Music, Acting, and Size-Inclusive Fashion: an interview with Regina Strayhorn by Giorgia Cristiani
Photos by David Katzinger
Regina Strayhorn is an amazingly creative musician and vocalist, talented actress, and skilled stylist. With her indie-gipsy-folk band Bandits on the Run she performs live in the subway stations of New York Cities, as well as touring the US and Europe. The band has just released the latest EP Bandits Live at the Power Station, and their recent entry into NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, “Love in the Underground”, was selected as a “Top Shelf” entry, which lead them to perform at the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road NYC Showcase.
Regina is also taking part in “Miss Tutti and the Fruity Band”, a children web series that will start filming in the fall, with the goal of teaching kids important topics such as body image, and LGBTQ issues.
I’ve asked Regina what is her secret to keep up with her busy schedule, what were the biggest challenges of her career, what is the story behind her band, and much more. Here is what she answered:
You are a vocalist, an actress, a multi-instrumentalist, and a stylist. How did you come to do all these things, and how do you manage to keep up with all your projects?
Well, Google calendar, first and foremost! I mean, it’s a lot of energy. I think that I’m very driven to create all the time but also a lot of those things find me… I feel like if you would’ve asked me, “Are you going to do five things all at once?” I’d probably be like “oh my god that is crazy!”. But when opportunities present themselves, I always try to say yes, so I find that I am always juggling a lot of projects. They all feed into each other which is lucky. I also don’t get a lot of sleep but when I do it’s awesome.
Tell me more about your band, Bandits on the Run. How did you meet Roy Dodger (a.k.a. Adrien Enscoe) and Bonanza Jellyfish (a.k.a. Sydney Shepherd), and how did the three of you become a band?
Sidney and I actually went to college together and we’ve been best friends since college. We went to acting school together at University of North Carolina School of Arts and we were both acting majors there. She moved to New York to understudy in a Broadway musical right out of school, and when she was in New York she met Adrian in the subway because he was playing music there and the train was messed up, so they ended up talking. The train didn’t take them home, they ended up going out for a drink and they started dating. When I finally moved to New York I moved in with Sidney and we were all in the same apartment together. We started talking about performing and Adrien was like “let’s go down to the subway!”. We knew only three songs and we went down to the subway and we played those over and over again, ‘cause the train left every 15 minutes so it was fine! And then it grew organically from there. Music was a very big surprise to me, but I really loved it and it has become a very big part of my identity. I would have never guessed that when I graduated.
You just released a new EP, Bandits Live at the Power Station. Do you have a favorite track? If so, what makes it such?
That’s a hard one… I think probably out of all of them I really love “Sweet Thing”, it’s a very endearing and loving song that has an off-beat time signature and it leaves you guessing a little bit, which I feel like sometimes in love you are left guessing a little bit too. So I really love that one. I also really love “Cowboy on the Run”, mostly because of the work of Dodger. I first wrote that song when I was living in North Carolina and it was just a song that came to me, and I wrote it down immediately. To have it on the EP and have it been recorded in a beautiful studio it really represents a lot to me for how far things have come.
What do you enjoy the most about performing live?
The audience and how it’s different every time. You perform the same song many times, and my favorite part of all arts, acting, music, any kind of other artistic creative endeavor is connecting with people, and talking to them afterwards because the same song can mean a different thing to a lot of people. It’s lovely building a community with them. I love meeting everyone afterwards and being connected to the audience. It’s kind of hard in this digital age, you can easily connect with people on social media but it’s harder to make that jump in person and music really helps with that, it helps me connect with other people and for people to connect with me. I feel very lucky because New York can be super isolating but I feel very at home here, and I feel like I have a lot of people that I can lean on and that I respect and that all has to do with these live shows.
You have been recently cast in “Miss Tutti and the Fruity Band”, a musical children's web series promoting body positivity. Can you tell us more about the series and about your role in it?
Yes, so it’s a new series that will be coming out soon and we are about to go into filming it this fall. It’s about teaching kids things that they really need to know, like LGBTQ issues, and body positivity. I am a member of the Fruity Band, it is a live band and we are going to be performing songs as well as talking to kids about these topics that they learn one way or another. Gracie Nash is the woman who is heading the project: she is Miss Tutti and she is also an amazing song writer in her own right that does lots of different projects. I am super excited to be a part of something that specifically thought for young children but also talking about inclusivity and diversity, listening to yourself and embracing positive stories about who we are, and rejecting things that don’t feel true, which is anything that tells you that you are “not enough”.
What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome in your career?
I think the biggest challenge was people telling me that because I am fat and because I am black I don’t fit into a narrative that would make me successful in the long run. When I was in school people would tell me “You won’t work for 10 years” and what they were saying is “you have to be playing the old maid in order to be claiming any part”. People say all the time “I don’t know anybody that looks like you” and the truth is that you do know people who look like me, there are millions of people that look like me but they are not getting a chance to be represented in whatever creative area that they belong in. I feel like I have a lot to give and honestly the hardest part is having the courage and remembering all the time to stick to my guns and to continue growing in my career, and not let those voices affect my choices, just not let that pressure get to me. Sometimes in the past, and even sometimes now, it does but I try to push forward. I am continuing to write all the time with my band, and I am also working on a web series on my own, I am trying to create my own opportunities because that’s where I feel the most at home. So yeah, I would say the biggest challenge is dealing with the doubt, but I also think it is kind of a life thing as well.
Tell us about your work at Modcloth. What inspires your fashion style?
I work at Modcloth NYC which is an extension of the on-line brand which is a size-inclusive brand, sizes go from XXS to 4XL. I’m inspired every day because people would come in and it doesn’t matter what size they are, a lot of people feel very uncomfortable with their body so I love to help them find clothes that are the right fit for them, and help unlock a sense of confidence, the vulnerability of being seen, and feeling beautiful, looking really good… I think that’s what inspires my style! I love things from every era, I kind of don’t have a style that is easily pinned down because I just think everything that is colorful and flashy, kinda not matter structural or wherever it fits in, I really like. I lean towards things that are a little bit more of an exhibitionist flare because for so long I didn’t want anybody to look at me but now I do, and I want anyone who feels comfortable in those certain clothes to step out. My work at Modcloth is really nice and it is also wonderful that the brand carries size for a wide group of people. I love styling groups, sometimes I’d have a group of five friends come into the store and we can find clothes for all of them and it feels really great to be able to service everybody.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to women who wish to pursue a creative career like yours?
I would say to really value yourself and your own experiences and know that anytime it feels like what you have to offer creatively might not be enough, to really challenge that story you are telling yourself, because most of the times the things that we are trying to hide the most are what makes us the most interesting in our creative career. Whatever secret we are trying to keep tends to be the key to people connecting with us. So if someone is asking about advice I always say – and it feels a little bit like a golden rule or a catch phrase but it’s really true – : you have to stay true to yourself because that’s what people respond to and what makes you unique is really the key to what makes people want invest in you, emotionally or financially. You really have to trust your own worthiness and go for it.
Thank you so much, Regina, for sharing all these important aspects of your career and personality with us! We hope to see Bandits on the Run live one day, and can’t wait to watch Miss Tutti and the Fruity Band!