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.

Austin_STORIES_CoverArt.jpg

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.

Crosshatch_Jess.png

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

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Listen: A New Beginning With *1996*

 Photographed by Morgan Martinez

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

by Scout Kelly

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

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

 Photographed by Morgan Martinez

Photographed by Morgan Martinez

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


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by Scout Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

*under construction for the rest of my life


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

 all photos by  Naima Noguera

all photos by Naima Noguera


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to read all of issue #21 click here

Hooligan's Favorite Albums of 2017

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


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SPLIT LIP - The Love-Inns
by Cody Corrall

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

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

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The 1st - Willow
by Cody Corrall

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

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


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Melodrama - Lorde
by Rosie Accola

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

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

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Turn Out the Lights - Julien Baker
by Rosie Accola

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

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

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

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


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Collection - Soccer Mommy
by Francesca of Macseal

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

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

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After Laughter - Paramore
by Francesca of Macseal

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

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

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

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


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A Crow Looked at Me - Mount Eerie
by Scout Kelly

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

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

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Seed - Looming
by Scout Kelly

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

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

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Good Woman - Becca Mancari
by Scout Kelly

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

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


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Everybody Works - Jay Som
by Rivka Yeker

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

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

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Hiss Spun - Chelsea Wolfe
by Rivka Yeker

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace, Fam - Mykele Deville
by Rivka Yeker

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

Favorite lyrics from "Peace, Fam" 

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

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Soft Sounds from Another Planet - Japanese Breakfast
by Rivka Yeker

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

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

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Every Country's Sun - Mogwai
by Rivka Yeker

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


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

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

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


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Feel Your Feelings Fool! - The Regrettes
by Georgia Hampton

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

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

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Survival Pop - Worriers
by Georgia Hampton

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

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


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Safely Nobody's - Tall Friend
by Lora Mathis

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

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

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

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

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


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HEAVN - Jamila Woods
by Keisa Reynolds

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

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


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Stick Around - Active Bird Community
by Kelley Sloot

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

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


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Popular Manipulation - The Districts
by Genevieve Kane

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 courtesy of Praxilla Femina's  website

courtesy of Praxilla Femina's website

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Interview with Musician, Artist, and Polymath Kimaya Diggs

By Deborah Krieger

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

 Photo by Jo Chapman.

Photo by Jo Chapman.

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

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

What musicians, mentors, or teachers have influenced you? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photo by Jo Chapman.

Photo by Jo Chapman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photo by Jo Chapman.

Photo by Jo Chapman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Issue #20: A Conversation with Phoebe Bridgers

 Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

see the whole spread here

KAPPA FORCE: A New Web Series about Fighting Toxic Masculinity

By Rivka Yeker

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

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

Check out the trailer released 10/31 here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's become my mantra.

Emilie, tell me about your character!

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

 Photos by Greg Stephen Reigh

Photos by Greg Stephen Reigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emilie: Being closeted! Toxic masculinity!

Hannah: I think friendship is a big one too!

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

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

Addison: Oh yeah.

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

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

Addison: CW!

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

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

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

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

 

keep up with Kappa Force here & like them on Facebook here

Inside Issue #20: A Conversation with Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast

 all photos by  Julia Leiby

all photos by Julia Leiby

I was not grieving when I began writing this article. But then, as it tends to, grief swept in at a time that was neither expected nor convenient.

Suddenly my combing through of the two Japanese Breakfast albums and conversation with front person Michelle Zauner carried new weight. On a flight to Seattle, en route to visit someone close to me in the hospital, I listened to our recorded interview and found pieces of my loss-colored self in Zauner’s responses.

The first album under the Japanese Breakfast eponymous, Psychopomp, digs through the fresh mud of loss. Lyrics like, “The dog’s confused / She just paces around all day / She’s sniffing at your empty room,” dive into the immediate feelings of someone close now being gone. These raw emotions are cloaked in layers of sound — the soaring of guitar, the sweep of synth, and over it all, Zauner’s emotive vocals. Together, these elements build a place of remembrance and processing.

This space of honoring and sorting through is furthered in 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet. While Psychopomp was a fresh dealing of loss, Soft Sounds sifts through life following loss and the ways that grief continues.  

In our interview Zauner explained, “ ‘Psychopomp’ is so rooted in confusion and raw feeling. It was very much my subjective view of the world. This new album is more about taking a step back and looking at my life, and other people’s lives, and recognizing that I’m not alone in experiencing this.”

Grief is a non-linear, mysterious, oftentimes alienating process which can leave one searching for meaning and methods of understanding.

Said Zauner, “… When something very serious happens in your life that is difficult to explain the purpose of, you’re torn between these two camps. [There’s] an older generation that preaches this idea they’re in a better place and that there is some kind of heaven, and this other place which is completely nihilistic and cold. When my mom passed away, I was searching for something like that for myself, to help me through that experience.”

Mystery, otherworldliness, mysticism, and the unknown were tools that helped Zauner through this difficult time, and these elements are present on both albums. Psychopomp contains imagery of dreams and Jungian psychology, while Soft Sounds has the subtle theme of space and sci-fi coursing through it.

The first song written for the album, “Machinist,” is about a woman in love with a robot, who then applies for the Mars One project when she realizes it’s a futile affection. The song was originally created for a media company (and eventually not used by them) before Psychopomp was about to be released. It was incorporated into the band’s performances from the early stages and brought into recording when the band began working on their second album.

Said Zauner in our interview, “That’s how that album came to be. I tried to draw from the themes I had started a really long time ago; it inspired a very subtle concept that I’m happy with.”

The mysterious elements of dreams and space point to the hazy, out-of-touch state that grief can leave you in. It can cause you to feel disconnected from the world around you and yourself. On trying to reconnect to herself following loss Zauner said, “It was kind of like coming down from space and [trying] not disassociate through my reality so much.”

Grief interrupts. It disconnect and disrupts. It can change you irreversibly.

As I listened to our interview, with California passing outside the small plane window beside me, I thought of a line I had scribbled in my journal a week after hearing the news about my loved one being seriously injured. “How can I be the same again? I have been wiped so raw that I have been made new.”

Zauner demonstrated this sentiment perfectly saying, “There’s a lyric on [Soft Sounds], ‘It feels like my life is folded up in half.’ I think of my mother’s death as a marking point of who I was before and who I was after. If I look at pictures, I think to myself, ‘Oh, that was before my mom died.’ My whole life is folded in half around this moment. This album was about trying to reconnect to who I was before this terrible thing happened.”

Grief can stop your life and make you incapable of interacting in the ways you previously could. Well-meaning, kind people often do not know how to deal with it unless they too have undergone loss or a tragic event. I thought of the looks of pity I got from friends following the delivery of this news. The wanting to offer comforting advice but not knowing exactly what to say.

Zauner told me, “I felt really uncomfortable talking about it with my close friends because none of them had lost parents before and didn’t know how to talk about it. They wanted so badly to be there for me that it kind of made me uncomfortable … I felt like it was easier on all of us if I didn’t talk about it. They didn’t have specific questions about it, they would just say, ‘If you need to talk …’ and then I felt this pressure to talk about it even though I didn’t know what to say.”

So, what do you do when grief interrupts your life? When it makes it hard to interact with others? When you fear connecting to it because you sense its ability to overtake you? When you have to stay strong for others, for yourself? Where do you go next?

You sift through. You process in small doses. You give yourself projects to pour yourself into. In Zauner’s words, you, “Create these challenges for yourself that are very small, that help you survive.”

I thought of my simple to-do lists littering my desk at home. “Take a shower. Eat. Write a poem. Scan new comic. Call Nikki.” I too had instilled movement in my day to ensure that I did not fall into the looming fog which threatened to take over in any moments of stillness.

Said Zauner, “I threw myself into work and tried to push forward day-to-day … I’ve become obsessed with working and making things and sharing them. It was a very healthy way of dealing with my situation. A lot of [Soft Sounds From Another Planet] definitely explores that feeling of making it through, and putting your head down in a way.”

You find outlets and tools you can use to process. To be able to process in intentional ways and not overwhelm yourself. The song “The Body Is A Blade” goes in this: “Try your best to feel and receive / The body is a blade that cuts a path from day to day.”

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Amidst our discussion of healing outlets, Zauner and I talked about the performance of grief and constantly being placed back inside a traumatic experience in live shows and interviews. She told me that she finds healing in sharing with strangers beyond her albums and that, “When you’re doing these interviews with strangers, more than anyone else, they ask you these really poignant questions about this experience you had and your work. That felt therapeutic to me in some ways. It’s exhausting because you get asked a lot of the same questions, and you feel different ways about it on different days. Sometimes, doing interviews about it is enlightening because you start talking about it and figuring out how you really feel because so many people are poignantly asking you how you feel about it.”

I brought up Phil Elverum’s “A Crow Looked At Me” to her, mentioning how both her and Elverum have gifted the public deeply personal experiences with someone close to them.

She said, “His writing is a lot more barren. It’s all there. I think if I had said certain things, it would be harder for me. Having a band, and having so much going on sonically, it’s easier to get wrapped up in the music that you aren’t thinking about these hard-hitting details. There are moments in the songs that are really moving to me and emotional, but it must be different for Phil Elverum because the songs are speech-oriented… I have a really hard time writing that way and not hiding behind anything and re-telling the story because it’s just a lot more painful that way… The process of putting it onto a record, producing it, arranging it, brings it to a different place.”

Hearing her discuss her albums in comparison to Elverum’s reminded me that healing does not look the same for everyone. It is multi-faceted, shifting, and does not follow a rigid path.

When talking about different forms of healing Zauner admitted, “I didn’t see a therapist for very long, and I just didn’t like it… It always seem like people push therapy as this ‘be all’ cure, and I think it can be for some people, but for other people it’s okay to look at other ways of healing. It was a very scary path for me to take when I decided not to go to therapy. A lot of people were very concerned for me, but I started taking Korean lessons, I started making an album, I wrote an essay. I was meditating on placing that time and money on something else that I thought would be more fulfilling… You’re not a bad person if you consider trying something else because it’s not working for you.”

So, when grief looms and threatens to take over, you try out different outlets until you find ones that work for you, that make you want to keep going. You do what you can to not fall headfirst into the looming fog.

Zauner shared how depression interrupted her life as a teenage and left her fearful of how she would process a traumatic loss in the future. She explained, “I was so afraid that when a bad thing happened to me-and for the longest time I thought losing your mother was the worst thing that could happen to anyone- that I was going to fall into another depression like that, where I was completely unable to work or get out of bed.”

I found myself recognizing my own behavior and fears in this answer. How my life had been interrupted by debilitating depression in the past, how this made me afraid to connect to my emotions because I was afraid of the emotions again shutting down my life.

She continued, “I knew that it would be very disappointing to do that to my family. I had just turned 25 and it was a really big time in my life to figure out what I wanted to do, and to be an adult, and take responsibility. I felt like I didn’t have the option to fall into depression.”

Self-protective strategies can be powerful methods of taking care of yourself through difficult times. Sometimes, this can look like emotionally turning off. Or disconnecting. Or retreating, like a turtle hiding in its shell, into your own world of safety. While these urges to take care of ourselves are beautiful things, the difficulty lies in reconnecting to your emotions once it feels safe to do so.

Zauner told me, “I had checked out emotionally and was trying to relearn how to feel.”

Partially in an attempt to reconnect to a time of hyper-emotionality the albums pull up past instances of frustration, nostalgia, and heartbreak. They untangle past painful, highly emotional experiences as a way of remembering how to feel.

Said Zauner, “I just remember being a teenager, and even though it was a really difficult time in my life, and I was so depressed, I missed feeling so much. A lot of the songs are about past relationships, when I used to feel so much. These petty arguments with lovers used to mean so much, and now, looking back I wonder, ‘How did this ever bother me? How did this ever hurt me? I miss the days where [relationship issues] were a big deal and I was not just contemplating death all the time.”

While the intention of pulling up these experiences is to reconnect to past emotions, they also act as testaments to Zauner’s resiliency. These albums do not paint Zauner as helpless. Yes, they deal with suffering. Yes, they are sorting through loss. But, not as something which destroyed her, but as something which happened and is being worked through.

The albums twist like a conversation one has with oneself in the mirror, and while the bend into hard feelings of grief, of nostalgia, of pain, of heartbreak, they come out in places of clarity and empowerment.

“I like songs to have a narrative arc, like short stories. ‘Road Head’ is a good example of that arc. Feeling like you were taken advantage of, or that you’ve lost something or embarrassed yourself, and then at the end it’s like you’re driving away with your middle finger in the air. Like, that person kept me down in a lot of ways and now I’m leaving… ’Till Death’ is another song like that. There’s a long list of terrible things that happen in your life coupled with the thought, “isn’t it nice that this person is there, standing by through all this shit?”

These bending conversations that Zauner has with herself end in a strengthening of her resiliency and clarity. There are many layers here; many doors to open and find information behind. Zauner lays her grief out, but not to present it as something which destroyed her life.

Zauner said, “What I wanted to convey with [Soft Sounds] was not, ‘Here is this individual, unfair thing that happened to you,’ but, ‘Here is this thing that happens in life and how do we move forward from it in a productive way? How do I try really hard at staying a good person who doesn’t get so negative and lives as this person who is so upset with the world for the rest of her life?”

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Amongst all of the loss, joy is continually celebrated and created on Soft Sounds. There is gratitude given to Zauner’s husband, who she married two weeks before her mom passed away. There is thankfulness given to the small worlds those who have undergone trauma build with each other.

Said Zauner, “One thing that was interesting to me when I went through that experience was how the world just opens up to you. All of a sudden these people who have never really talked about the death in their lives are sharing this in a very natural way and connecting with you. It’s really eye-opening to see. Even going on tour, so many kids come up to me and share their experiences with loss, cancer, and illness. I’m not happy that it happens, but I’m glad we can share it together, and it’s not something we have to feel alone in.”

What Zauner gifts us is not just her experiences with grief, but all of the ways she has worked through pain, in many different forms. These albums are not only dealing with what has been lost, but with what remains. The joy, the anger, the waves of pain, the found places of connection. All of this exists in this project. As all of this exists in the multi-layered, twisting, dense, nature of grief.

see the whole spread in issue #20 here.

 

Inside Issue #20: The Black Aesthetic Collective: 'To be announced', 'to be assessed', and 'to be actualized'.

By Taylor Yates

With an organic ambition to critique and expose the underground beauty of black cinema, The Black Aesthetic Collective succeeds at creating a space for the analysis of contemporary and classic black film. When I began to research the project, I read the Black Aesthetic’s book, a documentation of criticisms and artistic reactions to the films and interviews. Somehow, it all felt familiar, I could feel it physically. This was something so special, and so private, so mysterious, and so powerful that I could feel the power of it’s discovery through the words of the authors and the passion of the collective’s contents.

I set up an appointment to speak with three members of the collective over Skype:  Leila Weefur (the grounded Leo),  Ryanaustin Dennis (the tumultuous Cancer), and Zoe Samudzi (the Scorpio waiting patiently for someone to come for her so she can gladly remind them that she is not the one). Together, we talked about the event, their processes, and what it took to create the screening and the pieces in response to the films. When the call connected, there was light surrounding them, 8pm in Chicago, 5pm in Oakland. I was welcomed by big smiles and friendly hellos. We started off by speaking about our astrological signs. Zoe, elated that I was a Scorpio welcomed me as her sister saying, “That’s what’s up! That’s what’s up! That’s what's up!” Leila, is the one that keeps everyone grounded in their ideas, and Ryan is the sweet visionary that curates the emotional vision of the project.

 by Ed Nitri

by Ed Nitri


To get us started, directly from the artists, I’d like to give you the floor and sort of let you openly speak about the collective. A first date synopsis of how y'all birthed this project, in your own words.

RA: I recently moved here to Oakland. I was born in Oakland, and I came back after I’d gotten fired from an AD tech job. I think that the Black Aesthetic started out of a desire to to find community, and find black creative culture. [I wanted] to make a home for people, make a home for myself. I tried to find people that I connect with and practice with, and I found that. Through those first eight weeks and into that second season, we are in a community. This collective is seven people, collaborating with other collectives. The first publication was a lot of work, but the pleasure of being able to see everyone together in that moment was so immense and being able to bring that together. It was such a big moment to be apart of that black cultural movement that was happening on the West Coast.

Could you talk about the process of putting together the pieces you included in the book, rounding up all the work? I also noticed themes of accessibility, sexuality, black femme independence, escapism, maybe some black introversion. Could ya’ll shed some light on some of the integral themes that holds the message of this project together?

L: Drylongso (1998) is a very special film to me. It was filmed right here in Oakland, and I’m from Oakland, born and raised, which is a rarity around here. I’ve been here to see the black community dissolve. But, I think revisiting this film during the first season of the black aesthetic, I was looking for a black community. I had just graduated from college from doing my MFA program and there were no black people, and that’s in Oakland. How can I find other black creatives that are interested in film, is that really a niche? So I came to the first season and Drylongso was the first one I came to, and Colleen Smith was in the Oakland community during a time where blackness was just ever-present and that’s what inspired me to create the piece.

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Is there any advice you could give to fellow artists? Any advice for artists who are trying to form their own collectives?

Z: It’s important to have balancing forces. You need to have people that are different from you and create a balance. You also have to take your ego out of it.

L: Yeah, but it’s also vital to hash out and debate over ideas for the health of the collective as well. Get over any grievances of any issues that we have and just move through it. If you let those kinks remain there, then it’s stagnant.

R: I’m still learning how to be a team member, and how to give and take.

Z: Also with the collective the thing that’s important to remember, is that the art that you make for the collective isn’t yours. It belongs to the collective, and the collective effort and the community that you're trying to produce and make a space for. I think it can get really easy for artists to get incredibly possessive over the things that they create because they’re trying to make money, or they wanna get this award or whatever. It becomes easy, in art spaces that are ego-driven, for your work to be an extension of yourself and a part of your ego. As a Scorpio, it’s hard for me to part from that! But also, I prefer to work in groups when it comes to creative things;  as opposed to academia where everyone is wrong except me!

After laughing and talking about blackness and art and wine, I could feel the love from hundreds of miles away. I thought to myself: that this is what the project's purpose is, accessibility and community. Accessibility is the underlying force that drives this project. Uncovering the intimate and complex nature of blackness with a dialogue, and having said dialogue actually reach the audience it was intended for. 

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see the whole spread here.

&

order the publication here.


 

Inside Issue #20: An Interview with Maggie Brennan

By Jane Serenska 

“Internet addiction disorder, more commonly called problematic Internet use (PIU), refers to excessive Internet use that interferes with daily life,” (Wikipedia). Try to call to mind someone you know who may suffer from Problematic Internet Use. How would they define “daily life”? What if their daily life is on the internet? Their job, their friends, their culture? In this case, what is the internet interfering with? When we stopped treating “internet” as a proper noun it became a part of daily life. And, haven’t we already learned that everyone is problematic? Either everyone is addicted to the internet or no one’s internet use is perceived as a problem.

Maggie Brennan, Brooklyn-based cartoonist and animator, has integrated the internet into her daily life while maintaining the ability to observe it. Her work reveals the inherent flaw in separating rituals, relationships, and self-image from whatever medium in which they are experienced: No matter how we represent ourselves — cropped in a 1:1 ratio or for a fleeting 24-hour story — our experience can never fully be separated from our bodies and their longing for connection. The internet is not without critique; but neither is any other replacement or adornment for these essentials.

As a multidisciplinary artist with a vested interest in internet culture (much of her work has been published online), Maggie spoke with Hooligan about mental health, resistance, and creativity. Read the interview below.


What are you working on right now?

Right now, I'm working on a bunch of different things. I just started an animation MFA program, so I'm trying to balance school work, freelance work, and personal work. In the realm of comics, I'm working on a story about two teenage girls who meet at their parents' robotics company on a "Take Your Child To Work Day" and, you know, mild chaos ensues. I'm also working on an animated short about an older woman who falls prey to an online romance scam. These both sound extremely dark, but they have some humor in them!

Some themes I really appreciate in your work include female friendship and technology's impact on relationships and self-image ("Your Summer BodBot"). How would you say these ideas are surfacing in your new projects?

Hmm, without giving too much away:  This friendship is definitely working off the teen movie trope of Beautiful Popular Girl befriends Social Weirdo. I’m interested in the phase some teens go through where their desire to be admired often manifests in artificiality and toxic relationships (I guess some adults do this as well). I think technology and social media play a huge part in this since follower counts are an actually quantifiable measure of “popularity," as opposed to pre-internet days when it was all about perception and imaginary mythos.

 via Maggie Brennan's  website

via Maggie Brennan's website

"Panic Attack" really resonated with me in the struggle to balance internal conflicts while resisting injustices affecting so many people right now. How do you balance your values as an artist with stable mental health? Do you see your practice as self-care?

It'd be nice if drawing/writing felt *more* like self-care, but there's always a level of stress and frustration since it is work at the end of the day. I would say the one soothing aspect of it is that I get into a kind of flow state where  the world can  melt away for a bit. I think it's incredibly important to find the one thing that can just suck you in and help you forget about time and space for a second. Without having mental downtime, it would be impossible to emotionally and practically approach tackling any of the world's woes. All that said, I feel like I should practice what I preach a bit more!

 Maggie Brennan 

Maggie Brennan 

Why is illustration your main medium? What happens in the space between your creativity and the form it ends up taking?

I think I wound up sticking with comics for a long time because there’s some removal from your actual person in the storytelling, compared to music. I mostly sing, and the voice is so tethered to your physical presence -- it makes me a bit anxious to have that level of intimacy with the listener. With comics, unless they’re autobiographical, you kind of forget about the person drawing them. That’s why I’m learning animation. I really want to make more music and play shows, but I’d love to have an animation going while I’m hiding in the shadows, ha.

Definitely gets back to what you said about finding a world where you can escape into your work. Who are you comfortable being in that world with you? How do you envision your audience?

Hmm, I don't necessarily envision a specific audience. I do think a lot about how people parse the things I write or draw, though. I kind of agonize over being misinterpreted. So, in that respect, I feel most comfortable with an audience that gets the tone I'm going for, whether it's serious or satirical.

read the rest of the interview here.

Single Release: Emilie Modaff's "Hip Blossoms" ft. Mykele Deville


Emilie Modaff is an impassioned, Chicago-based renaissance-woman; the artist acts, podcasts, and sings. Her latest single, “Hip Blossoms” features windy-city spoken word poet, Mykele Deville. I spoke with Modaff via Google Hangout, where the radiance of Emilie’s strength in character, her love for life, and sheer exuberance beamed through my computer screen. We sat down for an hour, discussing the parts of her history that inform the record: lyrical iconography, tribulations of overcoming substance use, and the importance of supportive friendships.

Modaff’s lead single, “Hip Blossoms” is an intimate self portrait. The track uses natural imagery and symbolism to illustrate Modaff’s journey toward sobriety. Emilie leads with soft, trepidacious vocals resting on a structure of somber piano as she describes herself for the listener,

I was a fruit tree with apple eyes and lemon lips
I was a fruit tree with blossoms hanging from my hips.

Modaff describes the lyric, “[The imagery] definitely relates to the feeling of being fruitful and full of life and potential, until a certain point. For me, [that] was the moment I found my addictions. ‘Blossoms hanging from my hips’ symbolizes this potential I had, as a woman, an artist, a young mind.”

 By Kalyn Jacobs

By Kalyn Jacobs

The description of herself as that tree adds a layer of public display in the listener’s mind as they imagine Modaff’s life through addiction. There was a lack of involvement from peers in the watering process, which she tells me is, the process of finding your footing existentially and self-nurturing. She says, "People hardly think to water a tree because surely nature will run its course whereas a houseplant is allowed to grow and experience strife more privately and is almost assured that watering on a regular basis." I found this meditation on Modaff’s experience to be a poignant one, which spoke multitudes to the 26-year-old’s writing ability alongside collaborator Mykele Deville.

The single is brimming with truth and lyricism.

The relationship between Modaff and Deville is one that stems from support and understanding. Modaff and Deville worked together in a band, and throughout the Chicago DIY scene. Modaff eventually left the scene in order to protect her sobriety. After leaving said scene, consisting of bandmates and friends, Modaff was unsure if she would continue to have a support system.

 “When I got sober, I had to take myself out of that DIY scene. I was afraid everyone was going to forget me and Mykele would tell me, ‘the people who matter will stick around.’”

 By Taylor Russ

By Taylor Russ

Listening to the single, you hear Deville come in strongly after the uncertain beginning vocals of Modaff; this is the foundation of their relationship, “Mykele comes in hard and tells it how it is, unapologetically. The second chorus is where I build strength. And then we come together for that choppy, spoken word bit. I match his strength there.” Modaff says this is similar to her journey toward sobriety and regaining her own courage and voice. The artist leaned on others for direction before finding her own gumption and determination.

Modaff is writing an EP which is presently untitled and slated for a winter release this year. We can expect a collection of original songs that will continue to genre-bend, ranging from the raw sounds of “Hip Blossoms” to something reminiscent of Tegan and Sara in the early 2000s. She notes that Carole King and Paramore are two of her influences.

I finished the interview by asking Modaff what superpower, if any, would her music most accurately translate to:

“Truth serum. My music would make it impossible for anyone to lie to themselves or other people because they’d know that the truth is more powerful than anything.”

 By Alexus McLane

By Alexus McLane

Inside Issue #19: A Conversation with Vagabon

 By Amanda Siblerling 

By Amanda Siblerling 

“Run and tell everybody
 that Laetitia is a small fish.”

- The Embers

Laetitia Tamko, also known by her stage name Vagabon, is anything but a small fish.

This lyric is on the rock anthem that opens her 2017 debut album Infinite Worlds. The dynamic, versatile, powerhouse singer has the sweetest voice and most infectious confidence. The 24-year-old Brooklyn based DIY artist put out her first EP, Persian Garden in late 2014. The six-track masterpiece is something she never thought anyone would listen to, but after a slow burn it catapulted her into the world of Frankie Cosmos, Allison Crutchfield, Told Slant, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, and other indie artists changing how the scene looks and sounds. Tamko chooses her words carefully as Hooligan Mag sits down for an interview with the impressive young musician.

“There’s not a really fascinating story to how I came up with the name Vagabon,” Tamko says. “I just kind of wanted to go by something besides my own name. I think I just picked it randomly.” The Cameroonian-born native French speaker says her first name is often mispronounced, which is also why she goes by a different name. (Laetitia is pronounced Lay-tee-see-ya).

Infinite Worlds is an eight track whirlwind which explores themes such as love, loss, friendship, identity, and the true meaning of home.

“Overall, I don’t really have a descriptor for my sound yet. I mean Infinite Worlds is my first record, so I’m experimenting with a lot of different things and finding it as I release music. Infinite Worlds is very guitar-driven, it’s emotive and confessional for me, so I think that it’s easier for me to categorize genre by album or a per-song basis because I don’t think I have enough in my catalogue to really know what my genre is yet.”

Tamko is a huge fan of R&B, rap, jazz, and hip-hop , enjoying everything from early ‘2000s singers like Destiny’s Child “for all the harmonies,” to old Pharrell and The Neptunes-produced tracks, referring to it as “gold.” But she has been diving into pop music more as of late.

“Freddy, come back, I know you love Vermont
 But I thought I had more time.” - Fear and Force

There is a running theme of yearning, trying to find oneself, and where one can truly call home throughout Infinite Worlds. That could be in part due to the fact that Tamko was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  At the age of 13, she moved to Harlem, New York so her mother could attend law school.

“What I miss about being back home in Cameroon is the way of life in terms of being content with very little. A lot of people are just happy because they’re happy, and not because of material things. It’s a really special thing that I only realized later as an adult,” Tamko explains. “The things I miss about Cameroon are really small things, such as people gathering together. Even something as simple as leaving your house, walking to your friend’s house, knocking on their door and hoping they’re home is something I miss. I miss things like raising your own food and the whole nature aspect of living. I really miss those things. But I also love living in New York because of all the access, and all the things that are around me here, it’s really special.”

At 17 years old, after a lot of begging, Tamko’s parents bought her a Fender acoustic guitar from Costco. She taught herself how to play from instructional DVD’s, but put down the guitar for a few years so she could attend college to study computer engineering. Tamko felt she had to focus on school rather than music, but after recording Persian Garden and uploading it to Bandcamp she quickly got recognition for her work and after a few years stopped her engineering career altogether and became a full-time musician.

“Never the same, I can't go back to the place where I once was.” - Minneapolis

Tamko kept her burgeoning music career a secret from her family until November 2016 at Webster Hall in New York, where she opened for Frankie Cosmos. Amidst 1,500 eager fans her family saw her play for the first time. Hooligan asked her what her family thinks of her musical ventures.

“They definitely know about it now whether they want to or not [laughs], but it’s good. Some musicians grow up in a house of artists or someone in their family has done some sort of art so it makes it easier to be a topic of conversation. But for me, this is my thing, this is my life, and it’s my day to day. So I don’t really make it a topic of conversation. I just do my thing and that’s it.”

When she’s on tour Tamko has a mix of her playing solo with her guitar and sampler, as well as backing instruments. “I want people to feel a part of everything I’m doing onstage, and for it to be an immersive, collaborative experience.”

Tamko’s fanbase has grown exponentially in the past few years, and the experience has been humbling for her.

“I think I started to realize people were digging my sound maybe a year ago,” says Tamko. “I didn’t expect anyone to listen to the EP. I just wanted to have something out there and then work towards playing more. I toured the country a lot on my own without a booking agent or anything, just kind of with friends. It really helped me to solidify my music and my performance skills so that when people did get interested I was prepared. It’s a hard thing to explain because the EP was a slow burn. I put it out at the end of 2014, and I started playing more shows locally and people started to pay attention. Even if they weren’t listening to the EP, I think the live shows were something people really enjoyed and so I was playing live a lot. So Infinite Worlds coming out is kind of like putting out the songs that I’ve been playing live, and I’ve been getting a good response from it.”

Tamko speaks of the community of friends she has made in the DIY scene and how they have helped shape her musicianship.

“I met Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos) through mutual friends. When we first met we hit it off immediately. The New York DIY scene has a great community, it’s really nice to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, work with each other and write with each other. I have found it very helpful to have found a community specific to a group of people who like touring, putting out music, and having that commonality with a few of my close friends in the scene as well as the community as a whole.”

“You know my kind of high.”- Mal à L'aise

Tamko worked with Jessi Frick, one half of the father-daughter team at the remarkable independent label Father/Daughter Records to release her debut album.

“I met Jessi Frick of Father/Daughter Records many years ago at CMJ Music Festival. She would always collaborate with another small tape label and they would do a joint CMJ show. I played it for two consecutive years. So when I finished my record Jessie DM’ed me. I was tweeting a lot throughout the recording process because I do stuff alone and I don’t have bandmates, so it’s kind of my outlet to not losing my mind. It’s my chance to talk about something or get it out of me. Jessi DM’ed me on Twitter and said, “Hey, I’d love to hear it,” and from the first listen and her reaction I could tell that she really got it and got what I was trying to do. She didn’t just see what I put in front of her but the foresight and the long haul sight of what I’m capable of. That was really cool and really set her apart from other labels that I was talking to. Just knowing that she understood it and really connected to the songs, and I knew when someone really loves something they’re going to do a really great job with it so that really settled it for me.”

Tamko continued finding people to cultivate her creative vision when it came to her first music video for ‘The Embers,’ which was directed by Mooj Zadie and features her dancing by herself in an aquarium and a bus.

“‘The Embers’ was my first music video and we shot it on 16mm film which is really cool,” Tamko says. “While film is expensive, it also has a restriction on it. Without a budget or a lot of money, there is a restriction on how much film you can use. So, making this with one take per shot was really cool because once we got it, we got it. It felt really authentic. As for the concept, what I was really adamant about bringing to the table was color palettes and this song was one that I saw colors for very intensely. Mooj had really loved this song since it was on the EP when it was called ‘Sharks’, and came in with some really cool concepts, and it was good to work together.”

Writing and recording albums, releasing them, and shooting music videos is only part of the hard work Tamko does. The other bulk is touring, something that she enjoys immensely.

“I love being on tour because I get to meet so many people and have a different experience with my music with live shows. I’m a human being like everyone else, so regular things will affect me whether I’m on or off stage. I’m very shy and being on stage is vulnerable; so I like to talk to people afterwards and see how my music has affected them in a positive way. I like seeing people who are inspired by what I’m doing and to come back for more. It is worth everything of being human.”

That human aspect is crucial to how Tamko relates to and represents her fans. She has fans who have never seen themselves represented in the DIY music scene, especially men and women of color, who are so often lost in the extremely white sector. Tamko is determined to create a space for underrepresented groups. Or in her words, especially weird black girls, girls who are not celebrated, black men, and women of color. Though her natural inclination is to hide, she is determined to be visible no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Tamko has a desire for black girls to be able to see and hear her, and know that no barriers can stop them from doing the same.

“You didn't know it was falling apart.”- 100 Years

“During the process of recording Infinite Worlds it was a pretty long and grueling experience,” recalls Tamko. “I would go to school and work during the weekdays, and record the album on the weekends. I learned so much though about what I would want to do differently the next time. For example I wrote a lot of songs in the studio, so I would do different takes 15 times or 1 time, which wasn’t a very efficient use of my time. Now I write more while I’m on tour, so it was all a great learning experience for me.”

There were several songs off of the Persian Garden EP that Tamko remastered for her debut album. As Tamko explained to Hooligan:

“For the Persian Garden EP I was much less confident in my creative voice, creative vision and creative ideas. So, there were not too many hands on it, but way more hands than my process is now.  It was a lot of ‘Everything sounds great!,’ I’m really excited my songs just sound like something. After touring Persian Garden for two years on a DIY scale and then trickling over into recording my first album, the dynamic of how I make music was so different. At first, I really wanted to be in a collaborative band, and then very quickly I realized that wasn’t working for me, or wasn’t working for me then. I just really felt like these songs had a lot of life left in them. I wanted to recontextualize them and reintroduce them, which is why I named them new things, because I wanted new and old listeners to approach the song differently, and not feel like it’s a remake but that I actually just remade it.”

Along with remaking the songs, Tamko learned how to play drums, synth, bass, and other instruments to create a fuller sound for Infinite Worlds.

“Guitar is my first instrument, but with Infinite Worlds I didn’t want to allow much creative input from others,” Tamko says. “For me, if I’m going to ask someone to do something, I want to make sure I can do it myself. Even to delegate a task such as record these drums or record this bass, I wanted to be able to show them what I wanted instead of talking about it in a way that might go misunderstood.  It really minimizes how much compromising you’re going to have to do.”

“What about them scares you so much?”-Cleaning House

This iconic line from her song “Cleaning House,” is a showstopper in the center of her album. The heart-wrenching question leaves us raw and truthful.

“I keep a notebook on me at all times so I can write down ideas and lines as they come to me, and work on them continuously,” says Tamko about her songwriting process. “I don’t like to force writing. I know there are musicians who can sit down and write for two hours every day, but that’s never been me. I need for it to pour out of me organically, I think it would be very obvious if I made myself write every day.”

Tamko found inspiration for Infinite Worlds from award-winning poet Dana Ward’s book, “The Crisis of Infinite Worlds,” the title coming from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

“I found Dana Ward’s book through a friend of mine who is also a writer. He suggested it to me, and we were going to read it together. We were both on separate tours at the time, so we just had this idea to read this book on our tours and to talk about it over email, kind of like a virtual book club. I was reading this book as I was writing songs for Infinite Worlds and recording them at the same time. It’s a strange book, I haven’t gone back to it yet. It’s kind of a difficult read but I really enjoyed it. Another poet that I just started diving into is Fred Moten. He has this book called The Feel Trio that I’m parsing through, it has really beautiful lines. To my knowledge it hasn’t really seeped into my songwriting but it is good to see how other songwriters more in the literary sense than musical are creating imagery and a broad use of words.”

“We sat on my cold apartment floor where we thought we would stay in love.”- Cold Apartment

Tamko says that her drive, ambition, and capacity to love all stem from her astrological sign.

“I’m a Scorpio sun and moon with Gemini rising. My sign plays a big part in my identity. Every person has a different history and characteristics. Scorpios are seen as fierce, scary, intimidating, and self-deprecating, but we have a lot of drive. I’m very driven and ambitious, once I set my mind to something no one can stop me. I do have those debilitating moments when I can talk myself down by writing and creating music. Creation is subjective, and as I’m growing and trying different things I don’t let the ridiculous statements from people bring me down. I just don’t agree with them, I feel confident. As a Scorpio I know when something feels right for me, and when I get that feeling nothing can stop me.

“Water me darling,
Take what you need before it runs out.”

-Alive and a Well

“The lyrics off Infinite Worlds that I’m most proud of are from Alive and a Well,” says Tamko. “I always go back to that song. It represents a person as a well of water, the imagery stemming from trips back and forth to the well while I lived in Cameroon. A well of water isn’t strange to see, and metaphorically one must check in on the well to see if it’s okay, if you’re taking more from it than it can give, and if you are reciprocating what you take.”

As for the future of her music as Vagabon, Tamko has a lot planned but can't say too much yet.

“I’m working on two cool new projects right now, so there will be new stuff from me before the year is over. I’m excited to share what I’ve been doing, like writing and recording music. I am going on my first headlining tour this fall. I think it’s important to assert myself and what I do.”

As for advice for up and coming musicians Tamko says her words are really simple.

“Don’t be afraid to be curious. In music there are nuances to playing, so play and write often. Work with people who impress and inspire you, and absorb their genius. Never settle for just being satisfied, it’s going to yield something for you that way. Trust your gut and keep working because no one is the best at every single thing.”

View the entire spread in issue 19 here.

Inside Issue #19: A Conversation with artist HTMLflowers

By Rivka Yeker 

Illustrations all by HTMLflowers

Art is something that is often a reaction to pain, yet it is not necessarily always a reflection of it. Grant Gronewold, who has gone by HTMLflowers for a decade now, produces work that explores illness with a slight influence of nihilism in its rawest and most abrasive forms. His illustrations resemble truth, a sort of semblance of ultimate reality. A raw statement rather than a sugar-coated one. While his approach to life plays as an integral part of his art, the work itself isn’t meant to intimidate anyone, but rather show life as it is for someone who has seen and been through and experienced so much.

Disabled and/or chronically ill people are often expected to look at life with constant optimism and a sense of glory. People don’t want to see the sick being sick; they want to see the aftermath, hear about the recovery, witness the progress, but only the happy moments. HTMLflowers simply refuses to give into whatever it is society expects of him. His work is a retelling of his life and the way he perceives the world.

HTMLflowers’ work tells stories through single images alone. Addition to his comics, he prints his work on mugs, t-shirts, pendants, and other things that people can display and wear. The images printed on these objects aren’t necessarily ones that people would expect to see on items for sale. They don’t have any catchy phrases or fun slogans. They are mostly drawings of people. People in their element, in their most natural states, existing regardless of what systems may put them down. It is in this work that HTMLflowers’ artistry comes out, in the work that captures vulnerability and the loneliness of the human experience. It is through his lens that we are able to find solace in sickness, even if it is not happy or optimistic. Even if it doesn’t say things like “It is going to get better.”


Your work is self-reflexive and eery, a sort of powerful glance at the human experience through simplistic yet complicated illustrations. What do you want people to take from your art?

Fear, revulsion, uncertainty, hopelessness, terror & the unique species of callous bliss that accompanies those disabled truths.

What is your favorite artistic medium when it comes to your own practice?

I like thinking a thing and then making it real, I don't care what form it takes, no favourites, just a compulsive need.

How did you get into illustrating?

My mother wanted me to be a painter & I couldn't stand real life.

You have a very specific experience as an artist with disability. Do you want that to come out in your work?

I am disabled & I want to empty my entire heart, I won't hide anything about myself if I feel it needs freeing. I think that can be a tool to expose disabled truths to the world but the most important thing for me is to be honest with myself.

Are you someone that likes to publicly talk about your disabilities / illnesses on social media?

Constantly, nauseatingly. I'm still not over being ignored as a child.

Who are some of your inspirations?

The doctors who talk down to me, the nurses who use unsanitary techniques risking my health, the government that makes precise moves in the dark to ruin what's left of our public healthcare system, the mutation that transforms my body & destroys my life, the people I date that can't be patient when I disappear into the wards.

Your online store is titled "No Visitors." What does that come from?

I don't like having visitors in hospital, this building is a loveless machine that can only be survived, I will not endanger my love by bringing it into this place. a lot of art comes from there, loveless survival. the hospital is inside me and when I started writing the comic series "No Visitors" I named it after that place inside me where I'm always alone.

What could you say to other aspiring artists, especially those who live with disability and/or chronic illness?

Your mutation is your weakness, your mutation is your strength, never relent.

Inside Issue #19: Ellen Kempner of Palehound

 via  bancamp

Palehound’s Ellen Kempner is no stranger to love and loss. On her recently-released sophomore LP, A Place I’ll Always Go, the Boston-based indie rocker explores the depth of these experiences, and the storms that accompany them, via poetically simplistic yet acutely intimate narratives. The tracks transport listeners to everyday places – Dunkin Donuts, the produce aisle in a grocery store, even Kempner’s bedroom – and attach to them heartfelt meaning and melancholia, tinged with hopefulness regarding friendship, romantic relationships, and queer identity. The album is stunning and, in parts, sob-inducing, while remaining as grounded and conversational as the 23-year old musician herself.

Hooligan was elated to have the chance to chat with Kempner about the band’s latest release and tour, as well as queerness, personal growth, and mental health for our 19th issue.


So, you just got back from tour a few days ago, right? How do you feel it went overall? Were there any highlights or wild stories worth sharing?

Chicago was the highlight, honestly. We got to stay there for a few days and familiarize ourselves with the city more than we have in the past. We got to eat at Chicago Diner, which is always amazing. I love that place. I guess the highlight was playing at West Fest – that entire set was a blast. The whole time, there were these two old men sitting in beach chairs in the very front. They were just lounging, kinda rocking out, but still sitting in their chairs. At the end of our set, though – “Molly” was the last song we played – one of the old men got up and started dancing manically, just like crazy, erratic movements. It was like the Six Flags guy … I don’t think I could dance that hard if I tried [laughs]. Also, because it was an outdoor show, there were A LOT of dogs there. I looked up at one point and there was this woman with this fat, fluffy corgi and he was just “borking” away and it was SO cute. So, that was a major plus. That entire set/trip to Chicago was a highlight, for sure.

What’s one thing you really miss while you’re on tour?

I have really, really bad anxiety when I’m tour. I get really anxious before every show – especially when we headline a show –  and constantly I worry that I’m not good enough or that I’m going to fuck up … That paranoia is the worst part of tour for me. Having my mental shit act up in a room full of people who are expecting me to perform for them, and do so flawlessly, it’s just such an immense pressure. It weighs on me. Also, being without my vices, my partner, my cat.

I miss my partner so much when I’m on tour. Not having someone who knows me like she does, or having someone to really lean on, it’s hard. I’m so used to my cat and my partner and just living this quiet little gay life back home together – I definitely miss that the most.

How did you get involved in music? Who or what inspired you to pick up an instrument?

It was absolutely because of my dad. My dad and I are super close – we always have been. He was always playing music around the house, so I grew up playing guitar with him and totally idolizing him and his musicianship. He was never professional, but he played drums in college and such, and he was good at guitar. So, I took a few lessons from him, starting when I was only seven. It’s always crazy to me when I say aloud that I’ve been playing guitar for sixteen years. I’m an old fucking lady. That’s like an entire lifetime for some teenagers who ask me this question, and that’s fucking rough. I always hate that [laughs].  

How much do you think your experiences as a queer person influenced A Place I’ll Always Go? And in what ways?

The content is basically, actually, very-much about queer friendships and relationships that I’ve had. A couple of the sappier songs are about my partner. They’re love songs in which I’m using she/her pronouns, instead of trying to mask it as a guy by using he/him pronouns, because, admittedly, I kinda used to do that due to shame surrounding my queerness.

I guess a big influence was finally finding someone and being in a loving relationship with them – that was a new thing for me. So, I went into the writing for this record with this new experience. Before, I was like, I know I’m gay, but I don’t want to come out super publicly. Ya know, because there’s the ever-present fear of being alienated and whatnot. It was a great decision, though, and I’m really happy to be more out and proud now. As a result, there are a lot more queer people at my shows, which is super cool. And all of my friends are queer, pretty much, so I’m really grateful for my support network and queer community.

Oftentimes, especially recently, I hear Palehound being labeled as a “queer band.” Do you feel your identity is intrinsic in your art, or does it ever feel separate? If not, do you ever wish that it was or could be?

I think it is very intrinsic. I write songs that are overtly queer, but also, I feel like a lot of the way I perceive myself and the world around me, and the way I sit in it, stems  from my queerness. Since I was a kid, I’ve been writing songs about anxiety. Anxiety and depression are things I’ve always struggled with, and they’re rooted in feeling very out of place, which stems from being queer and having to dig longer and harder to find your identity. So, even when my songs aren’t blatantly queer, the roots are still there. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. But I don’t wish it was separate. Like I said, before this album, I was more cautious about being labeled as a gay artist, but at this point, I have no regrets about embracing it.

How do you feel you’ve grown – both as a musician and person – since releasing Dry Food in 2015?

Yesterday, I was thinking about how long ago that feels...It’s only been two years, but I feel like I was a totally different person in a lot of ways. I feel like I have grown more as a musician, but not technically, really. If anything, I feel that maybe I’ve gotten worse at guitar because I don’t practice as much as I used to. I used to practice every single day, and I definitely don’t do that anymore [laughs]. I also feel like my tastes have changed a lot. I went into this album with a very different idea of what I wanted to make, and how I wanted to sound, while trying to stay true to things I’ve made before.

In terms of personal growth, I feel that I’m finally ready to talk about myself, my identity, and my struggles fluently. Because, you know, as a musician, you’re put in a position where you’re expected to perform and be really vulnerable while you do it. I used to be more nervous and self-conscious – and I still am, but less so. I’m more OK with my true self now, which allows me to be confident getting on stage and talking about my shit. But it has its downsides, too. Being vulnerable is one of the scariest feelings, but overall, it’s been really beneficial for me.

Can you talk a little bit about the [record label] switch from Exploding in Sound to Polyvinyl?

I absolutely loved being on Exploding in Sound – they were so, so wonderful to me. There’s no bad blood there; I love them and everyone who works there. That said, I think Polyvinyl is also an amazing label, and I just wanted to spread my wings a little bit and work with new people, and as many people as I can. It’s a bigger label than I’ve ever been used to, but it runs like a smaller independent label. It’s actually really cool because Matt [Lunsford], Polyvinyl’s co-founder, came to the Palehound show in Indianapolis recently, and he was so personable. He told me how they started in the ‘90s, printing zines, forming bands, etc. They come from authentic DIY roots and exhibit that, even still, and that’s important for me. Those are ideals that are near and dear to me. So, I thought Polyvinyl was a perfect fit.  

This album, compared to your past releases, seems to have a more distinct narrative. What inspired the story you’re telling? What would you say were the prominent emotions involved?

The reason this album has more of a narrative is because I was writing the songs alongside what was happening in my life. It was more contained, whereas before I was writing songs that were written over three years and dealt with different, more random things.  This record was a response to certain events that were happening over a shorter period of time. For example, some of the songwriting on this album was in response to a dear friend of mine passing away, and attempting to process such overpowering grief. And then, transitioning from grief to finding love with somebody. It was this really weird time in my life where I went from a deep darkness to a really bright light. It was all over a short stint of time, and the record reflects that period.

Does the story have an intended audience? Or would you say it was written more for yourself?

It was definitely self-indulgent to some extent, but at the time I had a lot of close friends who were also dealing with loss, and some of those experiences were more intense than what I had gone through. So, it was kind of for them, as well. I was fortunate to not have much contact with it this much pain and loss before all of this. But since I was confronted with it, I was like, I’m sure everyone out there is dealing with, or has dealt with, similar things. So I wanted to write something that people could connect with – kind of like a support system, of sorts.

So would you says songwriting serves as a kind of remedy for you?

Yeah, for sure. I think that, because of my anxiety, it can be difficult for me to process things in a healthy way – it always has been. So, to write a song is to sit down, be my own therapist, listen to myself, and provide a platform for processing and healing. It’s definitely a remedy.

Do you believe that queer musicians (who are “out”) have a responsibility to raise awareness and speak on behalf of the LGTBQ+ community?

I don’t know, I kinda feel like, my answer here is no...I don’t think that just because a band has queer members means they have to speak out and represent themselves as a “queer band.” I think that’s kind of tokenizing, in a way. Like, just because someone is queer doesn’t mean they need to organize their thoughts or anxieties into something political. I feel like that’s a lot of pressure.

Also, I don’t feel like that kind of stuff is never demanded of like, straight people -- even though that might be a bad example, because they don’t have issues like queer people do. I don’t know, that’s just such a personal thing for me. I feel like sometimes I’m not outspoken enough. But, I’ve just decided I’m going to say what I’m articulate enough to say. Obviously, I’m very concerned about the state of queer politics and trans politics and stuff, but I feel like I’m not usually confident enough in myself, or even educated enough, in a lot of ways, to speak on it. But there are definitely a lot of people who are, so if those people decided they want to say things, they should. I just don’t think anyone should be pressured into talking about things they aren’t comfortable with, especially if that topic could be triggering for them.

In addition to queerness, an overarching theme in your music is mental health. A lot of songs on A Place I’ll Always Go address your struggles with anxiety. How important do you think it is to have conversations about mental health in music?

Hmm, this kinda goes down the same road for me [as the last question]. It is definitely important, because mental health is something that is so prominent – it’s an everyday thing and so many people struggle with it. It took me a long time, but I just recently became more outspoken about mental health issues. I had never really seen them as issues before, because we’re raised to see them as minor problems. We’re told they’re not a big deal, that we just need to “suck it up and deal with it,” or that we’re being overdramatic. I wasn’t really raised with role models who provided positive representations of mental health and self-care, and I feel like people could benefit from that. I wish I had someone like that to look to when I was younger so I could recognize the legitimacy of it all. So yeah, I think it is really important to be outspoken about that kind of thing. But again, you have to be careful because there are certain subjects that can be really triggering for individuals.  

The response to your new record, and most of your work, for that matter, seems to be overwhelmingly positive. On the off-chance that you receive negative criticism, how do you deal with that?


[laughs] That’s a really funny question, because lately I’m realizing that I’m really lucky to not have seen anything negative, really. I mean, I haven’t seen anything overtly negative, but I also think I care too much about what other people think. I have this horrible habit of reading a good review, but then picking it apart and looking for anything that hints at criticism. I’ve always been like this – even when teachers would grade tests or whatever  I was always that really annoying kid in class. It’s awesome to see overwhelmingly positive reviews, but yeah, anything bad, no matter how small, destroys me. I’m definitely my harshest critic. I do a lot more battling with myself than anyone, and that comes from anxiety, I think. Like, today for example, I just laid in bed for a few hours feeling bad about literally everything, even this record that’s doing well. It’s weird. Very weird.

Finally – do you have any advice for young queer people who want to get involved in music, but aren’t quite sure how to do that?

I don’t think I’m the best at giving advice, but I’ll try. My advice would be to find other queer musicians, because I didn’t do that for a while. For a while, I was in a show-bro zone –  not like shitty bros, they were nice guys – but they were pretty cis-het. It took me a long time to find a queer community that I felt totally comfortable in. I didn’t really find one until I moved to Boston, but I’m so thankful for it now. It’s critical for me. It’s so important for anyone who is starting out. Find other queer artists in the community, make friends with them, start bands with them, and don’t isolate yourself. That’s my best advice.  

See the whole spread in Issue #19 here.

 

Inside Issue #19: Astrology of Disability ft. Johanna Hedva

 Photo credit:  Pamila Payne    Nails by  The Nail Witch

Photo credit: Pamila Payne 

Nails by The Nail Witch


Johanna Hedva is a Taurus, performance artist, practicing witch, and writer. Their piece, “Sick Woman Theory,” details the daily frustrations of living with chronic illness and living alongside a non-normative body. In the essay, Hedva recounts being unable to attend a Black Lives Matter protest due to being bed-ridden writing, “I listened to the sounds of the marches as they drifted up to my window. Attached to the bed, I rose up my sick woman fist, in solidarity.” It is images like this that present the reader with an immersive account of existing with chronic illness or disability.

Last summer, I stumbled across a video of Johanna giving a talk concerning sick woman theory, with their cane resting beside their chair. I was struck by visual presence of the cane, a visual signifier of disability, coexisting beside Johanna, the person giving the talk and thus, the authority in the room. It is a rarity in the mainstream media to see people with disabilities existing in positions of power, rather than those of scrutiny, especially within Westernized medicine which emphasizes cures and linear paths to healing. When we are given mainstream representations of disability they are predominantly white (or they serve as inspiration porn.) Oftentimes mainstream narratives concerning disability pivot on an axis of triumph, wherein disabled characters learn to triumph over their disability rather than live with it. My favorite phrase in “Sick Woman Theory,” is, “My body is a prison of pain so I want to leave it like a mystic, but I also want to love it and want it to matter politically.”

I think about how one’s experience of reality is often grounded in the experience of the body. In my case, my body is grounded in experiences of pain, muscle tightness, soreness, and other instances of discomfort coincide with other everyday experiences like buying falafel or writing this piece. I think of how often I’ve longed to leave my body like a mystic, even just for a minute, and how strange yet validating it is to allow someone else to articulate these feelings.

As a narrative tool, Hedva gave our resident astrologer, Jillann Morlan, a copy of their natal chart, in hopes that it would better explain aspects of themself and their work. Hedva explained their relationship to astrology and storytelling over email writing, “Astrology was a family practice for me; both my mother and aunt taught me as a child. i drifted away from it and rebelled in my early 20s, but found it again when i became sick and bed/house-bound during the first year of my saturn return. i started giving readings during this time, and now do it for a living. my relationship to it is always changing, but i can say that right now, i'm getting into the whole-sign house system (i was trained in placidus), and thinking a lot about fate and how the "malefics" work, or have been seen throughout history.”

Jillann explained further, noting that Astrology is not a question of fate, rather it is one of understanding. Stating, “No matter how difficult this astrology may be, it is not good or bad. Rather, these planets and aspects serve as a road map to Johanna’s personal mastery. This astrology tells a tale of deep and much needed healing across generations. People with such aspects may seem to have a somewhat fated astrology to work with, but they are also gifted with an incredible amount of resilience, passion, drive and intuition. In the midst of despair, this astrology can actually help attune a person to the gifts that reside within a catastrophe, health crisis or debilitating heartbreak or loss. Such pain and despair can often show us our truth, and this astrology will certainly lead one to truth, albeit through initiations by fire.”

Experiences of chronic pain or disability can be physically, or emotionally isolating. You start thinking about the strange and specific nature of pain itself. You try to translate it for well-meaning doctors or friends, and a look of confusion streaks across their face, and you are hit with a sense of profound loneliness, but also doubt. When pain is shared, reality is formed. When it’s just you and your pain, you start to wonder if it is real. Pieces like “Sick Woman Theory,” help cement your reality, but they also work as a source of resilience and strength.

Hedva posses a stelium in their twelfth house of Scorpio, Mars, Saturn, Pluto, all lie within the house creating three oppositional forces. As Jillann explained over email, “The 12th house signifies the subconscious, the hidden and the unseen.  It can relate to the past, suffering, spirituality, sexuality, the metaphysical and the occult, all of which play an integral role in Johanna's work.” Similarly, Hedva’s moon is in Cancer.

Said Jillann, “Cancer is the sign most known for its sensitivity, intuition, and complex emotional life, so the expression of feelings and emotions will be incredibly important to a person with this astrology.  We see the theme of transformation showing up again in the 8th House, which is the house of other people’s possessions, taboos, sex, death and rebirth.”

As a whole, Jillann relays that “The need to deconstruct, recreate, renew, and rebirth is all inherent in Johanna’s natal chart.  They appear to be a prime example of a person who knows how to work within and around the confines of pain and trauma. But, more importantly they are a beautiful example of a person who is committed to rising above. This fight isn’t about winning; it is about evolving.”

Ultimately, Hedva’s work is indicative of the non-linear path to healing. “Better” is not a concrete destination, rather it’s a shifting state, it weaves out of our lives like a mystic or a moon in Cancer. When one’s sense of wellness constantly shifts, from week to week, or even, day to day, seeing a similar narrative reflected in the media is a rarity. This is why “Sick Woman Theory” matters, it is both a manifesto and a mirror, a sweeping declaration that this pain is real, it is palpable, someone else can see.

See the entire spread in issue #19 here.