For as many times as The Cure took us to the darkest recesses of the human psyche, Robert Smith also wrote some of the most joyful pop songs of his generation. And the new single by Hawk, “You Are The One I Want” (which BlackBook premieres here) perfectly recalls the post-punk pop exuberance of tracks like “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m in Love.”
The band, led by David Hawkins, also notably features Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, Morgan Fisher from Mott The Hoople, and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies. But the latter’s melodic bass lines readily call to mind those of Peter Hook, while the opulent atmospherics could arguably be traced back to singular aesthetic of late ’80s New Order.
The lyrical sentiment is simple—”You are the one I want / I think I hear the Angels calling”—but genuinely uplifting…especially at a time such as this.
“The lyrics came to me as I wrote the guitar line,” Hawkins explains, “and they speak to intense desire and yearning for union on several levels, including the spiritual. They also reverberate with a common theme for me, that of the Divine Feminine, which is so crucial to our collective evolution right now…the wisdom and compassion of the Goddess.”
Hawk‘s fourth album Fly, recorded in LA, Joshua Tree, Seattle, France and Tokyo (remember when we could all travel?), and is due out this May 15.
LA native Zolee Griggs definitively caught the public eye in the fall of 2019 via the first season of Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga, a stylized depiction of the formation of one of hip-hop’s most influential groups—and the interpersonal dramas which almost stopped it in its tracks. In it, Griggs plays Shurrie Diggs, the sister of Wu-Tang’s founder, RZA, and the de facto matriarch of the series.
Though An American Saga represents the start of a promising career on screen, the twenty-two-year-old is no stranger to the entertainment industry writ large. From a young age, she has been acting in commercials and doing photoshoots; and since the dawn of Instagram, she has been building a platform for the social causes she cares about. In addition to being an actor, Griggs is the founder of the mentorship program GRL:WMN, which allows women from ages fourteen to twenty to gather together, promote positivity, discuss mental health, and talk about what’s important to them.
In anticipation of the second season of the Wu-Tang Saga (no official release date yet), BlackBook caught up with Griggs to talk about social distancing, her six-month residency in New York, and the future of GRL:WMN.
How are you dealing with self-isolation?
Going insane—no, I’m doing fine. Just taking it day by day. But it is getting monotonous.
What are you doing to stay productive?
I’m trying to not be so lazy…just the simple things to give myself some kind of order. Getting up, making breakfast, taking care of my dog. Little things. Because that’s all I can do. I’ve watched so many movies and read so many books, I’m running out of things to do in the house.
What have you been watching?
A lot of ’80s and ’90s movies. Yesterday I watched Bowfinger and Woo. And that was pretty funny.
Are you a fan of old comedies?
No, that’s why I’m watching them. When I was younger, my parents didn’t let me watch a lot of movies. They’d keep to the age restrictions. Before I was thirteen, I couldn’t watch PG-13 movies. Now that I’m older, I’m venturing out and watching everything. I’m going back in time and catching up on things I should have seen years ago.
What drew you to acting when you were younger, and has that changed as you’ve gotten older?
I always performed at school and in church, I have been going to church since I was two. My grandmother was really heavy on singing in the church—she’s from the south, and the southern influences trickled down to me. So I was singing, being active with other kids, speaking—I had always done public speaking. I remember in preschool, we had performances with everybody, and that’s really what started it. I was just enjoying my presence on the stage and getting a reaction from the audience or people at church. Everybody just seemed pleasant and happy, and that inspired me to be pleasant and happy. I guess that’s what really triggered my acting.
How did the Wu-Tang role shape your acting?
I think becoming an adult is really what did it—I mean Wu-Tang added onto that—but when I turned eighteen, I had a conversation with my manager and agent, and they told me, “You’re eighteen now. The roles you’ll go out for are not just going to be teenage roles, they’re going to be serious, adult roles.” That’s when I started to take adult acting classes as well. And Wu-Tang, with it being such a serious show, opened my eyes to the fact that not everything is so easy. A lot of people believe think acting is easy; people watch movies all the time and are like, “I could do that.” And not that they can’t, but it’s a lot more than just crying on cue or being happy when someone tells you too. It’s more than just showing emotions for certain reasons.
What did you do to prepare for the roll of Shurrie Diggs?
I think the best thing, besides remembering everything I was taught in class, was moving to New York and working with Wu-Tang one-on-one. It was the best preparation, I’m not going to learn any better than from the people themselves, who actually lived this story—I mean I’m telling their story. And doing this all in New York for six months was even better. I’d been to New York before, but never been there for that long. So picking up everything I had and moving across the country to learn the culture was a beautiful experience. It helped me adapt, it was a fun learning process.
What advice did RZA give you to help portray the character, who’s really a composite of all his sisters?
We would do it based on the episode, we did them one at a time; I didn’t know what was going to happen during the next episode. Before we would start filming, I would get on a phone conference with Alex [Tse, Executive Producer] and RZA, and they would break down the script for me and answer any questions I had before we went over it on set. I was also lucky to have a meeting with Erika Alexander, who is my mom on the show, and one of RZA’s sisters. That was an amazing meeting, for us to sit down and have a personal chat about their lives.
Is it harder portraying a real character?
I take it more seriously, because I’m not making up a character, I’m literally portraying someone who already exists, who has had these experiences in real life. I needed to make sure that I was doing an accurate job while respecting and honoring these people’s lives… because that’s my job.
From an acting perspective, what were some valuable lessons that you left Season One with?
I think not letting your fears get in the way of things that you already know. Sometimes I don’t give myself credit, because I’m not, like, Robert De Niro. To tell yourself, “You know what you’re doing. You got it.” Sometimes those words of encouragement can be muffled by your own thoughts and humility. So I want to be more confident for Season Two, and not let fears hold me back. I feel really good about it.
What did you appreciate most about the experience?
Bonding with everybody outside of work, I really got to know everyone individually. The guys would show me around the city, and I became the little-big sister. Even though I’m the only girl and the youngest, I’m still the only girl. It’s funny, I’m kind of the matriarch in the show and in real life when we’re just hanging out. There’s a mutual bond and respect; I’m really fortunate to work with people who are fun, mature, and talented.
Tell us about your mentorship program, GRL:WMN.
It’s on hold because of everything that’s going on right now. But I’m working on bringing it back so it can be even bigger and better. If I can’t do things a certain way, I’m not going to do them at all. So I’m really taking my time, especially now, since I might have a bigger audience. I want to accommodate all the new young ladies and women.
What do you see for the program’s future?
The long-term goal is to take it on tour and travel around the nation. Public school reform is something that I’m really big on as well. I feel that the relationship that students and teachers have is not the best; same goes for the relationships that students have with each other, especially women. A great part of life is spent in schools, so I would love to be able to take the program to different schools and change the way young ladies interact with each other, change the way they speak with one another, and hopefully change how we interact with adults and teachers. It should be a cohesive unit, but it feels like a dictatorship at some schools—not all, but definitely at some.
And what does the future hold for you?
I have a couple guest-star roles on episodes of Boomerang, for BET. I did an indie film in January called Arch Enemy. I’m not sure when it comes out yet, but it should be really fun. It’s a sci-fi superhero movie—it’s really great. And it’s funny, since Wu-Tang came out I’ve had people tell me, “You would be great as Erykah Badu, if she did a biopic.” So I would love to do that if the opportunity ever arose, that’s a dream. But you know, dreams come true sometimes, so we’ll see.
If we wanted to extract some sense of the positive from this insidious pandemic, it’s that quarantining has perhaps forced many of us to slow down and reacquaint ourselves with the little things we generally take for granted. Books, for one: the unread novel, that epochal autobiography…and all those beautiful art books decorating our shelves that we’ve yet to crack. And considering that our great cultural institutions have been, like everything else, forced to close for the time being, the latter have taken a more exigent position in our lives right now.
Several new ones, specifically published as companions to now interrupted but exceedingly high-profile exhibitions, very much promise a unique perspective on the work of some of the most exalted artists of the last century. From Lucian Freud and Basquiat in Boston, Donald Judd in New York, and Picasso, Hockney and Cecil Beaton in London, each offers both a visceral and aesthetic escape into the minds of these incomparable geniuses, at a time when we most need to feel connected to the essential human creative spirit.
Despite painting some very famous people (Kate Moss, notably), Lucian Freud—grandson of Sigmund—was actually a well-documented recluse. Having passed away in 2011, he’s since been rapturously honored with retrospectives in London, Dublin and Vienna. This MFA Boston exhibition, Lucian Freud, The Self Portraits (March 1 – May 25), captures his most visceral essence, as his self-portraits were amongst the most emotionally piercing ever painted. The more than 40 works span nearly 70 years of his life, a visual autobiography, if you will.
A revolution unto himself, Jean-Michel Basquiat exploded into the art world at a time when another revolution was in full-swing; and he enthusiastically embraced hip-hop aesthetics and politics as influences (and likely influenced it back). The MFA Boston exhibition Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation (April 5 – August 20) juxtaposes his work with those who were defining the first wave of hip-hop/graffiti culture—Fab Five Freddy, Rammellzee, Kool Koor, Lady Pink—reminding of the exhilaration and tension of a time when the race line was being decisively crossed in a predominantly elitist art world. And, well, the paintings themselves are nothing less than poetry.
Despite Donald Judd having built a significant cult that seems to span generation after generation, his current show simply titled Judd (March 1 – July 11), at New York’s MOMA, is the first U.S. exhibition of his sculptures in more than thirty years. His minimalist forms and surprising use of materials still challenge our perceptions of what indeed might be considered contemporary sculpture. He probably even influenced IKEA.
While his ability to re-envision people, places and objects was arguably without peer, equally laudable was Picasso’s ostensibly effortless ability to work across a wide swath of mediums and materials. The exhibition Picasso and Paper (January 25 – April 13) fascinatingly enlightens how he manipulated paper as both a tool and a medium, with drawings becoming sculptures, sketchbooks revealing the seeds of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and studies for his monumental anti-war masterpiece Guernica packing a visceral wallop.
Still one of our greatest living artists, Hockney led the British division of Pop Art back in the ’60s, and despite weaving in and out of the zeitgeist, has not lost a step creatively since. The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition David Hockey, Drawing From Life is a stunning overview of his drawings from the late 1950s to the present day. A series of colored pencil portraits from his time in Paris in the early ’70s are featured, as well as self-portraits from a particularly prolific and profound period during the 1980s.
At a time when we are all forced to stay inside, viewing these Cecil Beaton photographs of the fabulous and rebellious of 1920s and ’30s Britain can make for glorious escapism. The “Bright Young Things,” as a flamboyant group of artists, writers and socialites came to be known (and who were bitingly satirized in Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies), are shown here in all their decadence, boundless creativity and utter fashionability. The glamorous images are accompanied by letters, drawings, book jackets and other ephemera.
1991’s criminally under-appreciated Impromptu, and Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning Gosford Park surely hinted at it. But 2018’s The Favourite—which nabbed ten Oscar noms and one win—decisively proved that comedy and poncey period costumes could be strange but ultimately riotous bedfellows.
Now follows the original Hulu period-comedy series The Great, in which Elle Fanning stars as the most exalted Russian ruler ever, Catherine the Great (thus, the title), with what promises to be a deliciously dry sense of humor. Nicholas Hoult plays her bumbling, feeble-minded husband Peter III, one of Russia’s most well-documented imperial embarrassments. He reigned for just six months, before Catherine staged a coup, and was then free to take the throne, and storm the pages of history.
Curiously, it follows quickly on the heels of HBO’s also pithily titled Catherine The Great, in which Helen Mirren played the empress later in life, and with a much more pronounced sense of gravitas (as well as a more caustic wit). But in the first trailer for Hulu’s latest entry in the historical romp sweeps, Hoult’s Peter is seen Trumpishly claiming, “I am the most beloved ruler in all of Russian history…don’t worry about the bodies.”
Fanning’s Catherine rightly counters, “I’m a prisoner here, married to an idiot.” Sound familiar?
Episode 1 of The Great is scheduled to debut May 15 on Hulu.
We live in a worsening culture of oversharing and “just be your authentic self-ness” that is enough to make the committed relativist reach for the nearest time machine.
Into this irksome reality comes the enigmatic French trio Carré (incidentally, the French word for “square”), armed with enough postmodern signifiers and puzzles to keep you busy for hours. First off, their debut single (which BlackBook premieres here) bears the amusingly self-aware title “This is not a band”…from their upcoming debut EP CARRÉ, out in May. And for all we can tell, they’re probably not a band. Maybe we’d even prefer to think of them as an “occurrence”?
And over a thundering electro soundscape—think Nitzer Ebb, Meat Beat Manifesto, Cold Cave—they (Julien Boyé, Jules de Gasperis, Keveen Baudouin) collectively shout, “This is not happening!” Perhaps it isn’t then.
In the accompanying video, they are seen wearing hyper-flashing “video boxes” on their heads, and the psychedelic dayglo backdrop only adds to the dizzying overall sensory effect.
“There’s something about not getting attached to the form,” Carré tell us, “when you step back and disengage yourself from the form, you become in touch with something more pure and spiritual, while remaining in the square.”
Curiously enough, we’ve actually never needed music to make us move more than we need it now. After all, sheltering-in-place can lead to a worryingly sedentary situation, if not given proper consideration. Dancing at home, also, can produce a temporary euphoria—and what could be more welcome at this moment?
So we enthusiastically embraced the arrival of the new Bedouin EP in our in-box. The five track release by the venerable Brooklyn house music duo—Tamer Malki and Rami Abousabe—notably centers on new single and title track “Whistleman” (along with two more new songs), which brings the sultry grooves, and layers them with exotic soundscapes and moody, if ostensibly aloof vocals/harmonies. The result is kind of like the sonic equivalent of 72 hours in Morocco and Brazil, recalling the cosmopolitan cool of the likes of Thievery Corporation and Aluminum Group.
The track appears in three forms on the EP, including a thundering, bass heavy remix by Pablo Fierro.
“We’ve been working on this EP for a few years,” Malki explains, “writing and producing the three original tracks separately, and then putting them together; because we felt they made a nice story that way.”
“Whistleman” was actually specifically written with their new label in mind, intriguingly titled Human by Default. Abousabe rightly reminds that being human is, actually, the only decision that is entirely out of our control.
“Every other choice in life we can make for ourselves,” he observes. “And we embrace this heavily, as artists in our quest to challenge everything we currently understand musically. The artists [on the label] encompass the careful balance between musical discipline and creativity, and have proven over and over the ability to create what we feel are the most forward thinking and honest expressions. After all, the most exciting thing remains to be what is not yet created.”
The opening credits for HBO’s The New Pope (gloriously starring John Malkovich as the Pope) is arguably one of the most brilliantly provocative uses of music in film or television—as Sofi Tukker’s hyper-sensual “Good Time Girl” plays against the backdrop of a blinking cross…the latter itself surely laden with metaphor.
It’s just one more reason to love the perpetually groovy international electro duo, who we’ve been exalting since they first popped up on the scene in 2014. And now we have another. The duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern who make up Sofi Tukker have taken to doing home DJ sets every day, surely one of the most inventive responses to the mass quarantining we’ve see yet.
The sets take place at 1pm daily on their Facebook and Instagram pages, a good excuse to skip lunch and instead just dance all the worry away.
“I was working out and Tuck was DJing and Squid started live streaming it,” Hawley-Weld recalls. “It felt really right to be sharing more of ourselves and sharing what we love, so we kept doing it. We’ve got to keep our bodies moving and our spirits alive during this time. It’s an opportunity for togetherness, even while we are all stuck at home.”
And Halpern promises, “We’re playing bangers. We’re playing music you will want to get down to!”
As well, the duo have just released a new Dillon Francis remix of “Purple Hat”, which is also guaranteed to get you on your feet.
Inspiration can take many forms; but often it’s hardship and instability that are the catalysts for the best art.
For Claire Cuny of Brooklyn-based avant-garde rockers Reliant Tom, the unexpected passing of her father in 2018—on the day of their debut album release no less—provided ample inspiration of the more somber sort, which she has since tapped into for the making of their follow up Play & Rewind. “Nevermind The Garbage” (which BlackBook premieres here) is the first single from the album, and is released this Friday, March 27.
“The song is about trying to return to a semi-normal routine,” Cuny explains, “by learning to manage the grief and anxiety that overcame me after the sudden loss of my father.”
Building from moody ballad, to Cobain-worthy midsection (it’s impossible not to think of him when the word “nevermind” is brought up), and ending in a sparse trance of harmonics, the track viscerally captures the rise and fall of emotions that came with the death. Of course, Cuny’s longing for a return to normality is something exceedingly relatable right now, as the coronavirus outbreak has left us with anything but.
We haven’t heard from our beloved Interpol since 2018’s excellent Marauder…but frontman Paul Banks has proven nothing if not reliably prolific since the New York quartet exploded onto the scene with 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights—even cultivating a worthy solo career on the side.
But his latest project Muzz is actually rather surprising: a trio with Matt Barrick of The Walkmen / Fleet Foxes, and Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman / Day of the Dead. And though there’s no word of a full album yet, they’ve just released this hauntingly pensive new single “Broken Tambourine,” which, if we might say, seems to call upon the ghosts of Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley for spiritual inspiration…while aesthetically harkening back to Peter Gabriel era Genesis.
The accompanying video is an ethereal meditation on the vastness and weightlessness of space—especially welcome at a time when most of us are feeling the anxious crush of reality, stuck for however long between the limits of our four walls.
It’s like nothing we’d ever expected from these three—but then, Banks’ far-reaching talents have never been in question, really. We eagerly look forward to more.