On Sanctuaries, Justice and Epiphanies: A Conversation with Lester Rey

Photo by Carolina Sanchez

Photo by Carolina Sanchez

Lester Rey’s music will lure you in with its catchy Afro-Caribbean beats, punchy congas layered with vibrant tumbas and other percussions. Lester accompanies socio-political and personal topics with his beats while emoting a gamut of feelings, encouraging the listener to simultaneously want to dance or rally for a cause.

On a briskly Sunday afternoon, I met up with the Puerto Rican Chicagoan artist. I found Lester contemplatively meandering the Horticultural Hall of the Garfield Park Conservatory; he was a week out of performing in that space. His mouth was agape with disbelief, and in his eyes I could see the twinkle of someone who was relishing in the next stages of one’s life and career. 

Life has a way of derailing us from our original paths but it’s how we learn to adapt that allows us to ascend into a futile future. In order for us to continue to fight and thrive, we must often retreat to recharge in our own sanctuaries. For Lester, music was always a place to retreat to for comfort, “My first beat was a Reggaeton beat on a Korg keyboard.” I joked that, “everyone remembers their first love and their first keyboard.” 

Every sanctuary needs a solid foundation in order for something to be built on top of it. This base is almost always going to consist of something that one is passionate about. Although Lester did not study music at his university, that did not deter him from seeking it out, “I did music at [Northern Illinois University] even though I wasn’t part of the music program. I asked if I could join the latin jazz band and I sang a bunch of salsa and latin jazz songs with them. I learned more about Rumba, Bata, Guaguancó, and all these styles that came from Afro-Cuban rhythms. I learned the language, I learned how to describe certain rhythms, and how to talk about the language of music more intelligently. Back in the day I was just rap and beats. I even learned how to sing in Lucumí, which is the language of West African Nigerians who came to Cuba.”

As we progress through life, our personal struggles can be overwhelming, and our sanctuaries which often start as places of self-preservation, often morph into places of self-reflection and self-discovery; sanctuaries can allow for growth and epiphanies.

The Garfield Park Conservatory has become a personal sanctuary when I want to escape the noise of the city and the noise of my personal life. Located in the Chicago neighborhood of Garfield Park, it is on the outskirts of a neighborhood that is rife with gentrification, which is just one of many topics that Lester studied at university. Xenophobia, misogyny, political corruption, are all fuel for his music. Lester reflects, “I chose school first and music second, for a while. I started off [studying] philosophy then switched my major to community leadership and civic engagement. It was cool and I focused on justice within sociology.” 

There’s no doubt that Lester’s sociology background influenced his music. He reclaims spaces that are often neglecting marginalized groups. Reggaeton can often be charged with masculinity, homophobia and misogyny but Lester pushes the boundaries of this aging genre to be a pioneer in other genres like perreo, while delivering some very important messages. In these reclamations, Lester creates a sanctuary for his listeners by providing his voice, which can be oftentimes stifled by the masses. Lester’s single Ni Santa, talks about women reclaiming their sexuality. Women can often be judged as ‘put*s’(bit**es) or ‘santas’(saints). In this collaboration with trans Latina rapper Lila Star, the pair sing about respecting women as they are. Lester says, “Perreo is slower reggaeton. The genre is called juking, grinding. Raunchy, low to the ground, grinding; I think that in the genre of perreo and other sub-genres, there is an emphasis on sexual liberation and queerness being in the center - even though traditionally, reggaeton songs are known as misogynistic and homophobic - so [queer folks] are reclaiming the genre and are slowing it down.”

In another collaboration with Nino Augustine, Amigo, Lester talks about having solidarity through kinship. It was this theme of support, set to the background of a trap-bomba-plena soundscape, that made this track - off of Lester’s newest project, Epifania - a battlecry for Caribbean rallies against the corruption of the former governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello. Lester recalls, “The day that Ricky [resigned], there was a perreo in La Fortaleza in Puerto Rico. In solidarity, I hit up Chicago Boricua Resistance and I was like hey, ‘Why don’t we do a perreo, I want to put one together for tomorrow?’. New York was doing it too, and then I made the flyer and a group in [Los Angeles] hit me up, they were like, Yo can we use your flyer? We’re gonna do one too!’. It was super dope to see how connected we all were. And then we threw this perreo party at the Auxiliary Arts Center, here in Chicago. We had these huge projectors and a live feed, so when [Ricardo Rosello] resigned, it turned from an act of solidarity to a party. The whole room went up in roars, everyone was cheering; we’ve been needing a victory for a long time”.   

A week later, I sat down 20 feet from where I had interviewed Lester. This time he was dressed up, accompanied by an eclectic band, and commanded the attention of the room with charismatic bravado. His floral jacket blended in with the soothing richness of the plant life around us. When Lester performed the track Everything, off of Epifania, people got up to dance. There were others like me who bopped in their chairs, or sang along. This track made it evident that Lester had an epiphany that no matter where he was at in the world or in a place in his life, he would create music anywhere. After some interludes, Lester announced to the room that he would be performing outside of the United States, and this would be his first time traveling outside the country. 

When one travels, one can often glean cultural values and ideas to create new belief systems and new realizations about themselves. For an artist, these new epiphanies will often produce new art. In the track Rise, off of Epifania, Lester passionately sings,

“I just wanna, I just wanna rise in love / so, tired of falling, falling / I just want to rise in love / so, good morning, morning.” 

Despite the setbacks and derailments, these are the epiphanies of Lester Rey.


*Sanctuario and Epifania are out now on streaming platforms.

They are a part of a trilogy which which will be capped by a project coming out in the future.



Sam Kirk Celebrates Communal Art at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center

All photos by  Kemi Oritsejafor

All photos by Kemi Oritsejafor

Donned in a black t-shirt, black sweats, and a classic pair of Nike foamposites, Sam Kirk works diligently on auctioning off a piece whose proceeds will go towards the continued relief the Brooklyn Community Pride Center provides to queer people throughout the borough. Since it was founded in 2008, the center has focused on work ranging from trans and gender non-conforming youth programming to elder-based community work.

Kirk first became involved with the program casually while she and her partner were living in New York and attended a meditation workshop at the center. When she interacted with the physical space, she realized it needed the same colorful character it reflected internally. Kirk explained, “The walls were white, and you could tell they had a lot of movement which was great, but it started to make the space look a little bit shabby.” This then encouraged her to paint a mural for the center in 2017. While Kirk already considered Brooklyn a second home, New York then became where her art lived, too. 

I asked Kirk where the desire to create art for the Brooklyn Community Pride Center come from. She said, “It was really using our work to just give back.” Her art is meant to be both inviting and celebratory of Brooklyn’s culture and community. While the piece pays homage to Brooklyn, it also reflects the unique qualities of its occupants. She continued, “One of the things that I love the most is when I walk down the streets, people own their identity… they dress it up in their hairstyles or clothing in ways I don’t see in many other cities or even in different boroughs.” 

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When asked about the biggest difference between murals in Chicago and Brooklyn, Kirk reflects on the lack of physical longevity that Brooklyn art has because of how quickly the borough changes. Brooklyn is no stranger to change, however. Its spikes in rent is the basis of its gentrification, and as the borough becomes increasingly unlivable for poor black and brown residents, the cultural shifts (or lack thereof) are hard to ignore. The murals’ notability is ignored by those whose main concern is making a profit, which then leads to murals and decades of work erased and replaced with luxury apartments.

“We're also losing what our neighborhood looks like and how [they’re] represented. Within the process of gentrification, one of the things that probably bothers me the most is the people who buy property feel like they have the right to remove the work without really going out into the community to see how the work impacts [folks],” Kirk explains.

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In their most honest state, murals act as a city’s heart, as it connects its infrastructure with its people. Building walls can reflect their inhabitants, whether that be in the name of artistic visibility or a desire to see one’s own reflection in their neighborhood, it remains one of the most relevant and influential aspects of urban living. 

Brooklyn has historically been known as a cultural hub for murals with work notable from Bushwick to Bedstuy -- and Kirk’s work very adamantly continues to act as a beacon for those lacking in representation.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Eli Prier "Shooting Stars"

Eli Prier’s debut single, “Shooting Stars” is a fantastic voyage into a dazzling, synth-y galaxy, perfect for fans of avant-garde pop acts like Aurora or Florence + the Machine. The track starts with a gentle swell of strings as Prier sings, “Swimming through andromeda / I kissed a turtle dove,” the juxtaposition of natural and intergalactic imagery recalling elements of the fantastic that were integral to ‘70s glam-rock. In the video, Prier’s face is bathed in electric blue light. The camera pans out revealing Prier, dressed in a  blush pink matching skirt and crop top set adorned in pearls, now forcing the viewer to visually reconcile the alien and ethereal. 

They sing of nebulas as a twinkle of keys weaves around their vocals, but then the beat starts to pick up pace -- building until finally, the chorus hits in a triumphant rush of synths and EDM-inspired beats. Throughout the chorus, Prier exclaims “We’re shooting stars, and you can’t catch those” which soon transforms into a rallying cry. Throughout the video, Prier explores a garden, sifting dirt through their hands, crushing flower petals. Shots cut to them dancing ecstatically -- twirling so that their skirt flares out as the beat of the song pulses around them. In the second verse, the beat finds a home for itself among the synths, settling like a heartbeat as Prier sings “resilient / I carry her name” recalling the idea of strength echoed in the chorus. Now, when the chorus hits, there’s a newfound sense of understanding, an acknowledgment of the elastic nature of strength that stretches across generations and relationships. 

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During the bridge, Prier stretches their arms out, beckoning towards the camera enticing the audience to come along with them. But when the final chorus plays, they dance freely and wildly, twirling off into an unknown distance as the camera fades to black. We know what they said is true, we can’t catch them.

Eli Prier’s sound is the inexplicable yet perfect union of the electro-pop beats of a bonafide dance party with the lyricism and longing of Kate Bush. I can’t wait to watch their star rise.

INTERVIEW: Maddie Ross has Reinterpreted the '00s Romcom

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For me, there is no cultural artifact more delicious than an ‘00s rom-com. I live for butterfly clips, crunchy guitar licks, and declarations of love under bleachers. I’m still waiting for Hooligan to figure out how they can send me on a “Never Been Kissed” assignment. But I’ve always felt a pang of disappointment whenever I realize how heteronormative these movies are. Fortunately, Maddie Ross has arrived and she’s fully prepared to soundtrack all of our ‘00s queer romcom dreams, one track at a time. Ross’ debut album, Never Have I Ever is a concept album built to soundtrack a hypothetical queer romcom from start to finish.  Ross explained in a press release, “'Never Have I Ever' is inspired by a variety of movies, but the story it tells follows a plot of its own. In our wildest fantasies, someone would write an adorable girl-meets-girl rom-com, and use the entire album as a score.” 

I sat down with Maddie to talk about our favorite rom-coms, what it took to get that crunchy ‘00s guitar sound, and her song-writing process. You can check out our conversation below.



What steps did you take to make this concept album a reality?

It was really wild how it came about, actually. So, my girlfriend and I went to music school together and we were really close friends before we started dating. We had been making music together for a while, and then she produced my first E.P. and we started dating. We’ve been musical partners and dating for six years.

We released an E.P. in October of 2018, and then we went on tour with KT Tunstall which was super crazy, she found me on Twitter. It was one of those things where I could never have planned for it or tried to make it happen, it was just this weird interaction where I retweeted something of hers and then she clicked on my profile and saw that I was a musician, and listened to my songs and liked them. She DM’d me like, ‘hey, do you want to come on tour?’

So, we released an EP for the KT Tunstall tour and then she got sick midway through the tour so we had to cancel the last eight shows. Basically, we had this E.P. out and we toured in support of it and it was my first tour ever.

My girlfriend Wolfy is like the hardest worker ever, very prolific. When the last shows got rescheduled KT Tunstall said, ‘We’ll have you come back out in May [to finish the tour]’. We got back in November and Wolfy suggested that we release a full-length for when [I] go out in May. She was like, ‘We can do this we’ll just have to work harder than we ever have before, but if you’re willing to do it, I am.’ She had this concept of a teen movie for a long time because my music has been compared to that a lot. 

A lot of male writers have said that this music sounds like Avril Lavigne or Michelle Branch, trying to be condescending, but like yeah … that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Hell yeah, Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch!

We’d had this idea for a long time, so we planned for a single in February, March, and April, so we needed to have the album done by January 31. We both work full-time jobs, so we made a big chart for when we needed to write and record everything. It was a very structured and methodical way of writing an album, which is very different than my normal process, but it ended up being super fun. We had a chart with fake titles like ‘Highschool morning’ and ‘makeover montage.’ We knew sonically what we wanted them to sound like, and we envisioned the scene in the movie that [each song] would score. We were so immersed in it, it was all we did or thought about for two months.

Did you encounter any unexpected creative challenges with that structure?

It had never occurred to me to write an album that way, it ended up being as creatively fulfilling, if not more, than when I’m just in my room slowly writing songs from the heart that are gut-wrenching, personal stories. That’s really fulfilling in its own right, so I’m just going to be writing this summer and going back to my other process. But I had a blast, and I think that it’s so important as a creative person to just put stuff out -- the more you self-edit I don’t think it makes that much difference in the end. I have songs that I’ve spent very little time on that people love, and I have songs that I poured my heart into and spent months recording that have the same exact response from people. 

How did you get the sound for the record down -- like that, crunchy guitar, record scratch? The first time I listened to it I was like, ‘This literally sounds like it could be on the soundtrack to Freaky Friday.’

Yes! Oh my God, it’s one of my favorite movies! So, guitar-wise, all of the credit goes to Wolfy, she’s the mastermind behind the entire sound of this album. She obsessively makes playlists all the time, she listens to music constantly. So, we watched a bunch of movies and rom-coms and made note of our favorite scenes and music syncs that we really love. She made a playlist for each song on the album and picked 3-5 inspiration tracks for each track. It was a lot of soaking up inspiration and fearlessly going for it, not trying to be the 2019 version of it. 

On the song ‘Miracle’ I do this spoken bridge that was so embarrassing to record. While we were recording, I jokingly spoke into the microphone and she was like ‘that’s so era-appropriate, that’s so Spice Girls’

I’m glad you used the actual effects for the tones and everything.

We used a lot of live instruments. Wolfy works for Keith Armstrong, who spent decades working as a rock mixer. He was in the room recording with like Paramore and Green Day. He knew firsthand how to plug which pedals into which amp and to put which pre-amp on it. He taught her everything he knows, he’s been such a great resource for us.

That’s so cool. I was wondering, so there’s not like, a layer called ‘2004 guitar tone’?

It always sounds worse when you do that instead of just [making] the sound authentically. And I think that happens a lot when producers are at home with their laptops and they have access to amazing plug-ins and amazing samples, but a lot of people haven’t really had the chance to learn how to record something live. Even if an average listener might not be able to hear the difference, it’s like this indescribable little extra touch that makes it feel more authentic.

Was the zine a sort of natural extension of that process? ‘Zines are such a cool intersection of ‘00s and current technologies/ print media practices. How did you come up with the idea to make a ‘zine to go along with the record? 

Yeah, so that was another great Wolfy idea. She was like ‘we should make a fake magazine’ we were just living in this ‘2000s teen world. And then I started thinking that [if] we release a press kit, we could do all the stuff that we would do in a press kit to introduce the album and explain the songs but in a more creative way.

Once [the album] was done recording it was just this really fun thing for me to build. I used to do that for fun when I was a kid, playing imaginary games, I’d be a pretend magazine editor and make collages and try to sell these magazines to my family members. I loved creating quizzes. 

When I was making the magazine I felt like I was a little kid, playing the games that I loved. I just had a blast. I kind of taught myself photoshop, and I have a couple of friends who know how to use it and gave me tips. I basically just opened up Photoshop and looked at some different magazines and started imitating it. When you’re imitating something it almost makes you more creative because you have this box that you’re being put into so you naturally try to break outside of it.

It did have such a J-14 feel.

Totally, J-14 and Tigerbeat. I think it was a Tigerbeat cover that was one of my main influences, it was all bright, neon colors that clashed like bright pink, bright orange, lime green, all on the same cover. So once I realized that I could just take all of these bright colors and not worry about the palette, that was really fun. I started putting stuff on top of each other, I used the generic Photoshop shape tools like the star.  I was like, ‘this is so cheesy but that’s the tools that they had back then.’ That’s how magazines did it.


What’s your favorite rom-com trope? Were there any tropes that you wish you could have utilized on this record, or that didn’t make the cut?

One concept that we ended up throwing out was ‘Indie boy gives someone a mixtape and says ‘here, listen to this.’ So, we tried to make a song that would have been on the Indie boy’s mixtape. 

I love the entire makeover genre, like She’s the Man, anything with changing costumes, switching bodies, switching places, those are just my absolute favorite. It probably does stem from growing up queer and being like, which version of yourself do you present. But it’s also just the most fun. Even 13 going on 30 where she wakes up in an adult version of her body, that’s my all-time favorite.

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When I talk to a lot of queer people in their twenties, something that comes up repeatedly is this craving for representation when we were younger, like tween to teenage is that something you experienced? 

Yeah, definitely. I look at like, the movies that I was drawn to and my favorite, favorite, movies were Love and Basketball and A League of Their Own which are movies about female athletes who are still feminine and vibrant, but also challenging gender norms and becoming athletes, but there’s still focus on their female friendships. I was just really drawn to movies that played with the boundaries of what a female protagonist should look like. I wasn’t really consciously aware of my sexuality until I started dating my girlfriend and then I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to confront this.’ Up until then in my brain, I was like, I know I probably don’t like boys, but that’s just ‘cause I’m broken and I’ll just have to pretend to fall in love at some point. And then, once I fell in love, it was so wonderful and exciting, but lesbian didn’t seem like the right label. So I had to kind of process it and be like, ‘Yes I am. I’m dating a woman. I’ve realized I don’t like men, and that I would only want to be with women, so lesbian is what I am.’ But that word had so many different connotations growing up that didn’t seem to define me, and I never thought like ‘oh that girl’s a lesbian and she’s like me.’ 

So as I started to create my own music, it feels so good to express yourself obviously. When you’re writing, or recording, or performing, it’s an exaggerated version of things, so I could really just lean into writing about girls and falling in love with them. You can express the more extreme parts of yourself that you don’t get to express in your day-to-day life, so it just felt really good to start making women-loving-women music.


And then it became important to me to just talk about it because I’d been in the closet for so long, you don’t want to go backwards once you’re out. The more I did it, the better it felt. It felt good and natural and then I realized that there was a need for it and that it was really appreciated by other queer people.

For me, one of the coolest things about this album is that so much of queer representation in 2008/ 2009, so much of it was centered around shame, but rom-coms are focused on this idea of joy, and that you deserve to make out in the rain and fall in love. So, to have an album that’s centered around queer joy, and fun is so important.

That’s exactly what I wanted to do with this album. We don’t need queer tragedy porn. I have talked about the struggles of coming out, and the anxiety and fear, and that’s something I’ll make work about in the future, but that’s not this was.

This was, how fucking cute is it when two girls fall in love or anyone? It’s really cute when anyone has that young, teenage, raw, amazing, exciting life with heartbreak and ups and downs … it’s just loveWho are some of your favorite queer artists making work today?

Tegan and Sara are my all-time favorites. I have a lot of good queer friends making music: Elison, Rosie Tucker -- my girlfriend produced the album. My friend Liz Slingerland. I have a lot of friends who make amazing music, we’re all trying to get our voices out there.


What would your ‘00s movie makeover look like?

Wow that’s a good question. I was the youngest child, I was just messy and sloppy, my sister was a year and a half older than me and was very girly. Compared to her, I was such a Tomboy, I wore my soccer socks and soccer shorts to school. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to embrace my femininity more now that I know I’m queer. I was almost embarrassed to show my sexuality, I didn’t want male attention, so I’d try to cover it up.

So, I’d be like a stereotypical goofy, tomboy, messy. Sort of like Amanda Bynes in She’s the Man and then maybe there’d be a prom makeover where I’d get to go to prom with a girl that I’ve had a crush on and I get to put on this elegant dress and we can ride to prom together.

You can stream Maddie Ross’s debut album Never Have I Ever. and visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

SWIM TEAM: A Q&A with Christelle Bofale


Photos by  John Bergin

Photos by John Bergin


by Anna White

Congolese-American artist Christelle Bofale’s EP Swim Team (Father/Daughter) was released in May, but it’s the perfect listen for a slow, hot summer day spent back-floating on any body of water. On the six-song debut, Bofale explores heartbreak and mental health over a bright sonic backdrop that wavers, shimmering like light patterns at the bottom of a pool. 

Swim Team is hard to pin to a single genre—artful guitar riffs in “Origami Dreams” call to mind indie contemporaries like Soccer Mommy and Alex G, while less-straightforward numbers such as seven-minute-long “U Ochea” rely more heavily on Bofale’s soft, melodic vocals, which flow and dip in a manner more familiar to an early 2000’s pop ballad. 

We spoke with Bofale about depression, skipping swim meets, and her experiences navigating expectations and preconceptions as a Black woman in indie.


Tell me about your new EP, Swim Team. 
Swim Team is a project that came together kind of half on purpose, half by accident. the name is inspired by all my wonderful friends who have been with me throughout the time when I thought I was drowning in my emotions, both happy and sad ones. It’s an ode to the people in your life that you consider to be your “swim team”, and vulnerability — being ok with feeling deeply for a minute.

 

Have you ever been on a swim team?
Yes, I have, and part of me calling the album “swim team” was kind of to redeem myself as far as my swim team experience! I was on the swim team for a while in the sixth grade, and I went to all the practices, but I never went to a single meet. My parents were really busy, and they knew when all the practices were, but it was up to me to let them know when my meets were so they could make sure I was there If I didn’t tell them they wouldn’t know where to take me, and so I would always “forget”. Looking back, I don’t actually think I forgot, I think I just chickened out or got scared. So now it’s full circle. I’ve released something called “swim team”, and I feel a little better about it.

 

I love that! Do you have a favorite song on the EP?
I really love them all, but I would say honestly my favorite [song] to play is “Where to Go”, which is the last one. I think most people’s favorite is probably “Origami Dreams”, which I love, but I like “Where to Go” a lot — It’s so spacey, and kind of seems to just pull you in different directions. I love to play that one, and I always play it live.

Photos by  John Bergin

Photos by John Bergin

What is “Where to Go” about?
“Where to Go” is about my experience with depression. At the time I was taking antidepressants and I was seeing both a therapist and a psychiatric nurse, and I felt like I was being told to just take these pills and things would be fine. That’s why I say, “swallow the pill and figure it out.” When I play that song people have asked me if I was talking about molly or something, but I’m talking about antidepressants! It’s about that feeling of being lost, and feeling like I’m doing all these things — I’m going to therapy, I’m taking my pills, what else is it that I need to do to feel better? Feeling a little helpless. That definitely inspired “Where to Go.”

  

You’re based in Austin — what was it like coming up in that scene?
At first, I didn’t have a band yet, I was just playing my songs solo. I was new to the scene and people knew who I was, but they didn’t know me as a musician, they just knew me as Christelle. At that point, it felt really daunting to try to enter the music scene, or at least the indie-rock one. There are a bunch of music scenes in Austin, but like that indie rock scene seemed really hard to crack because it’s such a white, boys club. I was like, “How can I break into this, how can I fit in?”

 

I started playing shows and it feels like my fears kind of ended up being, not pointless, but people slowly and surely started to accept me and my music. I’ve heard from people in town, “It’s cool to hear something different coming out of Austin,” and while it was kind of a hard nut to crack, I think people are welcoming it with open arms because I think this is a sound Austin really hasn’t seen and adding the fact that it’s from a woman of color, a Black woman, is great. 

 

What genre would you place yourself in?
It’s weird because I feel like my music fits into so many. It has elements of R&B, it has elements of indie rock, it has elements of jazz, folk, and so it’s hard to say what genre it really is. I’ve just been saying indie, indie-rock, alternative. I don’t mind R&B at all, just sometimes there’s this predetermined idea of what kind of music a black woman is going to make, like, oh, she’s either making jazz or R&B or maybe hip hop. I’ve been trying to break out of that.

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“Be persistent. Work with a community.”

What has your experience been like as a Black woman playing indie music?
It’s been really cool! I know people that have been interested in making indie rock music, but it’s this thing that’s not really seen as Black enough or as kind of a white thing, because we’re taught, oh, rock is for white boys. Which is interesting, I feel like, because rock and folk and country were kind of started by Black people, so it’s kind of a reclaiming of guitar playing.

 

There are so many black woman guitarists that I can draw inspiration from, because I’m definitely not the first or the last, but as far as my generation, it’s me, Vagabon … It’s cool to be a part of that. I don’t know if it’s a movement, but I guess I’ll call it a movement for the time being. And it’s been cool meeting other people locally. I’ve been meeting some black local artists who make indie rock or alternative music, and we’ve been slowly building our own community as well. 

 

What advice do you have for musicians starting out who would like to follow in your footsteps?   
Be persistent. Work with a community — a lot of the time people get stuck trying to reach really high and trying to connect with big people, but just start connecting with your local musicians and start building that community. That’s what helped me — I didn’t have anything online, but I was just making friends. Be kind. There’s no formula unless you have really crazy connections with lots of money, the only thing you can do is be persistent, and don’t try to be anyone else. Create your own lane, and stick to your weird sound, whatever it is.

Photos by  John Bergin

Photos by John Bergin

Click here to buy Christelle Bofale’s Swim Team on Father/Daughter.


Stream Swim Team below on Spotify


Art as a Means to Inspire Others: An Interview with the Creatives Behind HOIST Fest

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By Colin Smith

Chicago art collective HOIST has taken many forms since they started in 2016: DIY shows, resource packs for producers and designers, and an online music journal, to name a few. But at the heart of HOIST is an emphasis on serving the local arts and music community.

Likewise, their all-day HOIST festival this Sunday (5/26) at the Subterranean features a lineup of local music artists who place community to the front of their work, including Rich Jones, Brasstax, Jordanna, Family Reunion, White Ppl, Uma Bloo, and more. HOIST Fest, as Mylo Reyes and Alex Wen said below, is as much of a celebration of local artists and music in Chicago as the people involved — even, or especially, the attendees and supporters.

Tickets cost $15 online or $20 during the day of. Read the interview below.


HOOLIGAN: Where did you draw inspiration for this festival?

Mylo Reyes: As far as putting on shows, a lot of it came from my experience in the DIY scene. I remember going to house shows in Humboldt, like seeing Nnamdi [Ogbonnaya]. I also got inspired a lot by like graphic design events too, like Fire Belly. They're phenomenal. They're able to bring people together in a cool way. Which is nice too because I'm a designer, so seeing designers branch out into things that weren't just advertising was really awesome to see. And I really enjoy events that focus on the community, especially if it's a marginalized community.

Alex Wen: One example off the top of my head, though it's not music specific, is the Filipinx activism group Anakbayan. They basically did this talent show to reflect that activism has intersections with the arts — as a healing process, as a way to motivate people, as a way to communicate to an audience. And for me, I really, really enjoy, seeing this intersection and seeing people find alternative ways to showcase their work outside of kind of more traditional venues and avenues.

HOOLIGAN: HOIST has done a lot, from blogging to events to this fest. Could you tell me about the work HOIST has done over the past few years?

Mylo: HOIST changed so many times. We want the fest to be a day of celebration. We've done so many things from starting out as just DIY events to a literary magazine publishing poetry for a while. Then we slipped into a web zine. And we even made resource packs — like when we had more like producers onboard, we would make drum packs that producers could use in their own music for free. We pivoted a lot mainly because we're asking what people need without doing something other people are already servicing.

Mylo: When we have shows, it's purely all the resources we could provide and you make whatever you want with it. Or when we were doing the resource packs, like that was our way of collaborating with people so that they can feel empowered to make their own art. HOIST is a vehicle — we run with it and you can take it further.

HOOLIGAN: What about the DIY music community in Chicago strikes you?

Mylo: When I went out to the Bay Area recently and tried finding like DIY groups and posting out there, it took me forever. There were no facilities for that. Like DIY Chicago, you search it once and, boom, I'm ready to go. And it's nice to know that like on any given day I can go find a show in Chicago and I don't think that that's true of any other city. It can also be both affordable and accessible, too, I could see an amazing concert on a Saturday at Cole's for free.

Alex: Chicago is just kind of this nice balance between where people are definitely always doing things, but, like when I visited LA, I felt things were too relaxed. What I like about Chicago is there's an energy or excitement to work on stuff, but it's not in a way where it's too competitive, like in New York. I think there's this acknowledgement that in Chicago that people are just willing to be more collaborative. At least that's what I've seen.

Mylo: Like if I see a good show here I'm like, "damn that guitars kicks ass, I want to pick it up." It's like that person inspired me and showed me that like I can feel empowered to do that as well.

HOOLIGAN: And how did you go about curating this lineup? What did you look for?

Mylo: We were growing individually as artists and as a collective and like to see these people grow it as well. Like Jordanna for example, used to be in a punk band called Glamour Hotline and they played the very first HOIST show and we got to see them grow. And people who facilitate the community in deep ways like Jovan Landry making that all femme hip-hop mixtape. Rich Jones having done the All Smiles [a monthly live hip-hop series] — that was actually the first hip-hop show I ever played.

Mylo: You know, if you satisfy your own itch, other people will be like, "wow, that is also a good scratch to me as well." And if someone is sticking out in the community, it's like that person is either doing something so different or so unique to them that it's inspiring and will probably make other people feel empowered to pursue their own art. Lamon Manuel doing this visceral poetry and industrial art-rap. Or Uma Bloo with her burlesque background. Or they're also people who have served the community, and we were asking ourselves how can we pay it forward.

HOOLIGAN: What's something that has gone better than expected with planning and organizing this festival and what's something that's been a challenge that you weren't expecting to be a challenge?

Mylo: The actual like day-of mindset. You go into an event and you're like "oh my god, this is going to be hectic." But I think we have had no shortage of ideas, like "wow, what if we did like a claw machine to echo the "hoist" — the mindset of lifting up people. Fun stuff like that that people can interact with throughout the day. I was initially worried, like "hmm, like what the hell are we going to have people do?" I didn't want people to expect it to be just a very long show.

Mylo: A definite challenge, I think, with any venue or any event is getting people to commit in advanced. We've learned a lot about how do we incentivize people to support artists they might even see regularly. We want to let people know that this is a standout event in the way. It's not just a show but it's a celebration of everybody involved. And it's a celebration for those people that are coming to the event. The people that are like-minded enough and find music to be important.

HOOLIGAN: Last question for you guys: What's on the horizon for HOIST?

Mylo: After this, I know we'll continue to service the community as best we can. No matter what we do, as long as we service the art we have within ourselves and the community that supports the art.

Alex: For me, it's always less important what the specific goals, projects, or initiatives are. It's always been this fluid thing where it kind of just morphs depending on kind of the needs and wants in the community as well as like the interest and passions of the people involved. I feel like planning this festival has reaffirmed the importance as well as the value of creating something like this. I definitely know more of things in this direction is definitely interesting for a lot of the folks that are in HOIST. And so I know that's going to be the direction, but like in terms specifics, you know, it can be anything and I think that's part of the excitement is that there's kind of this limitless potential and you never know like what collaborations on the horizon or like what the next project or initiative might look like.

HOOLIGAN: I can see that you guys are focused on community and that's the mission that drives you. HOIST come in different forms, right? It's serving the community, in whatever form that helps artists in the community.

Alex: For sure. The reason we're so community-oriented is because we understand how important it is because, you know, we're all creatives, we all have projects or different bands. And so just from that interaction, there's this mutual understanding of just how vital it is to work as a community. I think that pragmatic understanding goes a long way as well in terms of why we operate this way.

Divino Niño Channels the Surreal On Upcoming Album "Foam"

By Anna Claire White

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The cover of Chicago-based four piece Divino Niño’s upcoming LP, Foam, looks like French surrealist Yves Tanguy learned how to use Adobe Illustrator and took visual cues from the album sleeve of MGMT’s Congratulations—that is to say, it’s trippy.

Created by the band’s guitarist and School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate Camilo Medina, the surreal album art captures the essence of Divino Niño’s music. “The art that I like takes that weird feeling in your subconscious and brings it out,” says Medina.  “That’s why surreal art is so interesting—it deals with things that don’t exist in reality and stretches your sense of wonder. I like that in art, and we like that in music. We try to bring a new feeling to the table.”

Light yet complex, Foam layers waves of sparkly synths and retro, beachy guitar, but emphasizes the band’s lyrical complexity by vocals as the primary instrument. Foam is the third full-length release by Medina and bandmates Javier Forero, Guillermo Rodriguez, Pierce Cordina, but the band feels like in many ways the record is their debut. They released the album’s first two singles in March, “Coca Cola” and title track “Foam,” the band’s first new material since 2016.

The foursome all have Latin American roots –Medina and Forero are from Colombia, Rodriguez hails from Puerto Rico, and Cordina grew up in Mexico and Argentina—which manifests in the occasional bilingual track, but Divino Niño’s music influences also span from Beatles to Japanese pop. The band describes themselves as “sad bad boys”—their goal is to make music that makes people feel good, but sometimes this includes sexy lyrics that would make their mothers’ cringe.

Though the album is an easy listen, creating Foam was an arduous process—the band recorded in Medina’s home, starting with nearly 40 songs but winnowing the tracklist down to just ten. Medina jokes that he lost 7 pounds while recording, but the rigorous selection process ultimately led to a well-curated album—the songs that made the cut are tight and intentional. “I would like to say the album is minimal, but it’s not,” says Forero. “There are layers of layers of vocals and synthesizers. It feels almost like we’re doing a Queen song; our vocals have seven, ten, twenty tracks.”

Though the band jokes about writing a majority of the album while high or micro-dosing shrooms, according to Cordina the ideal listening environment is far less taboo: “an hour of sober meditation and tea.”

The full album doesn’t come out until June 21st, but if you can’t wait until then, Divino Niño is playing Thalia Hall tomorrow—if you’re in Chicago, pregame with a cup of Earl Grey and get ready for a blissed-out evening.

INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Cherry Glazerr's Clementine Creevy

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Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy dives into a dense wall of guitar, her hand contorted into a complex augmented position she refers to as the “Psychic Temple Chord.” Thus beings “That’s Not My Real Life,” the fourth track of the band’s third full-length album, Stuffed & Ready. 

Though Stuffed & Ready sonically occupies the same universe as the band’s sophomore record, Apocalipstick, there’s a new sense of maturity. With song titles like “Stupid Fish” and “Wasted Nun” it’s clear the band hasn’t lost its playful sense of humor, but Creevy’s lyrics betray an introspective vulnerability that indicates she might be taking things a little more seriously than she’s previously let on. Instrumentally the album is futuristic but not sterile, maintaining a hold on Creevy’s guitar-rock sensibilities but revealing newfound depth.

The Creevy of Haxel Princess pining for her DIY crush is long gone; on Stuffed & Ready Creevy exudes defiant power. “Don’t hold my hand / don’t be my man,” she cries over a doomsday backdrop on “Daddi,” her delivery more apt to incite battle than reject an unwanted advance.

On the London leg of her most recent tour, Creevy shared her thoughts with Hooligan on dealing with isolation through creation. 


You recently released your third album, Stuffed & Ready—tell me a little about the record.

The record is a lot about power structures and my internal struggle with power. A lot of it is sort of honest self-reflection; in a lot of ways it’s probably my most lyrically raw and honest material.

 Why did you shift more towards introspective writing?

I think it was more sub-perceptual than anything—it wasn’t really a decision that I made more so that it was just a natural shift, a progression in my making of things. I think in our current social-political climate, I sort of felt the need to speak rationally and be around a lot of rational types of thinking, and so I wanted to sort of move away from obfuscation, which I used to hide behind in a lot of ways.

On the album, you talk a lot about spending time alone. You’ve been playing music and touring since you were 19—is that the cause of the isolation you’re referring to?  

No, I wouldn’t say its related to touring, because touring is actually quite a shared experience—you’re constantly with people. I think it’s more of something internal, sort of a state of being that I carry with me all the time, when I’m on tour and when I’m not on tour. I don’t know, it’s just something that I have, I struggle with loneliness even when I have a lot of people around me who love me.  

That’s interesting. Did this contribute to the changes between your previous record, Apocalipstick, and Stuffed & Ready? 

I don’t know, I think it’s just more of a natural evolution of the music more than anything. I’m always ingesting so much music, that I feel like stylistically I’m inspired by different things at different points in time. When I wrote the first album, I was listening to a lot of garage rock, and that’s why I was writing the types of melodic tendencies that I had for that record, and on Apocalipstick I was listening to a lot of more prog; I wanted to maximalize things a bit more. I started to listen to more contemporary music for this record, and for some reason it came out the way it did. Nobody writes anything else, it’s only me

You released Apocalipstick the day after Trump’s inauguration—were the songs on Stuffed & Ready written directly after, in the wake of the change in presidency?

No, I think again, my writing is kind of more subperceptual than I’d like to admit. I think we as art makers are more a product of our society than we are affecting our society. That being said, I’d like to think that the music that I make does create a type of sharing within the world.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what success means to me and why I do what I do, and I’ve started to realize my definition of success is making music, the act of making it. And I think the reason for that is because it’s a way to not be silenced. It’s a way to be able to share something beautiful in the world with people.

When you say you’re not being silenced, do you mean politically, or your personal voice?

I think it’s both, because it’s of course my personal voice mostly, but I’m a part of a system that is itself based on a power structure in which women are marginalized, so I think a lot of who I am is because of this power structure that I live within.

Where does the title Stuffed & Ready come from?

It’s this idea that came to me—what’s most important to me is having a name that is fun to say. There’s no grand meaning with it, but there is an idea behind “stuffed and ready,” the idea that when you’re stuffed you feel incapacitated to do anything except lie on the couch, and this idea of stuffed and ready is feeling ill equipped on how to proceed but getting up and doing it anyways, because if you’re sitting around waiting for perfection you’re never going to get it. It’s always a waste of time rather than just working and creating and living your life.

So now that the album is out in the world, what’s next? You played the singer in a band, Glitterish, on the show Transparent—is there any more acting in your future?

Actually, I just did a little thing that I’m very excited about. I can’t talk about it but it is going to be out in the world soon—it is another Jill Soloway production, and I’m very excited.

 

INTERVIEW: SIR BABYGIRL - ONLY A BOTTOM COULD PULL ALL OF THIS OFF



by Katie Burke

Sir Babygirl’s version of pop music feels like shedding a single tear while popping your pussy in a handstand and your ex is on speakerphone (not talking, just static) and all of this is going on inside your childhood best friend’s bedroom while she writes in her password encrypted diary and somewhere, a knife is being sharpened. Which is to say, it slaps. Kelsie’s voice reigns over DIY pop beats layered with Kelsie’s own distorted and beautiful yelps.

Sir Babygirl has seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere, as most artists do. When in reality, this has been in the making since she was a kindergartener. Recounting a childhood memory she tells me, “I was five years old having a conversation with my friend saying, ‘When we grow up and we’re movie stars,’ And she cut me off and was like, ‘I don’t want to be a movie star, I want to be a doctor.’ I was totally taken back, I thought everyone wanted to be a movie star. I was like, ‘NO YOU WANT TO BE A MOVIE STAR EVERYONE DOES.’ Absolutely born with delusion.”

Anyone who has listened to her music knows this is no delusion.

Something that I find even myself having to unlearn is that music, especially music made by women, is not just a diary -- you’re working really hard on this.

I think calculated is one of the funniest insults. Because it’s like, yeah, bitch. We’re smart. Calculated means that you did your fucking homework. I would have to pull these beats out of my own c*nt for people to give me credit.

I feel like when I first met you we were talking about Carly Rae Jepsen and you had such a good answer for why women and queer people love pop music so much...

In the time we’re in right now where everything is overtly political and overtly aware, I think pop music is the best thing to bring you to the immediate. It’s a worthwhile thing to just get to be dumb sometimes. The political can exist there -- or it doesn’t. Marginalized people deserve to have spaces to find catharsis. I can intellectualize pop music all day, but the most I’ll ever get out of it is going to a fucking show and dancing like an idiot.


How do you think that you are queering the music scene, other the obvious of being queer yourself?

This question trips me up more than anything. First off, queer has become monetized, which it never had been before. But the question is, are queer people profiting from that money? I want people to like my music because they like my music. The queerness is just there and it exists. It’s not a gimmick. We’re having this overflow where people are like, “Oh, there are so many queer artists now,” and it’s like no, we’re just allowed to exist more visibly now. I sit atop a heavy pile of privilege. I can be visible, so why not open some doors? I have no interest in being the only dyke in the room. People will ask me, “Oh, what does it feel like to be a queer artist?” and it’s like well what does it feel like to be a fucking straight artist?

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There was a large portion of my life where I denied that I loved pop music and only wanted to listen to like, Bright Eyes. Did you ever have that moment?

Oh my god, yes. My mom got me hooked on pop music when I was a kid. We listened to Christina, Mariah, and Britney. She was like, ‘these are divas and we show them respect.” That’s where I started but I totally strayed from that. Postgrad, I ended up in the Boston DIY scene and just did not fit in. I really had to assimilate. I would be writing music and hearing it as bubble gum pop in my head, but I was in this punk hardcore scene and it just wasn’t acceptable. I tried punk music, but then I was like, “Um, that hurts.” I’m way too much of a diva to be angry all the time. I just want to be mildly upset always. Dictated “hip music” just did not sustain me. Pop music keeps me alive.

A theory I have for why men hate pop music is because it evokes joy. Because something makes you want to dance suddenly it's not artistic or taken seriously.

Flirting with her”. I just want a fucking head-on gay song that doesn’t end in tragedy. I just wanted something so blatant that you could not mistake it for anything other than girls liking girls. When that song came out every review was like, “It’s a song about flirting with someone,”  We can dig in and enjoy these labels and it’s not exclusionary. We can’t engage with queer women in pop culture.

Is it ridiculous to ask you what your favorite thing about yourself is?

No, I love that. The first thing that pops into my head is my resiliency and my intuition. They’re my favorite things because I lost them for a while. The whole process of writing this album was having the determination to find my intuition and ask myself “what do I like?” because even if no one likes this at least I would still have it to dance alone in my room to. In your twenties, you have to figure out how to actually listen to yourself. I had vocal nodes when I got out of college. When I was in Chicago, I was in my deepest depression. I completely gave up. I started to genuinely believe I was delusional like maybe I can’t make music. But then I wrote “Heels” and it sparked me to start rehabilitating my own voice.


You went home to your parent's house after Chicago, was that isolation helpful?

I felt so alone in Chicago and I thought well, I’m not going to feel any worse if I’m actually alone. My parents live in the woods. People would visit me and be like, “You live in the middle of nowhere, aren’t you going insane?” And like of course, I was going insane. It was me, my mom, and my dead dog RIP. She was the reason I didn’t go off the deep end. But there was something in me that wanted me to be isolated, so I listened to that.

Most powerful sign?

I truly in my core think that Aries is the most powerful sign. Vulnerability to them is like a weapon. Like they don’t care that they just told you they’re in love with you because they just moved on to someone else. Unlike me who is like, “I’ll never reveal that I’ve been in love with you for 25 years.”


Do you feel hot today?

I do. I went to the gym and rage sprinted. I do generally feel pretty hot, I just reached a point where I was like well, it's not going to benefit you to not think you’re hot so why don’t you just start thinking you’re hot? I forced myself into a positive thought spiral.


Do you have any questions for me?

Do you think Sir Babygirl is a top or a bottom - there’s no wrong answer.

I would say a lot of top energy but surprisingly, a bottom.

Yeah, I guess only a bottom could pull all of this off.

Okay, that’s the title of the article.



It’s 9 pm on a Friday night in Chicago and Kelsie Hogue of Sir Babygirl has food poisoning. Although you wouldn’t know it except before starting “Everyone is a Bad Friend” she shouts, “I’m on an anti-diarrheal!” The crowd is studded with Kelsie’s friends from when she lived here, who she spots and yells out to. There are fans holding signs of Kelsie’s dead dog (RIP), Baby Diva, which eventually gets gently crowd surfed up to them. Between each song, there are nostalgic interludes featuring early ‘2000s culture, like a sound bit of Hilary Duff saying, “I’m Lizzie McGuire and you’re watching Disney channel” and suddenly I'm in the basement of my parent's house, in my childhood bedroom or my cousins living room choreographing a dance to songs from NOW 15. I want to play the game where you spin until you fall down.

Before her last song,“Heels”, everyone is invited to the stage to dance. Obviously, I go up. Holding my purse in one hand, while using the other to point maniacally around (dancing?), I am reminded again of the sanctity of pop music. It spans beyond the bubble of a proposed safe space, which we all know is relative. But in my chest, I feel something unwind. The simplicity of it is this - I want to shake my ass on stage next to someone I see myself in. Maybe I don’t know how to write about music. But I do know this -- a man’s opinion on pop? You can’t dance to that.

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Stream Crush on Me below

CD Digipak + Cassette available now through Father/Daughter Records


VIDEO PREMIERE: Rows Arc "Some Days"

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When your eyes are closed, traveling three feet can seem treacherous.

“Some Days” was shot by Julie Weitz and edited by Michael Robinson. Video courtesy of Hawthorne Street Records, 2019.

Band / Album Bio:

Between the hands that hold pleasure and pain with equal tenderness—that is where the sound of Rows Arc lives. That knack for unearthing beauty from life’s polarities is what propels the trio’s debut, High On The Tide.

Growing up with a radio DJ father and his collection of thousands of records, a foray into music would have been practically a birthright for Sarah Olmsted. But crippling stage fright and stints in other artistic disciplines (sculpture, furniture building, museum exhibit design) would quell Olmsted’s voice. Until now. After years spent writing and recording sparse dream pop melodies in solitude, the sonic skeletons in Olmsted’s closet grew too loud to be ignored. Ready to bring flesh to her musical fantasies, Olmsted turned to friend and collaborator Jason Gagovski (Sweet Cobra) to add heft to the Laurel Canyon slink of her demos, whether that meant lending a flouncing guitar riff or pounding through Low-leaning snare fills.

High On The Tide’s eleven tracks are not unlike a long drive down a dark road—the universe that lies ahead unwraps itself one breathless moment at a time. Recorded and mixed by Allen Epely and Eric Abert of The Life and Times, the open wounds prodded by Olmsted’s forthright lyrics are salved with the duo’s aural latticework. Guitarist and bassist Neeraj Kane (Hope Conspiracy, Suicide File) serves as the capstone to the trio that now sums Rows Arc, an addition that arose from Olmsted’s zest for collaboration and reverence for the blunt sincerity of punk and hardcore. 

Chronicling Olmsted’s journey toward contentedness in both art and life, High On The Tide’s eleven tracks are mined from a place that we’ve all inhabited—we just call it by different names. The album’s psych-folk title track introduces Olmsted’s captivating alto, its crystalline timbre flecked with pops and hisses reminiscent of an unhinged Cat Power. The song’s hypnotic refrain “Oh, you gotta leave and go” summons a quiet bravery that persists throughout the album, a smoldering grit that envelopes album midpoint “Hard Lights” and the folksy hard charger “Onto Something.”

An unnamed contributor to High On The Tide is Olmsted’s home base of Los Angeles, whose inspiration is undeniable in the buoying keys threaded through “Waiting” and the jam econo sparseness of “River,” a thorny aria primed for the stage as much as a sun-bleached pier. Colored by both time and place, High On The Tide is a triumph of world building, where syllables are stretched into symphonies and melodies are stronger than man.

The album’s emotional candor reaches its peak with “Problem Soldier,” a track that is cinematic in scope thanks to Gagovski’s percussive drive. Album closer “Away Away” finds Olmsted’s vocals slowly slipping beneath the tide they seemed to spring from, leaving the listener lost in a sea of their own making—just as Olmsted was so many years ago.

Album Release Date: March 29
Tour Dates: April 19 Los Angeles, CA @ The Pit

Utilizing sculptural elements and video projections that pay homage to 60’s earthworks and minimalist conceptual art, Rows Arc with collaborate with The Pit gallery for a live performance of their debut album, High on the Tide. 

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ESSAY: What, You Can't Hear Me?


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In this essay, there is the use of the n-word, which the author spells out. The author wants to warn Black people who might experience discomfort in seeing the word.

by Keisa Reynolds

Berkeley, California, 2014. There is a Marine-turned-political-science-student facing me with a blank stare. Perhaps he is a republican. Moments ago I finished my rant about Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel. I stressed the evils of his policies and the damage he has caused communities of color across the city. Lance*, the potential republican, looks at our classmate, Jonathan, who nods and says, “You know, I’ve heard a lot about Rahm,” and shares his piece. Jonathan is a sweetheart for pretending I didn’t make an ass of myself by delivering an unwanted rant. I thought they wanted my opinion because I was a Chicago resident. Of course I have some level of expertise. I pay attention to these things, you know?

Lance didn’t want to know what I thought about Rahm Emanuel, he wanted to know what I thought about our quantitative methods professor’s dickish move of writing “Read the fucking manual” on the whiteboard. Oh, I guess that makes more sense. Let me file this moment under the neverending list of embarrassing responses I had to what I thought I heard but was in no way related to what was actually said. This is a moment that reminds me exactly who I am, and while I am not afraid to say it, it often gets awkward for everyone around: I am deaf.

What? If you are like me and didn’t hear, I am deaf. Yes, I am capable of speaking. I have a habit of doing that. My first language was sign language, then my parents decided they wanted me to be more normal. Don’t shame them; they are also deaf, and they, unlike me, don’t have the privilege to pass as anything but. My parents speak too. Deaf people know how to speak; sometimes with our mouths, sometimes with our hands, sometimes only one over the other. There isn’t only one way to be deaf.

*

My family knows a lot about passing. My dad and his siblings were called niggers by their cousin who didn’t realize they were related by blood. The cousin thought his father was fully white, certainly not half Afro-Indigenous. He ran off crying when my aunt, the youngest at the time, put her hand on her hip and said, “Well, if I am a nigger, what does that make you? We come from the same family!”

There was a look of pride on my aunt’s face when she recalled that moment when I interviewed her for a research paper during my junior year of high school. My English teacher, who is Black and Jewish, encouraged me explore what it meant to live in between cultures. We shared a mutual love for our Blackness and recognized the ways in which we came to fiercely identify as such. We are not people who happen to be Black; everything about looking and living as Black people shapes how we understand the world. However, I couldn’t focus solely on race for the project; I realized there was more to my own identity than my family’s multicultural background.

My aunt doesn’t pass for white and has no desire to do so, but she codes as anything other than Black or Afro-Indigenous. “I am Black,” she says without hesitation whenever someone asks, “Wait, what are you?” During our interview she said she chooses every day to affirm her identity regardless of how people think they understand her. Her love for her people is the only measurement of her Blackness.

“I am deaf,” I told a childhood friend shortly after I moved away for college. She responded with, “I know you had hearing aids growing up, but I didn’t realize you consider yourself deaf.” She wasn’t wrong. This was a recent revelation. I realized I was exhausted living between not quite hearing and not quite deaf.

*

An aspiring sign language interpreter blew my cover on a tour of the ASL department of my undergraduate institution. As the tour guide I delivered the usual spiel about the department and its accomplishments. The guest was a student of ASL and deaf culture for years at this point. She was passionate about her field and the people she served. She thought nothing about asking me if I was deaf in front of a handful of strangers. Visibly shaken, I answered yes. The prospective student smiled and said, “I knew it.”She was proud of herself for recognizing what most people mistake as a Valley Girl accent. It is the same voice an English professor, a fellow Black woman writer, thought was insincere and unprofessional. The professor urged me to practice changing my voice or no one would take me seriously. She warned my career would not go very far. I wanted to hide anywhere on the street where she accosted me. Instead I reminded her I spoke for a living, and I was fine as long as my paychecks cashed.

But the student didn’t have the same ill intent to shame me. She wanted to show she had the potential to be an expert of deaf people. The rest of the tour looked at each other as if I transformed right before their eyes. My voice no longer sounded like mine, but a deaf person’s.

Later my mother assured me I don’t sound deaf. In sign language, she told me that student didn’t know what she was talking about. I reminded my mother she cannot actually hear my voice. Others can. My ability to speak the way I do doesn’t mask my disability. And I wasn’t sure I wanted it to. The less people who know I am deaf, the more people I have to repeatedly remind that I am incapable of fully hearing them. Most people say, oh, I am sorry, and speak slightly louder, then promptly return to the same mumbling mess I heard. I am part of the circle, but often, I have no idea what is going on. And rarely will someone try their hardest to help me.

*

My mother insists I am hard of hearing or hearing impaired, not deaf. Deaf is a word  reserved for who the world considers the most helpless. She gets frustrated that I don’t know sign language as well as she feels I should. I can hold my own in conversation, even if my hands don’t go exactly where they belong, but it does not feel like the language I learned to speak first. My father blames her for not teaching me throughout my childhood. “What was I supposed to do? She was supposed to be normal.” Normal. Or Mainstream, the word used to categorize me as a student the disability office kept tabs on, but mostly left alone. I can read a lips, a survival tool well-meaning people assume is a party trick. Try me, can you read what I am saying?

I would prefer you tried to speak to me like a person, but yes, I can read you saying sometimes you masturbate with hot dogs.

*

“They are just jealous,” my mother assured me when I told her about the isolation I felt when I was mocked by my deaf classmates. Two of them, whom I knew for years, spoke in sign language while I sat directly across from them on the train. In school they saw me walk down the hall with my friends. They saw the smiles and laughter. They didn’t notice I often faked it. Like my mom, they saw me as normal. They questioned my presence: She isn’t deaf, what is she doing here?

As a mainstream student, I was invited to attend field trips that would keep me in the loop about Deaf culture. For my classmates, that was their culture, not mine. We went to the School for the Deaf, where we saw students perform entirely in sign language. The hearing people were the ones who needed interpreters. It was a switch that seemed to delight my classmates. Their eyes lit up when we sat in the cafeteria after the show. They were surrounded by people they considered their equals, peers who couldn’t make them feel less than.

I felt the same way. I knew they didn’t think so. They assumed I was anxious to return to the hearing world. The School for the Deaf was their safest place because once we returned to school, I was the one who could pass. It didn’t matter that I had to ask people to repeat themselves until they grew frustrated and said, “Never mind.” And you know, it really didn’t matter. My inconvenience was nothing compared to the teasing they faced and the assumptions our hearing classmates made about their intelligence. My inability to hear has hindered my life, but I was never discarded in the same way as most Deaf people are in our hearing society.

I recently got hearing aids for the first time in almost eight years. I know I can’t hear. Everyone around me knows I can’t hear. Yet most hearing people are more comfortable with me saying “Oh, I have a bad ear” with an apologetic giggle than me saying I am deaf and need them to try to accommodate my needs.

My new audiologist showed off the latest hearing aids and gushed about their invisibility. Part of me was relieved because I grappled with the fact that strangers will look at my hearing aids and try to practice their sign language on me. Those strangers were always as annoyed as my deaf classmates and parents that I wasn’t an expert. Part of me felt my option of visibility was removed by people who want deaf people to fit in.

There is no normal. There is no magical solution that will help me fit inside the narrow space I fear will suffocate me. There is the only choice I make every day: Hi, can you speak up? I am deaf.


The Power of Poptimism: An Interview with Alex Niedzialkowki of Cumulus

Interview by Arthi Selvan

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Seattle-based band Cumulus has been Alex Niedzialkowski’s songwriting project for the past ten years. Niedzialkowski writes the songs she needs to hear. She says, “If I’m sad, I write about that sadness or I write something that is optimistic about that sadness because I need that to get through it.” She writes songs that are relatable, and she says the biggest function of music, for her, is “to make people feel less alone.” In her newest album Comfort World, her lofty guitar riffs and glimmering vocals make you feel right at home, with Niedzialkowski as your best friend. In the song “Light & Sound”, the song starts with the lyrics “it’s okay to let the sad songs / sing you to sleep / if I didn’t have Molina / I wouldn’t make it through the week.”

I asked Alex what the biggest difference between this album and her first album, I Never Meant It To Be Like This, was. She said that this time she had a producer to help her with her process. Cumulus was signed by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla’s record label Trans-Records. Through them, she met her producer Mike Vernon Davis. Her and Davis spent seven months, on and off,  creating it.

For each of the songs, she and Davis would isolate that song from the rest of the album and just, “find the universe for [that] song.” They would question “what is the world that this song exists in?” and create that sound for the song. At the end of the process, they realized that all the worlds of those songs connected really well and that they all lived in the same galaxy. On this record, Niedzialkowski says that “the music guided me on this record more than me guiding the music.”

While I have heard people categorize the catchy, upbeat band as indie rock, Niedzialkowski prefers to call it pop, which holds a very dear place in her heart. She says that she defines pop differently than most people -- it doesn’t have to be on Billboard’s top 40 to be considered pop. For her, anything that is catchy is pop. But being catchy serves its purpose. After she had finished recording Comfort World, she wrote and released a single called “Retreat” about dealing with sexual harassment and assault. She wrote this song because she was “fed up with [her] boundaries constantly being ignored by men while [she] was working in the service industry and in the music industry as a performer.” In the back of her head, she also thought, “if I write a really catchy song about consent, maybe people will think about that and not fuck things up.” In the refrain of the song, she sings, “If I don’t say yes, I’m asking you to leave / When I say No, you better retreat retreat retreat” on top of dynamic guitars and bright keys. Niedzialkowski has people come up to her and say how they can’t stop singing it, or that it’s their anthem, or “I’m going to sing this to anyone who messes with me!” Niedzialkowski firmly believes that pop music can change the world - and if you are someone, like her, who believes in the power of pop music, you are a “poptimist.”

While on the topic of pop and working in the service industry, I asked her if there was anything besides music that she was passionate about. Her answer was exact: “I am passionate about social issues and community development.” She’s involved in a couple of music-based nonprofits including teaching songwriting at a nonprofit and volunteering at a local girls rock camp called Rain City Rock. While she is passionate about youth empowerment, feminism, and social justice, she most strongly believes in being an active member of her community, no matter what community that is. “Music is really how I’ve found myself being able to connect to multiple causes at once. You can play benefit shows, you can get involved in the radio station, you can support local nonprofits. It’s been cool to use music to connect all the things I’m passionate about” she says.

We talked about working in nonprofits and how fulfilling they feel, as opposed to jobs that feel like they suck the life from you. I shared how switching from a money-driven career path to one that made me happier made me feel more whole. Niedzialkowski used to have a stable career in her 20’s, and spent a lot of time working there and being unhappy. She reminisced about  when she was younger she believed in the ‘you have to do what you have to do to get the paycheck’ mantra. She realized as she left that job and started making music, her main objective was happiness.

Niedzialkowski talks about the difference between how she once felt and how she feels now. She said, “when I was younger, I thought that relationships were supposed to hurt and take a lot of hard work ... I had it in my mind that if a relationship isn’t working, I should fix it, I should work on it… Dating applies to life. You find yourself miserable at points in your life.  There’s a point where I took pride in that pain. I was like, ‘yeah, I work a job that I hate but that’s just part of the deal... I had it in my mind that jobs were not meant to be what you liked - that’s why you call it work. Now, in my 30’s, I’m like, ‘damn, I spent so much time trying to fix things and make things work that just were not meant to work.”

I asked her, as someone in my 20’s who feels like they are where Niedzialkowski was in her 20’s, what her advice would be to her younger self. Her answer encompassed both love and ambition:

“The older I’ve gotten, [I’ve] become more self-aware… you don’t want to spend the majority of [time] doing things you don't like, you don’t want to hang out with people who don’t love you for who you are and make you a better person.  You don’t want to spend time at a job that drives you crazy and makes you want to cry. At the end of the day, there’s not enough time in the world to be doing things that don’t make you happy.”

Alex Niedzialkowski and Cumulus can be found touring in March and playing at South by Southwest and Tree Fort Festival. You can check out her new music video for the song, “Sing to Me” and her new album Comfort World on all streaming platforms.

There Is No Blueprint On Navigating Identity in Pop Music: A Conversation with WAFIA

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WAFIA Al Rikabi, known on stage simply as WAFIA, is riding a glow up wave. Last year the 25-year-old singer-songwriter toured with electro-pop duo Louis the Child, performed their collaborative hit “Better Not” at Coachella, and released VIII, a dazzling six-track EP of emboldened, honey-soaked melodies.  For Wafia, a former biomedicine student turned pop star, there is no better time than the present.

Born in the Netherlands to Syrian-Iraqi immigrants, the Australia-based queer Muslim singer is topping charts as one of the most exciting artists to watch in 2019. When she first got her start posting covers to a small following on Tumblr as a university student, she never expected someone like herself could make it big. But after posting her intoxicating cover of Mario’s “Let Me Love You” online in 2014, which catapulted her to the mainstream listeners, Wafia has never looked back.

“If the internet didn’t exist and the music industry was like how it was in the ‘70s, there’d be no place for a person like me,” she says. “I guess that’s kind of my favorite thing about music now is just how much the internet has democratized things.”

When I chatted on the phone with Wafia a few weeks ago, it was more like catching up with an overseas friend than with someone who had garnered the attention of Pharrell Williams or performed at the MoMa PS1. At home with her family in Brisbane, Australia, Wafia speaks softly, laughs often, and shares funny and painful stories about being one of few Middle Eastern students growing up in her Australian high school. Despite the time difference and technological glitches, the faint sounds of a dog barking on her end, and the jingle of the nightly produce truck on mine, Wafia is incredibly present.

It’s no wonder, though, because just as she is candid on the phone with a literal stranger, she is equally sharp and vulnerable in her recent songwriting, revealing multiple layers of personal and political resonance beneath the elastic beats in her newest EP, VIII.

“I think I’ve been more transparent with myself and therefore that’s reflected in the music,” she says of the past year’s music making. On the surface, the EP’s top songs “Only Love” and Bodies’ appear to be bouncy tales of cautious love and partying; however, the lyrics and the timing of the songs elucidate Wafia’s inner reckoning with queer romance and the Syrian refugee crisis.

“I think they’re both things that I was dealing with in private … both things that I heavily guarded and didn’t speak to anyone about,” she says. “I think it’s very relieving to put that out there. I wrote those songs because I needed to get those things off my chest.”

In fact, Wafia wrote “Bodies”  the day she learned that each of her Syrian aunt’s family members had been denied visas to Australia. She was in Los Angeles, where she frequently goes to write with “her LA tribe” -- a group of writing partners and friends including the Australian songwriter, Ben Abraham. “We were driving and she texted me saying that the last denial letter had come through,” she says after a sigh. “I was really feeling her pain.”  

Wafia encapsulates these feelings even in the naming of her EPs, gleaning some of the knowledge of her Biomed days. VIII, or eight , comes from the atomic number for oxygen and to her, represents transparency, necessity and the intangibility of music. Her first EP, XXIX, or 29, is the atomic number for copper, an element which conducts heat and, “felt really ripe for the state” Wafia was going through when she wrote it.   

Now, after a year of touring, her path is curving back to writing. “I’ve been through a lot this year,” she says, alluding to her first adult break up after which she wrote her carefree comeback anthem, “I’m Good.”

“I’m excited to delve into that more because I’ve been through a lot of hurts this year. I’m excited to deal with everything through the process of songwriting.”

Whenever she needs to realign herself after a long flight or tour, or after now, a busy, energetic year, Wafia often returns to Kahlil Gibran’s classic text The Prophet. There’s something about Gibran’s prose that grounds her and pushes her to continue even on days when she feels most unsettled. “It reminds me that I have to do things for myself.”

As a queer woman of color, navigating the treacherous world of pop, Wafia’s music and her very existence are political. Many have referred to Wafia’s music as ‘purposeful pop’, a term first used by Katy Perry after releasing her album “Witness,” to describe music which packs a political punch in its pop. Where Perry panders, and eventually fails on that front, Wafia soars simply by being.

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In an interview with Nylon Magazine she says, “Me existing to some people is enough of a statement, you know what I mean?” Yes, for the daughter of Syrian-Iraqi immigrants, making music, and music that is not only catchy but ripe with intention is an act of resistance.  

“I’m just trying to make music I like. I want the space to make music that is ‘purposeful’ but also that I think is fun and enjoyable,” she says. “And sometimes, it doesn’t have meaning because every other artist in the world has the liberty to do that.”

In addition to making her music accessible to audiences around the world, Wafia also wants to be present to her fans, particularly to the young women of color who may be interested in making the same pivot to music that she made.

“So many young women have reached out to me asking ‘how do I tell my parents that I want to do [something] like you’,” she recalls. Wafia has connected with young women around the world through social media to offer a bit of advice through her own experience. “There’s kind of no blueprint for it … but it’s cool to be doing it and tell these girls this is how I’m going about it.”

She’s right, there is no blueprint. While the pop music landscape has undoubtedly become more diverse in recent years, there is still no precedent for artists like Wafia, which has put her in a unique position to carve a path of her own. It’s a precarious, and sometimes heavy, position but Wafia is hopeful about the future of queer women of color in music.

“That’s the most exciting thing about pop,” she says. “It really could be anyone next.”

Do It Because You Can: An Interview with Skela

photos by  Archie Blu

photos by Archie Blu

New York native, Skela, has been incredibly busy this year. She has been working on a visual album entitled, Project 10. It features 10 songs and an accompanying 10 music videos. Skela filmed the videos for the album with three of her friends in New York City over a six-day period with a budget that was next to nonexistent. These videos have been released on a biweekly basis, all leading up to the grand finale video “Building You Up.”

I was able to chat with Skela about literature, self-discovery, and her upcoming tour — which features a show at Schubas on Saturday, February 16.

How would you say your music has changed since the release of your debut EP in 2017?

I don’t know that it has changed that much. I still have a really similar way of writing. I kind of use the music that I write to express myself, of course, but I always have the same references in mind — even if I am not necessarily talking about them. For the EP, I was very vocal about the inspiration being a lot of novels that I’ve read over the years.   I have been inspired by authors like Kerouac, Burroughs, Bukowski, and Billy the Kid. The Beat Generation is still one of my favorite literature eras. The thing is, I haven’t stopped reading those types of books. It’s interesting, because I don’t really talk about that anymore, because there is so much going on with the project and that sometimes the inspiration is a little bit more direct.

In terms of the writing process, it’s very similar to all of my music — the new and the old. It’s got the same references and it’s kind of written with a literature lens on everything. Even if they’re from real experiences, the way I see the world is definitely through a book. I feel like my brain is still the same, and hopefully, the music is as good as it was and is as good as it will be because it’s from the same person.

So you’ve talked about your writing process. For this album, did the concept for the videos play any part in your songwriting?

Yes and No. Whenever I write a song like I was saying, it’s through this lens of past experiences, or your imagination, so you kind of see this little music video play out in your head all the time. It’s very visual. So one did affect the other because it’s like this: What do I see? What does my real life look like? How do I turn this song that’s about my real life into something that is, of course, more stylized but still looks like real life? The music video concepts came after the songs, but I still think they affected one another — whether it came afterward or not.

Has your relationship with certain songs changed during/after the video making process?

It was so cathartic to make some of these music videos. It’s like you are trapped in this cocoon when you write a song and it’s just you who is listening to it and working on it. Then, when you are actually able to share it with people, you get to shed that old skin. You finally get to move on. It’s this unbelievable sense of closure. Especially for “I’m Not Hungry.” We shot it in this cemetery that I used to walk through every day to get to and from high school. I love that cemetery, and I think that cemeteries are just very beautiful and timeless. So, It was almost like I stepped back into that timezone of me being a teenager.  

Has your hometown contributed to your sound?

Of course! I’m from Queens, and it has everything and nothing to do with the music. I don’t look at New York as this magical place where artists flee to. You know? It’s just where I’m from. So, that obviously has an impact on everything that I do and everything that I approach in life. All of my experiences took place in Queens, and that might be very different from everyone’s idea of “New York City.” For me, it’s not necessarily a place for artists. It’s literally everything in the world I’ve ever known.  

If your new album was the musical lovechild between two artists who would they be?

That’s really hard. I feel like I don’t want to compliment myself — I’m probably too self-deprecating for this question. I feel like it’s a combination of The 1975, the writing style of Alex G, and probably Christina Aguilera — I learned how to sing by mimicking her vocals.

The music video for “Holy” recently dropped, which is a part of your visual album project. What story did you want to tell with the aesthetics of the video?

“Holy” is like a big bang — if you will. The whole idea of Project 10, which is revealed at the end, is that this entire process was a matter of telling my story. Everyone feels that the genres and the messages of the songs are so different, but that’s because I have many layers and I have many ways of seeing myself. “Holy” was about bringing it back home to be the person that I’ve worked on. It’s about becoming this strong, confident, female who has forged her own path, spearheaded her own project, and has learned to love herself. I wanted that to show through the video and send it off on a good note.

What are you hoping for your fans to take away from this album and the project as a whole?

I hope that they realize that you don’t need anyone to tell you what kind of person to be. The whole concept of Project 10 is: Do it because you can.

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What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming tour?

I am probably most excited about being amongst like-minded people. I feel like anyone who listens to my music, by association, probably has something in common with me. All of the people I talk to, who reach out about the music, are so cool, so nice, and so smart. I wish we could always be in one place. I am excited for the shows to do that — to bring everyone together.

You’re very active in the feminist community, how has collaboration influenced your art?

In every way! Part of me being an adult, and an artist, was unlearning toxic patterns that were taught to me about myself. I grew up in an all-female household, with my mom and my sister, so I’ve always looked to females as friends. I learned to work with the people that love you and support you. It never hurts to be reminded that your true homies are literally standing right next to you.

INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Helena Deland



by Mackenzie Werner

Helena Deland is an electrifying chanteuse from Montreal who released 4 EPs this year as four chapters of a series "Altogether Unaccompanied". 

I first became aware of Helena's music when seeing her perform as a solo singer-songwriter in Calgary, Alberta in the summer of 2017. I was struck by her elliptical narratives and bright, clear voice and brought her debut EP "Drawing Room" (2016) into my heavy rotation. 

In the time since she has added a full band, lush, new sounds, and high concepts to her work. Hooligan was thrilled to sit down with her before a recent show, where Gia Margaret opened. Here is our conversation: 


Helena: I had an interview the other day that I had forgotten about, a call, a phoner, and the guy …. I was in the bath, and he just called me up, I wasn’t sure who it was at first and he kind of was more of the “let’s have a conversation” style, so it took the longest time before I realized what was going on. He was like “Hey! Helena! Helena Boxing! Like that Lynch’s daughter’s movie…

Mack: (laughing) and you were like, “Okay, we’re doing this!)”

I wanna start with a question about you calling your music “sincere pop”, I know that a lot of people ask you about that, but I was just wondering because I really like that name that you gave it and I feel like there’s been this cultural shift away from apathy, where people are really craving sincerity and earnestness, and I was wondering how that shift has felt for you and informed your music (if it has), and how that’s felt for you as a creator.

Helena: I’m really afraid of it being misinterpreted. It is something that I liked the sound of; I guess it implies that pop isn’t always sincere, which isn’t what I want to do.

M: Especially because there’s a stigma against pop a lot of the time, and women who make pop especially.

H: Exactly, and I did feel like kind of disdain towards pop growing up, just because I grew up in the early ‘90s, and my mom was kind of like “you shouldn’t support Britney Spears’ message” and I feel like I was really impressed by that, like it’s not feminist to support…. Pop legends are probably not feminists, and that was a huge thing for me growing up, and I only really recently started enjoying pop in my twenties  probably and it’s been such a revelation.

I feel like your question was more about the shift in resenting apathy…

M: Yeah, I feel like maybe five to ten years ago the main cultural idea was to be apathetic

H: Yeah, and ironic.

M: Yeah, ironic, and there’s been a big push back against that recently.

H: Well, I’m happy to hear you say that, because I haven’t really noticed that honestly. But yeah, I guess it’s true.  It’s such a part of how you want to present yourself as not wanting to take yourself too seriously, but yeah, it’s a tough thing to deal with. It was such a thing in all of culture, to have that distance, which I’ve never been able to really have with my music. I was so scared at first, I’ve been validated since, and I’ve changed my perspective on it, being sincere, but I was so scared at first of making myself vulnerable. Because it’s raw. But, you know, now [I know] that’s actually what I want to do -- the thing that will be the most true, and be as sincere as possible. [I want to] embrace that.

M: Well, good job doing that, because that’s hard to do.

H: Yeah, it’s easier at first, but then for it to become public, that’s the scary part.

M: Totally. With you being from Montreal, and being bilingual, French and English, I was wondering if your music being in English, and your life in Montreal being more in French, if that gives you some sort of distance between your personal life and your performer life.

H: It did at first, for sure, it felt like such a venue to express stuff. There are so many reasons why I write in English, but that was I think one of them, at least thinking about playing those first shows in front of like 30 friends, and being like, “oh these can’t be in French…. They know.” I mean, they know anyway. There is something about, saying some things that aren’t easy to say in conversation, or face-to-face, in a language that’s not the one you use when you’re together. But I also wonder, because French is a language I’m more comfortable with, that I navigate a little bit better than English, I wonder what if English were my first language, if it would be different. Hard to tell what it would change but, I wonder if it would be easier to write in it. But maybe it also gives me a distance that’s playful, or freer in a way.

M: When you’re writing do you ever think of your lyrics first in French and then…

H: No, but sometimes I’ll hear a song.  Like, I’ve been listening to Adrianne Lenker’s album (we both make sounds of warm recognition and laugh), and oh my god, it just feels like she has nothing stopping her from writing such beautiful lyrics. It came to mind, is it kind of a detour to be French first and then writing in English?

M: And talk about someone who’s raw and vulnerable in their lyrics…

H: And seems to have no problem with that! It’s so impressive how close to her her lyrics seem, and apparently she’s so prolific and just has so many songs.

M: Yeah, I think she produces more than her record label can keep up with.

H: It’s really exciting.

M: We’re all blessed.

H: Exactly.

M: You mention Adrianne, and I want to ask you what other releases have come out this year that you’ve been really excited about.

H: Mmm, okay, Tirzah! She’s got such an angle on music that’s so refreshing, I find. She was introduced to me by my booker, it’s his favorite album this year, and I was really excited.  It really moves me. I find it so alive that it grew really addictive. It’s a specific feeling that I can’t find, when I want to listen to Tirzah it’s just automatically, that’s the only thing that’s gonna do that. Apart from that … I found Yves Tumor’s album really interesting. They are this really multi-dimensional project that, this album, I’ve been enjoying getting really familiar with it. It doesn’t feel accessible to me, but it does feel magnetic in a way. I also liked Jenny Hval’s (we toss a few guesses at pronunciation back and forth and laugh) EP that she put out.

M: And she put out a novel this year too.

H: I know! I can’t wait, I’m very curious. Did you read it?

M: Not yet, but I can’t wait to. People that I know who’ve read it have devoured it.

H: Yeah, that shift is so interesting, I find. And it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen more, that singer-songwriters don’t write more fiction or prose, but it’s something that I’m really interested in for sure.

M: Yeah, I just heard that Japanese Breakfast is writing a memoir, and just gave a lecture.

H: Wow! That’s crazy, that’s amazing.

M: I feel like those boundaries are being crossed more.

H: Maybe since Bob Dylan won (laughing) the Nobel Prize for literature

M: Yeah, and I think there’s less of an idea of boxing yourself in to one discipline.

H: Totally.

M: Besides music do make any other types of art?

H: Not really, I write a lot. I write pretty continuously, but I don’t have a project. I hope I will someday. That is something that I’m really drawn to, but it seems like such a tedious practice, and you really have to have a lot of time to do it. I read as much as I can, because that’s what I most love doing. I’ve noticed that in phases when I forget about reading I just feel like crap, it’s my favorite hobby.

M: Was there anything you were reading while you were writing the songs for Altogether Unaccompanied that really informed that process?

H: Yes, there were a couple, there’s this French word that means, “to take a shape and move it from one area to another.’ I don’t know what it would be in English, but there were some that made their way like that into the songs. There’s Carson McCullers’ poems, she wrote a song about, the way I interpreted it, the way I used it.  She has a line that’s, “no longer is a stone a stone”, which is one of my song titles. Also I read this novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, it’s so beautiful! It hadn’t happened for me in a while that I’ve transcribed so much, it’s an amazing way of seeing things.

M: That’s a magical feeling.

H: It really is, when you’re like “finally, this makes so much sense!” and the, I guess, just her characters feel really familiar, which is a nice feeling as well. The sentence “Altogether Unaccompanied” was taken from that. She describes this old man, the protagonist’s grandfather, how every spring he becomes a man of his own and will be outside all the time collecting small bones, and rocks, and plants, and it’s not a negative thing, but how he was unreachable during that period of time, how he was “altogether unaccompanied” (she scrunches up her face), oh, it’s just so sweet. I guess it’s about the idea of being scared of that, but trying to embrace it as well. You can hope for proximity, but it’s often impossible. In choosing partners and friends you’re choosing who you’re going to be …. No I was going to say “alone with”, but that’s too tacky. Somebody’s actual core is always kept secret, we’re all kind of “altogether unaccompanied” in these beautiful relationships. Does that make sense?

M: It does, and it reminds me of your line from “There Are A Thousand”, when you’re saying…

H: “There are a thousand of each of us here, how will we recognize each other dear?”

M: Yeah, exactly.

H: Totally, there’s this really nice Rilke idea that every person has their own secret garden, and that you have to accept the fact that you’re never going to walk in past a certain point to someone else’s way of seeing the world and existing. Basically, how you choose the people who surround you, who are able to stand guard from where things only step out dressed in fancy outfits. It’s a really beautiful idea.

M: Definitely. I was really curious, the way this release is broken up into four different chapters, or volumes, what the thought behind the way you paired different songs was.

H: It was mostly instinctive. I usually say color-based. Thematically or sonically how they seemed to pair well, but it was really easy to do. It felt way more natural to do it that way than to release them all together. I’m glad I did that too, because it feels like a debut album is such a big thing to me. I’m really happy that it’s going to be all songs that were all written around the same time, rather than bunched together.

M: I like that you did it half in spring and half in fall, because I don’t know if you do this but I think of media very seasonally. Like I’ll think “oh, I really want to read that but I’m going to wait until the winter.” Or, “I really love this song and it reminds me of summer.”

H: Totally.

M: Or like some things just feel warm, or feel cold. So, I really loved the way it was split into chapters and released so far apart. It was like returning to something familiar, but that felt more appropriate in the fall.

H: Totally, I wasn’t really thinking of it seasonally, but I agree that that’s totally a thing. But I was thinking times of day. The first two volumes for me were day and night, well they were midnight and noon. And volume three and four were dusk and dawn. You hear something and it’s like “this sounds like 4 p.m., or this sounds like April.”

M: It’s funny how those feelings can come through so distinctly.

H: It’s like slight synesthesia I guess.

M: With “Claudion” specifically, that song just sounded like October to me for some reason, I feel like it hit at the perfect moment.

H: I’m really happy to hear that!

M: Yeah, of course. I want to know if you have a particular song from this collection that you call your favorite, or one that particularly challenged you, that you’re proud of getting out there.

H: I guess the one that’s most mysterious to me in a way is “There Are a Thousand”, it’s one of the first songs I wrote, and it was so detached from any relationship I was going through.  It was much more about how I felt as a 21-year-old girl, at that time. I don’t know how to explain it, it feels like because it’s so vague, yet I find it does describe well what I was going through, I’m proud of it in a kind of puzzled way. I feel like it’s going to exist independently from me for a while somehow, because it’s just hard to describe how it happened, how I wrote it. It was a very impulsive song, it took no time which never happens to me. Songs always take much longer than that, but I sat down and by the time I stood up it was just done.

M: Do you write poetry as well?

H: No, I don’t really write poetry. I write more ideas and citations. When I write in a more continuous manner it’s more prose, diaries.

M: The last time I saw you it was just you and your guitar. You were playing more sparse, folk, singer-songwriter stuff, and now you’ve got a full band, you’re doing this lush, atmospheric, electronic stuff. I was wondering, in that transition, what were your expectations, or your hopes going into it? And now that you’ve done it, how have they been fulfilled? Or not fulfilled?

H: It’s a very, very exciting transition. I think the solo version of the project for me has always been a kind of compromise for financial, or time reasons. It’s been the easiest thing to bring forth, the solo project. It was easier to travel alone at that point, I was always aspiring to having a full band. I don’t see the solo act as less than the full band, I need to just see it as different. It’s still something that I want to do and explore, but I feel like our final form is full band.

M: Do you have full band arrangements for that first EP as well?

H: I do.

M: So you’ve brought those into this era.

H: Exactly.

M: I’ve got a couple of quick questions to end: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

H: Oh god I don’t know, I don’t have an answer to this question, and it’s a question that used to drive me crazy.

M: It doesn’t have to be practical, just anything that you’d like to be doing.

H: Hmmmm, just something that would have me reading and writing. So practically I was thinking of translation, music is so good for this, but something that would allow me to travel as well. Touring is such an odd little context to travel in, but it quells that need.

M: Can I ask you what your sign is and if you read into astrology at all?

H: That’s a fun question, my sign is Sagittarius.

M: Happy Sag season!

H: Thank you! I do, but I consider it as fun. The more I get into it the less I associate with it, but I guess it has to do with all of your planets, your chart. I guess the thing about Sag that I relate with in a bit of a masochistic way, is how fast you move from one thing to another, and get sick of things. That’s something I try not to do but definitely recognize in myself. There are other signs that pop up on the instagram accounts I follow that seem to be more accurate, but… My grandfather was a Sagittarius and he was always a party person until he was 95 and I always thought that was so cool.

(we talk about our grandpas for a while)

M: My last question is just a fun one, what’s on your rider?

H: If we can get anything we want…. I like tequila. But I’m trying to not drink at shows. Alexandre has beef jerky, that’s like his thing. There are two vegetarians and two heavy-duty meat eaters in the band, so it’s a funny mix. Nothing fun, we thought about asking the staff to bring their dogs, but we can’t hang out with it that much so it seemed irrational. But, that’s pretty much it.

(I tell her a story about a venue dog barking during a Daughter show)

M: Venue dogs are a bad idea but a green room dog is brilliant

H: As long as they get to run around!


Listen to Claudion by Helena Deland on Spotify below


INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Argentinian Pop Musician Tani

Interview + translations from Spanish to English by Anna White

photos by Maira Pinetta

photos by Maira Pinetta

Tani Wolff, aka Tani, writes pop songs condensed to their core—sweet and simple, like the sonic equivalent of a blush.

The first time I spoke with Tani about her music was in 2017—as we sat in the kitchen of the Buenos Aires apartment she shares with her parents, she spoke softly and with slight hesitation, eloquent but a little shy.

When I video chatted with Tani last week, there was a noticeable difference—it feels like she’s really come into her own.  This shift is tangible in her newest release, Mew (Discobaby Discos, Yolanda Discos)—the album still carries the “naïve and honest” pop sensibilities of Uturnis, but with an element of newfound confidence. Mew is Tani at her best—her repetitive lyrics and upbeat piano are playful, but there’s also an air of maturity in the album’s sleek production.

I spoke with Tani about the inspirations behind Mew and the difference between writing songs in Spanish and English.



You just released a new album, Mew, on November 16th—tell me about the new songs!

They’re songs that I wrote years ago, when I was in middle school. I never recorded them well, and I had the opportunity to, in a studio with a producer.


Why did you choose to record these songs in particular?

The record I released before is all songs I wrote in 2015, and I don’t have many other songs! I like these songs that I wrote a few years ago, and I thought that they were special to me, and it would be good to record them. And like I told you, I don’t write a lot of songs.

Why are these songs special to you?

Because they were the first songs I made, and they’re pretty songs; they were the first that I liked and thought other people might like. Before these I had songs that were more playful and a little ugly, but these I truly like. I played them for years alone in my room, and now I want them to leave my room a little.

Ah, truly bedroom pop! What were your inspirations for these songs?

The songs were inspired more or less by things that happened to me during middle school—conversations I had with people and romances, but because [they’re from so long ago] I think it’s a bit of an ironic point of view, taking myself out of the situation a little. For example, one of the songs says, “you’re not the love of my life, but you’re close,” and this is like a pop song, I’m not taking the things seriously. I think that’s what I’m trying to do in the record—I’m not thinking and thinking about everything.

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What was it like recording songs that you wrote so long ago—do you feel like the emotions are different now?

They changed a little, because before they were closer to me, what I was feeling in the moment, and now not as much. Though they’re not what I would write about right now, they’re still a part of me, and so I like to sing them. It’s different to sing them in public than in my room, like before.

Mew sounds very different from your first album, Uturnis—how do you feel like you’ve evolved as an artist on this album?

Now I’m working with other people, playing with a band, and I recorded the album with a lot of people, which didn’t happen with the other album. I grew musically by incorporating other people and being able to listen to and perform with other people, not doing it all myself like I used to feel like I had to. The other album, I didn’t ask anyone anything, and nobody helped me out. For me it was growing to let other people help.

Now that you’ve released Mew, what’s next?

I’m thinking of a third album; I’ve been making loops in my house and thinking of songs in Spanish.

Oh, wow! Do you prefer writing in English or Spanish?

I haven’t tried to write a lot in Spanish, so it’s easier for me in English. I still haven’t found my own voice in Spanish.

That’s interesting. It’s easier for you to write in English?

It’s more fluid in English. It’s because always, when I was little we watched the music channels on TV, and the music that was from here was a lot of rock nacional, which isn’t my style, so I started thinking that if I wanted to write music in Spanish it had to be like that, like how they sang. It’s a type of singing I don’t really like, so I listened to a lot of music in English, and started playing around, singing songs without language, in a made up language, or translating things to English, and through playing around like this I got used to it. I feel like I can be less playful in Spanish.

Do you think it’s getting easier to be playful with your writing in Spanish now that the music scene is growing and you can hear more music you like?

Yes, I think now there’s a lot of variety in Spanish music, and before there was just rock nacional. Now there’s more pop, like the Laptra Discos scene, Las Ligas Menores, Louta. They’re very different.

What do you think about the music scene in Argentina right now? It’s very separate from the U.S.

Yes—I think we listen to more music in English than people in the U.S. listen to music from Latin America. It would be good if it would start to mix more.


Samantha Bailey: Space On Her Own Terms

Interview by Charia Rose
Photos by Will Inman

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Interviewing a creative whose work has left me feeling raw and exposed was an intimidating thought for me. Sam’s art locks you in a closet with a bright light and lays the deepest, most intimate parts of yourself before you. There is no moving away, no shame, just truth. To be in the presence of someone who does not seem to fear or find flaws in the dirty honesty of intimacy is exciting and scary and inspiring all at once.  

Samantha Q. Bailey, a writer, actor, director and all around bad bitch, is very self-aware. She is aware of her world, the way she presents herself, and the way she maneuvers and takes space. Space is something that can be difficult for Black Women to sit in deeply: What are we allowed? How do we continuously make ourselves smaller without sacrificing our sense of self? It is an impossible facade of balance. And yet, something about Sam feels as if she has it all figured out, regardless of how desperately she wants you to know that she doesn’t.

Her rise came with her first web series You’re So Talented, which premiered on the then infant Opentv. A show focused on Bea (played by Bailey), a 20-something actor attempting to survive heartbreak, judgement and the harsh reality of living as a Black millennial in Chicago. As writer, producer, director, and actor on the show (how dare she?!), it was the one thing Sam had always wanted to do, regardless if anyone loved it. The Gotham and Emmy nominations are proof that people did. Speaking with another midwestern artist also reminds me of what I miss about being home, and the creative spaces that are crafted for us and by us there. On the west coast, a sense vulnerability is missing. In midwestern spaces, people are more concerned when you dedicate your life to the arts. So many people throughout my life have told me: “It’s unstable. Uncertain. No way to make a solid life or way for yourself and future family.” People like us live to prove “good intentions” wrong. We drop everything that makes us comfortable and work four jobs and live in communes and drive cross country to foreign places in the pursuit of destiny. I think of my artistic nature as a midwestern work ethic with a healthy dosage of west coast self-sabotage.”

Los Angeles is a foreign space for both of us; this place is built on entertainment as industry. Most people here are involved in Hollywood some shape or form. The goal is always success and accolades here, but we agreed that it oftentimes does not feel “real” or conducive to true community building. Especially when you have to focus on the career side of the landscape.

“I think about LA and myself in LA A lot. My experience of LA is not LA, it’s Hollywood. I moved to the industry, I did not move to the city. I am not around the LA that built NWA or Ava DuVernay… LA has a lot of strong communities of color and strong feelings of community and I don’t want to negate that. But I don't think Hollywood has a strong feeling of community.””.  

There is another facade rooted in trying to find the balance of wanting to work in the field that moves you with the harsh realities of the space’s refusal to make room. It’s something I struggle to reconcile; something that holds me back from going full throttle towards my goals. But Sam refuses to let the systems at work keep her from doing what she was born to do. She found her way to film post graduating from Columbia College with a degree in acting. After a short move to New York and one particularly excruciating theater experience, she decided to start writing for herself.

“I got to a place where I was doing this play and got asked to twerk in a slave costume with a gun pointed out to the audience and was like, you know what, there is a line of self respect and I’ve been hitting up against it for a few years now and that was just not something I was going to do. Chicago has a very big live lit scene and Sam Irby was one of the first people I met there and she was the one voice that made me want to write. I started doing Second City work and again realized that I didn’t want to do performing but really did like the short form which brought me to the webseries (You’re So Talented)...We got Tribeca and it’s been rolling ever since”.

I was really drawn to the way Sam’s career has begun to take shape. It is not a fairytale or a lucky occurrence, but a consistent determination to find the medium that will best service the art she is striving to share with the world. I have spent most of life in silence, and attempting to make myself as small as possible. It’s why I became a writer: creating worlds bigger than myself without having to ever truly expose my identity was gratifying for me. Words on a page are universal. In a book or a script, I could be whoever I needed to be to enact the change I needed folks to see. But Sam has broken away from that notion. Her words are a critical extension of her as a as a black woman. As a creative. As a midwesterner.  If there is any takeaway from this interview, it’s that the thing you are missing is out there, and you just have to be invested in the search to discover it.

Sam has an astonishing amount of projects happening simultaneously. She is currently directing for television, finishing up the Film Independent Program and developing multiple projects for various formats (yes, including Brown Girls for all the fans out there lusting for information on the show’s arrival. It’s still in development at HBO). She barely has time for herself, her days consisting of being on set, in general meetings or writing and creating decks for her projects in production. As millennials, we are conditioned to do as many things as we can as often as we can and through that there is a loss of balance. Add being in an environment that is not conducive to cultivating that balance, it makes it even more foreign. I can honestly say I have never met balance. Sam is no different. Even though we are at different points in our lives, it is something that we cannot deny we would like to have. “I really want the balance. I’m 29 and going into being 30 so I have a whole different phase of my life [coming] and wanting stability even if it’s shaky stability… I know that I don’t want to be a director for hire for my whole life.

In order for me to not do that I need to be creating content and in order to do that I have to be in Chicago… Here, I don’t ever really feel grounded.”

For a theater kid who didn’t consider film “art” until a few years ago, Sam has an incredible eye for direction. Her style of directing and her vision for a shot are so particular, but so free from the constructed rules of a standard filmmaking that it makes her one of the most skilled in the game. In You’re So Talented, there are moments that are so intimate, and the camera just holds, no escaping the discomfort of being vulnerable. I mentioned how much her works reminds me of mumblecore and she lit up.

“This black girl was hella inspired by mumblecore! People really get mad at me about this, but I really only watch movies as fun entertainment. Like, INDEPENDENCE DAY is one of my favorite movies. I was just such a theater person. I took a [course in college] called Story in International Film and Fiction. I saw all these foreign films and fell in love with Gael Garcia-Bernal and like Y TU MAMA y TAMBIEN and AMORES PERROS. I was like oh shit, there’s an art to this that I didn’t even know about. It’s interesting. Film is such a young art in general and to have this mainstage of white men who are considered the gods of it [even though it's a new form]. And everyone is just recreating what they’ve done. So I’m really interested in different ways of storytelling. And different ways of exploring characters. Which is why mumblecore was so exciting to me. It was something that felt like it went against the status quo of how these films were made… And it also made me feel like, ‘oh I can do that’. I can sit in my living room and put a camera on and just shoot my friends”.

I gushed about how much I loved YST and was intrigued to know how involved with creating the shot list and the overall production process she was. As a first time director, it can be harrowing to take on so much responsibility out the gate. But she loves nothing more than taking shit head on.  

“I am very involved with the shot list. And I did not know what any of that was in the first parts of shooting YST. But, Mateo Gonzalez who is my favorite cinematographer in Chicago, literally told me, ‘I don’t think you know that you’re a filmmaker’. I’d send him pictures and we’d talk for hours and he taught me in that way. So I always say I come from the school of Mateo. There is something in the way that I shoot that is not film school”. She is very adamant about how much she dislikes the traditional way of doing things (The Aquarius in her jumps out and I love it).  “Let’s try to figure out how to get coverage in a nonconventional way. Let’s play shit out in one take. I want to do more exciting and interesting things that open things up. Or brings them in more. I’m a very intimate director. I am interested in intimacy and the human condition in that way. I want to shoot life in urban settings. I want to show growth in concrete jungles”.


Feeling a strong sense of community is a crucial human need. For those living with more marginalized identities, it is often times a gift and not a right. It is something we have to find, cultivate and protect at all costs. Seeing someone like Samantha, who is so vocal about not only what she wants but what she needs, is crucial. Her focus on building up the community for creatives of marginalized identities, is so comforting. She is forcibly making space in a world that, regardless of all the articles and “Initiatives” being announced, still does not give a fuck about what we want or need.

“Fatimah [Asghar] and I work together a lot. Sam Irby and I are trying to work together. I try to be cognizant of who I collaborate with. I am constantly talking about how I want to meet more creatives of color who are on my level so that we can create together and move up. I think they oddly keep us separate from each other to keep up this crabs in a barrel thing. Like, you’re gonna be the special black unicorn and we just make you shoot to the top. And like, that’s dope but also lonely because once you get there and look around and see that the only people celebrating and collaborating in your success are old white guys. That’s not what I want. I want to be creating with people who are like me and move up together. Like that Judd Apatow thing but without those guys. Doing that for us”

Even with this “renaissance” occuring in media, there is still a feeling of disconnect. Its hard because we have cried and fought for black stories and queer stories and female stories to finally be respected and told through our  lens, but even that doesn’t feel like enough. I find myself turning away from television, even though I love it. There is too much of it, and even with that, none of it ever seems to scratch the itch of what I feel like I need. And then feeling emboldened to critique those things? We have three major black lead shows, and if you say an ill thought about it, then people think you were never with the shits. How do we exist and create and critique our work without it sabotaging the movement? Can we widen the space and also be critical? It often feels like a trick question. We talked about the idea of these shows being slices of life, but ultimately, a slice of a singular pie will never be enough. We need the whole damn bakery. And we deserve it. Because our experiences are different, no matter how many identities we share. The way we exist is completely our own, and we have to feel emboldened to tell our experiences and take up space in our own nuanced ways.

I asked her the one thing I ask everyone, and I am always grateful when people answer. The question of what does liberation look like, in your own eyes. A question that, to me, is an invitation into the soul of a person. “Liberation looks like, to me, being able to experiment and work without the burden of [being] perfect. There is a particular burden on people from marginalized communities to represent every aspect of their communities. That is really difficult for artists. I think someone tweeted once like y’all love art but hate artists. And that’s some real ass shit. They want your work but don’t care about the mental gymnastics you have to do in order to curate and create that work. Like, Brown Girls cannot represent every brown girl. It can’t. Not if we want to to tell a real nuanced story that feels real and intimate. But maybe you’ll find something in it that you do and can appreciate...That is all I can do.”

Sam is not simply talking about inclusion or what Hollywood should do. Her life is her action plan. Her work is her liberation. Her crew is inclusive by design but also simply because it is an extension of herself. She is commandeering these spaces and taking no prisoners because, for her, there is no other way. She is not trying to be anything other than what she is. There is nothing more jarring and powerful than a black woman understanding her power and utilizing it. It is a kick in the stomach, and it makes you question the ways that you maneuver this fucked up world. No one is safe from the harshness of this society, so the least you can do is kick some ass while you figure it out. Sam is kicking ass, taking names, and being 100% herself whilst doing it.

“I’m a black midwesterner who grew up baptist who is no longer religious who has a lot of queer friends and practices in queer communities and hates industry. That is my experience and most of my work will come from that lens... There’s nothing about Hollywood that I am trying to preserve. I don’t want to be attached to anything or anyone that is harmful to communities that I am a part of or adjacent to. I don’t want to help sustain that. So I say burn it all down”.

And you better believe that she is more than willing to light the first match.

You can follow Sam on all socials:

Twitter: @SamQBailey

Insta: @samb.chi

And see her webseries You’re So Talented & Brown Girls, in full on opentv @ weareo.tv


read the whole issue here / order it here

Writing Poems With a Love Ethic: an Interview with José Olivarez

interview by Levi Todd
photos by Davon Clark

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Lately I’ve been wondering about what poems do. We often hear about  what they help us do -- they are a balm, a motivator, a light to guide the way. All of these are true, and I think it’s helpful to imagine what poems can help ourselves accomplish or pursue. But, I’m also curious about what poems themselves actively achieve within the space of their page, how they act as verbs. José Olivarez’s new collection, Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books), provides tremendous insight. The poems in this book question the meaning of words we use flippantly, they imagine what sanctuary and solidarity look like, and they give name to love’s countless shapes. In both his poems and in our interview, it’s clear that José actively thinks of himself in the context of several communities -- those of Chicagoans, family, Mexican and Latinx people, and poets, while considering what it means to be a citizen of these communities. In his own words, Olivarez writes, “[with] an ethic of reaching towards my people and giving us poems that make us feel powerful & dangerous.”


How are you doing? What's on your mind?

Thank you for asking. I feel pretty good. My book release party is in a month, and I just spent this whole weekend celebrating Fatimah Asghar's book, If They Come For Us. Fati said this thing yesterday about how we used to sit in our apartments in Logan Square together when we first met dreaming and reading all the books we loved, so for us to have books coming out within a month of each other and for Britteney Black Rose Kapri's book [Black Queer Hoe] to come out on the same day makes my eyes a little sweaty.


Your last book, Home Court, was co-authored with Ben Alfaro. What did you find similar or different about writing the two books?

Home Court was cool because it was my second attempt at putting together a collection with a friend. I also released a self-published and printed a  chapbook with Cydney Edwards called Seeing Double. With each project, I've gotten closer to articulating myself how I want. I had a reading for Seeing Double where I read a poem and afterwards someone came up to me and said they were sorry. I realized that what I thought was powerful about the poem wasn't conveying. I wasn't writing precisely enough, so I was giving people space to pity me and I hated that. I think the question I keep turning around my head is how to write about my histories, personal & communal, which include some trauma and violence, in a way that doesn't give people tourist access to pain. I want to write poems with a love ethic. With an ethic of reaching towards my people and giving us poems that make us feel powerful & dangerous.

Throughout the collection, there are a series of poems titled "Mexican Heaven", which repeatedly imagine what this place might look like. Some of these vignettes align with our expectations of heaven, and others challenge them. For example, one section where you say "all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean ... so heaven is gross." What are your thoughts on the way we imagine utopias, especially in speculative or futurist works?

Eve L. Ewing says that all of her poems are true stories. I don't consider my poems speculative. They are true.

I've seen on social media that you share a lot of Lucille Clifton's poems, and you make reference to reading her in "Summer Love.” What about her work speaks to you, and how do you think your poems are influenced by her own?


I love Lucille Clifton's poems. Her poems have an anthemic quality that is hard to reproduce without sacrificing the quality of the work. I love poets that make their poems look seamless. Ada Limón's writing is like this, too. I read Lucille Clifton's "moonchild," and I can imagine writing that poem. I am capable of a revelation like "only then did i know that to live / in the world all that i needed was / some small light and know that indeed / i would rise again and rise again to dance." Yet, that poem is very difficult to write. It turns out, I actually can't write that poem. So, I study her writing because I want to learn, and because I need her poems. Lucille Clifton's poems prepare me to face the world and win.  

One poem I keep coming back to is "When the Bill Collector Calls & I Do Not Have the Heart to Answer," because it's this imagined space where the speaker's current and younger selves meet each other and also exist at the same time. If you could spend a day with nine-year-old José, what would you do?

If I hung out with nine-year-old José, we would probably play a lot of video games. My homie's nephew is ten and when he comes over the house, we play a lot of video games. Video games were way worse when I was nine, so I'm sure I'd be impressed by the graphics of the games.  

On a serious tip, I wrote this book because I wish I had this book when I was a nine-year-old. At nine, I felt like I had to choose one identity and perform that identity to the max. I was always scared I wasn't manly enough or Mexican enough or American enough or whatever. I would have asked my nine-year-old self what was up, and I would have listened.

Poems like "(Citizen) (Illegal)" and "Mexican American Disambiguation" explore political or academic buzzwords that get used so often that we focus more on the words themselves than the people or topics they aim to represent. Are there any other words or phrases you've been thinking critically about that maybe didn't make it into the book?

All language is poetic. Martín Espada has this essay where he explains that the language of the War in Iraq is a type of bad poetry. What are “weapons of mass destruction”? It's imagery. I was listening to the radio one day years ago and they were talking about whether or not “advanced interrogation” is ethical. I had no idea what “advanced interrogation” was. Was it like an AP Test? Was it the scientific category for Final Jeopardy questions? They were talking about torture. “Advanced interrogation” is a dishonest way of saying torture.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about about the “wellness industrial complex” & how things get packaged as a product. Self-care, joy, body positivity, all of these words that are very important to me get eaten up by capitalism to sell me a product. I guess capitalism is deep on my mind.

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I love that in the acknowledgments, you mention that conversations with your students helped shape the poems in the collection. What did these conversations help you better understand about your work, or just about life?

Before working with Luis Carranza, Victoria Chávez Peralta, and Ken Muñoz, I was writing towards an ambiguous audience. I was writing towards my nine-year-old self, my teenage self. Luis, Victoria, and Ken gave my poems a real audience. They could tell me if I was off-base or wrong. They were a big part of workshopping these poems.

Their own work also opened up possibilities. Victoria has a beautiful poem about their mom and in it they use Spanish in a way that doesn't seek to translate. That poem helped clarify how I could write beyond a poetics of translation. Ken has a series of poems that take place within a Latinx grocery store in a gentrifying neighborhood. Those poems helped me think about a poem like “Gentefication.” Luis writes anthems and seeks to mobilize his community. All of those stories and styles were influential. They are fantastic writers in their own right.

For the folks in Chicago, where in the city would you most like folks to read this book, and what snacks should they have with them?

Haha. I love this question. Here's my ask, I want you to read this book on your favorite Lake Michigan beach. Bring a beach towel or a blanket and pack your favorite snacks. People have all sorts of dietary restrictions and allergies, so I'm not going to get too specific. If it was me, I'd be bringing some brown liquor, I'd bring peaches, ricotta, and some honey. Then you gotta read the poems out loud to the lake. If you have a group of friends, that's even better.

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Inside Issue #24: An Interview with Snail Mail

interview by Francesca Impastato
photos by A Klass

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Anyone that has ever spent time working in a studio knows that after thirteen-hour days of intently listening to music, when you finally get to leave for the night, the last thing you want to do is listen to more music. However, this past June, two days before my band would head to Baltimore, Maryland to record our own record, Snail Mail’s debut record Lush was released and I found myself not having enough hours in the day to listen to it. Songs like “Heat Wave”, “Stick”, and “Anytime” instilled a sense of queer longing I hadn’t felt since originally discovering Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous. For this reason, I was eager to have the opportunity to sit down with Lindsey Jordan at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss the in’s-and-out’s of Lush, and the lessons she’s taken away from touring thus far.



I want to start with talking about your use of pronouns lyrically. I read your interview with Liz Phair recently and you mentioned using “she” pronouns and feeling more comfortable using them but there are no she pronouns on the record -

Well there are “he” pronouns being thrown around that refer to this other guy that someone is dating. The pronouns are flowing free without there being any “she’s”.

You also refer to a couple of characters as “babe” and “my love” throughout the record and I’m interested in hearing about how you land on specific pet names to use while writing.

I think the song “Full Control”  is kind of condescending, but there are new Snail Mail songs I’ve been writing where I use “babe”, but I don’t use it very literally. I also use babe in a very loving way; I like that word a lot but that song itself is very condescending. Bob Dylan -- I’m not going to compare myself to Bob Dylan -- but he uses it in a way that’s a little bit of a bold and dismissive way. He uses “babe” in his break-up songs sometimes and I feel like I was just listening to a ton of Bob Dylan at the time and I think that’s where it stems from. I personally use babe in real life that’s not condescending.

It could be though, if some guy came up to you and was like, “hey babe” I’d definitely leave.

But I would never talk to someone I cared about like that. It’s not as warm as calling someone “your love” or “honey”. Babe, it’s just kinda cold.

Dang, that’s definitely one of my favorite breakup songs in a while.

So you said that there are new Snail Mail songs already - when you’re setting out to write a full length do you write songs and then pick the best ones, or do you write with themes and a sense of cohesiveness already in mind?

I feel like it’s more of the former, I just write and write and write until I have enough songs that I want to keep. Themes seem to crop up and I tend to stay within those natural thematic circles. But yeah, I more just write until I have the songs that I want to use and then stop.

When you were working on these songs are they usually done when you bring them to your bandmates or are they ideas that you flesh out as a group?

I pretty much finish them before I bring them to the band.

Do you give them part ideas and then they put their own touch on it?

Alex, Ray, and I are pretty collaborative when it comes to full band writing I just tweak it a lot. I usually let them run free and then critique it until it’s what I imagined it being.

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So if you had all these songs finished, what made you take “Stick” from the Habit EP and put it on Lush?

I wrote that song really close to when I recorded it, and I usually like to give songs many months to grow and to be changed.  I didn’t really give it any room to breathe. Then we started playing it live for a year or two and I noticed a lot of room in the song for cool production techniques. It just sounded way more expansive and cool. I had the idea of re-opening the conversation and working it out to see if it was usable and I sort of felt like it ended up being this whole other thing and I wanted to give it an opportunity to shine.

Since you brought it up - was Third Eye Blind an influence on your use of open tunings?

I actually didn’t know they used opening tunings until you just told me. I do like them though and this song is on our pre-show playlist.


So who did influence you to use open tunings?

Grouper records when I was in my early teens. Nick Drake and Mark Kozelek.

Not American Football?

No, I never had an American Football phase but I appreciate them.

You’ve been touring so much recently and are the only gay person in your band, do you ever feel drained not being around queer energy?

I think it’s funny because Alex and I are neighbors and some of our romantic pursuits intertwine. I don’t know how to say it, but I actually feel like I can relate to them a lot because we’re all interested in women and there’s not a lot of “interested in men” energy in the band.  Actually, in a way, I can relate to that more. Only because I grew up with Alex and Ray and Ian is my friend from home so we all grew up together in a very organic way. I really choose to surround myself with them. I hang out with a lot of non-men on tour, I have a lot of friends that I see along the way at festivals and stuff too. But as far as boy energy, I love the ones that I surround myself with.

I totally get the importance of having a really strong tour support system. I love touring with the guys in my band too.

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You played hockey, right? What was that like?

It was [formative], it was all I knew because I did it for so long and then chose to stop when I was a junior in high school because it didn’t really fit my personal interests anymore. I’ll always love it I just didn’t like being around those people all the time. You also need to dedicate so much time to it, it’s a really vigorous sport and I had other stuff to do. I just figured it wasn’t that important to my mature life but it was still a big part of my youth, and a big part of who I am.

I did street hockey in a league when I was growing up -

Yeah, I did too! In the third grade.

I did in the fifth grade and I was put on defense and someone hit the puck off off my shoe and it went into the goal which was scored as an own goal or something - and all the guys on the team made me feel so terrible about it so I never played again after that which is such a bummer, but definitely a huge character development.

It’s a really young age for that stuff to be happening, sports are hard. Young boys are super intense.

Okay - enough about sports, back to music.

Do lyrics or music come first while writing?

Music.

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So do you just have an idea and then whatever you’re feeling at the moment are what the lyrics are about?

I write the entire piece and arrange it, then write a vocal melody and lyrics which usually just come to me. I’ll start with a theme or an idea or emotion and build off of it but the whole song comes first.

I feel like a lot of the musicians I know or talk to are kind of the opposite. They’ll write a poem or something and try to attach music to it eventually.

I’ve only ever done that once.

Is it a song that’s out?

Yeah, it’s “Static Buzz.” - Man they need to turn off my playlist so I can focus.

How’d you pick songs for the playlist?

Oh man. The playlist is really long just because we have to listen to it every night on shuffle. We went on a tour with a band that only had ten songs on their playlist, and we were on tour with them for so long and it was insane. I put a lot of new bands on because I just wanted to spread the good word.

What new bands?

Well this is True Blue. Then there’s Alvvays, Dean Blunt, Princess Nokia, Sheer Mag, John Mouse, George Fitzgerald. There’s a Spongebob thing on there.

I’m happy you brought up Spongebob so I didn’t have to. Best show ever.

Totally, very formative.

I’m really bummed because I just moved here from New York so I won’t be in town for your shows with Alvvays. They’re great.

Oh no! They’re so good live, they don’t mess up at all it’s insane. We saw them at Coachella where it’s impossible to play a good set -- it’s not impossible but it’s just a weird environment. Festival soundchecks are very limited and all the bands we listened to that we knew sounded kinda off, but Alvvays was perfect and I was blown away.

You’re playing Madison Square Garden soon. Do you ever feel like you’re not taken seriously when you walk into these huge venues?

I think we are, like you mean by the staff?

Yeah. Do you feel like if you’re overly confident employees are standoffish?

I think when you’re the opener for a big band you’re not supposed to strutting like you’re really confident. We’ve made that mistake before where it really puts people off. For the most part, we get a lot of respect, it’s all about how you carry yourself and just demanding respect with your posture and being polite to the staff. Literally just being like, “this is what I’m here to do, set my stuff up, do it and then take it down” and people really respect that. As far as people in the crowd, I have no idea. I’m sure there’s disconnect because people aren’t there to see us but sometimes they are. It’s all about doing your thing and not really worrying, as long as you’re not being arrogant. I believe it’s a fine line and it’s possible to be arrogant. There’s certain things that we don’t do when we open that we will do when we headline and you know, just the way you carry yourself on stage when you open rather than when you headline is different. Being respectful when you play for someone else's audience is something and it’s a different set of manners and etiquette.


How was playing Coachella?

It was great, I love Coachella. The food is really good, the bands are really good. We got to see friends, hang out and party. We also got to be in California for the week between the two which was cool and then just did it again the next weekend. I got to see Beyoncé and got paid for it, it was sick.

see the whole issue here.

WHO TO SEE: Hooligan's Favorites at Audiotree Music Festival

Audiotree Music Festival is returning to Kalamazoo, Michigan
to showcase new and emerging artists, all curated by Audiotree Live.
Hooligan writers decided to highlight the artists we're most excited about.

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Khruangbin

 

Saturday / Main Stage
7:30 PM

By Colin Smith

Describing the three-piece instrumental outfit Khruangbin to a friend typically includes listing
several genres: soul, funk, psychedelic, surf, ‘60s Thai music, acid rock, jazz. Pick your favorite combination of the list and you’ll be describing at least one of their songs. The trio from Houston, Texas initially started in part by discovering a shared love for Afghan music and playing in a gospel band. That might alone is an indicator of their wide array of influences. What’s especially impressive about the band is how full they’ve crafted their sound with just three members. They are largely an “instrumental” band, to describe them reductively, but you’ll often forget to think about the fact there’s no singer.

You’ll Dig it If You Like:
Music that not defies genres through their shared love for music of all forms.
Because they are inspired by so much of the world’s music, they have something for everybody.


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Diet Cig

Saturday / Main Stage
5:00 PM 


By Caitlin Wolper

Diet Cig combines saccharine pop with substantive, revengeful lyrics like "I want to hold a seance / For every heart I've broken / Put them all in a room / And say 'Get over it.'" A whimsical duo, Diet Cig's Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman make music for people who know what it's like to be dainty and angry all at the same time. While their music slips into the indie pop category, there are punk inflections layered throughout, creating a familiarly DIY vibe. 

You’ll Dig It If You Like: Charly Bliss, Speedy Ortiz, and Palehound.


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Melkbelly

Saturday / Main Stage /
1:45 PM

By Anna White

Chicago-based Melkbelly is a noise-rock family band, composed of Miranda Winters, her husband Bart Winters, his brother Liam Winters, and close friend James Wentzel. Their 2017 full-length debut, “Nothing Valley”, is simultaneously sludgy and jagged, all angular guitar lines and dark fuzz. It’s sometimes hard to make out exactly what Miranda is sing-talking through the haze, but her delivery carries more than enough power on its own, careening from melodic to frenzied as she barks and whines over the calculated din. You’re going to want to be near the front for this one, and get ready to sweat.

You’ll dig this if you like: Sonic Youth, The Breeders, art school experimental punk 


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Common Holly

Sunday / Main Stage
12:00 PM

by Jessica Mindrum

It's not too often that I find an artist where after hearing just one song I know I'm in for it. But I was when I first heard Common Holly after her song "Lullaby" from her debut full-length "Playing House" popped up on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. One line in particular stayed with me: "So if you give me your bad words, I'll take them quietly/They show me your pain, not a reflection of me." That profound human insight is something Common Holly shows throughout her entire record, in concise lines that make the world around you feel that much clearer. Her writing is then paired with instrumentation that ultimately creates a melancholy that is heart-wrenching but so addicting. She opens up the festival on Sunday--don't miss her.

You'll dig if you like: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Half Waif, Lucy Dacus, Big Thief 


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Major Murphy

Sunday / Main Stage
12:50 PM

by Genevieve Kane

Major Murphy is a trio from Grand Rapids that just released their much anticipated debut album, No. 1. Major Murphy has accumulated a following since the drop of their first EP Future Release backin 2015. It was a year later when they melted our minds with the single Mary, released in 2017. Major Murphy once again claimed a spot in our hearts and Spotify libraries. Their lyrics are melancholy, yet the songs themselves are dreamy and upbeat. You can tell that Major Murphy took their time crafting the album, the result of which is a very beautiful and honest repertoire of songs that are painfully relatable.

You'll dig this if you like: Midwestern DIY bands, such as Deeper and Slow Pulp, that make music you can dance and cry to at the same time.


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Slow Mass

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
5:45 PM 

 
by Sara McCall
 
Pulling from so many post-genres, it’s difficult to place Slow Mass as specifically post-anything. With a sound that moves through moments of serious rage, math-y guitars, beautiful yet gritty harmonies from singers Mercedes Webb and Dave Collis, powerful and impressive drumming, and some dark energy it’d be difficult to not be incredibly wowed by Slow Mass. If you want a new favorite Chicago post-hardcore band DON’T MISS THIS SET.
 
You’ll dig this if you like: Metz, Ovlov, or have rage in you at all.


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VV Lightbody

WIDR FM STAGE / Saturday
1:15 PM


Sometimes a musician comes along and you can feel their genius on every square inch of a record. Enter VV Lightbody, Chicago flautist and lyricist whose debut record Bathing Peach is so sharply composed and arranged it makes it one of the best releases from Chicago this summer.
VV Lightbody’s melodic lyrics sit atop a lush, vibe-y lounge-y sound producing a beautifully well done listening experience you’re gonna want to chill hard on. Don’t miss it.
 
You’ll dig this if you like: Caroline Says, Cate Le Bon, Weyes Blood, or if you're just stoked on some flute.
 


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Lume

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
2:15 PM

By Rivka Yeker

Chicago-based, Michigan-born post-rock band Lume is a set you don't want to miss. All-consuming in both sound and presence, they will hit you with long, melodic, passionate songs, all of which are inspired by a sort of contained chaos that is impossible to pinpoint the exact feeling of which it is. They are a band that tells a story through song, be sure to take the time to check out this mid-day explosion of sound.