THE CHARM An Interview with The Bedroom Witch
by Sepand Mashiahof
I got the idea for the story from a nap dream I had when I was in a deep Forensic Files binge-watching phase. Obviously, the show itself inspired the whole “I just murdered and buried my lover and no one knows, I should throw a dinner party and act natural!” trope which is both so freaky and fascinating to me. I started to wonder if that recurring theme on the show is the murderer’s way of sub-consciously grieving with an impromptu funeral that’s masked as a casual party where none of the guests really figured out why the dress code was all black.
I wanted to see how I could segue these real life narratives into fiction that expresses the frustration I feel as a trans girl who’s predominantly attracted to cis hetero men, while also challenging what [about] “being in love” is exactly fulfilling for people in general. What is it fulfilling for me? I can fall hard for someone but nine out of ten times, I’ll get over them after a few months. I [think I’ve] cut love off first because I’ve internalized this deep rooted fallacy that being a trans girl means I’m incapable of being loved in the first place. This translates into a lot of psychic baggage when I’m dealing with intimacy that leaves me feeling depleted and pretty “alien”-ated in this world. I needed Triptych to really speak to this burden but in a way that will empower me, and other trans girls carrying the same weight, through these isolating feelings I experience. “Murder” is used in this film as a metaphor for us to free ourselves from that. For us to find agency and to feel powerful in our ability to love/be loved.
Giallo, Elvira, and Christina Aguilera—what do they all have in common? Talk about your influences for this body of work.
You just named the Holy Trinity of Triptych. I was a child in the 90’s exposed to all the pop stars from that era. I remember watching the video for “Genie In a Bottle” when it came out and being so mesmerized by all of it—the sensual apathy by the ocean at night, the tight white crop top look, and just the song on its own was good to my ears. I can see so much of how that time period of pop stars influences the energy I end up putting out as the Bedroom Witch. In a way, I feel that I learned a lot about sexuality through them—like specifically the output of this coy “I can’t be bothered but hi” kind of presence. With Triptych, there is that vamp-type character that’s evocative of Elvira, I think. I use to love watching her late at night on Movie Macabre when I was a kid and I see my affinity to 90’s pop stars intersecting with that dark seductress aesthetic.
The use of color in Triptych was heavily influenced by Dario Argento’s film Suspiria. The entire Giallo genre has been so inspirational to my interest in campy horror, but Suspiria is something else. Visually, it’s a true work of art sprinkled with tacky dialogue, and that juxtaposition is what makes it such a wonderful film.
You talk a lot about using music and video to tell stories—what do you feel is most powerful in storytelling?
I think every story told has a deeper message or lesson to be gained or let go of or reworked or all of the above. It’s also a comforting escape from the nothingness of existence. Storytelling is what ancestors used to make sense out of being alive. There was a story for why rain fell from the sky, why we have stars, where the body goes when it dies, and so on. We’re so afraid of being on this planet and possibly meaning nothing that we need stories to calm this existential terror. We ourselves started out as children getting information from books and cartoons that fed our curiosities with some kind of answers offered by these modern day creation myths. The older you get, the less active the imagination becomes because real life is monotonous garbage, and we realize that more and more with each day that passes. Living as a queer adult means that maintaining the power of the imagination is crucial to surviving this wasteland that cuts the spaces that used to exist and were celebrated before the violent “boxing” effect of the colonial binary. We need to use our imagination and our magic to see ourselves, because this world is terrified that even after they hung veils over the mirrors, we found other ways to still see our reflection in puddles on the ground from a night of rainfall, or even in silverware. I saw myself and my story through the Bedroom Witch’s parallel universe. It became the perfect realm for me to reclaim a shock-to-the-system truth that I never actually saw myself in anything or anyone, and that leaves a lot of room for my imagination to activate with this project.
You released this visual album on Trans Day of Visibility, are there any messages that you are trying to convey to other trans girls?
I want this visual album to reach as many other trans girls in hopes that they will see themselves in Triptych in some type of way—whether that’s through the intersection of pop and goth music I’ve found myself in, the story and the emotions I’m conjuring through it, or even just by seeing me as the visibly trans subject of the film. I want to forge connections that mutually inspire us to keep living and to keep creating. My intention is for other trans girls to see this and be reminded of their infinite magic and light, the same way that this film brought out this same reminder in myself. We are never represented enough in music and art so Triptych, for me, is exactly what my younger self would have wanted to see to feel more validated in pursuing her own work. I want today’s younger trans girls to see creations like this and feel excited and confident about their own artistic endeavors because, again, seeing yourself represented early on in life is so vital for a healthy psyche, and to grow with a sense of belonging. We all need that mirror reflecting back at us—it tells us that we’re still here, and for trans girls, that’s revolutionary.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make their first music video or film? Specifically on a low-budget with minimal resources—talk about the production (moodboarding, timeline, materials, and methods).
Come up with a concept and obsess over it. Obsess over it so much that you start to feel like the idea already came to life. Once you brought it to life in your mind, don’t let limitations or the lie that you need a lot of money or space to make “good” art stop that idea from materializing. Who even cares about making “good” art—if it’s good to you, then it’s good. Your friends love you and want to see your visions come to life, so don’t be afraid to talk about your ideas with them and get them just as obsessed and excited about the concept as you are. If no one is available to make your visions happen with you, trust in your ability to work alone and you’ll be surprised by what comes out solo. With minimal resources in mind, dollar stores are everywhere and cardboard/aluminum foil backdrops are just as aesthetically pleasing as whatever expensive shit art stores are trying to sell you. Flashlights work just as well as real production lights. Paper is malleable. The list of workarounds goes on and on...
With Triptych, I actually did a moodboard (for once) for each video which really helped my scattered brain organize what the aesthetics for the whole production be. Color played a huge role in the film, so it was really helpful to find images that overall would create one cohesive palette for an otherwise disjointed concept (the fragmentation of the “triptych”). In one month, I got my friends together for five different shoots where all we relied on were flashlights covered with colored gels to set the lighting tones I based off of the moodboards. For the back drops: aluminum foil, poster board and paper—all from the corner dollar store—did it for me.
Can you briefly touch on some of your previous filmography, and how did you evolve to to making this masterpiece?
The Bedroom Witch as a music project on its own began because I wanted to make a soundtrack to a seven-act video story I started writing when I was 19, titled The Alter Shegos (or The Altar She Goes). It ended up as a 30-minute video I filmed completely alone in my bedroom two years after it was written. Videos have always been that way for me—a “press record and walk into the frame” type of practice that worked like a puzzle most of the time because I was constantly trying to sort out loopholes with the limitations that this process comes with.
I love incorporating projections into my live performances so I started working on an episode series titled Bizarre Times with The Bedroom Witch not too long after that. These episodes are an ongoing series of films situating the Bedroom Witch in different dimensional dramas that sometimes start with an intentional storyline and sometimes make sense at a point during the editing process. Personality-wise, I’m never satisfied and I’m always wanting more out of anything I’m doing, so working on my videos alone just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I started feeling restricted by the limitations of my art being a lonely process and started talking about my ideas for Triptych as a visual album with friends who I’m so lucky got on board with the production. I had Allyson Bace operating the camera alongside Hana Harada and Jenna Craig assisting with the art direction. We became a team that produced so many more possibilities to make this film match what I envisioned it to be. Having other people involved gave this film more movement and offered different perspectives of what would make cool shots happen. That’s something a light bulb and a tripod would never be able to do alone in a room with me.
Elaborate on the different episodes of Bizarre Times, how does the Bedroom Witch character move across these different works?
The episodes I’ve made so far for Bizarre Times helped me solve the biggest riddle as to what exactly the Bedroom Witch story is speaking to in my real life. In one episode, titled “The Factory In Exile”, I situated her in this almost capitalist-equivalent hell called “Exile” where this evil statue bust puts her to work blowing air into these white balloons every day. The bust convinces her and the other workers that they are storing breath in these balloons as extra air supply in case helium from the Hell/Limbo intersection passes through and poisons “Exile”. The lie though is that the bust is planning to keep the stored air for itself to not exist as a statue head anymore and let the poisonous air affect the workers and turn them to stone instead. The Bedroom Witch eventually realizes these plans and pops every balloon—a cathartic fantasy of the symbolic destruction of capitalism. I realized that I was literally referring to my feelings as an immigrant from Iran who kind of just “ended up” or woke up in the U.S. one day only to grow to understand how disgusting capitalist-driven labor is here. Capitalism is disgusting everywhere that it exists, but my understanding of that is rooted in what I’ve seen growing up in America. Through stories like this, The Bedroom Witch is learning a different lesson in each dimensional drama that leads to her piecing together visions of where she came from—“Nowhere”—a reference to the anticipation of my own return to the homeland—Iran. These episodes taught me that [lesson] by tapping into so much of my subconscious turmoil. As time went on I learned that making work like Bizarre Times was me turning that turmoil into fiction to cope with the possibility that I might never go back to Iran—how do I make peace with that? Make art that only I really understand, rewatch the videos and possibly piece together more remedies to work into my healing process.
What can we expect from the Bedroom Witch in the future? If you could make a video for some artists you admire, who would it be? And to close, what’s the best way to reach you if anyone wants to collaborate with you?
I’m finishing up a full length concept album titled Diaspora, which is basically telling the story of me losing my shadow in “Exile” (the US) and reconnecting with her in “Nowhere” (the homeland, Iran). I’m also going on a short East Coast tour with Wizard Apprentice in the fall. I want to film more episodes of Bizarre Times with The Bedroom Witch to help flesh out more of the story leading up to the tentrack concept album’s narrative. I also recently composed music for my genius friend Tonia B’s virtual reality project on queer Iranian girlhood titled Good Girl, which had a spring release in Los Angeles.
I definitely want to expand my video work to making videos happen for other people’s projects. There are so many artist friends that I admire and there are so many well-known artists that played a huge role in the kind of work I’m doing with this project. On an aesthetic level, I see the Bedroom Witch crossing over with acts such as Drab Majesty, Nightspace, SRSQ, Wizard Apprentice, Lizard Bitch, Moths Protect Me, Petheaven—maybe even Alice Glass? I’ve been listening to Wax Idols a lot lately. I truly admire Hether Fortune and I’d love to collaborate on a video for her band. I think Abra is such a brilliant musician—“Pull Up” is such a cool video. I’d love to make videos for her but yeah, I could go on and on! There are so many amazing projects out there, it would make my head spin to go any deeper.
You can reach me through email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram’s cool too: @bedroomwitch.
Sepand Mashiahof is a trans-femme Iranian-American musician, writer, and organizer. She is a co-founder of Scream Queens Radio/Magazine, a member of the queer industrial punk trio SBSM, and works as the Development Coordinator at Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. She also performs solo as Moths Protect Me, and is currently crafting a screenplay for a horror film that celebrates women's intergenerational solidarity within DIY punk scenes.
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