Photography: Gina Canavan
Hair: Sydney Costley
Makeup: Matisse Andrews
Assistant: Jeffrey Marcell
Geneva Jacuzzi isn’t crazy—she’s just trying to figure everything out. And while, for most people, that means quitting their job or taking a year away from college, for Geneva, it means painting her face and getting onstage. As illustrated by her raucous live performances, the Los Angeles-based artist gives everything she has to her art. But that’s because, it’s the only way she knows how.
As a musician, music video director and visual artist, Geneva has not so quietly built up her own underground following, ever since she first left her strict religious home. Growing up Jehovah’s Witness, she first heard industrial music when she was 18 and just discovering goth clubs. Since then, Geneva has effortlessly fused the lo-fi danceability of new wave with the campy absurdity of ’80s sci-fi, and unlike most bands who buy a vintage synth and 4-track, her result is completely authentic—and actually good.
With her latest album, Technophelia, and an upcoming tour with Nite Jewel, Geneva has willfully carved her place within the scene. But that doesn’t mean she’s gotten comfortable. “There’s this bratty, fiery part of my personality that cannot do the same thing over and over,” she explains. “If I’m bored up there, what’s the point?”
BULLETT caught up the artist and dressed her up like another dark wave icon, Nina Hagen. View the images and read our interview, below.
Tell me about your last album, Technophelia.
I haven’t even thought about it since it came out—I don’t usually think about the past very much. But Technophilia was a weird monster of an album—especially because I don’t release that many official albums, I just do lots of recordings and mini self-released things. So whenever an actual album comes together, it’s a monster kind of configuration of different stages of my life. So, they’re a mix of songs I’d written right before the album, and also songs I’d re-done, like the very first songs I’d ever written in my life. I’m always surprised when people want to put out a record of my music, because it doesn’t sound like real music to me—I just don’t get it.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s true solo artist. There’s something that happens when you have a group of people working on something together—people bounce ideas off each other, they grow certain things, and it gets filtered and discussed. It’s communal in that sense, and it ends up sounding more packaged, more normal. But when you have someone who doesn’t have anybody to answer to, you end up with things where people are like, ‘Why did you put an elephant sound in that?’ I’m like, ‘It just needed to be there and nobody can tell me I can’t.’
You’re family was Jehovah’s Witness when you were growing up. Does that a play a part in that?
When I grew up, I was homeschooled and I was the oldest, so I was home alone a lot. That meant I had a lot of alone time, and I developed a really weird sense of what’s okay and what’s appropriate—I’m very self-directed in that way. But at the same time, homeschooled kids can be weird because they’re not socialized properly. So the music really sounds like that—like, this is music but something’s off. It sounds like someone who didn’t quite get the memo, who doesn’t socialize well at parties.
So, does your upbringing affect the way you approach art?
I wish it didn’t, but of course it does. The whole process of making music in the first place was my rebellion and expression of coming out of that. Because I didn’t leave the religion until I was 18—until I was an adult—and all of the sudden, I got hit with a stick of reality. Like, ‘No Geneva, you’re not immortal and you might not die in Armageddon—there might not even be an Armageddon,’ and all these really weird things. To come to terms with your mortality as an adult is really fucking weird. When you’re a kid and someone dies on TV, you ask your mom about it, and she says some variation of, ‘Everyone dies at some point.’ But for me, my mom was like, ‘You’re never going to die, don’t worry. Those people will, but you won’t.’ Having that become a reality at such an old age was so strange, and I couldn’t really sit with anything—all I could do at that point in my life, was just hole up in a weird room and just experiment with music.
Music was your escape.
Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that I was completely rebelling because I was just trying to find some sort of freedom. I felt really caged up with guilt and all the shit that comes from being in a really strict religion—it gets messy psychologically, and emotionally, and spiritually. So, the music definitely helped with that. And it allowed me to meet people because I started playing shows and making music. That was really my only way of connecting to the world. Because I always felt so disconnected.
That’s when you got into dark wave and punk. What attracted you to that kind of music?
I just really wanted to dance, and ‘80s electronic and industrial is so fun to dance to. But also, when I started making music, I came across a lot of people who had a lot of knowledge and turned me onto stuff nobody else knew—like the really minimal German industrial, and early Voltaire. It made me feel really special. And there’s something that really attracted me to one drum machine, one synth, and a vocal—it holds so much magic. And it made it seem so accessible. I like things I can do—or at least, I think I can do.
Why was that so appealing?
You go on the radio and everything feels so produced. So when you hear something like that and it’s not so produced—it seems so simple. If you have a personality, you could do three tracks on a song and it could sound really cool—that was the magic of the music, and it seemed possible because it seemed easy. In my attempts at trying it, I didn’t necessarily achieve it. But the fact that it seemed possible was the most important thing, because it actually made me go out and get a four track and start trying it.
Is Geneva Jacuzzi a character? Or is the person people see on stage really you?
I struggle with that a lot lately, because I’ve been making videos and doing stuff that isn’t necessarily music-related. So I have to decide what to call it. I decided to keep it as Geneva Jacuzzi because it allows me to detach myself enough to be able to produce something. It’s not a persona or an alternate personality—it’s just my window, and it allows me to have all these different characters. When I do a show, for example, or an art performance, the characters change constantly and half the time I don’t even know who I am until the last minute—the whole project is a weird experiment in self-discovery I guess. Who the fuck does this shit? Is that me? Or does it even matter?
What inspires you, lyrically?
I think I’ve always had a difficult time sitting down and being completely sincere and vulnerable about my actual personal life. For some reason, that seems completely boring to me and almost over-indulgent—I don’t really care to go deep into these problems, and I don’t think anyone else is going to want to know about them either. But at the same time, of course those problems are there, and of course they get inserted. It’s just, I don’t know any other way to write them, other than incorporating them into these bizarre themes. That might be another symptom of my religious upbringing, because everything is metaphorical or symbolic, and you’re supposed extract a meaning from everything. And unfortunately for me, I can’t completely let go of meaning—it does have to mean something to me. Whether or not that gets translated—forget about it.
But there’s definitely a surrealist, sci-fi, horror thing happening in what you do.
It’s not like I’m not a sci-fi buff of anything. I’m one of those people who’s more intent on creating—I’m much more likely to be making music than listening to it. But there are things that just get stuck in my head. And as far as just engaging with reality around me—I have a difficult time with things, and then I obsess over certain characters or objects or themes, and I try to give them life by making a song about them, or letting those things explain themselves to me through the writing process. So it’s really just a lot of experimentation, and me trying to understand the world through the process of making music. Because I don’t know where the music comes from—I write it, but it doesn’t come from me. It just has to come out.
Your live shows are famously theatrical — you take it way further than a normal performance. Is there a reason?
My performances are weird because I’ve always been confused as to why I’m being asked to perform live—I don’t have a band or anything. And the kind of music I make, most of it’s pre-recorded, anyway. But I don’t like to turn anything down, because I have this weird superstition that when I’m called upon, I need to do something—whether I know what I’m going to do or not, is another story. But I take the opportunity to experiment and figure out what I want to communicate to people—what it is I think they want to see or hear, and also what is interesting in life right now. Most professionals are like, ‘You need to find out what you’re good at, and do it well, and your life will get extremely easy.’ But for me, I go, ‘Yeah, but when I do something well, I get extremely bored and I don’t feel challenged by it.’ That’s why every show is different—because I always need to be interacting with insanity.
See Geneva on tour with Nite Jewel this summer. Buy your tickets, here.