Songwriting, Astrology, and DIY: A Conversation With Told Slant's Felix Walworth


via Bandcamp

By Gabrielle Diekhoff

There are innumerable nameless bands out there who can prick a tear or two from listeners’ eyes. The recipe for musically-induced water-works is a simple one – slap some classically sad-boy “come back and drink coffee with me in the rain, my sweet ex-girlfriend” lyrics atop abysmal chord progressions, and voila, you have a certified bummer-of-a-song that’s universally vague enough to result in some salt-soaked faces. (In other words, we have all cried to Bon Iver at some point in our lives, whether we want to admit it or not). But, there are those kinds of digestibly depressing jams, and then there are those which, in stark contrast, repeatedly punch you in the gut, rip your heart out with their fist, proceed to stomp on it, and leave it to wither like a raisin the sun. Told Slant is one of those rare bands that falls into the latter category – a category which, all jests aside, is a realm that revels in its sheer poetic vulnerability, and thus, is worth cherishing.

So far, the Brooklyn-based bedroom punk band has released two full-length LPs: Still Water in 2012, and Going By, which was released almost exactly a year ago in June 2016. Quite frankly, both have managed to ruin my life (in the best possible way, of course) with their stunningly radical honesty. The band’s frontperson and drummer, Felix Walworth (who uses gender neutral pronouns), manages to pave paths which permit access to the seemingly inaccessible facets of human emotion. I’m sure that, until I stumbled upon their Bandcamp, I had never encountered such deeply personal, romantic lyricism, simultaneously tinged with an unthreatening urgency, a yearning unfulfilled, a loss and a rawness that listeners would be forced to experience alongside Walworth. To me, the project was flawless. So much so, in fact, that after attending their sophomore album release show in Brooklyn last summer, I impulsively decided to tattoo their album artwork onto my body using a push-pin and some ink courtesy of a local craft store. I was hooked.

Fortunately for me, Walworth’s recent tour-dates with Hello Shark and Anna McClellan included a stop in Madison, Wisconsin, where they would play a harrowing solo set to a room full of teary-eyed listeners – including myself – sitting cross-legged on the floor of a co-op. Before the show, Walworth and I grabbed some coffee and perched ourselves near the lakeshore for what turned out to be more of a free-flowing conversation than a formal interview. Check out the conversation, which covers topics ranging from shitty piano lessons, astrology, and Blink-182, to the concept of safe spaces and the commodification of queer culture, below.


How long have you been on tour this go-round?

This is the 7th day – we left this past Monday. It’s a very short tour though. It’s an 11-day tour, very tame. I’m being nice to myself this time.


And this is a solo tour, right? Can you talk about the differences between being behind your drum kit and performing with a full band vs. being on stage with only a guitar?

There’s a huge difference in the feel of it and what’s possible to convey. It’s the same songs, regardless of the arrangement, and the words stay the same, so to a certain extent the content and the message remain the same. But, playing solo feels a lot more nerve-wracking and vulnerable. There’s no one to really hide behind, whereas there’s a veneer to the live band. First of all, when I’m with the band, I can trust the songs are going to sound [more or less] the same each night. I’m playing an instrument I’m more comfortable with, with a steadier sound system in venues that are well-equipped. So, that allows for shows to be more emphasized on performance, which I really like, and I think other people tend to like it [more]. But solo has a different, special quality to me. I can’t hide. It’s the way that the songs were originally written – performed in their barest state, where the focus is almost entirely on the lyrics, which is mostly what I emphasize in the songwriting process in the first place, or what I labor over most. So, sometimes it can feel like the full band is a really intentional, well-curated iteration of my music, but sometimes it can also feel like bells and whistles. It’s nice to be able to perform these things with no frills, knowing that even without excitement and energy that these songs still have meaning. And, maybe you can hone in on the somberness of them, more so, if you’re in a solo set. Also, whenever I play solo, no one talks, which is pretty amazing.

The main difference to me feels like, one of intimacy vs. polished-ness. The people who really appreciate the songs for what they are and what they have to say might actually prefer the solo sets, whereas the people who like guitars and, I don’t know, being a punk, prefer the full band. Not to disparage the full band – I like them both – but I feel like I always have to justify the solo sets.  


How did you start making music?

I took piano lessons when I was really young … I suppose that’s important information? But I’m pretty awful at piano to this day. Because I was instructed in it, I have this relationship to the instrument as work, like obligation, which didn’t feel particularly creative to me. So, you know, I would learn classical pieces and standard songs, and I wouldn’t write. I was also remarkably bad at sight-reading. I never had a knack for that, so a lot of what I would do at piano lessons was ear-training stuff. You know, sort of developing a sense of melody, chords, and a more abstract side to music, which I definitely do find applicable to what I do now.

I do think of myself as untrained, despite that early instruction. I picked up guitar by myself, picked up drums by myself – that was all self-taught. I guess I owe a bit of that to these piano lessons, in some way, but not in a classical sense … if that makes sense.
 

Yeah, I totally get that. I took violin lessons for 13 years and sight-reading was a total shitshow for me, too. I liked the violin at first, but after a while it just felt like a job, and I hated it, so I finally called it quits.

Yeah, I took piano lessons till I was in 9th grade, maybe? I forget when I started, but I was entering the time in my life when I was like, “I don’t wanna play piano, I wanna drink 40s and smoke blunts in the park…like, I have bad shit to do. I don’t wanna be a pianist, that shit is for nerds.” [laughs] But now you look back and like, how sick would it be if you could shred the violin and I could read music? I would be really employable. Another true story of 40s and blunts and stuff like that, leading us to make bad decisions. [laughs]
 

Can you tell me a little bit about The Epoch? I don’t know if this is still a project, or if it disbanded, because I’ve heard different things … but how did you get involved in that?

No, it’s not still a thing. It’s sort of, well, it’s a bit of an unclear thing from the get-go. I grew up with a lot of the people that I still collaborate with. We were all making music together in high school, and we had shitty rock bands that we would play in together, but we also had individual song-writing projects and we grew up sharing our songs with each other and critiquing each other. And, ya know, we were showing up for each other not only to encourage each other to make stronger work, but also just to be friends. We were all around the same age, and most of us went to different colleges when we were 18. So, the Epoch began as a way of keeping in touch and maintaining that feel of community and connectedness even though we were living in different cities. So, we were like, we’re still these really similarly-minded songwriters, but we no longer play all of these shows together. It was more of a promise, if that makes sense. Then, from there, we all ended up moving back to Brooklyn [4 years later], and it was just this umbrella collective-thing. We were like, our projects are all related, people ought to know this.

I thought first and foremost that it served as a good model for people, especially people in other cities where collectivity is more important or rarer than it is in New York. It was a way to say, hey, you can very easily get together and make art together and be supportive, all you really need are a couple of friends and the will to do it. We would get funny messages where people would be like, “How do I join the Epoch?” And it wasn’t like that. There was no joining or not – it wasn’t a label, it was just like, we’ve been doing this thing together and have formed a bond in this way. So, if that’s a useful model for you, you can do something similar. I guess the other thing that was sort of unique about it was it was that it was just a small handful of bands, but also a small handful of people. Everyone was rotating around a primary songwriter. So, having a model where everyone came together to fully articulate one songwriter’s vision was a really cool idea. The arrangement there was that, sure, you may be taking a backseat on this project, but you know that the person you’re backing up is also going to take a backseat in your project when you need them. So, yeah. I think it served as a non-hierarchical organizational model, which I liked.

But, as a result of it being this sort of vague entity that was more or less just friends who did this thing together, it didn’t really survive conflict and bad communication.  I don’t really want to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I think that when it started to become this thing that resembled more of a brand than anything else, and there became power and social capital attached to it. It became this unwieldy machine that made people feel hurt or excluded, which was the opposite of its intention. So, you know, it became this thing that was like, “how is this even functioning anymore, is this doing any good? Or is this just making it harder to communicate with each other?” So, we were just like, “let’s not.” If that makes sense.
 

Told Slant’s sound is so unique. I’ve spent so much time scouring the internet for similar-sounding bands, but aside from other musicians you work with (Bellows, Small Wonder, etc.), it’s super difficult. From where do you draw inspiration?

A lot of it comes from people I’ve been collaborating with forever. Like, Oliver is someone in particular. I feel like our styles have bounced off of one another a lot, over the years.
 

Yeah, I dig Bellows too.

Oliver is…an amazing songwriter. I think he has definitely taught me how to take more risks. I don’t know if he knows he has taught me to take more risks, but sometimes I feel like Bellows is a riskier project, in a lot of ways. He does a lot of strange things that, you know, a lot of songwriters would be afraid to do, but he really succeeds. And I think that’s really pushed me to try different ideas out, rather than playing it safer. But, in terms of other people, Lincoln from Hello Shark has been a huge inspiration. And another band that has been super formative for me is Attic Abasement. Mike’s songwriting is incredible.

Also, I used to write more “traditional” folky music, and it was a bit wordier, in that sort of Kimya Dawson/Jeffery Lewis vein, when I was in high school. There were a lot of fast chords. I’m hesitant to call it folk punk, because I never really felt like a folk punk. But, hearing songwriters who allowed their songs to take up a lot more space and who approach writing lyrics with heaviness that felt emotionally risky – that was pretty formative for me, too. You know like, Phil Elverum, or Joanna Newsom when she drops an intimate lyric bomb on you. Artists like that showed me that there was space outside of cleverness or wordplay or craft. It sort of ceased to be about rhyming or meter. I don’t know, I think just used to try to be a little bit more clever, and now I’m more interested in…. [pause]
 

Vulnerability?

Yeah! Vulnerability is a good way to put it. Also just like, trying to find secret paths to feelings that we have and don’t exactly know how to describe well.


Sounds like an Aquarius thing of you to say.

[laughs] You know what I mean, though? It’s so easy to fall into cliché or to say something like, “I miss you,” for example. “I miss you” is this huge thing as a songwriter. Probably 25 percent of songs in existence are trying to say, “I miss you.” And, I think usually, “I miss you” doesn’t cut it. You can’t really just say it. I mean, Blink-182 did it [laughs]. But like, how do you get at that feeling of longing or sadness in relation to a person, like a lacking feeling, without treading where so many people have already tread? I think I’m interested in things like that.


I mean, you do that well. One of the first things about Told Slant that caught my attention were the lyrics. Especially when it comes to ideas of identity and self-expression, you manage to articulate the feelings associated with that so successfully – a lot of your songs just hit the nail on the head. I know that, as a listener, I lean on them. I use them to feel and express things that I don’t exactly know how to, otherwise, like gender identity, sexuality, etc.

Sure.


Do you rely on your own songwriting for that kind of thing? Do you use it as a tool for self-expression?  

I don’t know… that’s an interesting question and a question I hear from people a lot. Like, this relationship between writing and self-therapy, almost. You know what I mean? Like, “is songwriting helping you?” And I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if I rely on songwriting to articulate things to myself; I think I rely more on other people’s songwriting for that, honestly. My songwriting isn’t necessarily revelatory for me. It’s satisfying. There’s that moment when you’re like …. [pause] OK, is it tacky if I use one of my own lyrics as an example? Or my relationship to writing a lyric, recently?


No! Go for it. I’m here for this.

Ok, so I wrote this song recently as a collaborative project with my friend James, who makes beats under the name JCW. I sort of just wanted to write a sappy love song, which I don’t usually do. I feel like most of my songs trudge through something, but with this one I was in a place where I was like, “this is appropriate right now,” and I wanted to write something that was going to shine a little bit of light in a more blatant way. You know, I was trying to convey this feeling of like – you know when you’re hanging out with someone, and you have these really strong, exciting feelings for them, but you haven’t really established them? Like, you haven’t kissed or anything or you haven’t said “I like you” or anything so you’re just like, “unnghhhhh.” It’s like one of the sweetest, nicest feelings but it’s also very difficult to articulate. Like, how do you convey that giddiness without saying something stupid like “giddiness.” I would never say that in a song. And, no one would care if I did because it wouldn’t be an interesting way of saying that. But I ended up on this lyric, which was “I want the space between us on the couch to be the loudest thing on earth, to be so heavy that it hurts.” Do you know what I mean when I say that?


Yeah, I do. It just melted my heart a little bit.

[laughs] Thanks. But, I mean, this is why I feel tacky, because I’m using my own lyric, feeling as I’ve succeeded, but in that moment I was like, I found this secret access point to this feeling through this smaller image. I was able to say so much more than I could have by being more poetic than that, or something. Getting at the biggest possible feeling through the smallest possible description just makes me feel really good. I think it’s much more impactful to sneak up on people.


Right, more memorable, too. Though I guess you can lump those together.

Yeah. I’m hesitant to say ‘relatable,’ because I feel like relatability has to do with that, and a lot of good songwriting needs to leave space for the audience to write onto it, and to be in it. But, it’s a different kind of relatability. It’s not this instant recognition of like, “Oh, that’s me.” I prefer to use specific details about my life, or sort of mundane feelings or images that are too specific on their own to be relatable, but in the context of the song or the melody, can trigger a feeling or something. It’s difficult to talk about.


So, as an artist in the DIY community, how important is it to you that your shows are a safe space? Are there ways in which you try to ensure that they are safe?

That is really important to me. But, it’s also such a difficult thing to create. I’m not sure I believe that I can say that my shows ought to be a safe space, or are. I would never claim that. I don’t think it’s responsible to claim that because I think that anyone has the capacity to do harm. I don’t really believe in safe people. I’d like to believe that there are certain ways or directions that my songwriting would steer a listener toward that preclude certain behavior or discourages it, or encourages other ways of interacting with each other that are outside of harm, manipulation, and all of the things that, you know, we try to have alternative communities to combat ….  But there are people who interpret my music in ways that are out of my control, too.  I’ve had people at my shows where I can tell that they relate to certain songs in ways that I never meant them to, and ways that make me feel like the space isn’t safe – particularly songs that can be read as more bitter or aggressive. When certain people respond to certain songs – well, let me use a specific example. Do you know the song “Ohio Snow Falls?”
 

Yeah!

I feel like that song can be read as a sort of, “fuck you.” And, I think that can be useful sometimes, like, “fuck you” doesn’t necessarily mean that “I’m going to cause you harm,” but I just get a little uncomfortable.  It’s happened a few times – when like, a cis dude in the audience requests the song, or I’m playing the song and he responds to it in this really physical way. The song has a distorted guitar in it, and it’s a bit heavier, and I feel like I have to be responsible for the fact that I could writing a song for him to hate his girlfriend to or something, you know? Obviously, that’s not the song that I wrote, but at the same time, it’s his to take and do something bad with. So, when that’s happening at a show, I don’t know whether or not I can call it a safe space, exactly. The way that I’ve chosen to respond to that is reading the room, gauging the way I feel that people are responding to my music, and planning sets that won’t allow that kind of energy to be present. I’ve had to deny that song to people before because I’m like, “I don’t trust you and this song isn’t for you.”
 

For sure. I was at the Going By release show at Shea Stadium last summer, and that was, for a lot of reasons, so beautiful, and it really did feel like a comfortable space. But when I saw y’all later at the Bowery Ballroom show [with The Hotelier], there was a totally different vibe due to all of the cis white men in the room who were taking up so much space. I wasn’t able to be as present during your set because of the people who were around me.

Yeah, and I feel like I can confidently say that if I’m curating a show, that the space won’t have that kind of energy in it. But, you know, sometimes those guys will show up to a show that I’m headlining and, luckily, crucially, that’s a small demographic of people who listen to my music because it’s not written for them. Like, aside from the distorted guitars and the occasional “woe is me” lyric, there’s not a lot for them to relate to [laughs]. So, that’s good. I think that’s a victory. But to circle back and answer the question as it was asked, I believe in doing everything that is possible that you know how to do to create a culture of good communication and responsibility to one another in our spaces. But, I don’t believe that purity [of that] exists anywhere.
 

What are your thoughts on the notion that queer bands are “selling out” and commodifying their queerness?

Well, I want to tread lightly, because I want to assume that most people are not trying to sell queer identity. And, I don’t think that queer identity has much transactional value – except for when it does, which is strange and corrupted. I mean, as soon as capital is attached to anything, you’re going to get people who are trying to cash in. I think about this quite a bit because of the way in which my music is framed. Like, sometimes Told Slant is a queer band, sometimes it’s just a band; neither of those things make me uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t want to be “THE queer band,” you know?  

Usually in mainstream markets, queer art is still undervalued, and queer voices are underrepresented. Especially queer people whose identities are even further out on the margins, they’re even less able to turn those perspectives into actual material support from markets. But then, there are certain ways in which queer identities are tokenized in those markets and given some kind of value as commodity. The notion that there aren’t a lot of queer bands or that there is a scarcity of queer art is simply untrue. There’s this idea that there can only ever be one, that there’s one group that’s called upon to represent an array of lived experiences. That model, which is definitely a capitalist model, is responsible for disappointment. Like, what are you to do when a mainstream market, or the music industry, is only willing to give a voice to one queer perspective? And then you as the listener find the perspective doesn’t line up much [or at all] with your lived experience? Where are you supposed to turn? So, in the name of representing queerness, I think capitalism is super limiting, or provides this really limited feel. Then there’s the question of like, who is responsible for that commodification? Is it an industry? Or is it the artists involved in that? Or both at the same time? If the industry wants to tokenize a certain brand of queer identity, and an artist fills that certain narrative for media, I’m not sure that… Well, actually I don’t think assigning blame is the solution. It’s just kind of sad situation in general. That’s the process of commodification.
 

I know from personal experience that your music can be majorly impactful and meaningful, especially to members of the queer community. Do you have a lot of fans telling you how much your art means to them? If so, how do you react in these instances?

I get quite a few people who have come up to me and told me that the music I make, and specifically the words that I write, have helped them through a lot of confusing relationships that they have had with gender, sexuality, and other things. And I don’t know, I never feel like – and I think this is a good thing – I don’t feel like people look to my music as representative of THE queer experience. There’s a difference between finding a queer voice that speaks to you, and looking for some kind of all-encompassing map for how to live. People don’t ask me for advice or things, really. People don’t really come to me with their problems, though that’s happened a few times …  I mean, OK, there’s a fair share of people who will lay it all out there for me, and I try to be helpful where I can, though those expectations aren’t always realistic. Like, a lot of what I’m writing is about confusion and uncertainty, it’s not coming from a place of having things figured out. I don’t record with an understanding of myself or my relationship with other people, I just like talking about them, if that makes sense?
 

Yeah, I think so. So do you ever feel like you’re put on a pedestal?

I don’t really think I’m put in an uncomfortable spotlight with regards to the things I’m trying to talk about with my music. I’m not trying to speak for anyone. I think people understand that. I’m not saying that my lyrics don’t coincidentally speak to others’ experiences, but I’m not really on a pedestal. And that’s good. I think there are a lot of dangerous things that can happen when you’re put on that pedestal and you don’t reckon with the responsibility that comes with being on it.

If/when I have a relationship to certain artist’s lyrics, and I feel like this person truly understands me or something, like they’ve lived my experiences and their words can serve as a map for me, a lot of those times I don’t have access to those people as people. They just exist as voices in headphones. But I’m like, fairly easy to hunt down if you want to find me, and I’m open to talking to people. So, sometimes people do talk to me when I’ve been able to reach them artistically, and I think people might expect me to know how to comfort them. Like, if someone is going through something really rough, and if they have a connection with my songwriting, then they think that talking to me is going to help, which is weird. I don’t think that’s really true. I mean, maybe it could be sometimes. I get some weird stuff though. Sometimes people will tell me deeply personal things that I shouldn’t know, and that I end up carrying with me, and they’re extra heavy … And it’s hard. But, I also understand why people do that, I guess. If people have a relationship to the artist’s words, I understand why they would reach out. Sometimes it’s like I just know a lot about a lot of people who do not know me at all. People know a very specific part of me, a part of me that is put through so many filters and curatorial processes, and somehow there’s trust. And I don’t know why. That’s dangerous – really dangerous. And it has something to do with cults of personality around people who have any level of publicness with their art. People project things onto celebrities, but they also project them onto DIY musicians. People think they can trust DIY musicians because they feel like they can trust the art. I think it’s strange that anyone would trust me because of my art. I just see a projection of certain ideas onto people because of the art that they make, or the ways they exist in the public sphere, which are so curated and performative.  I see it with so many artists where there is potential to cause real harm.
 

Totally. This has been a major point in the whole P*R B**M debacle.

Right. I’m feeling very cynical these days. I think it’s a very cynical time in DIY Hell. I’m just feeling like, I don’t trust people to not project unrealistic things onto artists, and I don’t trust artists to keep those narratives in check. I’m kind of a nihilist at this point, but I’m still holding on to some hope that things will get better.



You can keep up with Told Slant here and stream both Still Water and Going By on Spotify.


INTERVIEW: Kamikaze Girls' "Seafoam" and The Healing Power of Punk


COURTESY OF KAMIKAZE GIRLS

COURTESY OF KAMIKAZE GIRLS


By Rosie Accola

Kamikaze Girls’ first full-length record, Seafoam, is aptly named it crashes into the listener, a direct confrontation of feedback and lead singer/ guitarist Lucinda Livingstone’s powerfully raw vocals. This is a record that demands to be heard, Livingstone’s lyrics address societal and personal perceptions of mental health, without so much as a flinch.

Hooligan was lucky enough to catch up with Lucinda over email to talk about the new record, her zine “Ladyfuzz,” the healing power of punk, and pedal-boards.
 

I hear a lot of riot grrrl in your new record, and you reference Robert Smith at one point in “Seafoam”, who are some musicians that inspire you? What were some of your main inspirations for this record?
A couple of big ones for us are The Cure and Sonic Youth. We both really enjoy both bands, as their discography is so varied and they reinvent themselves each album. Both bands are very experimental, yet remain melodic and catchy in their own ways and that's what we take from each. Early Riot Grrrl like Bikini Kill, Sleeper, and L7 is also a big influence, as well as a lot of grunge and Brit pop. I think for me personally, this time around I was hammering the new Touche Amore record, plus revisiting Dirty by Sonic Youth.

How do you think you grew as musicians between the release of “Sad” and your full-length record?
I think the main thing we did was tour and play a bunch. We didn't practice once in 2016 I don't think, we just toured. Everything became muscle memory, and I don't regard myself as a great guitarist or a good vocalist by any stretch. So, from touring I got a whole lot better at playing guitar and singing. I can't really say I've become great, but I have definitely improved in those areas. I think Conor got super tight as a drummer as well. I suppose we'd like to think that when we both got back in the studio and into writing we were both more accomplished musicians. I know one of the things I felt is that I wanted to get out my own head a little more with lyrics. Everything I write is super personal, and although I don't see that changing as it's my writing style, I feel more socially aware and a little braver talking about things that are affecting our generation and our music scene.

Since your zine is called “Lady Fuzz,” would you do me the honor of walking me through your pedalboard set up?
Honour? More like misfortune! I won't go into it too in depth as it'll take up the whole page, but here's my current chain:  Fulltone Drive 2, Blues Driver, EHX Pog 2, Boss Super Chorus, Boss DD7 Delay, Strymon Blue Sky Reverb, Boss RE20, EHX Freeze, EHX Switch Blade (A/B Splitter). This is pretty much identical give or take to what was used on Seafoam. My set up for SAD was a little more modest, haha.

Tell me about “Lady Fuzz.” What’s your favorite thing about making zines?
I like showcasing all my friends work, and that's what “Ladyfuzz" is. I round up creative friends for each issue and ask them to contribute, be it art, illustration, photography, music. I also interview a lot of my friends in bands, which has made for some really great features in previous issues and I see a different side of them. The next best thing is going to pick it up from the printers and praying that I've not made a million mistakes — and that even if I have, it still looks great aha.

How did you discover zines?  Do you have a favorite zine?
I can't really remember how I discovered them to be honest. I remember all the old Riot Grrrl zines from the ‘80s but I never actually owned any of them, I just enjoyed reading about them. I think as I started to get more into Riot Grrrl music and look deeper into feminism and the culture of non-males in punk, I discovered more and more people making zines. As an illustrator and musician, I think a zine fuses these two things together perfectly, so it was a chance for me to have a project based on the two things I love.

One of the tracks on the record is called “Teenage Feelings,” how do you think ideas of teen angst and just being saturated with emotion translate into your twenties and life beyond being a teen?
The song itself is about struggling with sexuality and being confused, and that confusion taking you back to square one — like when you had your first crush. I was in a situation last year when this happened, and caught myself thinking, “My god, how is this happening to me again?” I think, in a way, when you get new feelings about something or someone you almost revert back to the first time that happened and act in the same way. So, for me at the time I had a lot of angst, and confusion and shyness that I didn't expect. I don't think that's a bad thing though.

I love that you wrote a song about cat-calling and feeling unsafe at bars, because that’s such a common experience and people are reluctant to talk about it. Do you find that music helps you process instances of misogyny and sexism?  
“KG Go To The Pub” is a big “fuck you” to every predator out there that's caused a survivor harm or discomfort in any way. The song is to get that anger out. For every time you've wanted to shout something back, to call someone out, or just express that you're hurt by someone’s actions. I think music can help. I think going to a show and getting out your anger and sadness can heal you. We feel things, often very deeply, and sometimes we need an outlet for closure.

You write a lot about your own mental health, and in “Deathcap” you refer to yourself as, “one of those nervous millennials,” how do you think attitudes towards mental health have changed over time?
I think it's becoming less taboo, but I also feel that it's often glamourized in the media. I don't think there's a right answer for how increase awareness for a younger generation without making it either sound stigmatic or beautiful. The truth is that a lot of people suffer with mental health and they deserve the help people that suffer with physical health receive. I think people need to see the reasons why someone might suffer with depression, anxiety, or PTSD so they can understand if they are suffering themselves. I was diagnosed with depression when I was a teenager, and I didn't understand the symptoms or why the Doctor told me that. I just took the pills they gave me and did what I was told. There was no educational piece around it, and my school was just more worried about me passing my exams and not getting pregnant than how my brain was behaving at the time. I really hope they start to bring more mental health education into schools. It's important.

Do you find music and writing to be healing forces?
Yes, completely. Music was my thing growing up and it stayed with me. I was the kid that walked around all day with my headphones in, or put my headphones up my sleeve in class so I could listen to my favourite C.D. instead of paying attention to science or something. If I didn't have headphones, I used to sing my way through albums in my head. That sounds weird now that I think of it, but everything I did revolved around music.  The second I got a guitar and started trying to write songs, I knew it had a healing power for me. I don't think it makes a difference what age I am, or if I'm in a band or not, the art of writing songs will always be therapeutic for me.

What part of this record are you the most proud of?
That’s a tough question— probably the vocals on “KG Pub” and “Sad Forever.” I did them both in one take in the middle of the night on the last day in the studio. Bob, Conor and myself were stressed. It didn't seem like we were going to finish the record, we'd run out of time, and Bob had people coming in to track another record straight after us. We were all at the end of our tethers, and I did them both in one take. I came back into the control room and they were both beaming at me. I think the emotion and anger in both those songs really affected me that night, and I don't know if it will come across on the record, but I was physically shaking after I'd done the vocals on those two.

You can stream Seafoam on Spotify today. You can snag a copy of “Ladyfuzz” here.


Restoring Queer Narratives in Art with Re-gayze

Interview by Deborah Krieger.

When I heard that Blake Oetting, a member of the Swarthmore Class of 2018 and an art historian, was working on a project that aimed to shed a light on queer artists’ identities within the contexts of their works, I was immediately intrigued. Featuring artists ranging from Mickalene Thomas to Jasper Johns to Michelangelo, Re-gayze uses Instagram (and an eponymous website) to share thoughtful, informative blurbs on these artists whose queerness has been erased or censored by time, by history, or by design, in the world of academia and education. I reached out to Blake to talk about his development of Re-gayze, and why the project is vital and necessary for art historians, artists, and art enthusiasts alike.

How did you come up with the idea for this project?  

The project arose chiefly out of my own frustrations with my own art history education not making room for queerness as a thematic consideration within the work of queer artists. Often, an artist’s sexuality is offered as a coincidental and biographical tidbit of information that stands separate from their works’ meaning. Intuitively, I assumed that this was reductive and chose to investigate whether there was any scholarly work standing at the intersection of queer theory and art history. There certainly is, but that work exists within the work of academia mostly, so with Re-gayze, I was hoping to disseminate that information done by scholars in a more democratic fashion. 

What made you realize that there was this pedagogical and historical gap, and how did you decide on this project to fix the problem? 

I also saw a number of articles and talks given by Jonathan David Katz who presents queer art historical work within the context of censorship from museums and other arts institutions. I thought that distilling that spirit of his work, of exhuming the importance of queerness to queer artists’ work, and presenting it as a form of resistance to institutional censorship on a widely available platform like Instagram could potentially get a discussion started around issues of representation in museums for not only queer and trans people, but also for women, people of color, and any marginalized community that falls outside of the dominant milieu. 

On a larger note, how do you feel like queer artists and their lives should be better incorporated into existing canon? (I know women in art history have this kind of question thrown at them all time.)

I think that part of this movement will naturally “out” artists who are deceased, which often stands against the wishes of these artists’ foundations and families but nevertheless must be done. It seems that this process of “outing,” however, has been appropriately centered on understanding their work more fully and not about making a spectacle of their closeted live just for the sake of it. More importantly than focusing on the outing of individual artists, however, is that curators must center shows on issues of queerness in an unabashed, fearless manner. Because of course, the issue of queer censorship in museums is not only a lack of representation, but also the idea that queer identity can not be mapped onto artwork in the same way that issues of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. are done freely.  

Due to the lack of this kind of focus on queer artists specifically in traditional education, how did you begin your own investigation into the lives of these artists like Johns, etc? 

There really is a lot of scholarship on queerness and intersections of verbose queer theory and aesthetics, which is fascinating. Much of what I do on the blog is try and read as much as I can on a specific artist or queer theme within artistic production and distill that into a succinct caption. So, in general, I would say that process of researching the work to producing a blog post is figuring out to best democratize rather esoteric scholarly work.  

How did you come up with the title? 

Every art history student will (hopefully) learn about the male gaze at some point in their career. At some point though, after hearing the term so many times, I began to think people were saying “the male gays,” so the name really came from a joke! On one hand, it reference the queer gaze, which comes up throughout the blog, but also be re-casting this gayze, by re-gayzing, I am making explicit the idea of the blog being a revisionist consideration of modern & contemporary art with a queer lens.  

How do you choose which artists to feature? 

I have a whole set of books in my room that I consult every day to seek out potential artists, but I also receive ideas from my friends and professors about people to feature. I highly encourage submissions! There are so many amazing queer artists that, as a product of their erasure by the art world, are not discussed as widely as they should be, so I depend on people sharing their knowledge with me. 

How far in advance do you plan posts? 

I don’t plan posts ahead of time at all! Every day is a bit of a scramble to fit all the moving pieces together. It really is a lot more work than I thought it would be when beginning the project and I can’t post every day, but I try to. 

Do you want to move Re-Gayze into a more physical form, such as an exhibition or installation, or do you think it really relies on being digital? 

At this point, I think it is most appropriate to stay digital. While it would be amazing to publish a physical production at some point, the platforms on Instagram and Facebook are the most able to reach a large audience I think. 

What made you choose Instagram as a platform? Have you considered Tumblr? I think it might be really good for getting people to share the posts (better than Instagram anyway). 

I chose Instagram and Facebook as the initial platforms to pursue because I was most familiar with them as places where other social campaigns functioned. I have definitely considered expanding to Tumblr, the only issue being I don’t know how to advertise there as effectively. 

As you amass more images and posts in your collection, do you plan to curate it further in any way (creating a section related to AIDS art/activism specifically for example)? 

I have definitely considered doing special projects as offshoots of Re-gayze once I assemble enough material, but I don’t think I’ll know what those will look like thematically until farther down the road. 

Are there media you find yourself drawn to more than others for this project? 

While I have definitely tried to maintain a fairly equal distribution of painting, photography, sculpture etc., the medium that I have become the most invested in is performance, mostly because it is brand new for me. I find that the performance pieces I have looked at are able to articulate entirely new meanings through their incorporation of movement and space in ways that are impossible in a static context. Similarly, video pieces [like those by] Jacolby Satterwhite have been highly influential for this project. 

Do you hope to continue Re-gayze after Swarthmore? How does this kind of academic work factor into your future goals?

I would absolutely love to continue the blog after graduation, as I think there are many avenues to expand and improve it when I have more time. After Swarthmore, I definitely plan on getting a doctorate and working to be a curator of 20th century art, so Re-gayze is also, in some sense, preparing me for my professional life but it chiefly a project for the art world and queer communities searching for representation throughout visual history.  

Photo courtesy of Blake Oetting.

Photo courtesy of Blake Oetting.

What kind of feedback have you received on your work so far? How have you taken it to heart, if at all? 

I have received a lot of support from friends, professors, and some of the featured artists. It seems that my suspicion, that queer people have been looking for an account (like I was) is indeed the case. This support has been so encouraging because, again, the entire point of the blog was situating queer people within art history, so the fact that this made queer people in and out of the art world is incredibly satisfying for me. 

What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with Re-gayze? 

The goal with Re-gayze has, and always will be, dissemination and (an attempt) at education. It is absolutely crucial that queer people understand themselves as a part of art history, both as subjects and artists. Beyond the important issue of representation, however, Re-gayze also hopes to literally and metaphorically queer the art world as a means of bringing queer themes into formal art history discourse. The reason the captions are quite lengthy and attempt to cover a lot of scholarly ground is that this account is really aimed at speaking in the language of the art history discipline to show how queerness has been and can be a part of that discussion. 

INTERVIEW: Emily Blue

By Cody Corrall

Emily Blue is a force to be reckoned with. Her debut album, Another Angry Woman, was a vulnerable look into rape culture and being a woman in this day and age. Another Angry Woman was entirely nonprofit, with all proceeds going to R.A.C.E.S: the Rape Advocacy, Counseling, and Education Services in Illinois. She is also the frontwoman of two Illinois based Indie bands: BOYCUT, and Tara Terra, who just released their newest album Where’s Your Light? n May. 

Since then, Emily Blue has been on a musical evolution. Her newest singles, “Blackberries // Rico Acid” have a more summer pop flavor, but don’t hold back on the messages from her earlier work. We sat down with Emily to talk about growth, her advocacy work, and her love for Chicago.

Photos by Emily Blue

Photos by Emily Blue


Your music has really evolved since Another Angry Woman, how has your growth as an artist changed and/or evolved your sound?

After Another Angry Woman came out, I felt absolutely drained. I had put all my time and effort into raising funds for R.A.C.E.S. + the album, in addition to talking repeatedly about multiple traumas. So honestly, I wanted to move toward an outlet that felt joyful, empowered, and fun. 

I went to Chicago partially because I wanted to run away from the things that had happened to me -- I was overwhelmed and needed a change. I met my friend Max Perenchio and we started working on these crazy pop tunes, and I fell in love with production and pop music all over again. I’d say I evolved into an artist that wants to spread joy and move forward, to dance around and be silly. There’s so much value in being able to have fun, laugh.

You strive for activism and social change, especially with your work with R.A.C.E.S. Do you think your music is political? Do you revel in that label or do you try to distance the art from the activism?

I think my music is extremely personal, but you know the expression, “the personal is political.” I view my traumas as a reflection of a society that perpetuates very similar traumas. I don’t try to make it inherently political, but of course art always plays a role in the political climate.

At the end of the day I want Another Angry Woman to support survivors, to resonate with them. I want it to challenge rape culture and gender inequality.

I really respect how you acknowledge other experiences and identities, specifically in the "No Pain" video. Why is that so important to you as an artist who speaks on issues like this?

I think that it’s vital to acknowledge that our experiences differ based on our identities. For example, I have the huge privilege of being white and cisgender. This means that I’m less vulnerable statistically to certain types of violence and discrimination. In the video, I just wanted to open it up to anyone who was dealing with the pain of sexual assault. Sexual assault rates intersect in very complex ways based on identities, with trans people of color being perhaps the most vulnerable. We definitely don’t talk about it enough.

How does Chicago act as a home-base for your work? What do you love about the music scene here?

Chicago is beautiful. In my heart, Chicago is this electric entity with tons of different personalities and infinite avenues to explore. I love the hip hop scene especially, because everyone is so genuine, so supportive. I love the artists in the city and cannot wait to dive in even more.

You can buy Another Angry Woman, Blackberries // Rico Acid, or see her live in Chicago on 6/16 at Martyr's supporting Matthew Santos and Christopher the Conquered.

Artist Profile: Udita Upadhyaya

Words & Cloth, An Afternoon with Udita Upadhyaya

By Allison Shyer

Vibhajan II: Revisiting the Line

Vibhajan II: Revisiting the Line

I feel like I’m always performing everything even when nobody’s looking.

Udita Upadhyaya and I are in the living room. We are both slightly disheveled and drinking cold coffee. The first time we met was at a symposium on art and labor at Hume Gallery, Trump had recently been elected, we were all feeling exhausted and inconsolable. As I would grow to know Udita better, I would come to understand that she sees her work as both labor and play, a practice that allows her to be in touch with the unfamiliar within herself and outside.

An Inventory : Remnants from a constellation of lived performances

An Inventory : Remnants from a constellation of lived performances

The day of our interview Udita and I took a walk around gloomy Humboldt park. The air was humming with newness as well as uncertainty; I have often felt that it is the ability to thrive in this climate that has brought Udita and I together as artists and friends. 

What struck me first about Udita was her brash vulnerability, her ability to navigate her own emotion and where it fits into the climate of art and the broader world. Udita’s work exists at the intersection of the body, language and material exploration -- her recent work  An Inventory: Remnants From a Constellation of Lived Performances exists in synchronicity with its viewers, who are instructed to stand in front of the large panels of scattered text and read them out loud. The language of the piece--bodily and intimate--exists in English with scattered flecks of Hindi, words that were important to the feeling of the text but lacking in English translations that did them justice.

Instead of flattening their meaning, Udita chose to include them as they were to her and without translation in her body of text. Translation, and the mystery and pain that can lie on either side of that process, are a driving force for Udita. Language itself, a churning mystery, an inheritance, a wound, a body.

Udita: English is our language too and English is as much mine as it is anybody else’s. I have been feeling guilty about losing Hindi and I have been trying to figure out why, and I think it comes from [the feeling that]  “oh that’s the language of the colonizers.” that’s an important thing to talk about in post colonial identity -- I'm not speaking someone else's language, I am speaking my own- there’s a complicated history with it but it's mine.”

Much of Udita’s work exists as an inventory of what is hers and what is not quite hers, what is available to her as an artist who exists between two languages is a sense of mystery and mutability. This yearning leads Udita to deconstruction. The intimate textile work You Gift Me Your Spine is a process based exploration of a material through its undoing. The material, treated with utmost care, still diminishes with every time the work is shown.

You Gift Me Your Spine

You Gift Me Your Spine

Udita: I thought of it as a performative process where I was unmaking it with my hands and giving myself permission to interact with it and it started to become very much like text, and this idea of loss and language and I started thinking about how I’m losing my mother tongue--which is not my first language. When I talk about it, it sounds super nostalgic but for me, it comes from this place of feeling frustrated that I could have access to this entire literature from this language because I can’t read it anymore

In this way, the fabric, much like a language slipping from memory, remains familiar while becoming unknown, the structure, laid bare, gives hints in its undoing towards its former use and retains its own obtuse beauty. Udita’s poetic approach to material and abstract approach to language let her treat every object that she encounters like a poem. Later in the day she asked me “do you know how to make rope?” The process for her was so simple that it was revolutionary: wind thread around two pencils and twist, but the exercise must be done by two people in unison. Udita has taught me that an object can be a performance, a performance can be a poem and a poem can be an object; the alchemy of an artist is to learn how to live in discomfort and in grace in-between.

The Psychological Damage of the Bathroom Predator Myth

By Jason Phoebe Rusch

Content Warning: mention of suicide, mental illness, & internalized transphobia


When most people think of OCD, they think of repetitive, compulsive actions- rituals- undertaken to neutralize irrational worry. There’s less awareness of Pure O, a form of OCD in which these rituals are mostly, if not entirely, mental. For example, checking to see whether one is sexually aroused, then interpreting any physical sensation as proof of arousal.

I can’t say whether the right-wing demonization of queer and trans people as perverts and child molesters ultimately determined the content of my OCD obsessions. There are many straight cis people like British journalist and memoirist Rose Bretecher who have had debilitating POCD, or pedophilia OCD, which is similar to harm OCD in that a person is consumed by the fear of hurting others.

When I dropped out of Princeton University in 2008, I had been suicidal for half a decade. If I saw any child, whether a baby or an adolescent, I would have a panic attack, so I tried to stay inside my dorm and avoid anything off-campus. I had trouble sleeping and eating. I was failing all my classes.

In high school, I’d periodically gather my cache of Tylenol and rubbing alcohol to reassure myself. I daydreamed about wandering into the snowy Michigan woods at night, stuffing myself full of pills and lying down by a tree. I’d put out matches on my arms, believing myself deserving of punishment, then judged myself for being an emo cliché. I held pillows over my face (I felt like I was made wrong, a thing that deserved to be smothered) but always chickened out, always came up for air. My mom would kill herself if I died, I knew, and so I couldn’t.

When she drove to Princeton, New Jersey to pick me up and take me home, I smashed a wine glass against a table, on purpose, in the middle of an expensive Italian restaurant, enraged I think by the debt compelling me to stay alive. My mother, though raised on the North Shore of Chicago, has worked her whole life, often multiple jobs, in food service positions that have left her with fallen arches, a high risk for blood clots, sciatica and knees that will need to be replaced this summer. She never finished college because she had to take care of her own mother. I think she was wondering how her impeccably polite and people-pleasing Ivy League daughter, whose accomplishments she bragged about while bartending parties for rich women in Kenilworth, had been replaced by this petulant, disgruntled monster with no gratitude for sacrifice. But honestly, I don’t remember smashing the wine glass so much as I remember her telling me about it, because all I wanted at that point in my life was to be unconscious enough for the pain to go away.

I have a distinct memory of being twelve or thirteen and listening to David Sedaris read an essay about feeling nervous around little boys, not because he was attracted to them but because of the stigma toward gay men. This was on the Walkman my grandmother had given me, my grandmother who I adored and who agreed with my father (a dead-beat, though I don’t hold him entirely culpable for his low level of functioning, his inability to provide care without devolving into rage) that gay people were mentally ill and employers had reason to discriminate against them.

Their homophobia was casual, garden-variety. Neither would be rude to a queer person to their face, except the child they didn’t know was queer. Both my father and grandmother were socially liberal; they tolerated queerness with forbearing distaste so long as it wasn’t “flamboyant” or “shoved in their face.” I’d realized by then that I was more attracted to women than men, but resolved to only date men, to make my life easier by killing the wildness inside me. My mom, though heterosexually identified and not consciously gender non-conforming, was a woman as big as a man who had to work harder than a man to make up for what my father couldn’t or wouldn’t provide. I knew she wanted me to someday meet a nice man like her classmates from New Trier (the high school Mean Girls was based off of) had. She didn’t want me to have to struggle.

Blockbuster still existed then. I rented Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena, a trans man who was raped and murdered in Wyoming in 1993. My heart beat in my whole body while watching it. This movie was the only representation of trans-masculine experience available to me growing up. My early sexual fantasies were vague on particulars but I always pictured myself in the male role, another inconvenience that, like my attraction to women, I thought I could suppress. I developed mental rituals to overwrite the “wrong” sexual thoughts (ones that involved fucking women and having a male body) with the “right” sexual thoughts (which is confusing these days because as a trans guy being vaginally penetrated, especially by cis men, is no longer something I’m “supposed” to enjoy, although I very much do.)

The possibility Brandon Teena represented- the pureness of that freedom, like wind rushing on skin, before it was snuffed out- stirred something in me, but I couldn’t be trans. I just couldn’t. It seemed too improbable, too outlandish. Being trans was a story someone else told while holding a flashlight up to their chin in the dark, but actually being the story yourself. Everyone thinking you were a freak, but acting polite about it. I was the one who felt bad and acted polite, not the freak. Who could know what they felt, these strange people who mutilated their bodies? Of course, I knew exactly what it was like to experience phantom body parts without being an amputee.

Despite or perhaps because of my rationalizations and internalized transphobia, living inside my skin felt humiliating. At school, the boys called me a faggot (somehow, mysteriously, affirming my gender even then, perhaps because eleven-year-old me was in the habit of wearing a red beret with a single clip-on earring and singing loudly to myself in the hallway). The popular girls mock-flirted with me just to laugh at how red my face got. Being a boy without a penis, though I wouldn’t have articulated it that way at the time, felt like something to be ashamed of.

One night a friend of my mom’s came over to dinner with her small children. What if I was a pedophile? I thought, then why would I have that thought if I wasn’t? These thoughts multiplied into a solid mass, an alarm that never stopped ringing. Sometimes it was like the thoughts had a face. They were a voice inside me, relentlessly judgmental and cruel. I processed each of them as data, rather than thoughts; as meaningful, rather than random. Those next five years I hardly felt alive. I truly believed I was evil, that I held the essence of evil inside me. I wondered if I was possessed by demons. The pain rendered me absent, so that people in my life always commented that I seemed to be “in my own world.” My erratic and inconsiderate behavior alienated many.

Now that I am twenty-eight, I have been on Luvox, an SSRI specifically tailored to OCD, for seven years. In 2010 I was able to return to Princeton; in 2015 I finished graduate school. Though mental illness has undoubtedly impacted my academic performance, I am higher-functioning than before. Knowing that you’re not a pedophile unsurprisingly improves one’s quality of life. I’m out as a non-binary trans guy attracted to people of all genders. However much progress I’ve made, rhetoric like that of our new assistant secretary of health and human services Charmaine Yoest- who has referred to trans people as “crazy” “creatures,” told parents they should worry about having trans people around their children and dismissed health care for trans people as a “joke”- still has the power to hurt me.

Besides the massive advantage of growing up in a tax district like the North Shore, I presented as a feminine woman for most of my life and dated cis men. Some trans people would say I’m not really trans because I’ve socially but not medically transitioned. Dysphoria, like anything else, is a spectrum. People suffer from it to varying degrees, often concerning different parts of their body. While most trans guys have severe top dysphoria, I think my breasts are pretty cute. Growing up, I actually felt ashamed of how small they were, because I thought their size made me less attractive to men. Phalloplasty, or more colloquially, dick surgery, is not a solution to my fairly intense genital dysphoria, both because of cost and because science is not yet at a point where I’d be comfortable with the process or results. My life as a bisexual man who looks like a femme lesbian (I don’t make a very convincing butch) may be existentially strange, but this surreal sensation isn’t the hell other trans people describe, not exactly; it’s more like purgatory, or a really trippy, disconcerting dream. Like walking on a fractured ankle that only hurts if you focus on it, that might set wrong if you tried to fix it.

Since losing my job as an adjunct professor at a Big Ten university, I’ve been struggling to find full-time employment and living with my mother. When I broached the subject of starting a low dose of testosterone, more with the goal of seeing whether it relieves my anxiety and depression than of transforming into a bearded beefcake who posts his #gains on Instagram (an ideal which seems so impossible to reach anyway), my mother brought up the trans women she’d seen performing at a friend’s burlesque show, who “looked weird.” This is her way, of course, of saying that they didn’t look like cis women. “I would not hire them,” she continued. “I just want you to be employable.” She doesn’t want me to “ruin” my life.

When she says we don’t have an extra thirty dollars a month for testosterone between us, it’s not a lie. I’ve tried confronting her regarding trans-misogyny, but she grows defensive, as if her unexamined prejudice towards trans people who aren’t her son, trans women in particular, shouldn’t matter. She’s supporting me as I tutor part-time and search for jobs. Campaigning for hormones I’m not even certain I want indeed seems selfish.

Because I am read as a cis woman, no one polices me for using the women’s bathroom. If I go to the gynecologist or the doctor’s office I can use the legal name I haven’t changed and be treated with dignity and respect. My license and passport photos more or less match my current appearance, so I can travel unencumbered. I am not gawked at or harassed or a target of violence. When the right-wing invokes the rhetorical bogeymonster of the trans bathroom predator, they are invariably demonizing trans women and femmes. Celebrated cis feminists like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are not asked to weigh in on whether trans-masculine people have been socialized female or possess male privilege, as many of us do after a year or two on testosterone. Straight cis men, it seems, neither want to fuck trans men nor kill us, so we’re mostly left alone. Since this January one trans man and ten trans women, all people of color, have been murdered. A shockingly high percentage of people seem to believe that “panic,” i.e. uncomfortable feelings occasioned by encountering the other, is sufficient reason to take a life.

I have a pink, pleasantly round face and a sweetly girlish voice, so the world is mostly kind albeit often condescending to me, which is another way of saying I benefit from white cis female privilege. Still when I think back to my early attempts at making sense of myself, of the way I experienced sexuality and related or didn’t relate to my body below the waist, I don’t remember having the thought I’m supposed to be a boy but rather the thought that I was somehow a threat, a monster. I tell people I don’t want a family because children can be annoying and exhausting, but that’s only partially true. Though I haven’t suffered from intrusive thoughts about children in years, being around them still triggers anxiety. During the twelve sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy my mother was able to afford for me seven years ago, my therapist used exposure techniques similar to treatment for phobias. During one session, we sat by the kid’s pool at the local water park for an hour and I tried not to hyperventilate.

I have parsed apart my OCD and myself enough to know that I would never prey upon another person, nor desire to, but I sometimes feel that my very existence as a trans person is inappropriate. I get too nervous to wear a packing penis in public places, even though no one can see it, because I’ve internalized the idea that my gender is disgusting, an affront to common decency. Shame accumulates upon a body, hunches it inward, estranges it from its inhabitant, causing the teeth to grind at night, the jaw to clench.

Maybe in a different world my OCD would have centered on fears of contagion or blasphemy, and though I would still struggle as a parent, I’d feel like having a family was an option. Maybe those obsessions would still have led to intense suicidal ideation, academic failure and personal derailment. But also, maybe in a world without transphobia, I’d have had more space in my brain for schoolwork. Maybe I’d speak another language. Maybe I’d be more financially stable by now. At least I wouldn’t have to wonder whether writing and publishing essays about gender identity and mental illness, doing work that’s important to me, negatively impacts my employment prospects.

Some of my teaching reviews from my former students, who were all outwardly respectful when I asked them to call me Jason, might still say that I was erratic, at times underprepared, or politically biased, but not that I centered the “irrelevant” reading materials and lectures around my own sexuality and gender identity because, in 2017, I assigned several essays written by queer and trans authors then led discussions on their writing. The idea of me openly being me, of asking students and colleagues to use my correct name and pronouns, wouldn’t be radical or controversial. Maybe I wouldn’t have the wide hips no amount of hormones can change, the vocal inflections that turn the ends of statements into questions, the years of self-loathing and denial to undo. Sometimes we don’t need bigots to yell slurs at us. Sometimes the slurs just seem to be there, at a subliminal level, in our own minds, and we hurl them at ourselves.

I’m glad I felt indebted to my mom to stay alive.


Photo of Jason

Photo of Jason

INTERVIEW: Kate Flynn of The Winter Passing On Growing, Creating, Mental Health Awareness, and "Double Exposure"


COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY / SEAN CAHILL

COURTESY OF BRIXTON AGENCY / SEAN CAHILL

Following the release of Double Exposure, online editor Rosie Accola sat down with The Winter Passing's Kate Flynn to discuss the creative process and transition from the bands 2015 release A Different Space of Mind, collaborative writing, musical inspirations, and more. Check out the Q&A below and also read Rosie's review of Double Exposure here.


Hooligan Mag (H.M.): How has your sound grown between your first and second record? What did you learn while making your first record that has helped you the most as musicians?
Our sound has grown a lot since A Different Space of Mind. We did a lot of touring after we released ADSOM, so from that alone we became a tighter and more confident band live. That helped a lot when the time came to write and record Double Exposure. Also we are a couple of years older with different life experiences and different mindsets so I feel that comes into play in the music we wrote for Double Exposure.

Personally, what's changed for me since recording ADSOM is that I feel more confident about myself as a musician. When we recorded ADSOM, it was my first time in a real recording studio which was a big learning curve for me. I wasn't all that sure of myself as a musician and it all felt very new.  I was more involved during the writing period for our new record and that really helped when it came to recording it. I felt more sure of myself and a little more confident when we were recording Double Exposure. We all got a little bit more wondrous on what we could do with these songs—individually and collaboratively—so we are extremely proud of what we've created with this EP.
 

H.M.: What’s your favorite part of the music scene in Ireland? How does it differ from other music scenes throughout Europe and the U.S.?
Ireland's music scene has always been really transformative and truly inspiring to the music we write and the people we are. It's a very special scene to be apart of and one I'm very proud to be apart of. There's so many different music scenes active in all the capital cities around Ireland across so many different genres of music. I was introduced to the hardcore punk scene by my brother when I was about 15 years old. My first ever local show was a day show called Life & Death Fest in Dublin. There was about 20 hardcore bands from Ireland and the UK playing in a small and very warm room in a venue called The Tap. I had never been to a DIY/hardcore punk show before so I remember being completely inspired by it. It was the sort of feeling that left me counting down the days in school until my next trip to Dublin to a local show.

I guess how it differs from Europe and the US is that the Irish music scene is small, especially in the DIY spectrum. Everyone knows each other and supports each other. Chances are if you're in a band in the Dublin scene, you're probably in like ten other bands too! In comparison to Europe or American punk scenes, the shows and community in those areas are much bigger, more spread out and divided also into smaller sub genres within punk music. But for the most part, shows still feel like shows to me everywhere I've been so far!
 

H.M.: What made you want to start playing music? What drives you to create?
Music for me was inherited. I grew up in a musical house, my dad has always loved country music and always encouraged my brother and I to play from a young age. Our parents would send us to music lessons and we would perform music pretty much every day! My real love has been and always will be singing. I've been singing since I was extremely young. My dad brought me home a Britney Spears live in concert video tape and since the first watch of that I've been throwing my voice around.

My drive for creation is really a personal thing, I suppose. I find great satisfaction from performing music and writing music with TWP. It's a personal development sort of thing and that drives me to always surprise myself. I want to see how far I can go and what I can do next. To be honest, I'm laughing as I write this, but music has been the only thing I've ever put my hand to and stuck with. It sort of stuck with me too. We've been fortunate enough to experience some amazing opportunities over the past few years and I guess that also drives me to continue our musical journey! If you told 15 year old me that playing music was going to open doors such as traveling the East Coast of America in a van - that shy kid would have told you that you've probably got the wrong kid.
 

H.M.: Who are some of your favorite artists (musical or otherwise)?
Musically I've always been really inspired and in awe of artists like The Distillers, Jimmy Eat World, Björk, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bikini Kill, Patti Smith. Recently it's been artists such as Bleached, Julien Baker, Mitski and Frankie Cosmos and Cende. I also really loving reading. I'm slowly but surely getting through every Stephen King book there is. Reading "IT" is still one of my biggest achievements.
 

H.M.: The lyrical content of your latest E.P. deals with the daily struggles of living with anxiety, do you have any tips on how to deal with anxiety that you’ve found to be helpful?
Double Exposure is definitely a journey in the daily struggles of anxiety so thank you for getting that. Everyone is different and how I deal with my anxiety may be completely different to how another individual may deal with theirs and that's okay. The most important thing is to find the thing that you feel most comfortable with when dealing with feelings of anxiety.

First off, even though it's not the easiest thing or tip, talk to someone. Anyone! We live in a time where, thankfully, we talk about mental health. The more often we open dialogue about mental health, we break down the taboo and normalise mental health. Sometimes I write to my best friend and just explain this existential anxiety that I get and she just gets that and that's sick to have that communication.

For me, I like to write it out. I always have. I've been writing a journal since I was a kid. When I write something out, I feel like that's part of the journey for me when dealing and processing feelings I may be having. It doesn't mean the feeling goes away or is magically fixed but it starts the process of me dealing with thoughts, worries, etc. I like to take my feelings and make art from them. I used to hate when people said "exercise" when I said I wasn't feeling too great. Sometimes, the motivation to leave the house or exercise is just not there for me but what I will say, from the times I did muster the motivation, it does help. Even if it's a walk with your dog for a couple of minutes, exercise to a YouTube video on your living room floor, dancing to your favourite record or just sitting in fresh air.
 

H.M.: I read that the writing process for this record was particularly collaborative, can you describe it? Have you tried writing songs with other people before, or is writing more of a solitary practice for you?
The writing process has always been pretty collaborative when it comes to the TWP. Rob and Col work together on guitar music all the time, that's how we get the skeleton of the songs together and then the band come in at rehearsals and we collaborate to make the music come to life!

Lyrically with this EP, Rob and I both brought a lot to the table. We sat down, put lyrics together from each notebook to each song and that's why we called it Double Exposure, in the end. Most of the songs, in some sense, are two stories. I found that a really interesting aspect and concept of this record. That all being said, I have to write my lyrics alone and Rob writes his lyrical content alone also. Writing lyrics is cathartic for me. So I like to write alone before I even think of putting melodies to the words.
 

H.M.: Do you have a record that has helped you deal with anxiety? What do you think about music and its ability to explain mental health struggles?
I'm not sure if I have a stand out record that has helped me through anxiety because to be honest, a lot of records have and continue to help. I guess I could say Futures (Jimmy Eat World). Now, that's a record I always revisit when I need a helping hand from an old pal. It never gets old and every time I listen to it, it brings me back to a place that I like to go. Or sometimes I need to dance the sadman away, so in those times I put on some Blondie (or Beyoncé when I feel I need to exercise too) and I go wild.

In other cases, I need to cry. I've always really liked sad songs. Sometimes, I need to let the sadness sit with me, long enough for me to make sense of it and there are particular records that I have to listen to when I'm sad. A few being being Manchester Orchestra's Like A Virgin Losing A Child or Owen's No Good for No One Now.

I've always felt a real connection with a song that can make me cry. If a song makes me feel something so much that I cry, it's done it's job.

Whether it's writing music or listening to it, there is no doubt in the fact that music serves us in struggling with mental health and also explaining it. Sometimes it's just listening to a song and being able to resonate with it better than you could explain the anxiety, yourself. That's the thing about mental health struggles. Sometimes it's too hard to actually explain the feelings. Sometimes a song just does it for you and that's amazing. That's how I feel about the new Paramore record, actually. Every lyric had me literally saying "heck, that's literally how I feel”.

I feel like writing and playing music has helped me so much in terms of understanding my own anxiety but also understanding other people's struggles and that's important. When writing a song, it's like putting all your insides out. Playing that song is letting others see that we all look and feel the same. It's the greatest gift that keeps on giving.

Inside Issue #18: SBTL CLNG

by Lora Mathis

Los Angeles based SBTL CLNG (aka Carolina Hicks)' self-analytical work is a diving into uncomfortability. It is a mourning. An honoring of grief. An unlearning of negative patterns and taught beliefs that is spread between text, illustrations, zines, and music. It is highly vulnerable and presents healing as an intentional, non-linear process. SBTL CLNG's exploration of personal disconnection reveals patterns of what separates us from others and nature at large.


I’ve loved the powerful healing aspects of your work since I encountered it. The first piece of yours I ever saw was writing which mentioned, “emitting healing frequencies.” What does healing look like for you?
The daunting reality of healing is that once you start, you can’t really turn back. Once you realize how much you deserve to heal, you nervously just start little by little. You make microscopic progress, and celebrate private victories. You trip up —a relapse, a triggering confrontation, a self-sabotage trap you set up for yourself. Sometimes those bad moments turn into a bad month, and it can feel like you’re constantly starting at square one (or negative one). That’s the intense truth.

Healing is this constant, never-ending process; it’s very multidimensional. It takes a lot of stamina, recovery, reassurance, and self-validation. A big aspect of it for me has been figuring out what forgiveness actually means — not so much towards the forces and people that have hurt me but the constant, everyday process of forgiving myself (and I have to do this all the time). I would never treat anyone the way I’ve treated myself in my own head. I hold a lot of anger, frustration, guilt, remorse, regret towards the past and myself. But I’m learning that it’s going to be an uphill battle and constant wrestling match with myself if I don’t work on the forgiveness aspect. Much easier said than done, of course. But practice certainly helps.
 

Last fall, you began an MFA and this summer, your thesis may have you coming to the east coast to explore, “creating art amongst psychic / ecological / racist / misogynist / xenophobic violence of the new sociological landscape.” How is your work affected by this pervading, multi-layered violence?
I fell into one of many existential crises after the election. I was frozen by how scary (and ridiculous) it felt to have entered such an enormous amount of financial and emotional debt starting an MFA while the world entered this new multi-layered nightmare. But what has started to sink in since November is that this new era is not so new; everything that’s been festering, colonizing, oppressing, and killing for hundreds of years is now just inescapably present and exposed for the world to see. This experience of graduate school has been a huge self-check of my privileges and the socio-political responsibilities/ethics that I’m responsible for as an artist.
 

I know it sounds grandiose, but I feel whole-heartedly that there’s no more room to make apolitical art — it’s way too late to be neutral, about anything. This unpredictable landscape affects my work in direct and indirect ways. I have very real privileges that, so far, keep me from experiencing the immediate, life-threatening violences of the unraveling shit show. And that’s meant that I now have even more responsibility to use my access and positioning to maximize my use of resources, in order to create as much work as possible — to reach and affect as wide an audience as needs me. I’m becoming much more sentient of the ways that this landscape is affecting the very notion of home/place, planet, and the concept of dwelling for human and non-human life.

That’s been a bigger shift in my work, more eco-feminist research and socio-ecological awareness. I don’t think art for art’s sake is very helpful right now. I’ve started to notice that despite whatever form or packaging you give a work, if you have no generative content, the art is just taking up space.  I don’t want to make art just to take up space.
 

via  SBTL CLNG

Much of your work sorts through mourning, loss, nostalgia, and growth. What are the relationships between these things?
Being a person is so intense! We carry everything that’s ever happened to us within us. This question reminds me of something one of my favorite artists Wizard Apprentice (Tierney Carter) talks about: there is so much pain/sadness in the world and for hyper-sensitive people, it’s nearly impossible to forget about it or pretend like it’s not happening. I think that’s why mourning is so prevalent in my practice, because I see that there’s so much to constantly mourn.  So much is being lost, violently erased, and threatened without end.

Misogyny kills, and it’s enraging and horrible to watch it happen on so many scales. You start to feel a nostalgia for a version of the earth we’ll never see again because of the irreversible damage that’s being inflicted upon it. As a first generation Colombian person, I think a lot about nostalgia for a place I’ll never really know—never really from here, never really from there. Yet, despite all this internal and external mess, you find yourself still opening your eyes in the morning. You’re still breathing and it kind of hits you that you will just have to keep growing because as long as you’re still alive, you still have a chance to add something good to the world, despite the grief of it all.
 

Do you believe growth is a loss?
Definitely, but the loss is crucial – without it you’d run out of space to grow. You lose parts of yourself that you’ve known for years and years. You let go of the patterns and habits you’ve gotten so used to navigating your reality with. I picture it like a video game terrain in your mind that you grow accustomed to, like muscle memory. Your life’s experience and traumas create a map and you learn your video game’s grid —all the guilt hallways, regret corners, self-hate goblins, self-sabotage vortexes. When you start to grow, you realize those virtual maps are just your own patterns shaped by trauma(s), misogyny, really toxic socialization — you keep them because they’re all you know and all you have to cope with. But, something I learned this past year (via a studio visit with Karen Rose, herbalist/healer) is that coping isn’t healing.

Once that truly sinks in, you realize that you have to scrap those virtual maps and make entirely new ones and starting from scratch is always really scary! But once you start this loss/undoing, you realize like “wait, I can’t go back anymore and even though that makes me sad (and it’s normal to get sad about growth), I know I don’t ever want to.”   
 

You’ve recently begun incorporating music into your work. How has this new medium expanded your work?
I’ve been thinking a lot about misogyny and the ways in which it’s become internalized within my own body. As someone that came of age in the punk/DIY scene where I grew up, I can trace that “community” as the place where my friends and I experienced some of our most humiliating and scarring experiences with what we thought was intimacy, validation, and support — experiences that warped our sense of self-worth and stunted so much internal growth. Fast forward to a decade’s worth of unlearning, and here I am, sad at how long it took me to realize my own agency and snap out of the stupor that had me convinced music-making and validation was to be found in “talented” men with disproportionate amounts of social capital. No one told me I could play the instruments, I could book and/or play the shows, that I should or could make my own sounds. I’m so relieved and at home now in my developing music practice. It’s become an extension of my writing and visual work, because I often incorporate all elements into my song-making and live performances. My music is intentional; when I play, I am creating sonic waves to combat my internalized misogyny and inferiority complex that a Boys Club world has instilled in me — a type of sonic mourning/grieving/cleansing. It feels so healing and exciting to create the songs my body wants to make, to create work that is deeply instinctual and non-technical. My music is partial  “fuck you” to toxic/mediocre cis man-music and damage but mostly a sonic prayer for the Earth and all its wounded.
 

via SBTL CLNG

via SBTL CLNG

As someone who publicly shares highly vulnerable, self-analytical work, how do you carve out personal space for yourself?
As an empath, I really appreciate this question because I think about it often. Energy is very alive and real to me, so creating spaces of recovery/retreat for myself is critical. I often forget how open and exposed I make myself through my own content, but I’ve been feeling its effects much more lately. Intentionally or not, people in the contemporary moment become very entitled to your energy and emotional labor —a lot has to do with the Internet, and instantaneous accessibility to the work.  So, I suppose it “comes with the territory” but it gets quickly draining and dangerous if you aren’t careful.

Energy vampires are real and they’re really tricky/manipulative! Creating boundaries has been crucial (and relatively new for me). It’s scary to be forthcoming and clear about not only setting boundaries, but actually following through with them. Intentionally protecting my energy/emotional labor/time and anticipating my needs has become increasingly more important to me. In doing so, my practice has actually strengthened because you naturally become more disciplined and selective about how you spend your time and psychic resources.
 

There is so much power in the self-awareness and deep self-reflection in your work. It’s poignant honesty on trauma, mental illness and self-destructive tendencies has helped me sort through my own experiences. How does art become a tool for learning forgiveness in a body which has hurt itself and been hurt by others?
Something I’ve been learning through my own visual work and writing is that my subconscious is actually my most honest sounding board. A tactic for the patriarchy to perpetuate itself is to atrophy the feminine and the unlearned wisdom within ourselves (I’m directly referencing Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic” essay — a foundational text to my practice). We are forced to mistrust and silence our own desires and instincts. After years of doing so, it’s no wonder we feel like such strangers in our own bodies. That estrangement from ourselves is how we end up so lost and far from our own power. But, I think deep down, despite how loud our self-loathing may get, we really want to be advocates for ourselves — my own art practice has taught me this. Art has helped me understand a lot about my own behavior and through that, I’ve learned how to safely hold empathy for others and myself. Art helps me better navigate reality when it often feels completely unnavigable. Art opens up portals: a source to access lost, ancestral knowledge and support; a well to receive psychic nutrition and relief; a space to unpack all the things; a refuge to cry/scream into when the sadness feels unbearable; a quiet space to learn how to forgive others, and most importantly yourself. I feel perpetually homesick for a place that doesn’t exist, so for me, art is the home I get to live in (somewhere in my mind and heart —connected via tunnels).

Keep up with SBTL CLNG on Instagram at @sbtl_clng.

See the whole spread here in Issue #18 here.

Inside Issue #18: Lara Witt

Philadelphia writer and activist Lara Witt uses her voice as a powerful tool to tear down oppressive systems. Witt’s writing has appeared in Teen Vogue, Elle, and Newsworks and often explores healing, sexual violence, race, and self-care, all through an intersectional Feminist lens. Her recent activist work includes moderating a panel on being an ally in activism for the Electric Lady Series and helping set up anti-street harassment installations across the city. With unapology coursing through all that she does, Witt’s work is an example of survivorship that refuses to be silent.


What initially drew you to writing?
Fortunately, I have always been a great communicator (shout out to other Geminis!) I enjoy putting my thoughts together in effective sentences so that someone else might connect to how I feel and who I am. Writing is my way of helping amplify the voices of those who have been made to feel smaller or quieter. Writing is powerful and healing- to me it is a part of who I am.
 

You have a weekly self-care column in which you interview women & gender non-conforming people of color. What role does self-care play in your own life?
I grew up feeling guilty about taking care of myself, I also had the idea that self-care was something you could only do if you could afford manicures or spa dates. Shifting into my 20s and reading works by black queer feminists like Audre Lorde taught me just how wrong I was.

Self-care is open to subjective interpretation, but at its core it is deeply powerful for women of color to love themselves when they have a whole world telling them not to. So, self-care to me is essential as a queer woman of color who struggles with depression and anxiety.

Taking care of myself is as basic as drinking water, making sure I eat regularly and practice mindfulness. I try to carve out time once every week to do whatever I feel like doing. I’ll cancel plans, stay at home and eat food in bed while watching a movie. I’ll take a long bath with epsom salts and lavender oil and a homemade face-mask. Self-care is a reminder that the deepest, most loving relationship I can have is with myself, and that makes me happy after years of self-hate.
 

Thank you for your openness about trauma and healing - especially as it relates to sexual assault. What do you think is the importance of being vocal?
Being vocal helps me regain control, which is vital because the loss of control, the feeling of powerlessness, and isolation is devastating. Healing isn’t linear, nor does healing look the same for everyone. So, writing about sexaul assualt is not only for me, but it is also for others who can’t be vocal about it for their own personal and justified reasons.

Silence is quite literally what abusers want, it is also what the system which protects abusers wants. Disrupting the culture of shame and silence which hangs over victims of assault is necessary in order for us to get any form of justice and if there isn’t any judicial result, then at least survivors will know that they are not alone.
 

Tell us about Pussy Division's roots. What is the message the group seeks to get across?
Pussy Division is a small, local, Philly group which uses guerrilla activism and street art to raise awareness around various forms of oppression. I joined them last year to help with any media-related tasks so that we could amplify our work without breaking the anonymity of our members.

We center our work around confronting misogyny, racism, transphobia & general anti-queer hate, but we also have created work which offers solidarity to marginalized communities. Post-election we had a series called “Dear Friend” with different messages tailored to those of us most affected by this current administration.

For anti-street harassment week we put up installations which mimicked  ‘warning’ tape but actually had anti-catcalling statements: “Do not comment on my body” and “Do not cross catcall crime scene’.
 

I'm curious about the name "pussy"? Have you considered changing the name of the group to something more trans-inclusive?
When the group was originally established in 2013, the goal was to reclaim the word “pussy,” which has been used to demonize femininity and attribute weakness as a feminine trait meant to be squashed out by hyper-masculine, toxic cis het men.

But recently, cis women, cis white women in particular, have been basing a lot of their “activism” in centering cis white women and their reproductive organs with pink pussy hats and bullshit slogans like, “pussy grabs back.” So, they’ve somewhat tainted our original goal, we are indeed in the process of finding a new name because we sure as fuck aren’t TERFs.

Your articles are always so powerful and unapologetic. How has Feminism informed your voice?
Thank you! My parents always used to tell me that my lack of a filter would get me in trouble with forms of authority and that I would never be able to hold down a stable job if I kept going on the way I did. But, I refused to make myself smaller or quieter for the benefit of any source of authority or the benefit of the white supremacist heteropatriarchy.

I have strong feminist morals, and intersectionality is just my lived reality, even before learning about feminism from an academic perspective. Feminism is about being empathetic, not just towards the people you are close to or the people who look like you or have similar experiences.

Everything I write is for marginalized people, especially for black and brown queer women and femmes. So the way I write has to be deliberate, it has to be forceful and unapologetic. We don’t have the time to sugar coat shit just to make our realities more for palatable for others.
 

Has your relationship with healing changed for you over the years?
I used to ignore it. I used to just absorb, internalize, and compartmentalize everything which was terrible. I just felt as if I didn’t have the time or energy to work through trauma because everything was hitting the fan at the same time. So, I just wanted to pretend everything was okay because I thought that was easier.

Eventually, I realized how toxic that was for me. I started to suffer from extreme waves of depression and anxiety without seeking any therapy, which I still haven’t done.

My life has gotten significantly better since my partner and have been together. He has given me a reason to be present and loving with myself. His help at home means that I have the time to come home after work and take care of myself and if I happen to be so despondent that I can’t do the basics. He cooks for me, makes sure I have water and gives me massages when my back is in knots.

Right now, healing looks like me doing what I love, which is writing so that others can heal. I don’t think healing will ever be complete for me, but I know that I am loved, that my work is meaningful, and that my relationships with myself, my friends, family and my beloved are nurturing.

Keep up with Lara Witt on Twitter and Instagram at @FemmeFeministe.

See the whole spread here in Issue #18 here.

Inside Issue #18: Getting To Know Tommy Pico

Photo by Bao Ngo

Photo by Bao Ngo

Tommy “Teebs” Pico says the last song he recently listened to was “Where is My Mind?” by the Pixies. As you read this piece, let the melodic notes of the song cascade over the words, infiltrate your mind, and open up your heart as much Pico’s writing can and will do for you.

Teebs is not your average poet. He is quirky, he’s funny, he’s quick-witted. When he was ten he wanted to be Paula Abdul. He describes his natural world as, “trying to avoid eating chicken fingers for every meal, having crushes on everything, and the constant all-caps refrain looping in my noggin: STOP TWEETING SO MUCH TEEBS.”

Teebs is obsessed with poetry and music. His latest obsession is a Brazilian soul/R&B band called Liniker e os Caramelows. “Their songs are in Portuguese so I can’t really understand them, but the lead singer, a rad black trans woman, has this voice that communicates the feeling so well you really don’t have to speak the language.”

In poetry he’s recently been taken with, “Monica Youn’s beautiful book Blackacre, the hilarious Seattle-based poet Sarah Galvin, and forever and always, June Jordan.”

He loves to make you laugh while also making you think. He is deeply involved in social media, yet relishes time to himself and in “real life.” He even wrote a book-length poem titled, IRL, that details his struggle between staying relevant online and being his true self in his real life. When asked how to find a balance between one’s online and real life persona, Teebs leaves it up to us to decide.

“I have no freaking clue! It stresses me out. If you figure it out plz let me know. The only times I really get the hush of privacy is when I’m working or reading, because the care and attention they demand requires that I be totally alone.”

The American Indian (or NDN) poet has a fascinating pull to the Viejas Reservation where he grew up, and the Brooklyn urban dwelling he now calls home. He says it’s, “like any other connective tissue, it’s always there under the surface, surrounding and supporting the vital organs and such.”

“I suppose it’s like growing up anywhere else in the sense that when you’re young how much of a context do you have for your situation? I remember dust swirling around from the dirt road as cars drove by and climbing fig trees with my cousins. I remember how my grandmother’s kitchen smelled.

I remember a lot of other horrible shit too, like the funerals after funerals after funerals. Even then I could sense that being NDN was some powerful stuff, loaded with grit and sadness and I mean I don’t know about every nation but Kumeyaays are some funny ass mfs.”

Photo by Bao Ngo

Photo by Bao Ngo

His upcoming book, Nature Poem is an exercise in both rejecting and embracing our roots. As an NDN person he wanted to avoid writing about nature because it seemed stereotypical to him. But, as he weaves a narrative that both encompasses and surpasses nature, we find where Tommy lies, between the landscape of his past, his present, and his bright future.

“Honestly I’ve found myself outside of so many institutions, literature included, that I’ve come to view outsider status as a kind of blessing,” Teebs said. “I don’t have a fealty to tradition or taste for that matter. Also coming up in punk music and zine-making has taught me the value of production without the fallacy of ‘skill.’"

Teebs is friendly and open, and can make friends easily. He is part of the podcast Food 4 Thot with other queer writers, Fran Tirado, Dennis Norris II, and Joseph Osmundson. The queer poet very much wants people to know he is single and actively mingling.

He writes with a flow of quick internet speak with words like plz, yr, and cos, along with sweeping metaphors and hilarious quips that engage modern life with stunning visuals.

Teebs is starting to understand the balance between being an NDN person and battling colonialist ideals and values in the present day. His advice for other NDN people is to find the path to their identity in their own time.

“I think one of the problems I had to overcome was the idea that being Indigenous and contemporary were two different things. Identity is dynamic and absorptive and adaptive,” Teebs said.

“It’s like I say in the book, anything is NDN if I’m doing it because I’m NDN. Understanding that I was making the world more Kumeyaay by my presence and my art and my discourse helped me understand the power inherent within an indigenous identity.”

Tommy Pico is the kind of poet that make writers want to write. He is the Editor-In-Chief of birdsong, a Brooklyn-based lit/art collective and small press. He is the author of the zine series, Hey Teebs, and co-curates the reading series, Poets With Attitude (PWA) with Morgan Parker. He makes you want to dig deep, feel whole, and think large. In terms of poets engaging with social media, our personal lives, and inner depths, Teebs somehow manages to bring it all to light.

Writing isn’t just a hobby for Teebs, but a necessity. It’s more than a way to preserve the history of his NDN history, but to create a strong commentary of its importance in American history.

“I suppose it could be a way of preserving history but I also want to provide the archive of a life that shouldn’t exist: with the ways in which indigenous people were hunted in this country, the ways in which the literal government tried to exterminate us, it’s a testament to the ancestors’ determination to survive. At the very least, it’s my responsibility to them, to make good on their strength and sacrifice.”

The book-length poem form is a fascinating one. Each of Teebs’ books are a continuous piece of work that navigates the reader through the journey of Teebs’ mind and experiences. The long, uninterrupted form is a beautiful one, and one that only few can do well. Pico speaks on why he chooses that form for his work.

“Well, first of all, in perhaps the most unsaleable art form in America I decided to pursue perhaps the most obscure form within that. Really though, I wanted to give the audience an experience, a narrative of sorts, that you could sit with and consume in the span of 90 or so minutes—kind of like a film. I’m obsessed with the form and I can’t foresee myself ever writing short poems again. There is so much world, you know?”

Nature Poem details his draw to city life and to his natural world.

“My draw to the city is simply that I crave the kind of excitement and motion and possibility that city life offers. Plus I’m pretty freaking gay and I was drawn to a place where a queer relationship was safer and more possible. It’s weird ‘cos in my 15 years in the city, “nature” has become something obscured and dangerous to me. You won’t catch me camping, you can believe that.”

When asked what is the best advice he’s ever received Teebs responded, “Get out of your own way, dammit!”

Nature Poem, deemed a “thrilling punk rock epic,” by writer Alexander Chee. It  comes out on May 9, and you can follow Teebs on Tumblr and Twitter.
 

See the whole spread here in Issue #18 here.

INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Singer-Songwriter Sarah Walk

Sarah Walk’s emotive, confessional song-writing has earned her comparisons to Indie greats like Cat Power and Sharon Van-Etten. She’s currently preparing to tour and releaseher debut full-length record in England, but she took time to sit down with Hooligan over Skype to discuss her writing process, and what it was like to make a video for her third single “Still Frames.

Your music has a cinematic quality to it, was it easy to come up with a concept for a music video for “Still Frames”? Did you have a narrative in mind before you started shooting?

No, I actually didn’t. I wrote that song a long time ago. That was kind of a really gloomy day and we were all thinking about the past, feeling nostalgic, that’s kind of where the song started. I think it’s interesting with videos, we got a lot of treatments from different directors with their take on the song. Sometimes that can lead you to an interesting place because it might be a different interpretation, which gives it a different meaning. That’s exciting, especially when it’s for a song that you’ve known for so long in a certain way.

I love that the video for “Still Frames” has a queer love story as a central narrative, how do you think we can improve queer representation within the media as artists and makers?

Yes, I was aware that it was a queer couple, but above anything it’s a love story, I wanted people to recognize that relationships are the same. I wanted the over-arching narrative to be a love story. But, I wanted a queer relationship to be a bit more accessible in the public eye, just to recognize that people love the same way, relationships fall apart in the same way.

Do you use songwriting as a mechanism to help you process difficult situations in your life?

I do, I think it definitely helps to write. I find it easier to navigate my feelings on certain things through music. I’m relatively guarded with my personal life, but for some reason with music, performing, and writing, it doesn’t really feel personal. It feels like something I’m giving away to people and inviting them into as opposed to an individualized experience. It definitely helps. Sometimes, when you get a song written it feels like a weight’s been lifted.

Do you write about something immediately after it happens, or do you let yourself mull it over first?

I don’t know, I’ve written songs years later and in the thick of things. Sometimes you need time to gain perspective, and sometimes you write something in the middle while not really knowing how you feel. There’s no formula for writing, at least for me there’s not … the whole process is pretty unpredictable.

Do you have specific things that you like to explore thematically when you write?

Not consciously, I try not to overthink it, usually I just want it to be honest and meaningful to me. If I find something to be moving, real, and personal, it usually draws me back enough to finish an entire song. If it moves me, I feel like it’s going to move other people.

Describe what it’s been like finishing up your record.

It’s been great it’s actually been finished for a while now, I’m just trying to gig as much as possible and get the music out there. I’m really excited to put the album out.

Do you tour often?

I’ve done a few support tours, I toured all of May last year and i toured a bit in December. In between, I’ve been doing headline gigs with my band in London.  We’re trying to get more support tours. I really like support tours, because it’s exposure to people who don’t know who you are. It’s less pressure and it’s exciting to get a new audience. I’m starting to hopefully get some stuff booked in Europe for the rest of the year which will be really cool.

If you had to pick something to do other than music, what would it be?

I always could have seen myself teaching or doing something in social work, just helping people. I like to be around people and give back. There’s still a lot I want to do, I always want to be doing music, but also be able to create some sort of platform to give back other than music.

Do you have a record that changed your life?

I’ve always been writing ever since I was really young, I’ve always been drawn to it. The first record I ever bought was third eye blind’s self titled album and I fucking loved it. There are definite a-ha moments, like Ok Computer by Radiohead or Thirty Roses by Joni Mitchell. I really love hip hop too.

Do you think that music has the power to enact social change?

I do, there’s a sense of responsibility alongside the being in the public eye. I hope that my music will continue to grow and build and impact people in different ways. I don’t think there’s only one way to do that, so that’s one thing about music that does excite me — whether that be in the music or around it, there’s different ways to reach people.

Did you ever have moments when you were first starting to write songs like, ‘why should I try this if there’s already thousands of records?

Yeah, but I do think that every experience is different and I feel like I don’t want to put out music unless it says something that hasn’t been said before, or has a different approach musically. There’s so many different genres that I like, I think I just pick and choose different things I’m drawn to in order to try and make something a bit different Every story is never going to be told, there’s always going to be a new way to say something, that excites me and makes me want to continue writing.

Sergio Díaz De Rojas & Seraphina Theresa: An Interview

What lies underneath the creative tension between improvisation and calculated inspiration? It’s a question that Peruvian pianist and composer Sergio Díaz De Rojas and German artist Seraphina Theresa hover around and poke at on their new collaborative EP, The Morning is a River. Made up of 4 minimalist tracks, each song is accompanied by a paced-out, filmed reflection of slow-moving natural images and Seraphina’s photography. The piano’s nimble chords attach themselves seamlessly to the visuals, flowing together as a whole to create an 11-minute portrait of melancholy and representation.

After several years of releasing work on their own, the collaboration between Sergio and Seraphina feels like a worthy culmination of a loose flow of ideas and style with a diligent, purposeful creative statement. Leading up to the project’s April 23rd release, Hooligan chatted with both artists about their process, methodology, and working relationship.

Your new collaborative project, The Morning is a River, comes out on April 23rd. What are you particularly excited about for this release?

Sergio: It is my first time collaborating with another artist! Seraphina is brilliant and has been part of this project since the very beginning. This is completely new for me and it has been a real pleasure.

Seraphina: I am very excited in general because I have never worked with another artist before, let alone in anything related to music. It’s my first time ever and I am very glad to be accompanied by Sergio.

How did this collaboration come about? What’s it been like working together?

Seraphina: One day, Sergio offered to record some of the melodies I had improvised, but as he listened to them he felt inspired and created two beautiful pieces (“In der Sonne flimmert staubige Luft” and “Ich bin Himmel, wenn ich den Himmel liebe”). After that, we decided to make an EP and worked on the concept behind it. We kept improvising more melodies and chose the best ones. The titles were added later, as well as the artwork, the poem and the recently published video.

Being in different places wasn’t a problem at all. We have a similar way to interpret and implement ideas and atmospheres that are particular to own understanding.

To expand on that — how have your surroundings and communities influenced your music and art?

Seraphina: I think I wasn’t influenced by my environment too much since I live quite inside my own built up world, which is in my head and heart. My creativity is more a happening than a preconceived idea.

Many of your songs are accompanied by videos and photographs. Can you talk about the creative decision behind attaching a visual element to your music?

Sergio: One of the characteristics of this kind of music is that people tend to interpret it depending on their thoughts and feelings, and that’s perfectly fine. But each project has a message and there’s the need to express it. So, when they watch the videos, when they look at the photographs and drawings, and when they read the poems and titles, the message becomes clearer and there’s a larger chance of listeners understanding what I am trying to transmit.

You mentioned Beginners in your press release, and I can definitely see a link between the tonal nature of your music and the mood of the film. What are some other influences, musical or otherwise, that inflect and inform your creative process?  

Sergio: Some of Hermann Hesse’s works were essential when developing the concept behind this project, especially his essay “On Little Joys”. In general, I find myself quite inspired by the music of Sufjan Stevens and Keaton Henson, and by the work of some filmmakers, writers and photographers, like Wim Wenders, Charles Bukowski and Nobuyoshi Araki.

Seraphina: There is no specific music or art that influences me. I think it is more about the ways I understand and experience life itself which make me do the things I do. Go to nature and take a deep breath, you will feel it within yourself..

I love “Flores de Papel”, the second track on The Morning is a River. How did that song come together?

Sergio: Thank you! I am glad to hear that. “Flores de Papel” is an improvisation I recorded one day at my aunt’s house for Seraphina. I remember we were talking about a lot of heavy things that afternoon, as we usually do, so I sat at the piano and tried to relax and clear my mind. I was thinking of places and situations that help me feel at peace, and that’s how that piece was created.

What’s next for your music and creative output?

Sergio: I want to take a break after this release and disappear for a while, you know? I need some time for myself.

Check out more of Sergio and Seraphina’s work.

Where Are You Now: A Recollection of Past and Current Michelle Branch

My first introduction to popular music was through a 100% nineties-made Barbie karaoke machine, a Christmas gift from my sister. The candy-colored marvel came with three cassette tapes: “Female Favorites” (construction cone orange), “Male Artists” (mint green), and “Party Hits” (pastel purple). My personal favorites to belt out in my bedroom,  with my mouth much too close to the static-y pink microphone, were “We are Family” by Sister Sledge, “Believe” by Cher, and “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears.

In a way, my karaoke machine acted as a catalyst, kick-starting my love for both pop music and women pop-vocalists. My sister saw how much I loved my gift and began to make mix tapes for me to pop into the player. I both blame and thank her for my unhealthy obsession with Britney Spears, that remains unwavering to this day.

HitClips came out in 1999.  The small, primordial MP3 players were  popularized after McDonald’s distributed them in Happy Meals. Both myself, and every other youth in America, wholeheartedly pined for the musical toy which would play only one-minute long clips of popular songs. The entire concept was flawed and nonsensical. 

The music itself was ultra lo-fi, but I begged my mom for one of these things anytime we passed the toy aisle. When she relented, I picked out a small, boom-box-shaped device that came with three clips: The Backstreet Boys’ “Shape of My Heart,” Michelle Branch’s “Everywhere,” and “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton. I listened to these clips to death. I listened to them in the bathroom while I organized and selected from my collection of hundreds of sickeningly sweet Lip Smackers every morning, I listened to them at night in my room, and I listened to them enough around my poor parents to where I would catch my mom singing the familiar tunes while working around the house. Eventually, my HitClips boom box stopped working altogether. I literally loved it to death.

When cassette tapes were finally defeated by CDs, I no longer had to park myself by the radio for hours, waiting for my favorite songs to come on so that I could record them. I convinced my dad to buy me a Walkman that you had to hold perfectly flat and still, lest your songs skip.

My first CDs were Avril Lavigne’s Let Go, Vanessa Carlton’s Be Not Nobody, and Michelle Branch’s The Spirit Room. And, because it was popular with the kids in my elementary class, I also convinced my dad to let me purchase the collection of songs that hit highest on the charts in 2003, Now 14. I still regard Now 14 as being one of the best Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations to ever be released. On it was power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love,” “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, and two songs by two incredibly important and largely forgotten female-pop singers: “Why Can’t I?” by Liz Phair, and “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” by Stacie Orrico.

With my childhood imagination as wild as my crown of frizzy baby hairs, I played out scenarios and visions of my future as a famous pop-singer in my head, world famous and equipped with a headset and a criminal amount of glitter. I made up dance moves and routines with my friends. At my Synagogue’s junk sale, I begged my dad for a cheap, chipped-white painted guitar with broken strings, and attempted (without any success) to write my own songs. During school I lost focus easily, dreaming about being best friends with Vanessa and Michelle (we were on a first-name basis at this point) marveling in our success together. Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch were writing the type of songs that made me feel like I understood the things that I desperately wanted to be a part of: love, despair, independence, and womanhood.

In fifth grade, with a closet full of plaid Bermuda shorts (thanks, Mom), sequin covered tops, and maybe even a pair of coral-colored Crocs blinged out with soccer charms, I was desperately trying to fit in at school. The transition from elementary school to junior high was rough for me. It was also rough for my classmates, and caused children to act out due to a confusing combination of new responsibilities, and their changing bodies. When kids were cruel, I still had music. I still had my portable CD player, and the confidence of the women I listened to, and their encouraging lyrics. Christmas of that year, after weeks of convincing, my parents bought me a fifth generation iPod: chunky, clunky, glitchy, and perfect. I was ecstatic. With my sister’s help, the first song I purchased on iTunes and loaded onto the player was, “My Happy Ending” by Avril Lavigne.

Purchasing an iPod for me was possibly the biggest mistake my parents made that year — within a month I had racked up hundreds of dollars in song and music video purchases on my parents’ credit card. They were as livid as my parents can get.  In reality, they weren’t that angry, but they did put a password on my iTunes account. 

I carried my iPod everywhere. Every night I looked forward to lying in bed, constructing an “On the Go” playlist, and falling asleep with ear-buds in. There were the classics, Britney and Christina. There were the lyrical voices of Vanessa Carlton, Michelle Branch, and Anna Nalick. There were the rebels: Avril Lavigne, Skye Sweetnam, and Ashlee Simpson.

Then there were the big voices and the girl groups: Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, Nelly Furtado, The Pussycat Dolls, and Danity Kane. These were peaceful times. just me with my music. This was before boys became interesting enough to pursue, before I needed a bra that didn’t come in a three-pack. This was before life got complicated.

Eventually, I started straightening my thick, unmanageable hair, and I traded my Bobby Jack t-shirts for Abercrombie & Fitch.  My musical tastes started expanding as well, but I always turned to the girls on my iPod when I needed them most: in times of petty heartbreak that felt very real at the time, during fights with my friends, and when I was angry at the world simply because I was a girl going through puberty and I had a right to be angry at the world when I couldn’t make sense of it. 

2008 saw a critical change in pop-music. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” topped the charts along with Taylor Swift, which was quickly followed by the infamous 2009 VMA stunt by Kanye West. Listeners were less interested in lyrical ballads and more focused on dance music, songs that were easy to listen to and often heavily produced. Girl groups mostly disappeared. Lady Gaga became an icon. None of these changes were bad, necessarily, but they were changes.

My taste in music shifted, too. I became obsessed with the nineties sad boys: Elliott Smith, Conor Oberst, Jeff Mangum. Despite my sad-boy-Hopt Topic phase, I always held a huge place in my heart for the music I grew up on,  and the women that shaped my adolescent years.

When I first heard Michelle Branch was releasing another album, a follow-up to Hotel Paper fourteen years later, I was both nostalgically ecstatic and worried of the changes that would come with over a decade’s worth of time passing since her last album. 

I have certainly changed magnificently in the last fourteen years. I’ve lost and gained back confidence, been heartbroken, and have broken other people’s hearts. I’ve definitely gone through a few dramatic changes in style, and most importantly, I’ve figured out how to navigate Victoria’s Secret without giggling in embarrassment. 

In the last fourteen years, Michelle Branch got married, had a daughter, and got divorced. She produced an album with Jessica Harp in a short-lived duo, The Wreckers.

Branch also entered “label purgatory” after a record she made in 2009 was denied by her record label for not sounding how fifteen-year-old Branch used to sound. The path that Branch had to take to finally release an album in 2017 was long, rough, and at points, a little soul-crushing. 

Hopeless Romantic was co-written and co-produced by Branch’s now boyfriend, Patrick Carney, drummer for The Black Keys. The album is an obvious departure from both Hotel Paper and The Spirit Room. 

For one, Branch is now 33 years old. The way that music itself is produced has changed significantly since 2003.  The beats are different; the style is slightly reminiscent of Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album E*MO*TION with the influence of the deep, smooth-toned vocals of HAIM. Still, Branch managed to put out an album in 2017, after a fourteen year hiatus. Her new work still made me feel the nostalgic yearn for the simplicity of adolescence. Yet, the maturity of this new record gives me confidence, and helps me believe in the power of a long wait. 

Hopeless Romantic is the type of album I want to listen to under my covers in my childhood home, or in the backseat of my parent’s car. It’d be a perfect fit in a mix C.D.with Vanessa Carlton’s “White Houses” and Skye Sweetnam’s “Tangled Up In Me.” It’s a record for long road trips — falling asleep to the flashes of street lamps illuminating one’s face, and the sound of the I-74 vibrating under spinning tires.

Somewhere in a box I still keep the notes I wrote specifically on hotel notepaper.  Two years ago I saw Britney Spears live with my sister. Maybe not much has changed, but what has changed has been so good.

INTERVIEW: A Conversation with vocalist Joshua Cannon of Pillow Talk

via Bandcamp

Pillow Talk is a Memphis-based indie band, pulling from shoe-gaze and electronic influences. Their first full-length record, This is All Pretend, is out March 24 via Animal Style records. The band released the third single "Little Worries" today and are donating 100% of the proceeds made through March 7th to Trans Lifeline - You can read the full statement from the band and find out more info by visiting their Bandcamp here

Pillow Talk’s lead singer, Josh, spoke with Hooligan over email to discuss how music can act as an agent for social change, and what it was like to make the bands first music video.


Hooligan Mag (H.M.): Describe how you navigate the tension between visuals and music in your work. The video for “Ferris and Effie” does really view like a small film rather than a standard “music video.”

Pillow Talk (P.T.): Ferris & Effie was really our first attempt at making a video of any sort. Sam, our drummer, and I love film — he from a visual perspective, and me from a writing perspective. We wanted to make a video for this record, we but didn’t want to fall into the tropes of what a traditional music video looked like when produced by a band our size, on a limited budget.

We wrestled with even including the shots of us playing, but it felt necessary for our first video since we’re more or less unknown. So, I did my best to write it as a short film, a dream-sequence of an older man watching his youth, pining for those moments, and reflecting on that time. Our friend Nate Packard, a photographer and constant collaborator, helped us shoot and edit the video into something cohesive. We’ve grown addicted to working in-house, and just wrapped on our second video.

H.M.: How did you come up with the concept for the video for “Ferris and Effie”?

P.T.: The lyrics are more or less about the duality between foresight and hindsight and the moment I began to see my parents through a human lens. Looking past the light in them and understanding their darkness helped be better comprehend my own obstacles. We wanted to capture the song’s theme rather than directly replicate the concept, so we focused on that duality. My grandfather, who I look up to dearly, played the character in the video. The mannequin serves as a sort of permanent admirer throughout the character’s life, but we ultimately included her to create a more macabre video.

H.M.: Has the wider Memphis DIY scene influenced your work at all / do you have a favorite story about the Memphis DIY scene?

P.T.: Oh yes, absolutely! We all grew up in the scene, playing in different projects. There’s a nonprofit label in Memphis named Smith Seven that I owe everything to in terms of my outlook on playing music and creating a show space. I met Brian Vernon, who started the organization, when I was 12 years old, at a now defunct skate park where he ran the door. He plays in a band named Wicker that operated under Smith Seven’s ethos-banner: If not at the skate park, he’d book shows in his living room or wherever would have us, and, after breaking even, we’d donate any money we made to an organization or someone in need. Same with any records the label released. I’ve got countless stories, but they all center around the idea that punk, and music, should ultimately be selfless in its purpose.

That’s a hard pill to swallow when music — performing it, recording it, releasing it, and asking anyone to care — is so egocentric. I’ve never walked that line perfectly, but Pillow Talk tries to do its part when we can. To me, though, that’s what DIY is, utilizing nontraditional spaces to lift others up.

 

H.M: I hear some hints of shoegaze in your work, are you at all inspired by shoegaze? What do you think the 2017 iteration of shoegaze and/or lo-fi looks like?

P.T.: We’re inspired by shoe-gaze, as well as electronic music, hip hop, and a lot of other music beyond what we’re normally associated with as an “indie band.” A big part of our sound, we’ve found, is in experimenting with the sonic elements that would make up a traditional rock band. In that sense, the vocals can become more of an instrument than a leading voice — guitars can phase in and out of becoming synth or pad sounds. Whatever sounds interesting and atypical to our ears is usually what we dig as far as tones go. Beyond that, our song structure and writing style tends to be influenced from more pop-oriented bands. We probably like a good catchy chorus more than most shoegaze bands. Between members, we share some similar influences, but each of us has pretty different music tastes. This Is All Pretend is the result of us putting our heads together and turning those influences into a whole, and as a piece of music it’s the truest to ourselves we’ve been.

I think we probably aren’t the only group catching on to blurring lines between genres in 2017. One of my favorite current artists, Kevin Abstract, put out a really cool album last year reaching the other way — hip hop and electronic music influenced by indie rock and emo. We are all for trying our best to push music forward in some way.

H.M.: What made you want to start making music?

P.T.: I was born into it. My grandfather is a musician, a rockabilly guy who grew up alongside a lot of the names that make Memphis famous. He was quite literally an observer to rock ‘n’ roll’s origin — touring the country, recording ‘45s, and writing songs for other artists. I grew up on his knee — learning guitar, singing his songs, and hearing his stories. He and my dad handed down a colossal record collection to me, and I was exposed at an early age to different styles of music. There was Sam Cooke and Al Green, Kiss and Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Albert King, Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell. My dad worked concert security too, so I was fortunate to meet a lot of musicians I looked up to as a kid. I remember seeing James Brown dance, pure magic. It all just had a profound affect on me.

H.M.: How does making a full length record differ from making an EP?

P.T.: Our first two EP’s topped out at five or six songs, and there was more of an immediacy in nearly every aspect of the writing and recording process. We felt that we had to put something out. We rushed to do so, only taking a month or two to flesh out songs. I didn’t particularly spend a great deal of time with the lyrics, which is so crucial to do. In hindsight, I’m not sure why we didn’t think through the process behind both releases more thoroughly. I half-chalk it up to the internet age and the expectancies that come along with it. We’re continuously refreshing our feeds, there’s always something new by someone new, and I think on some level we all want to plug into that momentum. To some extent, technology has made creating and sharing music better than ever, but our attention spans have suffered.

We learned a lot while making This Is All Pretend. I think the universe forced us to slow down. We almost broke up, and went on a hiatus for six months or more. We had started writing songs prior to that happening, however, and I wasn’t sure if they’d ever see the light.

I wrote and re-wrote lyrics pretty constantly during that break as a way to cope with what was personally difficult period in my life involving my grandmother’s health and deteriorating relationships. The album is almost chronological in track listing, and it captures a time I’ve since moved past. I don’t relate as much to some of the words I wrote, but they were necessary because they helped me navigate and overcome a tremendous bout of depression.

But to answer your question, we just spent more time with the songs, working and reworking them, demoing them. We recorded the album analog, too, and that experience brought me closer to the records I love and grew up on. Bringing the LP to fruition was a long process, and hopefully if we do it again we’ll give ourselves even more time to write.

H.M.: Who are some of your favorite artists or musicians?

P.T.: Making a comprehensive list would be tough, and it’s impossible to speak for the rest of the band, but as for some personal influences that influenced the writing of this record:

The Smiths, Morrissey Solo, Belle and Sebastian, The Cure, Future Islands, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, David Bazan, Kanye West, Phil Collins, Madonna, Blood Orange, Bon Iver, Prince. I remember finishing the lyrics to Go Where U Want 2 after seeing The Neon Demon and wanting that song to sound like it could fit in a Nicolas Winding Refn film.

H.M.: What has it been like to work with band camp as they donate their profits to the ALCU? What are some ways that you think music can be used as a catalyst for social change?

P.T.: Any opportunity to assist in uplifting and supporting human rights is necessary and important, especially during the weird times we currently find ourselves living in. It goes back to what I spoke about earlier --  that art should always strive to be bigger than self-interest. No matter the medium, it’s the artist's responsibility, in one way or the other, to speak for those who are oppressed. Our album is a far cry from American Idiot, but we try to do our part. In supporting art, it’s more important than anything to support artists of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. It’s crucial to support gay art. I’m fortunate to live in a city that’s forced me out of my box. I’ve become friends with artists and musicians who are telling a story rooted in a culture alien to my own. Proximity affects ethics and understanding, these relationships have enriched my life.

H.M.: Do you have anything specific that you do when you feel creatively stuck?

P.T.: Two things from two far smarter creatives. Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.” David Lynch says, “Ideas are like fish, and you don't make a fish, you catch the fish.” It’s a struggle, but those ideas go hand in hand, and I do my best to practice them.

Cancer and the Self: On Learning Vulnerability Through Pain

I never have a way to gauge my pain.

I hate being told to assess it on a scale of 1-10. How bad is a 10? It must be really, really bad. How do you know when things are bad enough to ask for help? What is bad enough?

Certain types of pain fade very quickly from my body and from my memory, whereas other pains linger incessantly. I’ve had kidney stones, and I know that they hurt, but they never actually felt level 10 bad, even when I was spending hours curled up in a fetal position on my couch, frantically calling friends to see if someone could bring me Advil. I peed blood for a month before seeing a doctor because I never thought anything was serious enough to merit medical attention. I can remember the feeling of depression, an empty vessel with a crack in the bottom that can't hold water. But even then, it took me years to get real help. It’s very difficult for me to tell the difference between something being wrong and my own weakness.

When I had cancer, before I knew it was cancer, I was not exactly in pain. My main symptom was a terrible, life-altering, persistent itch, misdiagnosed as scabies for 5 months until I demanded an x-ray that showed the tumors riddling my chest. The majority of the doctors that I saw were men. I was crying in their offices, the itch was ruining my life, I had stopped going out, I was going to sleep earlier and earlier to spend less time conscious and miserable. I did want to die. Diagnosis wasn’t scary because it was just a huge relief.

A smudge on the x-ray turned into a CT scan turned into a PET scan and a barrage of appointments. The first oncologist I saw made it clear that she was too tired for my shit.

When I asked her if the implanted metal catheter for chemo would show, she responded, “only if you’re skinny.”

I think what I really meant was, how bad is this going to be? and her response really meant, I don’t care.    
       
My first biopsy was a needle biopsy that was both stressful and inconclusive. My second biopsy involved removing an entire tumor from my neck. I begged for general anesthesia; the idea of being cut open and having a tumor extracted terrified me. I was denied my request and given local anesthesia. I made a playlist and called it “sugary” to try to trick myself into thinking of it as something smoother and sweeter than a foreign instrument in my body.

The surgeon assured me the operation would take 20 minutes and that I wouldn’t feel a thing. It took far longer. I could hear her discussing how difficult it was to pull out my tumor; she called it a “scooter.” My music wasn’t loud enough to drown out her conversation. I was hyperventilating and crying the entire time; I was in pain; I kept asking for her to stop. I could feel her under my skin. She ignored me and a nurse held my hand and told me I was doing great, almost there, good job, you’re doing awesome.

When she finally managed to extract the tumor, I angrily told the surgeon that she had lied, that it had hurt me very badly.

“It hurt because you’re emotional,” she said, “Did your tattoos hurt?”
“No,” I said, crying, even though they did. But getting tattooed hurts in a different way than having a swollen cancerous lymph node removed.
“Right, that’s because you’re so emotional now.”
“Can I have painkillers for when the local anesthesia wears off?” I asked.
“No, take an Advil,” said the surgeon. I learned later that Massachusetts had just passed strict laws against prescribing opioids, in an attempt to curb addiction and overdoses. Later that day, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sit up.

I was furious after that surgery. Why did it seem like rape? And why did the surgeon paint me as a hysterical woman, instead of acknowledging my pain and helping me? Why is our first instinct to doubt someone’s pain?

Sharing pain requires so much vulnerability. I wear my pain in my appearance these days; I’m half-bald from chemo, I look worn out, I have scars. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror; I’ve become a cancer ghost. Sometimes, I feel like in sacrificing my health to kill the cancer, I’ve gained some power. There’s something very real and magical and strong about letting down your defenses. I’ve existed in this periphery where I’m not quite living, because so much of my body is dying, but it’s part of what will keep me alive. It’s a liminal space, an in-between space, and it feels mystical.

When I was in Montreal, I think five years ago, Joseph took me to a special place called Champs des Possibles that had been a railroad but was now overgrown with mostly weeds and invasive species. It had become a space used for gardening and meeting. It was sort of a beautiful oasis of green and rebirth and rewild; a reclaimed land. This was the first time I thought of invasive species as something other than “bad.” After the vast majority of natural resources are extracted, perhaps the world will heal itself and look different than it did originally. That’s not bad. It’s just recovery.

Nature recovers with new species in disturbed locations. In the article “Play of Sniffication,” about coyotes reclaiming and rewilding urban space, Natasha Seegert writes, “Ruin and decay should not be considered negative processes. Indeed, they are highly productive. Ruin and decay not only provide space for new life to spring forth, but also permit for new constructions of reality.” 

I lost so much this year. I was living in an apartment and supporting myself, I was in a relationship, and I had an excellent job at a museum. I was organizing zine-related events, I had a community, I had a future, I had security. And then all of a sudden I wasn’t sure if I was going to live, and slowly all of those things fell away. I’m mourning those losses and rejoicing that I still have time to build things again.

I lost my immortality. I am so changed. I don’t know my body anymore. I don’t trust my body anymore. How could I, after nearly dying from a disease that originates in my own cells?

Months into remission, I am learning that every day I survive is a chance to rebuild. Every day is a chance to revisit that pain and attempt to overcome that fear. Some days I succeed, other days I don't. I am occasionally minimized by my pain, but often I find it expansive; I'm forced to explore the marginal space of the sick and the surviving. Moving forward in a world where wealthy politicians strike down healthcare and further doom the sick and disabled, I find comfort in the community that shares the liminal space of illness.

Two weeks into cancer treatment, my head was on fire and I shat blood (if I could shit at all). My body covered in rashes, my mouth with sores, and every time I ran my hand through my hair, I pulled out clumps.

I thought I can't possibly do this. I can't possibly continue to live.

But I did, and so I will, as long as I can.

The World Doesn't Care but You Still Can

This year has taught me that the world is and will always be ruthless. This is something that I’ve known, but pretended to brush aside. I have known the ways humanity has suffered, known the ways my own people have suffered, been conscious of those suffering around me, but it wasn’t until I met my own suffering face to face, that I truly understood how much the world does not give a shit.

We all have different reasons to live, different desires and goals, various explanations for life’s inexplicable demands, but there is something that ties us all together. It is the wish to understand why we are here, why we were dropped on this planet and told that we had a purpose. I can use the same metaphors often used for life, I can talk about how it is a game and we are merely learning the rules. I can talk about how it plays itself out like The Sims and we are being watched by a higher power. I can talk about how we all desperately want to make sense of this, but if 2016 has taught me anything, it is to stop trying to find a solution or an answer to everything.

If Western existentialism has any significance at all, it lies in the idea that while the world remains meaningless, our only purpose is to find meaning in our suffering. As a collective, a unit bundled up of social media profiles across all platforms, we have decided that 2016 has been an agonizing year that has quite literally annihilated all hope (RIP Princess Leia). Obviously, when speaking of those that passed this year, we are aware that 2016 didn’t actually kill them (even though some think pieces are trying very hard to prove this notion), we still witnessed lots of death via the web. These deaths weren’t just notable figures like Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Debbie Reynolds, and so forth, but they were also individuals grouped as political identities across the world.

We watched people die through Facebook articles and trending topics. We watched young people record themselves while expecting death in Syria via Twitter. We watched videos of Black children violently killed by cops. We became desensitized. We became expectant of this content.

In one short year, we watched America switch from a silly and kind of scary joke to a very serious topic of conversation. We watched fear grow in each other’s posts, we watched each other have public breakdowns, we watched everything crash while our cities remained silent and the outskirts cheered.

People talk about 2016 like it was a blur of a year, one that feels like the hardest episode to watch of an HBO original series. It feels gruesome, yet it also feels sort of like a miracle to have made it out alive. We talk about this year because all of us have experienced it together, we watched the fire start and we watched everything burn through our computer screens. We sat together at home on our couches, in our beds, eating dinner, drinking beer, experiencing what feels like the downfall of humanity.

Yet, it’s not the downfall. It is quite the opposite, actually. It is the beginning of an awakening. Social media has allowed for a chaotic, somewhat traumatic, and eye-opening glimpse of the world. We have finally gotten a taste for the insides of each other’s experiences through Live videos, and stories on Snapchat and Instagram, through keeping each other updated every minute of every day. One could argue that this has made us all out of our minds. Yes, probably, but on the other hand, can’t you feel a revolution brewing?

Maybe it won’t be a traditional revolution, but it’s one that will be built by the generation that was born learning the language that we’ve slowly been creating since the start of our social media journey. They are already more weary, more careful, and more willing to have discussions on identity and how the world works. We are still navigating and practicing the semiotics we’ve created and applied while existing in this “new” world that allows for “real life” to be everywhere, including Facebook support groups, but this generation following us will already be well-versed in the lingo. What will that mean? Who knows, but it is happening and there’s no way of stopping it.

So while 2016 has felt like one big car crash, we have to remember that all of the things that make us weak simultaneously act as catalysts for what makes us strong. We have seen and felt the worst of things this year, but it’s not the worst it’ll ever be, and it’s certainly not the best. There is so much ahead of us and while 2016 chewed us up and spit us out, I believe that we are all coming out of this geared up and prepared for battle. What we haven’t yet fought, we will, and it won’t ever make sense, but it won’t ever have to.

We might as well find a reason to keep moving while we’re still here.

Creating Safe Spaces in Dangerous Places

Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

In 2016, I took a huge step and moved back home with my parents. For many, this might not be a huge deal -- perhaps meaning they gave up some level of pride, independence or direction in their life at worst. But for me, this meant I was moving back in with my abuser.

I had quit my job because I had been at crisis symptom level for two weeks; a few months after I had admitted to myself that I was bipolar, just like my dad. Overwhelmed with anxiety, anger and a strong urge to hurt myself and others, I arrived home in a pile of defenseless, tired vulnerability, prepared to start the process. I needed something to stop the voices in my head (both figurative and literal) so desperately that I didn't have time to assess the consequences of going back into the lion’s den.

Right before I started taking my first round of meds, my dad and I fought for the first time in years. I've avoided him tactfully all throughout my college career. It took exactly a week of me living at home for him to bring me to tears, browbeating and mocking me over a harmless opinion I had shared. This elevated into nasty emails from my dad, telling me how toxic, bitter, and overly sensitive I was. I read his words aloud to my mom through tears as she drove me to the train station to visit my partner over the weekend (I have my own car, but my mom was worried about me being behind the wheel with how suicidal I'd been). 

My mom cried too as I read the emails, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the wheel harder. “I'm so sorry, that is unacceptable,” she told me. “I'll take care of him, don't worry.” I love my mom, but that was just another empty promise.

On the train, I pondered how exactly I'd be able to survive living at home, especially when I was trying to recover from bipolar, PTSD and alcoholism. I felt like running. With the stress my dad puts me under, the way he refuses to treat his own bipolar,  He is one of the causes of my PTSD, how could I really achieve the mental health goals I need to living under that roof?

With the help of meds giving me so much peace I had never experienced before, and my loving partner, I figured it out. Living in my room had always felt difficult, as its usual arrangement always reminded me of a traumatized past. I had never been able to quite get motivated enough to change anything about it. But my partner came up to visit me for the weekend and helped me set everything into motion.

We worked tirelessly altering the entire layout of the room, picking up some cute organizational tools and decorations from Target to spruce it up. We threw out 12 bags of junk that were clogging my space. And by the end of the weekend, I felt like I could breathe again. Like the space I was in was actually mine, and filled with my own hopeful and warm energy. I had successfully exorcised my room of my dad.

Once I checked myself into an outpatient program, I took off into doing my own thing. Five days a week, I was surrounded by loving folks who understood my diagnosis and my gender.  They were ready to help me do my best every day. As soon as I'd get home, I'd go back up to my room, a place I now loved so much. Within those four walls, away from everything bad, I coached myself through anxiety attacks, wrote stories, did yoga and watched a wild amount of The Sopranos. Besides the stir-crazy feeling an unemployed person can sometimes get, I felt happy. But every time I'd walk downstairs and be greeted by my dad, I'd feel my safety be compromised all over again. Especially, since my dad wasn't supportive of me doing something he should've done decades ago.

So, I decided to make a rule: Dad couldn't talk to me no matter what the circumstances were. I had pretty obviously ignored him for months, but my dad has a hard time picking up on the hints I dropped. This became apparent after I started taking an antidepressant and appeared more cheerful and sociable than I normally would. Fearful of how he would react to me, I told mom to tell him about this new rule. We stopped talking completely.

Asserting myself and setting that rule hurt my dad, but that only made it better for me. Not only could I have the power to rid my space of my dad’s voice and energy; I had the power to hurt him at long last.

Creating safe spaces in dangerous places is tiring work. I was reminded of this when I woke up one morning to Donald Trump being our president-elect. For the first few weeks after hearing this news, I had collapsed. I felt terrified to be a newly out trans man in America, something I didn't anticipate needing to worry about further based on the election results.

I felt immensely depressed because my future seemed bleak, because my excitement about transitioning vanished into concerns about surviving. Google Docs circulated telling folks that they should change their gender marker now. I don't feel ready for that -- I felt so overwhelmed. How could I possibly be myself and be happy now?

I've written about my trans identity plenty of times, but I don't tend to talk about it much in the real world. So, I brought it up to my therapist, a lovely radical and trans-accepting feminist that I've been seeing since September. There, in that room filled with white furniture and sage-scented incense, she created a safe space for me where I could talk about being a man. She addressed my concerns with trans-positive words, making me aware of many of my options and helped me look forward to certain goals of my transition I set with her. I felt seen and loved -- like as long as she sees me, I could never disappear. We ended the session with a safe space meditation, a guided experience where she helped me visualize a place I can escape to when I feel that I need it. I visualized a cozy bed on a sea-green ocean floor.

The power of friendship, of belief in yourself, of online communities and constructed safe spaces -- real and imaginary, tangible and intangible -- is something I learned to hold on to. If we’re going to survive treatment, abusive people and hateful leaders, we have to create safety for ourselves and be resources to the safety of others. Though it can sometimes feel impossible when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, this year I've learned we can always rely on the kindness of our community and the strength of our character to build us back up again. If I get tired, I can always escape to my ocean bed.

Artist Profile: Noah Morrison

When I co-organized a fall student art show at my college’s student gallery during my sophomore year, one of the artists who submitted work and immediately caught my eye was Noah Morrison. Morrison’s sophisticated black-and-white photography belies his age, drawing from a well of emotion and empathy to evoke a heightened sense of melancholy. Hailing from New York City, Morrison takes a cinematic approach to his chosen subjects of quotidian street scenes and his friends, striking a fine balance between the posed and the candid. He has exhibited at the School of International Center for Photography in New York, among other venues, and enjoys experimenting with digital and video art, as well as documentary and narrative filmmaking.

All photographs courtesy of the artist.

How did you get started making art?  Have you always focused on photography, or did you experiment in other media? 

I began taking photos during a rough time in my sophomore year of high school. I had reached out to my doctor asking for solutions to my boredom and unhappiness, and she advised me to find a hobby outside of school to pursue. After a short discussion, we settled on photography, and the next day my dad and I went to J&R and he bought me a DSLR and lens. For a long time after this, I would bring the camera with me everywhere, and spend hours after school walking around my neighborhood taking photos. My focus has always been on photography outside of basic painting classes in high school. I have made some videos (documentary and narrative) for various classes, and am always experimenting with video making on various digital platforms. I would love to expand this focus in the future.

What subjects do you find yourself drawn to as a photographer? Why? 

As a photographer, I find myself broadly drawn to ephemera. I find that focusing on items, emotions, and situations that only last for a brief period of time helps me reflect deeply on myself. Maybe even, photographing ephemera in various ways is a true reflection of myself, or the pursuit of such a truth. In photographing my friends, I tend to understand the level of intimacy between us through photos I take of them. I try to capture personal moments from which I can see the relationship between the camera, the setting, and the person’s mental and emotional state, as well as myself at the moment. Photographing in the street is more is much more of a personal exercise, and connected to the reasons why I began to photograph in the first place. My discovery of photography coincided with my discovery of a love for being outside by myself, and a need to leave the confines of my small apartment. I found that, initially, photography gave me a good excuse to get out for a few hours and walk around aimlessly. However, after some time, the act of walking itself became connected with the act of photography, and one became inseparable from the other. Through constructing parts of my self on the streets, I began to photograph objects and situations that I felt were connected to this self. The act of walking was inherently lonely, and thus much of my subject matter reflected this outwardly. The catharsis in photographing this subject matter on the street was in being able to see myself in the world around me.

To what degree are your compositions posed or candid? Which do you prefer? Do you like to take your camera around with you and capture your friends in particular in small moments, or do you stage shoots with them? 

I genuinely try to make every composition candid, and I would say that the majority of my images exist somewhere in between posed and candid, depending on my relationship to the subject. I feel like candid and posed are on a spectrum, not in opposition to each other, but in constant conversation. For example, sometimes I will allow a subject to pose themselves in a way that is recognizable, such as smiling, putting up a peace sign, etc. Yet in this situation, I will usually hold the camera ready to take a picture until some façade of the pose falls, and something else is revealed. There is often a particular moment after people pose themselves that they begin to question the pose, and that is where I try to insert the image. All this being said, the majority of my photos can be read as candid, and I think this has something to do with the ephemeral nature of the emotions or moments that I try to capture with my subjects. I rarely stage shoots with my friends unless I am working on a specific project. Even if I am working on a specific project, I tend to focus around real, lived situations of the subject. Often these photos exist on the spectrum between candid and posed as I mentioned above.

Why do you focus on black-and-white photography? What kind of equipment do you use? 

I focus on black and white photography because I appreciate what I can capture in terms of light in black and white as opposed to color. I believe I know how to understand contrast, highlight and shadow better in black and white. I love how people photograph in natural light in black and white as well. In terms of equipment, I usually use a Nikon F100 to shoot 35mm, but when I was in Jordan, my camera temporarily broke. In a wild turn of events, I found a store right near my school that was selling a cheap, Fujifilm point and shoot camera, the Zoom Date 90SR, so I used that for a lot of my shots in Jordan, and in Philadelphia over the summer. But now the Fujifilm camera’s almost broken, so I’ve begun to use my Nikon again. When I’m shooting medium format (6x7), I use a Mamiya RB67.

What teachers, mentors, or other artists have been influential and inspirational in your development as an artist? 

Some of the teacher’s I’ve had the privilege of working with at the International Center of Photography have been some of the most influential in my photographic life. Taking a class with Bayeté Ross-Smith helped me understand the importance of identity in my work, and aided in making my work even more personal. His project, Question Bridge: Black Males, which deals with asking questions related to perceptions of blackness and masculinity to Black males across America, was being exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum when I took his class. Seeing this kind of photographic/video work in a museum inspired me to continue down a path that would bring my identities and my work closer together. Additionally, working with different instructors, including Josie Miner, Charulata Dyal, and Nona Faustine, during my time at “Teen Photo Fridays” at ICP helped me develop extensive photo editing and darkroom skills that have been immensely helpful to this day. Finally, I got the opportunity to TA for master printer Jim Megargee at ICP two summers ago, and the lessons he taught me (even as I assumed the position of teacher myself) about printing processes and preservation of image detail during the course of that class were some of the most important things I’ve learned related to photography. On a more personal level, the work of Bruce Davidson, Carrie Mae Weems, Australian photographer Trent Parke, Caravaggio, musician Dean Blunt, and the films of Alfonso Cuarón inspire me.

Do you hope to work professionally as a photographer and artist? Would you want to work commercially?

I do hope to work full-time as an artist as soon as that is possible. Whether that means making work and getting it exhibited and sold, or teaching art, or working on community arts programming, or some combination of all of the above. I don’t see commercial work in my future per say; yet I’m not ruling out anything, as long as I can continuously develop my skills.

What has been your proudest moment as an artist? 

My proudest moment as an artist was most definitely having my photo series on my identities exhibited at the School of the International Center of Photography to culminate the yearlong class I took there. Besides having my photos featured in this exhibit, I also delivered the commencement speech for the program. Seeing and hearing artists from different walks of life react to both my photos and the speech was validating and inspiring.

Can you talk about your experience as an artist on Swarthmore's campus? Do you find that students, faculty, staff, and/or the institution have a positive view of the importance of art on campus?

In all honesty, Swarthmore is not a great place to be a practicing artist, especially a photographer. The nature of the space is such that less value is placed on pursuits that are not academic and nature. Additionally, I’ve found every class here to value analytical and critical thinking over visual narrative and ways of complicating and understanding the world. This way of work combined with the quantity of work assigned leaves little room for artistic practice, especially if you are not a studio art major. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because critical thinking about various issues related to society and self needs to be a part of artistic practice. This being said, I have had the privilege to take a photography independent study class, and I will be taking an alternative processes class in the spring. There are pockets of acceptance and encouragement, including with our photography professor Ron Tarver, and among a selection of studio art majors. However, I’ve found that I can really only practice at my fullest outside of Swarthmore.

What is the most challenging aspect of your practice? 

The most challenging aspect of my practice is aesthetic consistency. This could have to do with the fact that my photos often are reflections of my self as much as they are reflections of the world around me, and both are in constant flux. I’ve found the pursuit of a certain aesthetic to be an endlessly difficult process, which seems to have an equal amount to do with editing, the negatives themselves, when you shoot, who you shoot, what you shoot with, and how you relate to your photos. Additionally, I often oscillate between wanting consistency in my photos and thinking that I do not need to be aesthetically consistent to be true.

What do you hope people who see your photographs take away from them?

For me, photography is a systemizing tool for the organization and understanding of beauty in relation to shifting notions of self. I hope that people can recognize that beauty is conceptualized in diverse and ever-shifting ways just as each person’s self is, and that all photography has the power to make these connections [a] personal truth. 

Finding a New Voice: Bianca Xunise

Photo by April Acevedo

Photo by April Acevedo

Bianca Xunise is the epitome of black girl magic. The 29-year-old graphic designer and full time artist is unapologetic in every aspect of her life, but it took her some time to get comfortable with that. Xunise has bylines with HelloGiggles, Bustle, and her latest and proudest venture, the political cartoon space, The Nib.

Hooligan had the chance to sit down with Xunise in her picturesque Ravenswood apartment.  She is a voice for younger black female designers and artists and while in the prime of her career, she has nowhere to go but up.

How did you decide to become an artist?

I, like a lot of artists, have kind of always been an artist. It’s second nature to me. It’s almost like asking when did you decide to become black? It has always been a part of who I am. It really wasn’t a choice so much as when I decided it was something that I wanted to do full time, and that came later in life. I’ve always been involved in the arts. My mom is an artist, both of my parents are artists. So I’ve been surrounded by it my whole life.

What does your day to day routine look like?

I’ll give you two versions of it. So, the boring day to day with my 9-5 [job], I get up, go to work, and I come home. That’s it. My artist day to day—because I’m taking some time off from work now—is doing comics full time. It’s mostly meetings and pitching to people. I try to seek inspiration everywhere. Recently it has kind of been a nonstop brigade of things happening in the world that have inspired me to illustrate. I know for me, illustrating and doing my comics is a method of therapy. It’s kind of just workshopping what’s going on inside of me and inside my head. Getting it on paper helps me feel not so anxious and overwhelmed and bothered by what’s going on in the world. And I can see that progression from when my work first became public—from when I was working for HelloGiggles until now. My comics are less about “how many slices of pizza can I eat?” and more about my womanhood and blackness and things like that.

How does your role as a black woman impact your art?

There’s statements that’ve been said before that I’ll say now, which is that there’s really nothing more punk, or nothing more political than just being a black woman. It kind of comes with the package. Even if your grandma or your mom or auntie don’t call themselves a feminist, listen to the way she talks. There’s nothing more feminist or intersectional then some of the stuff our moms or grandmas or aunts have said. It just comes with the weight of being a black woman. I got tired of the sugary sweetness of my work, and I just felt like there [weren’t] that many voices like me out there. I would go to the places that I do have my work now and see no voice from a black woman, or maybe just one or two and I feel like that’s not nearly enough. You can have twenty white male points of view in the world, and one black woman voice isn’t enough. I would see comics drawn by white men of the plight of the black woman and be like, “okay, well this is your idea of it but this isn’t necessarily true.”  

[Like the movie Loving], I have issues with films like that because it’s written and directed by a white man. How can you tell the voice of this woman of color in this relationship when this is something that has never affected you? You could’ve at least had a black female write this.

I just feel like my work is conscious of what’s going on in the world. When I was doing a lot of my work in the beginning I was kind of speaking out of what was just plain, old-fashioned depression. I was 26 when I started so I was going through a quarter-life crisis as well. Now I have a stronger sense of who I am. I was afraid to show my blackness when I first started off as an artist, because I didn’t want to be known as that “militant black cartoonist” and now I don’t care.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far as an artist?

Honestly, my proudest accomplishment so far is the work that I have done for The Nib, and being able to write longer form stories than just Instagram squares. That’s been about a ear and a half long journey for me to be able to express myself without kind of stopping halfway and getting frustrated. That’s what would happen before when my comics were so short and I would get stuck and feel like no one cares and make something short and sweet. I realized the phoniness of Instagram and social media in how we view things. You see it, you laugh, and you move on, but you’re not breaking down this meme or comic throughout your day and asking “what does this mean?” Now that I have gotten some attention, I feel like I can take that same cuteness or ha-ha of my work and keep my audience captivated for longer.

What is the importance of artists getting paid for their work?

It’s incredibly important for artists to get paid for their work. I was offered a job to do something and they didn’t want to pay me—they wanted to pay me in stuff. I come from a [fashion] blogging background, and I remember the day I stopped blogging. I stopped blogging because they didn’t want to indict George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case and after that I realized I [didn’t] care what I’m wearing anymore. But I did the whole thing of going to Fashion Week, took pictures of clothes and got a free pair of shoes as compensation--as long as I took a picture of them. I can’t survive on free shoes. I don’t want that. I don’t just want exposure.

I feel like a lot of that comes from the removal of art programs from many schools. If you’re not teaching children the importance of art, when they become adults and run these companies and try to work with artists, they will [think] that they’re not worth being paid. I feel like you have to start them young in appreciating art so they can understand that I’m not just this person who does this magical spell and then there’s some art made. Artists are constantly putting pieces of themselves into their work. It’s pieces of ourselves that we will never get back, but you can find other ways to replenish yourself. You’re paying for this piece of an artist. It’s so important. I’m all about telling artists to get their money. If that means putting your work on Etsy, or working with different newspapers or like me as a graphic designer—that’s a way of me making money for my art. It’s so important for them to appreciate us and understand the importance of what we do to keep this world functional.

What advice would you give those wanting to be full-time artists?

My advice is that it takes time. No matter how instant this world becomes, real success will still take time. Your Instagram or your social media is your portfolio but it doesn’t show the grime that comes on the backend. The grime goes into your 30’s. In high school, I had this perception that by the time I’m 30, I’ll have three kids, a mansion and a dog. But now I’m almost 30—I have ramen, a pack of beers in the fridge, and let’s keep it moving.

Besides taking time, the other step for people in college who are interested in pursuing the arts is to always be working. If your time is spent on Instagram or Tumblr looking at someone else’s work, sighing and saying “ugh, I had this same idea but they already did it so what’s the point of me doing it?” you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Even if all you have is your Instagram page, at least it’s something to start from. If you spend your whole time being wistful and wishing to be an artist but you’re not actively working as an artist, opportunities are going to come and go, and you’ll miss a great [one]. For me, things have come and gone and I wish I had been ready, but the ones that were right for me always came when I needed them.

Read the whole spread here.

Volumes Bookcafe: An Open Community

Photo by Elmer Martinez

Rebecca and Kimberly George are two sisters who once dreamt about opening up a bookstore. Both sisters have master’s degrees and are certified to teach, but they have focuses in different areas. Kimberly’s foundation is rooted in theatre and working with younger children while Rebecca’s is focused primarily on English and teaching high school and college students. This is why their passion for Volumes is so strong. As former teachers, they deeply understand the benefits and difficulties of the American education system, recognize the needs that the Chicago Public Schools have, and are actively working on giving young people resources and spaces that help them feel empowered and comfortable. Due to their hard-work and ambition, they were able to create something that encompassed their visions of what a bookstore should look and feel like.

Photo by Elmer Martinez

Volumes Bookcafe was founded on a love for books and community. The store sits on the consistently hectic Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, an area known for its coffee shops, consignment stores, and trendy brunch spots. I was hired with the first wave of employees when the shop first opened in March of 2016. The immediate reaction to the store was phenomenal; people kept commenting on how beautiful the store looks, its selection, and most importantly, how smart the idea of including a cafe is. It not only serves coffee, but beer, wine and cider, too. Volumes is a hit, but my appreciation for it stems from a slightly different perspective; I am moved by the owners' dedication for their community and the people that are a part of it.

Volumes is surrounded by coffee shops, used bookstores, and other niche indie bookstores in the area, but what draws people in and what makes it so special is the warmth it exudes. The sisters and staff work very hard to make sure it remains inviting and open, while also being, as Rebecca says, a “prolific mainstay of the literary world of Chicago.”

The way the Volumes staff works together is similar to how a family functions. This is because both Kimberly and Rebecca have a lot of love for their family and built the store as a family project. Since they are so family-oriented, Volumes is naturally a hot spot for families. They have already had children’s workshops and they hold weekly storytime sessions every Wednesday and Saturday morning. “We would love to offer additional programs for the neighboring schools, camps, classes, birthday parties, [and] books clubs,” says Kimberly.

With different author readings, discussions, monthly women’s comedy showcases, celebrations, and other endeavors that typically support small businesses and local writers, Volumes is constantly stirring something up for the community to enjoy and it’s exactly what Chicago needs.

The night after the election, Rebecca emailed me at midnight asking if I wanted to host an impromptu open mic so the community could be comforted by strangers while also sharing their thoughts and writings. Of course I said yes.

This impromptu open mic, or otherwise known as, An Open Community, was Volumes’ entire purpose and message. This is what Volumes stands for, what they believe in, and what they are actively working to amplify.

Kimberly and Rebecca George started Volumes because they wanted to give everyone a home of some kind—a place where people can come and feel comforted, where there will be light all around and hot chocolate with marshmallows in the front. At Volumes, there is no judging. There is no intimidation or pretentiousness—no explicit hierarchies or aggression. It exists as a place for anyone and everyone because at the end of the day Rebecca reiterates, “books make people happy.”