“When I'm making music, I'm in a tunnel. When I'm writing lyrics, I'm out in the open.”
Geneva Jacuzzi is an artist and performer based in Los Angeles. She creates synth-driven pop music and performance and installation art, which has developed a cult following in the music and art scenes. Her work has been featured internationally in museums and other performing arts venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, The Broad Museum in Los Angeles, Vooruit in Ghent, and Kampnagel in Hamburg.
In this interview, Geneva Jacuzzi shares what it was like growing up in a doomsday cult, how she left to start a band with her sister, and her creative process for developing a new show.
TGL: What does your name mean?
GJ: I liked the way it sounded. Jacuzzis are these tiny, weird, warm whirlpools of bacteria, chemicals, pleasure, and relaxation. I was baptized in a Jacuzzi. I delivered my nephew in a Jacuzzi. Ironically, I rarely go in them.
TGL: How was your childhood?
GJ: It was unconventional. I was raised in a doomsday cult. I preached door to door, wasn't allowed to hang out with other kids, and was home schooled. I was a total loner and spent a lot of time in a fantasy world. I don't remember many of the details, because it didn't feel real at the time. I was just waiting to grow up.
TGL: How did you become a singer and performer?
GJ: After leaving home at 18, I moved to Los Angeles. I didn't know anyone out here, so I felt lost and confused for the first couple of years. This girl from one of my jobs gave me a keyboard that you could record into, and I wrote silly little songs alone in my tiny bachelor apartment. Gradually, I started going out to these cool goth and mod clubs in Hollywood. I’d invite strange kids into my place afterwards and play them my songs. I got turned onto all kinds of underground, minimal synth music that inspired me to get a 4 track and some instruments and start recording.
My 17-year-old sister moved in with me, and she and I started a band called Hot Pajamas. We played 3 or 4 shows in small Hollywood clubs. Shortly after, I recorded a handful of new songs, played them for some friends, and they suggested we start a real band called Bubonic Plague. We were a pretty awesome band for a few years until I decided to go at it solo. I wanted to experiment, and being a solo artist really gives you the ultimate freedom to do anything you want.
I worked with my friend Casey Simpson who is a poet and playwright, and he and I began dreaming up elaborate surrealist performances that we executed on different stages and venues. That became my "thing," and I traveled the world putting on all kinds of strange visual presentations set to the backtracks of music I record in my bedroom.
TGL: Which artists influence you?
GJ: I could list hundreds of artists, and my brain doesn't like lists. But as far as who actually made me want to make music, I remember my friend gave me a burnt CD with the Devo hardcore demos. It blew my mind. I don’t think I’d ever heard a demo prior to that. Everything I liked was so polished and perfect. There is no way I could ever make anything like that. When I heard the Devo hard core box set, not only did I love it, but I was convinced that I could make music like that. It was my gateway drug for music, visual art, video, and performance.
TGL: Do you have any rituals before you go on stage?
GJ: My shows are pretty chaotic and involve lots of props, dancers, costumes, audio, and visual setup. I'm usually running around like a madwoman making sure everything is ready. Everything is go go go go, and the second I get on stage is the first moment I can truly relax. In a way, it works, because I'm extremely calm and relieved once the show starts. The whole show is one giant exhale.
TGL: How would you describe your creative writing process?
GJ: When I'm making music, I'm in a tunnel. When I'm writing lyrics, I'm out in the open.
TGL: How do you decide on the style of a show?
GJ: Each performance enters my life at a different time, and I insert a snapshot of my present situation into every show. Over the years, my life has been fun, but also challenging. I’ve battled many demons, and they often manifest themselves in my performances as art characters, monsters, inanimate objects, etc. The crazier my life is, the crazier the show. Deep down, I feel that if I can present this chaos to an audience, I’ll be able to gain some insight or transcendence.
Recently I've been feeling trapped inside of something. So I've been performing inside of a bubble. It's the eye of a giant monster: a Cthulu. I feel safe in there. I know it’s a dangerous place, but it feels like being in the womb. I'm waiting to be born again.
TGL: What makes a good performance for you?
GJ: If I have fun, it's a great performance.
TGL: You also direct videos. How do you begin a project as a director? What do you focus on visually?
GJ: I've been asked to make videos on several different occasions, but I don't always say yes. Every now and then, I will hear a song that activates the visual part of my brain. When that happens, the process is easy, because I simply let the music guide my imagination through the whole creative side of the project. The entire thing plays out in my mind, and my only job is to figure out a way to execute it.
I spend the majority of my preparation time making sure all the elements are in place, so when it’s time for filming I can put my focus on getting the best performance out of the artist. I enjoy the process of directing people into themselves to allow their true essence to shine through.
TGL: Does Los Angeles play a role in your creativity?
GJ: Los Angeles is like a giant black hole that the universe revolves around. I thrive off of its dark, big bang energy. It is so easy to lose yourself here. It feels like a place where anything can happen. I take comfort knowing that I can disappear as easily as I can emerge.
TGL: What are you currently working on?
GJ: I am taking time off to reflect on a few things before I enter my next project. It will be a collaboration with my sister. She and I were both excommunicated from our family after leaving the cult we grew up in. We both went on to make art over the years, and we have decided to join forces and construct a sound and visual installation that references the transcendental shock that comes after losing one's family and the illusion of immortality.
TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don’t already know?
GJ: Werner Herzog
TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?
GJ: Make it funny.