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The Hip-Hop Star Gets Down and Girly.

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Mesh top by Christian Siriano, custom fishnet top by Natalie Joos, shorts by Marc Jacobs and shoes by Christian Louboutin. (Click to enlarge image)

It's no surprise that the woman who sang the 2007 hit "Like a Boy" ("Wish we could switch up the roles") likes to dress like one too. She butched it up in the video for the track -- a year before Beyoncé's ballad "If I Were a Boy," was released. But as evidenced by the pretty white dress she also donned in that clip, she certainly likes to keep people buzzing. Ciara has always represented a wonderful combination of gender-specific hot stuff and provocative androgyny. The slinky "Crunk&B" diva, who started out with her big brown eyes set on the modeling world, can rock men's and women's looks with equal aplomb. She's been photographed out and about in Givenchy menswear ensembles (she and designer Riccardo Tisci are pals) yet for this story was game to pose in some punk-meets-Donna-Reed looks.

"I don't wear a dress regularly," Ciara tells me after the shoot, "but even if I do, you have to put some attitude into it. I like a leather skirt, which gives you some toughness, but a feminine touch too. I like the androgynous thing with a hard edge: I make things rock 'n' roll -- but still pretty." Similarly, the recording star's everyday look has taken on a certain no-muss directness. She's willing to just throw something on, whether it be a KTZ T-shirt, jean shorts, combat boots, or some combination of the above. Especially when she's hanging with the boys, putting her feet up on the coffee table for "football Sundays." ("I love the competitive energy and spirit of sports," she told me, sans affectation.)

"Tough yet pretty" might also describe Ciara, her fifth album, which exploded onto the #2 position on Billboard's Top 200 in July (right behind Jay Z, whom she toured with in '09). In its review, the Los Angeles Times dubbed her "one of R&B's most adventurous beat-seekers."

"The album is light and upbeat," says Ciara. "There's a lot of love in it -- a lot of heart and passion. It reflects the spirit and energy that I'm feeling right now. What people are hearing is my true self-expression and the energy I'm living."

She started creating the album, originally titled One Woman Army, two years ago. Gradually it came to reflect a very personal vision full of open feelings. And it turns out a lot of those feelings involve relationships, sensuality, and s-e-x. "I want my fans to get to learn more about me," says Ciara. "I've been very blessed with my success, but my music hasn't given a clear voice to who I am." The resulting album brims with attitude and sizzle; with the song "Read My Lips," you get an innuendo-laden invitation for a guy to go "down, down" on his "favorite dish." Even the gays will find this track delectable!

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 10.44.34 AM copy.pngCheckered top and shoes by Missguided, custom fishnet top by Natalie Joos, skirt by Erdem and necklace by Marco Bologna. (Click to enlarge image)

Another highlight is "I'm Out," a raunchy romp with Nicki Minaj, which celebrates ladies' sexuality with even more high-diva abandon. The video features Ciara and Minaj cavorting in white leather bodysuits as they carry on about things you won't hear mentioned on the Disney Channel. "She invited me to be on her album, Pink Friday Roman Reloaded: The Re-Up," says Ciara of Minaj, "and I invited her to be on mine. I didn't feel like there was any other person I wanted for that song. She came in and murdered the verse!" Not shockingly, the two had fun making the video, despite the exigencies of the shoot. "We didn't sleep," Ciara informs me. "We shot for about 25 hours. After a while, my body kept dancing, but my brain wasn't there. At the end, I joked, 'Now, I'm out.'"

But she's in when it comes to exploration and being more open to the public these days. Just like her music, Ciara herself is way less guarded than she used to be. "I thought it was better to be private," admits the 27-year-old. "But self-reflection helped me to say, 'You need to live more. If you worry so much about things, your head is going to explode. Just live. Something has to give.' I was holding back so much that I wasn't letting myself explore and live."

Which means Ciara is now open to talking about her relationship with the avant-rapper Navydius "Future" Cash, who is an executive producer of the album and collaborated on the first single, "Body Party." It's a sultry act of musical seduction ("My body is your party, baby/Nobody's invited but you, baby"). The video imagines the couple's first meeting, where their flirty banter culminates with a seal of approval from Ciara. "He reads," she says, as he walks away.

"He's very understanding," she tells me, "and he's my best friend. It's important to have a feeling that you can talk about anything and know a person's going to be there and support you. When we're together, it's not about who we are. I feel very normal, very safe and loved.

"Being able to speak about it is a whole different thing for me," she goes on. "I'm not thinking or caring too much about what anybody has to say anymore. Once you start over-thinking and worrying, you start getting close to insanity. I want my sanity and a life and happiness." (It's partly for that reason that Ciara won't crank out bitter songs about ex-lovers. "It'll come to light," she says. "Whatever energy a person gives you, they'll have to deal with that. I'm not necessarily going to be so direct in a song.")

ciara_cover_3.jpgBra top by Jeremy Scott, custom fishnet top by Natalie Joos, skirt by Christian Dior and boots by Daniele Michetti.

She talks a lot about her "energy" and her "journey," but don't dim your chakras worrying about it: the woman has a giddy side too. In fact, she can be extremely playful, trying on different accents to entertain herself while gently throwing people off with her charm. "You're the Meryl Streep of hip-hop," I joked when Ciara launched into an unexpected bout of Cockney on our first meeting. But beneath the poses, Ciara gets things done with maximum efficiency, willing to go the extra mile in her combat boots.

Ciara Princess Harris was born in Austin, Texas as an only child to two parents in the military. She grew up on army bases from here to Germany. "I'm what you call 'love rich,'" she relates. "We didn't have all the money in the world, but I had all the attention. I grew up spoiled with love.

"I wasn't trained to sing and dance," she adds, "but I knew I had something special and decided to explore it. I've been growing in front of the world, and I want to keep growing." Dad helped by regularly gliding around with her wherever they happened to be living. "He taught me some of my moves," Ciara beams. "Some mean footwork!"

She initially considered going into modeling -- a no-brainer -- but music beckoned. Her triple-platinum debut album, Goodies, came out in 2004, when she was just 18. The title song was a sort of anti-"Body Party" that hinted at abstinence, announcing that "the goodies ... stay in the jar" -- an ear-catching change from all the other hooker-y stuff out there. "I was young," remembers Ciara, "and wondered, 'What do I want to say to the world for the first time?' Every other song was about, 'Money makes the world go round.' But it has to take more than that." Indoctrinated by fire into the biz, Ciara learned from Missy Elliott, who wrote and performed with her on the Goodies hit "1, 2 Step," an electro-inspired mid-aughts party anthem whose video helped Ciara establish her individual style. She wore a gold cross chain dangling over her exposed navel offset by boy-cut jeans and sneakers.

Mesh top by Christian Siriano, custom fishnet top by Natalie Joos and shorts by Marc Jacobs.

The gold and silver kept dangling as her second album, Ciara: The Evolution, hit the top slot on the Billboard 200; the subsequent Fantasy Ride provided "Love Sex Magic," a smoky duet with Justin Timberlake. "Every girl loves to dig in and pull out their inner sexuality," Ciara tells me, "but I don't believe you have to force it." One reason she likes the tomboy look, in fact, is that by covering things up she exudes more sexuality than by going the more obvious route.

But then came a rare misstep for the golden girl. Not so sexy was the commercial failure of her 2010 album, Basic Instinct, which went back to R&B basics. The artist started to realize that she deserved better marketing to match her slick moves. In February 2011, she penned an open letter to Jive Records on Facebook, bristling at the lack of promotion and asking to be let go of their arrangement.

When I ask Ciara to elaborate, she cites "creative differences," the need to try new things and the fact that the company was reconfiguring. "Jive inherited me," she says. "They didn't discover me or know me. I was very fortunate that they let me have a go pass, to be able to have a new home." Her release reunited her with her original mentor, L.A. Reid, who then signed her to Epic. "He's the reason I'm here in the first place," she says. "He gives you a strong level of confidence."

As the Epic album keeps growing, Ciara is preparing a tour, but she says it won't all take place in huge arenas. She wants an intimate experience for her fans, to mirror her new, more open-for-business attitude. "I'm making choices I feel good about," she says, glowing. "It definitely feels good to get love from my fans. I work so hard. I'm hoping to share with other young girls, and even men, to never give up.

"And I feel like my journey's just beginning. On this journey, there's much I haven't done. I still feel like a little kid. I still have my youthful energy and spirit. I'm super excited by my future." You're not the only one, princess.

Check back on papermag.com for more photos and a fun, dance-filled behind-the-scenes video with Ciara.

Styled by Natalie Joos / Hair by Cesar Ramirez using Kerastase / Shu Uemura at Dew Beauty Agency / Makeup by Yolanda Frederick using MAC Cosmetics for Goldfinger Creative Agency, Atlanta.

Producer: Stephanie Porto / Photographer's Assistants: Jeff Allen and Jordan Zuppa / Stylist's Assistant: Yety Akinola / Props: Chris Stone / Digital Tech: Justin Chan

Shot at Fast Ashleys Studio

Robin Thicke's New Music Video: Small Trucks, Big Dicks


Robin Thicke
's second single, "Give It 2 U," which features verses by 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar, caused a stir over lyrics which even are more sexual than "Blurred Lines" (namely, these ones: "I got a hit for you / Big dick for you / Let me give it to you"). Admittedly everyone probably needs a brief Thicke moratorium while they process/block out his performance with Miley Cyrus at last night's VMAs, but the "Give It 2 U" video is here and it's quite the spectacle. The video shows Robin, Kendrick and 2 Chainz playing the field (sorry, had to) at a sort of homecoming/cheer-leading celebration where there are lots of scantily clad ladies shaking their butts and generally having a good time. Things you'll see include women in cartoonish cotton candy, Rémy Martin and caviar tin costumes, a very cute little boy in a suit who is far too young to participate in this video, and a race between a bunch of tiny trucks. You should also be warned that the Robin-Thicke-shit-eating-grin quotient is at an all time high here. Watch above.

[via Pitchfork]

Recap: In Energists We Trust

Each Monday, Eli Yudin and Carey O'Donnell, authors of the very, very funny Twitter account @NotTildaSwinton, will be recapping the Real Housewives of New Jersey for us. Below, their next installment.

real-housewives-of-new-jersey-season-5-gallery-episode-513-02.jpgCarey: We begin this week with Teresa teaching a cooking class at a vast store in a strip mall called "Chef Central." Oh, right! Chef Central, you know? I buy all my central chef things at Chef Central! I guess Teresa brokered a deal with THE preeminent kitchenware emporium where she gets paid to cook some kale shit in front of a bunch of people they found milling around the parking lot while looking for their cars. As Teresa starts cookin', Cousin Kathy is seen walking up. She's wearing this large fur coat, and has this strange smile on her face, as if she doesn't remember how she got there. Kathy sits down to watch; Teresa sees her and is kind of like, "Oh hey" and keeps cooking. When Teresa is finished, she says, "I'm gonna let the (lone) man try first!" and Kath shouts out, "So old school, Tre" and everyone in the class laughs and laughs. Afterward, Kath and Tre-Tre recap the incident at the Milania Hair Care party, where Jan and Penny got into it with Melissa, and Teresa ran around screaming "I'm on a high!" after Penny (questionably) confirmed that the lady with the 2-inch forehead had NOTHIN' to do with the Melissa Gorga cheating rumors swirling around like toilet water. After Teresa rehashes, Kath asks, "Who the f*** is Penny?" We still don't know. But there's NO time to find out who Penny is! Da crew needs to get ready for ARIZONA! The desert! They're going to the desert for Melissa's birthday/group healing! "I've been to Arizona once," Caroline explains. You see, Caroline spent 100 years in the desert one time. She ate snakes and bathed in cactus water and screamed at the blood orange dusks and sauntered around bellowing "My family, my family." She's excited to go back! They all pack up their collective 800 pieces of luggage and head out to Georgia O'Keefe country.

real-housewives-of-new-jersey-season-5-gallery-episode-513-14.jpg Eli: What was your secret Arizona life, Caroline? Did you live in the desert for years off of occasional flowers and agave nectar? Did you shed layers of your own skin across the desert floor while becoming attuned to the natural vibrations of the universe? Or did you run a smuggling ring, moving quantities of drugs throughout the Southwest, eventually even moving on to human trafficking and a bit of light coyote work before realizing you were in too deep and staged your own death? TELL US CAROLINE. WE PROMISE NOT TO TELL. Contact PAPER for our e-mail addresses, all strictly off the record. We just want the straight dope, Car-bear. Regardless, to the desert! It seems like this season the Housewives of Jerz are doing a bit of globetrotting to various places of "healing." We've been to the lake, now the desert, so I'm guessing the next will have to be the deep forest. Perhaps they're secretly going to all these places to recover shards of an ancient artifact, which, when reassembled, will give them all complete control of the elements. Each couple gets a different element. Teresa and Juicy Joe, with the power to control ice, and freeze objects. Joe Gorga and Melissa, fire. Jacqueline and Chris have control over plants and growth, while Caroline and Al gain affinity for earth magic. Rich and Cathy have the power of wind, and Rosie has the power of HEART. The ancient artifact, as prophesied, also will give them all lucrative book deals and spin-offs. Whatever their motivation, they're all headed out to Miraval, which is basically a group of nice hotel rooms in the middle of a desert. I've never gotten why people vacation to hot places. Sure, there's a pool, but it's basically a puddle in a landscape of burning hot sand and concrete, which seems more like an exile than a vacation. They're also all constantly commenting on the "claustrophobia" and "lack of storage" in their rooms because in case we forgot, they all got BIG houzez back in JERZ, bro. The trip there is even a little rocky, with Chris, Jacqueline, Al and Caroline stuck at the airport after "their plane broke." Jacqueline squeals and rolls around like a little child (that's had extensive plastic surgery) while Al and Chris eventually just say they're gonna "grab a bite" and walk away. Unbeknownst to Caroline or Jacqueline, the two of them went back through security, and purchased two tickets to Rio de Janeiro, away from all this horseshit, and sat in silence for a moment. They held the tickets tight in their clammy fists, imagining what could be. They could fly away, start up a little food cart with Al's cooking experience and Chris's management. Spend the afternoon slinging American-style fare to hungry workers off on their lunch breaks, and spend the nights in their twin hammocks on the roof of their apartment, listening to echoes of the hectic street life below. They could never truly do it, though, and they knew that. But the delusion was nice. They tore up the tickets and threw them away. Al looked at Chris and shook his head softly. "We almost made it this time," he chuckled. "Yeah, almost," replied Chris. His phone buzzed as Jacqueline sent him emoji after emoji. They wheeled their luggage back to where Caroline and Jacqueline were waiting. "What'd you guys eat?" asked Caroline. "Nothing much," grunted Al. "Just a little Brazilian," Chris chuckled.

Carey: Finally, the Laurita/Manzo contingent joins the others at the Arizona retreat. They're greeted by Carol, the head of the "spa." She stands with an assistant holding lavender-colored smoothies on a tray while frowning. As the stragglers walk up to the entrance, Carol says in this wonderfully horrible way, "We thought we'd see you a little earlier." Everything about Carol is terrifying. I am fairly certain she opened Miraval after fleeing her former life; I imagine it was discovered that she was putting Windex in the water cooler at the mid-sized office she was a receptionist at. Never a lethal amount though, just one or two squirts from the bottle. She'd do it in the morning, before anyone got there. One day, a janitor pulling an all-nighter walked in on her early morning ritual. They sort of just stared at each other. "What are you looking at?" Carol blurted out. "I can report you for harassment, you know." The janitor sort of shrugged and backed away. The whole day, Carol typed with sweaty, nervous fingers. She ate lunch in the restroom, and dug her pen into the wood below her desk. In the last hour of her shift, her boss, Joanne, came to her desk in the last hour of her shift. "Hey Carol, do you mind coming by to see me before you leave today?" she asked in a quiet, but firm way. Carol never stopped by Joanne's office. She slipped out shortly after, getting in her blue Taurus and driving away till she reached the end of the state, then another, and another. She reached the desert, the site where Miraval would someday be. It was almost dawn. 'All you can do is forget sometimes,' she thought, grinning while kicking a small rock on the ground.

real-housewives-of-new-jersey-season-5-gallery-episode-513-19.jpg But YEAH! They join the other cast members inside, and everyone gets drunk and complains about the rooms, and genuinely appear to be having a good time. There's a moment where a bat flaps around the hallway, and Albert tries to swat it down and everyone screams. Then everyone gets drunk again and eats dinner and gets drunker and Melissa is like, "Bee Tee Dubs, an energist is coming tonight!" Energists have become a common thing in the Real Housewives franchise. Everyone has an energist. I'm going to just say I'm an energist from now on. I'm an energist! You're an energist!

Eli: This energist is named Tina. Which, of course, is short for Christina, which is Olde English for "receptionist." Also, I already have one Tina held firmly in my heart, and that's Tina Belcher, from Bob's Burgers. (That's a good show. I like it. You should watch it instead of this show.) Anyway, the energist sits them all down in sort of a semicircle/pile in the back, and everybody's cheeks are lookin' FLUSHED, y'all. Wine be drank. She then starts off as the Energist's Handbook encourages, with a series of vague, leading questions. She stumbles a bit when she infers that she is communicating with Joe Giudice's mother from beyond the grave, until he tells her that his mother, in fact, is not dead. Hard right from Mama Giudice to the energist's reputation. Melissa aptly sums up the biggest concern most people have with any sort of medium, saying, "I mean, are they speaking to your grandma? Or are they not?" Melissa has, through her own mental exploration, reinvented the feeling "doubt." Impressive. Also worth noting, and worth its weight in gold, is an epic side-eye from Rosie to the energist.

rhonj_rosie.gifIt's the shade equivalent of a nuclear strike. We all knew Rosie deserved a spin-off, but only know do I finally realize what it should be: "Rosie and the Energist." A lovely odd-couple sort of show between the outspoken, enchantingly lumbering Rosie and the undiagnosed schizophrenia of Tina the energist. I'd buy a DVR just to make sure I didn't miss a second. But eventually, Tina's scatter-shot queries hit, and she manages to convince the crew she's connected to the Otherworld, and then she makes everyone cry and cry and Rich cries a lot and then Kathy cries a lot and Tina breathes a giant sigh of relief that her reputation as an energist hasn't been eviscerated by a group of drunk Jersey couples.

real-housewives-of-new-jersey-season-5-gallery-episode-513-24.jpgCarey: Yeah, lots of crying. Good job, Tina. My favorite part was when she goes, "DO YOU WANT ME TO STOP, KATHY? DO YOU WANT ME TO STOP?" while Kathy is sobbing about her dead father. Please stop. The high emotions carry into the next morning, as the crew, minus a sick Melissa, is gathered up by a strawberry-blonde haired hiking guide named Conor Eldridge. Of course his name is CONOR! Blonde haired Conor! HEY CONNNNNNN. Conor leads them on a 30 foot trail. Melissa is back at the hotel with a sore throat, or as she says, "the worst pain in her life." Joe Gorga is like, "What about when you had three children?" To her credit, sore throats are bad. But it feels like Melissa is starring as Gwyneth Paltrow's understudy in Contagion. Bye, Melissa! Anyway, Conor brings them all to this clearing where some Shaman brunette whose name I can't remember makes them all write down something they need to let go and burn it in a small fire. UGHHHH I can't even bring myself to write more about this awful scene. Albert is like, "I don't believe in witchcraft" and sits it out. I love Albert. Then Teresa goes up and calls up all the people she's hurt in the past, AKA everyone, and they all hold hands as Teresa wishes reunion and joy for everyone. "I wish Melissa could be here" Joe says. Melissa is at home sunbathing and coughing. She doesn't give a shit. Anyway, they allllll cry cry cry. And Teresa and Jacqueline have a heart-to-heart about their friendship and worrying that it'll never get back to the same place hey were in. I've been watching this horror show since the beginning and I don't even remember them being as close as they say they were. Alas, we'll play along. Then Teresa talks about how she needs to set her karma right, because if she doesn't, it'll get passed down to her kids. Jacqueline, for whatever reason, takes Teresa's karma comment as a dig at her, implying that Jacqueline's wrongdoing in the past is the reason why her son has autism. Okay. I'm not even going to elaborate on that. No one wins. Everything is terrible. I'm going to go turn on a hot shower and sit in the tub with all of my clothes on till I pass out.

real-housewives-of-new-jersey-season-5-gallery-episode-513-15.jpg Eli: Burn your TV and breathe the smoke until the plastic fumes take you straight to Valhalla.

New Yorkers Believe There's a "Guns for Cronuts" NYPD Program


Chris from Late Night Basement is at it again with another video that proves just how gullible -- or moronic -- New Yorkers are (not to mention the fact that we will never, ever, admit to not knowing shit). Watch people try to show off their knowledge about Egypt's deposed "Pharaoh" or NYPD's "guns for cronuts" program.  [via HuffPo Comedy]

tumblr_mr4iwnhsZv1qzkkr1o2_500.pngtumblr_mr4iwnhsZv1qzkkr1o1_500.gifBut still more than happy to give you driving directions. "Just take La Cienega to I-10 then take the third right on Pico." [via 100 Years of Lolitude]

tumblr_mrzkgh2xQ81qzigjno1_500.pngAmazing. [via The Clearly Dope]

Here's some amazing Japanese-designed "bread beds." [via Laughing Squid]

enhanced-buzz-3263-1377542281-46.jpgGood Parenting 101. [via Buzzfeed]

tumblr_ms5awwfgft1qewacoo7_500.jpgtumblr_ms5awwfgft1qewacoo5_500.jpgtumblr_ms5awwfgft1qewacoo10_500.jpgtumblr_ms5awwfgft1qewacoo2_500.jpgtumblr_ms5awwfgft1qewacoo8_500.jpgtumblr_ms5awwfgft1qewacoo3_500.jpg"Sites Renamed for the Reasons We Visit Them." Accurate. [@impaulgale via Tastefully Offensive]

tumblr_ms0i2obG5D1qb8y4fo1_500.jpgOur reaction to this flavor is exactly the same as the orange m&m's face on the bag. [via Laughter Key]

anigif_enhanced-buzz-14866-1377543064-30.gif"Miley Cyrus Twerks On Famous Paintings." She can't stop. She won't stop. [via Buzzfeed]

tumblr_mre584jcP01qdojzho1_500.pngUs whenever we attempt to talk about the budget crisis or the policy differences between candidates in the New York mayoral race. [via Coin Farts]

Here's a grainy -- but ultimately fabulous -- clip of Colin Powell breaking it down to Pharrell singing "Get Lucky" at a concert in the Hamptons over the weekend. Keep an eye out for Jamie Foxx, Katie Holmes and Ellen DeGeneres in the background (who we first mistook for Robert Redford). [via Gawker]

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 3.45.06 PM.pngYour Tuesday morning is brought to you by 2 Chainz's high school yearbook photo.

Go Behind the Scenes of Ciara's Cover Shoot!


On the hunt for a hot new dance move? Check out this behind-the-scenes video of our photo shoot with Paper's September cover star, Ciara! Here, Ciara teaches photographer Danielle Levitt, stylist extraordinaire Natalie Joos, Michael Musto (who wrote our cover story) and our very own Mr. Mickey some of the glute-murdering steps from her bananas "I'm Out" video with Nicki Minaj. Mickey also discusses Ciara's ultra-glamorous look in our new issue and Joos' decision to put her in full, '50s-esque skirts (a departure from her tendency toward more tomboyish looks -- disregarding her ultra, ultra sexy VMAs dress, of course). Learn how to bust a move Cici-style in the clip above and don't forget to pick up Ciara's amazing self-titled new album. Ooh, yeah yeah yeah!

Atlanta Chef Ford Fry Tells Us About One of ATL's Best Industry Secrets

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.40.42 PM.pngEach week in our Chefs Off Duty series, we talk to some of our favorite chefs and industry folk around the country to find out their secret late-night spots where they like to grab a bite and a pint when their kitchens are finally closed. Next up: Ford Fry, the chef and owner of Atlanta's JCT. Kitchen & Bar, No. 246, King & Duke and The Optimist, which as just named one of Bon Appetit's "10 Best New Restaurants."

Where do you like to grab a bite in Atlanta when you're leaving your own restaurant?

It depends. There's two schools of thought, here. There's one for more of the 'chefs night out' type of thing and that's Octopus Bar. That's more for oysters or monkfish torchon or something. It's very driven towards the industry. It doesn't even open 'til like 10pm and it's open until 2 in the morning. For a heavier night out, there's a place called The Majestic, which is 24 hours. It's a diner off of Ponce De Leon Ave. I would assume it's Greek-owned because you've got all the traditional Greek stuff and also burgers and breakfasts all the time.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.12.04 PM.pngOctopus Bar (left) and The Majestic (right)

What do you like to order at those places?

The Majestic is an elevated waffle house in a way but I'd say it's a lot better.  I don't eat a ton of breakfast at night but I'll get a chili dog or a burger. Sometimes I'll get the Greek salad.

At Octopus Bar, we always start out with raw oysters and then from there, if we're really doing it all up and haven't eaten all night, they have a bone-in ribeye for two. Then the monkfish liver, which is awesome. I've also had the lobster roll, which has a little bit of an Asian spin on it.

Any funny stories?

I don't know if I'll get in trouble but the word on the street is these guys at [Octopus Bar] smoke pot all day and then come nighttime, they start cooking so they're pretty inspired. When I see them, they're pretty happy so...

Octopus Bar, 560 Gresham Ave. SE, Atlanta; Open Mon-Sat, 10:30pm-2:30am, closed Sunday

The Majestic, 1031 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta; Open 24 hours daily

More From Our Off Duty Series

Premiere: Antwon's "Dying In the Pussy"


Our favorite Kid Rock-loving, hardcore-listening rapper, Antwon, has a new video for his single, "Dying in the Pussy." The lyrics might be explicitly about the pussy ("Kegels working for your pussy, girl / 'Cause the pussy getting softer") but the footage is definitely heavy on the dying. Directed by Cali Dewitt, the clip features Antwon and Andre Martel blindfolded and tied up in front of a green screen while shots of fires, buildings getting demolished, a train crash and bombs play in the background. Additional vibes come courtesy of two chicks, one of whom is in a unitard and might be the girl from VFILES' LisaTV, slowly swaying and dancing with a gun. We won't spoil the ending but Antwon and his compatriot's lyrics end up being, uh, fairly literal.

You can catch Antwon live next month when he goes on tour with Le1f, Lakutis and White Lung. He'll play Santos Party House on 9/27 and you can scope the rest of his dates HERE.

Wall Street Guys Are Dropping $1500 for Burning Man Costumes at Screaming Mimis

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 2.20.40 PM.pngThough money's not allowed when you get to Burning Man, there aren't any rules about how much change you drop before you head to the playa.

As is so often the case when festivals become popular, the original stash of artistic, perma-shrooming, ambiguously-employed "Burners" who flocked to the Nevada desert every August for the last decade or two has become cut with more and more corporate honchos looking for an excuse to become "unplugged" for a week. And, apparently, many of these 1%-ers are hitting up New York's legendary Screaming Mimis vintage store for their costuming needs, spending the equivalent of four round-trip tickets to Reno, Nevada for furry headdresses, steampunk goggles and leather gear. Basically, Mystery-chic.

"It used to be arty types [coming in the store]," Screaming Mimis owner Laura Wills says. "Now it's everyone from financial consultants and Wall Street types to PR firm directors."

Wills says she and her team first started noticing people coming into the store in search of Burning Man outfits five years ago and, since then, she and her buyers will specifically search for Burner-appropriate looks during their buying trips. "It's become an amazing phenomenon. It's totally word-of-mouth. Somebody posted on Foursquare that 'Burners' should shop at Screaming Mimis and after we tweeted a 'thank you,' it just spread like wildfire," Wills says.

The store's staff research Burning Man's theme up to a year in advance (this year's theme is "Cargo Cult") to better plan their merchandising and monitor announcements and news from the festival. "Feathers were banned from 2008-2012 because they were called M.O.O.P. -- 'Matter Out Of Place' -- but this year they lifted the feather ban," Wills says. "So feathers -- and leather -- are definitely a theme. But we won't sell them cheap-o [pieces] because they have to be well-constructed so the feathers don't fly all over the playa."

And her customers appreciate the store's efforts to find quality, often one-of-a-kind pieces -- and are more than happy to use their Black AmEx cards to spend as much on a Burning Man outfit as they might on a Tom Ford blazer or Céline dress.

"We had somebody yesterday spend $1500," Wills says. "Another -- a video director -- spent $1000 and is planning to parachute into Burning Man."

One CEO who's giving a TED talk at the festival stopped in to buy a kilt, top hot and goggles to wear during his presentation. Another customer had his pseduo-personal assistant call the store to "vet them" for their inventory and whether they could give him personal assistance. Perhaps not surprisingly, a chauffeured car idled outside while he came in to scope out the headdresses and leather vests. "He was actually a really wonderful guy and was so excited and into it," Wills remembers.

The best thing Will says she's noticed is that her Burning Man customers -- whether art students or hedge funders -- are "the most fun people."

"A completely conservative guy came in wearing chinos and an oxford shirt and bought a headdress, goggles and an astronaut jumpsuit and helmet we had. But when we were ringing everything up, he said, 'One second,' and ran over and grabbed a bright electric blue tutu," Wills says. "he plunked it down and said, 'Yeah, I'll probably just end up wearing this the whole time.'"

What the F*shion Takes On Streetwear, F*eminism


It's no secret that we're big fans of VFiles and their smartly framed video content, especially Casey Jane Ellison's "WHAT THE F*SHION," which is genius for its ability to lovingly send-up the kind of gloriously cursory fashion coverage that breeds in the gutters of Tumblr. And self-awareness and fashion are so rarely budz, riiight you guys?  In this edition of "What the Fashion," Ellison takes on streetwear, which she describes as "the hottest proliferation of subculture that I'm currently unaware of." And it just gets better from there. The video also ends with a trill ratchet Kreayshawnese jam, called "Equality" about the lack of "f*minism" in streetwear. Watch above.

Stoned Patrick Stewart Reveals the Secret to Acting

This video of a stoned Patrick Stewart teaching his girlfriend the secret to acting (it all relies on doing four takes) is weird and sweet and perfect. [Gawker]

gwb-big1.jpgGood news: More leaked George W. Bush paintings! It looks like he's adding more kitties to his range. We much prefer his weird bath/shower self-portraits, but support this new artistic vision. [Gawker]

tumblr_ms4c4xbW691r8pdcvo1_1280.jpg Pappy Ray Cyrus weeps! Gonna start a Kickstarter to get this image painted as a mural in Paper's lobby. Donate! [LaughterKey]

tumblr_ms7m4eB5vU1ruw1vso1_500.pngSorry/not sorry. [Digg]

This compilation of people giving really, really, wrong answers on game shows makes me want to crawl under a rock. FISH LOVE 4-LYFE! [TastefullyOffensive]

TS4R.jpgOh Roger! I hope you're shooting laser beams of judgement and rage at us all from some dumb and annoying cloud in the sky. [Mlkshk]

TS20.jpgMeanwhile, EVERYONE has been hating on Hippocrates on Twitter. Can't a guy catch a break? [Mlkshk]

tumblr_ms735sIjgB1ruw1vso3_1280.jpgCool new scrunchie-holder idea. [Kotaku]

Here's a nightmarish clip from a Christian anti-porn movie that will make you break out into a cold sweat before running home to masturbate. (Sorry, gross.) BUT, it does have our favorite new slang word for beer: "Buzz Juice." Sweet. [Death&Taxes]

Dallas Buyers Club Will Probably Make You (and Me and Everyone We Know) Cry


After months of waiting -- and seeing a painfully skinny Jared Leto in various kinds of drag -- the trailer for Dallas Buyers Club is here. DBC follows Ron Woodroof (played by Matthew McConaughey), a Texan man who, after finding out he has AIDS, started a service called the Dallas Buyers Club that imported non-FDA-approved AIDS treatments from abroad. (It's worth noting that while the trailer depicts authorities viewing the Buyers Club as a drug ring to be taken down, in reality they let it be and sort of approved of it.) We also see Leto as a trans woman named Rayon who helps out with the business, and Jennifer Garner as Woodroof's doctor/love interest. While the movie looks fun and thrilling at times, we know that Ron died from AIDS-related illness in 1992 and, it being the AIDS crisis, that many others will die too. So go to the theater with a box of tissues and expect to be taken on a journey of acceptance, overcoming homophobia, big bad government intervention and weeping. So much weeping.

[via Vulture]

Here's the First Single From Angel Haze's Upcoming Album


Angel Haze has been steadily dropping new music lately, but today she released her most anticipated track in months: "Echelon (It's My Way)," the first single off of her upcoming debut album Dirty Gold. A synth-heavy song with echoes of trap, the lyrics are all about bringing the attitude at #NYFW -- the chorus finds Haze making Fashion Week bend to her will as she wears the latest and disses all the haters. She also continues her dialogue with fellow fashion plate Kanye ("Feed me berries out in Paris / while I'm counting my croissants") and name-checks Helmut Lang, rag & bone, and Phillip Lim. Haze did well to drop the song now, what with Fashion Week looming ahead and Kanye always being in the news. Who knows? Maybe she'll be fashion week's next muse/ubiquitous performer.

[via Pitchfork]

The Dutch Gin Fix at Bathtub Gin

dutch-gin-fix.jpgIn his definitive Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks, the renowned 19th-century barman included the Gin Fix, a zippy libation with Holland gin, raspberry syrup, lemon juice and powdered sugar dissolved in a little water. At Bathtub Gin -- the dimly lit Chelsea speakeasy hidden beyond an unassuming door in Stone Street Coffee -- bartender Ivan Mitankin offers his homage to the classic: the refreshing Dutch Gin Fix, fittingly made with Nolet's Silver Dry gin from the Netherlands. He combines it with lemon juice, Combier raspberry liqueur, cane syrup, and, unlike Thomas' version, fresh raspberries and mint to heighten the aromatics.

Don't be deceived by its mauve hue. Instead of flooding with a sweet surge of fruit, this tipple is an appealingly crisp one. "The initial flavor profile is berry-driven, but the fresh-squeezed lemon juice, along with the tartness of fresh raspberries, complement the floral character of the Nolet's gin and result in a bone dry cocktail," says Mitankin.

Sipping one of these, summer's imminent decline just doesn't seem possible.

5 fresh raspberries
2 oz. Nolet's Silver Dry Gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
¾ oz. Combier crème de framboise
*¼ oz. Cane Syrup

* Cane Syrup: In large container add two parts fine cane sugar and one part hot water. Stir well until sugar is dissolved. Chill and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Add all ingredients to shaker. Then add ice and shake vigorously. Fine strain into ice-filled large rocks glass. Garnish with fresh mint sprig and fresh raspberry.

5 Fugly Trends the Fashion World's Embraced

Once ostracized by the industry, these five faux pas have found their way into the closets of fashion's highest ranks -- who knew? Below, we rank them using a complex dirty looks rating system.

AdidasSlides.jpgADIDAS SLIDES

From baseball caps to sports jerseys, athletic gear is gaining major fashion momentum. The latest obsession is Adidas' navy and white striped sandals -- you know, the shoes you wore to soccer practice or in the shower at summer camp. Spotted at Misha Nonoo's resort 2014 collection and in various fashion spreads, these sporty slides are now considered an acceptable form of footwear. Grimes wore a pair for her MTV VMA red carpet rehearsal and even Adidas collaborator Jeremy Scott has updated the classic style with flames and wings.

Dirty looks from passersby probability index:
5/10 --  Half will be flooded with happy childhood memories while the other will think you simply forgot to dress your feet.


It used to be universally agreed that although Birkenstocks were the world's most comfortable shoe, they were also the ugliest. Now, we have Crocs. Apparently, fashion editors -- including the majority of Vogue's staff -- have been secretly wearing Birkenstocks for years. When Phoebe Philo showed a fur-lined version for Céline's spring 2013 the jig was up. Here's to Crocs becoming cool in 2030...3...2...1. 

Dirty looks from passersby probability index: 3/10 - Vogue's granted their trendiness, so they're basically the new Manolo Blahniks. Who do you think will forgo their rent for a pair in season 3 of Girls - Marnie? 


The country club staple has taken a high-fashion turn. Modernized by designers like Fleet Ilya and Eugenia Kim, the visor is now considered to throw some seriously chic shade. With '90s streetwear and rave girl fashion having a major renaissance, it was bound to happen. Bloggers Susie Bubble and Bryan Boy, along with industry darlings Rihanna and Rita Ora, have all been spotted in one.

Dirty looks from passersby probability index: 9/10 -- you're wearing a visor.


The utilitarian one-piece made its way from farm to fashion over the summer, thanks to designers like Phillip Lim and Sonia Rykiel. Famous fans include Alexa Chung, Heidi Klum and Diane Kruger. With no sign of dying out for fall, feel free to buckle up.

Dirty looks from passersby probability index: 4/10 -- if you keep the look more gamine then Green Acres, they can be pretty darn cute.

With labels like Raquel Allegra, Zero + Maria Cornejo and MSGM making the textile craft cool again, tie-dye is no longer strictly a hippie staple. Rodarte's fall collection featured tie-dyed gowns (pictured above) inspired by their childhood in Santa Cruz, California, only confirming the trippy treatment's return.

Dirty looks from passersby probability index: 3/10 -- as long as you steer clear of the classic rainbow colors you shouldn't have too much trouble here. Keep close to yuppie Brooklyn just to be safe. 

You Will Never Be Able to Un-See "Zooey Davechappelle"

welcome-to-the-internet-25.jpgYou will never be able to un-see "Zooey Davechappelle." Your nightmares will thank you. [via Reddit]

Here's our new idol doing a combo belly dance/clog dance to Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Kiss them for Me." [via OMG Blog]

tumblr_ms9fd7Pcga1r0wqrdo1_500.jpgThis is us every night at 11pm watching Orange Is the New Black and thinking, "I need to go to sleep...BUT I have to say how Red gets her revenge on Pornstache." [via Humor Train]

tumblr_lohuuaFMAQ1qgirhjo1_500.gifBuck don't give a fuck. [via F Yeah Dementia]

tumblr_mqxbjonPvM1ro8ysbo1_500.gifThere there. [via Julia Segal]

Screen shot 2013-08-29 at 8.33.41 AM.pngSure. [via Knusprig Titten Hitler]

tumblr_mkt687smUt1qdrk6so1_500.jpg"I'll Tell ya what." [via 100 Years of Lolitude]

Do you hear that noise? That noise that sort of sounds like metal being struck against wood? That's the sound of the nail being hammered into the coffin: Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have a new duet together with Lil Twist called "Twerk." [via Us Weekly]

Here's RuPaul Driving Henry Rollins Around While Giving Him Romantic Advice


We have an endless, simmering crush on writer/comedian/activist/ex-Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, and it looks like RuPaul has taken a liking to him, too. The latest episode of RuPaul Drives... -- the World of Wonder web series, which follows Ru as he drives special guests around town and chats them up -- finds R&R picking up some art while discussing Rollins' love life. Unlike the last episode, whose main point of interest was learning more about Ru (specifically, his karaoke habits), this episode is all about Rollins' difficulties with opening up: the beleaguered punk reveals that he has trouble with relationships because he overthinks things and has a tough time being vulnerable. And he does so in a very cute, stuttering way. Watch -- and swoon -- above.

With a Little Help From His Phone, Miguel Covers Pink's 'Just Like a Pill'

While in Australia promoting his breakout album, Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel performed an acoustic version of Pink's 'Just Like a Pill' from her 2001 album Missundaztood on the radio show Fifi and Jules. With a little lyrical help from his cell phone, the R&B singer -- and PAPER cover star -- nails it. His smooth and soulful voice adds a chilling effect to the already emotionally-charged pop song. We got goosebumps -- how about you? 

If You're Not Following Diane Keaton on Twitter, You're Really Missing Out

dianekeaton.gifThey say the eyes are the window to the soul, but holy shit, Diane Keaton's Twitter account is a window into a treasure trove of delight and unerring positivity. Of late, the "lucky actress, [friend of] woody allen...visual explorer, serial renovator and dumpster diver" has been embarking on a series of "Twitter exchanges" which are either an attempt to crowd-source the best Pinterest page ever (hers) or to "elevate her mood." Keaton asks her followers to Tweet pictures to her on the subject of whatever beautiful, serene board she's looking to create (this week's "project" is "Beautiful Men," which is obviously near and dear to PAPERMAG's heart) and then selects a the best images to use on her page. The best of all is Keaton's ongoing commentary on the images she chooses -- she completely understands the beauty/importance the picture you Tweeted at her and wants you to know that she gets it. You can also Tweet pictures of Diane to Diane and she'll let you know exactly how she feels about them (which is: great, if maybe a little confused). Check out some highlights of her Twitter quest below and follow her immediately.

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Gone From Music For Nearly a Decade, Kathleen Hanna Returns with a New Album

Kathleen Hanna wears a dress by Bernhard Willhelm

Kathleen Hanna started feeling like something was wrong around 2004. The feminist punk icon and former lead singer of definitive riot grrrl band Bikini Kill was touring with her early-aughts electro band Le Tigre and experiencing bouts of pneumonia-like symptoms that would subside and return. After years of fruitless doctors' visits, Hanna was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2010. The hard-to-diagnose disease was so advanced it had spread to her brain. "I went to see a doctor and actually presented as if I was drunk," Hanna says. "I was slurring my words and couldn't even explain to him how I'd gotten from the train to his office."

What followed were two years of intensive monthly treatments, including times when she was attached to an IV at home, and weeks when she couldn't get out of bed. Hanna's diagnosis coincided with NYU's Fales Library acquiring her archives for their Riot Grrrl Collection, from which a book was published this June. She ended up putting out a call for interns to help her go through boxes of letters, essays and Bikini Kill detritus.

"I turned 40 and just stopped wanting to be the person who didn't know how to ask for help," Hanna says now. "And that was a huge, huge life lesson: that people do want to help you." Learning how to let herself rely on others, she says, "has been a big part of the Julie Ruin."

The Julie Ruin, a sequel of sorts to Hanna's 1998 sample-heavy mixed bag of a bedroom solo project Julie Ruin, features Hanna's former Bikini Kill bandmate Kathi Wilcox on bass; Kenny Mellman of the darkly hilarious New York City underground cabaret duo Kiki and Herb on keyboard; Sara Landeau, whom Hanna met teaching at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, on guitar; and Carmine Covelli, Le Tigre's former lighting designer, on drums. Their debut album, Run Fast -- Hanna's first release in nine years -- is out September 3rd. "Working by yourself is really great, but you're also doing more of that control-freak-type behavior," Hanna says. "Being in this band, it's like, 'Kenny is an amazing piano player; let him do that.' I don't need to tell him what to do. It's a collaboration."

(clockwise from top left): Sara Landeau, Carmine Covelli, Kenny Mellman, Kathi WilcoxSara and Kathi wear dresses by Lisa Perry.

Run Fast was recorded gradually over a three-year period, while Hanna put music on the back burner for stretches at a time, allowing her to focus on her health and other projects. "I needed a break," Hanna says. "All of my bands had become these full-time things that consumed my whole reality." She did set design for a performance piece about Insane Clown Posse and co-wrote a television pilot with her husband Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz about the life of the gloriously bad-ass alt-cabaret star Bridget Everett, called Bridget Drives the Bus. (She and Horovitz have been shopping the pilot with help from Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour Films.) Still, Hanna, whose symptoms have largely abated, credits band practice as one of the few things that made her feel better. "Literally, when I was at my sickest, and I could go and practice and write songs with them, I was not sick. I was having a good time," she says. "Having fun? That just wasn't something that was in my landscape."

The album echoes Hanna's solo Julie Ruin endeavor in its variety, several songs sounding like they could belong to different bands. The sneering, guitar-driven opening track and the first single "Oh Come On" gives way to bongo flourishes and organs on the love song "Just My Kind." "Goodnight Goodbye," a stripped-down track on which Hanna sings about aging backed by a jaunty keyboard, is the album's most transparent. (Sample lyric: "What happens when you're not 25, 41 / And you have to sink into the you you've now become?") "I had just been doing all of this archiving," Hanna says, "and had to look at myself and the person who I was in my 20s. And would the person in my 20s be totally grossed out by who I am now?"

The person who Hanna was in her 20s is, of course, immortalized in the raw, deeply DIY feminist punk of Bikini Kill, who, despite a short career and only a handful of albums, made music that's still being played in the bedrooms of arty teenage girls everywhere. And as a new interest in riot grrrl has emerged -- from Bikini Kill's own re-issuing of materials from their catalogue to an upcoming documentary on Hanna by director Sini Anderson to the launch of a Bikini Kill capsule collection at the ultra-hip SoHo store VFiles -- Hanna seems to have made her peace with where she fits in now.

"There's probably a ton of people who are going to be like, 'I don't give a shit about her now, she's 1,000 years old.' But that's what's great about music," Hanna says. "If you're 16, you can listen to Bikini Kill or Le Tigre, and if that helps you get interested in feminism it's like, 'Awesome, my job's done.' When you worry about it, that's when you start doing things like trying to write the song you already wrote, or trying to pantomime your younger self on stage. If you dance like your mom, then you dance like your mom. That's who you are now."

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 12.55.03 PM.pngHanna's wry sense of humor has long added an engaging layer to her performances and music. (Look no further than Bikini Kill's anthem "Carnival," in which Hanna triumphantly yells, "I'll win that Mötley Crüe mirror, if it fucking kills me!") "Kathleen is hilarious," says Kathi Wilcox of her longtime band mate. "As a performer, she can be funny. She's theatrical, and she's always commenting about what she's singing about in her physical performance. I also think some of how Bikini Kill presented ourselves was funny, the way we'd sort of wander around on stage between songs and trade instruments, undermining the idea of the put-together band. We were serious, but we didn't always take ourselves seriously."

Hanna says going to New York comedy and cabaret shows during her illness was also therapeutic, particularly "Our Hit Parade," Kenny Mellman's erstwhile monthly variety show at SoHo's Joe's Pub with Bridget Everett and performance artist Neil Medlyn. "Comedy became something that was really important to me," Hanna says. "Both Bridget and Kenny have this ability to take stories about really depressing, traumatic events and turn them into humor. You don't necessarily have to see a therapist for 11 years like I did. Once you tell a sad story enough times, it starts to become funny. "

Mellman, who created his comedic lounge act Kiki and Herb with the singer Mx. Justin Vivian Bond in the late '80s as a response to the AIDS crisis, says he found a kindred spirit in Hanna's ability to offset dark material with an upbeat delivery. "The reason that I love this record is that it sounds really fun, and yet if you read the lyrics, almost all the songs are about euthanasia, or death, or suicide," he says. "The only Run Fast song I've never really been able to figure out exactly is 'Cookie Road.' We'll assume it's about cookies, but I wouldn't put it past Kathleen to have it really be about something pretty intense."

Though the Julie Ruin has only played a handful of live shows around New York since announcing the release of Run Fast, the band will kick off their fall tour at the Bowery Ballroom on September 3rd with a show that quickly sold out. "The response has been really great," Mellman says, "I'm trying not to read a lot of the press about the album, but I do see tweets from time to time from people who've gotten promo copies and they've all been pretty positive. I mean, even if I wasn't in this band, I'd be fucking excited that Kathleen Hanna was back."

Run Fast is out September 3rd via Dischord Records.

Stylist: Danielle Nachmani / Hair: Dina Calabro at Next Artists / Makeup: Francisca Saavedra at Next Artists

Zola Jesus On Insecurity, Insomnia & Her Stunning New Album, Versions

-qVI5FIoGad0efIOjPXs4Xb6h_dL3IYtI6Aelc-GUqc.jpgIf you want a crash course on Zola Jesus, the alter ego of 24-year-old singer-composer-producer Nika Roza Danilova, skip Wikipedia and check out the three iterations of her song, "Sea Talk." Start with the one on her new album, Versions. Danilova's voice, at once vulnerable and strong enough to shake windows, is supported only by strings and minimal tech, the results of arrangements created by industrial producer JG Thirlwell during the singer's live performance last year at the Guggenheim -- arrangements that form the basis of all the songs on her latest album. Then make your way back to 2010's Valusia and, finally, to 2009's Tsar Bomba. Here, the vocals have lurched to the back of the mix and everything is slathered in lo-fi scuzz that would make Times New Viking blush. It's almost as if she was hiding something back then, something that she's finally ready to reveal on Versions.

Danilova, who grew up in rural Wisconsin, was visiting her in-laws in Burlington, VT, when we spoke. She opened up about the choices -- personal, professional, and artistic -- that led to her breathtakingly intimate new sound.

Where are you living these days?

I was [in Los Angeles] for three years, and then I moved to Washington for about nine months and now I'm just floating around. L.A. was definitely a different pace, but -- hold on, there's a puppy crawling all over me -- at the same time I felt like there was too much focus on the wrong things. The quality of life was very good, but you also had to give into this particular way of life that I didn't really want. So yeah, I like to visit but I don't know if I'd move back.

You've been incredibly prolific, but it's been two years since your last album [2011's Conatus]. Have you been writing that whole time?

I've been writing for the past year, but the year before that I was just supporting Conatus. You put out a record and then you spend a year touring and then people are like, "Where's your next record?" They expect that you bring it on the road or in between interviews or something like that.

So you have a backlog of songs?

Yes. Whether or not the songs are up to my standards is another thing, but I've definitely been writing a lot of music in the last year. I'm antsy to get back into the studio...but at the same time, I want to be ready when this record comes out and I don't want to rush it. I feel like I've rushed everything up to this point, so I'm trying to drag it out a little bit.

All but one of the Versions songs have appeared on previous albums. What was it like revisiting them?

Doing this project and performing, initially at the Guggenheim, I didn't expect it to change that much, but it completely did a 180. Everything that I was doing up until then changed. And so now I feel like when I record the songs I'm just coming at it from a different perspective. There was a lot of evolution that happened through this record.

Did the lyrics change at all?

The lyrics didn't change, but I felt like the way I approached the lyrics -- the way that I felt when I was singing them -- was different. By now, "Sea Talk" has evolved to the point where I can look at it objectively and it has a new meaning for sure.

Have you listened to all three versions of "Sea Talk" back-to-back?

No. Maybe I should. I think that my whole career so far has been trying to get to the point where I feel like I deserve this. So the versions of "Sea Talk" reflect that in a way. In the beginning, I wanted to cover it up because I didn't feel like I'd earned the ability to be clearly heard. It's interesting now to be so upfront in the mix.

Where did that cover up instinct come from?

It's coming from a lot. Coming from an opera background, coming from living in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin, and doing everything on my own. I never really feel like a legitimate musician but I'm getting more and more to the point where I feel like this is my turf. I belong here.

How did the collaboration with JG Thirlwell come about?

I got the offer to play at the Guggenheim [in 2012], and I really wanted to do something different, because I felt like that opportunity was so special. Because of the space, I really wanted to work with strings. I felt like doing my normal stuff there, the way the acoustics work, it just wouldn't be appropriate. So I was looking for a string arranger to put my songs onto sheet music for the string players, and then through asking friends I was directed to JG Thirlwell and kind of was amazed 'cause I'm a huge fan of his work. Every step of the way, he went above and beyond and that's what made this project into something very special.

Tell me more about the Guggenheim show. What was that day like for you?

One of the most nervous ever. Usually I feel like I'm blanketed by the wall of sound that I create with my live show. Through all the tracks and all the beats, everything's mixed very loud, and so I always feel like I have that safety net. But when you just have strings and a very raw voice, everything is out there. It is just nakedness and that was very, very scary to me. And I knew what I was getting myself into, but in doing that, when I was up there onstage, it was just the most powerful moment. It was the first time I allowed myself to just stand there in front of the audience and give myself very purely. I thought I was doing that before, but it wasn't until this show that I was like, "Oh my god, there is just so much more that I could be doing, so much more that I could be giving."

Have you repeated that format?

It's been a one-off, so now I'm so excited to do this tour and I feel like Versions is more about the live show than it is about the record and so I'm really, really looking forward to playing for people live. That's where that magic is going to happen again and again and again.

Sleep and the lack of sleep comes up a lot in your songs. Do you have any recurring dreams?

I have very, very vivid dreams, but none that have recurred throughout my entire life. When I was a teenager, as most teenagers are wont to do, I used to lock myself in my bedroom a lot, and I thought that I preferred to live in my dreams rather than live in my waking life, so I would just constantly try to access this dreamworld that I could always go back to and that would be my reality. But that's like for someone that's just really depressed and doesn't want to be where they are. I feel like every teenager has done that.

Any thoughts on why you have so many lyrics about sleeplessness?

I actually never thought about that. I think that subconsciously I have a preoccupation with night, because there's been a lot of times in my life where I've stayed up all night or I've been walking in the middle of the night, and had the feeling of being very alone. It's an empowering feeling, but also it's kind of scary. It's almost like anyone who's not asleep is, in some way or another, on the fringe. Maybe for me sleep or night is a feeling of isolation and danger. I have a very strong idea of what that feels like -- it's just like the feeling of being very alone, being very much one person in a sea of a million sleeping people. That's very interesting to me -- to feel so isolated, even though everyone's still there, they're just in their homes or in their beds. At night it feels like the whole world is yours.

Photo credit: The Impossible Project