Musician Joey DeFrancesco performs at the Wex on Thursday as part of current exhibit 'Sadie Benning: Pain Thing'
UPDATE: La Neve's concert, which was canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus concerns, will now take place as a Wexner Center live webstream at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 14. A link to the stream will be posted on the Wex site here.
La Neve’s 2019 full-length, The Vital Cord, consistently navigates unsteady ground, with lyrics steeped in social and political unrest.
Amid this relentless uncertainty, though, the musician uncovers an internal strength missing on 2017 debut EP American Sounds. “Maybe I’m finally at home in the body,” La Neve sings on the pulsating “Stability,” going on to repeat the phrase “Keep on living!” with an urgency designed to penetrate the headspace of anyone struggling with issues of gender identity and depression.
“Homeless rates, suicide rates, depression rates are so high for queer and trans people, particularly queer and trans people of color, and particularly with working class queer and trans people,” said Joey DeFrancesco, who records and performs as La Neve. “There’s a lot of hopelessness … and so I think it was needed to scream that you’re going to keep fighting, keep living.
“I think on the first EP I was much more unsure, and it’s hard to listen to now. … I didn’t quite know how to use my voice yet, and I didn’t know how I was supposed to look, and I think that’s the truth for a lot of queer people. Even if you’re coming out at an older age, it takes a while to go through your second puberty and figure out how to exist in this world.”
For DeFrancesco, who also plays guitar in Providence, Rhode Island punk band Downtown Boys, this process started, in a sense, with more traditional drag performances undertaken as a teenager. “I was 18 or 19, lip-syncing and dressing up and doing dance numbers,” said DeFrancesco, who will perform as La Neve at the Wexner Center on Thursday, March 12 — the latest in a series of musical happenings staged as part of current exhibit “Sadie Benning: Pain Thing.” “I think it was me needing to express this part of my gender identity instead of just being confused about where I fit on that gender spectrum. … Drag, for a lot of people, provides a more socially sanctioned outlet to be able to express yourself how you want gender-wise, where it may not be possible, or comfortable, in your real life.”Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Political and social messaging dominates in Downtown Boys and La Neve, with the former favoring knotty punk outbursts and the latter dancing amid the chaos on urgent disco numbers. “Both [genres] emerged around the same time period, and from the beginning I think the best punk bands understood the commonality between these things and quickly adopted them,” said DeFrancesco, who initially discovered dance music via Benning’s electro-influenced punk band Le Tigre, adding a more personal dimension to this upcoming Wex performance. “As other people have commented, although punk claimed the terrain of being angry, politicized, working class music, which a lot of it was, of course, disco truly was the more sexually fluid, working class, people of color-led musical movement. … I think it’s some of the most exciting music from the late ’70s and early ’80s. It’s the feeling of how it hits you viscerally, and how you interact with the music in this very physical way.”
For DeFrancesco, La Neve has served as a vehicle for discovery — with admittedly mixed results. On the musical front, the punk guitarist occasionally struggles with the technological aspect of electronica, owing to an admitted disinterest with manual-specifics. “My brain just turns off when I start reading about compression times and reverb,” he said, and laughed. “We don’t have high technical capability. It’s kind of sloppy and punk in how it’s put together. … It can turn off these people who like this slick type of pop music production, but we make it louder and more intense, which is fun and good for us.”
On the personal front, though, writing songs as La Neve has helped DeFrancesco discover previously unimagined levels of self-comfort. “Even that aspect, like, ‘OK, your family is going to see this, even if you haven’t told your family about this aspect of yourself.’ Just existing in a public space in this person can make people upset, but I’m doing it,” DeFrancesco said. “And I feel more confident now just from the action of carving out that space.”