Three years into life as a trans woman, her new album '#TriggerWarning40' is a danceable and difficult look at life as a late bloomer.
Photo by Avery Johns
In 2013, Melbourne musician Simona Castricum should have been celebrating her 10-year wedding anniversary on holiday in the US. Instead she found herself alone in Los Angeles after the breakdown of her marriage, driving to Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House in Los Feliz in a black convertible Ford Mustang. "It was really sad," she reflects from her second-storey apartment in Melbourne's inner north, "but it was also the first day of what I consider to be my transition."
Castricum remembers questioning her gender as early as four years old. As a child in 1979, she saw the music video on Countdown for Sylvester's pioneering disco track You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), in which the androgynous singer descends a staircase in a slinky black dress. "It's not like I thought then and there 'my god, I'm a trans woman,' but the memories do stretch back that far," says Castricum. "Watching Sylvester back then made me think of my own situation, and how I was a boy but I didn't feel like a boy at all—in fact, I just wanted to be a girl."
Before making music as a solo artist, in the early 2000s Castricum played in Fluorescent, a band she started with her then-wife. Fluorescent would later share stages with Midnight Juggernauts, Cut Copy and Ladytron. "At that point I was still presenting as male—I was on stage in a closet," says Castricum. It's no surprise, she adds, that her ability to express herself musically and her gender transition ended up travelling hand-in-hand. "I think they had to happen at the same time. I'm a late bloomer because I didn't transition until I was 37 years old. Before then, I couldn't do a lot of things I wanted to do because I just didn't feel like me."
Visiting Ennis House in 2013 ended up being a pivotal moment for Castricum. With a professional background is in architecture, the pilgrimage to a building she admired provided a moment of clarity in a tumultuous year. While her marriage was breaking down, something else was coming together. "Being at Ennis House felt like finally being in a place of self-care. I took a photo of the beautiful pool there, and now it's something I look at whenever I want to be kind to myself."
She wrote Ennis House Pool about the experience; the song would become one of the first singles from her new album #TriggerWarning40. Like the photo she took there, the track serves as a brief moment of respite on an album that, as the name suggests, deals with incredibly difficult topics.
#TriggerWarning40 follows Simona's 2014 release Exotic Ladies of Birobidzhan. Written under the name Simona Kapitolina, the previous album brought together a number of songs Castricum had written in the years before her gender transition.
"When I wrote them, I thought the songs [on Exotic Ladies of Birobidzhan] were about fatherhood and about parenting, but when I started to perform and record them, I realised they were about the fear of losing my wife and of losing my child. I broke down in tears in the rehearsal studio and realised, holy shit, these songs are about transitioning," says Castricum. Now three years into life as a trans woman, the new album deals with the fallout.
"#TriggerWarning40 is a full-on stream of consciousness of really traumatic emotions," says Castricum. "I turned 40 last year, and instead of it being one of the most exciting years of my life, it was probably the worst year. The album captures some pretty awful moments from that time."
Castricum—whose experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder have had a huge impact on her life and, in turn, her music—admits that many of the songs on #TriggerWarning40 are personal accounts of mental illness. Even the hashtag-style title refers to Castricum's tendency to post emotional ramblings on social media during times of emotional turmoil. "A lot of the lyrics on the album are outpourings of grief, of anger, of utter sadness and desperation. You know, I wish I didn't have those experiences, but I did, so that's what the album is about."
But for all its darkness, pain and, as Castricum puts it, "trans existentialism", #TriggerWarning40 is surprisingly danceable. A techno-junkie at heart, Castricum's latest efforts present a kind of cathartic club music that's reflective of her live show—which often induces audiences into a pulsating dancefloor. The final track, Season 4 / Episode 6 was written by Castricum in the throes of a BPD episode and is an attempt to communicate how she felt. Despite the intense subject, it's perhaps the most danceable on the album.
"It's a heavy record, yes, but if you just want to dance to it, you can," she says. And that's the nature of Castricum's talent: at its core, the ability to turn even the most harrowing of experiences into productivity, wisdom and technological spirituality.
'#TriggerWarning40' is out now on LISTEN Records.