Venus DeMars remains one of the longest lasting, most tenacious and hard rocking individuals that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been hanging out in bars and going to shows for over a decade. Impaler would be up there on that list for long lasting and they earned points in my book for pissing off Tipper Gore back in the day when the government decided to put “Explicit Content” labels on albums and telling every kid which albums to buy. Yes, rock and roll has indeed pushed boundaries. While some of this is put out to make a point, there are other things where rock is about people being who they are and the questions that are raised are maybe more or a question tilted back asking, who are you?
What I’m getting at is that everyone has a struggle and music is a common factor that combines a lot of us. Music is funny because it is something all your own if you make it, but the second you decide if you want to do something with it, there will no doubt be some obstacles ahead. Challenging people to not only accept but support the music a person makes is not as easy as one may think. DeMars has stepped up and pursued that challenge and over the last year has fought to be recognized as a professional musician by tax auditors, faced some health woes, toured with the legendary punk band Against Me! and has raised money for a new acoustic album to be recorded at Sacred Heart in Duluth. Before recording, Venus will perform an acoustic gig at Sacred Heart on Saturday, September 13 with an opening set played by Rachael Kilgour before getting to work on the new album at Sacred Heart studios with local engineer, Eric Swason, and an outside producer. Venus had just gotten out of the hospital after her appendix was removed not too long after rocking a show up here in Duluth at R.T. Quinlan’s when we chatted over the phone. That’s not keeping her down and she’ll be back again this week.

Reader: You’ve had quite the year.

Venus: Yeah, there’s been a lot of crazy stuff, both health wise and career wise.

Reader: I guess you have. The last time I talked with you was about your audit. How did that pan out for you?

Venus: I won the audit. We went to appeals and the lawyer was able to successfully present our case. The appeals officers agreed that I am a business and not a hobbyist.

Reader: I know that also in that time you needed to have heart surgery.
Venus: I had to have two stents put in because my heart was starting to complain and I’d have a heart attack if I didn’t do something about it immediately. Luckily, I did. It was probably just a matter of days before I would have actually had a heart attack but I went in and they put in the stents which solved the blockage issue. They figured out it was stress related. So I got that solved.

Reader: It’s really good you did. Anything more details on your audit situation?

Venus: It cost $12,000 to fight it and I raised about $3000 in addition to that, so about $15,000 from just donations from people from across the country to help me do that. They were extremely generous and I feel very humbled by that. I took the left over donations and gave it to groups that work with the arts and help people who are in the same position and are pushed where they can’t feel that they can defend themselves. That’s what happened to me and I’ve heard from other artists that it was happening to them and I wanted some resources to be set aside to make some sort of change in that system. And there is a fund that has been started called the Venus DeMars Fund.

Reader: So it wasn’t too long after all of this that you were able to tour with band, Against Me.

Venus: There you go, that’s the business and the hobbyist thing. I worked on a tour with a band on a national record label. We worked for a month going across the country, performing every night and driving eight hours a day. It was a very wonderful experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better band to front for.  

Reader: Explain to me a little bit about performing with another trans artist. (Against Me! was formed in 1997 by Tom Gabel who is now known as Laura Jane Grace and is transgendered.)

Venus: With Laura’s transition, that was just fantastic. It was very moving. Against Me was already known as a punk band so they had a following already. But with her transition they augmented their following with all of these trans kids and some older trans people. They were brave enough to come out. I had a wonderful time talking to her fan base and they completely welcomed me.

Reader: I know that you’ve been trans for quite awhile. The first time interviewed you was around 10 years ago. Laura has only be trans for maybe two or three years?

Venus: It’s just been a couple of years.

Reader: To switch gears will your appendix surgery affect your upcoming show this weekend? (Venus required emergency surgery shortly after her performance at R.T. Quinlan’s, Friday, September 5. Yet another complication for her recently.)

Venus: I’m very lucky on that fortunately. I’ll be recovered enough to do the show and record. My producer will be arriving on Friday, driving up on Saturday and on Sunday we’ll do the formal tracking.

Reader: I noticed that you were seeking some sort of Kickstarter kind of funding?

Venus: Yes, on indiegogo and there’s just about a day left on that now.

Reader: I reached you a little late, we won’t be publishing this until Thursday.

Venus: Well, we’ll be supported through that and be this performance. All of the money will be going towards the album.

Reader: I might be wrong, but did I hear Laura would be guest singing at this show?

Venus: She’s not going to be at the show, but she is going to guest sing for one of the songs on the album. This is the initial stage and as we begin to build the album that I hope to have done by the end of the year. We’ll find a song that makes sense and that Laura likes and we’ll either track her down and do a face to face recording or do it over the internet.

Reader: I’ve known that over the years you’ve been quite the rock and roller, but this is going to be an acoustic album. But since it’s an acoustic album I’m guessing that you’ll have not only maybe Laura but other guests, not just you and a guitar.

Venus: Yes, but it’s going to be very stripped down. I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to go but I’ve invited my producer (Barb Morrison) that I’ve been working with since the album “Creature” and “Trashed and Brokenhearted” with me, and “10 Bones.” She also produced for Debra Harry, Rufus Wainwright and Scissor Sisters…a bunch of big names now. But I knew her back when she was a bartender out in New York and it was one of the clubs I used to perform at back in the day when I used to tour out there more often and we became friends. So she climbed the ladder at the same time I was, out in New York, and at the time the opportunities were wonderful for her. We work really well together. I want her to come out and put input in on it. What I find really powerful with the shows is what I’m going to do at Sacred Heart on Saturday, which is just me and the guitar. It’s very stripped down where my guitar just supports the vocals.

Reader: I’ve seen you play a couple of times with just you and an acoustic.

Venus: That performance style is very moving to a live audience. Now whether that translates well to a recording, I don’t know. I want to record it and do the tracking and then augment it if we feel we need to. Sometimes you need to change it up slightly, but I do want to keep it as close as I can to that intensity and reach that spirit of when I do a solo acoustic performance.

Reader: So any string quartets or anything like that?

Venus: Yeah, I am going to try to track down some more traditional musicians. I have one violinist who has offered to record and I’m tracking her down to see if she’s available. There also may be a cellist. I really want to move into the project very loose and very open to expectations. I don’t want my expectations to cloud the possibilities. It’s new territory for me. There’s something that happens during one of these performances that I can’t capture with a full electric band. It has it’s own energy and own magic that I love.

Reader: I know that you come from Duluth and you’ve been here a number of times, you’re doing this a Sacred Heart. I might have touched on this at sometime when we’ve talked before, but explain your connection to Duluth and why it’s important to come up here.

Venus: That’s where my roots are. That’s where I became an adult. When you grow up next to a body of water like Lake Superior, it’s like growing up next to the ocean. You never lose that. There’s something about Duluth that always pulls me back there. To be able to back there to such beautiful place and use a place like Sacred Heart hold with the musical genre and feel that I want to explore. It just seems like the perfect thing.

Reader: Thanks for your time. It seems that this will certainly an interesting addition to what you’ve done. Tracking at Sacred Heart and then doing further production from there.