INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Argentinian Pop Musician Tani

Interview + translations from Spanish to English by Anna White

 photos by Maira Pinetta

photos by Maira Pinetta

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

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

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

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



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

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


Why did you choose to record these songs in particular?

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

Why are these songs special to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Samantha Bailey: Space On Her Own Terms

Interview by Charia Rose
Photos by Will Inman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow Sam on all socials:

Twitter: @SamQBailey

Insta: @samb.chi

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


read the whole issue here / order it here

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

interview by Levi Todd
photos by Davon Clark

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inside Issue #24: An Interview with Snail Mail

interview by Francesca Impastato
photos by A Klass

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So who did influence you to use open tunings?

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

Not American Football?

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

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

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

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

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You played hockey, right? What was that like?

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

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

Yeah, I did too! In the third grade.

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

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

Okay - enough about sports, back to music.

Do lyrics or music come first while writing?

Music.

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

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

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

I’ve only ever done that once.

Is it a song that’s out?

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

How’d you pick songs for the playlist?

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

What new bands?

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

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

Totally, very formative.

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

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

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

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

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

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


How was playing Coachella?

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

see the whole issue here.

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

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

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Khruangbin

 

Saturday / Main Stage
7:30 PM

By Colin Smith

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

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


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Diet Cig

Saturday / Main Stage
5:00 PM 


By Caitlin Wolper

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

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


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Melkbelly

Saturday / Main Stage /
1:45 PM

By Anna White

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

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


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Common Holly

Sunday / Main Stage
12:00 PM

by Jessica Mindrum

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

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


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Major Murphy

Sunday / Main Stage
12:50 PM

by Genevieve Kane

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

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


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Slow Mass

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
5:45 PM 

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


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VV Lightbody

WIDR FM STAGE / Saturday
1:15 PM


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


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Lume

Sunday / WIDR FM STAGE
2:15 PM

By Rivka Yeker

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

Beach Bunny and the Passage of Time


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by Meggie Gates

Beach Bunny takes the stage in a hue of pink. Lili Trifilio, the lead singer, adjusts her mic and turns to the audience with an aura of cool, brandishing a one of a kind crème colored electric guitar with a light blue patterned pickguard. As she adjusts her mic, the rest of the band fills in behind her, Jon Alvarado on drums, Matt Henkels on guitar, and Aidan Cada on bass, all of them new additions following a Battle of the Bands show in Elgin, Illinois the summer of 2017. Vocals pour out of Lili like waves on Lake Michigan and the crowd roars, gathered at the feet of their surf rock princess.

I fell in love with Beach Bunny faster than my last boyfriend. Having my heart crushed in January, my friend insisted I go to their concert. It had been a month of crying and the need to move on was apparent. I bring this up the minute I meet Lili, hoping she doesn’t remember how much I rambled about my breakup seven months prior. “Oh yeah, I remember you guys.” I reiterate how much the lyrics, “Sometimes I wonder how life would be, if you had stayed for February,” ripped my soul apart. “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” She laughs.

“More people relate to February than I did. A lot of people told me that fit their timeline,” Lili tells me. Putting a timeline on the breakup process is a specialty of Beach Bunny’s. Their music hones in on specificities you may not have noticed before, concentrating on seasonal feelings. With this, the sadness becomes more visceral. No longer a cloud hanging out of reach, but more a snowflake you catch on your fingertips. Her earliest EP, Pool Party, categorizes the vulnerable safety net of summer. Lili explores the track July with such intensity, it’s as if you can feel the world melting through the sky. The authenticity of new feelings, the excitement of blossoming relationships, all of it uniquely explored only to be shattered with the reality of Crybaby.

You reach February and nothing is simple anymore.  

“I didn’t know how to express my feelings and that was Animalism. I did solo music for two and a half years and then around Crybaby I was really in my emo girl phase.”

As Lili’s music grows, so does she. There’s an understood maturity she carries herself that is envious. She makes art for catharsis, not spite. Unlike most indie pop breakup songs, where the object of desire is typically villainized, her care and compassion for the subject of her songs is incredibly apparent. “We were still good friends through the breakup. There was a time when we didn’t talk and then we became friends and now we’re in a relationship again.” Breakups are hard on both ends, and she has a deep understanding of this. “With Crybaby I was stressed because I knew the person I was no longer with would hear the songs and it was such a direct message. Even today, I’m like oh, I’m sorry about that.”

The days of Crybaby have certainly shaped Lili. Songs about crushes ghosting her are relatively in the past now that she understands relationships are not a longwinded game of hide and seek. “All the people I went for before were a challenge and the person I ended up dating, and am still dating, was someone that it was very mutual with. After that I was like, oh, this is what a relationship should be. It shouldn’t be like ‘I have to fight for this person’, it should just be easy.” This stark contrast in understanding the complexity of relationships, positioned against the hardships of her music, is soothing. “There are some people who are so incompatible realistically, but sometimes you just don’t care.”  I tell my friends this constantly, but the practice of putting it in to action is hard. Confidence is hard.

The feeling to prove yourself to someone who’s not worth it sometimes feels like the only thing that’s worth it.

Prom Queen, off Beach Bunny’s new EP, digs deep in to these feelings of insecurity. Screaming around to it in my bedroom, I couldn’t help but laugh at how much the line, “I never looked good in mom jeans/Wish I, was like you, blue-eyed blondie, perfect body” reminded me of days spent comparing myself to my ex boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, a roundabout carousel ride I bring Lili on regardless of talking about my breakup too many times now (three). It constantly feels like no matter what you do, there’s always someone better out there; the ideal woman now more accessible than ever with Photoshop. “With social media, there’s so much pressure to be perfect. The person online isn’t even real. How are you supposed to look up to this model that’s airbrushed?” I ask Lili how the internet might affect young women today and what they can do to avoid this hell trap. “If you’re going to do any comparison, compare your present self to your past self. Don’t compare yourself to other people.”  


Maneuvering the complexity of relationships is ground Lili often covers. It is a well-established mold she has laid out in tracks prior, which makes the release of Prom Queen so enticing. Exploring breakups is still there but now, the corners are sharper. Instead of asking, “if you love me why can’t we be together?” like Lili does on Jenny, the question is now, “are we something that’s worth saving?” Her confident voice is strong and passionate. Gone are days of Animalism where Lili nurtured the listener with her soft, vulnerable voice. The contrast can be mapped by her significant remastering of 6 Weeks. “I’m not constrained to this box of sad girl anthems. I can write other songs and people will like them. I got more confidence in my writing abilities and it’s been cool with the higher production and bringing the boys on.”  

Beach Bunny’s new EP further explores other themes peppered throughout the band’s history. Shoegazer, a song off Pool Party, first introduces Lili’s fear of growing old, “You’ve been feeling alone since you turned 21/ and the older you grow the more you come undone/ your life has just begun.” This adolescent feeling of loneliness finds a more mature friend in Adulting, a track off Prom Queen. Now on the cusp of graduation, Lili admits to me she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. This sentiment is mirrored back when she sings “the older I get, seems like the less that I know/Trying to be more than, ever before/It’s hard adulting.”

Existentialism has always been something Lili has grappled with. “I have an extreme fear of dying. I think about it very frequently. Turning 22 and having friends with birthdays coming up, I’m kind of freaking out. It’s my last year of college, what am I going to do with my life?” For being so young, the fear of growing older is obvious when Lili talks about her future and her family. “2017 was hard because my grandpa passed away and my brother ended up in the hospital. It was the hardest year of my life.”

Though time feels like an enemy, Lili understands that healing begins as the clock ticks. It’s a part of growing up and moving on from people and pain. “I look back and I know why it (2017) was sad but I can’t even put myself in that mindset anymore.” Despite Beach Bunny’s success, Lili has an acute understanding of what she expects from herself in the future. She is at a place artistically where she can grant herself liberty to relax. Beach Bunny’s listeners will continue to support her. It’s evident in the fact, at 22, she is touring with one of her favorite bands and about to play Riot Fest. As opposed to an interview she gave last January, where she talks about big goals she has, she’s now giving herself the luxury of enjoying life instead of burning out. “I still want to make a ton of time for friends, family, and a relationship. Even though music is my life and my dream, I don’t want it to become the only thing I do. Imagine becoming so successful that you lose everyone on the way up.”

She looks around the colorful back porch and picks a bench to sit on for pictures. I don’t ask her about touring with Remo Drive because the energy she carries herself with says it all. Excited. Nervous. Proud. As a plane flies overhead, I decide this is one of my favorite days of summer. Hanging with a woman so young and powerful, with everything before her and so much behind. “Focus on gratitude.” She tells me as we wrap up our interview. I fight the urge to ask her advice on my past relationship, again (four). “When you get existential and think about the loss of time and childhood, you lose focus on appreciating everything you have. Living in the moment is so important.”

The passage of time can hold the greatest treasures and the worst heartbreak. It can be the start of a magical journey or a terrible end. It’s never stopping, and neither is Lili.

Her life has just begun.


Stream Prom Queen below


Inside Issue #23: Longer Dives Underwater: Yumi Sakugawa’s Work Is A Deep-Sea Mission Into the Infinite Cosmic Ocean

In these turbulent times, tuning in to our needs has become an imperative anti-burnout tool; a necessary defense against the constant flow of painful events on the news. Yumi Sakugawa’s work is a window into her traversing through vulnerability, and an honest look at what healing can look like. The Los Angeles cartoonist, zinester, illustrator, and author shares practical tips, beautiful drawings, and poignant messages in books, zines, on Patreon, and on her popular Instagram account. She has explored befriending our demons, disconnecting from external sources, tending to creativity, connecting with the universe, and developing your own sense of self. Sakugawa’s work is a friendly hand offered as we dive further into the oceans of ourselves. 



Artists who create work on mental health are often cast into the role of guide, which often places them on a pedestal. Do you feel as though you are put into this role? If so, how do you navigate it? 

I don’t think so. I always see myself as an artist sharing my particular experience. [In a way it’s] a universal experience with other people who are more or less on the same journey as I am. So, I have zero desire to be placed on a pedestal. And I am happy to share what I have learned and am learning through my books, my workshops, my Instagram, and my Patreon blog. I think we are all equals on the same journey. 

What role has creativity played in your becoming and unbecoming? 

Creativity helped me find my voice during the years of childhood when I felt too scared, shy, and intimidated to use my actual physical voice and take up space with my actual physical body. Drawing and writing stories were my way of expressing myself, taking up space, articulating what was important to me before I learned how to do that with my physical voice and body. Creativity also reminds me that narratives, paradigms, worldviews, identities about myself can always shift, change, transmute -- because that is the nature of the creative force itself that gave birth to this universe. Things are always in flux, things are always becoming and unbecoming, being born and being destroyed to make way for the new as it becomes the old and dies again. 

There is a page in your book “The Little Book of Life Hacks” which offers tips for beginners to meditation. How has meditation assisted your connection to yourself and creative process? 

Meditation is my daily anchor I can’t imagine living without. I meditate for twenty minutes every morning, and it is something I must do every day as a way of acknowledging that I am not my thoughts, I am not my mental state, I am a far more infinite being and I am a crest of a wave in an infinite cosmic ocean. Meditating every day helps me connect with that intuitive, present, flow energy where things manifest with more ease and joy. I think that is how it is supposed to be once you remove and transmute your inner mental blocks. 

The term “expired pain” has appeared in your work. This term heavily resonated with me. At what point would you say pain has run its course, and is no longer serving its carrier? 

Healing has its own non-linear timeline that works more like a spiral that dips into the past, present, and future, not a straight line from point A to point B. Sometimes, it feels like it has its own intelligent logic independent of the person being healed. I know for myself, the most I can do is to be soft and compassionate and non-judgmental to myself, and to give myself permission to feel all the pain and sadness and anger fully as a way to honor my hurt feelings, and to give myself permission to take all the time that it needs, and to trust that the universe will allow for me to shed the pain when I am ready while being open to the possibility of no longer being in pain. It’s all very mysterious. 

What causes a series of your work to be made into a book? Do you typically begin a body of work with the intention of it being a formal collection? 

Usually, no. My first books came about accidentally. They were originally self-published blog posts that turned into a self-published zine, or a web- comic that I made for my own pleasure with zero intention of them becoming published books. I released the work out into the world, and then a series of coincidences and synchronicities brought the work into published book form. The universe knew better than me how to turn my work into published books. 

The Internet is a tool for connection and communication, which allows artists to share their voice in ways they choose. At the same time, social media feeds a disconnection from our daily lives, distraction, and sometimes, unrealistic expectations. Your work often brings up the importance of being present and intentionally disconnecting. How do you slow down, and find a balance with social media? 

I have specific activities during the day that are strictly offline mode. Waking up first thing in the morning. Unwinding before going to bed. Going on outdoor walks. I also like to make a habit of turning my phone off and hiding it in my underwear drawer for hours at a time. To remind myself that my default state should be offline punctuated by occasional, intentional forays into the online world, instead of the other way around. 

Of course, this is all easier said than done and takes a lot of practice. I still can’t eat a meal alone without watching something on Netflix. 

You are a prolific artist who has multiple published books, as well as many zines and also has a regularly updated Instagram & Patreon. At the same time, you have talked about how the expectation to constantly produce is unrealistic and unsustainable. How do you draw the line between meeting deadlines and paying the bills, while also allowing inspiration to come organically? 

I think you have to proactively plan for containers of time that prioritizes your creativity and your pleasure, instead of waiting for time to free up after you have done your bill-paying work. So, in the creative handbook THE ARTIST’S WAY, author Julia Cameron emphasizes the importance of doing morning pages every morning (writing three notebook pages’ worth of stream-of-conscious writing) and at least once a week going on an Artist’s Date-- a date with yourself where you go out on a solo adventure to recharge your creative muses, whether it is going to a museum or a concert or a cool thrift store. I think you have to fold into your life daily and weekly habits that are the creative equivalent of flossing or brushing your teeth -- you do them because it keeps your muses happy. So, in my case, I absolutely have to meditate every morning, go on daily walks, write my morning pages, go on artist dates, regularly feed my mind with new inspiration, and work on passion projects in tandem with deadlines and paid work. Those activities are not things I do as an afterthought or as a luxury I have to earn after doing bill-paying work, they are things I absolutely must do in order to stay sane, grounded, and inspired. 

You talk of the muse and the importance of feeding them, as well as listening to them. What are methods you use to nurture your muse? 

I meditate, I write my morning pages, I leave a bowl of water as an offering to my muses. I make an effort to experience something creatively new every week. I do a lot of walking. Sometimes I hike in nature or take long walks by the beach. I honor the needs of my body: getting ample rest, eating healthy food, taking breaks. I also love connecting with my constellation of creative friends who are all doing amazing work as musicians, writers, cartoonists, healers, and more. So being able to talk to other friends about the creative process and the obstacles we have been going through also recharges and re-energizes me. 

There is a James Baldwin quote which reads: “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” What do you believe is the role of the artist, in their own life and in the public? 

I can’t speak for all artists, but for myself, I believe my role is healing through vulnerable authenticity and reminding people through all my different mediums of the infinite cosmic magic that we are all connected to, and how we can truly heal ourselves and this world once we realize this inherent connection. 

A piece of your writing where you articulated that there are No easy answers stuck out to me. Too often people assume that an artist was born with inherent wisdom, when much of the time, that knowledge and wisdom came from a commitment to being in conversation with themselves. What has the process of finding your creative voice, and learning to listen to yourself, looked like? 

There are many layers to this process, and of course it is ongoing. So in my twenties, I did anything to get my work out into the world. Doing an art show because a friend was curating a group art show in a coffee shop, doing live painting at community events, putting together a zine for a zine convention, illustrating event flyers, and so on. Doing a lot of different things. Also: meditating, learning astrology, learning tarot, ending a ten-year relationship, reading a lot of self-help books, attuning to my own desires, practicing saying no to people and honoring my boundaries, finding new ways to express myself through fashion and make-up. 

Another topic addressed in your work is that of non-hierarchical joy. You encourage others to enjoy the mundane and rather than believe excitement can only be found in accomplishments and rare moments, cherish the simplicity of everyday encounters. What are tools you use to slow down and to appreciate each moment? 

I meditate every morning. One simple thing anyone can do is to take three slow breaths -- inhale and exhale mindfully. That, and listen to the sounds you hear in the present moment. Also, gratitude is an underrated practice. Being grateful for the abundance in my life helps me slow down and appreciate all that I have. 

There are times when self-improvement becomes presented as a never-ending project of fixing, rather than a lesson in acceptance. You have articulated that we should stop seeing ourselves as flaws to be fixed. In what ways do you think accepting ourselves as we are can change the process of growth? 

You can’t self-hate yourself into a happier person. It’s the difference between a parent who screams at her child for not being good enough or trying hard enough, and a parent who hugs her child and says I love you and you are capable of doing anything you set your heart on. 

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I saw you’re being featured at the Portland Zinefest this July! I am set to table as well. What is on your creative horizon? What projects are you working on? Is there another book coming to fruition? 

I just released my first iMessage sticker line, TEA WITH DEMONS, which is inspired by my favorite chapter in my book YOUR ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO BECOMING ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE. It’s on the App Store and you get a set of 81 illustrated stickers for $0.99 which you can message to other iPhone users. (Sorry, non-iPhone users, I hope to eventually have my work available to everyone!)  So, I hope that this will be the first of many iPhone sticker lines to come -- it’s interesting to think of how new visuals expressing specific inner states that can’t be found on the traditional emoji keyboard can transform the way we communicate with one another. 

I am also putting together the finishing touches for FASHION FORECASTS, an art comic zine about futuristic Asian American intergenerational fashion, that will be released by Retrofit Comics this year. 

I am also working on a new book and a screenplay. But those are kind of a secret. To be continued! 

What self-improvement projects-- art related or not--are you working on? 

I have been slowly easing my way into deeper dives with my creative practice. The term I came up with for myself is “deep sea pearl diving.” How can I go for longer dives underwater in the process of creating my work instead of skimming the surface? How can I go for longer dives underwater with my life in general instead of skimming the surface? 

I have also slowly been working my way through Julia Cameron’s creative handbook THE VEIN OF GOLD, which is about different creative exercises we can do to tap into our personal vein of gold in our creative manifestation while being playful and intuitive and exploratory. So I’ve done a lot of really interesting exercises because of this book. Like, make a mask, make a collage series of my life in five-year-increments, draw on a T-shirt, and so on. Right now, I’m in a chapter that is all about attuning to sound and silence, and expressing your inner emotional states through sound therapy, so I’m really excited to be working with a completely different genre that is very much out of my comfort zone which I know nothing about. 

Where are you finding joy these days?

I find joy in the simple, quiet life I have right now in Los Angeles. I work on projects that excite me, I spend time with friends I love, and I have many opportunities to share healing practices that have worked with me with complete strangers all over the world. I love the mundane days of working at home, and then the small pleasures of being able to walk to a neighborhood cafe or sometimes spontaneously going on a drive at night with a girlfriend to walk along the ocean shore. 

Keep up with Yumi’s work on Instagram or on her website . If you want regular access to what she’s making, support her on Patreon. Her books are available here; zines here

read the whole issue here

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


Garden City Tracklist.jpg

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.

Solpatches pic 1.jpg

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