes it honors a friend who has died, sometimes it’s a drunken impulse. I would agree that there is something sacred about how tattoos call you to a very particular kind of presence.
Sacred Rose in Berkeley, Ca is the first female-owned tattoo shop in the Bay Area. Karen Roze, the owner, has created a unique and powerful space. Ray and I have both found healing and our own version of the sacred there. I love how tattoos are visual markers of a time in your life, an intention you’ve set, a way to move through trauma when it gets stuck. I have found tattoos can transform that pain into something beautiful, a kind of visual mantra you can always return to.
The amazingly talented multimedia artist/illustrator Cecilia Granata has been working at Sacred Rose for over 4 years and tattooed both Ray’s sleeve and my shoulder piece that you can see in the photo. If you are looking for a bad ass Betty to get a tattoo from, we couldn’t give her a higher recommendation. My piece is an adaptation of a painting by pop artist Camille D’Errico. Cecilia adapted the original for my upper arm and replaced the face with a rendering my own baby face from a photo. It’s a very personal piece that I did to help protect and heal my inner child. It has queer brain melting, Medusa vibes. It turns anyone who wants to hurt me into stone. I’ve always loved the octopus, and its connection with Medusa. I sometimes feel like I have tentacles of my own ready to wrap, suck and explore.
For this interview, I was tattooed by Ellen Murphy. She’s new to the shop and a wonderful addition to the energy Karen works hard to create. I got a flaming anatomical heart, a classic tattoo image with a deep history of meaning, held by the Kenaz rune. I like to think the meaning is deepened each time it is carved into a new body. For me, this tattoo symbolizes a guiding torch. Its placement is on the shin of my arm starting at my elbow and ending on my pinky finger, which makes it most visible when I’m holding a microphone. I’ve always had a lot of fire in me, and at times this fire spills out. I am filled with an intense passion and capacity for love. I am a truth seeker. This tattoo is my torch to help me find clarity on my path welcoming knowledge not yet known with trust, curiosity, and an open heart. This flame is a contained fire with the power to discern and preserve. I have a few other tattoos, so hit me up if you’re a philosophy nerd and/or Star Wars fan.
Ray: I have a half sleeve with two crow babies on it. I’ve always related to crows. I’m dark and broody but I keep it cute. I love their role in nature as scavengers, the transformers of death into energy. They are surrounded by poppies and wildflowers. I also got a new jackalope tattoo while doing this interview. Jackalopes are balance of fierceness and softness, and even though they have the cuteness of a rabbit, they are fierce fighters. Folk tales of jackalopes also indicate that they are great singers, love to imitate human voices, and drink whiskey. It was inspired by my brief encounter with a jackalope on my way to a dear friend’s wedding, and represents my belief and love of the mystical. The jackalope is also holding some pine cones, which are a tribute to a dear friend who passed away a little over a year ago. Both of these pieces were done by Cecilia Granata at Sacred Rose Tattoo.
What’s the goal of your zine Don’t Hate My Heels?
To connect and provide a protective weapon for sex workers after the passage of SESTA/FOSTA. I’ve had sex workers come up to me and say that they cried while reading it, or that it saved them the emotional labor of explaining the 101 of sex worker identity when they gave it to a new lover, friend, or family member. That’s a great feeling.
Copyslut is a queer band. Has the band experienced any bigotry because you’re queer?
What’s next for the band musically?
So many items! We will be releasing a single on December 1st and are currently making a sentimental lowfi holiday video on December 17th to honor International Day to End Violence Against Sex workers. We couldn’t be more excited to release our first full length album in January 2020. We are already scheming for our next music video because our latest, “Makers Mark,” was soul-filling time and we are sluts for production. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, now is the perfect time to go enter our world of sex magic and the sacred darkness.
We’ve also started writing new material that we are thrilled about. The cycles of songs and the ebb and flow of inward energy and outward energy you find in a musical project is such a beautiful part of living. It reminds me of an organism that breathes. Expanding and contracting, pumping life into the ever-changing body of Copyslut.
Sacred Rose Tattoo Link: Instagram