Interview: with Jake from NYC Band ‘Bottoms’

Our interview with New York City band 'Bottoms,' their EP 'Goodbye' is now out

Jake Dibeler is a screamer.

While still a young band, bottoms have quickly proven themselves as more than a group you see in your cousin’s friend’s DIY venue in Bushwick.

The best way I can describe their debut EP, GOODBYE, and you’re going to have to bear with me here, is the sonic equivalent of your friends bailing on you last minute on a Friday night. Out of spite and with a little trepidation, you go to the show alone, get really fucked up and end up letting loose beyond what you knew you were capable. Bottoms would be the band playing, GOODBYE the soundtrack to you getting over your shit.

Jake Dibeler is the frontman, lyricist and self dubbed “lead-screamer” of the band, whose stand-out track “Goodbye Cruel World” is reminiscent of the stuff you’d hear in a 1980’s New York discotheque, but maybe if the DJs were on today’s more expensive, “designer” drugs.

While it is clear that this album would be perfectly consumed surrounded by other sweaty, for-the-night-exhibitionists, the band (consisting also of Simon Leahy and Michael Prommasit) have a message behind their music. The subject matter behind the lyrics reflects the band’s mutual interest in gay rights, the AIDS crisis and other rather serious subjects affecting them, and the LGBT community – giving bottoms a substance and complexity to their music that goes beyond just their sound.

Northern Transmissions: A theme that keeps popping up with Bottoms is the message ‘I HATE MY BODY’… from seeing you on and off the stage, I see you and enviously think ‘fuck, I could never be that sure of myself’, is there a certain playful contradiction in the message that shirt portrays?

Jake Dibeler: There’s a difference between confidence and pride. There are a lot of things that I dislike about my body, but that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of it. I’m chubbier than I’d like to be, I don’t like my thighs, whatever. I’ve been a performer my whole life, the confidence came before the body issues. I think it’s a cool contradiction, this person who can command the attention of an audience, and at the same time they’re being totally naked and vulnerable.

NT: What is the least boring thing to you right now?

JD: The least boring thing right now is probably our schedule. We’re so busy. I’m working on a horror-porn for the NYC Porn Film Festival that Simon is throwing in February. We’re also booking our European tour for April and I’m working on a solo show for a gallery in March.

JD: I mean, Simon is a pretty solemn drag queen standing behind a laptop– but that sounds so good to me. I love a crowd. I’m a performance artist when I’m not singing for bottoms, and I’m a performance artist when I am singing for bottoms. Generally, people feed off of my energy and I get to meet them halfway. Every now and then there’s a crowd that doesn’t really get it, but they get the same show as the crowd that gets it. Y’all just look silly standing slack-jawed and empty-eyed while I’m humping the ground in a floor-length gown. That ain’t my problem. More often than not we play for people that really feel it, and there’s nothing more gratifying.

NT: A lot of Bottoms lyrics explore the complexities of serious issues such as gay suicide, HIV, how do you meld your message with your music?

JD: I like touching on the same topics I do in my personal work. Simon and Michael let me have total freedom with the lyrics, because we’re all interested in the things I enjoy exploring: the dark side of sexuality, depravity, whatever. We like the dichotomy of the dark lyrics and danceable music. People dancing to my suicide note, I like to say.

NT: Even with your lyrics touching on such a serious subject matter, is there a catharsis or positivity that comes out of being able to share it all with an audience that feels you?

JD: One hundred and ten fucking percent. Nothing feels better than screaming about all the shit that’s on your mind.

NT: On that more physical side of that question, how does it feel to watch people sweat and dance out their own shit to the music you’ve created?

JD: That’s why we do it. I think the great thing about bottoms is that you kind of can’t get into it unless you’re down for all of it, the darkness, the shame, the sweat and the shit. So seeing people really going through it with us is the best, it means we’re doing it together.

NT: Your background is in performance art, what does being lead-screamer of a band do for you personally that performance art doesn’t?

JD: My performance work is super choreographed and precise. Everything down to the steps we take is counted out. bottoms gives me the opportunity to explore the same things I do on stage with my work, without any of the rules. In my performance work I am for the audience. In bottoms, I am with the audience.

NT: You grew up in Philadelphia where I read you had a more “gay friendly” childhood, as being a gay icon in your own right, what advice can you give to those who are having a hard time fully expressing or even fully being themselves?

JD: Gay icon. Whoa. My family is behind everything that I do, they’ve given me the most incredible support. I don’t take this for granted, I am extremely lucky. Acceptance from my family was never an obstacle. I was a goth twelve year old in a black dress and boots (still, actually,) and I received a general amount of negativity through my teen years. If you ignore it, it stops. When you stand against people who want to hurt you, they see that they can’t hurt you. When they can’t hurt you, they cease to have power.

NT: I understand that artist and AIDS activist, David Wojnarowicz was a pretty huge for you in terms of inspiration for the band… how does it feel to now have the potential to be a contemporary source of inspiration to someone else in terms of what you’re doing for the LGBT community as well as the art world?

JD: If we can offer a fraction of the inspiration David Wojnarowicz offered the LGBT community, that would be incredible. To be honest, I started singing for bottoms because I like being on stage and I like being able to scream about all the shit going through my head. I didn’t expect JD and Inge of Atlas Chair to want to put our album out, I didn’t expect to pack rooms for shows. I’m just happy doing it. I would’ve been satisfied just performing on our little stage at Secret Project Robot for our friends. So to know that there are people who want to be a part of it and want to experience our music, that’s so amazing.
In prep for this interview, I watched the Paradise Garage closing party video… that shit looks insane.

NT: What effect do you think a place like Paradise Garage has on the LGBT community and do you think there is a nightclub doing the same things nowadays?

JD: Paradise Garage was happening at a time when the gay community needed it the
most. The AIDS crisis and the subsequent ignorance from the government really fucked us up. What gays really needed was frivolity and a place where there weren’t judgments, you didn’t feel like a second class citizen, and you could just fucking rage. I don’t think it happens as much today because the needs of the community have changed. It’s mostly shit drag shows at bars with shit music. We are mostly assimilated into heteronormative culture, so there’s not much of this need to create a sort of defiant space. Conversely, there are those of us who want only to exist in a defiant space. Simon and I like to throw this party called Club Turd that’s a crap party in the best way possible. We get our friends like Macy Rodman, who is a talented singer/queen (and starring in our upcoming music video for “My Body”) and we kind of just stink up the club.

NT: Also as part of our interviews we ask bands what their most influential or
favourite five album of all time are… we’d love to add yours to the list!

JD: We all chose five. We don’t agree on anything.

Cocteau Twins- Garlands
My Bloody Valentine- Loveless
Nine Inch Nails- The Downward Spiral
Alberich- Machine Gun Nest: Cassette Works Volume 0
Lana Del Rey- Ultraviolence

Sleep- Holy Mountain
Blonde Redhead- In Expression of the Inexpressible
Clouddead- s/t
Adult- Rescuscitation
Erase Errata- Other Animals

V/VM- HelpAphexTwin
Drexciya- Neptune’s Lair
Randy Crawford- Now We Begin
Mama Cass- Mama’s Big Ones

Ali Haberstroh

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