Back in December, I interviewed Kayvon Zand, an NYC-based nightlife personality/celebrity the likes of which I had never known before. Truth be told, I was out of my depth: I’m not much into the nightlife scene and I didn’t quite know how to approach this gender-bending tower of glamor and brains. But we had a really great conversation, which I had to cut down massively to fit into the “Dispatches from a Dark Corner” column for Nerve.com. (FYI, that column is on hiatus currently due to an editorial switchover at Nerve, but do not fret! It shall return!)
I’ve been following Kayvon’s exploits and work ever since we spoke, and the more I learn about him the more convinced I am that he is some kind of progressive, beautiful god. Case in point: his latest music video, “Home.”
And the way he talks. About his heritage and self-expression and being needing to relax about sex. And. Just. Well, read this (and the Dispatch over at Nerve)!
Lynsey G: I’m wondering if, when you were growing up, you felt the injustice of homogenization particularly because of your parents being from Iran. Were you more aware of how bad things could be for people who express themselves because you were aware of the oppression there?
Kayvon Zand: I’m sure that has something to do with it. It’s not like I had that problem because I was identified physically. For someone with a Middle Eastern background, I guess aesthetically I could pass as Caucasian. My skin is light. I don’t look like somebody who is from the Middle East. I didn’t as a child. So it wasn’t because people knew because of the way I looked; they knew because I had so much pride in it. I spoke about it. I was proud of it. It was just hard to be so proud of something at home, and then at school feel like it was something I should be ashamed of. That was hard. I think the fact that it was a choice probably made me hold onto my guns stronger. I wasn’t going to just lie about my heritage, where I’m from. I’m proud of it. Maybe if one person sees how proud I am, and understands where I come from, then that can make a change. I think that’s kind of how I thought about it as a kid, but it wasn’t just being Persian.
I think also it was the artist in me, the performer. In Persian culture, that’s something that’s looked down upon. You know, like, on the American side it was definitely being different. Like eating different food, speaking a different language at home, and at that time, it was a lot more controversial to be Persian because of what was going on in Iraq and everything, and even though that’s a different country, people down South didn’t know the difference! laughing
I was dealing with a lot of the things that I was taught in school, like, “Oh, you should do this, you should follow your dreams,” and then my Persian culture at home didn’t really agree with that mindset. My family was more like, “No, you should become a doctor or become an engineer or you should live this type of lifestyle. This is what you do.” It was a balancing act, really. I think not having the luxury of fitting in with something altogether, you’re really forced to be your own entity because it’s just not an option, that luxury.
Lynsey G: It’s super important to have people step into the limelight and be like, “Look, I’m doing me, even if it looks weird to you. This is me.”
Kayvon Zand: Absolutely. That’s so important. The more minorities that speak out, the more you realize that the world isn’t all the same. Then people start being more comfortable with their own unique qualities and realizing that it’s ok to be different, because truthfully we’re all very different in a lot of ways.
Lynsey G: Have you ever gotten hate for the things that you do? I know there was that incident at the Highline, and that got you a lot of attention, but how much of it was bad and how much of it was good?
Kayvon Zand: Well, it depends on your perspective. On the overall picture, I’m the type of person that, you can give me lemons or you can give me rotten lemons: I’m still going to make lemonade.
Some people need to have everything perfectly prepared for them, for them to be successful. You can give me the worst version of it; I’ll still make it work. So, you know, I mean it doesn’t really matter if something is good or bad or an obstacle, because I’m just determined to turn it, for what it’s worth, in the best way possible. So I think that’s just how it’s going to go down with me.
Lynsey G: Ok, so we’re talking about “the incident at the Highline,” so I’m just going to go into it so that people know what we’re talking about. You did a live show at the Highline Ballroom in… what was it, 2010?
Kayvon Zand: Yeah, I can’t believe it’s been that long!
Lynsey G: What I heard is that there were live sex acts onstage during your show, and the people at the Highline freaked and kicked you out.
Kayvon Zand: Not so much. They say the truth is somewhere in the middle. There’s some truth to that. There’s a lot of… facts that were left out.
Since then, I have been able to perform at the Highline again. I performed last [November]. It was a great show. So that’s been put aside.
But as far as that particular incident, the true issue wasn’t as exciting as the press made it out to be. It was really that my manager at the time didn’t properly communicate with the venue on what my live show was. I’ve never had a live sex show. I don’t morally have a problem with people having sex in public, but at the end of the day, I’m an artist and a musician. And having live sex on stage would be something that I feel like would take the attention away from the music and what I’m trying to say, you know? However I did have sexual elements in my show. There’s a difference. For example, I had video projections where there was nudity, but probably no more than, like, Madonna or Marilyn Manson would be doing. It wasn’t anything that was, in my opinion, hardcore. Actually, it wasn’t hardcore. There was no sex. There was nudity, but you see nudity in fashion magazines. It’s a very American type of fear.
But as far as the show, what happened was, I had elements of fake blood and certain props that were cleared with my manager, that the venue didn’t take the time to look into. You don’t invite a fire breather to a venue and then go, “Oh, don’t breathe fire.” I mean that was a part of the literal aspect of it, too. My live show used live fire, and the fire breathers were told last-minute that they weren’t allowed to use their fire. They drove two hours into town, and they weren’t able to perform with their fire.
So I was really upset. It was another case where the artists didn’t really matter; people just didn’t really care about how much time you put into your show. It’s just all about the ticket sales, and the tickets were already sold! Everyone was there. Everyone was happy about performing the show that I had always performed.
So with that said and done, backstage, the fire dancers asked, “What are we supposed to do onstage?” I was like, “Just do whatever you want. I don’t care at this point.” So they were freer spirits than I realized, and they… Well, I think actually she was, at one point, giving him head. I didn’t see it because I wasn’t looking at my background while I was performing! There were rumors going around that that had happened, but it was more of a playful thing, There wasn’t like, ejaculation or anything like that.
But that’s where the controversy stemmed from, and from there it kind of turned into one of those New York moments. “Oh my god, did you hear about so-and-so?” And then it became a telephone, where it becomes one thing, which led to another thing. But that’s really it. It’s really no more exciting and no less exciting. That’s it.
And of course, in my live show, at the time, I was doing more of a shock rock type of thing. I had more, you know, nudity and fake blood. I was more inspired by like Alice Cooper and that type of vibe. But since then I’ve also progressed as an artist, and I’m somewhere else now. So that’s not really the type of show that I would put on today. But it definitely wasn’t the type of show that was mentioned in the press, either.
But see that’s always the thing. It really aggravates me…Like whenever you use the word “sex” or you have a sexual component, people automatically assume that you’re doing something illegal or, like, the most extreme case. That’s just such an American type of censorship that we have, like we’re so afraid of anything that deals with sex. It’s so taboo that we always assume that it’s going to be the most hardcore situation, and it’s like, “You know, this is New York City.” People need to just relax.
Lynsey G: When you say the word “sex,” people clutch at their pearls and think the worst possible things. And yet, sex is such an element of art and of fashion of nightlife culture. But when you actually put sex on the table, it obliterates everything else that was happening. I find it interesting that you’re having a sexy party but not a sex party. You’re walking a very fine line.
Kayvon Zand: I think what freaks people out is that you can’t just dismiss me. They can dismiss my image, but when I open my mouth, I have something to say. I’m not an idiot. I think that makes it harder for people to dismiss me as just some kid, or some guy who’s off his rocker.