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A Conversation with Claudia Woodman, Claudzilla, and Gothsta

February 25, 2020
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A Conversation with Claudia Woodman, Claudzilla, and Gothsta

We Must Not Let The Squares Win: A Conversation with Claudia Woodman, Claudzilla, and Gothsta


Claudia Woodman’s drive is rooted in generations of committed counter cultural activism. Her apparently human father was a piano teacher who converted a bus into a classroom, renaming it “the Muse Bus”. Her late mother grew up in the same town as Eunice Waymon (later Nina Simone), and was intolerant of racism at a time in history when this stance was critically radical and revolutionary. Both were piano virtuosos. Claudia proudly wears her father’s Navajo spider ring—“He used this to curse his students for misbehaving!”—and her mother studied under piano virtuoso George Crumb, first to open pianos and play their strings manually. “He turned 85 maybe 10 years ago and CU Boulder had a birthday celebration for him I attended with both of my parents, as they were still alive then. If you are a music fan you are addicted to something that other than making you prone to late nights and too much time in bars and clubs is completely harmless, and actually good for you. There is no going back. It is good for our society for people to spend time out in public with shared goals. It may be our only hope, as darkness has been falling and money is the only thing many people seem to value. There is the rest of reality to protect, and music is one of the first gifts humans had and may yet be our salvation.”

“I grew up playing a Mason & Hamlin parlor grand piano my mom taught on for 50 years in Cheyenne, Wyoming. My parents purchased it in Denver after moving to Cheyenne in the early 1960s. They had met in the Music department at CU Boulder where my mom was getting her Master’s degree and my dad was getting his bachelor’s (though separated in age by less than 3 months, my dad spent some time working in Denver warehouses before starting college- he was an average student, unlike my both intellectually and artistically gifted mother). My mom was a composer besides being a teacher, I am working on cataloguing and archiving her work I ended up with.”

Woodman has been a force of unconventionality in the Denver music scene for several years now in a variety of roles—performing as her alien reptile persona, Claudzilla, armed with a keytar plus super human extraterrestrial powers, as death rocvkgangsta, Gothsta, “an air-powered (melodica) cover band for the most part centered around death and breathing. Some of the noise bits are original compositions, consisting of environmentally relevant or spooky samples in a whacked-out audio collage Gothsta does melodica improv over,”or booking shows for independent acts in bars and clubs all over Mile High and environs as herself.

Keytar fest November 2019, photo by Jesse Livingston

“Being multifaceted is a great way to be slippery and get away with pushing things in a positive direction. Being slippery is a great way to enforce autonomy. Autonomy leads to collaborations that are natural, rather than forced. Collaboration is a huge threat to oppression. Tra la la.”

Asked recently to discuss art rock on a local podcast, Woodman made the unexpected claim that the term itself had no meaning, since even the earliest rock and rollers imitating the blues had been a form of art. “It’s all art rock. The term has no meaning.” Claudzilla washed over that podcast, as captured here. “As usual, I was a bit much for everyone,” she self-deprecated, in a later social media post.

We can hardly blame her. As an extraterrestrial transported to this place full of burning craters for uncertain reasons, it seems only natural and proper that this creature’s normal is most people’s weird, that she should be a fan of social memes like “art rock” only long enough to diagnose their meaninglessness at bottom, that she should gravitate to the most logical of human prospects, things like workers’ unions and fossil fuel divestment.

“My parents would have loved for me to study music in college but instead I pursued two degrees in anthropology, because humans are really weird, and I wanted to better understand them. I have recently concluded that abnormal psychology would have given me the answers I sought sooner, but so it goes. I moved to Nevada for grad school and visited my grandmother on the way there, she was not happy about my move to Las Vegas. About 5 months later she passed away. My mom hated her, but I adored her, I used to visit her in Denver when I was in high school before I would hang out at Muddy’s Java Cafe. Cheyenne did not have a lot of death rockers, so my dad was really cool about encouraging me to drive to Denver to spend some time with the combat boots and eyeliner crowd.My dad could play just about every instrument and taught most 3rd graders in Cheyenne piano basics on a blue school bus full of electronic pianos which was launched as part of his Master’s thesis at the University of Wyoming, which he completed after my parents married in the mid 60s and were living in Wyoming. Initially my dad was teaching on the Mason & Hamlin too but people’s sexism toward my mom got him to step back and she took charge as he ended up teaching music in public schools and the Community College.”

Claudia feels inextricably connected to this legacy, says she felt a connection, when learning to type, with the hours of piano playing discipline instilled by her late mother, since both actions use the same muscles. “It felt like my mother was communicating with me. Now I know she really was.”

Woodman posted a picture of the couple on Facebook recently, captioned, in part, “You only wish you could be as interesting.”

“After my grandmother, who had always wanted to do archaeology in the Middle East, passed away about a year later I found myself doing archaeology in Jordan. I got to go there three times. The second time Clinton was throwing bombs at Iraq so my people stateside were a bit shook. The 3rd time overlapped with Y2K hysteria. I dropped Middle Eastern archaeology after September 11. It did not feel right to be over there, I really think the West should leave that part of the world alone, they are not going to be helpful. Weren’t the Crusades bad enough?! I did get this written finally though: digitalscholarship

“And no, I am not doing archaeology these days. Most of my work,whether or not it is the paying kind, centers around getting people paid now and making sure that a diverse group of people have good, respectful places to perform.I am still always trying to figure out what makes people tick and advocate for fair situations, inside and outside of creative communities. It is sad that there is no‘outside’ at all, but here we are. We must not let the squares win.Anthropology is the only way to crack these algorithms being forced on us.”

“Style and substance can be the same thing. With me, they usually are. My style is frequently cutting, and it exposes more of reality than people already knew about. Every lyric, every note, and every element of my costume has meaning, usually multiple meanings. Sometimes people think they “get” me because they pick up on one or two, but I am still constantly getting more connected to audiences that understand more and more of it. Sometimes people pick up on the humor but not the darkness, or vice versa. Really they are attached to each other and it depends on one’s capacity for critical analysis. Claudzilla and Gothsta getting to know more of the public is an ongoing process with discovery on both my side of things and the audience’s. I am very careful about not being used for other peoples’ agendas because it really does not feel good. Being able to be on stage is sometimes the only way I feel heard in Trump’s America. I can only get away with saying some of the things I need to say by being such a bizarre spectacle and acting like it is a joke that people who would be really mad about it do not take it seriously. Being subversive is an art, and all good art is subversive. Fame per se has little appeal to me, I feel like I do get to reach people and our subconscious artistic conversations that happen are really what I am after.”

S.U.P.E.R. Party, Remixed Gifts, July 2019, photo by Hypnotic Turtle

“I have very little music online because I like to get paid for my music. Letting people access it for free is the exception, rather than the rule. My EP “Pocket Lizard” can be purchased from the Wax Trax Records CD store on the corner of 13th and Washington Streets in Denver (link here). Support local businesses and local artists. I do not have any recordings of covers so I have no idea what gave you that notion [Sorry, Claudia!-Ed.]. All of Claudzilla’s songs on Pocket Lizard are original compositions that are registered with BMI, so I receive royalties for them. It should not be news to anyone, though it is, that the tech industry is not our friends, so I am thoughtful about how I interface with them. Ditlev sells my collaborations with him in Denmark and keeps the proceeds, I sell them here. It is easier than figuring out a different arrangement.

“Here are a few exceptions to the rule—odds and ends that are online, collaborations and live recordings.

Remix by Morlox, aka “Patrick Urn”
Video by John Hartman, who sometimes lives in Denver and makes lots of weird and wonderful movies, some on film, some on VHS
I play keytar on this track by Ditlev Buster/Lasse Jensen, a Little Fyodor super-fan who resides in Denmark
These are all improvised keytar tracks Ditlev paired with poems in Danish. I do not know Danish, so for all I know, these are very filthy poems. It all sounds very cool though
I actually sing and play on this track. There are some very good things on the rest of the CD and at least one thing I do not like
Ditlev released this in Denmark. The entire episode is on here though. There are no effects on my vocals. I repeat, there are no effects on my vocals. My vocals without effects are dangerous for human ears. If you lose your shit, I told you so. This was a fun episode because Ralph Gean was listening and called us up. He likes my cover of Hard to be a Killer which will be released this year on the Ralph Gean Tribute album Arlo While is putting together, though I pretty much butchered it on air. I had never been to the Radio 1190 station before so I had no idea what the setup would be.
Finally, my latest compilation with Ditlev, who is annoyed I will not let him release Pocket Lizard in Denmark since I promised Wax Trax the exclusive. I did let him sample a tiny bit of one of my songs off Pocket Lizard. He elected to sample the drum machine on this track.”

– Zack Kopp

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