The Sexual Side Effects is one of the biggest bands to come out of the Atlanta rock scene in years. Performing with big names such as Hunter Valentine (who recently opened for Cyndi Lauper), they combine elements of indie music, British Pop and 80’s post punk to create a unique sound. Even more unique is that their frontwoman, Amber Taylor, is actually a male-to-female transgendered woman. I sat down with the rock star and we talked music, touring and how being trans has affected her career!
Hi Amber! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! I just have a few questions for you. First question: who is Amber Taylor?
I don’t know! Who am I? (Laughs) I think we’re all still discovering that in ourselves. Actually, I can say that I’ve found myself more now than I have in the past. Now I realize I’m a musician, and I wanna make art. There was a time in my life where I went through a transformation of gender and that was consuming, that was the only thing on my mind. But now I’ve realized that’s not 100 percent sure of who I am. I find myself to be a musician. I wanna play guitar, and I wanna push instruments, and I wanna tour. I’ve learned business and marketing and it’s all for music. But you have to do that nowadays cause nobody’s gonna do that for you, unless you have a label pumping millions of dollars into you.
So, how long have you been doing music? How long have you been playing?
I’ve been playing guitar for 22 years now, longer than one of my guitar players has been alive, which is freaky to think about. I mean I’m not that old!
How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?
I am – Oh, God. How old am I? (Laughs) I’m 35 now, believe it or not. I’m actually 25 in trans years. Actually I’d be even younger, I went through a second puberty and it totally changed the way I look. It made me look younger.
Who are your biggest influences, musically?
Well, they are always changing, ya know? Always changing. There’s definitely a core group of people that have always been there. I’m very into post-punk, I’m very into Brit-Pop. I mean, a little bit of everything. Recently, I’ve been listening to Kurt Vile. And Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been like this huge inspiration recently. My band has been changing lately, I’ve got a new lineup, so we’re drawing a lot of inspiration from that band. Don’t know what it is but that’s just where I’ve been at lately.
That’s the biggest thing about music for me: the inspiration. I’ve been working on trying to better myself as a musician the last 6 months. I’m really just writing as much as possible, reading books on how to write better, reading poetry. Just filling in every little piece I didn’t have in my own personal education as a musician.
Like most rock-n-rollers, I’m a high school dropout. I left school, became a roadie, started doing audio. But ya know, there are areas in my life that I need to work on as a musician. I mean, everybody has areas in their life that they need to work on, but I’m just constantly evolving. I’ve been able to crank out all kinds of stuff on guitar, but writing the lyrics and getting the message across and telling the story have been the most difficult thing for me. But I’ll listen to a record of someone else’s work, and it’ll give you inspiration for something you’re doing, or want to do. And it’s weird, it’s not like you’re copying them but there is some weird spark of inspiration that puts you in a mindset and sets you off on a creative path.
Do you feel that people like Jayne County, and other transgendered musicians, paved the way for where you are at now?
Well, yeah! Jayne paved the way, not just for me or transgendered musicians, but for transgendered people in general. And the biggest reason why I think she paved the way is because she did her transition publicly. She, at first, was her old persona, and then she changed and became the new persona. And that’s a different story than my own personal story from where I did my transition and then finally started making music again. It’s definitely made an impact, and she has a lot of bravery for doing that. Plus, you have to roll back the clock to when she did it, back in the 70s, that’s just terrifying!
So were you making music before you transitioned?
Yeah, I played music before but I never really pursued it with the tenacity that I have in the past few years. All of that has to do with personal experiences in life. Like, my father passing away years ago. I was really close to him and after he passed, I decided to treat myself better. I became a vegetarian, I lost a bunch of weight, became a cyclist and became healthy. It was really a soul-searching time in my life. And time went on.
I actually started going into business a while back. I went into web development and I was really good at it, it succeeded but I realized that wasn’t my purpose in life. I had a greater purpose and I just said “Hey, I have to go do this music stuff”. And it’s not for egotistical reasons, it’s not even for personal fulfillment, it’s for an obligation that I believe I have. And every day I can’t work on that, it’s a day wasted on a gift that I’ve been given.
Who would be your number one dream collaboration?
There’s so many people, so I’m just gonna choose someone randomly! I have to say off the top of my head, Freddie Mercury. That’d be fun, right!? I wish I could have gotten in on the whole “Under Pressure” gig. If I could get in the middle of that song and play guitar, that would be so awesome! I should probably end that there, but there are people in Atlanta that I really find inspiration in their music. There’s a guy named Jade Lemons here in Atlanta, and you’ll be the first to know this, he’s actually joining the Sexual Side Effects as our guitar player. And so, I get to have that dream come true! It’s things like that! I’m really excited!
Awesome, well congratulations! So, you have toured previously, you’ve been all of the country, for those of us who haven’t done it, what is band life like?
The reality is, we should do more touring. I think we only played 50-100 shows last year. There are some bands that do 300 shows a year. But really the reality that needs to be expressed is, you have to have a day job that pays well. You have to work your way to the weekends and tour close to home. It takes years to build up something substantial. It takes years for an artist to do what they do. Some of these major record labels can afford to throw out millions of dollars and build it up quicker that way. But, the bottom line is, you’re going to be poor, you’re going to have to eat peanut butter sandwiches, and it sucks.
And the tour bus thing is even more of a myth, cause gas nowadays is so expensive. If you’re working your day job and one day you decide “Ya know what? I’m gonna start a band!” Then you have to find three other people who will basically destroy their lives, have no money, and sacrifice all relationships. Until you find those people, or replace people until you do find those people, it takes a long time. That’s what we just went through with my band.
But it can be real fun! Nowadays with Facebook, you can keep up with people that you meet all around the country. And the people who didn’t even tour with you become part of that whole circle. You meet people everywhere, and you just create a giant circle of friends. And the greatest thing about it is, you have can make all these people from all over the world part of your daily life. So, social media has really helped bring people together.
Awesome! Well, we look forward to seeing you guys out and about on tour! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Not a problem! Thanks for taking the time to check in!