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Anita Velveeta makes music for weirdos like herself

Anita Velveeta
Anita VelveetaJaida Grey Eagle for MPR

“I don't really like Velveeta as a food. It’s not really a food. It’s plastic,” says Anita Bauer, who creates music as Anita Velveeta. We are seated together at Hard Times Cafe in Minneapolis with the cook nearby yelling customers’ names. When I tell her that I enjoyed processed cheese products when I was a child, she responds, “When you're a kid, you know, you also think Santa Claus is real.” Bauer continues, “Some things you can't trust kids on, and quality of food is one of those.”

The St. Paul-based musician seems to put everything candidly, including the reasoning behind the moniker: “I thought it was really stupid. It made me laugh. And I was like, ‘I think it'll make other people laugh when they first see it.’”

Over the past three years, Anita Velveeta’s genre-expansive output includes 2020 collection What Do Dogs See When They Have a Flashback? (“an album about dogs dying, hating your job, and gender dysphoria,” according to its Bandcamp page); The Motherhood of St. Monica in 2021, and Biblically Accurate Fursona in 2022. She also has created several “nightcore” recordings that ratchet up the BPMs on semi-recent hitmakers from Nickelback to Snow Patrol.

As our discussion continues, Bauer jokes about how she considers The Simpsons a religious experience and always plays the show in the background while writing songs. She says she loves when her shows provide people with their first moshing experience; how she still feels Scottish music producer SOPHIE’s presence after her death; how she predicts she has job security because AI can’t create quality drum beats; and how she has left higher education five times. 

Bauer’s most recent departure from the University of Minnesota resulted when music became her full-time career. At the time, she was studying in the Department of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature with a focus on contemporary musicology. “The only thing that beats talking about music and analyzing it, is making it,” she says. 

The highlights of Bauer’s experience at the University were the graduate-level courses she took with professor Michael Gallope, who plays in the ambient band IE. One course focused on the unique sensation of sound as a philosophical idea and its relation to sociology. She finds those subjects fascinating even though they “don't really serve a whole lot of utilitarian purpose.”

When Bauer moved to the Twin Cities in 2017, it wasn’t her first time in Minnesota. She grew up in the south suburb of Lakeville, then moved during her senior year of high school when a parental career shift brought her to Las Vegas. There she explored the city’s arts district and joined her first band, Bear with Me, to play indie pop reminiscent of Vampire Weekend circa 2010. 

Two years later, a romantic partnership led her to Utah, where she worked in a gold-buying shop that few people visited. As the only person in the store for weeks at a time, Bauer downloaded Ableton, a digital audio workstation, on her laptop and began teaching herself to produce hip-hop beats all day for a year. “I think that gave me the base of my skill set to move forward and start producing other types of music,” she says. 

A woman sits on a rock ledge and smiles
Anita Velveeta
Jaida Grey Eagle for MPR

In March of 2023, Bauer (as Anita Velveeta) released Western Amphibians — a sonic kaleidoscope emerging from a place within her lived experience — which she began recording in 2020. A few tracks like “Put Me in My Place” and “Time is a Stampede” were originally for an entire country album. On the punk “I am the Final Boss of Loring Park,” high-pitched vocal modulation lays over sly opening guitar riffs and pounding drum beats. And the electronic nightcore “Miss Him So” features a deep robotic voice. The artist crams a bevy of styles into individual songs under three minutes long. The prolific music tugs between melody and chaos — toying with restraint and release. 

Despite the vast fluctuations in genre, Bauer considers Western Amphibians a holistic album, as it reflects who she is and what she listens to. “[I tried] to capture different elements of the human experience — whether that's laughing or crying or angry or cloistered — it's everything; it's life.” 

The artist also loves pastiche music, which she describes as an over-expression of genre; not parody, satire, or comedy. Bauer cites Ween, Frank Zappa, and 100 gecs as artists who imitate genres respectably, and she enjoys leaning into pastiche in the same way. 

The song “Dedicated to Pamela Valfer'' on Western Amphibians is an ode to the artist known as Kitty Craft, who lived and released music in Minneapolis in the late ’90s/early aughts. Bauer admires Kitty Craft’s music for it’s almost impossible to replicate sound that arrived ahead of its time in the ’90s. 

Bauer’s music is also dedicated to the transgender community she's a part of. When playing a show in San Francisco — while on tour with Twin Cities band Early Eyes in January 2023 — a person came out as nonbinary to their friend when Anita Velveeta played “T4T,” a song about trans love. She also learned of a couple who met at one of her shows and now call “T4T” “their song.” 

Bauer’s own journey of coming out involved a year of thinking in the middle of the woods. After her stay in Utah, the artist moved to Danbury Wisconsin, right outside St. Croix State Forest, to live alone in a cabin for the purpose of self-discovery. The cloistered environment didn’t lead to success. “You can't just isolate and try to think. It's not going to work,” she says. “I was compartmentalizing it and not just accepting, looking in the mirror [and saying] ‘I'm trans.’”

Bauer details the bitter experience on the song “Agoraphobia” when harmoniously singing, “It used to be so much worse / Like when I moved to the forest in Northwest Wisconsin / Through isolation / Stay inside for weeks at times while I slowly lost my mind.” Electric glitches with crashing drums and monstrous snarls follow the verse.

Aside from playing the Crusader Kings II video game in the woods, Bauer worked on a dream-punk album for Marsupial Suits and the first record for Alien Book Club, an experimental, genre-all-inclusive band that she played with from 2016 to 2022.  

After leaving the forest, vulnerability with another person finally resulted in acceptance. “I put on this dress, and I walked out of the bathroom, and my partner gave me this smile. It was like the first time in my life where I felt accepted for who I am,” she shares. 

Bauer compares her experience to that of other trans people who acutely self-analyze for long periods of time. “I'm like, ‘No, no, you just need to swallow some hard pills to swallow,” she says. “As soon as they were able to open up to someone else and admit that, they were able to admit it to themselves.” 

Her most recent unreleased song is titled “TERFs will not get into heaven.” With subjects like trans-exclusionary radical feminists, she predicts her next record, set to release in mid-July, will concentrate on sad thematics. She hopes to continue writing about trans joy too, although it can be challenging to do so — especially at a time when U.S. legislation continues to introduce anti-trans bills.

For most of her time in Minnesota, Bauer wanted to get out. But after a solo tour in November 2022, and the Early Eyes trip in January, she realized the Twin Cities is fitting. According to Bauer, Minneapolis and St. Paul are more affordable cities for rising artists than many other places in the U.S., and echoing a Prince line, she says, “The cold keeps sh*tty people from moving here.” 

Once our glasses are in the bus bins, Bauer is headed off to work on music in a Minneapolis studio she shares with 13 other musicians. Sometimes she needs to experiment in a space where neighbors can’t hear her scream.

The way Bauer tells life stories with an unabashed aura illustrates radical resilience. “It's better to live your life the way you want to live it, than live it according to someone else's rules,” she says.

And the artist offers up her music with pride: “If you like weirdo music — if you've ever listened to something and [thought], ‘This just isn't strange or esoteric enough’ — give Anita Velveeta a try. Maybe I'll be just weird enough for you.” 

Anita Velveeta has upcoming performances at Palmer’s Bar on Thursday, May 25; Pilllar Forum on Friday, May 26; and 7th St Entry on Wednesday, July 26.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.