For his music, Eldon Thiele goes by the name Zwerg. He’s based on the East Coast. He’s gay. He’s released five albums, three EPs and a DVD. His music has won awards. He released his latest album, Dual Citizen, in December 2014. But who is this sweet guy who looks kind of like a slutty gay superhero? Daily Xtra sat down for a quick chat to get to the bottom of Zwerg.
Daily Xtra: Can you tell us a bit about your history with music?
Zwerg: I started singing in church at age three, and my music teacher father started teaching me piano at five. I created Zwerg in 1996, when I was 18. Zwerg was an outlet for me. I was feeling repressed going to a conservative Christian university. I had no social life, spent all my time studying, and I needed an escape, where I could be whoever I wanted to be, not what I thought I was supposed to be for other people.
Over the years, my motivations for making music have changed somewhat. It’s not just about me anymore. I have my boyfriend to thank for this. Because of all he’s done for me, and the life that we’ve carved out together, I no longer feel victimized by the world. I feel liberated and now I want to create music that other people will enjoy.
Please tell us about Dual Citizen.
It’s a dance/pop/rock album with a couple ballads in there as well. It was produced by Tori Amos’ long-time string arranger, John Philip Shenale, who’s also worked with Jane’s Addiction, Billy Idol, The Beach Boys, The Bangles, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross — the list goes on and on.
Does the album have a theme?
I have dual citizenship with Canada and the States, and geography plays a big part in the album’s theme, literally and figuratively. Some of the songs are about my Canadian family, friends and experiences. Others are about my maternal American family members and experiences.
It’s also a metaphor for having different components within one being. Having been indoctrinated according to parochial dogma throughout my formative years, I grew up being ashamed of lust, for example. I denied the sexual side of myself, believing that I wasn’t allowed to explore or enjoy it unless I was married, and only to a woman.
I felt so divided within my being, knowing that I wasn’t sexually attracted to women. So this record is about fusion. Fusing the different sides of yourself, particularly the physical with the metaphysical, the sexual with the spiritual. It’s about feeling whole and not being ashamed of any one aspect of the self, in the same way that I’m equally proud of my American and Canadian citizenships.
It’s also about others, and society in general. There’s so much division. The song “Differences Aside” details this, emphasizing what we have in common and what unites us, rather than what divides us from one another.
What appeal does Dual Citizen has for a queer audience?
This album marks a first for me, in that I’m pretty obvious in the lyrics about being gay. Lyrically, I’m not as abstruse or recondite as I was in my previous work.
There’s a song called “Home is Where . . ." that Charlie David asked me to write for a film [called Miss Mafia] about a drag queen who was rejected by her Italian-Catholic, mafia-involved family. It’s about coming out and feeling supported.
In the bridge of the song “High in Heaven,” I sample a couple of guys goin’ at it, and quantized the resultant sounds to the beat, making a rhythmic loop. I think it sounds really sexy and fun. The tune is about enjoying the pleasures of life, free from moralistic judgement and shaming, free from the condemnation of the church.
Do you have anything else to add?
I’d love for anyone reading this to say hi to me on social media. Please look me up. And my new record is available through CDBaby and iTunes, or message me directly for a signed copy. I wish everyone happiness and lots of love.