BlackBook Interview: Kim Petras on Madonna, Paris Hilton’s Closet & Being Really, Really Prolific

 

Image by Spencer Byron

 

A decade after transitioning, 2018 would be a pivotally explosive year for Kim Petras, the budding pop star, model, and all around fierce person who now calls Los Angeles her home. She tore up the stage at the Billboard Hot 100 Fest, strutted gloriously around New York Fashion Week, toured with Troye Sivan, and released a series of musical gems including the massive hit “Heart to Break,” which topped 16 million streams. Not enough? She also dropped the critically-acclaimed Halloween-themed mixtape Turn Off The Light Vol. 1.

Petras was also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for breaking barriers as Outstanding Music Artist alongside Janelle Monáe, Years & Years, and Christine & The Queens.

But 2019 finds her on a new mission: releasing singles at a lightning pace, which has netted the considerable likes of “Broken,” “Got My Number,” “Blow it All,” “Sweet Spot,” “Do Me,” and her most recent, “Personal Hell.” As she prepared for a much-buzzed-about show at Irving Plaza on Friday, June 14 – as part of a 20 date North American and European tour that takes her into September – we sat her down for a chat about it all.

 

You’re an independent artist. With this, you really have more control over your music and you’re using this power to release new tracks and projects on your own terms. What led to this strategy of releasing a new song each week? It reminds me of how Justin Bieber released his Journals album on a “Music Monday” basis before turning them into a compilation album. Is that the same idea here?

Kind of – yes! We wrote about 40-something songs for this new era. I was like “Okay, I want to start putting them out now and getting them done on the go.” We wanted to give ourselves the challenge of keeping up with it and finishing each of these songs in not a lot of time – having a song ready to go every week. That’s how it came about, really. Last era, I released a track a month, so it was also fun to pick the speed up. I never want to repeat myself, so it’s keeping things interesting. I like that my fans are looking forward to a new song every week – it keeps me going. It’s like a new episode of a TV show coming out every week.

You have hinted that upcoming songs are going to be a true representation of you, rather than the “club version” of you. Does that go for the music and the lyrics both?

I feel like I’m a different person every single day, but I think all it’s 100% me. For this particular era, I wanted it to feel like you’re hanging out with me when you listen. I’m kinda inviting you into my life – and into my problems, too. I feel like my fans are my friends and I want them to know what I’m going through, I want them to know that everyone gets sad sometimes. I want them to relate and put the songs on when they go through the same things. I want to make the soundtrack to their lives, not just their parties…even though I do think I’ve put out four party bops already this era: “Blow It All,” “Sweet Spot,” “Got My Number,” and “Do Me.” I feel like I’ve gotten more confident on this record to talk about the not-so-glamorous moments. I just now feel comfortable to kinda share that.

Can you confirm there will be an album? If so, how many songs can we expect, and how many are yet unheard?

There will be a project – I can say that. There are going to be plenty of songs on it, but if I give any of it away there’d be no surprise, it wouldn’t be fun, and life would suck. But there’s going to be a project, and this has all been leading up to something, so there’s no need to panic. I see you Twitter stans! I love you and I’ve got you. (N.B. – As this interview went to press, it was announced that eight of her singles would be gathered, along with four as yet unheard, for a collection titled Clarity, released this June 27th.)

 

 

How do you feel about Madonna doing the same thing at the same time? Was there any competition there?

I loved it! I’m so here for her. That we started the exact same week doing that was iconic. She’s my favorite pop star of all time. No competition at all. She’s the queen.

With New Music Fridays and CDs being borderline obsolete, the music industry is becoming a revolving door of new songs. How do you think this is going to change how artists release music going forward?

I think this is the new wave. This is the way to do it, especially for me as a new artist breaking into the industry. I think it’s an amazing way to keep yourself out there, rather than taking a year off. For me personally, I just think that if the song is a hit, it’ll do well. It doesn’t really matter what the strategy behind it is. In the streaming era, it’s important to constantly drop new music, I don’t think you can take time off anymore as an artist.

With so many songs out, your fans are waiting for visuals to accompany them. Are there videos in the works? Can you give an idea of what they will look like?

There are things in the works, but I can’t share anything just yet. There is going to be a music video – or maybe multiple ones, who knows? There are going to be visuals for sure, but I’m really happy with the lyric videos and visualizers that I have now. I think they’re really cool and cohesive, and for me, as an OCD artist, they’re really visually pleasing.

 

 

You’re about to embark on your first headlining tour, the Broken Tour, which quickly sold out in the US and Europe. What can we expect to see?

Well, this is my first, official headlining tour. It’s the first time that I get to make the stage what I want it to be, that I get the visuals I want, that I get to make the setlist what I want it to be and get to use the whole stage. So, it’s going to be exactly how I want it to be, which is amazing. When you’re playing in clubs, which I’ve done for years and years, you’re using whatever’s there and you take whatever you can get. I don’t think anybody expected the tour to sell out as quickly as it did. It kinda surprised all of us, so it was pretty amazing, and it felt really great. I’ve very thankful and feel very blessed.

I believe that manifestation is real, so let’s speak something into the universe and make it happen. Who would your dream collaboration be with?

Right now…Post Malone! I’m a huge fan and think he’s an amazing writer. I love his sound and listen to him a lot – he’s incredible.

Last question, and possibly our most hard hitting: If you had to pick one closet to shop out of for the rest of your life: Paris Hilton or David Bowie?

Paris Hilton all day! I’ve been in her closet, it’s amazing. She has the best closet out there…definitely.

 

Image by Thom Kerr

Evocative New Book ‘Miami Beach 1988-1995’ Captures the City in All its Pre-Millennial Iconoclastic Beauty

 

 

Miami, like other major American cities in the 1970s (ahem, New York) watched helplessly as its glory days gave way to a drug-riddled war zone, one that left hollowed out landmarks and blocks of Art Deco hotels in rueful ruins. Hindered by corrupt law enforcement and a significant Latin American narcotics pipeline, it struggled along until the latter end of the ’80s, when a music/fashion driven revitalization began to at last introduce new hope.

During that time – 1988, to be specific – Barry Lewis, a London based photographer on a family vacation, was captivated by the newfound vitality and the diverse group of people that were bringing life back to the once trendsetting destination. So much so that over the next seven years, he made Miami his home base, documenting the snowbirds, the flourishing LGBT scene, the Cuban expat community and finally, the tres fashionable crowd, through his all-seeing photographic lens.

 

 

The stunning new book Miami Beach 1988-1995 is a collection of Lewis’ evocative black and white photographs from that time, that before now had never been made available to the public. From drag queens and models on the Ocean Drive party circuit, to the migration of retirees from the north and Cubans from the south, readers are taken on a visual tour of the eccentric and lovable characters that revived this tropical paradise. And to give it some palpable chronological context, this was all before the infamous 1997 assassination of Gianni Versace in front of his mansion at 1116 Ocean Drive.

No stranger to photojournalism, Lewis, who earned a humanitarian award for photography in 1990, has worked with magazines from Life to National Geographic, been exhibited at the V&A and other museums, and produced numerous films and books – this latest of which, certainly, is possessed of a particularly personal resonance.

Miami Beach 1988-1995 is published by Hoxton Mini Press and distributed by ACC Art Books.

 

 

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.

Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren’s New Book ‘My 90s’ Documents Rock’s Last Wild Decade

 

 

While the 1990’s, as with every era, had its share of musical abominations (two decades is still not enough time to absolve Creed and Nickelback), it was in other ways an extremely fertile period of musical creativity, giving us Britpop cheek (Oasis, Blur, Pulp), the mainstreaming of hip-hop (Tupac, Jay-Z), and the rise to mega-stardom of the once-fringe-dwelling likes of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins.

And down in D.C., Shudder To Think were sort of evolving the “mission” of DC hardcore label Dischord, with their jittery but heady brand of modern art rock.

Fronted by singer/guitarist Craig Wedren, STT thrived throughout the decade, signing to Epic Records in ’94, even while Wedren battled Hodgkin’s disease. And by the time of their demise in ’98 (remember when bands used to actually break up?), they had left a lasting influence for so many new bands to draw upon. Oh, and Jeff Buckley, Incubus and Pearl Jam had been counted amongst their fans.

 

 

Wedren went on to considerable success as a film and TV composer, penning the scores to Laurel CanyonWet Hot American Summer, and countless others. So it comes as little surprise to learn that he’s also adept with a still camera; and a new, limited edition book, My ’90s – Polaroids by Craig Wedren, strikingly bears that out.

In it, he returns to those wild pre-Millennium times, when he documented Shudder to Think’s life on the road with the fellow zeitgeisters of the era, via a Polaroid Spectra. In his charmingly grainy, sometimes even surreal style, he captured members of Fugazi, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, even Rain Phoenix and Karen Elson of socio-political troupe Citizens Band. There’s also a shot of STT’s Nathan Larson recording their contribution to the glam rock film Velvet Goldmine; a Vanity Fair party at Cannes; actress Frances McDormand seated with director Jim Jarmusch also at the exalted South of France film festival; and a several almost hallucinogenic scenery snaps.

Still a busy boy these days, Wedren’s most recent soundtrack projects have included GLOW and the critically acclaimed Aidy Bryant Hulu series Shrill. His excellent 2018 album Adult Desire Expanded includes the single “2Priests” – which he will be playing live July 13 with once-labelmates Jawbox at the Regent Theater in Los Angeles.

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Disquieting New Sanctuary Lakes Video For ‘The Long Fade Away’

Image by Jackson Dickie 

 

It’s an intriguing pairing, to be sure: Andrew Szekeres from Midnight Juggernauts, and Tim Hoey from Cut Copy, both Melbourne bands who have been significant participants/contributors to the post-Millennium new new wave. They are now collaborating under the moniker Sanctuary Lakes, and advance single “The Long Fade Away” certainly does not disappoint – though it’s admittedly nothing like one might have expected from them.

Indeed, with its “Space Oddity” intro (mellifluously strummed acoustic guitars, fluttery synths), it hints at something decidedly more introspective. It eventually settles aesthetically somewhere between a Cocteau Twins lament and Beatles psychedelia, at once both sonically widescreen and intimately, affectingly poignant.

 

 

The accompanying Christopher Hill and Jackson Dickie directed video, which BlackBook premieres here, shows the pair crossing a seemingly endless expanse of desert, looking rather hopeless about their situation. About three minutes in, they at last reach the ocean, walking straight into the waves until they disappear from sight – a rather unsettling image, that is nevertheless not necessarily what it seems.

“We wanted Sanctuary Lakes to sound like the entire record is submerged in water,” Hoey explains, “creating a feeling of comfort rather than distress. We worked with long time collaborators Chris and Jackson and set off down the coast of Victoria [Australia] in the middle of a heatwave and impending sandstorm to bring this vision to life.”

The duo’s self-titled debut album is out June 21 on Cutters Records, but is available now for pre-order.

Watch: Enigmatic New Ocean Blue Video for ‘All The Way Blue’

 

 

When The Ocean Blue dazzled their way onto the scene in 1989 with their ethereal, self-titled debut, it was as if, despite being American, they had ideologically set out to sublimely encapsulate everything that was monumental about British post-punk and its aftermath throughout the decade that was then coming to a close. Indeed, there was The Smiths’ ineffable melancholy, the chiming guitars and widescreen atmospherics of Echo & The Bunnymen, and, most especially, a Postcard Records sort of way with a curiously unforgettable melody and hook.

They never officially actually broke up – but their output has been limited to one album (2013’s Ultramarine) since 2004. And so the announcement of a glittering new long player, the floridly titled Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves (out June 21 via Korda Records) was not in the least insignificant.

 

 

No surprise, the first single “Kings and Queens” could have been an outtake from the Bunnymen’s legendary Ocean Rain album. But follow up “All The Way Blue” (along with its enigmatic video) has really pushed our new wave nostalgia buttons, being as a resplendently striking Ultravox homage, which finds frontman David Schelzel most transcendently pleading, “Show me the colors you see / Show me the colors of romance” over spectral piano plinking and gloriously opulent synth swells – almost as if to suggest 1983 had somehow found its way back to our present day (and grunge, most wonderfully, never happened.)

As if it need be said, we expected nothing less from The Ocean Blue.

N.B.  The luminous quartet play 16 scattered live dates between now and December, including an already much-buzzed-about appearance at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on June 23.

 

 

‘BlackBook Presents’ to Unveil L.A. Artist ThankYouX’s Debut NYC Exhibition This June

 

 

 

The graffiti culture that exploded onto nearly every available surface in 1970s New York City was to a great degree about disenfranchisement and disillusionment – and it was generally pretty pissed off. But from the start, LA artist Ryan Wilson set out to employ the style in the service of a distinctly more positive message: paying sincere homage to none other than Andy Warhol.

The Pop Art giant had greatly inspired a young Wilson, and the latter began stenciling tributes, or “thank yous” around the city. Art blogs quickly labeled the mysterious artist with the intriguing moniker ThankYouX (essentially, because of the “X” he would put below each finished piece) – and a genuine phenomenon was born. It decisively took off when one Demi Moore publicly declared herself a fan in 2010.

Officially rebranded, ThankYouX became a sensation, with Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel commissioning a series of 13 portraits – including Nelson Mandela and Daft Punk – from him, and, in an astonishing acknowledgement of his talent, a request coming from Paul McCartney’s people for a portrait of the legendary Beatle.

 

Map to Malibu

 

“It took me forever,” Wilson recalls, “because I wanted it to be right. I actually made two pieces for him – I figured the better one would be for him, and I wanted to keep the other one, almost as a trophy or something. That was a big time for me. I was starting to get more recognition and began pursuing art full time.”

Eventually, with a desire to evolve his artistic scope, he began exploring more abstract concepts and ideas. His experiments led him to create a series of colorful “cube” based patterns, which seemed at once sort of retro and psychedelic, but also technological and futuristic.

Throughout the ensuing years he was also building a significant national and international following, with his works exhibited from Miami to NYC, Hong Kong to London.

 

Meet Me In The Mystery

 

And at last this June 20, the BlackBook Presents gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn, will unveil his debut New York solo exhibition. Focused on his latest series of abstract works, the show, titled Movement, in many ways conveys the rare sense of serenity and tranquility that he is able to achieve by way of the artistic process – even if what ends up on the canvas appears to be quite a bit more turbulent. He explains, “I’ve never been able to sit still and be calm, except when I am inside the chaos of a painting.”

The new work may surprise some of his early advocates. But like most creatives, the need to challenge himself meant moving beyond image-based work. Now, with Movement, he reveals just how far this direction has taken him into the realm of abstraction and, it could be said, enigma – he is, in a sense, urging the viewer to dig a little deeper to find meaning, and to experience a multitude of emotions while doing so.

Paintings like State Of Dreaming and Meet Me In The Mystery, especially, appear to be doorways to the esoteric and otherworldly.

 

State of Dreaming

 

“I like paintings that I don’t understand right away,” he says. “And recently I felt like I wanted to take it one step further, to almost imagine what it would look like if you put one of my cube paintings under a microscope, and looked at all of its pores and layers.”

Of course, with “street art” now hanging in office buildings and some of the more exalted, traditional cultural institutions around the globe, does the term still resonate for him? Or is it perhaps time to conceive a new way of codifying the genre?

He surmises, “The term has become known more as a style than an act of rebelliousness. When I was putting a lot of art in the streets at night, I was doing it because I loved the feeling it gave me. But if it’s in the streets then, yeah, I guess you can call it street art. If it’s in a gallery or an office, then it’s just art. But I do love seeing people who used to be in the streets now doing well in galleries. It’s inspiring.”

Movement, the debut New York solo exhibition by ThankYouX, will be at the BlackBook Presents gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn, from June 20 to August 18.

 

Centre of the Parade

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Poignant New Arthur Moon Single ‘Homonormo’

Image by  Lissy Laricchia

 

Arthur Moon is not actually a person. Rather, it is the chosen nom de guerre of Brooklyn-based songstress Lora-Faye Åshuvud. And it technically encompasses the fellow musicians who count themselves as her musical accomplices: Wyclef Jean collaborator Cale Hawkins, and This American Life composer Martin D. Fowler.

Impressively difficult to pin down aesthetically, Noisey has compared her to Anna Calvi (we definitely get that) and Paper likened her sound to a Kandinsky painting (we get that too). And just in time for Pride Month, BlackBook is honored to premiere the equally iconoclastic but also impossibly catchy new single “Homonormo.” Over a languid, sensual beat, captivatingly effected harmonies make nice with Krautrocky organ swells and spiky calypso-flamenco guitar bursts – all without seeming the slightest bit over-concepted.

And it’s all about the dilemma of…assimilation.

 

 

She explains, “If we ‘settle down,’ do my partner and I become a part of some respectability politics nightmare, where gay people are only okay if they mimic the structures of straight society? Do we further alienate everyone who doesn’t want that/doesn’t fit that/can’t do that?”

At a time when the LGBTQ community faces increasingly direct threats to their basic human rights, not just here but around the globe, those questions could not be more relevant, or more poignant.

“Writing ‘Homonormo,'” she recalls, “I was thinking a lot about what it is that we have to gain when we fail at living within some prescribed definition of ‘success’ or ‘normalcy.’ Like Jack Halberstam says: ‘The queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the unremarkable. It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being.'”

Arthur Moon’s self-titled debut album will be released on vinyl July 12, via Vinyl Me, Please, and on all formats August 2. A 10-date North American tour, opening for Oh Land, will launch on September 24 at the Bell House in Brooklyn.

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: The Mysterious Wilder Woods’ Soulful New Single ‘Supply & Demand’

 

 

It’s nearly impossible to retain a “hidden” identity in this age of rampant social media saturation and privacy invasion. But a genuinely mysterious artist going by the nom de guerre Wilder Woods stirred up a bit of chatter earlier this spring with a couple of intriguing singles – “Someday Soon” and “Sure Ain’t” – whilst somehow still managing to remain shrouded in secrecy.

But he at last gave up the riddle this past week, as Wilder Woods was in fact revealed to be Bear Rinehart of Needtobreathe. Still and all, the singles keep coming – and latest, “Supply & Demand,” which BlackBook premieres here, is surely the best of them to date.

 

 

A sultry, sensual bit of classic Motown-soul that sounds straight out of 1972, it comes complete with dramatic strings, slinky wah-wah guitar, and an absolutely unstoppable hook. Lyrically, it’s about the healing power of true love – and there’s certainly nothing more we need right now than exactly just that.

“Sometimes the hardest part about loving someone,” he explains, “is knowing what they need when they need it. It sounds a lot simpler than it is, but ‘Supply & Demand’ is a classic love song about figuring out what that is. It might be something romantic, or a lot of times in my case, it starts with doing something selfless.“

 

 

The trio of tracks are teasers for what will be his eagerly awaited debut album, due out August 9 via Atlantic. In the meantime, we have the exclusive announcement of a 27-date North American and European tour, stretching the length of September and October, dates below.

“You always hear about bands ‘finding’ their sound,” WW/BR says of the upcoming album. “I don’t know if I really understood how difficult, but important, that journey really is until I went on it myself.  We ended up with a record that weaves its way between the classic soul artists that I love and a more modern, alternative way of producing them. You can certainly hear influences from Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, all the way to The Temptations and even Springsteen – but I’m proud of how different it actually is from all those things.”

As well he should be.

 

 Wilder Woods on Tour

September

5              Toronto, ON                       Mod Club
7              Philadelphia, PA                World Café Live
8              Cambridge, MA                 The Sinclair
9              Brooklyn, NY                      Music Hall of Williamsburg
11           Washington, DC                9:30 Club
13           Raleigh, NC                         Lincoln Theatre
14           Charlotte, NC                     The Underground
15           Birmingham, AL                WorkPlay Theatre
18           Atlanta, GA                         Terminal West
19           Nashville, TN                      The Basement East
23           Chicago, IL                           Metro
24           Minneapolis, MN             Fine Line Music Café
25           Madison, WI                       Majestic Theatre
27           Lawrence, KS                     The Granada Theater
28           Omaha, NE                          Slowdown
30           Denver, CO                         Bluebird Theater

October

2              Salt Lake City, UT              Metro Music Hall
4              Portland, OR                       Hawthorne Theatre
6              San Francisco, CA             The Independent
7              West Hollywood, CA       Troubador
20           Hamburg, DE                      Hakken
21           Cologne, DE                        Helios 37
23           Paris, FR                               1999 Club
24           Amsterdam, NL                 Paradiso
25           Glasgow, UK                       King Tuts
27           Manchester, UK                Deaf Institute
28           London, UK                         Camden Assembly