Josephine Network Will Be in New York Forever
"Josephine is a showgirl, a rock and roll girl. Josephine is a diva, and she's got a lot of soul too."
12:38 PM EDT on June 21, 2023
Josephine Network told me she's going to live in New York forever, and I believe her. Just a few weeks ago, the power pop singer-songwriter was playing the biggest gig of her career at Irving Plaza, but I think of her band as the quintessential New York bar band. It's the kind of music you imagine stumbling upon unexpectedly and accidentally, while they're playing some doo wop ballad like "Music is Easy", and then you accidentally hear enough of the lyrics and it changes your life, like the band was sent there by the spirit of the city itself. Josephine's songwriting is sturdy, and it has a soulful, personal touch.
We caught up over coffee as she prepared for a gig today in Fort Greene Park. In a thick Bronx accent, Josephine told me how she became the diva she plays on stage, performing "transfeminist power pop." Of all the people in New York who think they're Lou Reed, Josephine Network might be the closest. Artists like her still exist in New York—you just have to walk into the right bars.
Hell Gate: How are you doing?
Josephine Network: I'm good. I'm busy. I've been preparing for the show tomorrow that my band is playing at Fort Greene Park for the Rooftop Films "Queerly Beloved" LGBT Film Festival. We're gonna play at 8:00 p.m. [Wednesday] and then films are going to be shown and it's films from all over the world, all queer directors. We're just excited to rock. We just were on the road with The Lemon Twigs. We played about 10 shows with them. And we got real tour-tight, which is like the most fun part about touring, I think. The band's really gelling and everyone in the band's really finding their place on the road. I have a big band. It's an eight-piece band.
You're from New York originally, right?
Yes, I'm from Westchester. My parents are from the Bronx and I've been living in Brooklyn for over 10 years. I've basically been in New York all my life.
Can you tell me a little bit about growing up?
I grew up in a really boring small town in Westchester called Ardsley. There was not much to do and it was very straight. It was definitely a place I needed to get out of. But there were some trees around and some parks and stuff, and that was cool. And then I learned how to play guitar.
What's the best thing about summer in New York?
The best thing is just like walking outside and you can be in a cute outfit and see everyone in their cute outfits and there's a lot of possibility for mischief.
What kind of mischief?
Well, any kind of mischief, whatever you prefer.
How do you think you ended up playing power pop?
I grew up loving rock and roll and I love melody and the immediacy of pop. And I love the boogie and the back beat and the sleaze of rock and roll. And you know, when you have a melody on top of a good beat, like, what more is there to life?
Are there any bands that you model yourself after?
Well, there's the classic bands that we love, like T-Rex and Lou Reed. As a songwriter, I love Lou Reed and Carole King. You can draw all kinds of comparisons. One time we got two different people that said that we reminded them of the Village People. Okay. And then, you know, some people say Rocky Horror.
I can see that.
But it's very New York because all the people in the band have been in New York really long, and we've been around for a while. And so it's kind of unavoidable. That's just what comes out.
Do you take a lot of inspiration from The Velvet Underground? I feel like I can see that in what you do.
When I started writing songs when I was like 18, I was really, really into them. But now I'm way more into the Lou Reed solo stuff, just because I've listened to The Velvets so much. I'm really fascinated by the Lou albums like "Transformer," "Coney Island Baby," "Street Hassle." I love "The Bells," like these are weird albums and he had so many of them and you can't keep up and then you find these gems on these albums. I just love what he contributed.
It's kind of like a weird temporal map of hanging out in New York over several decades.
Yeah, that's so true. I identify with Lou because we were both from the suburbs and then we moved to the city and then like, we just went crazy and stayed here and, you know, I'm probably gonna live here forever.
How'd you go crazy?
I dropped out of school to play rock and roll. That's what I dedicate my whole life to. I like that I'm able to be immersed in the rock and roll scene and the queer scene, and Josephine is a character that I created that can fit into both worlds. And then I just decided to become her, because it was more fun to be her than anyone else. And now I'm her all the time.
Who is Josephine?
Josephine is a showgirl, a rock and roll girl. Josephine is a diva, and she's got a lot of soul too. I'm mostly a showgirl, for sure. I come alive when I get ready for a show, and do my makeup routine with the foundation, the blush, the eyeshadow, the lashes, the lips, the whole thing.
I sparkle on stage and I like to portray a heightened feminine strength, like, a heightened feminine persona that's dipping my toe into drag. It's who I am, but it's a dragged up version of who I am.
What are some of the venues that you get inspired at and you like to go to?
We play a lot at TV Eye in Ridgewood. That's a rocker venue that we play at a lot. And then there's this open mic at Metropolitan called Gender Experts which is every Tuesday of the month. They have this for trans and non-binary musicians, like any trans person can sign up and play a song or do stand up or poetry. I've been going to that to really get involved with that community. And that's been really special to me.
I like to be in multiple worlds because sometimes the rock and roll world can be kind of straight and because a lot of the queer world revolves around dance music. But I see now more and more that the rock and roll scene is opening up and becoming more queer. And that's a good thing. And I think maybe I've contributed a little bit to the opening up of that, where it doesn't have to be like the straight rock and roll bar and then the queer dance bar. The queerness can go everywhere.
What's your writing process like?
I write by myself pretty much always. I have free time at home because I'm a music teacher. And so in between lessons, I have time to strum and sing and I have a lot of feelings.
What instruments do you teach?
Oh, I teach guitar, I teach bass, I teach vocals, and I teach songwriting and I teach keys. My main instrument is guitar and bass, but I've been really enjoying giving vocal lessons recently. I recently taught a trans kid who plays standup bass and then had a lesson with me. And I kind of influenced them to get an electric bass. And now they're rocking on electric bass. I really love when queer people send me nice messages about, "Thank you for being you."Whether it's a lesson or it's the band, I'm very visible. A lot of people are shy and so they see someone who's out there and they think "I could do that," or "That makes it a little safer for me. If this person can do it, I can do it." Cause I wish I had a queer guitar teacher when I was a kid.
You said you wanted to be in New York for the rest of your life. What do you think needs to change in New York for it to be like a hospitable place for musicians?
Well, I really wish that this rent situation would chill the fuck out. It's really getting crazy and I'm lucky that I have a rent controlled place. The prices of groceries and everything, you know, you gotta go to Trader Joe's cuz like the economy's different at Trader Joe's for whatever reason.
I don't know what they're doing, but yeah, I'm sorry. My only solution is going to Trader Joe's. That might be problematic. I don't know.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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