Dexter the Angel Knows What You Want

Dexter the Angel Knows What You Want

By Joan SummersJan 03, 2024

“Sir! What if everybody here can see that you are into me? What if nobody is surprised by your attraction but they can now see that you’re scared to make a move?”

This is the scripture of Dexter the Angel, whose new album What If I’m Really Jessica? is out later this spring. PAPER gladly inscribed the words in stone amid the release of Dexter’s latest single, “Everybody Here Knows."

On the track, a haunting drumbeat underscores electronic distortions and Dexter’s address directly to the camera: “Everybody here knows you want to fuck me.” Having premiered at Brooklyn's C’Mon Everybody on the eve of the New Year, the video is a cutting address to voyeurs who orbit Dexter’s world, men who will look but won’t touch. This intimacy is deepened by use of 8mm film, courtesy of director Ian Lewandowski. By happy accident it rained on set, and while film cameras can be “deeply incompatible” with rain, the effect produced is simply magical. “I was soaking wet, which wasn’t part of the plan, but allowed for a 'Whenever, Wherever' Shakira allusion,” Dexter says.

PAPER spoke with Dexter ahead of the premiere about the New York nightlife, No Doubt’s Return of Saturn and just what it takes to be the “self-described androgyne star of the Lower East Side.”

What lessons did you learn the last few years from your first album, The Price of Fantasy?

I learned to commit to my instincts and that most everything takes a village. I had zero experience going into my first album and it was just my songwriting working with an engineer with all digital sounds. Since then, I’ve played live with a band and made a few videos. I’ve figured out what I want to say with this album by diving into the deep end. It feels good.

I’ve seen videos of some covers you’ve done, from Miley Cyrus to No Doubt and The Doors. What inspirations shaped this next album?

Well the album that imprinted on me as a teenager and has never left my rotation is Return of Saturn by No Doubt. The songwriting, the production, the visuals... perfection. It’s a constant touchstone. And now this is my Saturn Return album! I wanted to make a bunch of quick and dirty punky songs that are made with live instruments and cyber kind of electronic sounds all set to the ocean tides.

Last year, I saw the gorgeous band Her Dark Heaven play and was blown away. I sought out their producer Howard Ouyang and he is a genius. Howard produced “Everybody Here Knows;" he is in this very major silk punk band called P.H.0 along with Jun Guo and Pi Zheyu, who have also worked on my album. I’m really proud of what we’ve created together.

The album is officially now called What If I’m Really Jessica? which will make sense when you get to hear the opening track this spring.

“Everybody Here Knows” feels like a narrative continuation of “All The Boys Want To Be My Girl,” in that they both play on this idea of subversiveness, and being a voyeur into your world. Where does that artistic motivation stem from?

My androgyny and upbringing kind of put me in between worlds. I’m not bound to any specific way of life which is both fabulous and isolating. I think trying to understand that social distance is where my artistic motivation comes from. The things we do as human beings to connect and divide is wild. “All The Boys Want To Be My Girl” was a reaction to the straight boys who would send me unsolicited cross-dressing pics. That’s kind of died down since I released the song so perhaps I exorcized that demon. Hopefully my new song can do the same magic.

“Everybody Here Knows” is me breaking the fourth wall of the closet. So many people will DM but not say anything in person and it’s just like, technology has kind of put everyone in the closet. To come onto someone at a bar is almost radical and that’s pathetic. In the song, I’m like “SIR! What if everybody here can see that you are into me? What if nobody is surprised by your attraction but they can now see that you’re scared to make a move?” Coming out of the closet and making a move are startlingly similar. Most of coming out of the closet is giving your audience the freedom to accept or reject you. You have to be willing to be rejected for anything to matter. You have to show desire to get anywhere. There’s power in that.

For the video I was inspired by Salome and the Dance of the Seven Veils. Most of the wardrobe was cheap nylons, because they work on many levels.

I was told by our mutual friend Alex that you shot parts of the video in the pouring rain. How was the whole shooting experience for you?

It was incredible. Ian Lewandowski shot the video on 8mm film, which is gorgeous and deeply incompatible with rain. Alex, gracious as always, held an umbrella for the camera so we could keep shooting. I was soaking wet which wasn’t part of the plan but allowed for a “Whenever, Wherever” Shakira allusion. I think my subconscious has been manifesting that since 2001. Working with film is the best because there’s no time to agonize over anything. You do the take and it’s done.

You’re also a working girl in New York’s nightlife scene. Do you have somewhere you’d call your artistic home base, or creative hub?

I love the Lower East Side so much. Seeing my neighbors every day when I get my coffee or go to the park makes me so happy. I DJ my party Body Language every second Saturday at Nowhere Bar on East 14th Street. It feels like a house party and typically ends with a 4 am Diana Ross singalong. That is why I live in New York.

My creative hub is Parkside Lounge on East Houston, which is where I consume and create the most art. I’ve played with my band there and just filmed another music video in the back room. Occasionally I host karaoke there with my hunky video co-star Rhodes. Sometimes you’ll see me working the door for Christeene and Claywoman which is always a blast. The dance parties "Hot For You" and "Wet Noise" are also next-level. I’m so grateful for the friends and family I’ve made at Parkside.

What’s the story behind your moniker, the “Androgyne Superstar of the Lower East Side”? It’s so major.

I call myself an androgyne because it’s accurate and aligns with a long history of recorded queerness. It’s also a bit pretentious which makes me laugh. I love to laugh! Superstar is for the inspiration of Molly Shannon but the [Andy] Warhol context works too.

This next album is going to be released under "Dexter the Angel," though, because angels have something to fucking say and may be a little beyond human comprehension.

What do you hope for fans and new audiences alike to take away from this next project?

The truth will set you free — and freedom is power.

Video directed by Ian Lewandowski and Dexter Driscoll
Director assistance by Alex Bedder
Photo by Ian Lewandowski