A bed with purple sheets centers the room, drawing you in, revealing a small, shimmering peek into their world. A poster of the controversial 1981 shot of the late Prince in a shower hangs to the left, above a poster of Destiny’s Child dressed in all white laying lavishly on a white fur rug, circa 2004.
To its right is their set of keys, a portable Yamaha DGX 660 grand piano, where they write all their songs. And just above the Yamaha is a shelf holding song books, a handwritten setlist titled “Josephine,” and behind it a poster of Marc Bolan with ringlets, the lead in glam rock band, T-Rex, one of their biggest musical influences.
In everyday life they go by their given name, Joey, and use the pronouns he, she, they. But on-stage she’s Josephine, a glam Yiddish singer-songwriter in drag based in Bushwick.
“So you can call me what you want,” she says, “just don’t call me late for dinner.”
With the creation of their musical character Josephine, something that was inspired by good friend and musician Sally Horowitz, or Luxe Malone, they have felt more genuine.
“It’s just so freeing. When I was making music under my given name, Joey, I was making things that were more of a pose, and more of puffing out my chest,” they said. “It’s ironic because now that I’m making music for a character I’m making the most genuine, sincere music of my life.”
Josephine calls herself a singer-songwriter, and draws on a host of influences, most notably Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Carol King, and Ronnie Spector to name a few.
These “little” songs she strings together, as she says, stick and replay in your mind, over and over, even after only hearing it once. But they’re not little, they are bursting with personality, they make your heart sing. Her songs are big melodies fizzing into a buzzed state, akin to the elated feeling of getting tipsy off a little too much bubbly, one demanding a rhythmic bodily response. The butterflies of a first kiss, dancing to yourself as you vacuum, busting a guitar solo with your vocal chords: these are the highs of Josephine’s voice and melodies.
“Soul gum,” a term she coined comprising a hybrid of soul, rock n’ roll, bubble gum and glam rock, is how she describes her music.
A most fitting example is, “Me and My Boys,” which starts with a playful strike of the piano, hitting a singular key, plunging Josephine’s voice straight into the chorus and then into a ‘60s sweet and uplifting “ooh” that plays in conversation with the keys, played by Jay Pluck.
Before Josephine, Joey played in rock n’ roll bands like Velveteen Rabbit, and currently in glam-rock band, Brower, who she will be touring Europe with this October as their guitarist. There came a point in their career where they decided to “shake things up,” something she quotes in the first track, “Through a Sea of Time,” of her to-be released album Music is Easy, which will be out on vinyl and all streaming platforms December 30, the last day of Hanukkah.
“We still reward bad children unlike the goyam,” she jokes, goyam meaning “non-jew.”
Her band features Pluck on keys, Nat Brower, from Brower, on drums, and Dorian Deangelo on electric guitar. The Josephine Network is ever-evolving and features other musicians as needed, like Keith Cecaya on electric guitar and Toni Lynn on bass for their next show September 20 at Home Sweet Home, and September 24 at Union Pool.
But the best part of performing? The ritual of becoming Josephine. She begins with a soulful background of R&B music and a clean shaven face. A foundation follows. A pop of color on her lips.
“Lips are the most important,” she says as she applies Milani’s matte lip creme in the shade “Amore,” an electric pop of red, “they’re beautiful.”
With a swipe of a blush brush she brings a shade of amaranth to her cheeks, to enhance her cheekbones, she says. A glide of bright silver eyeshadow awakens her eyes, and then are layered by a gold, her favorite colors.
She reaches for her pink sparkling make-up bag for the “piece de resistance,” as she puts it, and brings out an unlabeled purple mascara. They’re the perfect hint of color against her olive green eyes. A bit of gold glitter follows as her final touch. She buys her make-up at Family Dollar, she reveals, and slips into her room for her wig cap, where she stuffs her naturally curly locks tight. The wig is blonde, long, and straight.
“The album is called Music is Easy,” she shares, “but I want to highlight [it’s] not so easy for my trans people out there that are struggling to express their gender in the way that they want to everyday, and it is disheartening that it’s such a challenge. Every day we fight, we fight, and we fight.”
Their hope is that by just being visible, they’re making it more okay to present how you want, “outside of the binary.”
Josephine plays her title song to me, “Music is Easy” on her piano, instead of her usual guitar. She’s glowing. It makes me think back to something she said during the interview about pleasing yourself first as an artist, characterizing her glam-rock personality in one Yiddish phrase.
“I like pleasing the crowds, but you can’t get too wrapped up in pleasing [them]. You have to please yourself too,” she says, “which is why I say, ‘cockamun with a bissel hunnich,’ that means ‘shit on them with a little honey.’”
You can find Josephine on Instagram.
All photos by Andrea Aliseda for Bushwick Daily.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.