Pic by Marcell Turner

INTERVIEW: Lafemmebear

Notary black queer trans producer LeahAnn Mitchell, known under the moniker “Lafemmebear,” returns with a vibrant showcasing of her typical Nashville flare and soulful R&B rhythms with new single “Float Inbetween.” Being one of music’s most talked about rising talents, Lafemmebear delivers this latest track with confidence and starpower. Listen here

“This songs represents to me, the part of of us all that wanders away just for a bit and loses yourself in the bliss of something that simply feels like beauty – be it food, an experience, or simply a feeling in a moment, something that just lets you let go for a breath, for a beat, and just get lost and swim in the bliss. We all deserve a moment away from the cage that can be life and its constant complexities, floatin’ in the in-between, in the beauty can be so rare so I try to stay there as often as I can when the opportunity arises. This song represents the in-between, the bliss, the linger, to just feel good and be, it feels like what peace sounds like in my mind. I’m so happy to offer this love sonic gift to the trans people, my people at Mirror Memoirs, it brings my heart great peace to know that we are forever connected in this healing artistic expression.” — LeahAnn “Lafemmebear” Mitchell

Last month, Lafemmebear released the official remix for “I’m A Survivor’‘ off of legendary Country music artist Reba McEntire’s ‘Revived, Remixed, Revisited,’ which was released on November 8th. Lafemmebear feels truly honored that a major country artist entrusted her in this remix of a song. Breaking country music boundaries, Lafemmebear has historically played a prominent production role earning her nods in major music publications. This year has been an amazing showcasing for the queer trans star’s luminary cool and dynamic sound that she’s known for, get ready for what’s next. 

“Float Inbetween ” comes as an original composition being used in the upcoming virtual theater production Transmutation: A Ceremony, created by the Mirror Memoirs organization. “Transmutation: A Ceremony” was filmed in advance at the Aratani Theater in Los Angeles, and will be streamed virtually on Sunday, November 21st from 2:00-4:00pm PST (5:00-7:00pm EST). This production supports POC transgender, non-binary and intersex survivors of child sexual aabuse, creating a safe space for their stories of survival and their visions of healing. 

Learn more about Lafemmebear through our Q&A below:

1.)   Vents is extremely happy to be speaking with one of the brightest lights currently shining in the music world, Lafemmebear; welcome to our humble pages, Lafemmebear! Before jumping down the proverbial rabbit hole, how has your 2021 been treating you?

It’s been good, challenging. A lot of great opportunities are coming along. Learning how to cope with busy-ness again after the whole panini thing. That’s what I call the pandemic, it’s not to make it not serious but also, we all did a lot of serious, you know? So yeah. Yeah, a lot of really good things happening, and a lot of work and things coming across the production and mixing desk if you will, and directing, and everything, I’m just really excited about a lot of projects.

2.)   Major congratulations on your recent collaboration with country music legend Reba McEntire for which you conjured up a stunning remix of I’m A Survivor which appears on Reba’s new reimagined collection of some of her most iconic tunes, Revived Remixed Remastered! Does it still feel a bit surreal to have worked with Reba on this project?

Hell yes it does! I regularly go into my computer to work on stuff, different projects, and I’ll pop into – I have a big folder with multiple versions of the, like session bounces. And then within that folder, sometimes it leaves the drop-down menu open, and you’ll see the Reba folder pop up and it’ll say “Reba Laughs.” Well, Reba had a laugh on the original “Survivor” song from the Fox television show, they didn’t want to use that because of copyright stuff, so they said, “You know, can we have Reba re-record some laughs and send them to you?” So I have a laugh track that’s three minutes and twenty seconds long, something like that, where she’s just going, “Heh-heh! Ha-ha! Hey-hey!” And you know, I had to sift out which laugh I wanted to use for the beginning of the “I’m a Survivor” remix. I remember telling Mya Byrne about that laugh track and literally going back and forth on iMessage with voice messages just going, “Whaaaaat?! Whaaaaaaat?!” It was a lot, it was quite surreal.

3.)   How did this collaboration come together; can you give us the Secret Origin story?

Mya Byrne is a good friend of mine, another country Nashville staple, producer, guitar-player, engineer, all the good stuff, she’s a do-it-all-er like me, trans woman like me, and she has a great, hilarious, queer friend named Hunter Kelly, who works over at Apple Music, and you know has just been the interviewer of all the stars for years. And he’s also just a hilarious and honestly really genuine human being. So she let him know about my music, he played some of my music from my own personal stuff on Proud Radio with Hunter Kelly, and really loved it and when he got across the desk that Reba was getting a resurgence on TikTok, and when Shea Coulee did the Twitter question where she asked Black folks if she was the only one who watched the Reba show, like how many of us were watching the Reba show? Well me and my mom watched that Reba show. And Reba and her team, and Justin McIntosh, who is also another really great queer person and her head person there was like, “You know, we want a Black female, a Black femme, to do this, to produce this.” They reached out to a lot of people, they didn’t have anybody they felt like they could put forth to do it, and Hunter Kelly was like, “You know what, I think ‘Lafemmebahr’ could do it.” And Hunter Kelly saying “Lafemmebahr” is so great because of that country accent and I love it, Nashville all the way, right? But yeah, they hit me up like June 1 like, “Hey can you have this done by June 7?” I was like, “Heck no, I’m still in LA doing something else, I gotta get back home to do the thing. But I really want to do this, what can we do?” They extended the deadline, and then I ended up finishing it in like three days, mix, master, everything and all. And yeah, that’s pretty much the story, and like, it wasn’t supposed to come out until October 8, like the single, not the album, and Dolly Parton went on ‘Andy Cohen’ and started talking about the whole project, and then the “Survivor” song went viral on TikTok, and then it was like, well, this is getting released a month earlier, are you ready? And here we are.

4.)   What does it mean to you as a respected country music artist to have been entrusted by Reba McEntire to work on this remix? Is there a certain sense of responsibility that is inherent in this honor?

Oh heck yes. I feel like I was studying for this moment since I was a little kid. I watched GAC Country and CMT Country and watch all these songs and I remember when I first heard “Fancy” as a kid, and I think I heard “Fancy” and the same night I heard “Let me Let Go” by Faith Hill. And I kept thinking, “These are just R&B songs for white people! And listen, they got feelings, this slaps! Let me figure out how to do this.” And I’ve been loving country music ever since. But you know, I grew up in a household where having an eclectic music palate was really important. So yeah, the idea that one day I could make a soulful, pop, country remix of a legend like Reba McEntire, like THE [singer of] “Fancy”? You know, me and Hunter Kelly, like we talked about this, and we talk about it all the time, like just randomly, “Remember that time I did a record for Reba McEntire, and me and you both have the stories of dancing to ‘Fancy’ in fake furs as children?” So yeah, you know, it’s momentous, it’s incredible, and it makes me feel extremely honored to have had the opportunity to be in the presence of such great remixers like DJ Tracy Young and David Aude. Like, David Aude, wow right? And I’m regularly being mentioned in that and like, yeah it’s an amazing experience, that’s pretty much it. It’s definitely an honor and I really wanted to just nail it.

5.)   What does I’m A Survivor mean for you personally?

My mother was a single mom with two kids, going to school, working multiple jobs. We didn’t always have enough, we often didn’t have enough, but she was like, “I’ma make sure that it’s not always like that.” And that’s where we got the work ethic, you know, the survivor work ethic. I mean, life is gonna be hard, it’s gonna hit you. And it’s really about having the tools and coping mechanisms that you build for yourself to try and get through it, and I think that song and that show when I was a kid, knowing my mom’s situation, our situation, watching that show, hearing that song and those lyrics – when I told my mom about this, she was like, “Oh I remember that show, we watched that show. Oh, that song, huh? That’s amazing, I remember that song.” And she kinda got silent for a moment, because she was like, those lyrics. And I was like, yeah, Mom, I know. Yeah. I dunno, we teared up a lot, there were some tears, some joyful tears, some you know, reminiscent tears, you know, about being survivors and going through, and her being a Black mom who, you know, ended up being so successful but really pushed and fought to be where she is today. And all the while fighting cancer for the last twenty years, like you know? My mother is a literal survivor. And that song resonates with me in that way.

6.)   The reactions from both fans and critics for your remix of I’m A Survivor has been universally praised. How does this make you feel?

It makes me feel like the little eleven year old kid who loved Rodney Jerkins and Teddy Riley and Chicago and Toto and Pat Metheny and Missy Elliott, and Missy Elliott, and Missy Elliott, and Timbaland and all these producers, and the Neptunes, like, you know, and the Rick Rubins of the world – my eleven year old self would look up to these people and go, “I need to do that one day.” And my eleven year old self is smiling, saying, “You did that. You did this. You’re doing it, this is the thing. We’re doing it, we’re a music producer.” You know? That’s what it feels like.  

7.)   You’ve worn a lot of different hats in the country music industry, from musician to producer all the way to sound engineer. Would it be safe to assume that you’re someone who just plain old loves country music?

Yeah, I mean, I love that question because I think that Black people get pigeonholed into only liking a certain type of music. I love R&B and soul music, love it, love it, love it, love it, hip-hop, alternative R&B, The Internet, Steve Lacey, all these folks, Andre 3000, like this stuff made me. AND, I grew up listening to country music of my own volition, like I was just drawn to it, no one in my family really pushed me at country music, it was just something I was drawn to because I really liked – it was just so raw, and honest, and I was kinda surprised, like, at that fact. And just the way it sounded, and the musicianship, and you know? I remember the first time I heard “Let Me Touch You For a While” by Alison Krauss and Union Station and I might have been, what, twelve? And I didn’t know nothing about what that song was talking about, but wooo, I felt some things in my heart, my little head, and my little tears, and I just played it over and over again. Yeah, I dunno. I can remember being a little kid at two in the morning, again, watching GAC Country and seeing Jamie O’Neill’s “There is No Arizona” and singing it up and down, left and right, back and forth over and over again, like I dunno, it resonated with me. I loved the way the music sounded, and it moved me, and I think music is for everybody and we can respect each other’s music and enjoy it at the same time. So yeah. I definitely feel like I am a lover of country music.

8.)   You’re also a respected singer-songwriter. Which comes first for you, the lyrics or the music when writing a new song?

It depends on the song. For sure. I write from life experience a lot, that is my big thing. It’s all very like, everything you’ve heard me say, sing, write, be a part of – even if I didn’t write it, like the “I’m a Survivor” remix, those lyrics resonated with me, which helped me create that piece and that rendition and that reimagination of it. I think it just depends on the song. There are times where I have conversations with people in life, or collaborators, or other artists, or friends, or my mother or my sister, or whoever it may be, and it’s some experience and I gotta go write about it. And it’s already like a song idea or a melody kind of forming in my mind, and I’ll go sit down and do that. But then it’s times where it’s just me creating some dope-ass music, that just feels good and moves to my soul, and then it’ll sit. And I’ll come back to it after having a life experience. I think all of it stems from, I go have a life experience and then I go write about those experiences and how they affect and change me and the people around me. So I dunno, lyrics or music, they’re both extremely important and I love them both very much, I don’t know that I can choose.

9.)   What was the genesis of your deservedly lauded 2019 album Blaq *A Note to the World? It feels like TRUTH when I listen to it; a beautiful and remarkable achievement.

Jeez. Uh, you said it better than I ever could. That’s a really beautiful way to frame and I’m glad that’s how it came off. That’s how it felt. It was probably one of the first times I ever felt like I really did love my skin for a minute. I knew that I wouldn’t always feel that way all the time, but I still do, I called it and call it an accomplishment that I ever did, and felt true enough and genuine enough to me to write those lyrics and songs like that, that felt like those things and felt so true. So I’m really glad that the way you’re characterizing it, as truth, is the way it comes off.

10.) Has it been difficult in breaking down traditional stereotypes in the country music industry, or do you feel that things have evolved finally to a point where it’s quite a bit easier now than it would have been five or ten years ago?

I think it’s definitely … something is changing. There’s new ideas floating around in the water around country music, there’s a lot of growth left, but there’s a lot of growth happening. I am an honest person and direct person first, I think that whiteness in country needs to continue to be questioned, and whether or not Black people can be in those spaces, brown people can be in those spaces, we know how to make country music and it hits our hearts just as much as it hits theirs. You know, Black folks really did come up with a lot of the different music styles that we listen to and enjoy in culture around the world, at least the popular ones, that’s for sure. So it makes no sense to say we don’t have a place somewhere that we do, it makes no sense to say that queer and trans folks don’t have a place in these spaces because we do. We’ve been writing songs and been around and been here the whole time, having life, experiencing things just like y’all, why don’t we deserve to be there? I think there are major changes and allies in this space that are making differences and things happen, and I’m really happy to see them. I also know there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be changed still. It’s really important that we see the beauty in what we’ve done, and see the work and all of the time and energy and effort that’s still needed that lies ahead.

11.) Do you feel like a role model for Black Queer and Trans artists coming up in the music world?

You know, I hope someone sees me that way. It wasn’t necessarily what I set out to do, but it is also a torch that I have learned is something I need to take up and hold with pride and dignity and know that it’s important for me to, you know? Take up that gauntlet, like you don’t get to be in this space and do this without making sure that you are holding the door open and giving hope to those who are coming up after you. Is it daunting at times? Definitely. Do I feel like sometimes as Black artists we don’t get to be the artists that just talk about and write songs and soliloquies about the mundanity of life, and I wish we could do that without automatically having to be put towards an idea of activism? Definitely. And, I gladly do it because I know I didn’t see anybody who looked like me, or remotely like what I am today, coming up. And I found out recently a student at USC I believe it is – from a friend who knows, and it’s not published, it’s not anything anybody can go find, it just happened. A trans student doing I guess some sort of thesis for their sound engineering program had to pick a producer to write on that is a popular trans or queer music producer, and they picked me to write about, what I do and what I’m doing. So I gotta tell you, that’s probably bigger than any Reba thing could ever be, because that feels like what it’s all about, like that moved my heart in a way that … I love Reba, but even that just … you know what I’m saying? Like that is something that you hope what you do inspires somebody because you’re just trying to make a dent, an indelible impression on life. And that really like moved my heart when I was told that. I don’t know who they are, what their name is, I was just told this is something that happened and I should know, and it was really helpful when I heard it at the time because I was feeling down that day. We need to be uplifted by each other; I think that is the point. And I’m hoping what I do uplifts somebody.

12.) You had the opportunity to collaborate with the remarkable Bella King for your EP single SHUTUP! What was that experience like?

Bella and I have been friends for a long time, actually Bella King is who taught me how to play guitar, real talk. She doesn’t claim that, and she’s like, “Girl, I showed you like five chords,” but like she did, she did show me, and she always showed me stuff. Like she played a lot on a lot of records, on the first EP and some on the album in 2019, you know she’s always been a really good friend. And I’m gonna say this: she and I have had moments where we didn’t agree, and she had to grow her understanding of her positionality as a white person in my life, and what it meant to be a good friend to me, especially with everything that’s been going on in the last few years, like you know those hard discussions are coming up in interracial friendships and relationships and things like that, where you want to share space but you gotta figure out how to talk across differences. And why is that important? I think it’s important because we’re creating art together, and artists are supposed to help move culture and move life along, and what better way to do that than art to be a medium to have these tough conversations but also shows that you can still love each other in the end and come back together and realize where we can both grow, and where one person can grow, and all of that. Like we are good friends  because we’re having real talks and honest genuine discussions about real feelings and how to hold them and talk across differences. And working with her, she’s a brilliant musician and a brilliant mind, and a brilliant artist and I’m very thankful to have her still around as a friend, and to have grown through hard moments and to be more beautiful moments. Yeah. Really great, really great person and musician.

13.) What’s coming up for you in the near future? Any hints you might be able to give fans?

I’m going into the studio with an amazing artist named Suzi Analogue, who is a producer, artist, record label owner (Never Normal Records). She and I just did an amazing collaboration with Dawn Richard where she produced a remix of Dawn Richard’s “Boomerang” and I mixed and mastered that remix and it was really great and fun, and it was like a Leo femme takeover. It was amazing. I also have some stuff in the works with Sudan Archives over at Stones Throw Records, she’s amazing and an amazing artist, you gotta check her out. Yeah. Reba just entered the Billboard charts in the Top 200; me and Lil Nas X on the same chart and the same time is wild to me. It says that something is changing. So yeah. I’m very excited about other things that I can’t speak about either.

14.) Final – SILLY! – Question: Driving down the road on a crisp autumn day, which one album do you have blasting from the car radio?

Jeez, that’s hard. That’s a hard question. Lately I’ve been getting into … it’s a toss-up for me between um, let’s see … let me make sure I get this right. It’s probably a toss-up between Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell, specifically “Help Me,” I love that song, the way it moves and flows. Or it could be … oh! Michael Kiwanuka. Anything by Michael Kiwanuka is just a perfect driving song.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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