We need more BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ in positions of management, and even owners of businesses. We need to take it a step even further and expand diversity in every single industry, from doctors, lawyers, to musicians, to teachers, chefs, and more.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Norell and Zander, co-founders and co-producers that made their own queer enterprise with their music duo, software, trademark, and venue, The Band Famous.
Zander and Norell made The Band Famous, sometimes referred to as the original “Instant Band” as they improvised their formation on a livestream in St. Paul, MN in July of 2013 with a couple friends broadcasting to a virtual audience online tuning in, which included technologist, entrepreneur, and artist Greg Deocampo, who is a fan and friend of the band to this day.
The Band Famous has gone on to livestream every musical performance, benefit event, and even the first-ever benefit festival they have hosted, produced and often performed since as part of their “Party for a Purpose” movement: to raise awareness and proceeds for different charities and causes close to their hearts, such as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, American Heart Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, My Friend’s Place — supporting homeless youth — and more.
It wasn’t easy for The Band Famous to grow into the queer enterprise it now is; however, they had to overcome extreme hardship and adversity including abuse and homelessness, and learning from their own experiences and surroundings that there was a major lack of support for queer folk not only for themselves but for their fellow LGBTQAI+ friends, their BIPOC friends — and especially for their LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC for whom it is even harder and the support is generally even more lacking! Thus, the band made it their mission to build a queer enterprise that would help them follow their dreams and simultaneously offer support to their LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC friends.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/b6f4bf07262d342222940f83dc33a30a
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Thank you for having us, and absolutely!
Mary Norell Jackson — also known as Norell on stage — was born in North Carolina but grew up primarily in WI, and has been singing since she was born; always in choir, band, guitar, and piano whenever she could be in her early school years and was even known to sneak into a neighborhood church to play their piano when she was five years old. She was recruited for and sang in an honorary choir called Circle the State in Indiana when she lived there in the 6th grade. Besides music, she played soccer — defense and mid-field positions — at Ashland High School and was scouted out for college soccer at Northland College in the small town of Ashland, WI, where she spent most of her childhood with her grandfather and best friend, Robert Norell Olson. While she attended Northland with some scholarships for soccer and some scholarships for her academics, she participated in the LGBT Drama Club, and by singing 1st Soprano with Northland Singers, whom she toured with in southern Wisconsin to Chicago, IL. After attending Northland College for two years she applied for and was granted independent status to leave an abusive situation at home. Once the government reviewed her case and approved her request, she moved to Minneapolis, MN in 2009, transferring from the private environmental liberal arts college of around 500 students and quickly adapting to a public university with tens of thousands of students. She made the Dean’s List every semester after transferring to the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts — even in her senior year while experiencing trials of extreme hardship including homelessness and a stalker situation. She continued to sing in the University Women’s Chorus; she sang in Cantara, another all-women’s choir led by singer Emily Colay (Wookiefoot), which focused on world music and songs not in English; she performed open-mic and shared cover songs; all while working and putting herself through college. Although not able to attend her graduation ceremony and walk to receive her diploma due to the stalker situation at the time, Norell graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications in May 2011 and a proficiency in the German language, which she studied in high school and college and now writes with family, including her Great Aunt she plans to meet and visit in Germany one day.
Jacob Alexander Figueroa — also known as Zander — was born in Saint Paul, MN, and raised bi-lingual, learning in English and in Spanish and spending time living in MN, Hawaii, Argentina, and more with his mother, step-dad, and siblings. While still in high school he also attended Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop photo courses for a semester at Hennepin Technical College, later graduating from Armstrong High School in Plymouth, MN. He always pursued art first and foremost but holds no degree as a fully self-taught artist. Music was also a passion early on and he attended MacPhail Center for Music and is trained in Suzuki method violin. He played violin in a band in high school and performed often with them until one of the band’s member’s fathers made him quit the band. Straight out of high school he began touring his mixed media artworks and even body painting in the Midwest in Minneapolis, MN, to WI, Chicago, IL, as well as for New York Fashion Week circa 2011. He has body painted for Paul van Dyk, Benny Benassi, Red Bull, music festivals, conventions, and more. At age 23 he opened and ran an art gallery in the heart of Minneapolis, MN after deciding he wanted to create a more permanent space for the multimedia art installations he was curating and producing around the Twin Cities; showcasing several local artists in the community, and often funded entirely out of his own pockets. He opened Karnak Gallery, which he ran for about four months, and a good portion of the experience was captured in the documentary “All Over the Walls”. It documented the lack of cooperation to the direct sabotage that Jacob and his gallery experienced from what we can only speculate were rivals or direct competitors — such as other art galleries or venues — or “haters” and people in the community who were jealous of Jacob having success at such a young age when really he was driven and aspiring to help other artists while honing in on and refining his own crafts. He tried to do something that was [arguably] ultimately for the community as much as it was for himself, and he was forced to close the space a few months after opening. The documentary “All Over the Walls” went on to premiere at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, and also won “Best Featured Documentary” at Highway 61 Festival.
Besides being a self-taught artist, Zander was also among the first wave of students pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Mobile Development at Full Sail University Online, which he enrolled in around January 2011. He was in school for over three years with several apps in development when he was suspended in late 2014 during one course with a teacher that didn’t seem to vibe with him from the beginning. Zander had used some code from an open source library as he thought he was allowed to do in one of his school app projects and he was also working long hours in New Jersey while adapting to living in NYC, having just moved from Minneapolis, MN. Full Sail told him that he was welcome to take a Java course and submit proof of completion of that course and then he could resume the pursuit of his Bachelor of Science degree in Mobile Development. It was rather harsh and confusing, as the online program was brand new and there were several flaws throughout the process along the way, but it is what it is. Zander chose to instead put his focus further into his body painting and into his self-produced music and app project, The Band Famous, which he began with his wife Norell, which was gaining notoriety and attention.
Zander and Norell had originally met back in August of 2010 when she arrived as one of his body paint models at DVS1’s Hush Studios in Minneapolis, MN. They began going steady after noticing from the start that they shared many ideals and things in common — including a kindness and passion for helping, promoting, and supporting other artists and musicians; this became a driving forefront behind their band and their careers. Thus, The Band Famous became the first band to hard-code, develop, deploy and self-distribute an exclusive app album for their debut, Last Words, in their self-titled app “The Band Famous”, giving fans the opportunity to listen to their nine-track album offline, as well as in-app concerts, and even a sophisticated, elemental retro card game.
When they left MN and lived in NYC for a year, they livestreamed their music from Union Square Park through their apps before Facebook live existed, before returning to the Midwest for a short time to help family. After continuing to witness cycles of abuse, they made the decision to ultimately cut ties from toxic friends and family, and move to Los Angeles, where they lived in their car for two-and-a-half years to rebuild. Making these sacrifices allowed The Band Famous to go beyond music through building their own community and queer-inclusive enterprise.
The Band Famous venue includes their private recording and production studio, as well as a livestreaming setup, live stage and full PA system that they have shared with their LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC friends that they showcase, hard-code, and feature in their Hall Of Fame music collective and TBF Radio; helping promote and share their music, but also giving many of them their first shows in Los Angeles pre-covid19. Since covid has drastically impacted life as we know it, The Band Famous adapted and evolved their storefront in their venue, which is now featuring a merchandise wall with T-Shirts, tank tops, hats, and more. They did this to help sell items for their Hall Of Fame artists, with 85% of proceeds going to the artist for every item of theirs sold.
The Band Famous is not a record label, Norell and Zander do not get paid to help these artists, they are authentically and sincerely artists supporting artists. Currently they have store hours every Saturday from 3:00pm-5:00pm in Los Angeles, but plan to expand store hours once they launch The Band Famous CBD products they are developing with one of their sponsors.
The band’s latest EP Awakening has received some positive acclaim with their self-produced music video for “Emotional Scatter” having premiered on City Pages but also having the support from pop icon Tom Green. The comedian follows The Band Famous on Twitter and quoted and shared the music video for “Emotional Scatter”, which features a garden gnome signed by Tom Green. The song “Because” received radio airplay in the United Kingdom this summer with 6 Towns Radio, broadcasting to Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle, and Kidsgrove. The band is currently in production of the music video for “Because”, which upon completion will wrap up the entire Awakening EP project, with each track having a music video self-produced to go along with it. This time the band has actor and producer Jayson Reyes helping bring Zander’s vision to life in combination with Norell and a full cast assisting and taking Zander’s direction.
The band’s favorite artist — and longtime LGBTQAI+ advocate with their art — Olek, featured their song “Escape” (from their debut album Last Words in The Band Famous apps) with their Virtual Reality exhibition in NYC this year.
Norell and Zander actually attended one of Olek’s art shows in NYC when they lived there in 2014/2015. Olek has since called The Band Famous their favorite band, which — along with having them share their music with their art — is a dream come true. Olek has recently requested more music for their use with their art — making more dreams come true — so The Band Famous is also currently working on a custom track just for them, and we are so grateful to collaborate. We are such a fan of them, and their artworks — which includes crochet art, sculptures, installations, performance pieces, and more — even recently evolving to Virtual Reality, their current favorite form of creative expression. But beyond that, Olek has a long history of LGBTQAI+ activism with their art; it is more than just loving their art, we love who they are and what they stand for. We are also working on music with some other very special collaborators — including Corey Dee Williams and his 3-Dee Nucleus project — along with some musicians from our Hall Of Fame music collective for our 3rd album that we will be producing once we wrap the music video for “Because”.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Norell: A few books come to mind, but “Go Ask Alice” was perhaps one of the most interesting formats and most influential books I’ve read while still in high school. It is essentially a diary — the true author is unknown and has been named “anonymous” — that follows a teenage girl on a path of drugs and escapism, on a downward spiral of destruction. It taught me at a young age not only to be wary of drugs — which along with alcohol had been abused by some relatives of mine, further compelling me to steer clear of hard drugs — but it also taught me to listen to my own gut feelings above that of what others were telling me to do. In the book there were moments where “Alice” had a feeling about something, such as to avoid hanging around certain people, but she ignored those red flags and she wound up on a horrible path because she wasn’t true to herself and was too easily swayed by the external influence of others. In my own life I have learned that I too may get burned when I ignore red flags that come up, when I ignore my gut feeling.
Zander: Mysteries of the Mind — which is of the Edgar Cayce libraries — influenced a variety of my daily activities. I suppose many books growing up in early childhood were about history or journals of what it was like to live during harder times without technology that in turn dramatically affected my relationship with technology. Books were archaic and even now a days you don’t see many people reading physical copies of things. A book is a romantic item, a story, an analog, a collection of data or a hard drive so to speak. Fictitious books certainly tailored some of my thirst for imagination growth. Philip K. Dick is probably one of my most favorite writers in terms of structure. It is pretty regular to criticize something until it is fully finished and yet sometimes when we get to that point of criticism it is at that point that the book has already pushed us and given us something. It’s really hard to pick a favorite. Books are like colors and should be frequented many times!
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Norell: I have a few that immediately come to mind. The first is Albert Einstein: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” The second is Isaac Newton’s “to any action there is always an opposite and equal reaction”. Both of these quotes are relevant in my life from my childhood to present day. For one, growing up for me was very difficult. Adversity, hardship, poverty, and abuse were common themes. My parents struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism, and my father passed away from cancer while homeless in October 2018. I had a wonderfully close relationship with my Opa aka grandfather, though, my real-life hero who passed away in September 2014 and rests peacefully at Arlington National Cemetery. Besides adversities growing up, I went through more traumas from “frenemies”, one being a couple in high school — although I don’t blame the girlfriend and have since forgiven both parties. I put a perpetrator behind bars in my youth, but not before they could stack up more “victims”. I refuse to be a victim, I have taken an opposite reaction to what I have been faced with and have chosen to let what doesn’t kill me make me stronger. I don’t personally believe “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; however, I do believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but only if you let it”. I have seen firsthand that not everyone who faces adversity and immense hardship is able to find the perseverance within them to be stronger, the perseverance that I have managed to find within myself. I am grateful for my hardship for I have chosen to let it make me stronger. The violent opposition I have faced in my life has only fueled me to conquer every challenge and obstacle that arises with more love, more ambition, and more drive to spread love and inspiration — no matter what. There is always an equal and opposite reaction to every action — sometimes it is appropriate that we react equally, and sometimes that we react opposite — all dependent on the action. If it is an action served with good intentions, with pure intentions, with love, I will respond equally. If it is an action served with ill intentions, with malicious intentions, with hate, I will respond opposite. My reasoning is simple: Hate begets hate, as war begets war, and violence begets violence. The only answer is love. This is the way.
Zander: “GG”, which is a term used in Esports and even with sports to mean “good game”. I think gaming is typically related to wasting time and money, frivolously, you know? Like, “Hey, I’m going to play some games.” In sports, but even-more-so in gaming culture and e-nerd culture, “GG” is sort of this thing we say to each other after a huge victory or a major win — “Good game!” It’s even said to the opposing team, we say it out of respect when we win because they gave us the challenge of refining ourselves to get better. Video games were sort of looked down upon in my childhood and I grew up being told they wasted my time, money, and also that they were the devil. They were taken away from me at different points in my life as well because my mother disagreed with everything about them. Video games were an early domino to my thirst to understand and appreciate technology. I was very struck from a very early age by the ability to plug something into a wall and charge it and the ability to take it with me and compute, and not only to play games but also to save files, start files, and to select from a variety of interfaces, which changed over time i.e. VHS, VCRs, and DVDs. Games basically were my education to life. They taught me how to make art and when to listen because you have to follow instructions, and what to watch for as in games you are often playing against someone so you have to study your opponent to try and best them. I know it’s crazy but it’s really the entire video game industry and franchises within — to the consoles, the companies, the software, the hype, everything — that has inspired me personally; I’ve mirrored and implemented a variety of aspects into our business from it. Riot Games, for example, made League of Legends a free game, and had a variety of add-ons and skins that people can purchase for a fee but these add-ons don’t make any impact of individual player skill or how strong you are in the game. Our debut album (an app) was free and the Android version a year later was free and both still remain free. Free is very important because it shows that you care about your community, and you are willing to work to share your art. Art is meant to cause feeling, frustrations and reactions to help us grow towards our highest selves. I’m really thankful for the ability to have learned so much from video games, consoles, and the entire industry. “GG”.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Norell: To me, one way to define leadership is when one has a vision and one doesn’t stop at anything until they bring that vision to fruition. That is, no naysayers or even people that may inspire that person on their own journey can sway their focus of ambitions. Leadership is someone who — rather than dwell on a problem — works to find a solution whenever a problem arises. Leadership is someone who creates their own path, following in no ones footsteps, but forging their own way. Leadership is listening to your inner voice, your intuition, your gut feeling, and not accepting any answer as truth unless it resonates as truth deep within you. Leadership is searching for truth. Leadership is withholding integrity no matter how hard the spirit is tempted or tested. Leadership is balancing selfishness and selflessness, for example knowing when one needs to be selfish is necessary as we cannot care for others if we cannot first care for ourselves — and knowing when one needs to be selfless, moving forward with motivations and intentions for the most benevolent outcome for the greatest good of all. There are those who are self-seeking, living their lives with motivations only for their self; then there are leaders who are driven to create a better world not just for themselves — as the world does not revolve around one person — but a better world for all. Leaders are team players with courage to lead their team to victory, and I’m not talking just the “MVP” or “star player”; leaders view all team members as important.
Zander: Leadership is really about being an expert of your chosen field and not being afraid to help others become successful. I feel success and leadership go hand in hand but yet remain very different. A Leader will generally try their best to create more variety and wide success for those around them. Someone who wants success and doesn’t want to share it might just have a major ego problem and might just need Taylor Swift to scowl at them for an attitude adjustment.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Norell: Before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision I generally take notes, make outlines, and have a strategizing session beforehand. I aspire to meditate a few minutes each day to relieve stress in general, which may be as simple as just sitting with my dog and breathing, focusing on the breath. Yoga and really any form of exercise — a quick jog or walk with the dog, some dancing, aerobics, stretching — it all helps calm and center me, personally. I also fit a good deal of gaming in with my partner and friends. Zander and I play the Nintendo Switch to take breaks, although when I’m gaming I’m generally playing League of Legends. We also play Pokémon GO, which is another great way to release and relieve stress. It’s a low-stress game, too, unless you’re hard-core PvPing, that is!
Zander: Stress release has been something that has been so automatic for me from an early childhood as I had no choice from early trauma but to just figure it out and go inwards. I realized early on that I had to create my own mental house to keep clean, if that makes sense? I clean it daily; I organize my laundry (thoughts); take out the trash (getting rid of energy by showering and keeping good hygiene); buying furniture and nice decor for it (teaching myself skills to prepare and researching about the meeting or person I am to meet). I love Batman and agree with his method: Study everything! Never stop learning, never be afraid to teach yourself new skills, and don’t be afraid to fail daily.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Norell: Racism is something that has been a problem for way too long. I have witnessed it myself in my past with certain family members I have since cut off. I have absolutely no tolerance for racism or any kind of hatred or prejudice directed at any human of any race, orientation — or any label you want to put on any human. I will not stand for bullying or cruelty of any kind. It goes without saying that this crisis has evolved to the boiling point that it is at because we have had decades of abuse, misconduct, and mistreatment towards BIPOC. Let’s face it: The United States was founded on stolen land. Christopher Columbus was a monster of a man who raped and pillaged many innocent lives. We are still reaping what he has sown, having built a nation on countless bloodshed of innocent people, people whose lives are more valuable than any perverted views of white supremacy. Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, there were not many people of color, though I experienced and witnessed the segregation firsthand that the Native American reservations created. White men have long oppressed communities of color, feeling somehow entitled to a better quality of life than other men of differing skin tones. For way too long our brothers and sisters with darker complexions have been abused and mistreated and it’s long-past time reparations be made and any remaining notion of white supremacy be destroyed. I’ve witnessed police brutality towards BIPOC in Minneapolis, MN where I completed my college degree, and it’s still infuriating to me that those who go into the police force are not all put under a thorough psyche evaluation prior to graduating their police academy and being released “to honor, serve, and protect” — clearly too many people in uniform are not doing their civil duties to maintain the peace. Police forces are more like a gang with the way they pick and choose who they will abuse and break the very laws they are supposed to be protecting and upholding. White privilege needs to be addressed and majorly put in check. Being a human and being alive is a privilege, not being white, and we as a human race need to hold each other accountable that Black lives, Indigenous lives, Hispanic lives, Asian lives — every single life needs to be treated with a basic reverence and human decency. Let me say that when people say, “Black lives matter” — that “matter” is the minimum for Black lives, for Indigenous lives, for Hispanic lives, for all human lives. We have so much work to do still that the world be a more accepting, inclusive, and safe space for all humanity, and not just for some.
Zander: I truly think racism goes beyond presidency and was witnessed in World War 2 for example with the Jews during Hitler’s rampage. We can’t look at the things that are wrong all of the time. We need to start to look back at how we have — for many years — separated ourselves not only by race but by religion, food preferences, wage differences, education differences, and how we have separated and how it has been aggregated to the point of something now that feels beyond repair. There has been a general lack of female-led leadership or big fancy companies with a woman at the forefront. We are in an age where that cannot continue. People have to acknowledge on some level that we have to love our grandma and we need that energy in points of leadership if things are to change. We cannot just accept the leaderships of our office but take our own leadership to our communities and insure change by demonstrating that we share the same planet and the things that make us different and unique are actually attractions and something to be thankful for.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
Norell: Have you heard of Cat Hollis? She is the revolutionary who started the nationwide movement known as the “stripper strike” that originated in Portland, OR aka #pdxstripperstrike. Cat is a Black exotic dancer and activist advocating for equitable scheduling, treatment, and sensitivity training; helping BIPOC apply for and receive grants; helping mothers with toy drives; and she has been interviewed and published for her work and the progress that has resulted on Rolling Stone, Vogue Magazine, Fox News, and more. She is one of our heroes and a LGBTQAI+ role model, and shortly after her feature in Rolling Stone she endorsed our band’s initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, saying:
“The Band Famous has been doing the work so long to include women and poc in the music industry. Support their amazing work.”
Having her endorsement and testimonial speaks volumes; especially that she has witnessed The Band Famous — as a band, brand, and entrepreneurs — as artists supporting artists for at least a decade.
The Band Famous is a queer, married music duo and are longtime LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC advocates and allies; resulting in their evolution to a queer enterprise with the combined cultivation of their music, software, trademark [for in-app concerts, live streamed artistic and musical performances], and venue. For years The Band Famous has featured, promoted, and helped other artists and musicians, and primarily LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC, as they’ve long witnessed the lacking support for their demographics. Norell is bisexual and Zander is queer and Latino-American (Hispanic and Spanish). Both have experienced abuse and backlash from family and others who are not “queer-friendly”. To counter the hate they continually spread love with their queer enterprise, rising up to help many LGBTQAI+ and BIPOC artists, including giving some their first-ever performances before an audience in Los Angeles on their stage, as well as live streaming to fans not in LA.
Prior to opening their own LGBTQAI+ friendly venue, Norell and Zander endured immense hardship from toxic family and friends, living in a car for 2.5 years as a married entrepreneurial couple with huge goals. Continuing to overcome adversity, they have recently added a merchandise wall to their physical storefront in their Los Angeles venue. The Band Famous is open for limited hours per week, with limited capacity, as one of the last remaining queer-run venues — and venues in general — that remain open despite covid19’s toll on all industries and the economy. We are still making great efforts to support our BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ friends — as featured in the Hall Of Fame — with 85% of proceeds going to the artist for every item sold.
But also over a decade ago, back before The Band Famous even existed, I witnessed my husband, band mate, and partner in every way, Zander helping many BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ models and artists in the Twin Cities circa 2010. He guided many models, encouraging them to always use a contract, and to bring an escort to every photography shoot. Sexual predators posing as a photographer have prayed upon some models; hearing these horror stories firsthand and even knowing some friends who were personally assaulted at a shoot where they did not bring an escort with them, he was always protective of his models. He even volunteered [to model friends of his] to escort them to shoots if they needed someone to make sure they made it there — and made it home — safe. He went by Jacob Alexander then, and his modeling agency, VWInk Agency, was body positive. He would go out of his way to cast BIPOC models because he couldn’t stand how “white-washed” everything was and wanted to showcase more diverse beauties, this included both male and female models. This was also apparent with how he ran his gallery, Karnak Gallery, [that he opened at age 23 in the heart of downtown Minneapolis in 2010] which supported many diverse artists for the few months that it was open. The story of why it is no longer open was captured and can be observed in “All Over the Walls”, a documentary on Jacob Alexander and his dream of opening an art gallery to help the community.
He got kind of a bad reputation from women judging him — in my opinion — for the amount of attention he got from other women who wanted to be his canvas, and this of course didn’t make him very popular with those who would have preferred to be those women’s object of affection and attention. He was loved by women, but just because his models loved him, didn’t mean he was sleeping with all of them. He has admitted to being more than friends with a couple of his models over the years, which may or may not have been connected to the sabotage that his gallery was subjected to — if in fact jealousy did play a part. For the record, Zander was completely professional with me the first time I ever modeled for him as a body paint model, and I witnessed that same professionalism many times. He could even stay focused and not get distracted even if the man or woman he was body painting became somewhat aroused in the process. The man is a true artist; he is very passionate about his crafts.
I went on to assist Zander with body painting for many occasions, including at Sexapalooza at the Minneapolis Convention Center in MN, and Sexapalooza at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, OR back in 2012. Sexapalooza was a touring adult convention that blended entertainment and education on sex and sexuality — think sex education, but revamped for adults — founded and run by Black Kat Shows, an all-women led company. It was a positive experience to be a part of, despite Minneapolis not allowing all of Sexapalooza’s exhibitions to go through even though Black Kat Shows got consent and permission for all exhibitions in writing beforehand. Some features of the convention were shut down regardless, as conservative Minneapolis was not as queer-friendly or sex-positive as Portland at the time and took offense to some of Sexapalooza’s featured exhibits — even while approving it in advance!
Black Kat Shows loved Zander’s body painting and his live edible art exhibit at Sexapalooza in Minneapolis so much that they invited us to be a part of Sexapalooza in Portland the following week, so we accepted and made the drive. One of Zander’s featured models that he body painted at Sexapalooza in Portland was a male-to-female trans model and someone who was also a longtime fan of his body painting; she had been following Zander’s work for some time.
When we formed a band back in 2013 and later moved to NYC, Zander did a UV body paint runway show that didn’t feature a single white model. Four of the seven models for the runway show were Black, two men and two women, and three more models in the show were of Hispanic descent. Zander has always celebrated diversity, and I have in my personal life as well. We both had witnessed racism in our lives — separately and together — and we have loudly been anti-hate, anti-racism, and active advocates and allies with and for our BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ friends.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It is so imperative to have a diverse executive team because one singular race is not reflective of all human experiences. We need to have racial sensitivity training just as our friend Cat Hollis has been advocating for. Racism is so deeply sewn into the veins of society from the ugly history of slavery, to the Holocaust and more — but my point is that some White people do not even have the conscientiousness to realize if they have just said something racist. It is important to have a diverse executive team so that in making big decisions it can be weighed and considered for the greatest good of all races. This is easier to achieve if you actively have diversity within your executive team. Perspective is very important and without having proper representation, there is no way to know that you have everyone’s best interests at heart, rather than just a select few. It’s important as a matter of ethics, accountability, and social responsibility. By having a diverse executive team you have a safe space to share potentially contrasting and thought-provoking perspectives and ideas. Ultimately, it is about the greatest good for all, not the greatest good for some.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
1) The first step is the acceptance and realization that we are all in this together. There is love and there is hate, but love is always the way. When we left our abusive family and toxic friends and “frenemies” behind us, when we left racist MN behind us, we never forgot about it. We never stopped talking about it, and more than talking, we never stopped taking action about it. We spoke out about police brutality on public television in Connecticut in 2014 with host Poppa T of JCTtv — that was six years prior to George Floyd whispering his last words beneath the knees of overt systemic racism, calling out for his mama. Mothers everywhere heard that call; it didn’t matter if they were Black, White, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, Native American, POC, or any other human race under the sun. And mothers were not the only ones to speak out, but brothers, sisters, fathers, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, cousins, too. We must keep this momentum, we must keep this dialog, we must keep peaceful protesting, we must keep doing what we can to support our BIPOC friends and family; even amidst continued police brutality and manipulated news stories. We must stay strong on what is right for all humanity, not for what is right for all white.
2) The second step is implementing more diversity within positions of power. For example, recently Movita Johnson-Harrell became the first Muslim woman to get elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This is a great step, but we still need more diversity. More women — especially women of color — BIPOC, LGBTQAI+ need to be involved at the forefront in making big community-impacting decisions.
3) We need more BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ in positions of management, and even owners of businesses. We need to take it a step even further and expand diversity in every single industry, from doctors, lawyers, to musicians, to teachers, chefs, and more.
4) We need to do our part to conscientiously make the choice to support more BIPOC-owned and woman-owned businesses. The White man — generally and statistically speaking at least comparably to all other race and genders — is doing just fine. They will survive and get on just fine as we allocate support to businesses that are more in need of our support; support that is long overdue for way too many generations of exploitation and abuse and mistreatment and misconduct — “reparations” is an understatement. We need to allocate our support to other businesses that are BIPOC-owned and woman-owned. It isn’t difficult to research restaurants and other businesses that are BIPOC-owned, and woman-owned, for just an example. Where we put our money will make a difference.
5) We should do our part to support more creators who are BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ friendly. Music and art are power forces in raising consciousness, reaching the masses — and influencing us for better or for worse. Music and art can heal the world, but we need to make sure that we are amplifying a greater diversity of voices to do so. There are so many voices that need to be heard, and we will continue to do our best with our own efforts sharing music as artists supporting artists, and we will continue to do our part with our own music and art endeavors, with these thoughts and with these five steps in mind.
We encourage everyone to think of even more steps that we can take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Norell: I am optimistic but at the same time it is very sad that it ever got so bad. Separate is an illusion, and I think more and more people are realizing how we are all connected and that when we fight another person over something as petty as their skin color or sexual orientation, we are basically attacking our own family; that could be our brother or sister. I am optimistic though, especially seeing some of the positive changes already taking shape and being implemented into society. We need to unite — all races, all sexual orientations — whatever our differences shouldn’t be separating us from the fact that we are all human and all deserving of kindness, basic decency and respect, and love and happiness.
Zander: I think the ability to resolve it starts with oneself. Looking to a quick fix has never been the way. Pushing any particular religion isn’t going to necessarily fix things either. One big issue I have with religion for example is someone praying to God but walking out of church and not caring about a homeless person — that just stinks of hypocrisy. We need the bluegrass change and we need it now in our communities. We must acknowledge how we can do great things together only with peace at the forefront.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Norell: Bill Pulte because he has a good heart and is successful while helping others, which is verifiable by his actions as a philanthropist on Twitter (to our knowledge it’s true that he is the “Inventor of Twitter Philanthropy”) with his many teammates witnessing his efforts in helping humanity. His giving and sharing nature — values he says his grandfather bestowed in him — has inspired others to give and share. Pulte is interested in motivating people to help other people, in essence Pulte is one embodiment of the saying: “paying it forward” — literally speaking, too — but also in terms of kindness. Someone successful may get flack and haters, sure, but just because they are successful does not mean that they are a bad person. I’m pretty sure his track record for all of his teammates (what he lovingly calls his followers on Twitter) shows that Bill Pulte is not a bad guy. He has a big heart by sharing and giving so much, so freely all the time. He is not obligated to help anyone but by doing so he is making a positive impact and ricocheting kindness. Many men in Pulte’s situation have chosen and would choose to hoard all of their wealth and only help themselves. Some rich people are very greedy, they don’t tip on their deliveries, they don’t pay their working class fair wages, they certainly aren’t actively giving away money over CashApp and helping people they don’t even know in real-life personally with getting started making investments in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, medical bills, and just flat-out donations. Many of the wealthy elite contributes to the problem by not doing more when they have the power to do more. Bill Pulte is someone who has the power to do more, and so he chooses to do more, to help not only his own family, but also his Earth family aka teammates. The Band Famous may not be able to give away money on a mass scale like Pulte, but leading by the same principles we have always shared the resources we had, even though we had to suffer much to get to a place of being able to share those resources. There aren’t many bands promoting other bands and musicians, and helping artists to the caliber that we are doing. We have been sharing our platform, our stage, and more because we have a team mentality and mindset. Our Hall Of Fame is like family, our teammates. We love our teammates, and celebrate in all of their victories as much as we do our own.
Zander: Elon Musk because I feel like it would be interesting to kick it, or get creative with and produce some music videos with him. He’s super smart, and highly advanced with technology and it would be super cool to have a conversation with him. But he’s also with musician Grimes, who spent time in Minnesota, where I’m from and where our band formed, so it seems we have some things in common and would have some things to talk about.
How can our readers follow you online?
Great question. Hello, readers!
We can be found at linktr.ee/bandfamousvenue online. We also have a storefront that is open to the public every Saturday from 3:00pm-5:00pm in Los Angeles, with hours expanding soon. Please feel welcome to stop by and walk our red carpet! Become VIP when you download The Band Famous app, which is free to download — and includes our debut album Last Words — and gives you in-store discounts! If you want to check out our latest EP Awakening, visit bandfamous.bandcamp.com!
We are @the_band_famous on Instagram, and @TheBandFamous on Twitter and Facebook, and the links to all of our social media — our YouTube, our Twitch, our music, and more — can be found on our Twitter.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
It was our pleasure to be a part of the conversation. It is a very important conversation to have and we are more than happy to speak on it. Thank you for wishes for continued success on our work — we are so happy you think it’s great! Keep up the great work as well! Thank you again for having us.