Venus Bleeds is a Lebanese queer singer, songwriter, director, composer, and visual artist based in Paris. His music celebrates the artist’s journey of gaining control over his identity and its relationship with the world. In this interview, Venus Bleeds discusses his history with music, and the influence of his Lebanese roots on his songs. He delves into the meticulous details behind the making of his newest EP and short film, CATHARSIS, and highlights all the symbols that unfold throughout the storyline of his music videos.
- What is your earliest memory of making music?
I started writing poetry before writing songs and my entire music journey began at the Lebanese American University, when I was working with Dr. Martin Louyato, a music Professor. I was also working with the singer Mougleta and we did a show called Jazz in the Living Room, which was my first real performance. After that show, a lot of people urged me to start my musical journey. One of the producers wanted to create something with me so I wrote my first song DOLOROSA in 2016, which was originally called Naked. After that song, I decided to turn this into a record.
- In 3 words, how would you describe Venus Bleeds and how do they relate to each other?
Volcano, Vulnerability, and Sensitivity or Empathy.
I feel like the entire image of my life is pictured as a volcano. A volcano erupts from inside the earth, revealing the core being of the planet but it’s so dangerous and powerful, and not only does it harm everyone around it but it also re-births the entire structure of the landscape. This is how I feel my artistic work can be described because yes, it is violent and explicit but through this, it is the only vulnerable state of my existence despite the fact that I do not seek power for my work. In a world of noise and a culture of “excess,” the only way to penetrate this cloud of digital noise and be heard is to be a volcano.
- How would you describe the songwriting process for catharsis?
The entire process started to unfold by itself. Sometimes, I would wake up having dreams of the record and its visuals. It even got to the point where I got ideas while I was in bed with someone, so I had to immediately rush to sit down and start writing everything down. I often experienced these creative rushes even as a kid and that’s how I started writing as well. It’s weird when people ask me how much time writing songs takes me, because the entire songwriting process for the EP took around 15 mins. Sometimes, it feels like an out-of-body experience, so I am not usually aware of when I’m writing. Especially when you experience a lot of pain, your body develops its form of knowledge that you’re not consciously aware of, and it expresses itself in creation and art. You almost become someone else when writing, and the voice that comes out of me feels like it came out of a different body. This is also why I named myself Venus, which embodies that interesting spiritual knowledge. Then, I figured that since Venus is a mythological goddess of sensibility and femininity, in addition to the idea of what if Venus was a boy…It all just fit together.
The experience of the whole album happened in 2018. The catharsis in the album never really happened until I released it this year, after I moved to Paris where I could finally feel independent.
A lot of my work is very performative because I like to respect the storyline of my work and, even if it is violent, I feel like the only way to stop that violence is to show people what it feels like to be in it. The image of my eye bleeding is a moment of strength when telling the world that this is my own sense of vulnerability and how it’s turned into an art form, giving me a sense of power. Also, [there is] that feeling of shock that people feel when they watch my shows; I want them to know what it feels like to be violated as a Lebanese queer person.
The only way I was able to understand myself was to release whatever I was feeling at that moment and respect what my body was asking for – whether it’s through screaming or crying. This is shown in Dolorosa and Revelation, where I’m almost howling the verses.
- Do you face writer’s block? How do you approach it?
I do, but I usually don’t because I don’t write when I don’t feel like writing. I feel that nowadays there’s an obsession with having this organized time of the day to work on yourself and write, but I can’t do that because the writing experience for me is an out-of-body experience that cannot be forced. It comes from this higher place that can be your consciousness or unconsciousness, you can’t time it because it times you. That’s why I wrote the record in 15 minutes, because I never forced myself to hold a pen and a paper and go like, “now’s the time to write.” It always comes to me at whatever timing it needs to and if you don’t take that opportunity, it usually goes away. The only advice I would give is to never force yourself to create a piece of art if your body can’t physically create it.
- How did your Lebanese roots influence your artistic expression?
My whole artistic expression of Venus Bleeds is being a goddess of femininity but reincarnated into a man. Through my work, I like to challenge what it means to be a Middle Eastern man. I want to showcase that I’m a Middle Eastern man with my venus inside me. A lot of the world’s atrocities stem from toxic masculinity and as a Middle Eastern man, I think it’s important to have something to justify my existence of being feminine, and to be celebratory of my venus.
There is so much beauty in our feminine culture in a way that is so expressive, nurturing, and caring. As a man, it’s such a great balance to my masculinity. This is why I feel like it is important for me to identify with my Arab roots but also to identify with my venus.
- How does your relationship with your sexuality manifest itself in your songs?
When I wrote the record, I did not think about how people would interpret my songs or to what culture they would box it into. When I do my work, I don’t really channel anything in specific other than my healing. My music is a form of therapy and I felt like I was forced into being an artist. The EP celebrates the healing I’ve experienced when I’ve come to terms with all of what my identity encompasses. In the music video of Revelation, you can see my sense of healing after I’ve burned the table that contained all of my fears as a queer, Middle Eastern man.
- In L’orient Le Jour’s article, your stage character was compared to Lars Von Trier’s characters. How did his films affect your perception of art and the symbolism behind your songs?
I love Von Trier’s work so much because of its philosophical nature and how he doesn’t like to take into account the formulas of cinema. Though I was not directly inspired by this work, I was baffled by how much he didn’t care about what formula he needed to explain to the world what he was thinking about. In the movie Nymphomaniac, we see the character in very weird scenarios, but it made me fall in love with what it means to truly be an artist instead of just selling people my art.
It is very tempting to turn your art into a business, and we are often told that this is what it means to be a successful artist, but I feel like that makes the process too inorganic. I want people to look for me instead of being bombarded by my work. It is very similar to Von Trier’s work in which the experiences that the characters were going through remind us a lot of ourselves. My biggest inspiration for my music is Banks. She is a psychology major and her music is targeted towards very specific situations. Sometimes you listen to her songs and just think “oh my god this is my life.” So, my major inspiration would be the songs that truly resonate with whatever you’re currently going through.
- Are there any major influences behind the visuals in your music videos?
There aren’t any major influences on my visuals, to be honest. However, there’s this fashion photographer who I loved when I was young, called Stephen Klein. My visuals are usually inspired by my sense of filmmaking and the obsession with symmetry and high contrast, with a lot of redness in the scenes.
- What are some of the harsh conditions you have put yourself through for your music videos? How did this shape the process and meaning behind the songs?
I had to go to the hospital for a lot of the music video shoots that I’ve done. For example, the video for Dolorosa was at an abandoned airport in Chouf, and I had to run 2km at a temperature of -2 degrees, and I fell many times and broke my knee. So some of the blood in the music video was actually real. I wanted this whole experience to happen, because I wanted it to really make me heal.
My album CATHARSIS is exactly the three stages of healing that I’ve experienced. The first one being Dolorosa, which is pain and the second one is Purgatory which is trying to figure out what was wrong in the toxic relationship that I was in and what were the sins that I’ve committed. In Revelation, there was a scene where I was hung by a rope, and during that scene, I was standing on a chair and somehow I fell. I was literally hung for around 15 seconds and my entire team was panicking. Also, two hours before shooting Stage II Purgatory, the owner of the venue called us and said that she lost the keys so we had to go to my friend’s house and turn his entire apartment into a club. It’s funny because, at every stage, something happened that related to the story.
- What is your favorite lyric in the EP? What does it mean to you?
I really love the verses in Revelation. One of them would be,
I was, never unfit for your, stupid backstage cliques, so i, have stayed in bed, keeping it all written.
This reminds me of the crowds when I was younger, where I used to get invited to the backstage of some clubs, and I was very bored of seeing people being pretentious with each other. I didn’t want to go all the time so I started hating that scene of the “backstage cliques people.”
Another one would be,
My horror has been your thrill, haven’t i known that for years? You’ve made me bleed crystal tears, now engraved on my face.
The image of the bleeding eye represents my persona and the pain that I was going through. I think Revelation is my favorite song from the album because it is so emotional and to me; it is the truth.
- How would you describe the symbolic process of CATHARSIS? (from Dolorosa, Purgatory, and then Revelation)?
STAGE I: DOLOROSA
The story in the music videos begins with a car crash in Dolorosa and I come out of the passenger’s seat where we don’t know who’s the person driving yet. I wake up to the sight of the light in a way that shocks and blinds me. I start running towards the light and it can be symbolized as fame or someone who I’ve been chasing endlessly. That’s what the whole song is in the beginning: “Do you know how it feels to run into the wild, anticipating, annihilating, deteriorating…” It’s all about trying to run towards something that feels like it’s going to bring you happiness, but then you realize that no matter how close you get to it, it keeps turning away and never stops.
Things like your love for power or your greed for money never really stop and will always run away from you. This was the first symbol of the stage, which was what I was going through in my past relationship. It felt like I was running to my partner and the more I came closer, the more they were moving away. At the end of the video, I catch the camera and realize that there’s nothing there. The god-like entity of power and fame isn’t there and it’s all a mirage; it was all in my head.
STAGE II: PURGATORY
In the film, I keep running and then enter the next stage which is Purgatory. I enter a queer and gay club, and in Jungian psychology1, this represents the shadow self that is separate from your real self. This form of self forms after multiple oppressions that have happened in your life, and all the things that you hate and fear are represented in the shadow self. The place in Purgatory represented all the things that I was scared of growing up into. I was scared of being feminine, queer, and gay and as soon as I enter the club in Purgatory, I am completely shaken by what was surrounding me. I begin questioning if this is my home, “is this my sanctuary, ” as that song says, “or is it my hell?”
In the video, I meet someone who facilitates my experience and guides me into the realm of my shadow self. At the point when I perform on stage, I am taken away by my fear but I am also baffled by how I’m expressing myself in the world. We can also see in the video that there was a red figure that poured me a drink that had poison in it, but we do not know who that person is yet. It is actually my shadow self. After getting drugged, I wake up in a room where I’m being tied up and tortured.
STAGE III: REVELATION
Revelation is the final stage. It turns into this surrealist scenario where I fall after I unravel myself into the same place in Dolorosa where I was running. I find a table that has all my fears. On the table, there are specific symbols that I’ve dealt with in my teenagehood. When I start burning the table, this is what really made me heal. I burned all of my fears, which were my fear of sex (represented as the dildo), and my fear of being gay, which was represented in a conversion therapy calendar of the year 2016. I used to document the days where I would relapse in conversion therapy. On the table, there was also a book called “Mans”2 that helped me “cure” my femininity back then.
After I burned the table, it was time for me to meet the person who was responsible for my healing and I found that the person standing at the edge of the cliff was my shadow self. This was the person who crashed the car, the person who made me go through all of this, because they wanted to teach me. As Carl Jung3 says, the only way to reach individuation4 is when the shadow self and your self unite and become one; this is the only way you can heal completely. At the end of the film, I tell people that the only way I achieved Catharsis is when I became one with my shadow self, became one with my fears and vulnerabilities.
- How did the making of catharsis redefine your personal hardships in life?
When I watched the entire film, it was like I had witnessed it for the first time. It didn’t feel like I was the person that directed the whole thing. After I watched it, I felt like I had finally achieved revelation when I released my truth to the world. I now experience no shame in my identity and I realize that even when people don’t understand my vulnerability, it made me reach the conclusion that my pain is the strongest part about me, and every single decision I make comes from a place of unison of my shadow self and me. I am no longer afraid of all the things that I was afraid of, like my potential and my expression of my identity.
- You direct, produce and edit your own music videos. What are some challenges you’ve faced during that process?
I have like six jobs and I’m too independent because I can’t trust people’s work ethic. It took me years to find my current team to shoot my music videos. A lot of challenges came from having a small team producing the album, like trying to multitask directing and acting at the same time. I was constantly worrying about how I was performing in these shots so it was definitely challenging to try and perfect every scene.
- How would you describe your relationship with the stage?
The first time I was on stage, it was in Aley and it was funny because there were little kids and families, and people were expecting some guy with his guitar singing Ed Sheeran but I came on stage wearing high heels, with my bleeding eye and demon mask. I remember there was this little girl jumping when I was performing and her parents were trying to put her down thinking that what I was doing was somehow satanic.
I remember that the show was an out-of-body experience, and every time I am on stage I completely blackout. When I write my music about wanting to be heard, and when I’m finally on stage, people are not just staring at me but are also anticipating what I’m going to tell them visually and sonically. There is a juxtaposition between my music and performing on stage; talking about my pain. For me, the stage is like a test, a battlefield, a moment of revelation. The spotlight and the ability to communicate my mind are the truth for me and what healed me.
- What is next for Venus Bleeds?
I’m trying to work on something that contradicts everything I’ve done before. Right now, after my revelation, I’m going through this awakening of transforming everything into the opposite of what I was doing. I feel so much lighter, and I think my next record will have something that celebrates the truth and the love for life and being vulnerable. The next thing I’m working on will be a step further into what it means to be a human being, and not just a queer Arab kid with a past in conversion therapy. I’m writing a lot about philosophy and nature, and I’m going very deep into existential thinking; I want to really challenge my boundaries. I want to challenge how much it takes for me to shock you and how much the threshold of getting shocked has increased; I really want to go all in.
- Jung Philosophy: Jung believed that disharmony between the unconscious and the conscious mind could lead to psychological problems
- The Man’s Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man by Thomas Fink
- Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.
- Individuation refers to the process through which a person achieves a sense of individuality separate from the identities of others and begins to consciously exist as a human in the world.
This interview was conducted on July 13, 2021 with Venus Bleeds.
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