Inside Issue #21: Comedy as a Coping Mechanism: A Conversation with Jaboukie Young-White

Interview by Rivka Yeker

 Photo by  Jerry Maestas  

Photo by Jerry Maestas 

In August, I met Jaboukie Young-White unexpectedly when I went to get lunch with a mutual friend of ours. He was visiting Chicago, his hometown, but was living in New York at the time. I didn’t know Jaboukie personally up until that point, but I had seen his face before and couldn’t figure out why or how. I assumed it was through DePaul, the university we both attended, or maybe just through friends’ online feeds. Later, when I got home and looked him up, I realized that he was a hilarious Twitter personality and someone I’ve probably retweeted before.

Regardless, the minute we started talking, there was an instantaneous bond that lead us to conversations about coming from immigrant families, queerness, and trying to make it. After brunch ended that day and Jaboukie was going back to our friend’s apartment to rehearse for an upcoming audition, we promised to stay in touch and I wished him safe travels back to the East coast. Over the last couple months, Jaboukie moved to LA to work on season 2 of Netflix’s true-crime parody American Vandal and has been gaining further recognition as an influencer, writer, comedian, and actor. 

Jaboukie recently appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon performing a set of his that he described as, “his own material, but finessed a little bit to make it cleaner”, which blew everyone away, along with Jimmy Fallon himself. Jaboukie’s future looks exciting and filled with opportunity, and yet he remains one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. When we got on FaceTime, I felt nothing but excitement to catch up with someone I had such a great connection with the first time we hung out. This time was no different; it was a conversation that left me even more inspired and motivated.


Jaboukie came out as queer to his parents on late night television. 

The first time we spoke back in August, he mentioned that he was still not yet out and that he didn’t know if he ever could come out because his parents, two Jamaican immigrants, would not be okay with it, especially his father. 

“When your family is homophobic and you’re relying on them as your only safety net and that safety net already has holes in it because they’re broke, you’re bottomed out. You tell yourself you can do this until you’re at a point where you don’t need them anymore. So, when I got to the point of being on TV, I was like, ‘well I’ll never to sleep on their couch again, so I can do this.’”

At a certain point, there is no escaping an identity that encapsulates the way you navigate through life. Especially as a comedian, leaving out that part of yourself is eliminating an entire voice that lives inside of you, one that should be breathed into the art you make. 

I asked Jaboukie if he ever saw himself doing what he’s doing now and he said, “I never saw it happening, but I knew it was possible.” 30 Rock was his favorite show when he was 16 and he found out that Donald Glover wrote for it when he was around 22 and he thought, “Oh shit, Black people can do this.” He said, “I didn’t even know TV writing was a job, and I didn’t even know they “let” black people do that. When I saw that, I started working towards it but didn’t know if it’d actually happen.”

Jaboukie originally went to DePaul University for Political Science and then Public Relations/Advertising, and then finally Digital Cinema, to which he joked, “I slowly got lazier and lazier as the years progressed.”

I asked him if his parents ever berated him with making sure he secured a job, as most immigrant parents do. He shared a story about his mom working in an office for most of his life until one day she went back to school and got a Bachelor’s in the US (even though she already had one from the University of the West Indies) and then got her Masters here, was an intern at 40-something, student taught, and then became a 5th grade school teacher who is now thinking about becoming a principal. He said, “She totally switched gears and went to do some other thing. Coming from her, she was like, ‘You can pick the safe route and when your safe route fails, what do you do? What are you left with when your compromise doesn’t work?” So, I had the mindset that I might as well go for what I wanted to do because if I go for the thing I barely tolerate and that doesn’t go well, what would I do with myself then?”

I asked him if he thought that creating a ton of back-up plans and safe routes is an immigrant mentality, to expect change and know that anything can shift at any moment, but to prepare for it. He said, “I think the immigrant thing is two-fold. My parents were more okay with me pursuing comedy because I had shown that I was so serious about it from a young age. In high school, I did speech & debate and my senior year I won both comedic events I was in. If you show you’re incredibly passionate about something, they’ll be like, ‘okay’, but you have to be rich! As long as you’re rich. They’ll be hesitant and then when they see money is coming they’re like, ‘We supported you all along!’” 

We laughed but we know it is true because there is no generational wealth and that their concerns are legitimate. We empathize deeply, but are also confronted with conflicting feelings in how they deliver their worry and love. 

Jaboukie recently moved to LA and he’s been posting on social media about his disdain for the city. I asked him what that was all about. He told me about the first time he visited New York, and the first time he realized he loved the city. He said, “When I was seven, my cousin lived in the Bronx or Harlem and it was like eleven or something at night and I was like, ‘Oh my god Burger King never closes in NYC.’” 

He continued about LA, “The thing that gets me is that it’s so sheltered in a way where I’m in my apartment, I get in a car, I go to work, I get in a car, I go home, I go to a friend’s maybe; you're not experiencing life on the street or on a subway.

The things that you take in on accident in New York are so magical and deeply human; I’ve been transformed just by a subway ride, like ‘I just saw some shit that changed my life and I’m a different person now.’ Those little happenstances don’t happen in LA.” 

I talked about Chicago and how it can sometimes feel both isolating and vibrant, the same way he described LA and New York. But there is something good about LA for writers --  the jobs. He said, “As much as I miss New York, I’m not going to say no to not struggling. I guess I haven’t learned to appreciate that you don’t have to constantly be struggling to feel alive.”

Since we were talking about jobs in LA, I asked if he wanted to continue pursuing writing or stand-up as of right now. He said, “Both. The great thing about being in a [writer’s] room is that the room moves towards a group sense of humor, where everyone is contributing their voice to something that’s greater than themselves. It helps my stand-up at times, not that I’m writing in someone else’s voice, but it allows me to hear other funny people that can open my mind to new material.”

Jaboukie is considered an influencer, which means at one point he was treating Twitter like a job. Now that he’s working in more professional settings, his tweets are less frequent but definitely just as present. When I was at a party and talking to someone about the upcoming cover, he said that he got a lot of his political updates from Jaboukie. I told Jaboukie that, to which he joked, “When I was doing my show in Chicago, someone said ‘I prefer to get my news from someone like you than CNN or MSNBC’ and I was like “That’s so dope, but also … I’m dumb…’” 

He continued, “A lot of the stuff that I post politically is stuff that’s plaguing me, or bothering me, to a point where I need to get it out of my head, so I’m just going to turn it into a joke and then distance myself from it.” 

He said, “I do think it’s cool that it started out as as basically a selfish thing, like something that I’m trying to come to terms with, has been able to reach other people, and that’s awesome, but at the same time, I would really like it if people got their news from reputable sources straight from the source. I am a viewpoint but not the viewpoint.”

I mentioned that as someone who is automatically seen as political just by existing with his identity, it’s almost impossible to escape what people expect from you. They begin to look at you as a person who knows exactly what to say and when to say it. 

He said, “I think everything is a political choice, especially when the world is so globalized. Everything you do or say is politicized. And you can try to ignore that reality and to opt out of that, but that’s also a political choice. We’re at a time where everything is at that level of importance. I don’t think I’m moreso a political person as I am an intentional person and I just try to stay aware of actions having implications. People brand it as ‘political’, but I don’t think necessarily that I’m more political than the next person, I just try to approach my decisions with self-awareness.”

Intention is an integral part of comedy. I mentioned the different kinds of people in comedy and what people can get away with: being purposefully offensive, pushing boundaries, making other people feel uncomfortable for the sake of a joke. I asked him what he thought about that sort of culture within comedy and if it is something that will always exist in stand-up in general.

“People will say fucked up shit and aside from that being a poor moral choice, I think you’re just a bad comedian. A lot of the time, people will go out of their way to say something offensive, or accidentally say something offensive, and it’s like, clearly you don’t know how to read an audience. It goes beyond ‘I should be able to say whatever I want’ No, you’re kind of just bad at your job. It’s getting in the way of what you’re trying to say.”

We discussed how in comedy, you are writing for other people. It’s not just for you, but rather, it’s about connecting with an audience and relating to one another. He said, “It’s one thing if it’s a podcast where people actively seek whatever you’re talking about out, but as a comedian, If you’re bringing your thoughts and ideas to a group of people and you’re not willing to consider the overarching social mores and taste of the time, well, what are you doing?”

He brought up two comedy legends, Lenny Bruce & Richard Pryor, saying that they were, “at the time challenging prevailing social norms.” While they were performative in being over the top offensive, Jaboukie said, “They revolutionized what stand-up is. What made them so radical was the conservative mores that they were pushing against. It’s not that Lenny Bruce was fighting against people trying to say the “N” word, like, he was saying ‘I should be able to say motherfucker’ because that’s how people talk. Richard Pryor was bringing Black culture to a level that it had never been elevated in the American Zeitgeist before, but people like to think of his bits that were wildly misogynistic and fucked up as just as crucial if not more crucial to his legacy. The people who push against PC (politically correct) culture like to look back at those acts and pick out the parts that did not make them legends and icons and use that to justify why they should be able to say the “n word” or be misogynistic in their jokes.”

He laughed because the frustration lies in how bad these jokes usually are. He said, “If these jokes were even good, then I’d be like, ‘Well, ya got me! I don’t agree with you but you wrote a joke and people laughed,’ but what’s so annoying is that these people are just regurgitating mid ‘2000s shock humor, like this was already a South Park episode! People try to write it off as edgy, but it is perfectly the status quo. It is the American culture.

I am lucky enough to have received a liberal arts education and I have the language to dissect these things and point out what is problematic, and there are people who don’t get that.  I was also lucky enough to be young on the internet during a time where there was a huge dialogue going on, almost 24/7, but at the same time...keep up with the times.”

The topic of “safe spaces” came up as we were talking about his upcoming tour and where he’d personally wish he could do shows. Coming from Chicago where the DIY scene is thriving and active, we talked about the term and how people get angry at concepts like it. He joked, “Who doesn’t want a space where they can feel okay and not like they’re being attacked?” I laughed and said, “That’d be a good joke.” He continued, “If I don’t think I can get stabbed, then I’m not going.”

I asked Jaboukie what he thought about identity politics in comedy, since it can be filled with a lot of people, like previously mentioned above, who make efforts to be offensive. I asked if he thought it is up to marginalized people in comedy to represent their identities in their titles and in their work. 

He said, “I don’t think you can divorce stand-up from identity. Out of all the art forms, stand-up is the one that is purely identity-based. It is literally just your identity and your point of view. In a way, I think that’s what makes it such an American art-form. It is an individual, in an individualistic society, talking about their individual experience and point of view — you cannot remove yourself from it.”

I told him that I don’t believe in describing someone based on specific identities because at a certain point, it begins to sound like you’re marketing that person. 

“Sometimes I get angry when people are cherry-picking which identities they want to use to describe me i.e queer comedian, black comedian, millennial comedian. I’m always all those things at once, it’s not like I change from joke to joke. At the same time, that representation can get sticky because then you enter the territory of being the spokesperson for that identity, which! I don’t think is always a bad thing.”

Jaboukie said, “Comedy to me as a queer black kid was the only way to gain access to social capital.” 

It was a coping mechanism, “In my neighborhood I was seen as the lightest person so I was read as white and at school I was seen as the darkest person, so I was trying to navigate multiple confusing identities. Because of that, it was always easiest to say I’m funny because that’s my place — I always felt safe as the funny person.”

Being that funny person became not only a skill, but a way to combat potential homophobia or racism. It became a tactic to fit in, to be treated like anyone else no matter who surrounded him. He says for some reason people think that, “things that evoke joy are not seen as important or meaningful as things that evoke sadness of grief. People think joy is our cheapest emotion.” 

He said, “Comedy is a mass art form --- it is trying to reach as many people as possible.” In knowing that, we look at the ways comedy transforms a society and how we reflect on laughter for growth. What does it do for us in time of emotional turmoil? In political distress? In seeking happiness?

Jaboukie said, “When you laugh at something, you are accepting that thing into your reality.”

Not only is comedy a coping mechanism, but it’s a tool. Comedy guides society, it teaches people, it informs us on what is typically hard to swallow and makes it a little bit more digestible. For Jaboukie, it is how he navigates his life as someone who once used it as a way to be accepted by people he felt alienated by. He now uses it to impact others, regardless of whether his words are perceived as political, the fact that he is speaking his truths, getting positive reactions, and doing it all with intention, shows that comedy can be powerful in a time where the ability to laugh not only becomes optional, but it becomes crucial. 

read the whole issue here

The Innocence of Witnessing: A Conversation with Hop Along

Interview by Rivka Yeker

After a photoshoot outside, where the weather granted us a perfectly lit overcast backdrop, Hop Along shuffled their way through the back door into the Metro. We made our way to a corner in the green room, while the sounds of people practicing vocals and chatting serenaded us. 

I began talking to Frances about her storytelling, not just lyrically, but also sonically. In the same way a classical composition can create an visceral cinematic experience, I claim that Hop Along can, too. I ask her about the way a certain line in a song can align with the mood of the music, in a way that is synchronous. For example: “Look of Love” off the new record Bark Your Head Off, Dog is a song where Frances’ voice almost looks like it’s riding the musical notes, working alongside them like long-term partners.

Something I notice quickly with Frances is her self-deprecation. It is light-hearted, but earnest. She says in regards to her storytelling writing, “It gets in the way of the music a little bit. One thing I struggle with is how the music fits with the written content. I do want to provide narratives; I do want to get people into a physical space. I want our songs to do the same thing [as books]. But it’s a challenge, because you have a certain amount of time to build something visually, and music has its own way of doing that.” 

This is particularly interesting to me since Hop Along aggressively takes me into a space. It’s almost as if it’s impossible to leave the space once I’ve entered. They create records that you have to listen to from beginning to end or else you are missing something vital. In previous interviews and just by being aware of Frances’ savvy as a lyricist, it is obvious she has a background in literature, or a deep love for it. 

Frances says, “I wanted to be a short story writer; I never thought I’d have the attention span to be a novelist. I love writing, maybe even more than I love singing.” Which is unsurprising to some, but an obvious revelation to me, as the lyrics are so visibly poetic and personal, so much so that only someone who thinks like a writer before anything else could come up with them. 

She says, “I was into slam poetry. I remember reading this poem on stage once and a friend said to me, ‘God, your voice is so interesting that I could hardly pay attention to what you were saying.’ Which bummed me out because I worked so hard, but I wanted to be so engaging that it actually took away from the poem itself.” Frances relates this to her work after, saying, “I heard him when he said that, but I don’t think I really listened for the longest time, as you can tell in previous records. I do think at times my voice could get in the way.” 

So, do the lyrics matter? She says, “There are people who like our band that aren’t interested in our lyrics at all. I know people who are big fans of Bob Dylan, but don’t care that much about the lyrics.” Which, is shocking to me, on both accounts. But, people consume art for different reasons. People very well may be listening to Hop Along solely for Frances’ voice and the music, rather than the stories she’s telling. Yet, I am still curious about the lyrics. I will forever be curious about her lyrics because they are so vague and cryptic, yet deeply personal and strangely relatable. I want to understand how that is.

 photo by  A Klass

photo by A Klass

She says, “You’re using a part of your body to convey something abstract like language and it takes a long time to understand how to use the strong parts of that. What parts of me can convey sadness better vocally?” Which makes me think once again, about the alignment of music and lyrics and how just her voice alone can provoke an emotional reaction -- even when the lyrics themselves aren’t completely understood. 

I ask Frances if she considers herself the protagonist or the observer in the stories she’s telling. She says, “I never feel like a protagonist. I never have the confidence to write myself in that way. I just don’t feel that way about myself. It feels more correct to just observe, and even that, it’s faulty because it’s through my eyes. I don’t want to get in the way, I don’t think I’m half as interesting.”

This brings up the concept of being the author of an observation. Suddenly, Frances has the ability to create a story through her lens as the witness, suddenly that story is potentially detached from reality and most likely fictionalized. This segues us into the root of the stories she is typically writing about. 

“Annie Dillard said that writers often write on childhood because it’s the last first-hand experience they had. That’s all I write about. You can never exhaust that well.”

Similar to the experience of witnessing, we are always revising our childhoods because our memories are perpetually fleeting. We aren’t reliable narrators, the same way we aren’t reliable in our observations. Yet, it is the claiming of authorship on these stories that we hold close to ourselves. It is the decision to write about them at all. 

Frances speaks about the tension between being a young person and wanting to have more under your belt and being an older person and yearning for the past. She says, “We’re struggling against it, and for it. We want to be experienced, and yet there is a terror in leaving childhood.” 

I tell her about one of my favorite lyrics from her first record Freshman Year under the moniker Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. It is in the song “Bruno Is Orange”, which Frances reveals that it is an homage to the book When I was Five I Killed Myself and the lyric is, “Did you hear about that mother? / Broke her daughter's legs in two / And said, ‘It's too dangerous out there to walk, so I had to save you.’” For me, this lyric, encapsulates the experience of being a child and being almost helpless. There is the act of being taken care of, where every choice is made for you, where your lens and perspective is taken less seriously than anyone else’s. It is the presumption that children have no valuable truth to add, that their truth is merely faulty logic. 

Frances says, “When I was younger, I daydreamed all the time and my mom who’s a very nice lady, would say, ‘You’re just bored.’ and I assumed that I must be stupid, that I’m not that interesting, that other people are way more interesting and have way more captivating stories.”

If Hop Along’s lyrics are rooted in the experience of childhood and children’s voices are belittled, I wonder if Frances is making an attempt to give those voices, especially her own, a chance to live, an opportunity to be taken seriously. There is a sort of empathy we must give to our past selves, one that is often stolen from us because of how much pressure kids have on their shoulders to figure everything out quickly. Frances says in relation to kids being rushed to be good at everything, “I think it’s too bad when kids aren’t given a shot at being bad.” 

With the newfound knowledge of Frances’ relationship with her childhood, which is planted in her lyrics, I am curious to know more about the people she derives inspiration from. She is currently reading Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer, who Frances says writes soap opera-esque novels that capture relationships and trauma in an intelligent way. While she was once inspired by Steinbeck, she recognizes that his treatment of women characters, like many white men, is flawed. She says, “The only older male author that handles women well is James Baldwin.” Which then brings us to the conversation on how oftentimes if a person is marginalized, they are more cautious with how they write other marginalized characters. We talk about the different “genre” of women’s voices and how characters are developed in literature, the reality of a one-dimensional woman character versus a well-rounded, well-crafted woman character.

The concept of women being different “genres” makes me want to ask about her most talked about feature: her voice. It is constantly deemed as powerful, and I asked her how she feels about the term. She says, “I almost envy that image, I certainly don’t feel powerful. I wonder had I been born a man, how meek of a person I would be, because I would say I’m more meek.” The childhood voice, the woman’s voice, both silenced. Where does the grandiose voice come from?

“In this record, I was worried that I was going to sound really bitter, that I was going to sound really angry.”

“What’s wrong with being angry?”

“Nothing. That’s why I said, ‘fuck it.’”

And so, the record shifted gears. Suddenly, this became Hop Along’s most intentional record. Frances admits, “This album is the closest I’ve ever come to saying what I meant.” She continues, “In this album, I was trying to address my own discomfort without making anybody feel like they couldn’t be a part of it. I didn’t want men to hear it and think, ‘this isn’t for me,’” Which, once again, comes from the instinctual tendency as a woman to cater to men, to make sure they can still feel comfortable in the presence of something made by a woman that is confrontational, raw, and powerful. With this record, though, Frances says that they have the decision to choose, that it isn’t up to her to make sure they’re comfortable anymore. She says, “that’s on them.”

That’s not to say that this is an easy act. After a life of being conditioned to be quiet, how does one speak up? She says, “Accessing your own power is a form of responsibility. It makes me uncomfortable to stick up for myself. It feels right, but it doesn’t feel good.” But suddenly the voices that were once quiet are loud, vibrant, all-consuming. 

Frances, who claims that she is not as good of a witness as she wants to be, admits to the faults of witnessing itself. Yet, this is her way of sharing her thoughts and opinions. By exposing her observations, she is relaying her truth. By reaching inside herself to provide a platform for the child’s memories, she is showing how that truth came to be. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is Hop Along’s most cohesive record to date; it is the complete collaboration of Frances Quinlan, Joe Reinhart, Mark Quinlan, and Tyler Long. Each record that Hop Along made is its own set of stories, its own revelation, whether it be everyone in the band contributing their side, or Frances translating her complicated web of memory into poetry. 

The act of witnessing, similar to the act of recalling memory, becomes fiction. It becomes a song, and then a string of songs, and then a record. This is how Hop Along pulls you in. 

view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #23: The Progression of Jenn Champion

Interview by Rivka Yeker

 photo by  Bao Ngo  

photo by Bao Ngo 

Jenn Champion first entered my life through Carissa’s Wierd, a slowcore band that originated in the ‘90s. The band was there for me in my most deepest of depressions, the sunken moments, dark and drowned in the tunes of sad people. It wasn’t until years later that I was introduced to S, Jenn Champion’s solo project, which released its first record Puking and Crying in 2004. 

While her work has witnessed the growth and decline of my life, it held me in a chokehold during my first break-up. The album im not as good at it as you became the only thing pulling me through the muck of a disastrous first relationship. Recently, I was able to talk about the record in front of an audience of people at a Chicago venue for a literary series where locals are invited to speak on the records that influenced them the most. This record wasn’t the first record I ever listened to, nor was it the one that necessarily inspired me the most, but it was one that resonated with me so deeply during a time that I sincerely believed I couldn’t ever escape.

Jenn, who is in L.A. spoke with me over the phone about the way her music has evolved, emotions, and queer visibility. I ask her, “All of your solo records have been either gut-wrenching break-up records or processing weird feelings in relation to them. You seem content and good. You have a wife, you’re teaching guitar, this album is going to be a pop record, what is the inspiration behind these songs?”

She says she writes about what is currently happening to her. She half-jokingly talks about how she’s been around “indie-rockers” for so long, how now she’s being inspired by pop, and it’s usually rooted in the actual production of it. Brian Fennell, also known as SYML, is producing her forthcoming record Single Rider. Fennell is also in the band Barcelona, but SYML is his slower, more pop inspired project. While they both come from indie rock backgrounds, they are working to put together the ultimate Emotional Pop record. Jenn says, “It’s almost like a reaction to Cool Choices” which was her most recent S record. Cool Choices was sort of the slow introduction to the pop music she’d segue into, with its quiet electronic beats and catchy choruses. 

I am curious about the transition into pop music, more so because I am all for it. Lately, there has been a resurgence of pop music in alternative spaces, where pop icons are more celebrated and it is more acceptable to like pop than it ever was before. In the music industry, she says, “It’s hard to be authentic, and I’m not very marketable.” It makes me wonder, what is marketable anymore? While she’s experimenting, not necessarily with the intention to be marketable, but mostly to play around with the music itself, she is working hard to master the art of pop. She says, “If I pissed off the punk rockers, then I absolutely made a pop song.”

Her records for so long have been deeply sad and I ask earnestly, “Do you think you need to be sad to write music?” It is not always easy to write when you are in the lowest of slumps; creative energy is often stripped from us when we need it most, and she agrees. She says, “Sometimes I have to work through it all, before I can write about it,” and then continues, “I think I’ll always kinda lean sad, no matter what I write, it’s always underlying. I can be content and say I’m also sad at times.” This makes sense to me. Sometimes sad is just what we know best, like a comfortable home in which we have always lived.

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It is impossible to listen to Jenn Champion without picking up that she is writing about queer relationships. Yet, I know identity is a confusing and strange concept to navigate. I ask her if she’d rather be referred to as a “queer musician” or to just let people figure it out on their own. She says, “Right now, it feels important to be visible as a queer artist.” I agree with her, especially as the term becomes more nuanced, more fluid, and potentially more complicated, I think since she has been a musician for a long time, let alone a queer musician for a long time, her presence is a strong one. 

I ask her about the first project she worked on at 17. She says, “We [Carissa’s Wierd] were a tight crew (as friends). It was cool to have those types of relationships growing up.” I think about being a young person in a scene like that, how it molds you and transforms you. I think about how it was always different for me because I was never part of the band, but merely the attendee, the overseer, the community member. She talks about shows with only ten people in the audience. She says, “Music that was being made at that time was so raw.”

The music that she’s referring to was this sort of sub-genre of indie and punk adjacent to the grunge scene. It was for the people that preferred basement shows and tiny venues. The late ‘90s were filled with an onslaught of early emo, slowcore, and screamo. I think of bands (aside from Carissa’s Wierd) like Pedro The Lion, Cap’n Jazz, Saetia, and so forth. I envy anyone that was able to experience those bands at their most stripped down and fresh, barely adults who just wanted to make loud, emotional music. 

Jenn had other major influences including: Cat Power, Arches of Loaf, and Sleater Kinney. Each with their own authentic sound, their roots buried in punk and indie rock, were major icons in the ‘90s. She says that she likes the way Spotify operates as a music platform, says it “feels like MTV. It’s gotten back to this ‘unknown artist’.” The unknown artist is the artist we all spent our time searching for, whether it was via MTV or Fuse or Vh1, or it was on Yahoo music digging through music videos. Perhaps it was even when we got poor quality songs (or even an entirely different one that expected) through Limewire. Jenn even says she’ll still go to the record store and just choose any random $1 record. There is still something magical about stumbling over an artist for the first time and genuinely being taken aback. 

Jenn says, “I recently got into a subgenre of ‘Outrun.’ It’s like you’re watching a car driving in an ‘80s music video.” The name comes from the 1986 driving arcade game “Out Run” which was known for its synthwave soundtrack. It’s clear the Jenn’s most recent work is being inspired by that, since she’s taking us back to the ‘80s with spandex workout music videos and moody electronic beats.

Jenn Champion, has always stayed true to her music, producing what she wanted to hear in the world and unapologetically putting herself into it. I ask her what she could say to people who aspire to do what she does, to no matter what, not be swayed by an industry just for the sake of being marketable. She says, “You really have to deal with disappointment. Accepting disappointment and learning to not let it shut you down is the key. You have to be able to keep getting excited about things even if no one might like it. Be disappointed and move on.”

This is important for me to hear and is something I am always struggling to grapple with. It is the foundation of experimental and avant-garde art, yet somehow it feels impossible to ignore the desire to please the masses. It also doesn’t help that our success is tied to how commodifiable our art is. 

Jenn emphasizes the need to stay excited about your work. She says, “Don’t say ‘I don’t care.’ People are so afraid of being disappointed or getting their feelings hurt by the industry.” But it is bound to happen. Critics might love your work while the masses don’t and vice versa. Regardless, there will be people who love it, and that’s what counts. Jenn Champion’s fanbase is dedicated and has stayed by her side throughout the years, and I think that counts more than anything else. 

It is important for her to meet people who appreciate her work, to speak with them after shows, to engage with them over time. Jenn Champion’s aim is to create, to bond, and to put something honest out in the world. For her most recent record, and her upcoming record, it also means putting something that you can both dance and cry to, maybe even at the same time. Her work is so special because it isn’t asking you to choose. It is providing a space and expressing vulnerability, embracing emotion while simultaneously capturing the pure essence of pop; I’d call it intentional pop music. 

Jenn Champion once wrote songs about deep melancholy, abusive relationships, and toxic behaviors. All of those things are a part of her. In everything she does, she cannot detach from experiences and emotions she once had or still has, but now she is moving towards a new era. One that is filled with celebrating love, friendship, and dancing. Her work has impacted many people over many years, all of us holding her music close to our tender hearts and relating our pain to hers. It is an inspiring thing to watch a musician grow into a sound that makes most sense right now. It almost feels like we can do that, too. 

view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #22: Maybe It's a Renaissance; Maybe It's Community

By Levi Todd


Our silk-screen babies baptized
in these Third Coast holy springs.
Imagine the Lake Michigan waters
washing jubilee into our streets.
Watch us closely.
Resurrection.

Be our witness.

--From “Litany: Chicago Summers” by Parneshia Jones
 

I have no time to explain to the doubtful that poetry is not, in fact, dead. In any era, the often repeated statement is laughable. There are always poets working tirelessly to promote their art to the world, and there is always a devoted audience willing and ready to receive it. Anyone who is confident that poetry has died must also believe that music is dead, or maybe they think visual art is on its way out the door as well. Poetry is not just eeking by; it is thriving. This has always been and will always be true. However, it is especially true today.

On a daily basis, I give thanks that my friends and I were born into this era. We are surrounded by absolute icons who are creating work that expands the cultural canon, who are bringing poetry to new audiences, and who are showing us all the ways in which poetry is the lifeblood to our lived experiences. Poetry book sales are skyrocketing, with 2017 being the best year for poetry sales to date. We have poets performing for late night talk shows while being treated with the same reverence as musicians. I cannot begin to list the poets who are both embracing and redefining convention while producing stunning collections of work, but how blessed are we to be living at the same time as Layli Longsoldier, Tyehimba Jess, Morgan Parker, Ocean Vuong, and Fatimah Asghar, just to name a few? (I almost want this essay to simply be a list of the countless living poets I’m leaving out.) This poetic greatness is true across the globe and across the US, from Rochester to Los Angeles to Muncie to Austin. But if the poetic renaissance can be seen especially anywhere, it is in Chicago.

Numerous publications have taken note that something special is taking place in the Windy City. There have been articles on Young Chicago Authors’ youth poetry festival, Louder Than A Bomb, and the outstanding young poets who are making names for themselves. The New Yorker did a feature on No Blue Memories, Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall’s shadow box play utilizing puppets to celebrate the life of Gwendolyn Brooks. The Chicago Review of Books highlighted just a few of the countless poets who continue to center their work around the city. The CRB was bold enough to call our current cultural moment what it is: the Chicago Renaissance.

Of course, the CRB is not the first to recognize that Chicago is fostering a cultural renaissance, and it is certainly not the first to give it its proper name. Local musicians, writers, dancers, and artists of all kinds have long been celebrating each other’s work before it becomes recognized at a national level. Noname, Saba, Ravyn Lenae, and countless other local musicians have moved past the Chicago circuit to venues across the country. Artists like Hebru Brantley, Max Sansing, and Sentrock are finding innovative mediums to showcase their work, from book covers to public murals to music videos. This essay alone cannot capture the scope of the cultural garden that is blooming (and already grown) in Chicago. But since it’s National Poetry Month, let’s focus on the poets.

It is absolutely impossible to talk about poetry in Chicago without talking about its youth. In an era where public schools are slashing their arts budgets, countless organizations such as 826CHI, the Chicago Poetry Center, and Young Chicago Authors are stepping in with classroom visits and afterschool programming to guarantee that our students are exposed to poetry at a young age, and that they understand its accessibility, potential, and importance. Increasingly, more schools are developing slam poetry teams to compete in Louder Than A Bomb, and these students spend the entire year gearing up to share their work in front of audiences of hundreds. The result is that our students are saved from thinking that poetry is outdated or dull, or simply not for them. When I recently volunteered for a poetry field trip hosted by Open Books, we asked the visiting 6th grade class what they thought poetry was for. Without missing a beat, one girl raised her hand and said “Poetry is for resistance.”

The impact of prioritizing our young people in poetry communities is that once they find a home in poetry, they stay. For example, the same students impacted by Young Chicago Authors’ programming at its inception are the ones now leading it. The success of poets who studied under YCA such as E’mon Lauren, Jamila Woods, Britteney Black Rose Kapri, and Nate Marshall proves that once young people are brought into poetry, they stay, and they lead the next generation. This legacy of mentorship continues to pay homage to Chicago’s own Gwendolyn Brooks (one of many participants in the Chicago Black Renaissance of the early 20th century), who didn’t just dedicate her life to her own writing, but also taught free poetry workshops and hosted opportunities for young poets to showcase and develop their work. Unlike cities such as New York or Los Angeles that have flocks of artists moving there to begin their careers, the majority of our creatives are built up within the community. Poet and curator H. Melt summarizes this well by saying, “Chicago poets care about each other. We actively support each other--not just as writers and teachers, but as whole people too. We see ourselves not solely as individual poets, but as part of larger communities who all deserve to be heard. We value telling our own stories equally to listening to the stories of other people. We celebrate each other, hold each other accountable, and frequently collaborate. Poetry in Chicago is thriving because we recognize that being a poet is not simply about writing, it's about supporting the people around you.”

Chicago poets understand that the only way towards our communal success is through collaboration. This is the city indebted to the work of small presses, independent bookstores, and DIY shows, all of which work in harmony together. Independent shops (which vastly outnumber Barnes & Nobles here) like Women & Children First, Uncharted Books, The Seminary Co-Op, and Volumes Bookcafe make a concerted effort to stock small press books and zines, and host readings for local and visiting poets. Open mics and readings take place regularly across the city, whether they be in someone’s living room, or at a neighborhood bar, or at a gallery. Small presses like Haymarket Books are making an intentional effort to anthologize the work of poetic greats, through projects like The Breakbeat Poets, The Breakbeat Poets Volume II: Black Girl Magic, and the forthcoming Volume III: Halal If You Hear Me.  There’s simply no room in this city for a sense of competition among poets. The community is always willing to share its resources and knowledge in the name of uplifting local talent. As Eve Ewing puts it in her New Yorker feature, “There is a Midwestern cultural aspect to it—a cultural norm of sharing and abundance, rather than scarcity and competition,” The culture in Chicago is not just do-it-yourself. It’s do-it-together.

We don’t just have a duty to develop and hone our own craft, but also to be kind citizens both to our local communities and to the poetry community at large. Poetry inherently aims to resist the traditional lenses we view the world with, and this resistance is a sibling to political resistance. The hardworking activists behind #LetUsBreathe Collective, Assata’s Daughters, and #NoCopAcademy fighting against the city’s police violence, housing inequality, and lack of investment in the city’s South and West sides are the same people you see at the open mic. Protests and direct actions make space for poems in between speeches, understanding that they are two heads to the same coin. On this connection, poet and organizer José Olivarez says, “I think our poetry communities developed in response to our particular socio-political realities. Chicago is famous for being segregated. The city has a gang database that targets and discriminates against Black & Latinx people. Artists in the city have responded by making work that imagines alternative possibilities & by creating spaces that attempt to uphold values more in tune with the city we hope to make.” Chicago understands that we use the same language to write poems as we do to write manifestos and visions for equitable futures.

Chicago’s poetry community isn’t perfect, certainly. Like any community, we need to continue to improve and open the door wider to guarantee that everyone truly feels like poetry is relevant to them, and that they are capable of breathing their own life into it. Producer and creator Daniel Kisslinger explains, “I think sometimes we sugarcoat what community means and leave out a lot about how community means tension and disagreement but not disposability." When we talk about a renaissance of poetry in Chicago, we shouldn’t imply that we have all the answers that folks can learn from. Rather, we should open ourselves to the likely possibility that we will make mistakes, and that we will be better for listening to the folks that hold us accountable for them.

Poetry and imagination go hand in hand, and poets in Chicago are trying to imagine the city they want to live in. We know that community will take us there, and that it is both our responsibility and privilege to hold each other up. At the end of the day, it’s not just about poetry. It’s about Chicago. Our artists are creating work with the people who live here at its center. We care about each other first and foremost. The incredible poems that continue to pour from our city are part of a larger task: to let the world know that our community is home to people with their minds set on a more inclusive, radiant future. It takes activists, artists, workers, dancers, organizers, musicians, and yes, poets, to get there. It’s not a Second City complex that makes us rep Chicago wherever we go and whatever we do. We’d just like you to join us.
 


  read the whole issue here.

Inside Issue #22: A Conversation with Tancred

Interview by Scout Kelly

 photo by  Emily Dubin

photo by Emily Dubin

Walking through Chicago’s Logan Square, I felt slightly out-of-place, like the Tennessee kid I was when I was 15 and, admittedly, still am now. I was on my way to interview Jess Abbott of Tancred. They're set to release their new album Nightstand, on June 1st through Polyvinyl and I had spent the last few weeks revisiting their earlier records and consequently being sent down a wormhole of my teenage days by my favorite tracks like “Harvest and Holly” from 2011 and “Twelve” from 2013. I usually try to think of myself as a little bit aloof, but this was a special opportunity to me, having grown up listening to her music at some very tender ages of my own, weird adolescence. From her work in the indie pop band that got their break on Myspace – Now, Now – to her records released as Tancred back in 2011, I was gonna have to admit that I’d heard it all and most likely cried to it.

I approached the white tour van parked in the alley beside the Chicago’s own Subterranean. It was parked right underneath the train tracks; the roaring overhead was another stimulus that made me just a little jittery. The window rolled down and Jess popped her head out and yelled, “Do you wanna get in the van?”

We laughed as I crawled over a skateboard and some bags to get into the van where the band was lounging, simultaneously shaking hands and exchanging names. They had just gotten to Chicago from Kansas City, where they had their first show on a month long tour opening for Julien Baker. Jess said it went really well; it felt like a good start to performing a new record with a little bit of a different vibe than their previous 2016 release, Out of The Garden. I was a big fan of the record with its bold lyricism and power-pop guitar arrangements so I was excited to hear more about it.

 “You have certain lyrics that I relate to really, really well,” I tell her, in reflection on some of the writing from Out of the Garden.

            “Oh, yeah? ...What’s your sign?”

            “Virgo; you?”

            “Gemini. What’s your moon?”

            “Pisces.”

            “Me too!”

      
She laughs and says that, Nightstand is her Pisces moon album, whereas Out of the Garden was her Sagittarius rising album. Nightstand, as she describes it, is a little less aggressive than the 2016 release: “It’s still confrontational; there are songs on there that hit pretty hard, but it’s less vindictive.”

What about releasing “Reviews” as your first single? That’s an interesting choice. It seems like it deals preemptively with how the album is going to be received.
            
“It feels like the new album is  … well, half the songs are more downtempo; I don’t feel like ‘sad’ is the word, but not exactly as upbeat as the other half of the songs are. So, “Reviews” is almost about both. It feels like a good bridge, because it felt drive-y enough to be connected to Out of the Garden, but it has some other stuff goin’ on enough to show that this is going to be a new album.”
          
You’ve been making music for a really long time.
        
“Yeah, it sucks,” she says while laughing in a way where I can tell she doesn’t entirely mean it.
        
How old are you now?
        
“26.”

That’s what I thought. You’ve been making music since you were pretty young! I’m 25. I feel like if I had art released into the world when I was younger, I feel like I’d be like ‘OH MY GOSH.’
      
“Embarrassed?” She laughs.
        
YEAH, I mean not embarrassed but  …Yeah, maybe embarrassed.
  
“Sometimes, I’ll look at another artist and think, ‘They’ve put out a lot of albums and they all sound really different and that’s kind of weird and I’m like…’OH SHIT THAT’S ME’… Then I see people that release their first album when they’re 26 and I wonder what that’s like.’”
        
I’ve been listening to your music for a long time; I’m 25. I grew up kind of like the same time you were with YOUR music, which is kind of odd. So, it’s really interesting to be able to sit down with you.

             “ -like Now, Now?”

Yeah, but also Tancred, I mean I’ve been listening to your work for a long time. I grew up alongside those records, mostly from Myspace.

“That’s funny. It’s cool to do an interview with someone who has context for this new record.
            
I met Now, Now on Myspace. My high school girlfriend heard of them on a Tegan and Sara forum and I didn’t know what to get her for her birthday, so I wanted to order her Now, Now’s EPs and I got on Myspace to order them. So, I started messaging them and then I was somehow moving to Minnesota and joining Now, Now. What really got me into the kind of music that I make now was just everything I was absorbing off of Myspace.”
            
I think of my own creative work, and the feeling of being 25, and never knowing what’s going to happen to me next, and I can’t help but ask:
            How have you been doing it for so long?

“I think with any creative project, it’s hard  … It’s really hard to go on tour, financially. In terms of your own self-worth, it’s like, if you have a good show you know think ‘that’s why I’m doing this!’ and if you have a bad show, you’re like ‘why am I doing this?!’ Going on tour when you are in a relationship is like  …  the worst thing of all time.

Sometimes, it feels like ‘what am I doing?’ I almost got into music management. I had some opportunities to do other things, and I thought, ‘I could just do that.’

No matter what; I just can’t stop doing this. Sometimes, you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a song and it just pops off and you love it or hate it, but either way it’s a huge deal. I wonder, what did this band do to get to this point? Sometimes you hear the greatest song ever and no one gives a shit about it. And you’re like, how did that happen? It’s wild. There is no answer to it. I just knew I’d feel deeply unhappy if I didn’t do it. When I think of what music did for me as a teen, it feels comforting to know that maybe I’m paying that forward in some way. I got really into music kind of because of Slingshot Dakota. I saw them when I was 14. They played at a hardcore show in Maine, and I was like, ‘HOLY SHIT.’ I immediately added them on Myspace and asked them to come back to my hometown to play and I had no idea what I was doing. They pretty much showed up and had to take care of everything, and they were so nice about it  ... First and last show I ever put on.”
         
I mean, I know that I’ve sent people links to your music and your music video, specifically for the song “Pens” because I, like, really love that video and send it to people all the time. I don’t know; there are so many different types of success, you know? There are certain phrases in that song that stick out to me that make me love the song so much, similar to how I feel about that line in your song, “The Glow” that I adore. I’ll listen to that song over and over and over just to hear one that one line: “I want to kill myself inside your mouth,” and I’d feel like totally overwhelmed by that line. That’s a line that I wish that I had written and put in a poem, you know?
“Whoaaaa, hahaha; do it!”

       
Ha! Like Steal it? And italicize it and put your name under it as a footnote?
“No, it’s a collab! …It’s fine! Lyrics are my favorite part of music! I even hate putting reverb on my vocals when I’m playing live, which makes sense to do, but I like my vocals to be dry and upfront, because I really want people to hear what I’m saying. It’s really important to me. Guitar is fun and I love it. I mean, if I had to prioritize my skills, guitar would be first, before singing or lyric writing, but lyric writing is my favorite part of it. Playing guitar is just a vessel for me to write.“

Yeah, I mean, you have multiple songs where certain lines just punch me, and I’m like, “wow this is great.”
“It’s encouraging to hear that that’s translating.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 4.16.09 PM.png

Later that night, I got to hear Tancred play songs from their new record, and I wasn’t surprised to have my heart buckled by the lyrics and the energy. I had never gotten to see them live before, and I was happy to be surrounded by friends dancing with me and singing along. At one point, I heard a line from a new song and I turned around, sweaty, with my jaw dropped and saw Morgan Martinez and Julien Baker both nodding, understanding what I felt. Morgan mouthed, I know. She threw her arm on my shoulder and we dove into the crowd a little.
            
This past week, Tancred released a noir influenced music video for their song “Queen of New York” which embodies the feeling of a quick, heavy-handed romance that leaves you wondering when will I see them again? It’s a classic crush song and unabashedly queer. Incidentally, “crushy” happens to be my favorite category of songs. There’s nothing more satisfying to me as an adult than hearing queer artists celebrate a heart-throbbing romance. I’ve driven home from work with the song blasting as I drove through Tennessee fields and highways, shamelessly. I think of Jess, a musician who has been a signed artist for years, whose music has been in my ipod since 2012, still hoping to “pay it forward” with her music. I think about the joy of new love and the devastation that it can leave behind it when it goes away, how delicious it all is in its entirety, how grateful I am to be able to experience it alongside the right songs.

There are few things as precious to me as finding an album that rearranges time, that can make you feel older or younger, taller, bigger, more of what you are or even what you aren’t. There are few things as precious as a song that you sing along to with your friends in a crowd. I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the album, and I know good and well that Nightstand is going to give me more precious moments away from time. I know I’ll be 15 and 17 and 25 and 26 during this album. I’ll sweat to it again. I’ll sing it in my car after kissing someone or maybe getting my heartbroken, who knows. 

 

view the whole issue here.

Inside Issue #22: Fatimah Asghar

Interview by filmmaker Minhal Baig

 photo by  Rae

photo by Rae

When Rivka reached out to me to do a profile on Fatimah Asghar, I could not have been more excited to interview someone whose work has affected me so much personally. Fatimah is the writer of the Emmy-nominated web-series Brown Girls, which has been picked up for development by HBO, and has a collection of poetry, If They Come For Us, published by One World, coming out August of this year. I will confess that I know Fatimah a bit personally, and so much of what I wanted to discuss were things I had always thought about asking her, but felt almost afraid to, until now. 

Initially, I was very curious about how she felt about poetry being perceived as an elitist medium. 

“When I first learned about poetry, we’re often thinking about Shakespeare, or Homer, or the Odyssey, and it’s interesting because, during their time, they were speaking in colloquialism,” she says. “Poetry exists in so many communities of color, and has such a rich historical tradition. It’s fascinating to me that that can be overlooked. A lot of authors of color are constantly overlooked. To do away with some of that, why can’t we have poems that are lyrically vulgar, or sound like me and my friends speak? My work rides that line, how [poetry] can be lyrical and everyday.”

There is a poem of hers, titled “Super Orphan” that contains the line: “What to do then /, when the only history you have is collage.” I wanted to understand, what is it like being Pakistani and Kashmiri and Muslim and living in a diaspora?

“To me, being an orphan, you’re born into questions,” she says. “Who am I? Who are my people? What are the stories that I don’t have access to? A lot of my art comes from wanting to grapple with those silences. What does it mean, to be able to invent a kind of family history?” 

I read another poem of Fatimah’s, entitled, “Oil,” and in it, she speaks about what it was like for her as a child after 9/11. “I felt a palpable difference. Where I grew up, it was super diverse. I was watching the news with my aunts and uncles and that feeling, and I remember feeling like once I realized that the people on the planes were Muslim, it was ‘oh, shit.’ The whole room shifted and it was this feeling … things are going to get bad. I remember going to school the next day. People were asking me, ‘where you from?’ in a threatening way. Being at recess, I was with my best friend Marilyn, and this boy came up to us and basically kind of like, so where is she from, and is she Muslim? My friend Marilyn said, she is but she’s cool. She’s one of the good ones. I feel eternally grateful for her saying that, but what does it mean, to be a good one?”

Fatimah has a book coming out this August, but before this collection, she also had a chapbook titled After that was published a few years ago by YesYes. A mentor had told her, “your first book is your first book”, and after a while of struggling with a collection of poems that delved into her sexual assault experience, she decided she would curate the poems and put them into a chapbook instead. The book was only limited to 400 copies. 

“It got easier to get a lot deeper to get into that story of sexual assault when it’s 400 people. And these 400 people are going to get that super intimate story, told on my terms. I actually don’t want my first book to be about my sexual assault, I wanted my first book to be about a lot of other things,” she explains. “I crafted a really intimate story and this is ‘After’ and you have it when you have it and then it’s gone. That was a really fascinating experience. The book sold out in pre-order, and that was it. It was gone. What does it mean to make an art for an audience that’s huge and for an audience that’s really small?” 

We get to the part of the interview where we talk about Brown Girls. Since there are so many interviews about where the work comes from, and what it means, I wanted to instead focus on the experience of transitioning as a poet to a screenwriter.

As she describes, “I think of poems and web series, especially as I’m developing a show from a web series. A web series is also about moments, distilled moments which you get down, which is very similar to a poem. I’d been writing a lot of poems and I was always interested in screenwriting, and this is the first time I’ve written something like this, and not even taken a class but I’m going to try.” 

Fatimah says Brown Girls was her first experience in screenwriting. “It was just really fun. Literally fun, just to try this. And now these are the characters, and where they live and how they talk to each other. Sometimes, too, because I was working intensely on my project in poetry, it was a great release to work on, just for fun, that I’m trying.” 

Her book, If They Come For Us, comes out this August. The book recently received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. “[This collection] is a deep interrogation of statehood of everything: race, religion, gender, sexuality and nationality. What does it mean to draw a border and say that this is now this thing. So that’s really what the book is about?” 

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 11.39.55 AM.png

Fatimah spoke about how she decided on the collection’s themes after her first chapbook: “After After, I started to write a lot. I didn’t touch my childhood in my writing. When I really think about it, was it as bad as all I remember? I leaned into the moments I loved as a child, and the moments I felt nostalgic for. I started writing these poems, high narrative, high nostalgia, of being an immigrant and being from an immigrant family.” 
    
Through some digging, I found out that Fatimah had written fan-fiction (and yes, for Harry Potter). A lot of writers are often shy or embarrassed about having written fan-fiction, so I was genuinely so surprised when Fatimah embraced this part of her own narrative. “Fan-fiction taught me so much. It taught me a lot about, how this is an existing world, and what are you able to play in. I wrote mostly male characters and mostly male storylines and I don’t think that’s weird. I definitely was writing slash, and I wrote a lot of darker characters. I was fascinated by the friendship of the four boys, by James and Sirius. There was a lot of richness, in the older generation, that I didn’t always find in the younger generation [in Harry Potter].”

I wanted to know Fatimah’s secrets. First, how does she write so much? And from where does she draw her inspiration? She has a good answer for that: “I’m very disciplined. Art and craft, you have to be disciplined to be good at [it]. I don’t have the time or luxury to wait for inspiration. It can be a bad draft, and that’s the thing. I write in the mornings and I write at night, that’s when I write the most.” 

And finally, we talk about what she’s working on next — a question I personally hate asking but it needs to be done. “For myself, I’m working on a feature, and I have a draft, and I’m getting it to a place that I’m getting it to a place I feel really good. I have a dramedy pilot and there’s a more traditional drama pilot. Those are the things that are purely mine.” 

We delve into some of her inspirations, literary and otherwise: “I’m really inspired by so many people. I feel lucky to be alive. I feel grateful to have seen two visual albums by Beyonce,” she says. You know right away that Fatimah is a voracious reader and lover of her own medium, as she lists off the poetry that she’s loved recently: "Dictee, by Theresa Hutchins, it’s a really tragic story, and it’s so good. Split by Cathy Linh Che. I love Ross Gay’s writing, and I think he’s such a visionary as a poet. Patricia Smith is very similar, and she’s an amazing writer and poet, and has taught me so much about form and craft. My friend just published a book called Not Here’’ by Hieu Minh Nuyen, and Danez Smith’s book, Don’t Call Us Dead. I love Toni Morrison. The God of Small Things (by Arundhati Roy) is a masterpiece. And Junot Diaz. Drown and This is How You Lose Her. Junot speaks to men the way that a lot of women can’t. What I’ve seen is that his work makes cis men better. Junot is such a master. He’s one of the most important writers of our time.”

What is all the more impressive about Fatimah is that she is not just an artist, but also an activist. “I want to build active solidarity amongst persons of color. How do I show up for other groups of color? How do I constantly want to learn and be in solidarity with other people. I am pro people of color telling their own stories. I am more excited more people of color having platforms to be poets and make a living as a poet, as a screenwriter, things like that. Those are all things I’m passionate about."


view the whole spread here.

Inside Issue #22: Chaz Bottoms: Animation as Culture

 via  Instagram

There are some people on this earth that know who they are and what they are meant to do, a luxury most people will not have until their later years of life. Goofy and overflowing with charm, Chaz is one of those people. He has been animating nearly nonstop since high school, his most recent work being the short film All Kids Go To Hell, which is doing well on the festival circuit. He is currently an animated freelancer based in Los Angeles, having features in Vibe Magazine, ImFromCleveland.com and Saint Heron.

On a breezy Saturday, Chaz and I met up for brunch. We’re both late due to the hectic Los Angeles traffic that does not rest even at 12:45 pm on the weekend. It was a  genuine pleasure to spend an afternoon with someone I have considered a friend throughout the last few years. It was a time filled with pitching ideas for scripts, nerding out over comics and animation, a few too many mimosas, and envisioning the future of the film industry. 


Do you think we are in an era of a “Black Renaissance” right now?

I think there is. Things have changed in a way. More voices are able to get out. Someone like Chance the Rapper couldn’t exist like, ten years ago. He’d still be doing mix tapes. 
Last night I was talking to one of my roommates and I was like …wow, I forgot Moonlight won Best Picture! Like, what a time! Never before… Before this it would have to be the The Color Purple. 

Which lost to Out of Africa!

A movie about a bunch of white people, in Africa! Like, are you kidding me? And there was almost that screwing of like, oh it lost to La La Land. But I think people are starting to come around. And if there is any question after Black Panther. I mean there is no question. Like, holy shit there is a market for this. I really want to bridge that gap between animation and culture. Cause people deserve a cartoon that is for them. 

As artists, we cannot control who views our content. How do you feel about the gazes on your content? Like, if you feel you are making something that is a love letter to Black people, how do you feel about that outside gaze? 

I think a lot of how you consume things is subjective. And a lot does depend on your background. I have always been in the mindset that the best artist can make things that, yes a specific group may feel it more, but everyone can still respond positively. I can watch something about an experience that I did not have but still feel connected to it. Like I did not have this experience but someone must have, and through that there is connection. 

When I was doing All Kids Go To Hell, I wanted to have this dichotomy of seeing Black characters in these broad cartoon-y situations. And if you pick up on it, it’s about something bigger. But at the same time, it’s just a cartoon. So the dichotomy of trying to strive for your artistic statement or artistic message but also recognizing that it changes over time. Having that inner dialogue with yourself about what you are currently working on or what you want to [create]. It’s important to have. Just like any other external relationship. It takes time to grow to nurture it.

You do a lot of things, but mainly, you are an animator. How do you feel about the world of animation? Is it still a “white bro” club or is it opening up? 

I am a big proponent in getting more diversity and more women into animation. I’m a member of the Women in Animation which is the big LA group that has a goal of by 2025 it being 50/50. I see it as having an ear down in the industry. It’s slow but I see it. We’re in that transitional period where the people in charge are finally seeing that it can work out. A show like Steven Universe, the most successful kids show that’s out right now was created by a woman. A queer woman at that. You look at that and can say, “wow it’s still a kids show but I can still watch and get things from it.” 

I think it has to be a conscious thing moving forward. You can still look at the past and recognize there’s good artistry but I wish more people were looking towards the future and things were moving quicker. I don’t know why these things take so much time. 

What was the first thing you saw that made you realize you loved art. And the first thing you saw that made you realize Black people could make art, too? 

The first thing I saw that spoke to me … When I was born, it was around the time the Lion King came out on VHS and my older sister had it. If I get in a rut or don’t feel very good, from a technical animation perspective, I can watch that. But also from a feel good, big life themes and finding your place in life perspective… The expression of emotion and depth. It hit every point. The first movie that made me realize I wanted do this as a career was Slumdog Millionaire. 

Shut up that’s in my top five. 

That was my favorite movie until Moonlight came out. Slumdog Millionaire was directed by Danny Boyle which, I mean, whatever with that. But it was this kid in the hood, real ghetto slums with no protection. That story of true comeuppance makes a movie like Get Rich or Die Trying look like child’s play. I think that was a moment of, there are so many other voices that aren’t being heard. And having it be from the perspective of these kids growing up. And perfect usage of MIA music. Seeing that there is something outside my experience but is still so relatable. That movie blew my mind when I was younger. I wasn’t into live action like that, but it introduced me to this new side of film that challenged what I thought movies could be.

I feel like you are someone who is not afraid to work with women. Where does that come from? I shouldn’t have to ask that, but the way masculinity works... 

I get it! My father passed away when I was very young. I was predominantly raised by my mother, sister, and grandma. I was very influenced by the women in my life and have always been surrounded by that. I feel my work reflects that. I saw Ready Player One and did not like it. And you can put that in, I don’t care. I am so tired of this white boy protagonist. I am very tired of this “he’s an average white boy but he kinda gets lucky and saves the world!” I think it’s boring. Growing up, a lot of shows and movies that I was drawn to were a little bit more emotional and featured female characters. Like watching Rugrats and remembering how amazing Suzie Carmichael is. She is the only character that can top Angelica! I always want my work to have a certain emotion to it. And I feel that Black women have this vibe to them that I just don’t see anywhere else. And I don’t want to be weird about that, but it’s true. There has never been a Black woman that has created an animated television show. There have been two or three black men but no black women. And I think that is a crime and a shame. I recognize the privilege of being a cis male. I am aware I have privileges, and if I were to tell things on my own it would come off as generic. I want more women artist and animators. 

My upbringing has just made me more comfortable talking and working with women.  I can get a much better product, as opposed to working with someone that is exactly like me. And I want to give that opportunity for creative space. Especially in animation where it is such a collaborative process. Filmmaking in general. A white producer will be more likely to take a chance on me than someone else. I just want all my friends to have the platform to tell their stories. That’s it. I’m fine. Having more people in your corner that you trust and work well with is super important. 

Thinking about the “starving tortured artist” thing. You haven’t had the easiest life. Tell me more about how you got to this point. 

The idea that you have to be a tortured soul to create good work... I sometimes wonder if the concept of “starving artist” is not supposed to be taken literally. Like, when you’re starting out you can’t create what you want right away. Having this starving need to create. You have to ask yourself what are you doing it for. 

I am a pretty big believer that if you are a good person and talk to the universe and let it materialize and work towards your goals, it can happen. I believe we live in a very carmatic universe in that people do get their comeuppance. So, a lot of getting here has been meticulous planning, a little bit of luck and really wanting it and identifying what it takes to get there. When I was a kid before I was introduced to the world of athletics, I would spend a lot of time making and animating things on my own. And making things with the kids on my street. They weren’t the people that wanted to be an artist or animators or in filmmaking. But if I worked with my friends and people I’m comfortable with, it could help me develop my voice more and figure out what I’m trying to do. And a lot of it has been working and doing my homework on the industry and how things are. I know a lot of people who are musicians and up and coming and what if I do a cartoon music video for them. And these are things that have gotten me in Saint Heron and Worldstar [Hip-hop]. And part of it is doing it so I can pay my bills and I need to work. But I want to do it on my own terms so I can still be fulfilled. And work with great people with good creative synergy. A lot of calculated risks. But you kind of have to. You have to know how to take the right risks. If I had to bet that I would have to move to LA without a real job, just freelancing kind of loosely, I was comfortable with that. If I could just get to that point and meet people I could build my business from there. 

Is there one specific point in your life’s journey where you thought “oh this is too much”? 

Towards graduation. The last month of school. Track was over and I was done running and I had no prospects. It was a moment of like, “oh shit I spent ten years running track and that didn’t turn into anything. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I wasn’t going to the Olympics. It was a means to an end for college. But, I spent so much time on that, and I couldn’t spend as much time on animation that I probably could have. What do I do from here? I’ve always been comfortable reflecting and taking what I’ve gone through and applying that to the future. Situations I could potentially be in. It was taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing you’ve been through a lot but know things kind of always work out. It won’t be perfect but it will resolve itself. The only thing that is a constant is you as a person. If I continue to be myself and focus on the art and with the intention I have, it will work out. 

Last question. And this is something I ask everyone. It’s tough, so take your time. What does liberation look like for you? And this can be liberation in your life or artistically. For me, liberation is life without fear. 

Mine isn’t too far off. I think a lot of it is everyone has the biggest chance to become the biggest at whatever it is they want to do. Religion, creed, sex none of it should matter. Living in a world where there is so much art and different voices that a person can not be afraid to tell their story or be their truest self. Ideally, if I found a 22-year-old fresh out of college creative, and she had a script, and I had the ability to tell her “hey, take this grant and make this.” It’s no longer a high calculated risk. Opportunities abound. Saying you want to become an artist is no longer this far out unfathomable thing.  Liberation looks like a world where they don’t have to question themselves. They can just do whatever they want to do. 

You can check out Chaz’s work at his website chazbottoms.com on Instagram or Twitter.

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Check out the whole spread here.

International Whores Day Direct Action 2018 - Chicago, IL

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“Sex work is real work,” Sophie said into a megaphone in Daley Plaza Friday afternoon. A sizable crowd of sex workers and allies gripping handmade signs and red umbrellas returned the chant with equal measure. 

June 2, known as International Whore’s Day or International Sex Workers Day, was recognized with demonstrations in Chicago, New York City, Oakland, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Austin and Washington D.C to demand the decriminalization of the profession, the end of police raids and to address the harms of FOSTA/SESTA.

International Whore’s Day celebrates the anniversary of the occupation of Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon, France in 1975 where more than 100 sex workers took over the church for eight days to protest inhumane and unsafe working conditions. During the occupation they chanted “you who threaten us with hell, we come to eat at your table.”

“We as a sex working community and our family have come to eat at the table of those who have threatened us,” Sophie said. “We will make them see our faces and see who their laws, their raids are harming.”

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43 years later, sex workers are taking to the streets in seven-inch Pleaser shoes, carrying the added weight of the passage of FOSTA/SESTA.

FOSTA, known as Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and SESTA, known as Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act were signed into law April 11 by President Trump to the dismay of sex workers. In attempts to eliminate online sex trafficking, the bills hold websites liable for any content that could “promote or facilitate prostitution,” even if it’s posted by a third party. Since FOSTA/SESTA was signed into law, sites that host ads used by sex workers to screen clients have been reduced or shut down entirely. Craigslist took down their personal ad’s section for fear of legal ramifications and the popular ad hosting site Backpage has been seized by the U.S government. 

Without sites like Backpage, sex workers have lost the resources used to do their job safely. Sex workers are unable to screen clients online and many are being forced to go back to the streets for financial security, which can lead to increased risk of violence, sexual assault or death. A study done at Baylor University found that during the time Craiglist had an “Erotic services” section, they saw a 17.4 percent decrease in all female homicides, not just sex workers. Since the shutdown of Backpage, at least thirteen sex workers have been reported missing and 2 have been confirmed dead, according to anecdotal data acquired by Tits and Sass. 

“I stand here in solidarity with my brothers and my sisters and my siblings who cannot be here because they are criminalized, they are in jail, they are dead,” said Avia, a sex trafficking survivor and self proclaimed current whore. “Since FOSTA/SESTA has been passed I have been raped three times by long term clients who have told me that they know that I don’t have any other option. These laws are killing us.”

The seizing of free or low cost sites like Backpage also puts poor, disabled and undocumented sex workers out of their source of income. And for those who cannot physically work on the street, their livelihood is on the line.

“I’m disabled and poor and I just lost my job,” said an anonymous individual in a statement from the Bay Area Pro Support Group. “The only job that is physically possible for me. Every website that I’ve ever used to connect with clients has gone offline and I have no way of getting work now. Thousands of chronically ill and disabled people have just lost their means of survival.”

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There was no march on Friday. It was a supportive space for statements and discussions about how these laws affect real people and how they can move forward. When a speaker would get choked up, members of the crowd would say “I love you.” Amidst the pain and the sadness, there was also laughter and hope. Against everything, this chosen family of sex workers say that they are stronger together.

Attendees also stressed the need for allies to speak up and fight for the rights of sex workers and to not make sex workers fight these battles alone. “Social justice issues are kind of a hot button topic and have been in the past decade but we don’t hear anything about sex workers in mainstream media and people in the general population really know nothing about this,” said Rowan, an ally.

“Many of us can’t even admit to the majority of the people in our lives that this is happening because it’s too risky,” said the anonymous individual from the Bay Area Pro Support Group. “We desperately need non workers to talk about what’s happening, to explain to people that these measures only harm. They don’t help trafficking victims or anyone else — but they do ruin lives.”
 

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Interview: Jeffrey Michael Austin of Young Elder

 By Zakkiyyah Najeebah

By Zakkiyyah Najeebah


Jeffrey Michael Austin calls himself an artist so he can fit all of his different passions and practices under the vast umbrella term. His visual artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally – with recent solo shows at The Luminary and Bert Green Fine Art and another scheduled for Heaven Gallery later this year – and was recently featured on Colossal. He is a member of Growing Concerns Poetry Collective which recently released a full-length album titled WE HERE: Thank you For Noticing and published a book titled Five Fifths with Candor Arts. Austin also drums for the pop-rock band Eggs! and has produced a number of albums under his own name. He will be releasing his debut EP under the name Young Elder on May 2nd at his record release show at The Den Theatre. Hooligan sat down with him a month before his record release.

below is a single from Young Elder's upcoming LP:

If someone were to ask you “what do you do” how would you respond?

As a profession? As a trade? I am a visual artist and I’m a musician. Those things are sometimes very autonomous and sometimes they bleed over. I also participate in small ways as an educator and as a book-maker / publisher. There are many little communities that I exist in to varying degrees and I think [they’re] in their own way parts of how I continue to define myself. I’ve tried to distance myself from identifying exclusively with one kind of practice or singular set of interests because I feel like every day is kind of a new journey.

Do you ever feel like you’re “spreading yourself thin” by participating in many different forms of art?

For sure, and I think that feeling intensifies as time goes on and I get older and these practices become more mature and focused. It’s definitely hard, and I think rather than giving up on any of my creative practices over the past several years, I feel like what I’ve found myself doing is just pushing harder and harder to find ways to sustain myself (my living expenses) through my creative practices. But to answer that question, yes, I almost always feel stretched thin in a certain way – but also simultaneously, enlivened and rewarded and fulfilled by the fact that the reason that I’m stretching myself thin is so that I can give myself fully to all of these things.

How do you feel your visual art affects your music/ how does your music affect your visual art? How do they overlap in your life or do they overlap in your life?

I think all of it is definitely connected. I’ve been asked before if they merge and connect in a really straightforward, visible way. Does my art work every incorporate my music or does my music performance ever incorporate a visual element? But I’ve never really approached it like that; I’ve never tried to merge them in that way. I’ve never felt like they are asking to be merged that way, but I do certainly think that they are connected on a more abstract philosophical level. I approach making a piece of artwork or a song in very similar ways, and I feel like for me one of the only things that makes them feel separate is the difference in the communities and institutions that are there to receive them and showcase them. When I go about my day doing those things, I don’t really regard them as separate practices – like they all kind of feel mingled through me but they don’t ever bleed into one another in a logistical sense.

I think one of the only ways in which an outside perspective might draw a connection between the two is how people have told me that my music seems to have a visual energy to it, particularly the music I was making on my own years ago. In Growing Concerns, it’s almost like I’m writing a film score that is meant to guide you through a visual narrative and I’ve always sort of had a visual perspective on music in that way; but in the sense of it actually existing in physical space with my visual artwork, that’s never really been the case.

We talked about this earlier, the art that you produce- whether its visual art or music- or what you do with the poetry collective, they’re all from different communities. For your record release show, you are performing your music, your will also be performing in Growing Concerns, and drumming Eggs. Why do you feel it is important to have a mixing pot of communities at your record release show?

When I think about the ways that all of these projects and practices are separate from one another, I think mostly about how the supportive communities of each are structured and segregated. Especially with our current social culture, it tends to move in a way that becomes sort of insular, with the same audiences participating in the same genre of events, showing up to support the same kind of body of artists and engaging with a particular kind of dialogue or set of interests. It often seems like most of the members of each of these distinct Chicago communities I’m participating in have never met one another and are never really exposed to the kind of work that the other is creating. It pushes me to value my position as a potential vehicle through which folks might cross that line, so in that way I’m interested in being the common thread between the acts. [It] gives me an excuse to call on these different communities and bring them into one room together to participate as one audience in a show where they’re of course coming to see whatever act they’re familiar with but then in the same moment will be exposed to not only a new musical performance that they likely would have never seen otherwise but also to the community that is attached.

When did you start making music?

In general? Since I was a toddler. My dad was a musician when he was in his 20’s, so I feel like he really wanted to see me pursue music. I was also showing an individual interest in music as a youngster. I was taking piano lessons, pretty typical story. At my youngest, I was doing piano but when I really picked things up, I was in middle school and learned how to play bass, mostly because my friends were starting a band and that was the only thing they didn’t have yet. But, pretty immediately after joining the band, I recognized that the thing I was most attracted to – kind of enamored by - was the drums. So then, around the age of 10 or 11, I started playing drums and that’s definitely been my primary instrument and strongest suit as a musician ever since. I’ve been drumming for almost 20 years but all throughout that picking up new instruments as well, like guitar and piano and all kinds of strange, eclectic instruments like kalimba and obscure percussive things like ukulele, musical saw, violin. I try to dabble in all of these things and bring them in as I see fit. But yes, it’s definitely been a lifelong road of music.

You are going to be releasing your new album under the name Young Elder. What is the meaning and or reason behind Young Elder?

First, the reasoning behind giving myself a new name at all was to mark what I saw as a very distinct new chapter in my musical progression. I feel like my decision to create a new name for myself has to do a lot with the fact this new group of songs that I’m putting out, I’ve really invested myself in it and allowed myself to be a lot more vulnerable and I kind of wanted to mark that transition and say that from this point forward this is how I will be.


The name Young Elder itself is actually the title of the last full length album I released under my name, Jeff Austin. When the phrase first came to me, it was something that I heard someone describing in the context of a tree – meaning they were looking at a number of elder trees and pointed out one that was new, like a young elder, and that phrase really stuck with and resonated with me. The more I thought about it and unpacked it, the more I related to it. It is a kind of paradoxical phrase, obviously, but one that fits very well to describe the feeling that I think most of us feel throughout our lives – being in a position where we are the embodied collection of the lessons we’ve learned throughout our life and, in that way, have X amount of wisdom and perspective to share but that we are also always so new and lost in this world and sort of young-minded in the sense that we always have more to learn - the feeling of always embodying both of those states of being. Always being a person who is at once so full of wisdom and experience and also having so much further to go, and feeling that as well. That’s where the name comes from.

Do you have a favorite track off the album?

I don’t think I can pick a favorite, necessarily. For practical reasons and for it to exist in the world in a digestible way for people, it’s split up into these individual tracks but to me it’s hard to imagine the EP existing without any one of those songs. They all kind of feel like they define themselves in relation to the others.

It’s meant to be listened to all the way through!

Yeah exactly, cause I think when you do pluck one out and listen to it on its own, it is no way representative of what the thing is as a whole. I don’t think you can listen to any one song on there and understand what the experience of the EP is, cause it changes quite a bit in terms of the genre and the kind of emotions and visuals being conjured. To choose a favorite, I don’t really know. It’s hard, the whole thing is kind of one movement in my mind.

What do you want people to get out of this album, experience through this album, feel from this album? What do you want your audience to get from it?

I very much regard this as my first attempt at writing love songs. I tried to approach it in a way where I was writing a body of songs that was clearly about love and concerned with love, but rather than embodying what most of us would think of when we hear the phrase “love song” – songs that are really idealistic and dreamy and romantic, celebrating the absolute best moments of love and relationship – I was interested in seeing what it would mean to challenge myself to write a collection of songs that feels like its embodying the more honest, messy, vulnerable side of what it means to be a person in relationship to another. That works itself into the album in many different forms, from the lyrics to the way the songs are structured to the way that each song seems to have its own genre and its own vibe. I was interested in pulling on some of the genres that are typically associated with love songs and using them to open up this other conversation.

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Where does the album title Stories come from?

I’ve been thinking a lot about these two different states we’re always balancing between. On one hand, we’ve got our awareness of the vast mystery of life itself, and how everything we experience rests on this foundation of a huge, inexplicable dream of a universe, right? And then we’ve got our stories – meaning, the images and narratives we have of what our life is or what it should look like, the stories that have been passed down to us of how life has been handled historically. These stories comprise all of our culture, all of our religions, all of our philosophical outlooks, pretty much anything we regard as the narrative of human life or human consciousness I think in a way is a big, elaborate, collection of stories that have been told at some point by people just like us and we all choose which ones to subscribe to and live by as we navigate. In the context of a loving relationship or romantic relationship, I feel like I recently found myself at the end of a relationship feeling less and less interested in the stories – meaning less interested in navigating my life in a way where I was trying to climb some kind of ladder of expectations or fulfill some kind of narrative that I’ve set out for myself – and, instead, more interested in trying to go inward and find a space of life that feels more connected to the larger mystery. I feel like I’m writing an album from the perspective of someone who is at the deepest level of that space, most wrapped up in those kinds of surface, ego-level concerns. To me, STORIES is a kind of emblem of that messy, anxious space – of being lost in those superficial concerns and working past them.

When did you start writing this EP? Did you start writing it at the end of the relationship, during the relationship?

I would say I didn’t start writing it at all until maybe a couple months after it had ended. I think the process of me working through these things can be reflected in the trajectory of the EP itself. For instance, I feel like in the beginning – “Like A Thought I Had When I was Dead” – it’s a song in which I wanted to unabashedly show a kind of pain and a kind of vulnerability and maybe a sort of hopelessness. And then I feel as you move through the EP, you feel those emotions being progressively worked through, eventually leading up to a track like “Truth Is In The Moving” which is like the feeling of finding love again for myself and for others and opening up again to that space of growth. And then, finally, the track “Coming Up”, which acts like a kind of hopeful anthem for being on that up-wave again and being excited again for what’s coming.

“A Shirt is a Shirt”: An Interview with Katie Cooper of Button Brigade

By Anna DiTucci-Cappiello

Button Brigade is the brainchild of Katie Cooper. With Button Brigade, she’s seeking to design button up shirts that are are gender-neutral, more size-inclusive, made in the U.S.A., and give back. Katie was kind enough to sit down with me and talk a bit about her mission, breaking into the fashion industry, and the trials that come with inclusivity.

 Photo by  Nate Packard

Photo by Nate Packard


Anna: I was just looking at your Kickstarter and it looks so cool! Do you have a background in fashion at all before starting Button Brigade?

Katie: No, not particularly. I am a freelance graphic designer, that’s my day job. The only kind of apparel experience I have had is working for a screenprinter. So different kind of apparel — not at all the same. That’s the only experience I’ve had in the fashion industry.

A: So Button Brigade came about in more of a “necessity is the mother of invention” kind of way, when you saw a need for something in the industry.

K: Yeah! It was more like seeing a need. I wear button ups all the time and I really struggle to find any that fit me, whether that was in the men’s or women’s department. So I decided to just make some that were actually more inclusive.

A: Totally agree with you there! Was it daunting to take on that idea? I can imagine there are quite a few hoops to jump through before seeing it really come to fruition.

K: For sure, I mean it’s definitely had its ups and downs. The fashion industry is very slow at getting things done, and it’s driven me up a wall. And it is a little daunting. But once I started making connections with people in the industry that were actually willing to help it became a lot easier, because they were willing to teach me and take the time to make sure I had things correctly and things like that. But there’s a lot of people who are like, “I’m doing my own thing, don’t ask me for help.”

A: Riffing off of that comes to my next question. You’re really seeking out to be as all inclusive as possible. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while trying to accommodate all of those body types and sizes and gender presentations.

K: So, it’s really difficult. As you can imagine, there are a lot of different body shapes and sizes…small and large and the whole shebang. I think more than anything trying to be gender-inclusive and then size inclusive, which kind of go hand in hand — the shirt is very much inspired by menswear. So it’s taking a man’s shirt, because they have all the best things, and then accommodating it more for a "female" body, or just curves in general. But making it in such a way that (cis) men can still wear it, because it’s not the total extreme of a woman’s button up with the darts, cut in different ways and the fabric is usually different. So it’s kind of just a very good in-between, if you will.

 Photo by Nate Packard

Photo by Nate Packard

A: Another focus that I’ve noticed is that you’re working out of Memphis, trying to keep it as local as possible. How has where you’re from influenced your brand, if at all? Are you bringing some of Memphis to the world with these shirts, along with the message of inclusivity?

K: I’d like to think so. It’s been hard to work locally, the production side of things or the behind the curtain stuff. Most of the people I’m working with are in Chicago. So it’s been, as far as resources go, having things in Memphis is extremely limited. As far as finding a manufacturer, or finding a pattern maker was difficult. One person I met who does fabric sourcing out of Chicago had all of these connections in Chicago so it kind of just went from there. As far as Memphis goes, and I guess showing some of the community of Memphis, is through the models and our friends and people here and things like that. It’s not all local, per se. One thing I will say about being in Memphis is that it’s been hard bringing people together to fundraise — it is still kind of the Bible Belt and conservative in some aspects. There’s definitely been some hurdles to jump through. Gender neutral is still such a new concept for some people, even though it’s just another word for unisex. People have a hard time with that.

A: Right yeah, it’s just another word for unisex! I noticed you mentioned in another article, I believe in Teen Vogue, that it seems like a radical idea but a shirt is a shirt.

K: Yeah! A shirt is a shirt, it shouldn’t matter who’s wearing it. You know? It doesn’t need to be labelled as male or female — anyone can wear it. Even the term unisex, if you think about a unisex t shirt it’s honestly just a man’s t shirt. There are issues with that, of course, but it’s easier for people to wrap their minds around unisex rather than gender neutral. And on top of that, with us giving back to LGBTQ organizations it just like, “whoa! What are you doing?” [laughs] There’s a bit of a hurdle with that.

A: On the LGBTQ side of things, can you tell us a little about the organization you’re donating to? How did you choose OutMemphis?

K: The idea is to not just give to one organization, as time goes on it’s my goal to give to multiple organizations. I want to keep things to local community centers, to give locally and put them first. OutMemphis are the local LGBTQ community center, they have a ton of programs for trans services, LGBT youth. I want to give specific projects instead of giving to an organization and being like, “do with this what you please.” So I can kind of keep track of what’s actually happening and how that money’s being used. With OutMemphis, I want to give to their senior citizens program first. They have services and make calls for, like, seniors who can’t get out of the house. We’re still working out logistics for that. Longterm I’d like to switch that out for other local community centers that need a little extra help.

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A: That sounds great! So, what are you hoping the average person will be able to take away from seeing Button Brigade around or wearing one of the shirts?

K: I guess just creating more awareness around being gender inclusive. I’m really excited for people just having something — a shirt they can own that isn’t labelled. Especially for a person who’s gender non-conforming and forced to either shop in the men’s or women’s section. Giving them the confidence to be themselves and to express themselves the way they’d like to, I think, is probably the most important thing I would like people to take away. It doesn’t matter, and the end of the day it is just a shirt and it shouldn’t be labelled. That’s kind of where my focus is, and creating conversation around it especially with — I have a very conservative background. So, like, all of my outer circles probably are like “what the hell is she doing?” [laughs] But I think leading this conversation, and making gender neutral clothing more accessible and a real thing…yeah.

A: You had mentioned that you had done very different work in the industry with screen printing. What would you say you’ve learned from being at the helm of this project, either on the fashion or activism side of things?

K: You have to be extremely careful with how you choose your words, you would think the LGBTQ community or people who are into body positivity would be so supportive. People who are all about inclusivity, or in the queer community — when it comes to activism, you get a lot more criticism about not being perfect. Which was very surprising from my end of things. Because it is just me running a business. I think people assume I have a team behind me, so they can troll the internet and do whatever and think they’re not just talking to a person. So I have learned a lot about choosing my words carefully. I don’t know, the internet’s crazy. Like, learning things and figuring out the market and who my customers and consumers are. I learned a majority of them are poor, I mean statistically speaking. Those who are gender non conforming have a harder time finding work, you know it’s hard for them to even afford the product. Which has never been my intention, it’s just the price for what it is. That was one thing — how can I make this accessible without going bankrupt?

A: The internet is crazy. Have you seen mostly positive or negative feedback over the course of this project?

K: I would say the majority good. One negative comment and you’re like, "I don’t even know..."but the majority of the feedback has been good. I’ve gotten some constructive criticism, which is good. Anything negative has been people sitting around waiting for you to make a wrong move.

A: What does the future look like for Button Brigade? Either with aspiring next steps or things you already have on the horizon?

K: For sure, well, my focus has been on getting it funded and the first round of shirts done. Just getting funding has been extremely difficult. Dreaming, I would love to open up a storefront and offer different styles in the shirt. I’ve been playing around with doing a tall version, whether or not the budget allows right now. Or even go up in sizes, things like that are in the works. Trying not to think too far ahead when I don’t even have my product out yet, you know? But I would love to have a storefront.

Support / shop at The Button Brigade here

Interview: Kississippi / 'Sunset Blush' Out Today

 VIOLET FOULK

VIOLET FOULK


by Violet Foulk

Last week, I took a walk around Boston on a rainy afternoon with Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi. We chatted about her new record Sunset Blush (out today), how the tour with Dashboard Confessional has been going, and the transition from her lo-fi dream rock EP We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed (2015) to the pop influences on the new record.

We planned on finding a quiet place near the venue to chat, but on my way over, Zoe texted me to ask if I minded taking a walk to Guitar Center with her for a new cable. On the way over, we got to know each other a bit, bonded over mutual band obsessions we had in high school, and took some photos.

Later, after we returned to the venue and the band took a few minutes to soundcheck, Zoe and I sat down in the greenroom to chat. I asked why she waited three years after her second EP to release the new record and she explained, “We got really caught up with touring. And it was this endeavor that I took on by myself - I was writing everything on my own.” Although Kississippi’s touring roster has five members, including Zoe, the writing process is all her own. “I just went in and really took my time with it to make sure it was right. I think if I didn’t take all the time I did, I probably wouldn’t be as happy with it as I am,” she reflected.

 VIOLET FOULK

VIOLET FOULK

During this time, Zoe’s vision for the project changed. “I’m definitely venturing out a little more this time,” she explained, “I wanted people to be able to dance at shows, and I wanted to have the most fun I can while playing onstage. I realized I wanted to be making pop songs.”

The first track from the record, “Easier To Love,” was released in March alongside the album announcement, it’s a synthpop gem that displays this transition in sound perfectly. Zoe recorded the original demo in GarageBand, but took it to the studio and recorded an indie version with the band. “At that point in time, we weren’t really trying to do the pop thing yet. We finished it and realized it just didn’t sound right, so we ended up actually using a bunch of stems from the original GarageBand version,” she told me.

The track was written and the original demo recorded over the course of a few weeks, which helped her realize that she wanted to take her time with the whole record, to get it just right. I asked if it was written about a specific person or breakup, or if it was a general ode to the struggle of changing yourself for someone else. “It’s kind of about a specific person,” she replied. “Well, it’s not about this person, but about the way they made me feel. The song was written about figuring myself out and feeling kind of unloveable because of the way they treated me, but also about overcoming that feeling.”

Zoe told me the track she’s most excited about from Sunset Blush is “Mirror Kisser,” since “Easier To Love,” her initial favorite, was already out. “It’s our favorite song to play on this tour, and I wasn’t really expecting it to be, but it kinda shreds! That song was definitely the song that made me decide that this is the direction I wanted to take.”

“By the way, how does it feel to be on tour with Dashboard Confessional?” I asked. “Surreal. I’ve looked up to them for a very long time, and I grew up with their music so this is extremely exciting,” she said. Kississippi has been on the road with Beach Slang and Dashboard Confessional since early March and will continue through April. “Every night after the show, I’m still like, ‘Y’all, can you believe we just played a show with Dashboard Confessional?’” she said with a laugh. Landing a tour of this size is a huge accomplishment for a band with their first record on the way.

 VIOLET FOULK

VIOLET FOULK

I love a good tour story, so I asked if she had anything notable happen yet while on the road. She told me about the house they stayed in at SXSW a few weeks earlier. “Our friend, Jake from Counter Intuitive Records was nice enough to rent a house. It was us and a bunch of bands — Greet Death, Mover Shaker, Retirement Party, Prince Daddy & The Hyena, oldsoul, and California Cousins. There were like 35 people there, but it was actually not horrible,” she assured me. “It was just like this week-long, enormous slumber party. There was one night where the water went off for like an hour and everyone went into panic mode. It was awesome though, we were with so many friends and we made so many new friends. It was an amazing time.”

Kaylen, one of Kississippi’s touring members, chimed in from across the greenroom where she was painting her nails. “Also, today we stopped at a gas station in Stamford, Connecticut and Zoe was asleep in the back of the van. I went in to pay for the gas, and the attendant was like, ‘You look like a musician, are you in a band?’ Like he could definitely tell we slept in a van last night,” she laughed. “This man was like 65 - he went on to tell me about his favorite band, which was PVRIS. So we told him that the drummer from Dashboard Confessional who we’re touring with was in PVRIS, and he was like ‘Oh my goodness I love them!’ So, eventually I went back out to fill up the gas tank, and he came out a couple minutes later and asked to take a picture with us,” she said. “I’m so sad I missed this!” Zoe chimed in. Kaylen continued, “Like Zoe who is Kississippi wasn’t even there, she was asleep in the van. But we took the picture with him. He was the nicest man, it was so wholesome!”

Stream Kississippi’s new album, Sunset Blush below:


Remaining tour dates with Dashboard Confessional and Beach Slang:
Apr 06 – Grand Rapids, MI – 20 Monroe Live
Apr 07 – Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom
Apr 08 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada Theatre
Apr 09 – Denver, CO – The Summit Music Hall
Apr 13 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theatre
Apr 14 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox
Apr 16 – Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades
Apr 17 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
Apr 18 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues
Apr 20 – Anaheim, CA – House of Blue
Apr 21 – Hollywood, CA – Hollywood Palladium


Sol Patches’ 'Garden City': An Audio Love Letter / 'GamesStop' Video Premiere


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I had the pleasure of interviewing Chicago-based artist Sol Patches (they/them) about their latest album Garden City, described as an audio love letter to Chicago. An audio love letter “written in music for trans people, we who dream and live to unlearn - creating in a field that denies our very existence.”

20 year old Patches is no stranger to political activism, nor a stranger to fusing elements of protest into their art. The fourteen-track LP, executively produced by Chaski (they/them), is selfless in its mission. It challenges the social structures forced upon black trans people. This is especially exemplified in the music video for the track ‘GamesStop’, featuring + and Ireon. The video pays homage to voguing and black queer dance.

After gaining some insight from Patches and Chaski, I was able to enjoy the album with an entirely new set of ears. I was excited to learn more about the diverse, dance-driven and lyrically dense project.


The project features a great number of people. What drives you to collaborate with other artists?
What drives me to collaborate with other artists, is that we are all we got. I do not believe solely in single authorship, and having being raised around grass-roots organizing, I’m aware of how many people go into making it possible for such political campaigns to take place. I don’t want to be a token, and I create spaces in sound that are sustainable and able to amplify the truth of those seeking nuances in a gendered world. 

The production on this project varies. From the uptempo 'Basketball', to the dance-feel of 'Rooftops', to the warped boom-bap of 'Heat War'. Who produced these instrumentals? What was the thought-process behind which beats were used?
I produced ‘Basketball’ and ‘Heat War’. When I lived on the westside of Chicago, footworking was always popping at my elementary school and I really wanted apply some of that flavor to basketball stories from my upbringing. ‘Heat War’ emerged post-election after a session with my friend in NYC who goes by the name Naked Family. We wanted to produce a song that reflected climate change, executive branch based politicians tweeting, and an ever-pending nuclear war. Eiigo Groove, my sibling, produced ‘Rooftops’ about 3 years ago and it was on my mind constantly. He really puts his heart into music and has drums out of this world. 

Lyrically, I hear themes of identity and protest. What is Garden City addressing and who is it's audience?
Lyrically, I would say Iientity appears in this project in a very subtle yet intentional way. Sonically, I wanted to mix the project in a way that was above all else, healthy for the ear. I wasn’t concerned with commercial standards. Garden City addresses the gaps in Chicago’s music scene with its LGBTQI+ artists and strives to outline how entangled in resistance my practice actually is within an often basic and cis/heteronormative mainstream Chicago music culture. It is a reminder to that scene that we are here, we have been here, and we’re not messing around.

Is this project Chicago-specific?
Garden City, though directly inspired from all that makes up Chicago, is more so specific to the traditions of power that occupy cities and effect lower income residents. This piece speaks to my many homes, and also the ways in which I am homeless.

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How did the GameStop music video come about?
Chaski and I worked on the video together. The visuals were largely compiled from Chaski's personal archive as well as video we've collected together. 

The music video displays the following concepts: "The rule of minimum quantity, rule of sufficient ideality, rule of lateral effects, rule of perfect certainty, rule of common truth, rule of optimal specification." What do these rules mean to you?
If I were to describe directly what Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish,” rules mean to me we would be talking forever...and I would love that! These rules as it applies to this video, I feel, gives us a critical lens on interpreting how state violence disciplines those along the spectrum of blackness with the mask of a food and liquor store with no community-based grocery options available.

CHASKI - This piece draws on Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’ to discuss systemic rituals of racialized punishment and consider the political anatomy of black bodies being subjected to state violence through imagery of voguing, popping and postmodern movement practices. The rules are almost like mini-intermissions, or choreo-political queries/ruling out a binary notion of power to acknowledge a whole field of contestation. We engaged with a lot of afro-futurist and as well as afro-pessimists in the making of this piece.

The soul is the effect and instrument of political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.—Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish.

Traditionally, media is supposed to mirror the society it displays. Of course, there is a huge lack of representation for non-binary and trans people in TV and movies. Do you think this is something that will change in our lifetime?
Chaski quotes Foucault a lot, and one quote I remember them saying is “Visibility is a trap”. Representation in itself is not enough - a lack. It’s going to take a lot more than auctioning bodies off to be cast, it is important that the oppressed are in positions to cultivate creative sustainable spaces. We are experiencing more elevated trans, non binary, genderqueer folks - but there could always be more. That representation is not void of it’s own violences in terms of who receives platform and whose voices are not welcomed into these discussions. I’m sure certain such things will continue to happen on a larger scale. The true question is how do we keep the integrity of non-cis people who have died and been killed waiting for that moment in their lives?

I was very gravitated towards the hook of 'Sims'. "How much does it take to feel your skin?/how much can you taste within yourself?/strawberries in your palms, the blood runs deep..." What is the story behind that song?
My co-producer Chaski and I were talking about how the state configures people’s lives throughout space and time as if it was simulation. The idea of a simulated reality emerged from my conversations with my guardian and mentor Ricardo Gamboa who is from Chicago and lived in NY. Gamboa argues, “that a gun backed by a badge is a form of terrorisms, and is very much so automated in a reality on parallel with US Military drone strikes”. Chaski and I were also listening to a lot of Philip Glass during this time, and I started to play around with an arpeggio on my synth. Strawberries represent blood in this song, and in a lot of ways an ode to Strawberry Fields Forever and my never-ending obsession with the concept of Sims [the video game] in my mind. 

What is the sample at the end of 'Magic Isn't Real'?
During the ending of Magic Isn’t Real, we decided to include an interview from Nina Simone to ground the abstract lyrics. 

How did this project, or it's process, differ from 'As2Water Hurricanes'?
This project differs from As2Water Hurricanes in that it focuses heavily on sound frequencies, attempts to verbalize the music of politics, while rhythmically and melodically paying homage to queer musicians. 

What are your influences?
My biggest influences would be.. Sylvester, Nina Simone, Ricardo Gamboa, D-Sisive, Octavia St. Laurent, and Noname. 

How old are you? When did you begin making music?
I just made 20 years old in October. I was 11 years old when I started pursuing rapping seriously. I started off recording at this spot home to many Chicago artists, Classick Studios, and learned as much as I could in order to engineer music myself. My little brother Eiigo was a big part of my journey with production. He’s always been my teacher. 

What can we expect from Sol Patches?
You can expect more visuals, spring time collaborative projects (duo tape with Chaski) and summertime tunes


PREMIERE: SOL PATCHES' 'GAMESSTOP' (FEAT +, IREON)


Sol Patches | Garden City

SolPatches Garden City Coverart.jpg

Listen: A New Beginning With *1996*

 Photographed by Morgan Martinez

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

by Scout Kelly

The worst part about making art is wanting to make art. A recent track release by the hot, young band *1996*, a flourishing project by Midwest-based artist Nicholas Ryan Abel, details the anxiety of performance not just as an artist but as a human-person. The track opens with an interview with the artist, who you later realize is both the speaker and the subject. It’s transparent and funny, a look into the pressure one feels when creating and the self-deprecating fear that what you have yet to make is somehow already a failure, even before existing. The second half of the track is a harrowing, dark song that still retains a certain prettiness. It sounds like an episode of the twilight zone, but with glitter.

You can listen to past releases of *1996* on their Bandcamp. Don't miss their performance at the Hooligan Mag Four Year Art Collective. Tickets are available online till February 14th and then available at the door.

 Photographed by Morgan Martinez

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

PLAYLIST: I Have A Crush On Life and There Isn't Shit You Can Do About It


CRUSH.png

by Scout Kelly

2017 was a tough year for a lot of us. It was a year that I, personally, spent in rumination and at times, panic. I spent much of that time alone (save for a few good souls). I listened to a lot of music that fed that time of my life. You know what I mean - I was on that sad shit. It was what I needed; depression aside, I had tangible issues that I really had to work through. I had to take time to do that work.

But, uh, do you ever feel like you’ve been healing forever and you want a break? Like maybe you want to climb onto a rooftop and yell from the bottom of your belly in a good way?  Or you want to roll down the windows and sing something dumb, like, Alanis Morissette (not dumb, very good). Or, maybe you want to jump into a crowd at a show and let go of everything for a few minutes?

Sometimes I have this feeling when I listen to a great song, it’s like an overwhelming desire to kiss the entire world, to ball myself up and shoot myself out of a cannon and throw confetti over everyone!

I needed my mojo back in 2018. I don’t just mean my queer mojo, I don’t mean romantic energy, I mean I needed my capacity for shameless, exuberant joy. I needed to dance and punch the air again, or else I was going to lose my mind. I needed to remember how to have a crush on being alive. I get very, very, very down. Often. So, when deep, hearty joy comes along- I have to remember to be indulgent with this feeling of gratitude for being RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

When I think about all of the powers-that-be who might like to see me in my depression cave, with ugly anxiety, believing horrible and hopeless things… I want to celebrate my joy all the more. This year, I’m going to fight harder and dance harder and love in a way that is very uncool. I’m not here to be aloof; I’m going to be the most loof… ;)

So, I did what I always do - I started making a playlist!

I started collecting “crush songs” and asking my friends about songs that make them feel shameless, crushy joy! And I got some amazing responses. I made a Spotify playlist of my top crush songs and added lots of suggestions from friends. Please enjoy! Make your own and tell us which songs are your crush songs! I know that things are tough, and the world seems too heavy and too ugly. It really is, but it’s my sincerest hope that joy comes for you as well. I hope you punch the air. I hope you kiss someone.


SCOUT'S CRUSH PLAYLIST*:
(Spotify player below!)

Kiss Me- Sixpence None The Richer  (the obvious alpha and omega of crush songs)
New Feeling- Emily Yacina  (that airy crush in bright morning sun when you're on a walk)
SGL - Now, Now  (windows are down, you are singing, you might as well be James Dean)
Shut Up Kiss Me - Angel Olsen (you are feeling bravado and melodrama and it's delicious)
D'You Have A Car?- SWMRS  (you want to go and you want to go FAST)
Closer- Tegan and Sara  (you are shamelessly charmed by the idea of someone)
Summertime Mama- Becca Mancari  (summertime crushin', y'all)
What's It Gonna Be- Shura  (you are being honest and it feels good)
Nineteen- Tegan and Sara  (young love)
Why Can't I? - Liz Phair  (happiness came for you out of NOWHERE)
Archie, Marry Me- Alvvays  (you are pulling off a risky romantic gesture)
Cherry Garcia- Dingus. (You are crowd surfing and screaming along)
200 Miles- Caves  (long distance isn't that scary when you're happy)
Get Bummed Out- Remember Sports  (the sweet, anxious feeling)
Blessings (1 and 2) - Chance The Rapper  (gratitude and a lil sprinkle of hope)
Gigantic - Pixies (a good bass line and a big, big love)
I Want To Know Your Plans - Say Anything (nothing has to be perfect to be good)
Wetsuit - The Vaccines  (to never let the teen heart die)
Last To Sleep - Fazerdaze  (it's in slow motion and you're the star of the music video)
Novella Ella Ella Eh- Chumped (run fast and get it all out)
You're Still The One- Shania Twain (just let me have this, okay?)
Unattainable- Little Joy (you're walking and it's raining a little and you are smiling)
One Of These Days - Bedouine (You are charming and it's true)
Everywhere - Michelle Branch (everyone please cover this song)
There She Goes - Sixpence None The Richer (COME ON)
Fever - Carly Rae Jepsen (you are riding your bike and singing out loud)
Get Up Get On Down (tonite) - Turbo Fruits (you are in sunglasses; u look gr8)
Hot 97 Summer Jam- Chumped (I would wait for you all summer long)
Chasing Worriers  (you go get that kiss; this guitar sounds perfect)
My Body Is Made Of Crushed Little Stars - Mitski (your head is full of glitter and you are holding your friend's shirt at the collar and you're yelling along with each other)
Cut To The Feeling - Carly Rae Jepsen (huge crush and you just found out it's mutual)
Power-Ups - Sammus (You are unstoppable)

*under construction for the rest of my life


Inside Issue #21: A Conversation with Astrologer / Healer Naimonu James

 all photos by  Naima Noguera

all photos by Naima Noguera


Hi Naimonu! Thank you for taking the time to share with us today. Could you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and your background?

My name is Naimonu—I use they/them pronouns, I am a gender nonconforming black femme. My mother’s name is Angelique, my mother’s mother’s name is Ruth.

Did you have any kind of religious or spiritual background in your upbringing throughout your life?

No, not at all actually. I think we were more of an Easter & Christmas Christians. We were a Black American family, descended from slaves, so Christianity was still a part of our household, it’s just that we were very removed from it. I would say that if there was any religion in our household, it was very much — at least for my mother— related to education. That became a really big focus, and there was a lot of devotion to education. If there was a spiritual tradition or religion in our household, it was really wrapped up in education and the idea of success — or, illusion of success, I should say.

That definitely resonates with me, too. Did that motivation to have a strong focus on education align with your life-path, or did you ever feel yourself wanting to go a different way?

It definitely aligned in the sense that I love learning. I definitely recognize that for a different household or a different kid, my upbringing could have been seen as really strict, you know? Growing up, my mom had posters of Einstein’s theory of relativity on the wall, we had to read poems in French, every summer we would have these huge packets of stuff to do. But my mind was always so hungry, and it is still so hungry. Having to keep my mind active has been really supportive of my work because my work is so cerebral. What I’ve been doing is beginning to try to integrate the other parts of my body that also want knowledge, so I think that it aligns perfectly to have had this intense focus on the intellect and the mind, and now I get to create balance with myself.

What would you say the primary focus of your work is currently?

My work right now, that I’m really called to be doing during this mercury retrograde, is to truly and honestly hold space for it all. If I’m writing a horoscope where I feel like I can’t hold space for it all, then I have to start over because I’ve missed something. So, that really feels like the big focus of my work right now: To remind people that they are okay. I don’t mean okay in like, don’t listen to your feelings, forget that racist fucked up comment. I mean that there’s this inherent worth that we all have, this inherent divinity, this sacredness, that no matter what happens to us, no matter what we do, it cannot be taken away.

I believe that on a metaphysical level because we’re made of the universe. That’s what I love about astrology, because once you begin to really comprehend the enormity of taking form, maybe in a body, maybe not, just how big that is in the context of the universe, it becomes a little bit easier to realize that every single one of us is divine.

It has nothing to do with what we do in the world, it has nothing to do with what we do in our day to day lives. We’re all divine, we’re all grieving, and we’re all dealing with different stages of heartbreak.

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When did you first develop an interest in astrology, and how did it guide, affirm, or impact your personal healing journey?

I feel like I was always interested in astrology. I don’t know if there was a beginning point, I was just always into it. I was always really curious about it. This process has almost been like sinking into honey. You don’t realize how deep in you are, but it feels good anyway. Or, maybe you do realize how deep in you are, and you realize, it’s fucking honey, so I’m good. That’s how this whole process has been feeling, whether it’s realizing how much time I spend doing this, or that I think about this all the time, and I realize I’m okay with that.

In terms of my own healing process, and how it intertwines with astrology — astrology has really helped me have something to cling to. Sometimes, we can get so focused on non-attachment, you know, don’t get attached to this, don’t get attached to that, don’t have expectations, all of these things. Sometimes, I forget that this timeline we’re in is very, very long, and it moves through multiple lifetimes. So, the comfort that I get from being able to cling to something, to rely on something to give me comfort, is truly divine.

It’s really helpful to not only know intellectually, but to have the feeling experientially, that throughout this path, there is some kind of map guiding that.

Right — this idea that the natal chart, or astrology, or reading your horoscopes, as just these moments where you can check in and remember that there is a map. It reminds you that you’re not alone. When you read your horoscope, and it resonates with you, you realize that, for example, every other Taurus may be like, wow, this resonates, I’m not alone on this journey, there are so many other people that are thinking about the things I’m thinking about, or struggling with what I’m struggling with. I think that is really powerful, and has also really helped me build my sense of empathy and compassion. Writing horoscopes for twelve different signs, I definitely realize that everyone has their unique thing that they’re working through and learning, and we’re all in different places in our journey, and in different places on the collective map together. So, there’s this individual map, and this collective map, and we’re all in different places trying to navigate towards whatever liberation may look like or feel like.

It feels like with astrology work, and especially by sharing that as a writer, there’s this responsibility there, because whichever path that you’re laying, and wisdom that you’re sharing, people may follow that. So, it definitely seems like it requires some element of clearing ourselves to be able to channel our highest wisdom. Are there any ways that you recommend clearing any energetic blocks so that you can do the work that is truest for yourself and for others?

I don’t know, I have my own ways, and I’ve worked to figure out those ways. For me, right now, a lot of that ability to clear is in taking time every day for meditation. I was recently called back to this practice, and for me, my meditations need to be very long. The need of them being very long is really quite joyful. It’s really pleasurable to be in meditation for 45 minutes or an hour. That is a huge part of my ability to just tap into the flow. I’ve recently returned to one of my truths, which is that I have a lot of anxiety, and I think it is something that I maybe will always have, and I think I’m just kind of coming to terms with that. So, it’s very important for me to take a lot of time to soothe all of my selves, and to really make sure that I’m doing that work, and really be able to check in with myself, and to check in with the state of my mind. That’s a huge part of the work, for me that is a part of the clearing, in actually getting into and reading into what is live and active in me—what’s subtle, what’s spacious, what’s tense, what’s agitated—and I need to check in every day, and that check in takes a lot of time. So that’s my way of clearing—your way of clearing might be completely different, and I don’t know what the best way is, and I don’t think that there is a best way.

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It’s so important what you touched on—just in checking in with ourselves every day, however that looks like to you.

This whole process, for me, is really remembering to be kind to myself. Some days I just want to lay on my couch and drink wine and watch Netflix — which sounds really good right now actually — those days are going to happen, and I might not make it to my altar. My altar will hold. The magic will hold. The universe will hold. The universe is in no rush. I think that sometimes I forget that.

Definitely. Something I’m only recently realizing is that no matter how far off we might feel from our own path, there’s always that space to return to—whether it’s an altar space, or that center in ourselves.

Absolutely, and I think that it takes a lot of work to even realize that you want to access that space within you to amend your journey. I think it’s a journey, and I always try to dance around questions that deal with routine or ritual like, What do you do? What should we do? Your journey is going to be completely different than mine. I think it’s important to have a sense of a trial and error and adventure when it comes to finding how you are able to dance with the divine, and dance with your divine self.

As a healer, and with any kind of work in channeling, I find that a lot of people that are drawn to that kind of work, it’s common to have a high sensitivity to the energies of other people, and to take on the energies of other people. Are there any important ways that you protect your energy and set boundaries for yourself around others?

I definitely have a lot of times where I take on a lot of energy, but I think that I’m coming to it in a different way where my work is to constantly open up, open up, open up, be present, absorb. That’s what my work is right now. I think that coming to healership can look a lot of different ways. You don’t necessarily have to be a sensitive person that is constantly absorbing energy. That is definitely a cue that you are probably able to gather information that is kind of divine or magical, but I felt that growing up, and surviving in my body, I couldn’t access that sensitivity. I couldn’t survive and also be as sensitive as I’m actually now allowed to be. My work is in returning to that. Right now, I’m more like, feel it! Feel it all! And when that becomes too much, or that becomes a problem, I will balance it out. For right now, I’m just trying to be present.

It definitely seems like through survivorship, there’s a way that people do have to turn off certain sensitivities, and there’s so much important work in asking ourselves how we can shed a lot of these layers and see what’s there. Then, we become a better healer for ourselves, and more attuned to what’s going on around us. It’s really great that you’re doing that.

You also learn the parts of you that need protection, because there are parts of us that need protection around certain environments and around certain people. I started to learn what parts of me can release, and I’m always learning that I get so conditioned to a certain kind of self-protection. Then, I realize that: Oh, actually, I don’t really need to have that boundary quite so tight there. But then, there may be another place, where I do actually need boundaries in this part of my life. I think it’s this constant dance, where we’re constantly moving through these different states of asking ourselves: Where am I sensitive? Where am I protected naturally? I think that changes over time.

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It sounds like you’re maintaining this level of flexibility through that level of awareness of the present by seeing in this situation, if I have to reel myself in more, in that situation, I can open myself up more. That’s really powerful that you’re cultivating that! How do you envision your practice evolving over the next year or so, are there any major projects that you’re working on?

For right now, my site and this work that I’ve been doing is young — it’s not even a year old. I’m just trying to build capacity, and to take responsibility for what I’m putting into the world with what I’m writing and what I’m trying to do. That responsibility is really calling me to routine and schedule. This is also the first year of my life where I’m coming into working for myself, so it’s a whole other learning curve. That is really what I’m cultivating. I’m the kind of person that wants to do ten things at once, you know, and how many things I can do in one period of time. I’m actually trying to stay pretty still, and just root, and root, and root myself in my site. [I want to] build capacity, streamline, see what’s working, see what we can keep putting energy towards, and what needs to go.

I’m also going to launch a couple products. I got to work with a local letterpress to make some goddess cards that really honor the goddesses. I think they turned out so beautifully, and it was really awesome to work with someone that was right down the street. So, I’ll be releasing those, and then I’m also going to start selling the collages as fine art prints, because people are into them, which is really something I didn’t expect — they have kind of grown into their own thing. I’m also going to be having those available for folks who want to cherish them.

Amazing to hear that you’re going through this foundation setting, but also slow expansion phase with your work!

Yeah! Send me good vibes because sometimes I get really rattled up and think, Oh my god! I need to do like 15 more things! I’m just really trying to find some peace with where I’m at.

It can often feel like once we finish one thing, we’re like, Oh, what can we do more? What’s next! what’s next! Rather than asking ourselves how we can work the best with what’s here.

It’s so gross because when you think about it, we’re surrounded by these corporations where that’s literally exactly what they’re thinking, all the time—How do we expand? What do we need to do? I really feel like there’s something important to being like, I’m not trying to do much at all.

Definitely! I’m just learning to acknowledge that whatever is happening now, that’s what I have to work with, and it’s good.

Yeah! I’m not going to sit there and pull my hair out over asking myself, How can I produce more? How can I work more? My ass is like, How can we work less? How can I work less? That’s also a big part of the horoscopes — a lot of it is that we have been told that our worth and our value is wrapped up in the number of hours that we work every day.

We have been, for a million different reasons, some of which are completely out of our control, trapped in these cycles of work that do not nourish us, do not nurture us, do not provide for us, do not allow us to set a life that is full of thriving and abundance. I’m fucking over it. There’s so many subtexts of my work. There’s rage in my work. It’s a rage that I’ve really learned to not put out so blatantly. But there are certain weeks or certain times where I’m just fucking tired of this presumption that someone is entitled to my labor, my brilliance. I decline. A lot of the work that I’m doing is a very gentle and subtle ask for more and more people to join me in declining. Like, No, you don’t get to have the best of me. You don’t get to have all of my hours. You don’t get to have all of my emotional labor. No.

There are so many ways that our energy can either be honored or exploited in serving someone else’s vision. It’s important to take all of that huge potential that you have and focus that into your own work if there is the room for it.

When Uranus enters Taurus, I think we’re going to really be called to be thinking about the fact that at the end of the day, because we are all sacred and divine, there are certain things that we need provided for us. Because of the abundance that exists in the world, and in the universe, we should not have to struggle for those things. I really think that that will be an important thing over the next couple of years because a lot of people are really tired. In terms of my work, there’s a part of me that’s just like, fuck this noise. Let’s restructure our lives so that we can figure out new ways of existing and doing this work. Do I have answers? No, but I want to be in conversation with people that are wondering and that are thinking about the same things I am. Maybe they’re also really tired, and they also decline. I think we’re going to really need to collaborate with each other, while also doing our own work.

In what ways do you think that community can come together more?

I think that the most important thing is for each of us to do our own work. That’s the first step. Before the moment where you realize that you don’t consent to the way the world is, I would hope— and I also really want to cultivate this into the work I do — that may you have the wisdom to immediately begin doing your own work. To realize that the stuff that you need to do, the stuff that you need to unlearn, is a mirror for the liberation work that you envision on a grand scale. So to me, the first step of building community is sitting down and figuring out what your shit is, and committing to the work. That is also coming from a hermit, so take that with a grain of salt.

But to me, I’ve been having all of these really luscious conversations around folks gathering around land, and returning to the Earth. This is another big thing with my work, to imagine life—what would a healthy, reciprocal, pleasurable, joyful relationship with our planet, our divine Earth Mother — what would that look like? I think that if we were to take that seriously, if we were to really ask ourselves that question, we would have to restructure our entire lives.

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With astrology, it’s a big way to tap into the ethereal nature of things, and in talking about reconnecting to land and Earth, what are some practices and ways that you develop that relationship to the physical realm through the Earth?

Astrology is integration, so it’s not just ethereal or ephemeral. When we think about Saturn —what is its structure that will last lifetimes? It’s about the integration and the balance of, Can we find a way to be in this ethereal realm, and do you know how to root? I think that’s the major work of astrology. It’s not reading your horoscopes every day, which is a great practice —I think the real work with astrology is inviting you to know yourself at such a deep level that you choose how to act at any given moment. It’s this deep presence and awareness because you have in some ways just studied yourself, and learned yourself. At some point, this idea of what the planets are doing no longer has an impact on you, because you get to choose.

As far as practices, nature, for me, is helpful. To be outside. My best healing happens when I am camping, and away from everything basically. A part of some of those check ins that I’m doing every day, is that I invite the Earth Mother — I sing to her, and give thanks to her, so that Earth Mother is definitely a part of my flow, and my ability to feel safe in moving through my day.

That’s so important to tap into that idea that even if the ground beneath our feet in our personal lives can get shaken up, to feel protected by the Earth is such a great feeling. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share or hopes for the future?

I hope that we can be nice to ourselves, and nice to each other. I hope that we continue working towards deep tenderness, and radical care for ourselves and others. I hope that we allow our hearts to be attuned as they are, and to keep finding ways to find safety in that. I don’t know, I hope that we can be friends. Not to be that bitch but yeah, I’m so here for heart connection with other folks right now. It’s so healing for me.

It seems like all of that work you’re doing is contributing to that heart connection, and opening up the space for others to tap into that in themselves, too.

I hope so. I can’t ask for much more. That right there is a blessing.

to read all of issue #21 click here

Hooligan's Favorite Albums of 2017

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With the help of some guest writers and Hooligan staff, we've compiled a list of albums that have influenced and inspired us in the last year. We value the sanctity of music and recognize that creating anything requires hard work and dedication. For us, this is not a list of the best albums, but rather the ones that have had the most impact on us. 


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SPLIT LIP - The Love-Inns
by Cody Corrall

The debut album from The Love-Inns is a stand out collection of eccentric songs that bring radical inclusivity back into punk. The track list tackles issues of consent, misogyny and shitty punk boys underscored by dynamic instrumentation and poignant lyricism that breathes new life into the genre. Where SPLIT LIP really shines is in their slower, more emotional tracks like the albums finale: “Summer Leaves.” The Love-Inns weave together exciting and ready to mosh punk jams with tender and heartfelt musical poetry masterfully. This first project is setting up a bright future for The Love-Inns and their quest to call out and change the toxic punk culture.

Favorite lyrics: “Don’t fight for my honor / cause my honor fights back.

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The 1st - Willow
by Cody Corrall

The sophomore album from Willow Smith is her most mature and dynamic project yet. The album is weird and ephemeral: with equal parts 2000s R&B and early Björk influences. Willow uses vocal sampling and intricate instrumentation to her advantage, creating a sound that is uniquely hers. Willow’s vocal range and power are unmatched, and it shines throughout this record. The standout of this album is Willow’s poetic lyricism. Still a young woman, Willow embraces the irrational emotions she experiences and doesn’t shy away from them. These seemingly teenage emotions often carry over into adulthood, and they get stronger as they are accompanied by each individual element in the project, making it an incredibly introspective and raw project.

Favorite lyrics: “Being in love is like suffocating / And I am drowning inside my own fakeness.


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Melodrama - Lorde
by Rosie Accola

Lorde’s sweeping sophomore album effortlessly defied the so-called curse of the “sophomore slump.” Melodrama is as epic as the name suggests, a multi-layered meditation on healing, heartbreak, and what it means to slowly cross the threshold into adulthood. Each track soars in its own right. “Supercut” uses ‘80s power-chords throughout the bridge. Lorde channels her inner Kate bush in the scathing, “Writer in the Dark,” and many a millennial wedding will be soundtracked to the swoon-worthy “The Louvre -- with its shimmering guitars and steadfast belief in a love worthy of being displayed alongside “The Mona Lisa.”

Favorite lyrics: “blow all my friendships / to sit in hell with you.

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Turn Out the Lights - Julien Baker
by Rosie Accola

I first heard Julien play this records title track back in January, unaware that it would serve as an entry point into her sophomore album. The frankness surrounding how terrifying loneliness can be, coupled with Baker’s soaring voice as she belted out the last chorus sent me into a sobbing frenzy which alarmed a nearby rock dad.

This album is a significant departure from Baker’s 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle. Though thematically similar, still dealing with themes of navigating mental illness and grappling for connection in this strange world. However the production techniques used throughout Turn out the Lights, are complex and pushed further than Baker’s debut album. In addition to guitar and vocals, Baker incorporates piano, violin, and a completely instrumental first track showcasing her prowess not only as a producer, but as a curator similar to that of a visual artist.

Turn out the Lights is a breath-taking album which fearlessly articulates struggles with mental illness, and even the drudgery of wellness. The album’s lead single, “Appointments” struck me not only because of the crystalline opening chords, but because I was also tired of having to work so hard to remember to go to therapy. It’s one of those feelings that I never thought I would hear about in a song, and I’m grateful for it.

Favorite lyrics: “When is it too many times / to tell you that I think of you every night?


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Collection - Soccer Mommy
by Francesca of Macseal

I stumbled upon Soccer Mommy opening up for Jay Som at the Sinclair in Boston and it was honestly the best surprise of 2017. Accompanied by memorable melodies, singer-songwriter Sophie Allison’s honest, comforting colloquial lyrics on Collection make drawing parallels between personal experiences inevitable. It’s obvious that Sophie willingly wore her heart on her sleeve while writing these songs with hooks like, “I don’t want a hollow smile / I want all that’s on your face / and I don’t only want to love you / I want something that I can’t replace” that suckerpunch your heart throughout the record.

Favorite lyrics: “You made your love like a forest fire / I wanted someone to keep me warm / you learn the difference after a while / I’m sick of living in the eye of the storm / I want the feeling of being admired / You only taught me to be out worn / This ain’t the love that I had desired / I’m sick of living in your eyes.

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After Laughter - Paramore
by Francesca of Macseal

Nine years before After Laughter was released, almost to the exact day, my dad took me to my first Paramore show. That night, I decided Paramore was my favorite band and nearly a decade later, they still are. In a way that is only fitting, the release of After Laughter coincided with my college graduation day. While I should have been anxiously anticipating getting my diploma, all I could think about was dissecting Zac Farro’s off-balanced drum part in the verses of “Told You So.” The unique rhythmic presence Zac brings to the record binds each track together cohesively to form After Laughter.

Sonically this record takes a departure from the band's prior releases in a way that highlights Hayley, Taylor, and Zac’s individual musicality and growth. While this growth is apparent, hidden amongst the captivating lyrics of acoustic ballad “26”, Hayley references 2009 single, “Brick By Boring Brick” and says, “After all / wasn’t I the one who said to keep your feet on the ground?” Throughout the record these subtle moments come in nostalgic waves that add layers of depth and emotion to each track.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, After Laughter is truly an effortless marriage of unforgettable melodic lines and painstakingly relatable lyrics that will leave you wanting to dance through the tears.

Favorite lyrics: “I'd hate to let you down so I'll let the waters rise / And drown my dull reflection in the naive expectation in your eyes


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A Crow Looked at Me - Mount Eerie
by Scout Kelly

This is the best record I’ve ever heard. Could I please leave it at that? When I first listened to it, I thought I could never listen to another album again. Mount Eerie is the musical project of Phil Elverum; this record is a tribute to his wife, Geneviève Castrée, also a musician, who passed away last year after a battle with cancer. They became new parents only a few months after her diagnosis in 2015. Phil writes about life after your love has gone, the experience of seeing a loved one go through chemo, and about raising their child alone. The grief inside of this album is undiluted and terrifying, and it is my deepest hope that it provided even the smallest amount of comfort to create. If anything, I believe in the god-like power of both love and grief each time I listen to this album.

Favorite lyrics from A Crow Looked At Me come from the opening lines of the album: “Death is real / Someone’s there and then they’re not / and it’s not for singing about / it’s not for making into art

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Seed - Looming
by Scout Kelly

Looming gives me exactly what I want from a band, so thanks to them for that (S/O). Their sophomore album Seed is every bit as striking as their first and more. Lyrically, it’s a bit darker, I think. The album swoons between heavier musical tendencies and softer sounds, like the drum machine driven soft-pop sound of the track “waves.” I can’t listen to this album without moving; it’s one of the first albums I put on when I’m biking around my city.

Favorite lyric on this album is the refrain on the track Queen: “I’m not happy / but I’m less miserable

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Good Woman - Becca Mancari
by Scout Kelly

ARE YOU A SOUTHERN QUEER? DOES THE STEEL PEDAL MAKE YOU SWOON? If yes, then Good Woman is literally for you. This album is one of my favorite releases of this year for so many reasons. Becca Mancari and her band built this album with so much heart and it shows. Musically, it’s objectively gorgeous and catchy as hell. It contains heartbreak, hope, and so much joy. Becca is a queer, Nashville musician HANDING you love songs about dancing with your partner in the kitchen. Please listen and buy the hell out of this beautiful album. After you do that, dance with your partner in your kitchen and have some hope for this world.

Favorite lyrics come from the chorus of Summertime Mamma:
Summertime Mamma, breaking me down / wearing that dress, girl / I’ve seen you around / Summertime Mamma, throwing me around / hot like the stones on the Tennessee ground


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Everybody Works - Jay Som
by Rivka Yeker

I think I first heard “The Bus Song” on one of my Discover Weekly playlists on Spotify. It’s moments like these that make me trust Spotify in gifting me music I’d actually like. Jay Som is a band that is on the same pathway of bedroom pop influenced lo-fi rock, a genreless genre that continues to defy expectations of music and throws you in for a loop the minute you think it’s going to be something it’s not. Everybody Works is a poetic and dreamy album filled with intimate moments of personal reflection intertwined with observations of the world at large. If you like pop, rock, some funky synths, and sort of heartbreaking lyricism, you must listen to this.

Favorite lyrics “One More Time, Please”
I can't wait to find rest / won't you just give me piece of mind?

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Hiss Spun - Chelsea Wolfe
by Rivka Yeker

I saw Chelsea Wolfe perform for the first time this year and it gutted me, just like this album did. Slightly more heavy and distorted, Hiss Spun is a bold, mystical, and all encompassing journey of what seems like an otherworldly seance. It is spooky and dark like the rest of their records, but there is something focused more on the technicalities of the music itself in this particular album. The guitars are loud and align with her voice, allowing for the album to sound like a consistent vibrating hallway of doom. If you wish you could like black metal, but want something more “beautiful” yet still on the same level of haunting, you gotta listen to this.

Favorite lyrics for “Scrape”
My body fights itself inside / I feel it bow, this mortal hold

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A Black Mile to the Surface - Manchester Orchestra
by Rivka Yeker

Sometimes I am still shocked that I have it in me to continue to support and love a band for as many years as I have Manchester Orchestra. They continue to impress me with each record they put out, reminding me that they know what it takes to put out a good, solid, cohesive album filled with everything that, I think, matters in a record. Andy Hull manages to write consistently striking lyrics that always hold layers and layers of immaculate storytelling. A Black Mile to the Surface sounds like it is one continuous song, making it seem like one long-winded beautiful book. Each song a new chapter, each word a new revelation, each chorus a moral. I could cry thinking about how much this band has inspired me as both a writer and as a lover. If you like all the sad songs in the world, singer-songwriters who like to play with full bands, and powerful alternative rock, you have to listen to this.

Favorite lyrics from “The Grocery”
"I want to reach above the paradox where nobody can see / Want to hold a light to paradigm and strip it to its feet / I want to feel the way your father felt, was it easy for belief? / I want to know if there's a higher love he saw that I can't see"

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Peace, Fam - Mykele Deville
by Rivka Yeker

Mykele put out a record that is lively and ambitious. It is filled with personal anecdotes, his own truths, and the kind of storytelling that leaves you feeling ready to start a revolution, leaving the album to be uplifting and optimistic. It is political, but only because Mykele raps about injustice on such a personal level, on such a real and raw reflection of the city he loves. It is a Chicago anthem, one filled with both a call to action and an invitation to celebrate Black youth and their resilience. 

Favorite lyrics from "Peace, Fam" 

"Take pride in some radical self care / treat your friends like you treat yourself / love their smile never lovin their wealth  / if you're wrapped up tight let your soul unwind, / know first change takes place in the mind"

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Soft Sounds from Another Planet - Japanese Breakfast
by Rivka Yeker

This album encapsulates the sort of dreaminess attached to heartache, grief, and moving forward. It is almost as if listening to it in full is like being in a trance, one filtered with melodic electro-pop and gut-punching lyrics. I have learned so much by listening to it, learned from front-person Michelle Zauner’s words on how to grow, become fuller, and more in touch with yourself. It is a gift when a record can teach you something as valuable as self-reflection & the ability to begin learning how to love again.

Favorite lyrics from "This House"
"Well I’m not the one I was then / My life was folded up in half / I guess I owe it to the timing of companions / I survived the year at all"

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Every Country's Sun - Mogwai
by Rivka Yeker

I got my co-worker hooked on this record when he asked me to play something slightly more optimistic (I’m sure we’ve all been there). This new Mogwai record is filled with pop hooks that encapsulate their atmospheric and powerful sound. They’ve been one of my favorite post-rock bands since the beginning of my post-rock phase (that I don’t think will ever end). It is inspiring and uplifting and an incredible addition to Mogwai’s already perfect track record of what I think is an unbeatable discography.


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If Blue Could Be Happiness - Florist
by Nicholas Ryan Abel of *1996*

This album is speaking in a hushed voice, a friend laying on a bed and saying to another friend “right now it’s Sunday night and there will be a Monday morning and I don’t know if that’s good or bad or anything but the sun is coming and that is a truth that we cannot fight.”  This album says, “I’m in a lot of fucking pain but I’m trying and I promise I won’t yell.” This album is a conversation where maybe nothing new is understood but you feel better just for talking it out.

Favorite lyrics, both from “Red Bird” 
And the sunrise always came / And it sometimes made you happy
I understand the birds now that I’ve learned some things / Yeah, I think


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Feel Your Feelings Fool! - The Regrettes
by Georgia Hampton

I go between being in slack-jawed awe and insanely jealous of The Regrettes, a band comprised of four teens from Los Angeles that packs a bigger punch than a good number of established bands on the scene today. Combining the musical stylings of girl groups from the 60’s with the anger of female voices of punk, The Regrettes rip through misperceptions of femininity, overblown male ego, and flakey friendships with searing clarity. I haven’t stopped listening to this album since my friend told me about it early this year, and it continues to serve as my go-to when I need to remind myself that I’m an unequivocal badass. I only wish I could have shown this album and this band to my 15 year-old self, she sure as hell needed it too.

Favorite lyric from the song "Seashore" 
Well my words are growing stronger / and my legs keep getting longer / I’m like nobody else / so you just go fuck yourself

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Survival Pop - Worriers
by Georgia Hampton

Worriers incredible third album Survival Pop blasted through my earbuds like a bullet through a window. In each song, lead singer Lauren Denitzio calls out to their listeners with this desperate determination to keep going, even if it hurts, even if you’re crying, especially if you’re crying. And I think we can all agree that in the dumpster fire that 2017 has been and continues to be, it’s very apt that this album came out this year. I’ve turned to this album when I was afraid of confrontation, when I’ve doubted my strength, and Survival Pop has continued to deliver. None of the songs make any promises that everything will work out, but it reminds you that you can fight. That you should fight. Listening to this album feels like the reassuring hand of your best friend squeezing your own, and knowing that after you do whatever you have to do that scares you, at least she will still be there.

Favorite song on the album: My 85th Rodeo
Favorite lyric: “Smile at the worst of things / laugh when I hate everything


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Safely Nobody's - Tall Friend
by Lora Mathis

Before diving into my love for this album, I must name my bias towards it. Front-person Charlie Pfaff is one of my closest friends. However, while this does make the album increasingly special to me, the comfort I find in it is not simply a product of our relationship. An intimate world is spun on Safely Nobody’s; one of goodbyes, childhood aching, and growing pains. The opening track includes a voicemail from Charlie’s mother and the album’s poetic lyrics paint delicate, detailed scenes. In them, childhood memories are unfurled and deep longings for belonging are sifted through. This album speaks directly to the lonely child in me.

There are so many beautiful lyrics to choose from but I hold these extra close: "I’m harvesting my worry / ‘Cause it’s something that just grows and grows and grows"

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A Place I'll Always Go - Palehound
by Lora Mathis

This album brought me through the month of June. I listened to it while walking through the sweaty streets of Philly, deep in my own healing process. Front-person Ellen Kempner’s breathy voice is paired with catchy riffs and lyrics centering queer healing and love. It begins with a romantic connection that is souring, and eventually melts into falling for someone new after having your heartbroken. However, this is not simply an album dealing with romantic love. It dives into death, familial relations, and shedding your youthful self. I love A Place I’ll Always Go for the healing space it creates amidst its hooking melodies.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “If You Met Her,” a look into how life continues amongst grief: "When the dust clears / Where’s my body?"


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HEAVN - Jamila Woods
by Keisa Reynolds

Jamila Woods’ HEAVN is how I got through 2017. It feels like a love letter to the Black girls and women holdin’ it down in Chicago and across the globe. Woods uplifts those who fought for Black liberation in “Blk Girl Soldier” and reminds us how infrequently we hear those names. “Lonely” brings depression out in the light, illuminating the ways our minds can betray and bog us down. Along with Solange’s A Seat at the Table, this album should continue to play in your rotation. Every song will inspire you to keep amplifying marginalized voices, to keep fighting and hold your loved ones dear.

Favorite lyrics, from "Holy"
"Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me"


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Stick Around - Active Bird Community
by Kelley Sloot

There are only a handful of songs I’ve listened to where I can fully remember where I was and what I was doing the first time I heard it. QB Sneak- the first single I heard off of Stick Around, came out of my earphones while I was walking to class on a chilly afternoon. I fell in love, listened to their other tracks, and fell in love all over again. The album, released in January, successfully puts together a better ‘coming of age’ story in 23 minutes than most modern movies can do in two hours. Paired with powerful instrumentals, the lyrics touch on feelings of love, uncertainty, and insignificance; feelings that some of us know all too well.

There are days when I’m blasting "Dead Legs" while driving down the highway with all the windows open and there are other days when I’m listening to Home (and the rest of the album) on vinyl while sitting in bed. Either way, Stick Around has become a staple in my everyday listening habits and I’m looking forward to what the boys in Active Bird Community do next.


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Popular Manipulation - The Districts
by Genevieve Kane

I don’t know about you, but 2017 has been the year of the tear for me. That’s right. I have been doing a lot of crying this year, which is why Popular Manipulations was my go to album. I would grab some tissues, put this bad boy on, and dissociate for 38 minutes. Popular Manipulations is The Districts third album, and definitely the most cry-worthy. Each song is chalked full of raw and intense emotion. The album is poetic, sincere, and downright touching. The opening song, “If Before I Wake,” immediately sets the tone of the entire album and possesses a reverberant power that renders me captive by its sound. After experiencing all 11 songs of the album, I feel completely renewed.

Favorite lyric from the song “Fat Kiddo” on the album:
Backlit we all see the sky / Skinny branches veining out / Blue afternoon


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Stranger in the Alps - Phoebe Bridgers
by Rosie Accola, Francesca of Macseal, and xxxtine of Allston Pudding

“Motion Sickness” (xxxtine)
There’s something unfortunately powerful about negative experiences. They have a way of grasping you tightly and sending you on a whirlwind. Phoebe Bridgers’ “Motion Sickness” takes this idea quite literally comparing being in love with someone downright mean to you to getting sick in a jumbling car. The song is outward catharsis, throwing those honest emotions for the world to see even from the first set of lines like “I hate you for what you did / And I miss you like a little kid.” Even if there is anger and sadness, it’s better than feeling nothing at all right?

When I first heard this song, I immediately had to restart it again with the lyrics in front of me. It took everything I felt from a previous relationship and sent me straight back to that feeling. This time I had a sense of distance. The motion sickness can’t get a hold of me any longer. There’s no need to roll the windows down.

“Demi Moore” (Rosie)
This song embodies the three things that keep me going in life:
- Somehow being able to emulate a combination of spooky, forlorn, and sexy
- ‘00s film references
- Small moments of tenderness wherein people admit that they need human connection.

“Scott Street” (Rosie)
I first heard “Scott Street” as an unreleased demo in the depths of Youtube. I was struck the casual, honest, nature of the lyrics. Songs usually detail the dissolution of romantic partnerships, but this idea that everyday relationships can dissolve too is rarely touched upon, especially within the uncertain landscape of one’s twenties.

“Killer” (Francesca)
“Killer” is one of those songs you spend an entire day listening to in attempt to process the entirety of its lyrical beauty. In fact, I did for multiple days and still can’t fathom how Phoebe wrote this song. Lines like, “I hope you kiss my rotten head and pull the plug / know that I’ve burned every playlist / and given all my love” and “I am sick of the chase / but I’m stupid in love / and there’s nothing I can do / and there’s nothing I can do” push my heart into my throat in relief that someone else was able to articulate my own emotions so accurately.


Praxilla Femina: A Woman's Opera Collective Making Art For Everyone

 courtesy of Praxilla Femina's  website

courtesy of Praxilla Femina's website

Body lyrics and a 5th century BCE feminist may be what you need to get through the remaining days of this catastrophic year.

Not surprisingly, many social justice organizations were born out of the shock and horror that rippled through the US  after the results of the 2016 election. Almost immediately, many social service providers were flooded with volunteers, those who felt the need to kill (with kindness) and give back to their communities. But how many social justice groups speak music and are armed with classical opera training?

Praxilla Femina, Chicago's feminist music collective, was founded by a group of women desiring to enact change and radicalize a medium that historically profits off pretty women singing pretty. Classical music—and more specifically opera—has been viewed as an elite art, where concert halls are filled with those with deep pockets and little concern for those outside of their inner circles. Singer Andrea Hansen hopes to radicalize this art and demands, "classical music gets back to a social aspect. Not just you sit in a dark room and applaud when you're told to applaud."

This collective's namesake, Praxilla, was a woman composer famous for her choral hymns and drinking songs. She encountered much adversity in a field dominated by men and they treated her with the same disdain as a prostitute. Embodying this resiliency to push into realms usually gendered or uncomfortable, Praxilla Femina are today's "nasty women."

Praxilla Femina's music speaks social justice through supporting local causes. "We have this talent to draw people to an awareness of a social justice issue using something that they may not have known." Megan Cook speaks of the collective's partnership with other social organizations, which have resulted in concrete resources for those in need. Their inaugural concert on April 8th at Volumes Bookcafe was a great success. They partnered with Chicago Books to Women in Prison, where they were able to collect over sixty books and raise almost $200. Since then, they have continued to put on concerts with a purpose. Doing good is a part of their mission and they show no sign of stopping.

Listen to these strong women yourselves via SoundCloud, where they discuss their lives, Praxilla's origins, and plans for the future. Brava to these women!

 

 

Interview with Musician, Artist, and Polymath Kimaya Diggs

By Deborah Krieger

When it comes to music and performance, Kimaya Diggs does it all—composing songs, playing guitar and piano and cello, crafting poetry, directing choirs, writing plays, singing songs in twenty-seven languages—and now she can add recording her debut album, Breastfed, to that hefty list. I first met Kimaya Diggs as a student at Swarthmore, where she graduated one year before I did; our first-ever conversation took place stuffed into the balcony of the college’s concert hall, with me recording and scribbling furiously as Kimaya discussed her approach to playing the iconic Bloody Mary in an upcoming concert staging of South Pacific. Needless to say, her thoughtful and nuanced understanding of the role came through on stage, capped off with her rich, warm vocals, making clear her natural affinity for performing and sharing her heart and soul with an audience. After graduating, Kimaya traveled the world with the Northern Harmony performance group. She has since settled down in Western Massachusetts, where she’s busy composing, performing, and teaching high-school students songs from a variety of global musical traditions, as well as placing the finishing touches on her record.

 Photo by Jo Chapman.

Photo by Jo Chapman.

How did you get started on your path to becoming a musician? Why music, as opposed to another art form?

I was lucky enough to grow up singing, and playing piano and cello, but I also loved performing in any way! Singing came very naturally to me, and because I have two younger sisters, we sang together all the time. To me, singing with someone is the best way to get to know them and maintain closeness with them, and it feels like a universally appealing storytelling medium. I also love singing because creating a sound with your voice feels like a form of intimacy with oneself. Second to singing, I love playing cello, because resting it on your chest is the next-best way to experience resonance. There’s something really special about being able to experience the movement of sound physically, firsthand or secondhand. 

What musicians, mentors, or teachers have influenced you? 

I’m lucky enough to have studied with Benita Valente for a summer, and learning from her was completely life-changing. Even at eighty-three years old, her voice has so much strength, and her technique is unmatched. Studying with her made me take my technique much more seriously, which set me up well for my second tour with Northern Harmony, the professional ensemble I traveled with performing and teaching international folk music. Switching gears among South African, Balkan, and Georgian music, to name a few, requires immense vocal stamina, and having classical technique to protect my voice was a huge help. I credit that technique to Benita and to another teacher of mine, Sally Wolf. 

Other musicians who inspire me daily are Corinne Bailey Rae, Lianne LaHavas, India.Arie, Esperanza Spalding, Janelle Monae, Solange, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and more recently, Carmen McRae. 

Can you take me through the process of creating a song? Do you write music first, or lyrics? What subjects inspire you? 

I’m not super versatile on guitar, so I tend to mess around with some chords and then start mumbling a melody on top. And then when my voice wants to go somewhere my guitar won’t go easily, I stop and struggle out the chord I want note by note. Lyrics usually come next, but finding the topic feels really passive to me. I just sing the melody until suddenly a word  or two falls out; I try to let the melody direct that moment. I write poetry and prose a lot, so it’s always a little strange struggling so much with chord structure and then being able to write ten verses, but I try to live by a “quantity over quality” rule, because in the process of paring down ten verses into two or three, the quantity usually distills down to quality(ish). Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about family dynamics, and also working through my most depressive period in years, so those subjects come up a lot in my writing. 

What is your ultimate ambition or goal as a musician? For example, do you want to sing at Carnegie Hall?

So many goals! I’m really excited to release my album—that’s been a longtime goal that I didn’t think I’d see realized so soon. I also really want to sing for a Cirque de Soleil show. Their shows use original music that draws from so many cultures, and with my love of international folk music traditions and my classical training, I feel like it would be an incredible challenge and a really amazing experience. Someone call them, and tell them to call me. 

 Photo by Jo Chapman.

Photo by Jo Chapman.

Can you talk about the development of Little Town in the Hills

I wrote the libretto for this children’s opera a while back. It had been written for Guerilla Opera in Boston, but production has stalled for a bit at the moment. The story is based on Chelm stories from the Jewish folklore canon, and is a story about two children born into a town in which all the adults are foolish! One morning, the kids wake up to find that all the adults have vanished, and they go on a quest to find them, encountering scary animals and solving riddles along the way. 

Was it daunting to try and compose music for Scarlet Letters—to turn a classic novel into a musical? How did you approach the project with regards to honoring the original work while still making it your own? 

I would characterize Scarlet Letters more as a “play with songs” than a musical. My writing partner, Patrick Ross, and I have been writing together for almost four years now, so our collaborative process works very smoothly. I don’t know much about writing plays, and he doesn’t know much about writing music, which has led to a process that allows for a lot of growth, because feedback we give each other is never based on aesthetic disagreements, but is focused on moving towards cohesion and trusting the other person to have the same goal.

We wanted to write a story that explored the ways in which shame and sexuality manifest as cultural concepts, both in the nineteenth century and now, which is why I used texts by Isaac Watts in an attempt to mirror the tone of condemnation and searching that the novel held while placing it in a contemporary context. Additionally, I created six loops in D minor, all inspired by different baroque guitar and recorder pieces, marrying older music and tonality with technology, as the entire play is underscored by these loops, which blend in and out in sync with the whole script. 

As the election cycle turned from entertaining train wreck into a legitimate horror show, what was it like chronicling all of that with Hillary the First?

At first, writing a farewell song for every candidate was hilarious—especially because with the sheer number of Republican candidates, I often had to say goodbye to more than one candidate in a single song! It was also a treat to write new music to pair with Patrick’s Shakespeare-style recaps of the week’s election events. But as things went downhill, we were constantly preparing for any possibility—so I would write more than one farewell song just in case. I was deeply reluctant to write Hillary’s farewell song, and in fact, the version that we ended up using is a recording of me improvising at the last minute with an abridged excerpt of T.S. Eliot’s East Coker, the poem she quoted in her speech at Wellesley—I think I recorded it half an hour before Patrick needed to post it online. To me, that song is less for Hillary herself and more a portrait of the strange, surreal bleakness of the morning after the election. (My favorite songs from Hillary the First are here). 

How did your album Breastfed come together? Why this title? What’s it like recording a whole album? 

I had always assumed that recording would be expensive—and it is!—but my husband’s band recorded two albums in their practice space, and I was lucky enough to use their setup to record (thank you, LuxDeluxe!). It started as a bunch of acoustic songs with guitar and voice and lots of cello tracks, but expanded to include some of the things they had in their space—a Wurlitzer, this old, raunchy-sounding piano, etc. For me, it was like being immersed in a magical world of infinite possibility, and it was really overwhelming and exciting. 

I did discover that I suck at playing guitar when I’m not singing, which I had to do for recording, and also that I get pretty anxious and critical while recording my voice, and that my sense of rhythm vanishes into a black hole once there’s a mic near me. Jacob (my husband) was really good at stopping me when I wanted to do a sixteenth take of a vocal, and came up with several parts that supported my guitar parts really beautifully. 

Most of the songs were written during an extended period of serious family illness. During this time, I developed an extreme irrational fear of contracting a serious illness, which manifested in intense scrutiny of my body, unhealthy eating habits, and an obsession with plastic surgery before-and-after photos, which I would look at for hours every day. Through it all, the strange shifts in caregiver/caretaker roles were changing my family dynamics, which was jarring, and I kept returning to this image of being near my mother’s heart, breastfeeding, and the jealousy I felt when my sister was born and needed that nurturing more. To me, the growing pains of shifting family needs really captured the essence of my health anxieties, which led to the title Breastfed.

 Photo by Jo Chapman.

Photo by Jo Chapman.

Can you talk about your teaching work? What are the twenty-seven languages you sing in? 

Right now, I direct middle school and high school choirs, and I do a lot of foreign-language music with them, because I feel like one of the best ways to learn about another culture is to sing its music! I’m lucky enough to have had many years of study under teachers from the countries whose music I teach most frequently, and I’m always trying to tie in current cultural information and keep the music living and respected—a pet peeve of mine was being in chorus when I was younger and having South African choral music or a Bulgarian song be “the fun song” and be treated really topically, as if the only thing it had to offer was syncopation. Additionally, I work really hard to keep up to date with the evolution of a song, instead of presenting it as a historical artifact. 

My teaching philosophy revolves around singing as curative and connective—hat there’s nothing like resonating with someone else to help you understand them and gain a type of intimacy that has nothing to do with romance or sex. I think that learning to develop intimacy in this way is really important to school-age children who often struggle to connect with one another amid the maelstrom of hormonal weirdness.

Some of the languages I’ve sung in are Sotho, Xhosa, Corsican, Bulgarian, Finnish, Wolof, Ladino, Spanish, French, Italian...the list goes on. I like to seek out songs in languages I haven’t sung in before because I love learning how to fit new sounds into my voice!

Is your poetry related to how you write lyrics for your music, or is it a totally different process or mindset?

I’m very craft-oriented when it comes to poetry, but as a newer songwriter producing a song still feels like magic to me. Somewhere in my mysterious brain I’m probably slowly connecting the dots between poetry and songwriting, but I haven’t been let in on it yet. 

Many of your bigger projects are collaborations. Is that how you typically like to work? If so, why?

I frickin’ love collaborating! Anyone who makes anything can probably identify with the terrible spiral of self-correction that can happen when you work alone. Finding your dream collaborator is extremely tricky, but once it happens, being able to be vulnerable really opens me up to going in so many directions I’m too afraid to go on my own. It’s really hard to have an accurate self-perception, so having another mind and pair of ears and eyes is an incredible gift, whether they’re yay-ing or nay-ing ideas. I am unbelievably lucky to have collaborated with Patrick Ross on so many projects, and also with my husband Jacob Rosazza, who recorded my album and pushed me out of my self-critical comfort zone into creating something I absolutely would not have been able to even conceptualize on my own. 

What musicians are you listening to these days? Who has you excited? 

I’m hopelessly addicted to Lianne LaHavas, but it’s a very love-hate relationship, because her guitar playing her voice are amazing, but every time I sit down to write a song I find myself playing one of her songs instead. Lianne! Please leave me alone! I’m also inspired in so many ways by Solange. Her approach to musical experiences as immersive aesthetic and political moments is really incredible, and unlike anything else I’ve seen lately. 

What has been the biggest challenge as you develop your career as professional musician? Have you found support in this endeavor, or has there been pushback? 

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to figure out if I should focus my performance a little more or not—currently I perform my singer-songwriter stuff solo and as a duo, but I also sing jazz and classical music regularly, and I’m always wondering what I could accomplish if I just stuck to one thing. It’s also challenging having an income that can increase or decrease by more than fifty percent each month depending on how many shows I have and the fact that I teach freelance at four places and bartend on weekend nights. My precious, highly-educated parents, bless them, have been fantastically supportive, and have only mentioned that I should consider graduate school once or twice, because they know they got me into this situation by encouraging vain little three-year-old me to sing for their friends at dinner parties. They created this monster!

Inside Issue #20: A Conversation with Phoebe Bridgers

 Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

I met Phoebe Bridgers when she was touring with Julien Baker as they both passed through Madison, Wisconsin a year and a half ago. We stayed in touch, and I kept up with each song she released, increasingly blown away by her effortless and graceful talent. Changing the scenery only slightly, Morgan and I decided to take the trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see Phoebe open for Conor Oberst, her life-long inspiration, and more recently, a friend.

The two had been touring all year together and it was obvious. There was an effortless chemistry between them, which allowed for pleasant and heart-melting duets on stage and complete comfort when we were all just hanging out.

When I saw Phoebe play for the first time, it was a strange moment of clarity. Morgan and I sat in a crowded Madison venue on the side and had Julien prep us for how good Phoebe’s set was about to be. She was right - and I have this distinct memory of my eyes beginning to water during one of her oldest songs, “Georgia.” When a person can fill up a whole room like that with light and sound and nothing else, you know there is magic in their music. We got breakfast food at a diner after the show that night, and while her presence remained ethereal on stage, she quickly became one of the easiest people to be around. We were laughing and getting along as if we had known each other for years.

Reuniting with her again felt just as natural. All of us were dressed head-to-toe in black, looking like a three-piece punk band. We started the day getting disappointing brunch. She had told us about tour and shared some gossip about the indie folk world that I suddenly felt adjacent to. In just a few short weeks, her highly anticipated record Stranger in the Alps would come out via Dead Oceans, a label that also features our cover artist Japanese Breakfast, amongst other indie favorites like Julianna Barwick, Mitski, and Destroyer.

Shortly after brunch, we sat down in the green room of the Pabst Theatre, where Harry, Phoebe’s best friend and 2nd half of her band, along with Conor and his crew were hanging out. It was quiet and everyone was friendly. Most of the members in The Felice Brothers, Conor’s accompanying band, were reading or just lounging on the nice couches, in a very nice green room, in an extremely nice theatre.

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Stranger in the Alps is Phoebe’s first full-length, meaning everything else she’s put out has been either an EP or singles. Yet, her growing popularity comes at no surprise because each of her songs sounds like an entire lifetime. They are snippets of stories from various points in her life, moments that she was able to write about and grow from. It is a classic singer-songwriter concoction but there is something special about Phoebe’s music, and there’s no doubt that it has to do with an underlying commitment in staying true to her most authentic self, something I’ve noticed in her fearlessness, confidence in her responses, and overall aura.

When I asked her about her music being rooted in lyricism and storytelling, she immediately brought up her song “Killer” off her first EP of the same name. The song is about a period in her life where she had obsessive compulsive tendencies which resulted in her digging in deep into her skull when something disturbing came up. She was having intrusive thoughts about serial killers, and found herself googling everything there was to know about gruesome murders and violence, which left her horrified with both herself and her newfound information.

“Coming into Milwaukee reminded me of this period in my life that I thought wouldn’t end,” Phoebe said, as she recalled Milwaukee resident Jeffrey Dahmer being the serial killer that started her obsession, “It is interesting to look back on a song like ‘Killer’ and think, ‘yeah, I’m past that now. That happened and I grew from it.’”

There is an understanding that once art is released, it is to be interpreted in whichever way the person consuming the art decides. Phoebe laughed, “Sometimes I think people give me too much credit,” as she referred to how someone interpreted “Killer” in an extravagant and allegorical way when in reality, it was a fairly literal response to a specific period in her life.

I asked Phoebe what she had been listening to lately and where her taste stems from. Her foundation is rooted in bands like Television and classic singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell. Although recently, she said she’s been, “Jamming to Snail Mail and the new Jay Som record,” going in depth about how music right now is exploring elements of genre-bending particularly with artists like Mitski, another favorite of Phoebe’s. The wave of talented women & non-men musicians changing the game in how music is listened to and experienced has been something that, I think, everyone (particularly other women & non-men) has been excited about.

Phoebe admits a lot of her background is still dominated by men. She says specifically Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters is someone she confesses she loves, yet recognizes isn’t the nicest, friendliest, or least misogynistic guy. She understands and sees his flaws, the same way she no longer respects John Lennon, but can still listen to The Beatles. Some people are able to separate the art from the artist and for Phoebe, it’s almost a necessity. She said, “I would not allow myself to like anything if I didn’t. I do draw lines, though. You have to draw lines.”

Sometimes those lines can be blurry and it can get tricky to decide who you actively support and who you let into your ears. Phoebe knows this, though. She said, “I’m conscious of it now so I try to consume as much art made by women, POC, and trans people as much as possible because unlike theirs, music by white men is handed to me.”

This is something that a lot of young artists are aware of, especially if they started out in DIY scenes, like Phoebe. Phoebe, who was in a punk-influenced band in high school, noted that the DIY scene now is changing, and so are media outlets like Teen Vogue. Slowly but surely, important and what was once considered “radical” ideas are making their way into mainstream media (which is the Hooligan agenda!).

While Morgan took Phoebe’s photos against an orange-ish wall, complementing the golden hour that decided to grace us, I abruptly asked Phoebe, “What’s it like being on tour with essentially only men? Do you feel like you ever have to defeminize yourself to feel accepted?”

Phoebe’s immediate response: “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”

This makes one wonder about the typical tropes for indie-folk singer-songwriters. There is an overlapping theme of confessional storytelling, of emotional ties to romance and childhood and nostalgia. These themes never go away, regardless of gender, yet when I google “Indie-folk”, the first ten bands are all men (aside from The Lumineers, which has one woman). This is not to say that these bands don’t deserve great recognition because I think they do, it is just fascinating that even with all the women affiliated with indie-folk, it is still a man’s game.

So, when Phoebe and I have this conversation, it is rooted in a place of knowing what it’s like to play a game that has been a part of her life since she became involved in music. For Phoebe, she’s had producers that wore their entitlement like a badge and found ways to manipulate her agency. Luckily, Phoebe never let men dictate what she wanted and didn’t want to do with her art.

Phoebe said earnestly, with no remorse in her voice, “Taking the “feminine” out of your personality [because you are expected to] takes the power out of it.” I think my jaw dropped or I took a few steps back to let that sink in so I could understand the gravity of her words. It is this perspective on femininity that allows her to explore what it means to be a vulnerable and fairly feminine musician, yet a person who defies feminine standards.

Still, it doesn't necessarily mean she feels good about it. “Sometimes I’ll want to wear dresses because I like dresses!” She said, but we both know even something as simple as a dress can change how a woman is perceived in spaces where nobody else is wearing a dress. In modern societal standards, to be femme is to be taken less seriously and nobody wants to be taken as a joke, especially in music.

Interestingly enough, in her music video “Motion Sickness”, Phoebe is dressed in a suit singing karaoke. I asked her about the androgynous look and if she had any intention with the gender play. She said, “Honestly, I just wanted to look as nerdy as possible,” laughing, “I wanted to show someone in a suit going all out for karaoke, really into it, y’know?”

I laughed. There something pure about the image in itself, which I recognize now that that was Phoebe’s message after all. Nothing about gender or binaries, but a sense of innocence — a sincere response to what it means to have, “emotional motion sickness.”

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It was jarring to realize how much (and how little) time had passed since we all met for the first time, to think that a year and a half ago felt like a past life, to see Phoebe in a place now where she is releasing something that has meant so much to her for so long. It was a day of reflecting, one of nostalgia and recollection of where we all once were and where we are now. The same way Phoebe’s songs tell us about moments from what seems like another life, we were able to come together as what seemed like new people. It felt like a song being formed, one on friendship and growth, all intertwined with laughter and memory.  

What I’ve noticed from knowing Phoebe as both an artist and a friend is that regardless of how the politics of music and the people within it affect her, she refuses to let it become her defining feature. Phoebe Bridgers is a musician who tells stories through her music. She is someone who consistently makes music for the sake of transforming somber moments of her life into something someone can hold onto. Her work is special because it is the sound of someone’s genuine response to existing. There’s something in her songs that anyone can connect with, even if these are her specific stories, even if we don’t all interpret them the same way.

see the whole spread here

KAPPA FORCE: A New Web Series about Fighting Toxic Masculinity

By Rivka Yeker

Kappa Force, a new web series directed by Hannah Welever and created by Addison Heimann is on the horizon for things to add to our anticipating queues this upcoming spring. I was able to sit down with Hannah, Addison, and producer & cast member Emilie Modaff to discuss the show’s intentions and what direction it’s heading in. 

The series is a kitschy Scream Queens meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired satire based on the complexities of toxic masculinity specifically rooted in Greek culture on college campuses. It uses Kappa Force, the secret crime fighting team within a generic sorority, to retaliate against the patriarchy no matter the cost. 

Check out the trailer released 10/31 here:

What has been the driving force behind KAPPA FORCE's narrative? What is the underlying statement of the entire project? 

Hannah: I mean, for me, the underlying themes are feminism and upright goofiness. Might seem like a simple choice of words but I think this past year has been a really rude awakening for progressive young people, and our most common retaliation has been dishing back satire and equality on a daily basis. Kappa feels like an ode to the shows we grew up with a contemporary twist.

Emilie: And I’d say that there’s his underlying theme of “womxn working towards a total destruction of the patriarchy, through the satirical and self-examining lense of 90s comedies and pop culture.” It definitely comes across as a goofy satire that touches on some pretty serious shit.

Addison: So I wrote Kappa Force basically because I was devouring Scream Queens and rewatching Buffy and thought I could write a killer hybrid that would be funny. I love writing women and I love writing comedy and the frat/sorority life is just full of things to make fun of.

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Was there an intentional decision for it to be on a college campus dealing with college students in greek life? If so, why?

Emilie: College campuses can be a perfect microcosm of “real life.” It’s a beautiful framework for a web series, especially one that comments on the current state of humanity. Also, Greek life is literally a perfect representation of the evils and pervasiveness of the patriarchy

Hannah, How did directing the series feel? What did you gain from it?

Hannah: Directing this was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had. I rarely get the chance to have creative control in the way I did for this project. I think all anyone ever wants in life, especially as an artist, is to be trusted with something, like, listened to, respected, the whole damn thing. I felt trusted from day one- which at this point was over a year ago. Addison was a complete stranger, and if it wasn't for Em for talking me up I doubt this project would've even happened the way it did. I've been interested in directing most of my life, but I think I always put myself on the back burner because of my own doubts. I mean, everyone gets to soon publicly judge my abilities, but that doesn't take away the amount of fun I had making this thing happen. We are all just hoping this is the start of many more collaborations and projects that defy genre, structure, and of course, heteronormativity. 

Emilie: It was such a domino effect. Addison wrote this incredible script, I thought I could help bring it to life, Hannah took a chance on it, and then all of a sudden we had the most bad ass film crew in the city.

Addison: Literally Kappa Force happened because I hired women who were smarter than me.

That's become my mantra.

Emilie, tell me about your character!

Emilie: My character is named Chartreuse, and she isn’t in Kappa Force. She’s a normal (kind of) chick with a gothic/cool girl style and a very sharp tongue. She’s the stereotypical “freak” archetype, but Kappa Force gives her a voice and some depth and eventually she has this dope fight scene that will probably be the peak of my acting career.

 Photos by Greg Stephen Reigh

Photos by Greg Stephen Reigh

Tell me more about “Kappa Force” and the fraternity we're dealing with

Addison: So Kappa Force is a secret sorority crime fighting group in a generic sorority. We keep things generic because I love not getting sued.

Emilie:  The series opens with the youngest member of Kappa Force being abducted by The Douche, the frat king of Sigma…

And then there’s the boys of Sigma, led by basically a men’s rights activist named The Douche. Ironically The Douche is the most popular man on campus. #Relevant

Addison: In the first season we focus more on the superhero aspects and less on actually sorority and fraternity life. The story focuses more on a new girl in school, Jen who will eventually become a new member of Kappa Force. College life is new and exciting and hot and cute and it's through Jen's eyes we see everything.

Hannah: Yeah - we definitely play up the early 2000s collegiate rom-com V HARD

Addison: There are several people dressed in cargo shorts and velvet and things from Hot Topic

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What are some tough topics you explore aside from, y'know, women being oppressed by the patriarchy?

Emilie: Being closeted! Toxic masculinity!

Hannah: I think friendship is a big one too!

Emilie: And friendship yes. One of my favorite things about the show is that the two popular girls (Jen and penny who are literally MODELS) become really close and tender with the archetypal “freak” Chartreuse. Platonic love is so important.

Obviously there are a lot of queer people behind the scenes. Queer romance y/n?

Addison: Oh yeah.

Hannah: But of course. Finally made my dream of directing two men kiss come true. 

Where do you want the series to head in / what are your hopes and dreams?

Addison: CW!

Hannah: I mean, I just want people to notice the hard work that went in. We can make a really cool project with a bunch of 20 somethings and not much money. Like, frickin HIRE US ALREADY.

Addison: Ideally Jesse Bradford watches it when we post it on Vimeo and his production company which I assume he has makes it and then we get picked up by the CW and he ends up in it playing hot professor. First name hot, last name professor.

Emilie: My hopes and dreams include having people realize that young artists are the future and we deserve to have a platform to come together and play and create

I’m so sick of the politics of art. This project was a dream because we all had respect for each other. The end goal was the same for everyone—a badass piece of work that we could be proud of.

 

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