San Francisco singer/songwriter Rachel Lark may not have intended to become the poster girl for period sex, but with her latest single, “Warm, Bloody, and Tender,” and the appropriately gory video co-starring sex columnist Dan Savage, she may not have any choice. The song tells the story of a woman nervous about having her period during a particularly hot date, debating whether to tell him or not. The guy turns out to love his surprise “monthly treat.” The Kickstarter-funded steak-eating, “blood”-smearing video takes the premise to an even wilder conclusion.
But it’s Lark’s eminently catchy chorus and melody that have made it, by her admission, her anthem since she first performed it as part of the popular Bay Area-based Bawdy Storytelling in July 2013, where Lark’s performed many of her sex-themed songs, such as “For The Guys,” a song about consent and sexual assault. Though Lark, 27, considers “Warm, Bloody, and Tender” one of a host of songs with names like “Text Me The Fuck Back” and "Fuck My Toe,” she’s embraced the fact that her fans and friends now proudly let her know when they’ve gotten it on during Aunt Flo. Ahead of her fall West Coast tour, Lark spoke to Salon about normalizing menstruation through music, watching people squirm when she performs, why not being into period sex is a dating dealbreaker, her recipe for fake blood—and how she got Dan Savage to be in her video.
How long have you been playing the kind of music you play now?
Not that long actually. I started about almost three years ago. Before that I wrote serious heartbreak songs about boys and angsty emotional stuff. It wasn’t until I got linked up with Bawdy Storytelling and fell in love with the show that I decided I was going to propose writing dirty songs for [host] Dixie De La Tour, even though I’d never really done that before. It worked out great. I still write serious emotional stuff too, but it’s cool now to have this whole other fun comedic silly part of myself expressed through music.
How does performing these kinds of songs in that atmosphere affect what you write?
For one thing, the community of perverts and sex positive weirdoes are the most supportive crowd you could hope for. If it affects me at all, it probably gives me a boosted sense of confidence because those crowds tend to eat it up. They’re so excited to see people talking about this stuff and sharing it and being honest and dirty and unashamed. It’s fun because I write these songs in my room by myself. You never really know until you get in front of an audience if they’re actually funny or if they’re weird.
How did “Warm, Bloody, and Tender” come about? Was it based on personal experience?
It was the first song that I wrote for Bawdy Storytelling [for their BawdySlam]. The theme for the night was “But We Finished Anyway.” So I was trying to think about what’s a situation where maybe we should put the brakes on it but we don’t. I immediately thought about all the experiences I’ve had when I’m on my period and I’m not expecting to it. The story that’s in the song is definitely a fiction, I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s based on an amalgamation of my experiences, the conversations I’ve had with guys, and the ways that I’ve handled it—everything from telling them to not mentioning it and just going for it.
It’s funny because before I wrote the song, it’s not like I was this outspoken advocate for period sex. It didn’t come from that; it more went the other direction. The more I started thinking about it, the more militant I got about the idea. Women get sprayed with come on a daily basis and we deal.
It’s become this sort of trademark. People text me when they’ve had period sex. They complain about their boyfriends who won’t go for it. I’m not saying everyone who won’t do it is a total prude and you should dump them. It’s more about, here’s one less thing we should feel weird about.
Do you get different reactions from guys vs. girls?
Not as much as you might think. I think everyone has the same arc of emotions across their faces when they hear it for the first time. I’ve gotten used to watching it happen. With the first verse, it’s oh gosh, is she going to do that? It’s this wince of I’m bracing myself for it, I really hope it’s not gonna go there. And when it goes there, there’s disbelief over how gross it is. Then it’s this full body, can’t-handle-it laughter that takes over. By the last chorus they’re singing along.
The best reaction in terms of entertainment value for me was performing for college freshmen at Stanford University. That was the biggest collective squirm I’ve ever witnessed.
How does your songwriting process usually go?
Usually the chorus comes first. When I can get the chorus locked in, then I know that the song’s gonna get written. My problem with “Warm, Bloody, and Tender” was I kept writing verses. I was actually writing right up until the moment I got onstage the first time to perform it. I actually had little pieces of scrap paper I taped to the microphone stand with all my ideas.
When did you get the idea for the video and how did you go about making it?
I knew I wanted a music video. “Warm, Bloody, and Tender” had kind of become my single. It had become part of my identity in the Bay Area; people really associated that song with me. But I didn’t want to make a video about it because honestly, part of what’s great about it is that your mind is doing all this imagining for you. I felt like it would ruin it if I acted it out. Also, I didn’t know how to act out that story.
I was talking to my friend from college, Dillon Majoros, about it. He’s a theater person and a bit of an artistic genius himself. He said, “Then don’t act it out. Act out a totally different story. Come up with a story where you’re getting ready for a dinner and everything’s immaculate and everything gets messy and gross.”
Dylan suggested I talk to production collective Of Clouds. Their sense of humor and production values were that right blend of really gorgeous cinematography with really crass tongue in cheek subject matter.
We had to build that entire set because we weren’t going to find someone who was going to let us use their living room to make a blood orgy happen in it. We tried out a lot of different blood recipes. The recipe that was in the video is corn syrup, chocolate syrup, red food coloring, a tiny little bit of blue food coloring which gets the orange out of the red, and corn starch. Let me tell you—when that stuff is all over your body, it feels awful. It’s sticky, solidifying on your eyelashes; it’s the worst, but it was worth it.
How long did it take you to shoot?
We shot the video in two days. We had one day for the dinner scene and one day for the band performance footage and that was it. It was high stakes because we got only one shot for a lot of those scenes; once you make a mess you can’t go back to clean. So we had to nail it, and we did, luckily.
What was it like to be in the middle of that?
It was ecstatic. I was ecstatic. I think it was the first scene where we’re feeding each other steak; right in the middle of that, it hit me—we got it. It was really exciting. Up until that moment you really don’t know if it’s going to make sense.
How did Dan Savage get involved in the video?
Dan Savage has been such an amazing supporter and a friend at this point. He’s told me many times how much he loves the song; he’s quoted it to me. As we were talking about casting, I said, “Dan Savage might be down.” I texted him and asked if he’d be in the video and in just a few minutes I got an all caps exclamation point message saying yes, he would.
He was really fun to work with. He was definitely a little squicked out himself during the process but he rallied. I don’t think it was ever his plan to be covered in a depiction of vaginal blood. Luckily there was a lot of cake on set; he’s a big cake fan.
Were you ever concerned about people finding the subject matter offensive, or that they’d think, this is too much?
I’m ready for people to call me offensive. That’s when you know that you’ve won. [laughs] It’s concerning to me that I haven’t pissed anyone off yet or gotten any death threats; I feel like I’m not a big enough deal if I’m not making people angry yet.
Seriously, I don’t have that concern. I feel pretty sure that catering to what’s acceptable is a horrible strategy as an artist. That’s not what’s going to make you stand out or get people to care about your music.
Part of my mission as an artist and as a person is to talk about not just the stuff that isn’t talked about, but the stuff that everyone has experienced. Women are on their periods almost 20 percent of the time, so this comes up. It’s less about periods specifically and more about validating these everyday experiences as worthy of art. It’s not just breakups and losing the love of your life that’s worthy; sexting is worthy of a song and having trouble cleaning your messy apartment is worthy of a song and IUDs poking your boyfriend’s dick is worthy of a song. All those things are part of our human experience. They’re emotional and funny and interesting and they unite us, really. Period sex is a bigger part of that class of human experiences that I like to talk about and draw inspiration from.
What would you say to women who are categorically against period sex?
I would be interested in why. It’s interesting that you say women; there are a lot of women who are uncomfortable with it when the guys they’re with would be okay with it. That’s definitely a dynamic I’ve encountered before. I think it’s unfortunate that women often think their vagina’s kind of disgusting and they get grossed out by it.
On the other hand, I also love the concept from the kink community of “squick,” the idea that you can be turned off by something without attaching a normative judgment to it. Instead of “that is disgusting; why would you ever do it?” you’re able to say, “This squicks me out; that’s not my thing.”
Have people told you they’ve changed their mind about period sex because of the song?
I’ve gotten so many stories that I think I’m going to start sharing them on my website or create a blog where you can post your stories about it. I never expected this, but I got told a story recently about a threesome that happened because of it. A woman told me the other night that because of this song, she now looks forward to her period. I was like, “Wow, girl, I’m not even there.”
I do think it is having a positive effect for people who hear it. Music’s great like that. It’s a little bit of mind control in a way because you get everyone singing along to something and then they have this memory of singing along to it and then they’re like, well, I must be okay with it, that must be something I’m into because I was really into that moment we all had together. And then that’s one more hang-up removed.
When did you get your first period and how did you feel about it?
I actually got my period really young. I was 11. I hadn’t quite gotten the memo that this happens every month. Everyone had talked about, when you hit puberty, you get your period. I had always heard it in that context, so I thought it was kind of like wet dreams. It happens, and then it stops happening.
I got my period, told my mom, had the whole thing…and then the next month it fucking happened again. I was like, What is this shit? What are you talking about?
Being the first girl in the class to have her period gave me a lot of power. I became the sage woman in the classroom for the other girls. They could ask me anything about periods. I got to carry around a cute little backpack with tampons during my period and no one else got to, so I felt pretty cool.
Did you ever feel grossed out by it growing up or into adulthood?
I still feel grossed out by it, I’ll be honest. I think it’s a struggle every day to not find stuff about your body kind of gross and annoying and weird. The way you deal with it is you make light about it and talk about it and sort of desensitize yourself. Puberty is a time especially for girls where it’s hard not to be grossed out by your body and all the changes that are happening. I always had fairly good self-esteem which maybe allowed me to skip the step that some girls take of this is gross, therefore I am gross. I never felt that way.
Have you ever been with someone who said they’d never have period sex?
It wasn’t until late into college. I had had several partners who were totally okay with it, so that set me up pretty well to have the attitude that guys should just deal. I remember I was about to hook up with this one guy and I told him I was on my period and he said, “Oh gross! Ew.” My response was, “You suck.” That was my cue to exit that relationship.
I would call it a dealbreaker. I’m not going to judge a person morally, but for me, I wouldn’t be able to be with a guy who wouldn’t have any sexual contact with me during my period. That’s just too much of my life.
In the two years you’ve been performing it, has it changed your personal take on period sex?
Absolutely. I’ve definitely gone for it before the song, but now I feel like I must go for it. I am Rachel Lark of “Warm, Bloody, and Tender.” I must continue. I also feel like guys have this disclaimer now; I don’t even need to bring it up. They know it’s going to happen at some point.