How do you think you developed the resources to be able to handle fame and grow along with it?
I think it's my family. I think it's the friendships that I've built that are really strong and wonderful. My best girlfriend from high school — and my friends that I made downtown in New York when they really welcomed me into this society of freakish kids that band together. I was actually talking to [performance artist and collaborator] Lady Starlight today, and I just said, "Without you guys, I wouldn't be where I am today, for sure." They gave me a sense of belonging somewhere. It'll make me cry just talking about it, because when you feel so much like you don't fit in anywhere, you'd do anything just to make a fucking friend. And when I met the right people, they really supported me. I'll never forget when she turned to me one day and she said, 'You're a performance artist." I was like, "You think so?" When people believe in you, that's what makes you grow.
I notice that people who grow up in a stable home with parents who they know love them can deal with success better.
Oh, yeah! But I was a bad kid. So I had a lot of home issues when I was in high school especially. I was a fucking nightmare. My mom always laughs at me now, because I get drunk when I'm at home with my parents at a bar down the street. I'm like, "I was such a bad kid, I'm so sorry!" I get so upset. My mom's like, "You made up for it. It's fine."
You have a lot of things in your behavior that are signs of someone who had a traumatic experience in adolescence or childhood. Is that something you would ever discuss publicly?
When Christina Aguilera began talking about the dark issues in her past — growing up around domestic abuse — there was no negative response to it, and it ended up informing her work.
[Hesitates] I feel like I tell this story in my own way, and my fans know who I really am. I don't want to teach them the wrong things. And you also have to be careful about how much you reveal to people that look up to you so much. They know who I am. They know how they can relate to me. I've laid it all on the table. And if they're smart like you, they make that assessment, but I don't want to be a bad example.
A bad example in the sense of being a victim?
Yeah, and I'm not a victim. And my message is positive. My show has a lovely naivete and melancholy to it: a pop melancholy. That's my art. If I told that other story in that way, I don't know if that's the best way I can help the universe.
Because if you did talk about it, then things you did would be misinterpreted and seen through that experience?
Yeah. Maybe if I was writing my own book or something. I guess it's hard to . . . . If I say one thing in our interview right now, it will be all over the world the day after it hits the stands. And it would be twisted and turned. And it's like you have to honor some things. Some things are sacred.
There are some things that are so traumatic, I don't even fully remember them. But I will say wholeheartedly that I had the most wonderful mother and father. I was never abused. I didn't have a bad childhood. All of the things I went through were on my own quest for an artistic journey to fuck myself up like Warhol and Bowie and Mick, and just go for it.
That's interesting that you have this idea that the artist has to expose himself to these dark parts of life.
You do, but all of the trauma I caused to myself [pauses]. Or it was caused by people that I met when being outrageous and irresponsible. What I'm trying to say is that I like to, within moderation, respect that I'm not Mick Jagger or David Bowie, and I don't just have fans that are a certain age. There are, like, nine-year-olds listening to my music, so I guess I try to be respectful of them if at all possible.
You do talk about cocks and pussy all the time, but I know what you mean.
I do, but cock and pussy is not the same as the things that I could talk about.
You seem to have become more religious or spiritual in the last year or so.
I've had a few different experiences. I'm really connected to my Aunt Joanne, and she's not with us anymore. And then there was my father's surgery. And also, my life has changed so much. It's hard not to believe that God hasn't been watching out for me when I've had such obstacles with drugs and rejection and people not believing in me. It's been a long and continuous road, but it's hard to just chalk it all up to myself. I have to believe there's something greater than myself.
Like a higher power?
Yeah, a higher power that's been watching out for me. Sometimes it really freaks me out — or, I should say, it petrifies me — when I think about laying in my apartment [in New York] with bug bites from bedbugs and roaches on the floor and mirrors with cocaine everywhere and no will or interest in doing anything but making music and getting high. So I guess I've come a really long way, and I have my friends to thank for that, and I have God.
So do you think that getting addicted to work replaced drugs in your life?
You just learn to put your energy into something creative and wonderful. I work with Deepak Chopra, and I called him and told him some wacky dream I had about . . . I don't want to say. It's too morbid.
You seem like you have morbid dreams.
I do have morbid dreams. But I put them in the show. A lot of the work I do is an exorcism for the fans but also for myself. The [video] piece in the show where I'm eating the heart, it's a real bovine heart.
What made you do that?
My father was about to have surgery, or maybe he had just had surgery. So Nick Knight, who did all the visuals for the shows, said to me, "It's time for you to let go of this." And he gave me the heart as kind of a way to face my fear.
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