Today we’d like to introduce you to Sepehr Mashiahof.
Sepehr, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m the kind of person that operates off of tangents and a nonlinear approach to anything that I do or say but almost without a fail, the dots all connect at some point later. That said, I don’t know where to start with a response to this without getting to a scattered place so I’ll go all the way back to the beginning and try to piece it together that way. I’m a first generation trans Iranian girl who was put to bed in Tehran one night and somehow woke up in the United States the next day at two years old. Growing up in LA with musician parents, my older sister and I were exposed to creative outlets at such an early age watching our parents spend hours composing and playing folk Persian songs together. I’d also hear my parents listening to their favorite artists from the homeland such as Vigen and Googoosh and felt very attached to Persian music structure. At the same time, I was so into 90s pop stars constantly playing on the radio and mimicking the choreography in “Baby, One More Time” or whatever. I wanted to be a pop star like Xtina or Britney.
Generational trauma is a real pattern that we carry in us through a lineage and I’ve seen my mom’s deep dependency on music to process the early death of her mother and her overall past life in Iran transfer over to me and my sister’s relationship to music making in our own lives trying to process both of us growing up as trans immigrant siblings in America. As children, we also didn’t fully understand that other level of our parents’ pain of being adult immigrants in an unfamiliar place. All I could understand at the time was that there was this undercurrent of sadness in our family that was really rooted in the sense of loss of identity. To be an immigrant in America, you’re expected to assimilate to prove some kind of patriotism and to do that means to kill off a part of yourself — your culture, your ties to the homeland, to split your tongue and numb out the non-English speaking half of it. I’m lucky that my parents didn’t fully buy into that though, we spoke Farsi at home and it felt like walking into some idea of what Iran was supposed to be every time I came home from school.
The other relevant foundation I want to add to a “beginning” for context is the power and the importance of the imagination as a young queer person who didn’t have the tools or the representation on TV or in books to understand the self in. So much of me and my sister’s childhood was spent playing pretend together and improvising identities to in some way make sense of our own. As trans sisters who didn’t have the language or knowledge to fully communicate ourselves, our collective imagination was so validating and crucial to emerging a sense of confidence I carry in myself as an adult now. You have to get creative with resisting these social “rules” that actively work to erase you and when the doors aren’t opening to affirm your existence, open portals off to the side and blow them a kiss as you step through.
Fast forward to now, these two foundational elements of being a trans-Iranian immigrant in the United States exposed to music making early on combined with my imagination are the keys to what resulted in my music project, The Bedroom Witch. I started the project seven years ago at 19 while I was living in San Francisco initially to add a soundtrack to a 7 act video play I was writing at the time called ‘The Alter Shegos’ (alternate title: ‘The Altar She Goes’). Eventually, The Bedroom Witch as a project itself took a life of its own as I just kept recording more and more songs under that name. My sister, who was in her third band SBSM at this point, helped draw up attention from the queer punk/darkwave scene in the Bay to the music I was posting online and because of her, I ended up with a first show at a goth party hosted at a squat house a year later. Many shows happened up there all the way to now after I moved back to LA four years ago.
Four released albums and two EPs later, my obsession with patterns had me noticing so many recurring themes and worlds showing up in all of these albums I was making. By the time I released my third album ‘Injury’ under Practical Records, two worlds specifically – “Nowhere” and “Exile” stood out. I realized my subconscious was trying to communicate the idea that I came from “Nowhere,” and I’m stuck wandering in “Exile”. Do you see the dots connecting? I ended up fixating on this idea and writing a completed ten track epic-style concept album, Diaspora about me escaping “Exile” to reunite with my “Shadow Self” who ran away in search of “Nowhere”. This album was set with full intention to process feelings around the immigrant experience and maybe make peace with the possibility that I’ll never go back. Diaspora will be the next Bedroom Witch full-length release under Psychic Eye Records.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It’s been a smooth road in the sense that my support system has been so strong. Being here feels less agonizing knowing that both my blood family and my chosen family love me and support me for all of who I am. I’ve been offered that privilege to feel like the inherently painful things about being a trans girl in this world make me want to die a little less because of these people in my life. I want to refocus the attention to trans, queer and nonbinary people who haven’t been offered that same privilege so far in their lives. I’m thinking especially about the higher rate of violence that Black trans women specifically face every day in the United States and our conversation seriously needs to take an urgent tone when talking about how people should be actively helping to make this fucked up place safer for them. I want people to think about the ways that they can be and have been complicit with racism, transphobia, queerphobia, ableism, etc. and do better to minimize the harm these violent structures cause us. Offer your resources if you have them. Take up less space and listen (and actually take in) when queer/trans/nonbinary people of color are voicing their needs. These tools of oppression are so deep in this country that calling them out once and sinking back into apathy because you thought that the work is then done would be foolish.
That said, no it’s not necessarily going to be a smooth road being who I am here in America on a personal level. Whether people want to admit to it or not, I can feel that my existence is met with suspicion even when people are smiling and telling me I’m like pretty or something. It’s just the truth more often than not. To also live out some expectation of what the “American Dream,” my parents thought was suppose to happen for us here, there is barely any room to fuck up. To get people to take me seriously as an artist here, I feel like I need to excel at an exhaustingly high level and then pretend like I’m not 100% annoyed when the person who asked me to play the show misgenders me in the same breath of telling me that they liked my set at some point the night of. You have to think: If any or all intersections of your identity exist on the margins here as a musician, it feels like you won’t be acknowledged for the type of mediocre output that an all cis white dude bro four-piece “oooh” and “aaah” garage rock band can get away with and is celebrated for doing. It’s not like we’d make that boring shit anyway.
The Bedroom Witch – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from others?
My music project being such a DIY endeavor has allowed me to explore and hone in on so many other mediums of creativity. By using The Bedroom Witch project itself as the platform, I’ve gotten to organize and direct my own music videos either alone or with my closest friends. I’ve taught myself to mix my own home recordings over the years and I suddenly understand frequencies and what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to sound on a completely new level now. I make up new storylines and choreography to execute in really messy ways for almost every show I’m asked to perform. I edit all the videos and create all my own live visuals to supplement these storylines and to inform an aesthetic or whatever. The list goes on to a point where the “self-recording artist” part of this project just exists as a baseline.
I think this work ethic comes from my hesitation to let go of creative control when it comes to the art so it makes a lot of sense that I place myself in various roles and teach myself new processes of creating as much as I have capacity for. For that reason alone, there really isn’t one singular thing that I can say I “do best” with this project besides to acknowledge that just knowing how much you carry as a DIY artist, relying on the self as the main driving force behind what’s coming out can be a really beautiful thing to watch manifest. It’s so interesting to solve riddles of how you can do something creatively if no one else is available in the room to hold the camera or something.
This project is such a necessary outlet for me to deal with me. So much of it is heavily informed by my dreams and the inner turmoil I’m spending my days trying to heal from. That’s where the importance of imagination steps in. I keep seeing visions of these “parallel universe to my own” type worlds that really appear when I least expect it. Working on my music has been a practice for me to offer space for and to breathe life into my hyperactive imagination so I can process reality with a little less weight when I tune back in. This project has given me the tools to really look deep into myself when I’m having that staring contest with my reflection at 3 am. It’s allowed a lucid kind of thought process to flow and take me wherever it wants to and I trust that it’s trying to tell me something important about me and that I need to receive it. People understandably usually don’t want to be taken there out of fear of drowning in the messages but I think the music project might have created a boat for me to float on so that it feels a little less scary? I’m grateful for that.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I don’t necessarily have a proudest moment but I’m proud of this project as an accumulation to where I am with it right now if that makes sense. I’m proud of all of it and none of it because there is still more work to be done and growth and ideas that I want to manifest from this project. As a recording artist who makes it all alone in her bedroom, I think it’s so cool that I’m at a point now where I can listen to the most recent recordings I’ve been working on and think “wow, I made that and it sounds really polished” which, by the way, isn’t a quality that I think quantifies a “good” song recording, it’s just exciting to reach that output just from becoming more intentional with the sound frequencies you’re combining. I also have moments in my head where I feel like now that I’ve gotten to this certain understanding when it comes to recording, I want to go back and re-record and fine-tune frequencies for all the songs I’ve made in the past. That would take way too long for my impatient self though, and I’m not interested in going backwards. I have so many other new ideas and I think archiving how something happened when it happened in the past no matter how messy or muddy the quality is makes it that much more of a gem to me.
I did get to open for Crash Course in Science a couple of years ago though and one of the members at the merch table at the end of the show told me to “keep going” in the most sincere way and I just, like, melted.
- Website: https://bedroomwitch.bandcamp.com/
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @bedroomwitch
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bedroomwitch/
- Twitter: @TheBedroomWitch
Shelby Bernstein, Kristin Cofer, Chris Camargo, The Hanging Garden