A dark figure has been spotted stalking the streets of San Francisco and New Orleans. A twisted marionette whose sparkly visage is capped by tangled dreadlocks and ghostly white skin. He/she sings songs of twisted brilliance – chanson that spin tales of shadowy humour with wry smiles and lush, expert instrumentation!
Dolls, keepsakes known as ‘Kreetures’ have found their way into the collections of men and women the world over. Audiences have been baffled as he seemingly performs miracles on stage – turning water into wine to the tune of popular music.
But who is this gender-bending creature of the night? And what is the secret behind his ageless beauty?
Ladies and gentlemen-women, I present to you the wonderful… Vinsantos DeFonte!
Photo shot by Austin Young
D) your style of drag blends the masculine and feminine in a theatrical yet darkly subcultural fashion. How did you develop your aesthetic?
Vinsantos) The Vinsantos character is a blend of all of my early influences dating back to my childhood. My parents were big opera freaks. Groupies, really. I was forced to attend countless performances at the War Memorial Opera House and at the same time, when children weren’t allowed, my folks would drop me off at my Grandmothers house for the weekend. She and I had a running date for years where she would make either pizza or soup, and we would stay up late to watch Creature Features, a late night horror movie series on Channel 2. This resulted in many nightmares which to date are my favourite kind of dream. As a young boy, I caught the Rock and Roll bug very early on. KISS was hands down my favourite band. In the 4th and 5th grade, my best friend and I would regularly paint our faces and rock out on our badminton air guitars. Probably the most well known version of the story is as follows… The year was 1979. It was the summer before I entered middle school. I was able to convince my father to take my friend and I to see KISS at the Cow Palace. I’m pretty sure there were tears involved. He agreed but with one condition. We all had to attend the matinee of Madame Butterfly in San Francisco before heading the concert. In a single day, I saw more comedy mixed with tragedy mixed with GLAMour mixed with over the top theatrics and a boat load of makeup. This is where the Vinsantos character was born. Deeply rooted in androgyny and theatre, heart wrenching story telling and frivolous spectacle. When you look at the Vinsantos characters makeup style, you’ll notice that I borrowed my signature lips from Ace Frehley.
SilenceFiction – Lipstique (Feat. fauxnique) starring Vinsantos, Peaches Christ et al.
D) I first became aware of you in the Peaches Christ Madonna Parody, ‘Spin the Bottle’. How did you become involved with the San Fran scene?
V) I became involved in the SF scene from two very different avenues. I have always been in a band ever since I was a teenager. There are too many to mention, but probably one with the most longevity was a band called Agness. This project was heavily costumed and I often ended up drenched in stage blood. We would play anywhere from underground parties, warehouses, theatres, dive bars, and even that Thing they now call Burning Man. This was really my introduction to the freak scene that was thriving at the time in the city. Somewhere along the way, I was invited to a club called Trannyshack because I was told that it was a great place to meet cute boys. I knew that it was a Drag show, but as a musician, that didn’t really speak to me. Then I saw the show! One act after another, these performances were speaking directly to me. It was if I had found my calling, or at least one of them. I can remember seeing a “woman” named Putanesca hit the stage, rocking out to AC/DC, and thinking to myself, “I could totally do that.” Not more than a year after that, I was crowned Miss Trannyshack of the year 2000. It was through Trannyshack that I met all my best girlfriends, including the infamous Peaches Christ.
D) You’ve made some amazing short films of your own that are online and available to stream via YouTube; ’33’ for instance, is HYSTERICAL! SO funny, so wonderfully punk rock. Have you got any more projects in the pipeline? What about a DVD of your collected films?
V) In the early 80’s and late 90’s, I began to experiment with making short films. I took a few classes at a community college and ran with it. My emphasis was on Super 8 silent film narratives. At the time that I was becoming involved with the Drag scene, Peaches was also starting to make her own shorts. Along with Putanesca, she and I started a Halloween Drag weekend in Guerneville Ca called the Russian River Massacre. The weekend would start off with a scary movie in the woods and end up with a big show at the local nightclub. We decided that we would each make our own horror films to present to the crowd as an added bonus. This is where 33 was developed. The weekend of the premiere, I pulled a publicity stunt gone wrong. I made up flyers of the missing children characters in the movie and pasted them all over town. It was a real inside kind of joke. As it turned out, people that weren’t on the inside, didn’t find it funny at all. They were disturbed at what they thought was the reality of these posters. Suppositori Spelling was a wrecked by it as were the towns people. Not until the movie was shown, and the same flyers appeared on screen did people get that it was just a stunt. Suppositori was especially relieved. To date, this little gem is my favorite film project of mine. I have others on various discs and tapes and even film reels. Yes, it’s on my list to compile them on to one spectacular DVD, but the truth is, I will probably be dead first and a loving fan will have to take on the project for me. Any takers?
D) You made a big move and swapped SF for New Orleans, what prompted this decision to leave? Also, how is New Orleans treating you?
V) About 5 years ago, our son was grown and off to college. He was headed to New York. For the first time in 18 years, I was free to move about the country and world as I pleased. My husband Gregory had lived in New Orleans as a teen for a bit and had always had a desire to move back. We had visited some years before that for a LOST weekend. There was a lot of booze involved and I remember distinctly saying as we departed from New Orleans on our plane, “I will never set foot in that fucking town ever again” Never Say Never.
The move has been life changing. I went from having a day job to being a full time artist. I started making and selling my visual arts. I have become not only a drag artist and a musician but also a storyteller. I have found new families both in the drag and music world. Currently I am in two troupes that have monthly shows. The Dirty Dimestore Peepshow is a Burlesque type of show where I flaunt my Drag Arts. At Freaksheaux to Geaux, I work with a band or as a solo performer and tell stories mixed with live songs. The audiences have been very welcoming as well as the performers and producers. It’s especially fun to be newer in town and reach an audience that isn’t already used to my unique and sometime tragic style of performing arts. This town definitely has it’s challenges. Growing up in a progressive city like San Francisco definitely spoils you. You just assume that the rest of the planet is as advanced and as PC as what your are accustomed too. Not the case! It’s also a lot smaller of a city than I’m used to. I think it works somewhat to my advantage in the respect that I spend most of my time focusing on my art and home life. There isn’t an amazing party to go to every night of the week, so it’s easier to focus on what’s important to me right now. Mainly making arts and being on stage often enough to stay sane. Oh, and laundry.
Courtesy of DeFonte’s cousin Diane
D) You’re an extremely talented musician – your full length release, ‘Light Awake Inside’ blends Chanson with dream pop and gothic chamber music to brilliant effect! Your wry sense of humour permeates the album wonderfully – what drives you to create in this fashion and how did you get your start?
V) As a child, I was forced to take piano lessons by my parents. I have always been a great music lover, but it seemed like a chore to me. In hindsight, it was the best thing that they could have done for me artistically. That’s really where I got my musical start. I have been in bands since my teenage years. I have served as a bassist, guitarist, vocalist, producer and songwriter. Moving into adolescence, the piano was replaced by things more Rock and Roll. I didn’t re-discover the piano until much later. We were working on material for the second Agness album and really into experimenting with different instruments and sounds. I found a piano that someone was giving away on Craigslist. I moved it into my garage, and instantly fell in love. It was so familiar to me and made me feel so nostalgic. It was during this time that I wrote my first solo song, AFTER ALL. From there, more songs started to materialize, and I felt more connected to the process and it just snowballed. In my later years, it just became harder and harder to have a “band.” Adults seems to have a lot of responsibilities and distractions that make it hard for a group of folks to stay focused, much less be able to all meet in one room together on a regular basis.
As much as I have loved the collaborative process, especially in my two favourite projects, AGNESS and EVOLUTION RAINBOW, I found it was better for me mentally and emotionally to break out on my own. ‘A Light Awake Inside’ deals a lot with that struggle both to tell my own story and to stay connected to the people around me. I’m super sentimental and family oriented, but at the same time have always had a fascination with fame and fortune. At least the glamorous aspects of it. When I was young, and writing music, I was really less willing to let people get to know me, and my subject matter was quite ambiguous. I guess I considered it poetic. When I joined Agness, I was co-writing with my best girlfriend AGNESS TWIN and she had a real knack for being honest and telling it like it is. She’s really the one that got me to tear down the walls and just get real. From there I started to find my own voice and write based on my own experiences of love, life, success and failure. You know, human stuff. During this process, I had developed a pretty solid body of material. I was introduced to David J from Bauhaus through a mutual friend. He took an interest in what I was doing. Without his support, I’m not sure A LIGHT AWAKE INSIDE would have ever been fully fleshed out. I had never worked in a professional recording studio, or with a producer (David). He really was instrumental in guiding me through the process and helping me get my act together and organize my thoughts and material. I’m not really sure that I even knew at the time that I had it in me. I’m really proud of the work on this album, and all of the people involved. I continue to write songs here and there, when I’m feeling inspired. There will no doubt be another album or two before my time is up.
Photo courtesy of Kook Teflon
D) Kreeture New Orleans, your beautiful bespoke craft project is absolutely stunning! I love the little wonders you create and sell – how did this practice begin?
V) Kreeture New Orleans began shortly after my move here. I was working in a place called the French Market which is like an open air flea market type of thing. There were other artists there selling their cool stuff and making a living of it. This concept turned me on right away. I had been a mosaic artist in San Francisco for many years, so I took those skills and started making little miniature things to sell. I was almost immediately bored with it, having worked in that medium for so long. I came up with the idea of taking the broken shards of glass from my mosaic projects and creating little characters out of them and putting them in scenes around town. During that phase, I began to notice shiny and rusty things littering the grounds around me. These random pieces made their way into the characters and scenes as accents. Eventually, I stopped using the glass all together and was working primarily as an assemblage artist. I would use these little porcelain Mardi Gras masks as the faces to bring the characters to life. It was pretty cute, but not exactly where I wanted it to be. Through a good friend and fellow artist, Kook Teflon, I was introduced to Sheri DeBow at a group doll show here in town. I instantly fell in love were her stuff. I never pictured myself becoming a doll maker before this. I asked her to teach me her techniques so that I could create the faces that I was seeing in my head. I spent a weekend with her at her home in Napa, Ca and it all fell into place. Now my assemblages have been brought to LIFE and I even dabble in making proper dolls as well. It’s truly addictive. I think it’s the variety of techniques in the work that keep me so engaged and inspired. It’s sculpting, painting, hair, makeup, costume design, assemblage, and overall presentation all rolled into one. To date, I have created and sold literally hundreds of pieces. Custom creations are my favourite thing to work on. Clients will come to me with an idea for themselves or a loved one and let me run with it. They can also submit their own personal mementos to be featured in the piece. The most rewarding of these commissions are the MEMORIALS. My clients will put together a box of treasures from loved ones no longer with us and send them to me along with stories and photos about their dearly departed. It’s always an emotional experience and I often have to sit with the items and stories and really meditate on them until I fell compelled to take these precious items and start manipulating them into something new and beautiful. I’m not wholly superstitious, but I get the sense that I’m actually channelling these people through their collected items and histories.
Memorial piece for Phillip Wellford
D) Returning to performance, you’re hardly one to shy away from controversy! I will never forget howling with laughter at your slightly blasphemous Christ, water into wine performance. What compels your character to perform and what material resonates with you to the degree that makes you decide to construct a performance out of it?
V) As a songwriter and story teller, I draw my material from personal experiences. As a drag artist, it always starts out with the song. They just speak to me. I think after you do just one lip-synch, you start to listen to music in a different way. You are always trying to make a story out of it. Some of those stories are worth pursuing and others are just fun fantasies that fall by the wayside. I think the number one rule for me when it comes to my Drag work is that there is a story being told, no matter how subtle or conceptual. If there’s one thing I can’t stand from a performer, it would be self indulgence. You get plenty of that just being up on the stage. I like to connect with my audience and give them what they came out for. In my live performances, I like to reach people on a really personal level. In drag, there is a little of that mixed with A LOT of entertainment. Sometimes, just a gown and a wig and a great song are all I need to get my point across. Sometimes, it’s more about a specific character, like Christ that really drives the story home. As far as the turning water into wine thing, well, who doesn’t like magic?
D) Silencefiction featured yourself along with Fauxnique, Kiddie and Peaches Christ donning maquillage in the single ‘Lipstique’. How did you get involved in this?
V) The Lipstique project was created by the real life power couple of Silence Fiction aka Marc Kate and Fauxnique aka Monique Jenkinson, or as I like to call them, “the Fiercingtons.” We are all good friends and Sisters on the Scene. Shortly after they had recorded and performed the track live, they approached a few of us with this idea for the video. It was met by most of us with some trepidation. Most performers that I know do not like being portrayed out of character, and especially not mid-character. Being that it was the Fiercingtons asking, saying no wasn’t really an option. As a result, it is one of my favourite projects to date. I think it exceeded all of our expectations and made us all really proud. When I moved to New Orleans, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was playing up in the gay bars. Of course, I used my new found celebrity to work a few free drinks out of it. After I was able to convince people that it really was me up there on the screen!
D) ‘Manicursed’!!!! Where can we get our copies??? I as im sure many. have been tantalised by the possibility of this tranny-horror epic for some time now! How did it happen, where can we see it and is there more to come?
V) Manicursed is one of my favourite little gems. It was created for another Drag weekend event up at the Russian River called Pipstock hosted by the “lovely” Pipi Lovestocking. I do have a copy on DVD that I promise to transfer and release soon. VERY soon. I could go into detail, but I think the trailer tells enough to get you interested. Keep on me about this one. It has some epic moments featuring Phatima, Metal Patricia, Fatsantos ( my BEAR alter ego) and even Cookie, my black cousin from Detroit.
D) I know that you have the Freaksheaux to Geaux performance coming up, what else do you have in the pipeline? Films, music, star studded world tour?
V) In the future, you can expect more of the same from me. I would like to get back into a little film-making. I will always be performing. The Kreetures will hopefully continue to pay my bills. I will move other places. I will adopt more Drag daughters. I will release another album. I will most likely finally finish my screen play. I might get another puppy at some point, but only if I have a nanny to take care of it. I will grow old and die. Or I might just get hit by a bus. In that case, see you all on “THE OTHER SIDE.” XOXOXOXOXOXO
Assuming Vinsantos hasn’t been mown down by a careening cab on the streets of New Orleans, I would like to issue him with a massive thank you for Talking Toxic with me today! It has been AWESOME!
If you would like to see more of Vinsantos’ work you can do so here:
Buy his Kreetures, here:
And buy his amazing album, ‘Light Awake Inside’, here: