Interview: Ray Zamora Talks Telecasters, Othering, and Creative Friction

Ray Zamora
Photo: Jonathan Pirro
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Oakland, California’s cabaret rock outfit recently released their debut solo album, Death, Sex, and Other People’s Money, a 12-track collection of potently visceral music blending punk, alt-rock, tendrils of jazz, acid-rock, and grunge elements into edgy musical concoctions.

Made up of Chatz (vocals), Ray Zamora (guitar), and Eli Maliwan on bass, Copyslut delivers unstoppably relentless energy on stage, akin to “musical theater meets stripper meets rock and roll.”

Zamora’s gift on guitar is nonpareil, ranging from low-slung and ghostly to incendiary ferocity. I sat down with Zamora to find out more about what it’s like being a non-binary guitarist, musical influences, gear, and what the future holds for Copyslut.

You’re the guitar player for Bay Area Cabaret-Rock band Copyslut – tell us more about your experience performing and creating with Copyslut and how you hope to see the band progress over the next year!

Copyslut is the most personally impactful project I have done in my career as a musician. From the beginning, we have received so much support from our community. It started casually as a love project between (lead singer) Chatz and I. We met at a karaoke bar in 2016. I was blown away by Chatz’s performance of “I Want To Break Free” and was like, dude, we should jam. I don’t think we had many expectations for the project when we started Copyslut. We were just having fun, covering treasured songs and doing what felt good to us in the moment. We still create with that philosophy, and it’s taken us farther than we ever could have imagined. We have a full-length album that represents our most tender healing projects. One unexpected joy that has come from this project is that we are now embedded into a network of badass artists all over the country. My biggest hope is that this ecosystem continues to expand and that we get to continue our work around healing through pleasure and shaking shame.

Your background is in metal bands. Tell us more about that and why you chose to transition to more of an indie-rock sound.

It happened pretty organically. I have played in various projects since 2007. When I moved to the East Bay in 2014, I was deep in the local metal scene when I met Chatz. Once we started jamming together, our respective backgrounds naturally transformed into the cabaret rock sound we have today. Our whole vibe harkens to ‘70’s classic glam rock icons like Queen and Bowie, both sonically and in our live performance. There is plenty of room for me to express my metal aesthetic in Copyslut. We do have an indie rock sound, and we also like to consider ourselves genre-fluid.

Do you have a favorite female or non-binary guitar player and why?

I would have to say it is currently Yvette Young. Her style harkens to the clean shreddy prog music that really took off in the last decade. It’s incredibly complex and beautiful, a total ASMR brain massage. I also adore the guitar work of Ani DiFranco, as well as the trail she blazed for queer musicians. And of course, I have to shout out to my guitar goddess doppelganger Joan Jett. If it weren’t for her I’d get way fewer compliments on my hair.

What has your experience been like as a Latinx guitar player? How do you feel it’s contributed to both positive and negative experiences in music?

In my experience, there’s a pretty significant Latinx contingent in modern rock and metal, despite the fact that the rock genre takes on a relatively colorblind approach to race. Rock and its associated subgenres are relatively silent on race, despite the fact that there are so many wonderful people of color creating, innovating, and supporting each other. It’s so frustrating, especially given that rock-guitar driven music absolutely originated from black and brown folks. That’s why we write songs like “Makers Mark,” which uses a vampire narrative to explore my personal experience around being mixed white-Latinx. Whenever we play it live, I always dedicate it to the mixed-race babies in the audience, and I’m always inspired by the squeals and whoops of validation I hear back.

Which guitarists influenced you the most growing up?

I started playing covers of songs my parents listened to as teenagers. Hair metal, hard rock, power ballads from the ‘70s and ‘80s, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath … all those heavy hitters. Also, my first guitar teacher, a guy named Craig Launer, introduced me to super-shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and Gary Moore, and I just couldn’t get enough of that stuff. Once I discovered My Chemical Romance though, everything changed. Ray Toro was clearly influenced by heavy metal, and Frank Iero brought the punk edge with totally fascinating melodies. Both of them are absolutely a huge influence on my writing.

What kind of guitar do you play? And why?

I currently play an American Special Telecaster named Cream <3. It’s my first time not playing Ibanez as a serious musician. I think when I started shifting away from metal I wanted a whole new identity and sound, and I’ve always loved teles. They’re sexy, campy, somber, and twangy, all in one. I love taking the bright tele tone and beefing it up with my pedals.

Ray Zamora
Photo: Noe Chavez

Which amps and pedals are you presently using, and why?

Playing through a Fender Blues Deluxe, I mold my tone through my pedal chain. I mostly lean on my Ibanez TS9, and when I really want to get heavy, I layer that with an MXR Superbadass Distortion. For effects, I’m all about my TC Helicon Flashback delay. I love how many delay presets there are, and it has a looper feature for writing and jamming.

What is your songwriting process and how does it mesh with Copyslut? Do you ever butt heads?

I’m a metalhead, so I tend to think in riffs and then piece them together with transitions. Often I’ll hear a song that inspires me and gets in my head, and then I create a riff with a loosely similar vibe. For example, “Little Wing” was the inspiration for the guitar part in the chorus of “Neon Razberries.” I play what is fun and feels good to play, and I don’t worry so much about sounding impressive. The creative process is a vulnerable kind of labor for me. Sometimes I start as a meditation on a feeling or experience, other times there is an idea for an entire world with characters and backstories.

Chatz and I are the main songwriters and contribute to the writing process equally (often together). Individual songs will have individual meanings to a person (it’s their seed) but we all contribute to how it grows. We honor and center the individual in this process. Generally one of us will start with a concept, a riff or a melody, then we bring it to each other. For example, “Slower Than God” started with a riff I was working on while Chatz brought us the melody to “Psychopomp.”

Sometimes we start from scratch together and come up with a concept and direction like we did with “Neon Razberries.” It feels like a truly creative partnership, where we riff, inspire and draw things out of each other. She is such a positive and encouraging creative force in my life, and I can’t imagine writing a Copyslut song without her.

We are all a bunch of butt heads. When you get strong creative personalities in the same room, disagreements are bound to happen. We have systems in place when there is creative conflict and we all care about each other feeling good about the music and about playing in the project. Pleasure is at the center of our writing and our band ethos. I think if one is really digging deep for their art in a collaborative creative process, hard feelings are inevitable. I’ve learned to appreciate the generative aspect of friction when we’re writing, even though it can feel like I’m dying inside. And in a way, I kind of am.

What are your thoughts on queer representation in the guitar world? What changes would you like to see?

In terms of representation, I do think there is still an “othering” dynamic that happens to queer musicians. We get pigeonholed. Queer music itself becomes one broad genre, even though the types of music produced by queer folks are infinite. This ends up limiting our access to opportunities, spaces, and connections. Queer folks (as well as other marginalized folks: sex workers, people of color, etc.) are still seen as edgy or outside the mainstream, and what ends up happening is that we are expected to be experts on the systems that oppress us. We are constantly asked to dissect our pain, relive our traumas, and talk about who we’re f–king, how and why.

I would love for us to be seen for our skill, honored for our individual experiences, and acknowledged for how much harder we’ve had to work to get where we are. I don’t want my identities to be ignored, they are a part of who I am but, I would love to see more queer joy in the guitar world, queer people jamming with each other and other marginalized people connecting and telling stories of triumph and wonder. I hope for us to be able to share in where we overlap while celebrating and learning from our differences.

Do you think that female or non-binary guitar players have an obligation to be role models for aspiring female or non-binary identifying musicians?

I don’t believe that anyone is obligated to be anything for anybody. I’ve learned that one of the best things I can do for other people is to be true to myself as a complete and flawed human. I do value intergenerational work, and I am naturally inclined to take on a mentor role for younger queer/trans musicians. I love being able to offer my concrete wisdom and experience in those contexts, especially with how daunting it is to be perceived as a woman, queer, or non-binary starting in music. It’s ruthless honestly, and I want to help protect and cultivate that creative spark within my community.

What’s next for you musically?

We have music videos and a mini EP brewing for the future, and we are entering a writing phase, which is exciting to dive into. But right now we are really focusing on pushing our album Sex, Death, and Other People’s Money. Stream it on all major platforms and add it to your playlists.

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