BlackBook Interview: La Roux’s Elly Jackson on Being Human, Needing Space & Taking Baths to be Creative

Image by Ed Miles

 

When Elly Jackson’s second album, Trouble in Paradise, came out in 2014, it was as if her life’s story had written its title. The artist otherwise known as La Roux—and perhaps equally for the ginger wave that famously flops around atop her head—had already managed to take literally the entire world by storm. Her debut album, 2009’s La Roux, produced singles “Quicksand,” “Bulletproof,” and “In the Kill,” nabbed her and her former bandmate Ben Langmaid a Grammy award, almost endless attention, and with it a world of complications that come with being catapulted to fame at a young age. She was all of 21 then. Looking back at her early videos, it’s hard not to notice the traces of baby fat still on her face.

If you have been to any public space that at least attempts to play trendy music in the past 20 years, you have absolutely heard “Bulletproof.” Anyone over 40 will respond to its arcade game nostalgia. Anyone under 40 will register it as vintage electronica cool. Everyone will bop along to it. It’s impossible not to.

Whether it’s her tough-girl persona, her unusually elegant voice (a former falsetto), her fabulous power suits, her uncanny ability to infectiously reimagine the sounds of her youth, her androgyny, or that aforementioned swirl of red hair, her sonic superpowers enable her to use her vocal and musical talents in unique way, that’s frankly a bit odd yet still creates a pop feeding frenzy. And while everyone knows who she is, or at least has unknowingly heard her tunes, what people don’t really know is where the hell Jackson’s been for the past few years (or five).

While Trouble in Paradise garnered critical acclaim, everything leading up to and through the album ultimately blew up her life. It broke up her partnership with Langmaid, got her kicked off Polydor, the major label to which she had been signed, broke up a 10-year personal relationship, inspired her to can an entire third album, La Roux 3, and sent her down plenty of anxiety-induced rabbit holes. The perfect storm had started brewing as early as 2010, when Jackson lost her voice entirely due to anxiety. She had to train herself how to sing again. The pressures of fame weighed heavy on the otherwise spry, and hilariously blunt Jackson, and the cascading effect it had on her unraveled her completely by 2017.

 

 

And to make matters even worse, her shower broke down. Yet it was that same nuisance that changed her life’s rhythm enough to allow her to course correct. Unable to shower, she was forced to take baths.

“That mental space slowed me down enough to change how I thought about my life,” she says. “And today I’m just in such a better place.”

And so the carrot-topped phoenix felt she literally had nothing to lose, stopped all the noise, locked herself up in her kitchen and got to creating Supervision. As Jackson wiggled herself out from her past, she jettisoned plenty of baggage with it. Ranging from her hyper-referenced approach to building her songs to nearly every collaborator and the interference of another record label, Jackson decided to fly completely solo on the new record.

The result is a delightfully short spin through the world of La Roux, just as Elly Jackson. No less of an adorable fuck you, certainly no less of an earworm much less fun, the album itself is a play on words referencing that she can both see clearly now, but also that she doesn’t need the supervision of anyone to get along.

We sat down with Jackson to hear her thoughts on her comeback, her music, and what a young superstar does to get her life back in balance and back on her own terms.

 

 

You have definitely come back from a period of silence. When reading about your story, it’s uncanny how life put you on pause– twice–before you could make your next breakthrough. You first lost your voice, and second had a broken shower that forced you to take baths.

Yeah, a lot has changed. I just feel so much better. There’s just a lot more space and peace in my life, generally, and it’s a very nice place to be. I’ve slowed myself down and realized what my priorities are. I pretty much have to work out every day or I’ll pretty much go insane. I wasn’t doing that nearly enough before. It’s easy when you’re in the studio to drop really good habits in the name of working your ass off pointlessly.
You just turn nocturnal in that mindset and say it must be helpful to work 17 hours a day. But it really just isn’t helpful. It’s really been about finding the balance again. I have found it and it’s a much nicer space to be in, for sure.

La Roux had started off as a collaboration and you have done several since. I read that you don’t like to share. As we age, we definitely become clearer about our healthy boundaries. Was your solo approach to this album a function of that?

I don’t want to make this all about what I’m about to say, because I think it can get annoying; but I really think that most women can possibly relate to finding it harder to [manage boundaries] than men. It’s firstly hard to even know yourself that way. So many people don’t even know what their boundaries are. It’s hard to then set them if you don’t know what they are.
You’ll say, “Yeah, I have boundaries!” Then you’ll say, “Wait. Do I?”

It’s a tricky balance…

If you want to be a nice person, especially with women, one has to sort of learn that being perceived as nice is not necessarily what’s best for you. I’m not saying that I’m not a nice person, or don’t value niceness, but I have come to understand that I don’t want people to cross certain lines because it will make me uncomfortable.
And then I’ll start to feel vulnerable, and I may not like it, and then I could start acting quite stressed and angry. I can start to feel like I’m not protecting myself or that someone’s coming into my cage and it’s too much space invasion.
It just takes time to understand that as a human being. You can’t fucking understand it overnight, and you certainly can’t grasp it when you’re 21. Anyone who knows that when they’re 21, I want to meet them because they will certainly become a fucking guru! But I feel that I at least hopefully have learned how at the right time.

 

Image by Ed Miles

 

Speaking of your age, it’s funny looking at your head spinning in the “International Woman of Leisure” track—you can see you have very defined cheekbones. It made me realize just how young you really were when “Bulletproof” came out.

Yeah it was a shock to me. I never knew that I would get this face. Some people thought that I had gotten plastic surgery. I was like, “Come on! I just lost a little weight and I’m not a child anymore!” All of that happened when I was in my early 20s.

Now that you’ve gone through what you have, what would you tell young Elly that could have maybe helped her navigate that level of fame and what was to come.

I don’t know, it’s so difficult. You know how you are at that age and you just think you know everything. You think you have it all down, and it’s just hilarious because you don’t. It’s kind of impossible, because I know who she was—since I’m her. And [laughing] she would have just said, “Yeah shut up, I’m fine.” Even though I really wasn’t fine.
Nobody can tell you what’s right for you, even if it’s ultimately what is right for you. It’s like the old adage about the addict, you just can’t tell them when to stop. They have to be fed up with their own behavior.

Right, it has to come from within.

I think it would have been really hard to have a talk with that girl. But I was lucky that I had a lot of people say the right things to me. They tried to make me see things in a more positive light and to help me feel less stressed and worried. But it’s just hard when you are constantly stressed and worried and you can’t see a way out most of the time.
But I would have told her to try to not think so much about needing someone else—whether in her work life or personal life. Even that word, “need…” in needing something else you’re just taking away—an experience, a lesson– from yourself. I had to remember at a point that this all started with me in my bedroom with my guitar.
But that is what I would tell her, “If that is where she started, with her guitar, why had she gone so, so far away from that place?” Think about that.

It’s funny you say that, because my predominant image of you with any instrument is you standing behind a keyboard.

Weirdly I am always behind the keyboard; but even more weirdly, all my songs start on guitar even if you don’t hear guitar in them. Pretty much every song on the first album was written on guitar, apart from “Bulletproof.” It may not really sound like it, but that is the case.

Speaking of your style, your first two albums had definitive vibes to them. La Roux was a more synthpop dancey thing and Trouble in Paradise, a bit of a Chicago / Grace Joneseque sort of thing. Supervision really isn’t bundled stylistically in any way. There’s an authenticity to it, because you can more clearly hear who you are.

That’s really important to me. There is just a pain trying to re-creating something that you love so much. Like loving Depeche Mode and Grace Jones. It’s like, great! Love them! But you also have to be you. Don’t sit there and reference them so much that you drive yourself crazy. It’s difficult to get away from the music that is intrinsically inside you that you’ve listened to your whole life—it will show up in your work. For instance, I never once listened to George Michael on this album but you can hear a lot of him in it.

 

 

How did the process of even making this album come to be? You wrote it in just a few weeks at home? It just seems like there’s an ease and flow here that wasn’t available to yourself before.

It’s definitely been a very different experience and feeling. Even though I was the one who always brought the subject matters, the sound, the melodies, it is a different feeling to be [on my terms]. But when you’re in a studio and there’s someone at the computer, or you’re in someone else’s space…or even if you’ve let someone else into your space and you’ve let them commandeer…it always felt like I allowed even the tiniest details, like the order things are done in, to be in someone else’s hands. It had always kind of been dictated by somebody else. I found myself over the years just being so uncomfortable with it.
It came to the point where I just knew I could do something better or quicker, but I didn’t know how to say that without hurting someone’s ego or without sounding delusional. Obviously, I’ve dropped all of that and I don’t live in that space anymore in any way, shape, or form.

You actually shelved your third album?

Once I ditched that record and started making this one, the whole process was just one of pure elation. It was like, Oh! I have these riffs, some voice notes and these bass notes—this chorus.
I had the riffs for “21st Century,” I had the chorus. I had chords to “Do You Feel?” It was honestly kind of like I had no other choice. I had exhausted all my other options and they just didn’t work. It was like, you’ve only got one way left—just you on your own. And it was funny, within hours it was just obvious to me as I sat at my computer that I should have been doing it this way all along.

Epiphany is a wonderful thing.

It’s just so much more fun and so much more me. I definitely had these moments where I worried that if I wasn’t referencing as much or wasn’t as painstakingly sitting there with a fucking engineer, doing stuff that I think is a waste of time, that people may not like the way it sounded. Or that they may not want to listen to me. But then I realized that I didn’t fucking care. There is nobody but me on any of my albums playing the instruments…save the saxophone, which I don’t play. Everything has been written by me, actually. So why did it feel like such a change? But it really did.
All I knew was that I liked the record I was making. I just got to the point where I stood in my kitchen where I was like, “Okay, either you’re insane or you’re right.” But when I realized that I didn’t care, and that I was happy, it has never been the case that I make music in order to tick other people’s boxes.

As women, we’re always told how to feel and be and what should make us happy.

It’s true. But there just comes a point where you’re liberated enough to be yourself.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Theophilus London on Rihanna, New Album ‘Bebey’, and Keeping it Caribe

 

 

It’s befitting that Theophilus London decided to jump right back into the light just in time for Valentine’s Day. Dropping his first full-length album in five years, Bebey, the Trinidadian-Brooklynite pillar of suavity has emerged from a self-cocooned hiatus as smooth and fabulous a butterfly as he ever was.

The vibe, as he calls it, is New Wave Caribbean. The result is an easy island tilt on many of the collaborative friendships dear to his heart. It’s also a pretty hilarious (but respectful) call out to all the sexy ladies from here to Soweto and back again.

The international man of love and leisure surely has a knack for procuring the best of his jet-setting friends to assist him with his musical projects, and his latest is certainly no exception. Released on his own Bebey Records, the album brims with everything from steel drum flourishes to collabs the likes of Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, as he walks the fine line of keeping it real as an NYC-Caribe kid and a heavy hitter in the scene in the way that only this man called Theophilus London possibly could.

 

 

 

 

London doesn’t only drop hype albums. His personal style has famously gained him admiration everywhere from downtown NYC art parties to getting Karl Lagerfeld to collaborate on his 2014 album Vibes. Indeed, the late fashion icon directed the album’s design, did all the photography, and hand-drew the lettering on the cover.

Flash forward a couple years later, and the then-unreleased “Revenge” (which has finally seen the light of day on Bebey) rocked Virgil Abloh’s Off-White 2017 Spring/ Summer Paris Fashion Week show, leaving Frank Ocean, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and the style cognoscenti grooving and bobbing their heads in the front row. A collaboration with Ariel Pink, it’s actually a cover of English new wave band New Musik’s 1981 track “They All Run After the Carving Knife.”

Abloh and London have long been friends and collaborators. The former was named Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director in 2018, and serves as CEO of his own Milan-based streetwear label Off-White, which he founded in 2013. The two have kept tight throughout the years, and came back together for Bebey, collaborating on the cover art and designing a pair of fancy streetwear cowboy boots, along with a soon-to-be released fashion collection.

We caught up with London to discuss Bebey’s release—her name standing for self-love, which is the “essence, love and beauty” of the album, as he says—along with where he’s been for the past few years, and how he’s created this beautiful universe of which he’s firmly proud.

 

 

 

This album has been long gestating during what has been perceived as a hiatus you took from both fashion and music. What made you feel it was ready to be birthed?

It was done. It was ready for the world to get it. What better than a new decade? I thought about dropping it in November of 2019…but if I dropped it in 2030 it would still leave an impact. The music is timeless, in a sense. I’m just going to foreshadow that. Vibes became an instant classic. It’s not self-proclaimed or anything, but when you see everyone’s comments on it. Vibes was five years ago—some people have gone through high school and middle school since I dropped a new album.

What had been going on in the past few years if an album really hadn’t been?

I’ve been going around the world and A&Ring this record, going through my phone book and the relationships that I have. Each moment I spent on this album was priceless. Being in Australia with Tame Impala, being in London with Giggs, being in LA with Ariel Pink…and also being in LA with Tame Impala when he was on a hiatus himself, after a great album that he had just written.
His label couldn’t get him to clear any other tracks for other rappers. It was like, “How the hell does Theo get to work with Kevin Parker, and we can’t even get in touch with him?” Anybody who I had brushed paths with, they wanted to get on Bebey. There was a hype about it.
After the Louis Vuitton show in summer 2018, I made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles and I haven’t left since. I made a new home base here and started a new record label. After all the travel and changes, the time was just right. And here we are.

 

 

 

There has been plenty of talk that Bebey is a getting back to your roots as a Trinidadian-born kid from Brooklyn. How valid is that view?

It’s more a roots in terms of my energy. I am not going back to my old style in this album at all. To be clear, this is something completely new. I had DM’d the album to Rihanna and told her that this is “New Wave Caribbean.” We both laughed. I wanted to set new expectations for myself, and I am still learning about myself and the album when I listen to it today—I still listen to the lyrics, and I’m like, “Oh, shit! That’s what I meant?”
[I’m] the only person that really survived that era who was a real New York niche, Trinidadian or Guyanese kid from NYC. You grow up in the city, but you stick to your roots and eat the Caribbean food. I actually played in a steel drum band for four years and became the bass leader for the band. So, sure that is in my roots.
But there’s nobody in [rap], except maybe Busta Rhymes, who can comfortably spit patois but also keep it cool. Perhaps Safaree or Casanova, whose parents are Caribbean; but those guys are straight rappers. So, I am really holding the crown when it comes to being so normal cool. I may bust a line in the street, but it’s like, “oh he’s still cool.” It’s like a very fine line between being, “I’m an island boy, and I’m a city boy,” but I bridge the gap.

Are the steel drums you hear in “Bebey” synthesized or real?

No, those are definitely real!

 

 

So where exactly do Tame Impala and Ariel Pink fit into this patois, if you will? They are definitely not Caribbean.

Yeah, thanks for asking that. Tame Impala and Ariel Pink…it’s funny. They are a very important part of this project. Three of my favorite songs on the album, “Only You,” “Revenge” and “Whiplash,” were from working with them. Why would any artist not put those tracks on their album? I don’t care if I was doing a dubstep album, those three tracks would still make it on there!
When “Pretty” and “Bebey” came along, it’s when I started to get more excited about the Caribbean [tip]. But these songs were written long before, 2015ish-16ish.

Around the time you connected with Virgil Abloh…

Revenge” was premiered during his Off-White Business Woman fashion show, in Paris, in 2016.  People are just ready for it to be on an album. Now that it’s out, people are ready to pay for it too—the streams are going nuts.
But overall, it’s never been like, “oh yeah I’m gonna get Tame Impala!” or that the album needed to be Caribbean or anything else. I just follow the heart of love. It was never like a case of me wanting Kevin Parker and hitting up his label to get on my album. It was more like, “oh you’re in town? I’m in town too. Let’s get together tonight and work!”

 

 

 

Spontaneous is always best.

Yeah, and it turned into seventy nights of work. But it was never me really asking a label person or a manager one single thing. It was the same with Ariel Pink. It would be like, “Yo, come over to my crib, I’ve got six cute black girls at my house.” He wants a black girlfriend, I am sure.
So, he runs over in a nice blazer and his leprechaun accent. And we’re doing skits, and whatever the hell. I’m always bridging cultures. And with me bringing Ariel Pink and Kevin Parker onto the album, it’s me just bringing in different cultures into my world. And everyone can just hang out at the party.

You have put out a pair of haute streetwear boots with Off-White for Bebey. Beyond promoting your personal style, what is the strategy behind the fashion collaboration?

With each album, I try to communicate through different media. For an average kid, my songs may not get to him as quickly as say, a Justin Bieber song. So that Off-White collaboration—or any other type of fashion format like that—is so that kid may be able to see a piece and think, “hey, that’s cool!”…and then learn about my music. I always make sure there is space to make fashion. I always try and bring friends on board to do that, and this time it’s Off-White—they’re one of the top three brands in the world at the moment.
Virgil, as a designer, everything he does…I get him up at 4am. He has two brands to sort out for Fashion Week. I don’t even understand what’s going on with him, but somehow I can get him on text for three hours to discuss the line. I have the upmost respect for Virgil. He’s been a good friend to me for a long time.

How did the cowboy boot design come to be?

Yeah the LIFE’S WORK boots, it’s a cool tagline—like graffiti. It’s a 10-year introspection for me. I’m 31 now, and I can finally make sense of things, and that’s just a reflection of my life’s work. Those boots honestly were designed as leather high-end boots that are one of a kind. I’m sure they’ll be copied by every designer next season. I used to wear these boots for the last six years around New York City and I just wanted to recreate them.
It’s cool, Rihanna has flaunted a pair and they’re up for sale on pre-order now. We are doing a collection for the album, designed by Virgil and myself. You see my Caribbean flag heavily throughout the collection. The graphics are Bebey and they include the beautiful face that represents the beautiful Bebey Universe. A small, tight knit crew of my friends hand-drew our own logos and whatnot, and created this new little universe. It’s just fun to step into our own little world, and they can understand me and that world really easily. It validates me as an artist when other artists can step into my world and say, “I see!” They can see where the bathroom is, they can see where the living room is, and they can say, “this is a great house!”

If there is one thing that has been consistent about our conversation, it’s that you aren’t so much trying working hard to make something happen. It comes from the heart, and so it comes to be.

That’s true. But I mean, that was Vibes too. I didn’t ask for Kanye, and I didn’t ask for Lagerfeld. It just happened. It was the same message then. It’s just that I put out the most perfect version of Bebey that I could.
It could have been that I didn’t get much of a satisfactory job out of it, but that’s not true. I’m just super proud of it. I could have been scared when I put it out, being like, “holy shit!” But that’s now how I feel. It’s just incredible. In this project, I immersed myself in the culture, I disassociated myself from whatever celebrity hype. I blended together whatever circles I go in, from Rhode Island to LA and Australia and everywhere else, and I just made this album. No Rolex on, no chains, no dumb cars, no stupid shit…just back in the basement, you know, working on the album. And it’s gold. It’s diamond. It’s making that universal language translate.

 

BlackBook Interview: Devendra Banhart on Motherhood, Mobile Phones and Walking in L.A.

Image by Lauren Dukoff

 

 

 

If tender, thoughtful intention were the measure of a man’s potential as a parent, Devendra Banhart will one day make a fantastic father. Packaged in a gentle, groovy, acoustic web of emotional intimacy, the myriad facets of parenthood are both explicitly and abstractly explored in his new album, Ma. But to a man such as Banhart, it is a predictably unusual creative concept. It’s expansive, if not vast.  

That’s actually one of the most attractive things about Buddhism to me,” he reveals. “There is a concept called Mother Recognition. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual whatsoever to understand the idea. It’s just the idea of saying that everyone has been my mother at some point. A stranger, the moon. They are mother. It just makes it so much easier to get through the day as an applicable, utilitarian concept.”

While Banhart speaks in terms of pragmatism, the subject matter is one of humanity’s deepest mysteries. We have no real answer to what love and mother are, exactly; to be a mother is in its simplest terms is to be a creator. It is to be the protector, the nourisher, an expression of unconditional love. Ma manages to philosophically and literally explore the extent of its seemingly simple title – a job that is virtually impossible. And yet it does it by being an incredibly beautiful, nourishing and inviting listen.

 

 

 

Sung in four languages, including his mother’s tongue, Spanish, the album is as beautifully dense and rich as it is groovy and sweet. Ma philosophically tackles our deepest impulses and wounds, yet it is also a collection of fabulous cocktail party jams. Written at times in homage to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and still others in duet with Banhart’s muse and mentor Vashti Bunyan, he says that Ma includes everything that he would want to tell his child, should he ever have one.  He himself lost his biological father right as his last album, 2016’s Ape in Pink Marble, was being finished. So Ma is in many ways about his father, who he had just begun to know better, too. 

The album transparently, yet tenderly, tackles political agendas by just existing across cultural barriers the way it does. Banhart, who spent his early childhood in his mother’s home country Venezuela, also dresses up in its flag in the video for “Kantori Ongaku,” and asks for support for the Venezuelan people in it. The video for “Abre Las Manos” is a montage of Venezuelan imagery. 

“This time more than ever, I feel the need to connect with other Venezuelans,” he explains, in reflection of the socio-political strife that has ravaged the South American country for the last several years.

We sat him down just as Ma was being released, and he was embarking on a 24-date North American tour, to talk about some of the elemental impulses behind the album – the names, the origins, the need to disconnect from society, passing wisdom down through generations and acknowledging the mother that lives in us all. 

 

 

 

You sing in several different languages in your album. Language is a powerful tool, it’s a way to transcend barriers and understand other people outside of your language. 

I wonder how effective is Duolingo. I feel like everyone I know has it, gets it and does three languages for three days. But maybe it’s because I’m lazy. There could be incredible success rates. If you think about it, we spend our lives inside of our phones. And it’s just you as your avatar speaking the language. 

I suppose that’s true, but taking a language to the streets is the real test of how you can speak it. Of course, good luck to anyone trying to get out of their avatar in France!

The French will make it harder for you than anyone to learn their language. They’re the exception. Nobody will make it more difficult. I have said the words, and I know I’ve set it correctly. And they will pretend that they are not listening. And then they will finally respond and say, “Oh you mean…?”; and just respond back in their correct accent. It’s humiliating. Speaking in France is almost as humiliating as walking in Los Angeles.

L.A. is a weirdly walkable city, but it’s like nobody actually knows that. I always walk in L.A..

I walk in L.A. too! That’s why I know how humiliating it is. It’s so resistant to the walker, that you’re braving the resistance. I love it. I actually do not own a car and I live in L.A.. Up there is trying to speak French in France, but nothing is worse than walking in L.A..

We weirdly have rhyming names.

We really do. That doesn’t happen often. My name was given to me by my parents’ guru. You told me your name means snow-covered mountain and that your father’s people come from Zoroastrian lineages. I would like to talk more about Zoroastrianism. I think it’s so interesting, and it’s one of the world’s oldest religions and it’s vast. The name itself is so mystical and beguiling. It sounds like some sort of wizard floating in the stars. 

 

 

Nature is so vast and bewildering. When you are in spaces that are remote and where nature is your reckoning, you could only have a beguiling name. And a beguiling method of practicing your faith. 

That’s why so many of these ancient religions are so elemental and about worshipping wind, water and fire. It’s not so accessible to us anymore. We take so much of it for granted today, but think of the magic of it back in the day. Just the pure magic of finding a well, a stream, where the water is pouring from the heavens. We would climb a mountain and get to its height, and there find this nectar flowing from it. It makes so much sense that we would be in awe of these primordial elements. Being in Nepal, I really experienced that. We were pretty remote, in a very small village. The electricity would go out every 15 minutes. It really helped me appreciate electricity. Or how much I may take for granted my life in the city…plumbing. The village was still being developed, so I witnessed the effort that goes into creating a septic system. I came back to my life here, and I just felt so fortunate that everything was taken care of. In one sense, we are so fortunate because it’s so comfortable. But on the other hand, people don’t appreciate it as much. 

It’s important to understand those basic needs and luxuries. You somehow understand yourself better.

In an environment like that, you’re just forced to face yourself. The distractions aren’t there. I was in a remote village and stayed at a monastery at one point too. Monastic life is, well…you’ve got a bed, you’ve got a bedroom, you’ve got an altar table and a window, and that is it. I was given instructions that said: the person next to you is in a three-year retreat. Don’t open the door there, that goes into the balcony. And definitely be quiet. That person hasn’t seen another human being in three years and you certainly are not the first one that they want to experience.
I remember going on tour way back when, I didn’t have a phone on tour. That’s how old I am. We had the types of phones where you would have to type one key several times to get different letters, it was like a flip phone. I barely used it, and I definitely didn’t have a laptop with me. And I’ve never played my guitar better and I’ve never written more. I’ve never been more productive on a tour. It does require an effort, to think about the line. It’s so nebulous at this point. But you have to think to yourself – is this something that I really need to do, or is this a distraction?
And then it gets to the point of deep irony, and it’s a necessary irony. You’ve got apps now that are telling you to unplug, and I love that. I don’t know if there’s an app that you can time where every hour it just shuts off your phone for ten minutes. I’m sure there must be! Actually, maybe not. People need that app, but they probably wouldn’t get it!

 

 

I lived in Montana for a few years, and I miss that about my life there terribly – the lack of reception. It was eventually a convenience when the people in my life came to expect that I was always without service.

I just want my friends and my family members to know that I love them. But I really don’t want to hang out with them. And that’s it, but okay, leave me alone. That’s why I want to have a kid. It’s a reason to get out things, really. 

But you’d be connected to the kid all the time?

Yeah, but when they’re little they’re just like little poetry machines. You can just ask them anything, and then write down their answers. What’s that object you see? What’s that in the sky? Okay, got it! And then it’s like, “Hey yeah I’d love to see you and go out…but sorry, I gotta stay home with the kid.”

But it’s interesting to me that a man at your age – we are both at that age where we have to reconcile our personal timelines with the concept of parenthood – went so far as to explore the potentials of fatherhood, or motherhood, through an album. It’s touching.  Do you want to have a kid? 

I mean, I don’t know. Maybe you should buy me a drink first? I’m kidding. But it’s weird. The age that we are at, you do start to think about it differently. Prior to this window, you’re not really faced with the idea that you may never have children. You kind of assume that you will…later. And then time goes by and you’re in the window where you may, or may not. And then you have to understand if you can accept it if you don’t. And can you be open to having them too? It feels like a strange decision. It feels like something that should happen organically if the garden is fertile. The best thing I ever heard about parenting was that if you tend to the garden, the flower will grow. That garden is, of course, a relationship. So it’s not so much do I want to have a kid or not, but the ability to create that garden. 

 

 

 

The idea of “mother” is different to everyone. I like the idea of pushing it beyond the frame of one other mortal.

When we are born, we have this one person to call mom. It’s like, “that’s my mom.” That one person who is my mother. Human evolution may take you to expand that concept, once put on one being, to various beings and different objects. You can see mother in primordial objects. For instance, can you see the mother in the ocean? Can you see the mother in the stars? Which is what we were talking about earlier, which is in many ways the foundation for so many different pagan faiths. Can you see mother in other people? And in other elemental forces as well. And that could be a definition for what it means to evolve as a human being, I think. 
I couldn’t stop thinking about this one line in the autobiography of Swami Vivekananda. He was the greatest disciple of Ramakrishna, who was this super duper Vedantic master. Towards the end of his life, someone asks him how he’s been. But all he wants to communicate is that all he sees is mother. I just kept thinking about that, how beautiful it must be to be able to see mother everywhere. 
These people are set up in that they are spiritual superheroes, and it’s their karma and they’re born that way – but it’s applicable to all of us. It’s something you have to work at. It’s not something that just occurs. You have to practice it. But if you do, you can start to believe that mother is everywhere. You don’t have to be frightened by the things you don’t understand, they are mother. The world is not frightening, it’s mother. Imagine meeting a stranger, and immediately behind that thought, thinking, “You know what? That’s my mother. This was my mother at one time.”

I wonder if that application of mother is more my speed. It seems like all the loving, universal ideals of motherhood without all the etheric, negative attachments or the confusing line of where the boundaries of the mother’s life end and their child’s life begins.

There comes a point in our lives where we have to reckon with the idea if we like the people that our parents are. They are our first deities. But they are in fact human beings. And you have to asK, “Do I love you because you’re my parents? Or do I love you because of the human being you are?” This incredibly flawed human that you are? Probably at that point in your life where you ask yourself that question you’re just like, “Fuck you, Mom and Dad!,” no matter what. And maybe at that time you just love them in some fundamental way because they are your parents. Or, you can love them for who they are. 
I think it’s kind of the same way with a parent. It’s like, “Oh, this human I made here is not this accessory. It’s not this piece of clay that I can mold into what I want. It’s actually not mine.” And you to have to try to let it go. It’s a moment in time where you are a parent without the ego attachment of [ownership]. And that’s a choice you can make – to embody and practice a type of parenthood that is purer. It may be less direct, but it’s more pure. But we are genetically programmed to make it nearly impossible. 

I guess there is no real way to know until you are faced with it in your own life. 

I wonder what that’s like as a parent though, when your kid asks you something you don’t know the answer to. It’s so built into us to know everything. Can you admit that you don’t know? And can you tell your kid that it’s okay not to know? The world is constantly telling us we should know everything. And a parent should definitely know.
We live such different lives than we did before. The concept of being tribal is really loaded today. But historically, in tribal societies, there was a lineage. Knowledge was just passed down through ancestors and you would just teach your child what you were taught. It still works that way, but the entire system and structure is so fractured today. It should be a source of compassion to remember that people who are horrible to their kids? Their parents were horrible to them. It’s a question of hoping to become the conscious birth that breaks that chain. It’s just so obvious – until you’re faced with it.
It’s so funny when we’re around our parents, how we revert to being little kids. How we change. So the question there is how can we spend time with our parents without reverting to this little, frightened creature? If you think about it we spend most of our lives physically or emotionally suffering. And that doesn’t go away, but our deal with it changes. And our ability to identify it emerges if we’re lucky. But I think it’s our parents who most associate with the time in our lives where we largely have not yet come to realize that we spend the majority of our existence in some sort of emotional and physical pain.

But what more important of a gift does a child bring you than the gift of being present?

I was thinking about this the other day, I got in a hot tub and I was like, “Wow. This is so nice.” And I was looking up at the stars, and it was like “Aaah, wow.” And then I thought to myself what have I been feeling all day leading up to this point that didn’t feel just like this? But if you can be conscious of that pain, you can identify it. You can ask yourself if you are consciously or unconsciously right now suffering. Either physically or emotionally, am I in pain? 
But this brings us back to that lack of distraction. You, in Montana…it’s a blessing and a curse. You have this lack of reception, and that is annoying. But then it gives you a focus on yourself.

Well, what do most of those calls and texts really amount to, really?

Well if we figured that out, we’d be on it! But it’s kind of like…in hospice care. There really should be more documentaries about it. What do people say that they wished they had done more of in their life? There really should be more shows about the ends of people’s lives. I mean, I guess the reason why there aren’t more documentaries about hospice care is that people would start thinking to themselves that they should watch less TV! But they always say, I should have worked less. I should have had more fun. I should have gotten out of that painful relationship and divorced earlier. Which is hilarious. Which I love.

It’s that ability to tune back into that space that brings the daily joy that can punctuate the pain and suffering. But I think a source of that joy also comes from that identification you spoke of earlier. For instance, I am currently in St. Louis, which is four hours from my mother, as she is working through some health issues. It’s the perfect place.

Ah, that’s funny, actually. My mom recently called me and she was so happy! She said that she had written a poetic line for me. It goes: “I keep my loving mother at bay!” It was something she wanted to give me, but I think that it was also her way of understanding what I do with her. Close, but not too close. I wish your mother a thorough recovery. 

 

N.B. Devendra Banhart’s Mother Venezuela is suffering through a longstanding socio-economic and political crisis that has left her people facing high disease, crime, starvation, inflation and mortality rates. For his current North American tour, he has partnered with PLUS1 so that $1 from every ticket sold in the U.S. (excluding Dana Point) will go to World Central Kitchen. WCK has responded to the crisis along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and has served more than 350,000 meals to date.

 

Scandinavian Apotheosis: Björk Trades Remixes With Fever Ray / The Knife

 

Relationships end. Children grow up. Mothers cry, often grappling for new reasons for and by which to exist. When the mother is Karin Dreijer-Andersson (Fever Ray, and one half of The Knife) or Björk, it is not surprising that the tumult of their post-breakup worlds would be processed through their art.

Björk turned inwards to a prismatic, multimedia world of isolation on her album Vulnicura, perhaps clearly stating that she was indeed finally alone again. Utopia followed two years later as less of a declaration of her separation, but more of a processing of the new life she was coming to own. Dreijer-Andersson, on the other hand, dropped the hyphenate, brought back her Fever Ray persona – one that was originally presented to process the isolation and hardships of motherhood – hit up Tinder in Berlin, reconfigured their sexual and gender identities, and got to fucking their way through the transition.

 

 

Each human chose her own public path as they embarked on their new, personal life phases. Either way, the prolific Scandinavian mother artists found in one another fertile, common ground from which to spawn fascinating new creations. Enter their remixes of one another’s tracks, “Feature Creatures” (Utopia), and “This Country Makes it Hard to Fuck” (Plunge), by Björk and Fever Ray respectively (all via Mute Records).

Predictably intense, if not insane, Björk tackles Fever Ray’s track and ups the fervor by zeroing in on the harshest aural aspects of the original…then laces her vocals around Dreijer’s shrills. The result is a stark, unforgiving experience that likens itself to breaking teeth on cement in slow-motion, yet with a fecund, multi-layered undertow that could only be brought by Björk amidst the madness.

 

 

Dreijer gets two entirely different shots at Björk’s track. The first is remixed by them as Fever Ray, the second includes their brother Olof, collectively as The Knife. The latter duo, while unpredictable, had a knack for lending a more pop-savvy electronic aura to any strange project they chose to take on. The remix is no exception, and comes together as a perfect combination of their upbeat, danceable frame of mind, mixed with Björk’s deeply internal, sometimes emotionally overwhelming landscapes.

Fever Ray, takes a moodier approach to “Feature Creatures” by comparison, and injects the original track with more of a beat-driven framework…yet allows Björk’s most intense feelings to weirdly shine through.

From these two exquisitely iconoclastic minds, of course, one should expect nothing less. But still…good lord.

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Gigi Rowe x NATIIVE’s Opulent New Single ‘Lost in Each Other’

 

 

As Laura Warshauer, she was palling around with Prince William and Kate, counting Jay-Z amongst her fans, and winning awards for her songwriting.

But somewhere along the way, real life apparently just wasn’t enough anymore. So she decamped to Miami, stocked up Madonna and Cyndi Lauper records, and exchanged all her black clothing for pink/dayglo. Of course, an exceedingly new identity needs a corresponding new name…and so she became Gigi Rowe.

As Gigi, we were particularly taken with her 2017 cover of “Dancing in the Dark.” And now she’s showing off her own way with a compelling tune, with her lavish new single “Lost in Each Other,” which BlackBook premieres here. The track, a collab with L.A. electronic producer NATIIVE, is a lush, atmospheric stunner – think Bryan Ferry – fattened up with chunky bass synths, and imbued with emotionally dramatic choruses.

 

 

It’s also an unapologetic ode to being madly in love…with the wrong person.

“’Lost In Each Other’ is about wanting someone who’s completely wrong,” Gigi explains, “but you’re all there for it anyway. And in the moment, it’s like pure magic. It’s about the rush of the experience, the immediacy of what it’s like to be immersed in it. But there’s also perspective, knowing that it’s not something that’s going to last. It’s dreamy but dark, intimate yet epic. I love the soundscape that NATIIVE envisioned to enhance the emotion of the song.”

No album plans have been announced as of yet. But currently she’s in the studio with producers Nick Lee and Yuri Ryback.

 

Image by Jasmine Archie 

Watch: New Charli XCX w/ Christine & the Queens Video for ‘Gone’ is Fiercely Erotic

 

 

In her unflinching new single “Gone,” Charli XCX spits disdainfully, “I feel so unstable, fucking hate these people / How they making me feel lately / They making me weird, baby, lately.”

We’ve all been there, of course – fighting the battle with other people’s petty judgments. But considering Ms. XCX’s prodigious public pedestal, she is likely to fall much harder and longer if they manage to knock her off.

 

 

The track (taken from her upcoming album Charli, to be released September 13), with its ferocious ’80s synth groove – think Music for the Masses Depeche Mode – is a collab with Christine and the Queens. And in the unabashedly provocative video, she and Christine are done up in bondage-y garb, and tied to an all white car that seems to have been stripped of its identity (that metaphor could go a number of ways). As they struggle to break free, figurative sparks fly between them, until the entire set is ringed in fire.

What is eminently obvious is that none of this seems like staged pop-erotica. Rather, it comes off as an earnest exercise in exigent catharsis – one which is likely to start its own summer heatwave.

(N.B.  Charli XCX will be doing summer festival dates, including Pitchfork in Chicago and Reading in the UK.)

 

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Captivating New Salt Cathedral Single ‘muévelo’

 

 

We fell in love with Colombian-American duo Salt Cathedral last summer when we premiered the rather exuberant track “Rude Boy.” Now we find ourselves equally enthused about new single ‘muévelo’, which BlackBook premieres here.

A languidly sensual charmer, with Caribbean rhythms and a breezy, insouciant vibe, the title actually translates to “move it” – and the lyrics playfully switch back and forth between English and Spanish, a first for the pair. Singer Juli (whose musical partner is the equally truncated Nico) has never sounded so captivating, as she holds forth on the very relatable subject: is this friend possibly more than just a friend?

 

 

“‘muévelo’ is playful and fun,” she explains, “cause it’s about low key liking your best friend. You know, that boy or girl that you have fun times with but you’re unsure whether it crosses over to actual crush territory? Growing up in Colombia, we’d couple dance to similar beats in our teenage years, hoping the one you liked would dance with you; and so this song is like bringing that feeling back – Spanish and all!”

The single follows an amazing collab with Big Freedia & Jarina DeMarco titled “Go and Get It.” Salt Cathedral are also working on their debut album, but no release date has yet been set.

Björk Releases Hallucinatory New Video For ‘Tabula Rasa’

 

 

What we’ve come to particularly appreciate about Björk, is her ability to stare our stark, bleak reality in the eye, and then artistically interpret it into something seemingly so magical and fantastical. But with her particularly visceral 2017 single “Tabula Rasa,” it did appear as if she’d been philosophically pushed to the limit of late, and was coming out metaphorically swinging.

And despite the song’s pensive, ethereal sonics, her lyrics genuinely do not hold back in the least. Indeed, one can easily imagine them directed at any number of the so many cultivators of corruption and purveyors of perpetual injustice who are so perniciously choking our ideological air at the moment. “We are all swollen / From hiding his affairs / Let’s put it all on the table / Let it all out / It is time / He mustn’t steal our light,” Björk bewails with the force of a dozen hurricanes.

 

 

Now she’s released a rather hallucinatory new video for the single – and it is, as we’ve come to expect, like nothing we could have ever imagined. Directed by Tobias Gremmler, in it we see her floating, and relentlessly shapeshifting, as if unsure exactly what form to settle on. There’s an almost eerily beautiful quality to it all, as Björk appears part human, part flora, sprouting, and even seemingly giving birth, just as she utters the words, “Tabula rasa for my children.”

Of course, “tabula rasa” is Latin for “clean slate.” And considering the prodigious failures of men, it is surely time for a woman of her unstoppable force to step in and attempt to reset our reality.

“Break the chain of the fuckups of the fathers / It is time / For us women to rise and not just take it lying down / It is time / The world is listening.”

We are indeed, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir – we are indeed.

(N.B.  Björk and her label One Little Indian recently re-released all nine of her albums as colored cassettes; and she completes her final three shows at The Shed in New York this week.)

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: The Bodies Obtained’s Delirious New Synth-Pop track ‘Public View’

 

 

In an age when social media assures that everyone will be ever aware of what breakfast cereal and what brand of motor oil their favorite bands are partial to, Detroit’s The Bodies Obtained (a moniker nicked from the Joy Division song “Day of the Lords”) have maintained an almost absolute secrecy. Indeed, after eleven years and eight albums, they don’t even have a Wikipedia page.

But the prolific duo’s musical cup continues to runneth over. To wit, their ninth album, Fishtail, will be released this Friday, May 17 – and it pushes their experimentations with electronic manipulation and rhythmic peripheries to thrilling new frontiers. BlackBook – after enthusiastically debuting last year’s “Waxed Wings” – premieres here the first track from the new album, intriguingly titled “Public View.” It boasts one of their wickedest grooves to date, a berserk bombardment of galactic sounding synths, and a short machine gun fade out.

“‘Public View’ is a funky, bump and grind marching song in 2/4,” they tell us in a transmitted statement, “that has a bark-like vocal that starts rocking the political soapbox of what’s best for you, even if it’s not true.”

And in a post-truth world, what more could we possibly hope for?