Birdy Vee, the lead singer and guitarist of two-piece Sweetie, has always created a visual story in her head when writing a new song. Now, the movie she envisioned in her head while she penned “Devil Girl” has come to fruition thanks to a partnership with filmmaker Shaman Goad. On April 16, the duo will host a drag show release party for the “Devil Girl” music video at Liar’s Club, complete with live band and drag queen performances. Before you head to the premiere party, read our interview with Birdy and Shaman below — oh, and don’t forget to bring cash to tip the performers!
Shaman, what is your background in producing music videos?
Shaman: I got my start in entertainment as a drag performer, which, for many years was fine, but there was always just some part of my creative outlet that felt like it was missing. Around the time of the pandemic, I went into photography and then videography, and from there I experimented with it — I taught myself Premiere Pro in two weeks. I was a graphic designer for eight years prior to all this, so I had all these different skills under my belt.
I used to host a show called Dragzilla, which used to be at Liar’s Club. We did an online show during the pandemic, and I basically edited it all together. I directed a couple of videos and then realized, ‘wait, this is so much fun!’ It reminded me of what I used to do as a kid when I would shoot short films to show my family.
Keeping all that in mind, I had just met Birdy and while listening to her song “Devil Girl,” all of a sudden I had this preview of the video in my head. I messaged her right away to ask if she wanted to maybe collaborate and do a music video, and we got the ball rolling from there. Three months into the process, I said ‘we can make this a music video, but what if we also made a short film?’ So the music video is a complimentary dish that goes with the short film, and vice versa. This is my first directorial debut, actually, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Birdy, was Shaman’s vision the same one you conceptualized for “Devil Girl”? Were you even considering creating a music video for the song before Shaman approached you?
Birdy: When I’m writing songs, I always have some sort of movie going on in my head— it’s like a visual that goes along with all my music. It’s nuts because I had these ideas in my head for “Devil Girl,” and I was thinking it’d be really interesting with a couple of drag performers, like it’d be great if they were in this video. So when Shaman came to me with this idea, it was almost spooky; it was almost exactly what I had been thinking. I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.
It’s been better than anything I could have ever imagined; I’m so dumbfounded and pleased. I recently saw the finished product, but even with the little snippets along the way, I couldn’t believe it was so cool, or how talented and great Shaman is at this, especially for his debut video.
I’m interested in hearing more about your writing process in general — do you really create a visual for every song you write?
B: Yeah. Usually I’ll get some sort of tune in my head, or even just a little bit of a rhythm. Then when I start writing lyrics, it’s like I’ve got this movie going on in my head while I put the words to the page. I put something down and then I have a visual for it, or vice versa.
I just wrote a song called “Show Girl” that has a lot of lyrics, and I had to memorize it last minute for our show. What I do is I mentally create this visual story pathway to help me memorize the lyrics that I wrote, to remember the order of the lyrics.
When I was writing “Devil Girl, I was watching a documentary on the witch burnings and the witch trials in Europe, which apparently were way worse than what we had here [in the U.S.] They killed hundreds of people. So I was watching that and thinking about this devil girl, who’s this outcast of society, but she’s also this alluring, mysterious woman. As I was writing it, it also flipped a switch in my head about my own queerness, which helped me come out to myself about being bisexual. So there’s a kind of queer element to it, too.
S: When I originally started getting this video together, I asked Birdy ‘hey, what’s the lyrics? What does everything mean?’ just to keep some continuity with the music video.
I grew up watching Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and there was always something very alluring to me about music videos with a story behind them, where it continues past the song. From there, I listened to the words more — I listened to the song maybe 300 times over six months, so I was constantly getting this idea, this image.
What I can tell you about the short film is that we follow a young, adult, queer woman who grew up with a very strong religious upbringing. She’s figuring out her identity and figuring out who she is and she wants to be able to live more freely than she can with this very strong grasp that her religious family has on her. We explore that idea, and the duality and the dichotomy of good and evil. There’s a big fantasy aspect, and there are things like black magic and cults.
It also has a personal reference to me. I grew up with parents who weren’t forcing me into religion, but there were was a point where religion was a factor in my life and I remember going to bed crying because ‘Oh, I’m gay. I’m gonna go to hell.’ But then you flip the switch and here I am today. This story has a lot of personal meaning to me and Birdy, but even the cast that we have involved with the project all grew up with a religious power that almost took over their lives and strayed them away from who they are today. The film has a relatable element where people can see it and take different meanings from it, and that was the point — I didn’t want to be so obvious and just give viewers the meaning. There’s hidden elements in there that I play around with.
B: You do it in a way that there is metaphor, but it’s really subtle in a really amazing way.
For me, I grew up in Wheaton. Like Shaman, my family wasn’t super religious, but my parents had been raised ultra-Catholic and so [Catholicism] was in my life growing up. In Wheaton, I think there are more churches per capita than the Vatican City; just a very, very, big Christian population. I love taking that theme and playing with it and flipping that idea on its head and making it sinful and dirty, like I do with “Devil Girl” and “Catholic Boy.”
S: I was talking with some of the cast when we were filming the other day, and the song is obviously called “Devil Girl,” but this goes beyond gender. It’s very much about the energy and the power that you get from realizing that you are this ultimate being who is in control.
Sweetie has played a lot of drag events. How did the band get involved in the Chicago drag scene?
B: Shaman and I met at a quarterly drag show at the Comedy Shrine in Aurora called TTime. When Penelope Torres was first putting it together, she reached out to me and asked if Sweetie wanted to play and be the musical act, just because we’re a two-piece and we can’t have a full band on stage. Shaman was there performing the last show he ever did, so I was there for the last drag show Sindy Vicious ever performed. That night, Penelope really liked how we worked with the crowd and we became the event’s house band. Shortly after, Shaman reached out to me and we started working on this music video.
One of the most important movies for me is The Rocky Horror Picture Show — I used to go to the showing in Woodridge every weekend when I was a teenager. I was insanely obsessed with that, and then I found out that two of the drag performers in our music video actually do the Rocky Horror shadow cast in DeKalb. I watch a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s just something I’m very interested in. Shaman has definitely helped drag up my stage look, just in the information that he’s given me. It’s been priceless. I’m such a tomboy now, but when I was a kid, my favorite thing was to play dress up, so getting to do that again and being extra with my look has been really kind of a sweet thing.
Can you talk a bit about how you chose the venue and the performers for the premiere party?
S: I always look at everything as, ‘how big can we take this? What can we do to make this feel even more real than it actually is in the moment?’, so I suggested we do a little premiere party. I’ve been producing drag shows since I was 17 years old, and I’ve done multiple shows with punk bands and different alt rock bands. I’ve always seen a connection between the two, and I like these things to mesh because it works so well, they create an almost underground cabaret. At the party, we’ll premiere the video and we’ll have the performers come out, but having a party also ensures we can pay the people who are in this video, because it’s basically all been volunteer work — there was no budget. We did everything we could to make sure it looks super legit while sticking to no budget, so the premiere party is saying thank you to the performers in the video. Let’s celebrate you, let’s celebrate us, let’s just celebrate this project that’s taken almost a year to make. Let’s rejoice in it and take in the moment.
B: Every drag performer that’s performing that night was in the music video, and Won’t Stay Dead are my gals.
If someone walks into Liar’s Club without a clue of what’s going on that night, what do you want that individual to take away from your event?
S: Hosting a drag show at Liar’s Club for three years, I know that you do have those people who walk in not knowing anything, but that’s such a cool thing — everyone that walks into Liar’s Club is super open-minded, and they’re there to have a good time and enjoy the energy that is being given. Depending on the person, I feel like some people are gonna want to run to church the next morning. On the other hand, some people are going to sit there and take in what we made and appreciate this queer feminine energy that got put into this video. Maybe people can walk away with a feeling of wholeness, or recognize that this is the kind of art that’s being created in these hard times everyone’s going through. I think it’s amazing to see that people are still creating and that art is still thriving.
B: I want people to walk in and go ‘oh, fuck yeah!’ I went and saw this band Daikaiju in Milwaukee back in the fall, and I had never had that kind of experience before. Their show was so cool that I was actually screaming. They move all of their gear into the mosh pit at one point and then they light it on fire —holy shit! And then it dawned on me — I love when people come to enjoy the music, but I want it to be a whole experience. I want it to be jaw dropping and I want it to be worth it to people in their 30’s who will stay out ’til 2 a.m. for this.
S: It is the night before Easter, so I know a lot of people have off the next day — that wasn’t an accident, by the way.
You can attend the “Devil Girl” music video premiere party next Saturday, April 16 at Liar’s Club. Party starts at 8 p.m. $10 entry. Cash bar only. More info here.