Q&A: Ponytail Frontperson Willy Siegel Discusses Gender, Sexuality, And What Was In He/r Pants At Siren Fest
"It was really hot at Siren Fest, but I didn't really wanna have my boobs out. People might think it was sexual."
photo by Rebecca Smeyne Willy Siegel at Siren Fest 2010
When Baltimore art-rock group Ponytail played the Voice's Siren Festival last summer, people noticed two things: That Ponytail is a raucous, fun, and primally wacky band, and that singer Molly Siegel had a prominent bulge in her shorts. As she jumped up and down, the bulge bounced along with her like a genderqueer metronome, forming one part of a joyfully weird performance that can now be re-lived via the video for "Easy Peasy," composed of footage taken at Coney Island that day, the first single off Ponytail's April 12 release Do Whatever You Want All The Time.
Why did Siegel decide to stuff her shorts? Was she trying to be funny? Or was it the result of some larger, more sincere philosophy shaping her life? I emailed her about it and received a cheerful reply saying that she goes by "Willy" now and would be happy to discuss gender with me over the phone. When reading, try to imagine Willy giggling amiably after everything s/he says. There were far too many giggles to transcribe.
What was in your shorts at Siren Fest? Do you mean for it to be funny?
Not really to be funny, exactly. It was a handkerchief. I had a soft pack I was gonna wear, but it was bouncing around, so I decided to wear the handkerchief.
Did anyone else ask you about it?
Nobody asked me anything about it at all. It's weird, because before the show I'm like, "What am I gonna wear?" It's always an opportunity to wear something that's exciting to me, but I'm tired of thinking about it. I thought about wearing something drag performancey, and this past summer, I spent a lot of time at farms and communes--I was naked a lot. It was really hot [at Siren Fest] and I thought about wearing nothing, but I didn't really wanna have my boobs out. People might think it was sexual. I'd never seen anybody pack onstage and I've been to a million shows and I was like, "I should do this."
Do you pack often?
For a while, I was doing it all the time, and I kind of stopped. Then I was naked a lot. I wasn't really thinking about how I looked.
Where were you spending all this naked time?
Tennessee, at a place called Ida. It's a farm, they have a big garden, it's like a commune. They have a festival every year, so I went there for a week and a half. Then I went to some other places: right near Ida, there's a radical fairy sanctuary (a hippie gay male group started it in the '60s). It's kinda Pagan. There's not a lot of female people there, but they're very welcoming. Then we ended up going to this lesbian separatist land. There's no men--no people who were born male.
How was that?
It was an incredible place, beautiful. All these older feminist women lived there, and they were amazing. This 78-year-old woman showed us around. We would hang out in the creek and stuff. It's wild how much being naked and stuff like that--it's crazy that we don't do it more.
What's it like being naked in a place like that? I know most people might view it as a sexual thing.
I grew up in a pretty normal-ish way, so I understand. But being naked in a queer space is a really amazing feeling, it's just really open. For me, queer space stuff is about self and empowerment. You get into a place where you accept all bodies. It is sexual, but it's not really objectifying you. Like, "Dude, if you take off your shirt I'm gonna go crazy!" It is hot, and sexual, but it doesn't feel so, like, creepy, or canned, or whatever.
How do you currently identify yourself? What does it mean to you to be "queer"?
For a long time, I identified as a lesbian, but I don't anymore. I think that to be queer is being open to the weirdness of your sexuality and your gender: not having a fixed identity that you're always defending, open to having a lot of identities, and being empowered in those identities. I think that's why people like the word "queer." It's misinterpreted as a slur or whatever, but it's like, "weird or not normal." That is exciting to people, having that identity.
I identify with a lot of gay male stuff. I'm not like, "Oh, I'm a gay man," but I identify with a lot of it. I think it's hot. I'd consider myself a trans person, or a person who has a pretty complicated gender identity, or not a binary gender identity. And right now my partner is sometimes male-identified, but also female from birth, so we're trying to feel it out together: the reality of feeling that way, and all the cultural things that go along with that.