Sasha Gradiva, the international-born recording artist, is perhaps best known in the US for her appearance at the 2012 Grammy Awards in a pink gown and gun-arm sleeve, that won her the nickname “Gun Girl.” But, it’s what got her to the Grammy’s in the first place that more people are beginning to pay attention to stateside. Sasha emerged onto the US music scene a few years back with a unique blend of pop and electronic sounds, she’s got a club-scene cult-following, and she just concluded her nationwide #LOVERSWANTEDTOUR tour. The fact that she continues to captivate the entertainment industry with her quirky ensembles and avant-garde look is just a very awesome bonus. We caught up with the singer at her hotel before her concert at Spin Nightclub in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, where we chatted about the outfit that sparked a media frenzy, her favorite part about her job, and life on the road.
YOU MOVED TO THE U.S. IN 2009. WHAT MADE YOU MAKE THE MOVE?
I’d done a lot of things with my career in Russia, from releasing an album to doing a couple of movies and a show with MTV. I got to a point where I thought, “I want to go worldwide.” I was still young. I needed to do it, it was “now or never,” so I just made this big switch.
WHAT WAS THE TRANSITION LIKE?
Oh my god, it’s a whole life that I left behind. I remember coming to the US – I was still getting familiar with the culture, with the language. I thought I knew English but not really! [Laughs] I had to take lessons. But overall it’s been a good ride. I met so many interesting and beautiful people along the way.
YOU’VE GAINED MAJOR RECOGNITION IN THE CLUB SCENE AND HAVE EMERGED AS A TOP GAY CULTURE ICONS. WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR SUCCESS?
I have a special relationship with my gay fans. I was always surrounded by gay people at an early age. They were always my friends. I moved to Moscow when I was 15 and before that I was living in a small northern city. People were very stern about accepting people who were not the majority. A lot of my friends had to hide the fact that they were gay. I felt for them. I feel like I know [my gay fans] and they know me and we love the same music and fashion. My gay fans definitely have a special place in my heart.
YOU LIVE IN LOS ANGELES CURRENTLY?
It’s funny how I happened to find myself in Los Angeles. When I first moved, I absolutely hated that city. I thought “Oh my god, this is not for me at all.” I moved to New York and lived in New York for a few years and just recently, a lot of my friends, my team, my producers, my managers, they’re in LA – I was spending a lot of time in LA. I found it’s easier for me to be there. I love LA now! A little bit too much sun. [laughs]
YOU RECORDED CHART TOPPING SOLO ALBUMS, BECAME THE STAR OF THE HIT MTV RUSSIA REALITY SHOW “GIRL POWER” AND GRACED THE COVERS OF COSMOPOLITAN, MAXIM AND VOGUE. HOW IS THE US MARKET DIFFERENT?
I feel more free as an artist in the US. I would say the US has a larger show business industry but that’s what I love about it! You can find so many different outlets. I love how people treat the arts here – It’s easier for me to be a creative person.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE HEARING YOUR SONG ON THE RADIO FOR THE FIRST TIME?
It’s very strange…a lot of pleasant emotions come with it. It’s such a team effort, and when you see the results and hear your song on the radio or see that people love what you do – it’s very rewarding. In those moments, I feel very connected with my team and with the people I work with.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PRE-SHOW RITUALS? WHAT GOES ON BEFORE A SHOW?
We say a prayer or meditate. Our team is multi-cultural, multi-religious but we always say something uniting us before we go on stage, because I think success and fame and my desire for people to know my name around the world is just the half of it. I think every artist has a purpose. A true artist needs to stand for something else than just lifestyle and bling.
[A man approaches, “Sasha Antonova, right? You’re from Russia!” Sasha: Yes! How did you know? My stage name is Gradiva.]
WHAT IS LIFE ON THE ROAD LIKE? DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY.
While at the hotel, we try not to see each other, as much as possible [Laughs] We spend so much time together, it’s pretty much 24/7. We wake up around noon, breakfast, then we try to hit the gym to get the blood circulating, and do some interviews. We try to find bikram yoga somewhere in the city to go and sweat a little bit. Then we hit the road!
We try to go sightseeing. I’m going to wake up early tomorrow and go to the Art Institute. Do they have Dali? Because you know my name Gradiva is from 19th century art. Originally, she is a goddess from ancient Pompeii and was famous for walking through walls. A lot of impressionists made her their muse. Dali’s nickname for his wife was Gradiva so that is kind of my mystery!
DOES LIFE AS A MUSICIAN EVER GET EXHAUSTING?
Honestly, it does get exhausting. It is very tiring. The day of the Grammy’s, I was in the hospital in Houston. I just didn’t feel well, woke up – my hands were shaking, my head was spinning and they decided to check my vitals to see if everything was fine. So, it is exhausting but it is rewarding as well. It is an amazing opportunity to connect with fans. Literally, touch them and they can touch me. This is what is important.
YOU WERE DUBBED GUN GIRL AT THE 2012 ANNUAL GRAMMYS AFTER YOUR GET-UP SPARKED A MEDIA FRENZY. WHAT WAS THE THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND YOUR LOOK?
My outfit was my conscious choice. That was my artistic vision and expression of how I see this world and such clashing things in the world such as weapons and machine guns next to kids. I volunteer for Kids Creating Peace and I travel a few times a year with that organization. It’s something that I really care about. That year I came from Palestine and it touched me. There’s so much pain. It is very clashing, just like my outfit. I came from Israel, from Palestine, and in a couple of days I was going to the Grammy’s. I just felt that I wanted to speak about it. I wanted to bring up that message. It definitely attracted a lot of attention! [Laughs]
WITH THAT ATTENTION CAME A LOT OF GOOD. OUTLETS SUCH AS ROLLING STONE, US WEEKLY AND THE NEW YORK TIMES RECAPPED YOUR LOOK, CATCHING THE ATTENTION OF PRODUCER TRICKY STEWART AND THE RED ZONE TEAM, WHO PRODUCED YOUR FIRST US SINGLE. WHO ELSE ARE YOU WORKING WITH AS A RESULT?
I am currently working with incredibly talented producers. We’re planning on making two songs together. I have amazing co-writers. I think we will do more songs with Justin Tranter, lead singer of Semi Precious Weapons. He is an extraordinary soul and I feel very connected to him. I feel like our songs come out pretty rad.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FASHION? WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU AND HOW DO YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF CREATIVELY?
I’m a fashion addict! I’ve been diagnosed. I love everything connected to fashion. I think that fashion inspires music in all points. Things that belong together. I like to be a little bit out of the ordinary. But, I always like to have a message and meaning behind it, just like my songs. I like for my expressions and my art to be meaningful.
DO YOU HAVE A CRAZY FAN STORY?
I have one funny story! I got a very interesting, outrageous gift from a fan. It was somewhere in Miami at a meet and greet. There was a drag queen who came up to me and said “Your show is amazing, your energy is amazing!” She was beautiful, her face and her makeup. I told her the lashes were beautiful. I asked what kind of lashes she uses and she took them off her eyes and gave them to me! With glue on them and makeup [laughs] “Take it, take it. I want you to have them.” At the same time, I love those kinds of things. It shows how open people are and I want to be open with my fans. I like moments like that.
WHAT DO YOU DO ON YOUR DOWN TIME, JUST FOR YOURSELF?
I try to go the spa and relax a little bit. Movies. I don’t feel like I work. Like everyone, I get tired after the shows but it’s not really work for me. I’m totally cool with meeting fans and new people. I’m looking forward to them. This is my life, this is what I chose and this is what I enjoy.
WHAT ELSE IS COMING UP FOR YOU?
#LOVERSWANTEDTOUR – we are almost done with this one. It’s an ongoing tour pretty much. My “Come With Us” single is releasing soon. It means a lot to me, very personal and very inclusive track.
All photos by Lindsey Cavanaugh for L+C