Interview: Jillian Billard
Photo: Martine Gutierrez
Oakland-based Star Amerasu’s debut album Star, released by Dero Arcade at the end of July, is a mesmerizing, lyrically captivating work that exhibits the artist’s immense strength and grace. Amerasu’s voice is unwavering and powerful as she sings about her experience as a trans woman of color in a world that is “hell-bent on erasing people like (her).” Star is the artist’s first full-length album and embraces a more upbeat, dancey tone than her two earlier critically acclaimed EPs, Eclipsing and Rebecca. In this way, Star seems to mark an emergence for the artist—describing the journey from trauma to self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness. Following the release of this exciting new work, we spoke to the artist about her writing process; working with producer Vice Cooler; and music’s potential to heal and process trauma.
Has making music always been a big part of your life?
As a kid, I loved to sing and dance and make up songs. My mother always encouraged my creativity and I am so grateful for that. When I was in middle school I joined the choir, and when I got to high school I picked up guitar and theater. For my last two years of high school, I transferred to a fine arts academy. I got really into musical theater, took voice lessons on and off, and was in a competitive choir. My voice has really developed over the years.
When did you begin going by the name Star Amerasu?
When I was 17 I went by Starshine. When I decided to medically transition at 19, I legally changed my name to Star Amerasu. I was inspired by the Shinto Goddess Amaterasu––the goddess of the universe and the sun and light. When I got to community college I felt free to be whoever I wanted, and that’s when I started going by Star.
Star is also the name of your debut full-length album, following two highly lauded EPs, Eclipsing and Rebecca. The album really feels like a coming of age story about your experience of emerging as Star Amerasu, and learning to find compassion for yourself despite the world telling you not to. How long have you been working on this project? Can you talk a bit about the album as a whole, and how it works together narratively to tell your story?
This album has some songs that I have been working on and channeling for years. It all happened rather serendipitously. I had written all of this material and a friend mentioned that I should meet her friend Vice Cooler, who has produced some notable indie names. We decided to meet for a week to record one song, but we found that we worked so well together that we ended up recording five songs in just that one week. I basically had a whole EP at that point. I had some other songs that I had written, so I thought, “why not just make a full album?” Vice was really into the idea, so I went to his house and we hammered out the remainder of the album.
I’m not perfect in the slightest. I’m so anxious all the time about fucking up. I’ve turned to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms for my sadness and mental illness. I was a homeless kid at 20, and I survived by the grace of something higher. I have learned how to survive in this world that is hell-bent on erasing people like me. I just wanted to tell little bits of that story. Just the SparkNotes.
Yes, your writing is so personal, honest, and generous––particularly in speaking about your experiences as a black trans woman in this still largely patriarchal, transphobic society. In your vulnerability, there is a beautiful strength and power that shines through. Would you say that writing music is a cathartic or healing process, both for yourself and for others who are dealing with similar experiences?
“The Girls,” as we call ourselves, have been around for a really long time, and in the current counter-culture, we have become cult goddesses. I think that now there are just so many of us finally claiming our truth and wanting to pursue the arts in a really radical way. In previous years we were either hidden or pushed to the back.
I have learned how to survive in this world that is hell-bent on erasing people like me. I just wanted to tell little bits of that story.
In the first released track on the album, “Heartbreaker,” you say “I run away from feeling too good / I’m scared as hell / you’d leave me if you knew,” deciding that “being a heartbreaker is better than being broke.” Can you talk a bit about this sentiment––how putting up a shield often feels safer than opening oneself up to feeling loved, either by another or by themselves?
A bitch has been out here with her heart on her sleeve letting all kinds of dumbass boys make me feel every type of way. So I’m like, “I don’t give a fuck anymore.” I wrote this song when this stupid boy was being so distant and I was just so over it, so I preemptively broke up with him before he could break up with me. Later I came to find out that he actually really liked me and that he was like going through something, and was really broken up over me. But the damage was done, so I just had to move on. The reality is that it’s empowering to take back the narrative of being heartbroken by these men. I wrote “Heartbreaker” to remind myself that being a heartbreaker is easier than being broken again. But ultimately, this is the song of the 23-year-old star. The 26-year-old is even more bitter and just isn’t out here looking for love.
Even though you deal with a lot of heavy topics, this album has more of an upbeat, positive feel to it than your earlier works. Can you talk about your decision to make the tracks more dancey, like music you’d hear at a club?
I just wanted to make a pop album. So I did. I thought very long and hard about which direction to go in and I felt that the indie-pop world needed a bitch like me.