INTERVIEW: Catching up with Cristy C. Road
Cristy C. Road is a powerhouse of punk. A feminist, artist, musician, and life-long writer, Cristy has been contributing to the scene that inspired her for most of her teenage and adult life. But she has also found ways to bridge that punkiness with her Latina heritage and childhood. It has led to an exploration of her past and an embracement of her ancestry that has further evolved her art. Armed with history, Cristy has her art pens and guitar firmly pointed toward the future. I had a great time chatting with her on the phone, where we talk about growing up in Miami, loving Green Day, her many creative projects, the power of magic, and much, much more. The result is one of the most pleasurable, easy, informative, warm, and engaging interviews I have ever done. Read on!
TuffGnarl: Tell us where you’re at now. You mentioned school when we first talked.
Cristy C. Road: Well I went to Ringling back in the day and I’m going to grad school now to be a professor. I’ve been freelancing, as at it pays the bills, but it’s a lot of promotional work and sometimes compromising what I really want to do creatively. During the recession, a lot of people I did work for, like Jane, GQ and other Conde-Nast publications, stopped hiring as many illustrators. Plus, the work I was doing for them kind of sucked. The punk stuff and the political stuff I was making art for was always inspiring, good work. But to make a living freelancing (and living in NYC with presumably cheap rent), it’s a lot of hustling industries who have money. And that takes time and energy I don’t have. I’d rather take that time to do like art for punk shows, protest flyers. I’m excited to teach, I LOVE teaching. I’m tired of forcing art that I don’t have a connection to. I guess I just want to do whatever I want. [Laughs]
Did you always want to teach? We’re both products of Miami-Dade Public Schools — not the best experience with the system of education available. [Laughs] At least back then.
Where did you go to school?
South Miami High.
I went to Southwest. I did OK there. I mostly just passed. I just knew I wanted to make art. But teaching and “skill sharing” was always a big part of my creativity. I think knowledge should be accessible to people. I had a rad art teacher at Southwest: Ms. Touzet!
Is that where you started Green ‘Zine?
Yes. I did my ‘zine in 1997. I discovered so many bands through Green Day, so it became a Lookout! Records ‘zine, and eventually a more multidimensional punk zine around the summer of 1998. It was when Chuck [Livid, esteemed creator/editor of TuffGnarl and owner of many cool Baltimore Orioles hats] — and I don’t even call him Chuck; I still call him Charlie [laughs] — he was doing Muddy Chaos, and it was so inspiring. He took his ‘zine and his friends’ band very seriously and I was like “woah, I feel that way too. It’s not delusional. DIY punk is real”. It was weird because at the same time it’s like “this is normal”. The thing is, I was always writing. My whole fucking life, me and my sister we drew fake TV shows. [Laughs] We made up our own TV Shows starring the characters of Star Trek and TaleSpin in ’92 before “fan-fiction” was a cool thing.
I used to make comics with my best friend. We’d even staple pages together. Fold them. We’d number the issues. I’d make copies at my dad’s job. I felt like I was published.
Yeah! Oh my God! [Laughing] I would “get” copies at my friends’ jobs. I won’t say how. But it was super easy.
Banging the old copy key on the floor trick.
Yeah, I figured out the scams. Copies in the ‘90s. [Laughs]
So many good ‘zines came out of that, though. Scam in Miami and Cometbus in Berkley.
Oh Yeah! I feel like in the ’90s I just wanted to be Aaron Cometbus. He played music, he made visual art, and he wrote. That’s exactly what I wanted to do with my life. He’s great and he lives here [in Brooklyn]. He runs a bookstore. It’s weird to be friends with him now. [Laughs] He’s cool. He’s down. When punks grow up we all might end up in the same place.
Can you tell me about your new project, New World Tarot?
I started it in 2007 with author Michelle Tea. She had asked me to illustrate a tarot deck for her and we did a queer author tour together. She’s pretty legendary. She’s been working in the queer literary world forever. She totally saved my life by asking me to go on this tour with her. The Sister Spit Tour. And it just opened me up to this whole other world of art BEYOND punk. I mean I always come back to punk. “This is my home.” I say. [Laughs] But being on that tour changed my life. I wasn’t even “witchy” at the time. I mean I always loved getting tarot readings, I grew up with Walter Mercado. I mean you’re fucking watching Sabado Gigante and you hear your horoscope. [Laughs] That shit was normal growing up.
Oh yeah. For me too. I feel like growing up in Miami, all that was just part of us.
Right. Growing up Latino or just in such a multicultural punk scene, you just get spiritual. But then I became part of this predominately white anarchist punk community were being spiritual wasn’t really OK. I had to find the really gay feminist part of that, where magic, like the importance of ancestral magic, was to being Latina. Now I have my fucking elegua by my door. I think you can still be “No Gods, No Masters” and still believe in your magic. So when she asked me to do a tarot deck I was like “fuck yeah.” [Laughs] I mean it took me a minute because it’s the first project that’s not really an illustrated memoir. I’m following a tradition and I’ve never done anything like that before. But eventually, I was like “FUCK YEAH!”
And you’re were doing a full tarot deck right? Could it be used for an actual tarot reading?
Oh Yeah. Seventy-eight cards. And a booklet with some descriptions. I’m definitely working within the parameters of a traditional deck. It has the traditional suits. Swords, pentacles, Kings, Queens. I want people familiar with tarot to be able to read with it. The titles and descriptions will be more like my interpretation when I read and how I feel about these cards. I’ve studied them for years now. So I’m looking forward to take that on. That wasn’t always the plan; as Michelle Tea was the author when she was involved. She’s detached herself since. No drama, she just has a different path right now. And you know, I don’t feel stressed about writing the cards.
Well, you’ve always been a writer.
Yeah, it’s very exciting to have control over all of it. And I like challenging myself, being excited by new things. And that’s where I’m at now. And thankfully the graduate program I’m in now, for illustration, they are letting me use it as my thesis too.
And how are you drawing it?
I’ve done everything with micron ink pens forever. So I use those, and then color it in with markers, paint, and jellyroll pens.
So it’s 78 illustrations?
Yeah, but it has changed a bit. Now it’s becoming more personal, weirder, and referencing of magic and systemic oppression. At first, it was more “punk rock” but now I’m re-illustrating it and it is becoming more complicated (in a good way). I felt it needed to be more next level. The art is better, and there’s a narrative now. A narrative about my spirituality and my ancestry. I’ve never done an art project like this. I’ve always done comics and ‘zines. With comics, I’ve begun to have like a new style too. It’s a bit more of a “messy” style I’ve been working with.
So you are planning on doing more comics?
Yeah, I’m excited about doing more when I finish this project. This new style is like no panels; a lot of overlapping things.
What’s your connection to spirituality?
I didn’t grow up with Santeria and magic exactly, I grew up Catholic.
Yeah same here. Most of my family, young and old, is deeply Catholic. But they’re also the first to talk about a “limpiesa” [spiritual cleansing] or “el mal de ojo” [the evil eye]. They burn white candles for “los muertos” [the dead]. There’s a dichotomy to a lot of Latino Catholics, they have this whole spiritual side. So I was always very aware of the culture behind Santeria.
Yeah. Until I was able to access that ancestral magic, at least for me, being queer, and feeling so displaced from my family was hard. I’ve done so much work about that. That’s what Spit and Passion is all about. But I feel like magic helped me feel like I could be queer and still connect to my culture. It helped me feel more grounded.
Now you’re also an accomplished musician. Have you always played music?
I’ve been in this pop-punk band, The Homewreckers, for 8 years. I started playing guitar around ’95. In 1997, instead of having a quinceanera, and keep in mind I never really felt like I fit in within the mainstream Miami society.
My sister had one. In our house. [Laughs] Believe me, I know exactly what mainstream society you’re talking about.
Right, so I just felt really disconnected from that. The idea of participating in that made me really sad and anxious. But, and this is where my I can see my family has always been supportive, I got a guitar instead! And they even got me the same one Billie Joe played. “La azul es la de Billie Joe!” [Laughs] It was a blue fender Stratocaster.
So they all knew about the Green Day obsession?
Oh girl, if you walked into my house you would know. [Laughs] In ’95 I only talked about Green Day. [Laughs] If you wanted to reach out to me then, you did it through Green Day. Green Day helped me connect to my family. It made them happy I found something. That I wasn’t sad and checked out all the time. I was giving a shit about a personal aesthetic but also about myself and my sanity. Eventually, I became more feminine and being in the closet was easier. It’s a privilege to go through that, to be honest. Even if I felt horrible and unwell in the closet, I was existing differently then from when I was a butch pre-teen. At least until junior year when “fulanito” told somebody that I was bi, so yeah. [Laughs] Then all this shit hit the fan. You can read all about that in Indestructible. But getting that guitar, that was a life-changing, magical moment. And I’ve been writing songs ever since. It’s still the same guitar I use today. I’ve tried other guitars over the years, but stratocasters are the only ones that feel right.
You give it a lot of love?
Oh yeah. Lots and lots of love.
I have something like that. My dad brought a typewriter from Cuba with him. It’s on my dresser. I put it in every room I live in. It even has the ‘Ñ’ on it. And it still types.
Oh, my god! That’s awesome. Now THAT is magical!
Did you teach yourself how to play?
I had a guitar teacher for about a year. But eventually, it just became me saying, “Teach me how to play this Green Day song. Teach me this Rancid song. Teach me how to play a Crimpshrine song” [Laughs] He did teach me Aerosmith and Bikini Kill. He also taught me a scale, which enabled me to write my own solos really fucking young. But I didn’t learn more in any formal way. I took all that and ran with it. I’ve been writing pop-punk songs ever since. I’ve implemented my love of musical theater, do-wop, and other genres into it as well.
I feel that pop-punk can be a pretty versatile genre. A lot of different influences.
Yeah, totally. I loved classic Ramones stuff. Some of my favorite teen memories involve skipping class with Chuck and listening to The Queers in his really intense Cadillac. [Laughs] I was into a lot of Miami bands then as well. Do you remember Los Canadians?
Yes! Oh my God, Radon! And This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Against Me! I was seventeen then. All that stuff was so good. Because it was like pop-punk, but a little bit country too. I like some of the more produced stuff too, like Dillinger Four and Dear Landlord. Oh and This is My Fist, and the band before that, Ambition Mission. Ambition Mission was like the first female fronted pop-punk band that I was like, “YES YOUR VOICE!” [Laughs] Annie, the vocalist, she was my hero. It was so exciting to discover that sound that I really loved.
I stared a band in high school. I had a long distance pen pal who became my first BFF, Nancy. She ended up in a band called The Ridicules and The Clockouts. She plays bass. She’s fucking really badass too. We’ve sort of been talking about maybe starting a band together. But it’s a secret. A grown up band [laughs] who can play during “La Crismas.” [Laughs] Very Miami.
Play yearly shows after Noche Buena. [Laughs]
Yeah! So I learned to play music with her, we just never got to play shows. We never found a drummer. And although I feel like we were a duo, that we had each other, finding other people to commit with us, that was really hard. Eventually, like five years after that, I met my bass player J who I started The Homwreckers with.
How would you describe your music now?
I like to say our genre for The Homewreckers is like Crimpshrine or Jawbreaker the Musical. [Laughs] But obviously, the person singing is obsessed with Rancid, oi, and musicals. I grew up in Miami. So we had a lot of ska and oi. Gang vocals, everyone singing along. [Laughs] We toured at the beginning a lot. But things have been hard for the last couple of years. It’s been hard to be on the same page.
Collaboration is hard.
Oh yeah, it’s VERY hard. And you sometimes grow up and apart. Eight years is a long time for everyone to keep the same needs. It’s like in any kind of relationship.
Yeah, I’ve been in a band, briefly, and also part of a magazine staff, and both times it’s like being in a relationship. It’s complicated.
There was four of us. And I didn’t want to be one of those bands that is always changing line-ups. Yeah, I loved the stuff we were making in the last year, but it was just not working easily. We did release an album like a year ago. I do feel sad not be able to share some of the last couple songs we did together after that, though. It was very sad. But I can now focus on my life, my own songwriting. I’m looking forward to playing acoustic shows. I keep thinking of the early days of Against Me! and how I thought Laura Jane Grace was just a solo performer but it didn’t fucking matter; her solo set gets better every time.
The first time I ever heard Against Me!, my friend made me a tape, and it was just like an acoustic guitar and beats on a plastic bucket.
It was buckets!
And it sounded so amazing. So vital. I remember getting goose bumps. I think I rewound that tape like ten times.
I played just played on September 14, with Erica Freas from RVIVR. I love RVIVR. I love Erica. I love her songwriting. I’m such a fangirl for them. [Laughs] Homewreckers played with them in 2010. They’re that weird pop-punk, maybe they don’t even want to be called pop-punk. [Laughs] There’s a little bit of Bruce Springsteen there. Anyway, it was an exciting show. I think it was Chango. Chango, because all of this, everything worked out really magical. But you know I do want to have a new full band. Play punk differently. Make songs longer, more complicated. Weirder stuff. Epic stuff. I don’t feel old. I’m 34. It’s fine. I’m just excited to challenge myself.
Well, it sounds like you have a lot going on! A lot of projects.
I do. I think punks, myself included, do this thing where we sell ourselves short because we are socialized to, as getting “big” or “selling out” are seen in this limited way. Selling out for me is just about compromising my values; otherwise, I love working hard. What we get to do is a privilege and an honor. We are using these gifts and tools to educate and inspire and smash silence and for me its worth all the time-consuming projects.
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