Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Igniting the Flame

Regina the Gentlelady strikes a chord with her Light Fires debut album

Credit: Alejandro Santiago
“Dependent,” featuring Owen Pallett Directed by Stephanie Markowitz

On a sunny afternoon on the patio of what could be her second home, at The Beaver on Queen West, Regina the Gentlelady sits elegantly poised, dressed in a black bra top under a studded jacked, accompanied by leopard-print pants, heels on her feet and beer in hand. Her blonde curls frame her face, which features piercingly bright, shimmery made-up eyes.

Regina is the face of Light Fires, the two-piece electro-pop group that has been making waves in Toronto and gaining momentum across the country. Regina, the lyricist, whom you may also know as Gentleman Reg, along with bandmate James Bunton (who provides the catchy, pulsing beats but does not grace the stage) are releasing their full-length debut album as Light Fires next month, appropriately titled Face.

Regina says that Face has been in development for a few years. Light Fires had already recorded many songs, released a seven-inch LP and a video but, with an iTunes library full of material, it was time to choose 12 tracks and make the album.

“I think of us in the vein of Robyn — we make intelligent dance and pop music with really accessible, outward-looking lyrics,” Regina says. “These are pop and dance songs with clear intonations vocally so you can hear what I’m singing. They make a grand statement.”

Prior to Light Fires, Bunton was making music with Ohbijou, and Gentleman Reg was Regina’s primary performance role. While on tour, Bunton sent Regina some beats he had created, which she calls a “really serendipitous thing — I immediately wrote a bunch of songs.” Regina had made some dance beats previously, but this was new territory.

“Being able to make an album in your bedroom is fascinating as someone who comes from bands. Same with the drag fitting so well — so did the band. We didn’t think it would ever take four years to make an album, and as Regina I wasn’t ready. Now I actually am,” she says.

While we’re sitting on The Beaver’s patio, we talk about how the venue was her old workplace, and it’s also where “Regina” materialized. She credits the late Will Munro, who co-owned the bar and worked in the kitchen and encouraged Reg to try drag. (It’s worth noting that the Light Fires song “Last of His Kind” is about Munro.)

“I never thought of doing drag, as I wasn’t sure what I would bring to it. And it wasn’t interesting as something for me to pursue unless I was going to do something unique with it. What’s so fascinating to me now about this is how someone like Will was able to see that I would be capable of this before I was,” she says.

Regina was surprised at how quickly she felt comfortable being in drag. Her debut was at The Beaver. “The HotNuts girls asked me to perform at their night, and Miss Margot came up with the look. On the day of the show, I had no idea what Regina was going to do or wear. Once Margot did my face, people didn’t know who I was or whom I worked with; it was that transformative,” she says.

Her character was a work in progress. Reg would write songs and then present them as Regina. She mentions Peaches, who sings as Peaches, not as Merrill Nisker, as an example of someone she looked to as an influence. “I don’t want the drag to take away from the seriousness of the songcraft,” Regina says. “I don’t want people to think [Light Fires] is a joke band; this is a way of presenting differently. The band began before Regina was created at The Beaver, and then they just morphed.”

Regina describes her style as “real girl” drag, which, she explains, is less pageanty and character and more focused on a “real girl.” At the beginning, she notes, took a lot of work. She didn’t know much about women’s clothing or makeup, and it took time for her to learn and develop Regina’s identity. She goes for a Blondie, 1980s, new-wave look mixed with a late-1970s punk-rock vibe and finds her clothing at vintage stores, H&M and even Forever 21.

“There are so many different ways of doing drag, and I don’t think the general public realizes this. I think they lump drag queens as one thing, but the spectrum is so diverse, and I just fit in as one example of maybe a slightly less extreme, more utilitarian form of drag,” she says.

Regina has a busy rest of the year following the launch of the Light Fires’ album. She will appear in her first film, Portrait of a Serial Monogamist, several music videos and would eventually like to do a one-woman show. She also continues to DJ.

“I only DJ as Regina. It’s so much more fun,” she says. “There are possibilities with DJing that don’t get explored a lot; you’re a persona and a character. I could sing one of my songs in the middle of my set. When I DJ at The Beaver, sometimes I’m on top of the bar doing runway.”

Stream Face here ->