INTERVIEW WITH JILLIAN ANN
By KOFI FOSU FORSON, MAY 2014
The social media world of MySpace gave way to vixens and goddesses who dominated this terrain with erotic images of themselves. Many of them had a following but not all of them had a calling other than playing up their roles as sexual fantasies. Jillian Ann was different, her face was everywhere. I saw her pictorials in Richard Kern's book, Action and R. Kern's fascination with young women nude, both playful and suggestive. Jillian was unlike most of the models in the book - she seemed to take her work seriously, determined to get her point across. As a model Jillian has worked in partnership with other known photographers and as a muse to several artists. But her miraculous life started with a brutal upbringing of rape and lust. As an actress she has worked on erotic films and appeared in videos including a video for the goth metal band Apocalyptica which featured vocals by Gavin Rossdale. Currently she owns a fashion line called RITUAL, which features video work along with an accompanying band. Ritual was created to manifest Jillian's visions stemming from her years as a model. It's a combination of fashion, music, performance and film as multimedia entertainment. As a musician she is a vocalist and classically trained pianist performing electronica, goth rock, house, trance and dub step. She has collaborated with countless producers creating chart topping hits for artists such as Phutureprimitive and Knight Riderz. Jillian is an ardent environmentalist and is committed to human and animal rights - her lyrics often cut to the core of her beliefs. She has also added Dee-Jaying to her credentials performing with live vocals and has been producing and remixing tracks for herself and others. Jillian Ann's last thoughts are "I'd like to live in a world where compassion and kindness are not seen as weaknesses to be exploited, where being different triggers interest and not suspicion, where art is once again recognized as an important quality to being alive and hopefully get people to recognize by hurting the planet we are killing ourselves."
Kofi Forson: Jillian, over the years your image has been a mainstay on social media. I’m thinking even as far back as MySpace. For me personally, it was always your face. That patented Jillian Ann face. It seems you have transformed from what you once were as a model, a Little Red Riding Hood who ran away from home, to now dealing with the outside forces that perhaps once brought you nightmares. How have you have managed to gain complete control of your career? You seem like such a fighter. One would be led to think you did it all on your own. What kept you going?
Jillian Ann: Somewhere in childhood I found an inner guide as well as what most shamans would call spirit guides, religions and spiritual paths. The world didn't seem right from childhood. There was violence, people’s capacity to kill and rape, all out of fear or lack of control or desire to feel powerful. I was often on the viewing or receiving end of these actions. I was violently harmed and raped, lost my sanctuary. But in that I found something stronger, an intuition, instinct and capacity to see a better future. I knew if I could just manage to get through to the other side and understand it all then I could go back as a strong person.
Forson: I brought up the idea of nightmares. As a child were you aware of good and evil? Was there ever a balance between the two? For some, family is the biggest stigma where you are at once welcomed but you feel the need to deviate. As a child where did you feel most at home?
Ann: I do not believe in good or evil at this point. I was aware of it as a child but what I was told about evil confused me more. I was told being gay, bi-, etc… was evil and my mother recently compared bi-sexuality to bestiality so where I come from evil is anything other than the bible. If you’re gay or bi- like I am and knew I was as a child I was evil. So much is evil to some and not others, even religion has its evil, and all of it is man made, created out of fear, be it of the devil which I believe is just a reflection of what we don’t want to process in ourselves, " the devil made me do it " and so on. Nature and the arts is where I found my home and connection to spirituality.
Forson: So you ran with the pack. How were you tested? Not to bring in any sort of initiation rights but how did you survive as a child in a world of strangers, men or women who tempted you? What are your recollections of the subculture of sex, drugs and rock and roll?
Ann: Not all of it was easy. I went from a sheltered land of suburbia in Georgia to the land of clubs, drugs, sex and music which was both fascinating and intense. I was part of the early rave scene. It turned tragic when something that was founded on love and unity became something about money and profit. It seemed to have the same affect on the drugs which then lead to overdoses and death. Sex was another adventure. I ended up becoming famous first for my on-screen experimentation. Art has always been my life expression so with sex it was no different. I drove head first into self expression on film with women, experimenting with fetish, bondage and many other things. I learned sadly the erotic/adult industry often isn't the most honest, most caring industry and can attract a lot of people looking to take advantage of the young and unaware. Not all but some. Some are very aware and honest about the impact. I had my share of rich, powerful rock stars and movie stars but in the end the ones I often let in and was close to and intimate with were the ones who I felt safe with spiritually, emotionally and helped me evolve.
Forson: You are open about your bi-sexuality. As an activist what was your reaction to the bill in Arizona which would have given businesses the right to reject patrons on the basis of religion? It was vetoed but how do you as a member of the LGBT community have to fight for your civil rights?
Ann: I fight the battles I know I can win. I am not religious but grew up with two very religious parents and read the bible more than I can count. I see the dark ages, the twisting of words, the misuse of power and control, fear of the unknown which is fear of the self. Really bad things are happening all over the world all the time. Kids are sold into prostitution. Gays are beaten, killed or murdered. People use religion as an excuse to hate, kill, or blame. As a member of the LGBT, I find it sad that humanity is in such a dark place. I find it ironic people think they are working for God when they hate, harm, kill, or judge. I am not sure what God they are working for other than a self detached ego. But then again I came from a world where being bi- is evil and my own mother cannot love or accept me as I am. But I have learned through her its all about fear, and mainly the fear of death and the unknown.
Forson: I came across your pictorials in Richard Kern’s book, Action. It was the first time ever that I had seen you so vivid sexually. Where did this confidence come from?
Ann: Richard was always kind. He cared. It was safe. It was never uncomfortable. He created a place where I could express that experimental side I was exploring at the time. I was young, but I believed then that expression of sexuality should be an empowered thing. And I shouldn't be ashamed of expressing in private or public ( when welcomed ) that sexuality.
Forson: Are you portraying some one other than yourself or is this who you really were at that time?
Ann: At the time it was who I was. I think about making erotic pictures and films again someday but I want to make them the most beautiful sensual things anyone has ever seen, bringing all the arts into one. But until then I feel like it’s a part of me that will never die.
Forson: It seems to me all these images were coming from a centered place. Whereas most of the other models seemed difficult and were obviously trying hard, you seemed so sure of yourself. What are your hang ups about sexuality if any?
Ann: I've had my hang ups but I also have been aware of them. Not afraid to work through them. I grew up in a very strict religious home, being straight and married was the only way. I knew I was different and was having sex with women before men, but then I knew I liked both. I also liked games, kink, tantra and pushing and pulling the limitations. I knew I wanted more than one lover but was told it was wrong. It took me a moment to realize and come to fully accept I am bisexual, and poly, which means I like men and women and believe you can love more then one person, as well as be kinky and very sexual. But I did have hang ups and am still working through leftovers from some traumas but I feel it’s normal and healthy to be evolving sexually as much as any other way.
Forson: What are your thoughts on seduction and possession? Do you seduce the mind and possess the body? Or is it okay to possess the body without seducing the mind?
Ann: I don’t feel you can posses anything or anyone really, just temporary interactions in a fleeting moment. Nothing is forever. I am pretty sensitive around sex and who I have it with. I personally do my best to avoid confusion in this area because when you make love, like it or not, your souls, your spirits, your DNA blends and bonds. Part of you is part of them forever. If you don't like the mind, why bond with it. The body is the mind and the mind is the body.
Forson: What led you to R Kern?
Ann: I had a manager who knew everyone and sent me to him.
Forson: He obviously valued you as muse. What was it like working with him? How did he make you feel secure and comfortable?
Ann: I always felt at ease and enjoyed working with him. He always felt respectful, safe and would create some sexy and beautiful and sometimes strange images all of which I respected.
Forson: Can you give me an idea of what it’s like on a shoot with him? What does he expect of you? How does he get from you what he wants? Does he talk to you? Is there music?
Ann: I can't remember all of the details. It was a long time ago but it was always comfortable. We always talked and it was always laid back and from what I remember, fun and easy. I believe there was always music but I can't remember for sure, but usually yes. I don't have any bad memories, just sometimes humor in some of his ideas but only because I found them very different. But that’s what made him unique, his different perspective.
Forson: Your current clothing line is RITUAL. Can you talk a bit about the history of the clothing line? My initial reaction is that it celebrates life as a ritual, be it love, sex, god, religion. What was the original idea behind the concept and how have you so successfully gotten it off ground? They truly are amazing.
Ann: RITUAL - Make Life A RITUAL was born from my lover Cassidy Haley and my wild adventure one New Year’s Eve. We shared a common love for music, art, style, sensuality, visuals and dreams. As musicians and songwriters both of us felt fusing music, fashion, sensuality and our dreams and visions into one thing could be both rewarding and fun. Fashion is a world where we can fuse music, visuals and clothing into one. RITUAL is focused on creating sexy, edgy, beautiful clothing that is sustainable and fair trade fashion. It is more expensive than some places because we work with sustainable materials whenever possible and it’s usually fair labor. Everything is handcrafted handmade and created with both style and planetary awareness in mind. It’s been amazing to see the reaction and the growth. RITUAL is also a band and we are releasing our album this year. The music inspires the fashion and the fashion inspires the music. It’s been amazing and a wonderful journey. I always wanted to have a fashion line but wasn't sure how it would happen. Working with my lover and partner is amazing. We get to create beautiful inspiring art for a living and travel the world. It’s a dream come true. It also gives me a place that encompasses all of my sides from my music to my design ideas, to modeling and also my inner geek and business woman.
Forson: You are a multi-media artist. What is the basis of your art? How do you transcend sexuality into something other than the physical body? You are very much concerned with nature and the outside world. How does that translate into what you do as an artist?
Ann: Spirit is the basis of my art. Sexuality and spirit are connected. The physical body is just a pen or a screen on which I use to communicate. Sexuality comes from one’s soul and being. It is translated into everything from art to cooking to making love. My connection with nature and the world isn't something I can really turn off. Everything affects me. My lover calls me the sensitive flower because sometimes I just feel like a giant antenna. I value the connection and the things I feel even when it’s painful or challenging. All of it becomes art.
Forson: There is also brilliance in your work as musician. Can you talk a bit about the musical landscapes and textures you incorporate into your music? What is the creative process like? Do you write music or work from the piano?
Ann: Music is one of my most beloved art forms. I write songs in my head. I have hundreds of recordings I never finish and piles of books of lyrics. But when I know its time to finish something I usually start with a beat, then a piano and then build it from there. I've tried working from singing but piano was my first influence and so I tend to do best when I start there and then build. I love the more classic sounds, as well as some new ones. Music for me is always bending and transforming. I love creating music from scratch and am excited to release the new RITUAL work as I feel it may be some of my best.
Forson: Looking back on your career was there ever a time when you knew that all of this was possible?
Ann: Somewhere deep inside, I always held onto this reality. I always saw it. And it’s not done yet, and when things would be hard or painful there was this vision of a tomorrow which was beautiful and inspiring not just to me but to others and it kept me alive sometimes. I hope to inspire the next generation and the one after; the other dreamers out there who want to create and invent and change things. I hope to burn a path bright enough for them to know it’s possible no matter where you’re from or what you came from.
Forson: It’s one thing starting off as a model but how and when did you establish yourself as an artist? I guess what I’m trying to say is that as an artist you start illustrating or painting, playing the guitar or writing. How and when did you slowly recognize you had other talents? Tell me about this evolution.
Ann: I started music and modeling at the same time. It’s just record deals scared me and major label deals frightened me. At 18 the idea of giving away all my freedom forever was terrifying. I was making music at 17 and modeling. My first project got the attention and two amazing people became friends and mentors one used to be the head of A&R at Warner Records. I was in and out of deals but record deals are crazy and I was there when everything was changing. I was different. I didn't want to do it just for fame or be a singing puppet. I didn't want to make sounds just because someone said I needed to or it was hip. I was difficult. I had a mind of my own and still do. Modeling allowed me to build a studio to have time to make music on my own, to work with producers to hire people to work with labels or not. It meant I didn't have to sell my freedom for money and modeling was easy for me. I loved it and it was fun.
Forson: I guess I was born at the time of Woodstock and all that talk of free love and free sex. Fair to say you came into your own during the ecstasy and Rave culture. We have seen people die of overdoses and A.I.D.S. Is the party over? The party as we knew it. Is it over?
Ann: I have seen people overdose and I did a few times. I think the party is often an illusion. People want love, connection, freedom and use drugs to experience magic. But true magic I feel is coming back. The real party is love, connection and having magical experiences without the side effects, be it through living in such a way life becomes magical. The real party is just starting. I've been there. It’s amazing. I live it and it’s amazing and it won't kill you and doesn't have a come down. Nature has the keys and we just have to return to it. Our evolution isn't about rules. It’s about freedom of self expression, of pleasure but not at the cost of anything in us or anyone else.
Forson: Well Jillian, it’s been an amazing career, you’ve done so much. What are your future plans for RITUAL and your recording career?
Ann: I am in Bali producing our next collection with my lover and then we are shooting our music/fashion video and a bunch of pretty things. We are releasing the fashion with the song “Breathe” this summer and are following it up with an album soon after. Once the album and new collection are out we are going to tour fusing music and fashion media and Rituals live on stage. Of course we do lots of shoots, editorials and other things. Film is the next addition to the family, but we are going to start playing with this album and collection. There is always something happening and more going on. I am not sure where it will all go or how to predict the future but I am excited to create and share.
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Kofi Forson is a writer, POET and PLAYWRIGHT living in NYC. His current blog is BLACK COCTEAU, a mixture of philosophy and art on modern culture.