Colorado Springs-raised musician, singer and songwriter Xadie James Antonio (they/them) — who’s made music with Definitely Maybe, Scatter Gather, Witches and Science and, currently, the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra — came out as nonbinary a few years ago, to mixed reactions.
“It’s challenging, because I think we have this idea that coming out is a one-time ‘I’m out’ kind of situation, when for me, it took a lot of time and trying the identity on, if you will, before I was ‘out,’ Antonio says. "Coming out shook up my life in so many ways that I never expected. I lost connection with longtime friends, with family members who couldn’t hang with changes I was going through. It changed the way I interacted with work — for example, choosing whether or not it was safe for co-workers to know that I am nonbinary or not.
“But at the end of the day,” they continue, “the people that truly wanted to support me and be there for me came through in such a profound way, and I am fortunate to have such a supportive family and chosen family.”
Antonio fell in love with music at age eleven and began to dabble in various instruments.
“I got a bass guitar in seventh grade for my birthday, with some vague ideas of being in a rock band,” they recall. “I jumped around and played a bunch of different instruments in my school’s music program, including brass, drums, cello, double bass and electric bass. I never could choose just one thing, which felt like a burden at one point. But I later realized how beneficial it was to be well-rounded and how much that has helped me with arranging and composing.”
Listening to the likes of Adrianne Lenker, Nina Simone and Deerhoof further kindled Antonio's love of music.
“[Lenker] is one of the greatest songwriters of our generation,” they say. “So magical, and really gets me feeling my feels. Nina Simone is such a brilliant performer and a true virtuoso. No one can play like she could with such conviction. Deerhoof is one of my favorite rock bands. They're like watching a controlled explosion when performing.”
Antonio's first solo project, made under the moniker meek, is an EP called idk.
“Meek is the brainchild of experimentation,” they say. “I had played in bands for such a long time, and I wanted to do something that was purely expressive and kinda punk rock. It was also important to express my queerness through music in a way that I had not done before. I often call it performance art, because meek is sort of a character that expresses this kind of queer alienation and rage in a mad world.
“I strive to be in character when performing as meek,” they add. “I interact with the audience. I enter and exit the stage with fanfare or costume changes. It's immersive, and so much fun. I'm working on a full-length LP, which I plan on releasing in winter/spring 2022. When recording this music, I like to just let it come out and put it together without very much attention to being perfect. After all, it’s expressive. It’s punk rock.”
Thanks to drum sensors with synthesizer samples and drum machines, Antonio made the idk EP sound like it was made with a full-on band.
“I really do it to create as much sound as one person as I possibly can,” they explain. “I use sensors attached to each of my drums to trigger samples of synthesizers, drum machines and weird found sounds. I have a bass amp that plays all of the bass samples, and another that plays all of the treble samples. Then I sing alien-like vocals on top of it. It’s like running a whole band, but it’s just me.”
In addition to self-expression, Antonio wants to help other nonbinary people. One way they did that was to have the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, which they have been playing with since 2014, change the dress code to be more gender-exclusive.
“The story goes like this: I told the leadership that I wanted to wear a dress to performances rather than a tuxedo. They responded by changing the dress code from ‘Men should wear a tuxedo and bowtie and women should wear a black dress’ to 'Anyone can wear tuxedos or dresses.' They really shifted gears without hesitation, and I am super grateful for that," Antonio says.
They also decided to open a high-fidelity portable recording studio at home near City Park that’s open to LGBTQIA musicians on a sliding scale.
“The recording world is very man-dominated, and I’d like to mix that up a bit as much as I can,” Antonio says. “I lost access to a recording studio that I was a part of for a long time a couple years ago. So I took it upon myself to build my own hi-fi portable recording studio. As of spring 2021, I am starting to work with folks.”
One of their future projects is a chamber orchestra band with an emphasis on LGBTQIA musicians, which is in the early research-and-development phase.
“I have always played in rock bands and orchestras, and these things have been very separated out. This project will be a chamber orchestra that plays the songs and compositions that I write,” Antonio explains. “I want the focus of this group to be on larger-scale arrangements, including strings, winds, percussion and synths/keys, with myself singing on top. I am inspired to meld together the worlds of DIY and bands with the classical world.
“I also want this project to reflect myself and my queerness much more than previous projects have been able to do for me,” Antonio adds. “I want to have makeup, visuals and props. I want our performances to be a very immersive experience. I am currently recruiting some friends that I have played with in the past and just feeling out what the group will look like when it comes together. We should be playing shows by the end of summer/early fall, though nothing is currently booked. It's a big project, but I’m here to take it on.”
For more information about Xadie James Antonio, visit their website.
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