Nomi Ruiz, the lead singer in the band Jessica 6 (named after a character in the post-apocalyptic film Logan’s Run), has been performing, singing, and writing songs for most of her life. The transgendered artist is Puerto Rican, grew up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and is currently setting up a home base in Athens, Greece. Her new video, for “Life or C.R.E.A.M.,” though, is Manhattan through and through: it’s set in the gritty Meatpacking district of the past, where streetwalkers sold their goods in the urban wasteland. We’re pleased to debut the video, which stars Ruiz as a hooker in love with a drug dealer, below.
“Life or C.R.E.A.M.” is one of the songs on Borough Gypsy, the mixtape Ruiz has been working on for the past 10 years. It’s a mélange of tunes she wrote that deal with her youth growing up in New York City in the style of a lo-fi ’90s hip-hop cassette tape, with soul and acoustic folk elements. Ruiz models herself as an urban gypsy, dealing with the usual challenges of sex, love, drugs, and darkness.
Gabriel Magdaleno, the director of the video, first met Ruiz after contacting her on MySpace when the band was called Deep Red. A photographer and editor-in-chief of IN*TANDEM Magazine, “Life or C.R.E.A.M.” is his directorial debut. He describes Ruiz as “the epitome of femininity. She’s the perfect icon of what it is to be feminine, an ultra femme, a diva.”
Ruiz will be performing at Webster Hall on October 12 with her band Jessica 6, opening for CocoRosie. The two bands will be on tour in venues throughout the Northeast, South and West Coast. We spoke with Ruiz on the telephone from Greece, where she was preparing for her upcoming tour.
GERRY VISCO: So Nomi, tell me how the video for “Life or C.R.E.A.M.” and how your Borough Gypsy mix tape came about.
NOMI RUIZ: After I toured with Jessica 6, I had all this music sitting around. I was lucky enough to get a residency at the Clocktower Gallery downtown in Tribeca. They gave me a studio space for two months and funded Borough Gypsy, my music project. It finally made sense working on it because I’d been doing it forever. It was a personal project between albums. The next Jessica 6 album is almost done. It’ll be out either by the end of the year or the new year.
VISCO: How long have you been in Jessica 6?
RUIZ: Three or four years, maybe? Time flies. It’s really fun. I get to play with pop music and mix up the style. It’s fun to play with party music and nice to get into the club. I write all the songs. My big love is songwriting. I write the lyrics and the vocals, and I work with the producers.
VISCO: You come from a background of rap and hip-hop, right?
RUIZ: I grew up on rap and hip-hop and fell into dance music. Hip-hop died down, and I moved more into dance music, disco and house. It feels very natural. My rhythm growing up on hip-hop and R&B was cool, fresh, and I feel comfortable with it.
VISCO: How long have you been performing live?
RUIZ: I’ve been performing live a long time, even before doing dance music clubs downtown. I used to play the Ace of Clubs a lot. I had a friend who worked there, and they gave me this basement to have my own parties. I used to watch clips of Beyoncé to learn how to perform in front of people. I got my jitters out in front of my friends.
VISCO: Do you speak Greek?
RUIZ: I speak Greek very little, but I’m easing my way into understanding.
VISCO: Any good places to party in Greece?
RUIZ: There’s the Gazi area that has beautiful venues for live music.
VISCO: You might stay there for a while?
RUIZ: I’m coming back the U.S. next month with Jessica 6 on tour to do some shows: the Northeast, West Coast, and the South. We’re going to be opening for CocoRosie. Our two bands have good vibes and get into our craft together.
VISCO: What’s your goal in life?
RUIZ: Right now I’m totally focused on the Jessica 6 album. I really excited about it, the songs, the people I’m collaborating with. Jessica 6 started with Andrew and Morgan when we met in Hercules and Love Affair, and now Eliot from Greece. He’s super talented, and we met when I came here with Jessica 6 for the first time. His style is really fresh, and I think we have a unique sound together. I’m also working with Ellie Escobar, whom I did some singles with in the past. And there’s Doris and CJ Jeff from Greece. They’re really cool pals and producers, with a good vibe together. We released a cover of “Dirty Cash” recently.
VISCO: You’ve become very Euro now!
RUIZ: Ever since I started making music, they were the first people to really support me as an artist and embrace my sound.
VISCO: How is it different living in Europe?
RUIZ: It’s a little more chill here. New York is very intense. Every time I go back to New York, I’m starting from scratch. You could have all these achievements—records, a tour—and then you get home and get back to the basics. It whips you into shape.
VISCO: Will you be traveling to other European countries?
RUIZ: Once the record’s done, we’re going to set up a tour, hopefully a worldwide tour of Europe and South America.
VISCO: What’s your theme in the “Life or C.R.E.A.M.” song and video?
RUIZ: The word C.R.E.A.M.—which stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”—is from Wu Tang Clan. This song is about a prostitute who falls in love with her client, who winds up being a drug girl in New York. It’s an ode to the girl who works in the streets; it gives her a face and a name and a story.
VISCO: What’s your relationship to this world?
RUIZ: I used to go and admire those girls. I was inspired by their bravery and their femininity, and how they were just putting themselves out there. It was intense to see. It’s strange, but they kind of inspired me in a way. I felt it was so bold. Now I realize that if I were in that situation—living a hard life with people telling them they’re not worthy of love—maybe I would be that strong and that brave. The other girl in the video is Eddy Segal, a friend of mine from New York. She is an awesome painter and singer. We hang out in NYC, always inspired by each other’s work. In the video we’re both streetwalking, in it together. I used to be an admirer of those girls coming together in a way that was kind of rare.
VISCO: What about being trans?
RUIZ: It always matters. I feel very strongly about letting people know I’m proud of who I am. I want people to know when they hear my songs it’s coming from a specific place. The new record is specifically for us trans women: that we can sing about our pain, being ostracized by our lovers, who are ashamed of us in a way. There’s no pop music like that for our community. I wanted to contribute in that way.
VISCO: What is it like to be trans in Europe?
RUIZ: It’s different everywhere you go. I’m lucky I’m drawn into people who love and support me. I’m sheltered from that life. I see how all over the world there’s so much oppression and pain. I’m living in a bubble. Otherwise, I’d feel more of the pressures of daily life, obsessed about finding a job or love. Maybe I’ve taken these things for granted. I go through a lot of other things in the music industry, but “daily life” is a whole different war to fight.
VISCO: For you, what’s the most important thing in life?
RUIZ: I think love, and loving yourself and being happy and feeling you’re worthy of happiness as an individual. One of the most important things is to have the courage to love yourself and share that with the world.
VISCO: Can I ask you what’s your sign is?
RUIZ: Libra. I have tried to fight the love thing. It’s a losing battle. I’m very happy right now.