Oyster #95: Nomi Ruiz
"I've had a lot of simulated sex with mic stands?"
In Oyster issue #95 Zac Bayly caught up with transgender pop-queen Nomi Ruiz to talk about her sexually charged on-stage performances, her genre-defying music and being totally free.
Nomi Ruiz is the beautiful transgender Puerto Rican pop-queen of New York's underground music scene, renowned for her work with both Hercules and Love Affair and her new band, Jessica 6. Most recently she appeared in the sexually-charged campaign for Thierry Mugler's Spring Summer 2012 collection, which was so steamy it could only be shown in full on the porn site Xtube (please note: though the video was censored for being too erotic, it's tame when compared with seeing Ruiz unleash the beast onstage).
"I've had a lot of simulated sex with mic stands, and it's always like, 'OMG - did that just happen? Why did I do that?'" Nomi Ruiz tells me over the phone from New York. "I'm tapping into something higher than me when I'm up there; something supernatural that I can't control. I feel like a wolf during the full moon. I feel powerful. It's like, 'REEEOW!'"
Ruiz always knew she would work in the music industry. The sultry songstress has been "annoying pretty much everyone" with her singing since before she knew what 'air humping' meant. Whether she was warbling away in the shower, walking down the street, or performing in front of her mum's friends, it was always apparent that Ruiz was destined for stardom. "But I'm so shy," she says, and I almost fall for it. Even when she's performing? "Well, that's another story."
Currently at the helm of the genre-defying Brooklyn trio Jessica 6 (generally classified as nu-disco, though Ruiz thinks this is too narrow a description), she got her break in 2008 as a guest vocalist on Hercules and Love Affair's acclaimed debut album. Back then, the Guardian claimed she had the "spookily effortless air of a future pop icon," and the description still fits. Give her a microphone, and Ruiz is pure sex incarnate; she hypnotises audiences with the serpentine movement of her hips. Her voice is like that of a siren's, luring you closer to the stage and then onwards to shipwreck.
And that is how she felt until quite recently: wrecked. "When I listen to the record," she says, referring to Jessica 6's debut album, See The Light, and the hectic period of partying that inspired it, "I can see the things I was going through in that year. I've recognised patterns in my life that need undoing. I feel like I've grown. I was lost in indulgence, but at least we got some good songs out of it! And, you know, sometimes it's nice to be in that place - just not forever."
How did she feel reading that Guardian quote? "Yeah? it was intense - and exciting, of course. It was like, 'Wow! This is really happening.' I definitely want to be remembered - for my image to mean something, you know?" Assuming that she, like half of the world's teen wannabes, danced around to bad pop in her underwear, wielding a hairbrush like a microphone, I ask if there's a pop icon she wanted to emulate. "I used to listen to really cheesy pop. Like, Samantha Fox cheesy. In terms of career, though? You know, I want to say Aaliyah, but she died too soon. I think she was on the path that I kind of want to follow, though."
Ruiz is "super excited" about making a solo R&B album at some stage, but for the moment she's having a ball creating music and touring with Jessica 6's Andrew Raposo and Morgan Wiley, whom she met when on tour with Hercules and Love Affair. "We just feel really free, creating together," she explains. "It makes it really easy to get the ideas out; to make the songs really personal. We're in sync." Would she say they are, like, psychic-connection close? "Yes! Definitely. We're super close. We're BFFs!" she says, breaking in to a fit of giggles. "And I feel like we do have that connection, especially when we're travelling a lot together. There's something otherworldly about being in hotels [on tour]; there's a strange energy there. We have very similar dreams, and I'm very close to them, so we know what each other's thinking, without saying anything."
As we talk inter-band telepathy and reaching "a higher place" through meditation - "I've done it once, but it's hard to get back there" - we eventually move on to the topic of Ruiz's sexuality. It's really not important to me whether she has a ding or a dong, but I am curious to know how it feels to realise you've been born with one sex on the outside and another on the inside. "I just felt lost, you know? Like I would never fit in, no matter what scene I was associated with. It took me a while to figure out who I was. It took me trying to fit into all of these different scenes for me to realise that, you know, I'm just not like anyone else."
Do people reach out to her? "I get a lot of beautiful emails, and it's really touching. It feels really good. I'm not here to spread a message, or anything - I'm by no means political on the topic. I think just doing what I'm doing? it has the same effect, you know?" I do. She is fortunate enough to be able to inspire people to seek happiness through self-expression by doing just that herself. "Totally; totally. We can do whatever we want and be free."
Words: Zac Bayly
Photography: Skye Parrott