Tis the season for Kayvon Zand to emerge from the shadowy depths and haunt clubland with his ferocious looks, infectious beats and good-time voodoo. One of the city’s classic club kids and event producers who counts Amanda Lepore and RuPaul as friends, Kayvon made his mark on unsuspecting nightlife venues with notorious artistry. He was not so well-received by Middle America after a stint on a popular reality TV competition gave him the brat edit, but today he is a husband and father-to-be who is about to launch his most epic party ever. Get in with Kayvon Zand!
Thotyssey: Hi Kayvon, thanks for talking to us! Halloween is nearly upon us. So much of what makes you Everything are these highly editorial, sci-fi gonzo goth punk samurai wizard drag looks that you’re known for. Do you feel like you have to amp these looks up for Halloween in general, or is it just another day for you as far as getting dressed is concerned?
Kayvon Zand: Halloween, personally for me, is like another day minus all the questions from my neighbors.
I just wound up watching your entire wedding reception video on YouTube! You and your wife Anna, another nightlifer, both looked gorgeous, and all of your guests looked amazing. I was wondering if marriage has affected the way you two work the room together?
Anna and I have been in a relationship and living and working together for over 7 years now! Very blessed to have someone who can tolerate me, let alone love me [laughs]. We are expecting our first child any day now. I think being soon-to-be-parents has really pushed me to step up my game more than ever!
Congratulations! For the uninitiated, how would you describe the Zand brand of nightlife entertainment? What should we expect when we attend a Zand event?
Think Studio 54 meets Mudd Club. I love the downtown/uptown mix. I’m all about bringing the creative and the eccentrics together. Definitely decadence, hospitality, looks, family, and DIY. I love running around and taking care of people.
And how would you describe your ever-evolving personal style these days?
Having been blond for over five years, it’s nice to go back to my natural hair color: black. With having a kid on the way, I realized it might be important for our daughter look like one of us [laughs]
In general, I feel nightlife has gotten a lot taller! A lot of the new kids are even on stilts. Being naturally 6’2,” I started wearing platform boots to not feel so small. I used to be the biggest thing in the room. I guess I am not the peacock in every room these days–but most [laughs]!
So, you’re from Wilmington, NC, and your parents are Iranian-born doctors. What was life like growing up there, and what were your early creative interests and influences?
Childhood was very lonely and difficult. If you think it is hard being of Middle Eastern descent now, try it during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Even though my family were not refugees, it really didn’t feel like a choice at all to fit in growing up, unless I wanted to hide who I was.
Which I actually did, in most ways. I wasn’t able to say who my father was growing up. Instead, my mom had tried to pass me off as my stepdad’s son, who was never in the picture as well.
I think it was hard growing up in a town where your dad was a very well-known surgeon who was investing so much money into building his kid’s musical talent, while I was doing everything on my own. I felt very rejected, and in retrospect I don’t even know how I have the little sanity I do.
This will be the first time I say my dad’s name in an interview. His name is Hormoze Goudarzi. I like “Zand” better though–my mom’s maiden name. I decided to go by the name of my one true parent in adulthood.
All in all, I think we have two choices: We can let our hardships push us to find a silver lining in life, or we can let them be our demise. I chose the first.
You were, for a time, a young fashion model living and working in Europe. How did you enjoy that experience?
Modeling was horrible. I was looking for acceptance in an industry that just focused on flaws and being a product. I learned I am my own canvas, not anyone else’s. If anything, it was nice to travel… and find NYC because of it!
You came up as a club kid in New York, in the glory days when Susanne Bartsch & Kenny Kenny were hosting all the amazing parties, and you won acclaim & notoriety with your own party Disgraceland at the Highland Ballroom in 2010 which featured heavy FX and sex acts. I don’t think the Highland has ever recovered! What were you trying to accomplish with Disgraceland… and will it ever come back?
Disgraceland was actually my first and only ever full album. At the time, I had reintroduced goth/shock rock into the queer scene. I was like a black cloud along with The Zand Collective at the time!
I am not sure what I was really trying to do internally, however on the surface it just seemed I really wanted to create a stage show and music that was in your face and really addressing where I was in my life. Then, I was underweight and very much glamorizing my pain. Now, I am very ethereal, strong, and healthy. So, I am hoping I do not revisit “Disgraceland” per say.
But I will say this: that show really opened a lot of doors for me in NYC, and made it clear I was a contender for the NYC underground performance scene. Nightlife was an obvious component for me as an artist because it allowed me to promote my art, and also build and be involved in a community. It would be a dream to find the love child of my weekly events and my performances… maybe 2017 will create this lovechild?!
Maybe! You’ve recorded an eclectic array of singles with some really vivid, high quality videos. You’ve performed these songs live, but I was wondering if you had any plans to make a full stage show with your original songs?
Thank you! I used to put more into the stage shows, but when I realized that instead of a couple hundred people seeing what I do, thousands could watch me on the internet with my videos, it was clear to me that my efforts needed to be on the internet.
In a perfect world, it would be great to make music videos and perform a full live stage show regularly. However, a full stage show is a lot of work, and would cause me to have to tour, which is very expensive and would be more of an “investment” than a profit. I might revisit that idea if it makes sense in all aspects of my life. Right now my family is my priority, so anything that involves me leaving my home need to be very financially consistent.
One thing I actually learned from reading the YouTube description of your video for “Touch” is that in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal, the government actually suggests and sometimes enforces gender reassignment onto identified gay citizens. How did that issue come to your attention?
I went to Iran about 9 years ago. Being of Iranian descent it was on my radar naturally, however I noticed the western media was not addressing it. There is a great documentary [on the subject, available online]. Thank goodness for the internet, censorship is a lot harder with it.
Have your own sexual and gender identities shaped your art in any way?
Most definitely. If anything, as a queer-identifying man who is not in a gay relationship, it is important that I incorporate it in all I do. People don’t realize that being queer and being gay are two different things. For me, to be queer isn’t your sexual preference, but expressing yourself outside of the gender you have been “assigned.”
The whole boxing of orientation and gender to me is all politics. I understand we need it to force it down the throats of the idiots of the world, which are most. But for the few lucky ones, we have the privilege of existing in a world where our friends get it, and we can actually live our lives as opposed to having to always explain it.
You’re pals with RuPaul, and you appeared in his 2007 blaxploitation parody film Starrbooty. I was wondering what you thought of his success with Drag Race, and what your opinion is on that show’s influence on drag and nightlife?
Ru is one of the few people I idolize, let alone, being one of the few people I can say was a dear friend at a low point in my life. Funny enough, when we used to hang out I was working in a Mexican restaurant in the West Village, all the things I am doing now weren’t a reality. And at the time he hadn’t started Drag Race.
It was a very honest friendship, not a fame thing, or a come-up thing. I miss that time in my life, and am forever grateful for the wisdom and love he shared with me in those years. I am so happy to see him on this pedestal globally that I always placed him on. He is one of the few people who are in the Hollywood game but also are enlightened, humble, and an actual good person. Inspires me forever and always has a place in my heart.
You had your own run-in with reality TV fame when you appeared on an episode of America’s Got Talent, performing a number with a full band. The he judges had a mixed reception to the performance. What ultimately aired was an exchange of insults, and you were edited into a “brat,” as Piers Morgan called you.
You wrote extensively about the whole negative experience, from your initial misgivings to the harshly edited final segment, in a piece for the Huffington Post. AGT certainly raised your profile, but as Phi Phi O’Hara from this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars can attend to, that comes now with just a tidal wave of negative feedback from internet trollers. Looking back today, was this experience more “bad” than “good,” to put it simply?
The saying as we all know it is, the truth is somewhere in the middle. My experience and perspective where mine alone. Of course, reality TV has no loyalty to someone like me, as I am not a fixture or associated with the brand of AGT, so I am not shocked with the edit of the show.
However, to compare it to Drag Race is very different. Drag Race is a show for queers by queers. Randy and the whole World of Wonder team are all for the community, and always have been, before it was politically trendy. AGT, I can’t say is the same. I do feel the audience that the show caters to is a lot of the Trump population of the world, and to be just blunt: stupid. If you look at the comments [on the YouTube video], there are so many asking what is wrong with my eyes. Whereas on Drag Race, it would be understated to wear white contacts [laughs].
I can’t speak on Phi Phi as I do not know her personally. However, I do know that the show opened the doors for her, and she has said this as well. So at the very least, if she felt there was a negativity from the show, a paycheck came from it! Booking, etc. I can’t say the same with AGT [laughs].
Today, there are so many divisions with neighborhoods and nightlife scenes, at least on the LGBT end of things. In Hell’s Kitchen you’re going to circuit parties and seeing drag queens do Britney songs, in the West Village you’re cruising in dark spaces and seeing drag queens tell dirty jokes, and in Brooklyn you’re creating gender non-binary poetry and seeing drag queens set themselves on fire. Are scenes “good” or “bad” (again, to put it simply) for nightlife?
If people are able to be in a safe space, express themselves, find love, find common grounds, it’s all good! I am not going to put any of it down, as we need it now more than ever. The real “BAD” in nightlife right now is the corporate washout of “downtown” culture.
Let’s talk about some Zand Brand events happening now! First, you have the weekly “Hitchcock Disco” at Rumpus Room on Tuesday nights, which centers around a different Alfred Hitchcock film for a theme each week. What an ingenious idea, and open to so much interpretation! How have you been liking the party so far?
“Zand Brand” [laughs]. Hitchcock Disco is a queer space where allies can come and join the party. It’s a mix of everything, but in a very family feel club. The owners are actually there on Tuesdays, and live above the club. It’s like The Birdcage on an “iPhone light” budget as opposed to a spotlight, literally [laughs].
I love it because so many of the new kids like Archie Goats, Magdalena Femanon, Justin Angel, Beverly Sage and Ava Patron are really bringing a new energy and feel to nightlife. We just added Amanda Lepore to the line up, so I’m very excited to see it all mix together for the winter season!
And then Saturdays, you take over Webster Hall with a total throwback big club-type party, Metropolis! It was always fun to pick on Webster Hall back in the day as being touristy, but as far as all-inclusive event spaces go, it’s kind of all we have left. And it is a great space, really.
It’s amazing, people are saying this night is the new Limelight era of NYC. It’s a packed mega club where the nightlife personalities reign, I am living for it!
And now… BEAST 849! This is going to be an epic Halloween rage in Chelsea on Saturday, with people from all scenes and shades of nightlife hosting or performing, including yourself and… Carmen Electra! Yaaaaaassss! How excited are you for this, and what are you expecting is gonna go down?
As the gradual transition of me into an event producer through the years, I feel more pressure to deliver the most epic party. And this year I really feel that is the case: Beast849!
On the 29th and we have all the creative nightlife kids mixed in with Carmen Electra, and a not-so-surprise performance by Lil Kim! Very excited for this, as I am not only dressing up the whole space, but trying to get a last minute look together as well l[laughs].
EPIC! What else is on the horizon?
Excellent. One more thing: We just found out that Pete Burns of Dead or Alive has passed away. His contributions to pop music, nightlife style and trans acceptance are tremendous. How do you reflect on Pete and his passing?
Funny enough, for AGT I did “You Spin Me Right Round” He was the first male I saw wearing makeup on TV. As a kid, I was horrified by him. Little did I know where I was heading [laughs]. He is always a legend for our community. Wish I had the chance to meet him.
Thanks Kayvon, and happy Halloween!
Kayvon Zand hosts “Hitchcock Disco” Tuesday nights at Rumpus Room (10pm), and “Kayvon Zand’s Metropolis” Saturday nights at Webster Hall (11pm). He will also be hosting the epic “Beast849″ Halloween event on 849 6th Ave on Saturday, October 29th (10pm). Kayvon can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube. He also has a website.