Down To Flux: An Interview Of Ezra Miller's Band Sons of an Illustrious Father

text by Darren Luk

Sons Of An Illustrious Father is a three piece indie band that's very DTF. Down To Flux that is. Based in New York, the quirky members Lilah Larson, Josh Aubin and Ezra Miller (who you would perhaps recognize as an actor in films like We Need to Talk About Kevin, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or his role as The Flash) enjoy defying genre conventions and sharing center stage, alternating between instruments and vocals. They've once called their sound future folk and heavy meadow, but avoid being defined, always experimenting with their sound and making DIY video clips. Although they don't take themselves too seriously, the subject matters that they do explore within their music, continually contributes to social, cultural and political conversations that encompass racial, gender and other global issues. Having released a new album 'Revol' this year and been on tour, we thought it would be fitting to give them a call to catch up on what they've been up to, how their music comes together, issues they are concerned with right now and their favorite phone app.

DARREN LUK: Hey, how are you guys going?

LILAH: Hello! Good, how are you going?

LUK: Good, good! What's happening on your side of the world?

LILAH: I mean generally on our side of the world, it's freaky. We're not doing such a great job as a nation, but as a band in this studio, I think we're killing it.

LUK: You've had a busy year touring, playing at SXSW and released an album 'Revol'. How are you feeling as we come to the end of the year?

JOSH: It's been a roller-coaster.  It's been a wild year you know? There's been a lot of learning and feeling.

LILAH: You sound like you’re saying all the things you should say to answer that question.

JOSH: Isn't that what I'm supposed to be saying in situations like now?

LILAH: Yes Josh, yes.

LUK: How would you describe some of the best or worst things that's happened on tour?

EZRA: It's like looking for a book in a library and trying to choose one.

JOSH: …Or choosing your favorite page of a book. When you think of a book, you don't think of the individual pages but maybe a blurb of what the book was, and it's more about the essence of the book rather than the page.

LILAH: It's kind of a radical feminist speculative fiction à la Ursula K. Le Guin I would say.

JOSH: Yes, I would also agree with Ursula K. Le Guin.

LILAH: That's the book we've been living in, that we are characters of.

EZRA: It involves things like going to a park in Washington D.C. and meeting a group of circus performers and having one of them teach us about self realization.

JOSH: Did that happen?

LILAH: Yeah! Remember?

JOSH: Oh yes.

EZRA: Or wandering through a lightening storm and holding each other in fear and awe.

LUK: That sounds like a good metaphor!

LILAH: That's not a metaphor [laughs], that actually happened at SXSW.

EZRA: We are living metaphors.

LILAH: Yea, a lot of our experiences are good metaphors.

LUK: Do you have any interesting rituals you guys do like before gigs?

JOSH: Yes!

LILAH: We always hold each other and make eye contact, and sometimes sync our breath to become present.

EZRA: We give thanks. We tell each other that we love one another and that we're thankful for our time. That's the essence. There's a lot of secret rituals, layers and layers from there, but that's what we make sure to do before any show.

LUK: You are all talented multi-instrumentalists. What are your earliest memories of music and how you started?

LILAH: I grew up pretending to play instruments before I could play instruments. My earliest memory was being  around instruments and just knowing I was going to play them.

EZRA: I remember a specific drum when I was very young. Some sort of street fair, and there was a drum that could be played even by belligerent children.

LILAH: Yea, I had a tiny, very poorly executed replica of one of Elvis' guitars with his signature on it. It wasn't practically useful but I fake played it.

JOSH: My parents kept a keyboard under their bed, but I was too shy to play it when they were home. When they left the house I would sneak up into their bedroom and play the keyboard under the bed.

LILAH: I did not know that, is that real?

JOSH: Who knows.

EZRA: What was the keyboard really… in this real life metaphor? What's the keyboard beneath your parents bed?

JOSH: Well, just under the bed was a storage of space.

LILAH: Ah, a storage space.

LUK: How do you feel like the dynamic between the three of you influences the way you create your music?

EZRA: It's integral.

JOSH: It's integrated.

EZRA: [laughs] .. It's integral and then integrated.

LILAH: I think that the fact that we are so intimate with each other in our every day lives, and in our relationships in general, creates a space that allows us to be very exploratory in music. We all feel really safe to be weird and vulnerable together and I think that's crucial for whatever artistic goodness we achieve.

LUK: Within the band all three of you interchange between roles, singing and playing different instruments for different tracks. How does the music usually come together and what's the process like?

LILAH: Usually the songs either of us predominantly sing in, we have written at least the bulk of. But, increasingly there are songs that any one of us writes, some parts we feel a certain person should be singing. I think that's just another thing, knowing each other so well and being so comfortable with one another, it happens at this point quite organically. It's just a shared inner knowledge.

EZRA: It's cool because, on this work we are recording right now, there's a song that all of us sing different parts of, that two of us wrote different parts to. There's another song that was written completely collaboratively. There's an evolution, where there are songs that have completely come from a collaborative process instead of just one of us bringing a song to the band. That's always sort of our interest - to keep pushing the boundaries of that interpersonal communion further.

JOSH: We're learning to work together better.

LUK: It's an interesting evolution. In your latest album Revol, you have three songs each that you've each written separately and then worked-shopped together, but how do you choose what works more cohesively in an album?

EZRA: I think we try not to worry. The ship flies itself. We just follow the instructions and remember to work together…

LILAH, JOSH, EZRA: … As a space team.

EZRA: The real answer is that we go through funny dramatic processes to find ordering. A lot of it, is about feeling our transitions and how they give us a sequitur, psychologically or emotionally. So if one song ends like "ooo" then the next songs comes in like "eeeeeerrr."

LUK: What are some challenges you've come across being a band that seeks to defy normative standards in genre, gender and idea conventions?

LILAH: I mean, I think the first difficult thing for anyone in any context trying to defy normative standards is how much the external world wants to keep you inside those standards and maintain them. That's certainly true for us as a band. People have a lot of trouble, for one thing, with the idea that there are three singers and no one person only plays one instrument. It's mostly just about the difficulty, just like having the courage and conviction and righteous indignation, to remember despite what other's externally might impose, that we know what we're doing, we're doing it right, and that's true of person gender expression and also as band, being a weird band.

LUK: Are you guys experimenting on new sounds at the moment?

LILAH: We have a new drum called Tom Cat.

JOSH: Actually, we've kind of had two new drums, compared to the last album.

EZRA: Yea, we're working with more electronic sounds, digital and analogue. There's definitely a new sound. I don't think we've endeavored to attempt to describe or define it yet, but it's maybe we can call it…

LILAH: …Genre queer…our sound uses they, them and their pronouns (laughs).

EZRA: It's like alternative television show theme song.

LILAH: Yea, it's like if you took the instrumental from a musical theatre play and asked a moderately skilled punk band to play it (laughs).

LUK: Your music always explores and actively voices about social, cultural and political issues. What are some issues that you are particularly concerned with right now?

EZRA: Stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline in solidarity with Oceti Sakowin [Camp] and the confederation of tribes that are resisting this pipeline. It seems like it's becoming the paramount issue, one of the great fights of our lives. It's such a critical moment for Indigenous people, First Nations people drawing a line in the sand when it comes to environmental destruction, which is the brink we are on as a species and it's not a drill. I think that it seems like this pipeline becomes the living metaphor as well as the very actual dire call to arms for people interested in, even the short term future of our survival on this planet.

LUK: If you guys were the President for the day, what would you change or do?

EZRA: Enough stuff that we weren't the president anymore.

LILAH: I was going to say, just start a nation state, declare anarchy, formally disband The United States of America and renounce my imperial crown (laughs).

LUK: Ezra, being in an indie band and also working on Hollywood films as well, how do you feel, kind of walking the line between these two different worlds?

EZRA: I think that fine line is a strange way to put it, because at the end of the day we're all just trying to make good work in our various mediums. We come together as a band to be a sort of a single instrument, to have this single medium together. But that's just one of the things that really powers us. I think it's really healthy in the way that each of us express through our own channels separately outside of the band. It's like in a partnership where both people having good stuff happening in their lives.

JOSH: Something like that.

LUK: Are you working on projects separately, musically as well?

LILAH: Yeah, we're all always writing and playing in some capacity on our own. I'm releasing a solo album in January. We're always scheming and working, and scheming when we can be together as much as possible.

LUK: What would you say some of your music influences that you resonate with?

JOSH: The Muppets.

LILAH: The Muppets...let’s see…Patti Smith...

EZRA: The Band.

LILAH: Yea, I'm comfortable with that selection for the day.

LUK: Obviously you guys are tight-knit friends. What do you guys do outside of music?

JOSH: As friends or as enemies?

LUK: I guess, both!

JOSH: Laser tag is epic

LILAH: We're really into the show Daredevil. We watch it together.

EZRA: Yea, we also play Spaceteam the app game.

LILAH: We have a lot of really good meals.

EZRA: We're really into food.

LILAH: We're really good with meals.

EZRA: We do dance and we talk a lot.

LILAH: We talk so much.

JOSH: I spend a lot of time listening, and they spend a lot of time talking.

LILAH: It's not, not true.

LUK:Do you have any hobbies?

LILAH: I like to ferment things.

JOSH: I like the play games.

EZRA: I like archery.

JOSH: I like hiking

EZRA: I like hiking and camping, spending time with nature.

JOSH: Nature's a good thing to spend time with.

LUK: What's your favorite invention and why?

LILAH: I think that funnels are amazing. It's a principle for so many things. You need a funnel for making coffee. A funnel in general is a really important invention. You need them for cars, you need them for coffee.

JOSH: College parties.

LILAH: Any sort of pouring, beers, keg stands

EZRA: My favorite invention is Lilah's favorite hobby.

LILAH: Fermentation, pickling.

LUK: What's a secret talent you have?

LILAH: As far as skills, Josh has an eerie ability to name the year that a film came out.

JOSH: Try me.

LUK: Okay, hmm...how about Blade Runner?

JOSH: 1982

LUK: Let me Google this. Ok…you're right, it's 1982!

EZRA: Ohhh, that's amazing. When you test something like that and like, oh gosh is it going to work when you put this much attention on it, and it does, it's just spectacular.

LUK: What about you two?

EZRA: I'd say the edge where a secret becomes sharable for me in terms of skills sets, would be overtone singing.

LILAH: I'm really good at cutting hair.

LUK: If Sons of Illustrious we’re superheroes, what would be their power and saving people from?

EZRA: We would be a triumvirate sonic superheroes in the most basic sense, if we really analyze what's going on here, from a comic book perspective. We create this triangulation of sound capable of moving things, like the hearts of listeners anywhere.

LILAH: Through a synergistic, telepathic exertion we can heal and move the hearts of those around us.

JOSH: Sound power!

LILAH: A mix of telepathy and sound power.

EZRA, LILAH, JOSH: Working together.. as a space team.

LUK: What's this little thing about space team?

EZRA: It's the app that we told you about we play called Spaceteam.

LILAH: The great producer Howard Bilerman introduced us to this game and we are forever thankful.

LUK: And it's a multi player game?

EZRA: It's a multi player game. You control a spaceship together, sort of Star Trek style.

JOSH: You kind of don't control the spaceship, the ship flies itself.

LILAH: But, you try to prevent catastrophe together. You have to turn all the dials and stuff, and give each other instructions.

EZRA: What's great is that it's not only a great way to past time, but also wonderful communication game, where you have to listen and speak up simultaneously. It's very good for bands.

LILAH: It's perfect for bands.

EZRA: And it fills those gaps of time between a sound check and your show. We highly recommend it.

LUK: Cool I'll check it out! Do you have any upcoming projects for 2017?

LILAH: Well, we're in the studio right now, working on an album.

EZRA: There's literally a track being mixed in the room behind us. Oliver Ignatius, we're at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen which is a place very near and dear to our hearts. An amazing recording studio, and sort of centre HQ of a musical familial movement happening in Brooklyn, New York. It's great to be back here. We've worked with Oliver for a long time and feel really comfortable with our process with him. He's such a gift to that process. There's a bunch of playing shows, making videos and releasing songs coming up.

LUK: Lastly, for people who haven't heard of know Sons Of An Illustrious Father. How would you describe it three words?

LILAH: Music for you (laughs)… terrible.

EZRA: Down to flux.


Click here to download Sons Of An Illustrious Father's most recent album. text and interview by Darren Luk. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Patron Saint Of The Impossible: An Interview Of South African Hip Artist Dope Saint Jude

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text by Keely Shinners

Who is Dope Saint Jude? For one thing, she is subversive: a self-produced black queer woman from South Africa who is breaking into the cis-male dominated hip hop scene. She is cool: tattoos, leather, glitter on her lips; she has guys on gold chains in her music videos, and next week she is flying to France for the second leg of her tour. She is revolutionary: using hip hop and mad aesthetics as a means to talk about queer visibility, the politics of the brown body, the radical act of self-empowerment. Dope Saint Jude drinks coffee with you, talks about going back to school to legitimize and expand her political consciousness. Days later, you are sharing a joint and dancing at a party for which the theme is “70s DISCO, BLACK EXCELLENCE, and INEVITABLE SHINE.” In essence, Dope Saint Jude resists clean definitions. She is multi-faceted and she expands to include narratives we don’t normally read together.

Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius and I sat down to talk about making art that is radical and dope, political and accessible, impossible and, as it turns out, possible for those with the courage to love themselves.

KEELY SHINNERS: Who is Dope Saint Jude? Is she a persona?

DOPE SAINT JUDE: Dope Saint Jude started out as a persona that embodies everything that I want to be: powerful, bold, unapologetic, zero fucks to give. But Catherine and the character Dope Saint Jude are slowly becoming one person. Dope Saint Jude is the epitome of everything I want to be. Performing as Dope Saint Jude, in itself, is such an incredible process. It’s changing my life. It’s changing the type of person I am. It’s made me more confident. Maybe I would have wanted to travel. Before, it was just a dream. Dope Saint Jude is worldly. As a girl coming from the Cape Flats, the prospect of traveling was a very far away idea. Now, it’s a part of my everyday life. Like, next week, I’m going to France.

SHINNERS: That’s amazing. 

SAINT JUDE: It’s also been such a cathartic and therapeutic process, performing as Dope Saint Jude. The persona is not just a persona. It’s become a tool transforming my reality. Even going back to school has informed me. I listen to my own music, which is about being bold, being excellent, and pushing the boundaries of your potential. So I listen to my music, and I think, “I have to live my best life. I have to study. I have to be excellent.” 

SHINNERS: The imagination is becoming a reality. That’s really hopeful for enacting change.

SAINT JUDE: It’s not just an empty persona that just exists for the performance. It’s actively transforming my reality and realities of everyone I work with. I place a very strong emphasis on collaboration. The whole spirit of Dope Saint Jude is not just limited to me. It’s not selfish. It’s growing. I’m working with other young creatives who are doing inspiring things. We’re motivated and inspired by each other. It’s an explosive thing.

SHINNERS: Young creatives in Cape Town are doing really amazing things. Talking to people, it seems that some people are really disillusioned by the art world in Cape Town, while others are really inspired. Where do you fall?

SAINT JUDE: I feel quite inspired by it, but I understand why people feel disillusioned. I reclaim space, don’t give any fucks, and make my own reality. If there’s no space for me to showcase, I’ll create my own. In that spirit, that’s why it’s important for us to create our own art, to collaborate, to create space when people don’t want us. Being a queer artist here in Cape Town, there’s not really a platform for me. I’ve made my name overseas. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. I can’t earn a living here. But I’m exciting about developing the art and music scene here.

SHINNERS: So you’re doing a little bit of both, going abroad and making your own space here? 

SAINT JUDE: Exactly. I think you have to do a little bit of both. We live in an international community now that we have the Internet. I meet you now, I might bump into you in a different country. That’s the lifestyle we live now. Or that some of us are afforded; not everyone is that privileged. You’re in the global sphere; you can’t contain yourself in Cape Town and South Africa. But at the same time, we’re in a weird space here. Everyone is looking for Cape Town artists, but there is no tightly-bound Cape Town art community. It’s a divide and conquer mentality. Everyone is doing their own thing separately, trying to make money, instead of us coming together and working as one. It’s because we’re poor. If we had money and resources, we would be able to create without having to make a living. When you have the luxury to make art for the sense of art, you can make money easily.

SHINNERS: And you can’t blame people for that.

 SAINT JUDE: So I’m trying to be in the middle. I also need to eat. I don’t come from a wealthy family. I come from a poor family. I need to make my own money.

SHINNERS: You’re from the Cape Flats? What is that like?

SAINT JUDE: It’s a historically colored area. I come from a mixed-race family. We aren’t very wealthy. For me, it’s a big deal to be able to do what I’m doing. Creating art as a black South African is a privilege. To even dream that kind of lifestyle, that you can make a living from art. “It’s not real work.” That’s what people say. It’s a luxury that I’m aware of.

SHINNERS: You got started on the Internet. What about having access to the Internet informed the work that you made?

SAINT JUDE:  I can’t talk about anything of these things without talking about the socioeconomic struggle in South Africa. My access to the Internet is because I was afforded the privilege of the Internet. My parents made sure I went to good schools in the age of the Internet becoming a big thing. I became an Internet-savvy person at a young age. A lot of artists in Cape Town are doing dope things, but they don’t have Internet access. They don’t know how to use the Internet the same way I do. So, how the Internet impacted my work… The Internet gave me information that I wouldn’t have had access to. As a queer person here, the queer community is very small and racially divided. Having access to the Internet made me feel like I was a part of a bigger community, something that I call Future Queer. It’s not just gay, lesbian, whatever. It’s fluidity; it’s anyone who redefines that way of thinking.

SHINNERS: On the flipside, as you’re putting out your work, you’re putting it out on Soundcloud and YouTube as opposed to looking for a label. Is the accessibility of the Internet important to you?

SAINT JUDE: Because of the stuff I’m creating and the climate in South Africa, which I think is quite conservative for queer people, you’re put in a box. I hate when people label me as a “queer artist.” I hate that type of thing. I feel like I’m accessible to a lot of different audiences. The Internet gave me the platform to be able to communicate that. I just say, this is who I am. Different people take away their own ideas. As soon as you associate yourself with any kind of institution – a label or whatever it is – you’re automatically branded and given a type of audience. I like that the Internet opens the audience to anyone. My music has interest from an academic audience, as well as a “black girl magic” audience because of the strong brown girl power messages in my music.

SHINNERS: You said that you don’t want people to put you in a box. Still, a lot of the interviews I read say, “Dope Saint Jude, a queer black artist.” To me, it seems fetishizing. Do you feel that way? How do you deal with that?

SAINT JUDE: I do! I don’t do “queer hip hop.” That’s part of my identity, and I’ll never deny my ties to the queer community. But saying you’re a “queer artist” is so limiting. Like, we don’t say, “He’s a white guitarist. You should listen to his music.” It’s bullshit. I feel like my music has so many different elements. I’m influenced by Dr. Dre and girls chilling in the hood, Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj stuff. But I’m also woke. Don’t limit me. That’s the thing the media is guilty of. We want to fetishize people. It’s too complex to comprehend, so you want to put it into a box. That’s why I’ve called my EP “Reimagine.” I’m constantly reimagining. I hate it when people do me the disservice of limiting me to one narrative. I have multiple narratives. Also, it feels racist when people do that. They limit your narrative to your struggle, and that’s all. No, I’m joyful. I smoke weed with my girls. We ride in the car and go to the beach and party.

SHINNERS: And the media spins it in a way that sounds like, “You will be edgy and cool if you know about this queer underground artist.”

SAINT JUDE: To an extent, it’s nice. I do exploit it. People want to box me into whatever, but that clickbait can open me up to a new audience. I have to deal with it. I also can’t be upset about it all the time. It’s important that I’m visible as a queer artist. There are so many young, black, queer people who are scared and insecure. For me to actively identify with that, it’s cool. But when big, big blogs do it, it upsets me.



SHINNERS: Being a self-made artist – making your own beats, collaborating with people who want to work with, making your own visuals – seems very important to you. What is the thought process behind doing everything on your own?

SAINT JUDE: One element is that I don’t want to be a rapper who raps over other people’s beats. I see myself as an artist. I want to be involved in the creation of every aspect of my art. I don’t exclusively want to work on my own beats, but it’s important that I use that language because it gives me power in the process. It’s important that I feel in control of my own process. And it just makes the art better, when you’re in control. As a woman, I don’t want guys making beats for me, telling me, “This is how you need to be on this beat. We would prefer it if you were sexier.” As soon as someone makes a beat for you, they feel like they can direct your process. I don’t like that. There are so many male rappers who do that. No one ever credits female rappers on producing and rapping themselves. It’s a powerful thing. Also, in terms of the visuals, it’s important for how I communicate as an artist. I don’t want videos that other people direct just because being hot in front of a car looks cool. If I want to be hot in front of a car, I must know why I’m doing that. I want things to be done in my terms. As a female artist, it’s revolutionary to be in control of your process. 

SHINNERS: What, to you, is the relationship between hip hop and activism? 

SAINT JUDE: Hip hop is really cool because it was the music of oppressed people. That’s where it comes from. It’s cool to explore different struggles in hip hop. Not only rapping about it. You don’t want to rap about problems all the time. It’s cool to communicate using hip hop visually and in terms of the sound. You can throw in things subliminally. It’s accessible. You can talk about things in a cool way. I like to exploit the cool. Young kids and teenagers watch my videos and aspire to that because of the look. But it’s a buy-in to get them into a revolutionary way of thinking. Hip hop is a really cool medium, but it has its limitations. Some people think hip hop and queerness don’t go together, because hip hop is historically quite patriarchal and leans on masculinity. But I think that hip hop is a tool for oppressed people, not just black men. There are other people who are entitled to use the music to express their joy and their pain and their power.

SHINNERS: How do you balance making music that is political, revolutionary, and confrontational towards people’s ideas about blackness and queerness while, at the same time, making music that is accessible?

SAINT JUDE: I think that the idea that the two can’t exist together is a fantasy. In the past, people imagined conscious music as music to sit and think, to blaze and go on a trip. And then there was Lil’ Wayne, turn up music. But I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. That’s something we need to debunk. Like, I find Kanye West’s music quite revolutionary, but it’s also cool to turn up to. It’s small things, like having good beats, that make is accessible, incorporating other facets of cool. For example, if you are a revolutionary thinker and artist, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to go to the club and smoke weed and drink. I want to talk about both sides. 

SHINNERS: We can have a multi-faceted idea.

SAINT JUDE: We’re not limited to one thing. I also like to utilize cool things visually, like fashion. Fashion is revolutionary, but it’s also cool. It’s nice to use that as a tool to bring people in. When teenagers see the fashion, when they see sexy people, they are drawn in. The listen to the music, and it can be informative.

SHINNERS: It can lead them to other avenues.

SAINT JUDE: There are so many things you can do. Shooting dope videos. Messing with the art design. Having interesting-looking people. And if you’re art is good, it’s cool anyway.

SHINNERS: You are a very powerful woman, both in your music and outside of it. But we have two conversations about power going on. We have the “dismantle power” conversation, and we have the “embrace your power” conversation. How do you navigate undoing power while championing your own power when making art?

SAINT JUDE: In embracing my own power, I’m dismantling other structures. My power is valid, and it’s just as important as yours. Also, it’s reimagining this idea of power. Me being powerful doesn’t mean the next person isn’t powerful. The patriarchy and white supremacy champion exclusive power. But the power that I’m embracing is power for all of us. It’s not limited to me and my experience. Also, I try not to focus too much on dismantling all of those structures. It’s draining for me. Why do that when I can empower myself? I happen to be a part of all these disenfranchised groups: black people, queer people, women. It’s exhausting to say, “Fight the patriarchy. Fight this and fuck that.” It’s exhausting on your spirit. I’d rather celebrate that pure joy then perpetuate that “Fuck you,” energy. It’s not helpful. It’s necessary to be angry, but I don’t want to cultivate that in myself. You grow so much from celebration. That’s the revolutionary act. Actually celebrating yourself. Self-love is a radical act.

SHINNERS: When you imagine self-love, what do you imagine?

SAINT JUDE: Small things. Not being hard on yourself for stupid things. Being your own best friend. Promoting yourself. Having you own back. It takes courage to believe you are worth something and that your voice is valid. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t like what you’re saying. The fact that you’re saying it is important. It starts even with just putting lotion on yourself everyday because you love yourself and you’re important to yourself. There’s no shame in buying yourself something nice to wear. For conscious hip hop people, we’ve been taught that it’s selfish to want to indulge and do nice things for ourselves. That’s counterproductive. We need to be kind and gentle to ourselves. Self-love is making your dreams a priority. It’s not far away, wishful thinking. Love yourself to make your happiness important. I think about where I come from. My grandmother cleaned houses and sewed things to make a living. My mom became a teacher. She loved her job, but a lot of women, particularly black women, spend their lives doing jobs that weren’t their first choice. At this point, self-love is allowing yourself to do things that make you happy. You don’t have to suffer. We’re not limited in that way. Structurally, some people are. I’m privileged enough to be able to do art. But self-love is opening your mind to that possibility, that you deserve it. Love yourself enough to work hard and transcend your circumstance.

SHINNERS: That goes back to what you were saying first. You imagined this persona that carried all these desires that seemed unattainable. Now, your life is catching up. 

SAINT JUDE: It’s all because of self-love. If I didn’t love myself, I would have been stuck working for some job that I hated. I didn’t think I deserved to travel or live the life I wanted to. People are in mental prisons. They can’t even imagine being happy. People are so used to suffering because we come from generations of suffering. We accept that as the norm. When you start to love yourself, you can start imagining that it could be a reality. Your life can be enjoyable.

SHINNERS: You just came to the US on tour. Why do you think your music speaks to an American audience?

SAINT JUDE: My point of reference as an artist in terms of pop culture in media is American. That makes me accessible; I can speak that language. Even the humor, the jokes, the sass. It’s informed by the American media I’ve been consuming my whole life. Also, I feel like the US and Europe have a more progressive queer community, and a more progressive art community. To an extent, I was very surprised. There’s a lot of Cape Town slang in my music. People still fuck with my music even though there’s a lot of shit they can’t understand. 

SHINNERS: In Catholicism, Saint Jude is the patron saint of the Impossible. What impossibilities – in work or in life – can you identify? How are you overcoming them?

SAINT JUDE: It’s such a fitting name. My mom named me Catherine Saint Jude because she had four boys, and I was the only girl. She thought it was gong to be impossible to have a girl. I’m glad I chose the second name my mom gave me as my performance name. Everything I’ve done is kind of impossible. Before I was Dope Saint Jude, I was a drag king. I started Cape Town’s first Drag King troupe. Put up a wall, and I will only see it as a challenge to overcome. I grew up in a strict Catholic home. I was super involved in the church. But I’ve felt excluded from the world because I like girls. Now, I’m reimaging and reworking my relationship with my creator. That’s an impossible thing to do, but I’m doing it. If I think about what Christianity is really about, it’s about embracing people who are different. Jesus would have been hanging out with me and my girls. 


You can download Dope Saint Jude's latest album, Reimagine, here. She will also be performing at Festival Les Escales in Saint-Nazaire, France with Iggy Pop headlining. Text, interview and photographs by Keely Shinners. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Craving Danger: An Interview With Strange Names' Liam Benzvi On His New Solo Project

Soft Ethnic is the brainchild of 25-year-old, Brooklyn-based Liam Benzvi. In what sounds like an amalgamation of queer no-wave and r&b of the late 70s/early 80’s, the melodic insistence of Benzvi’s songs feels original in delivery, and familiar in musicality. The name “Soft Ethnic” comes from a type-casting term that was given to him during his years of acting school in Minneapolis, cheekily attributing his skin tone to his ability to be cast as a variety of “ethnic” characters. Turning to music, Benzvi co-formed new wave-pop outfit Strange Names. Their debut LP, Use Your Time Wisely, came out last Spring on Frenchkiss Records, and a second LP is on the way. Benzvi says Soft Ethnic is an experiment, mostly in its performance: “a means to over-saturate the city with my feelings.” Soft Ethnic's debut EP will be out in the Spring of 2016. Today, Autre exclusively released Soft Ethnic's Memphis Milano inspired music video for the track Prints, co-directed by Jarod Taber and Alex Rapine, with set design by Marki Becker. We got a chance to catch up with Benzvi to discuss Soft Ethnic, type casting and his new music video.   

Autre: When and how did you start making music?

Liam Benzvi: I was more invested in lyrics for a while because I didn’t need any kind of musical vocabulary or skill to quantify what I was making. I’m a product-oriented songwriter, so even if something isn’t done, I’ll say it’s a finished demo as an exercise of my full authority over the song. When I got my first computer in college, composition was suddenly a very user-friendly experience for me. The bounds of the software ended up pushing me to seek out real musicians to collaborate with because I was dissatisfied with the computer sounds, and still didn’t think I had any capacity to learn anything myself. It was getting into a room with real musicians—my best friends—that ultimately allowed me to make the music I wanted to. When I was in my first band in college, I semi-stole my band mate’s DD6 pedal, and would make really expansive vocal loops that crafted the majority of my first fully formed songs.

Autre: I understand that your name, Soft Ethnic, comes from a type-casting term that you encountered quite a bit while acting in Minneapolis. How did you get into acting and what kinds of characters would you play?

Benzvi: I went to performing arts high school in Manhattan, followed by a conservatory acting program in Minneapolis. I got into it because I loved the backstage culture of theater. My friends, talking in class, talking about what we liked/disliked—these were my people. I really wanted to get into my body and be as self-realized as I could be by the time I had to move out of my parent’s house, and being on stage was the best way to do that. I was always cast as villains—I had the most fun when I had to be old or monstrous and grotesque in some way. I was told I was “soft ethnic” by a bunch of casting directors that would teach us workshops about being the “CEOs of ourselves” and understanding how we would be perceived at first glance, walking into an audition room. It felt shallow, funny, and very real all at once. And I always knew I’d take the term and turn it on its head—not necessarily to be political, but to make it more personal to me if that was indeed how I was “perceived”.

Autre: Do you plan to continue acting or are you focused exclusively these days on music?

Benzvi: I’m committed to music right now, but I always intend to make it as performative as I can. I think I’ll act again, and I’ll be much better than I was, because of what I’m doing now.

Autre: Each character you play in this music video is distinct from the next and represents a clear embodiment of the melodic components that comprise the song. Are they all separate sides of yourself, or is there one that feels more connected to your true identity?

Benzvi: My friends that have seen the video like the drunk character the most, and they say that he is my true essence. It’s probably true because I’m more unhinged. I also like the archetype of the dude in the band that’s just really excited all the time about everything. That’s the character in the flamingo pajamas.

Autre: How did you discover Ettore Sottsass and why did you choose his Memphis Group aesthetic for this particular video?

Benzvi: : Marki and Jarod had just birthed their film/design group Wash & Fold, and they brought me a bunch of paint swatches. At that point I had no real idea of what Marki was going to design and build. I just knew that I wanted it to look like a baby’s bedroom—she took it from there. When she came back with a design, she had gravitated to the Memphis Group for the playfulness of the shapes they used in the 80s. The personality of the Memphis objects allowed them to be read as set pieces but also added a layer of continuity to the video and gave me fun shapes to interact with for each character.

Autre: There are some very clear parallels between this new sound and that of your other group, Strange Names. Although, with Soft Ethnic you take a clear shift toward a much more mellow drum line, which makes for a slower, more contemplative groove. Was this a conscious choice, and are there any other ways that you intended to branch out from the sound you’ve been crafting with Strange Names?

Benzvi: I approach all my writing with a uniform simplicity. When I write for the band, I always keep in mind that whatever I make alone is only a third to half way to the finish line—it’s really liberating. With Strange Names, I fundamentally trust Francis and Fletcher with their unique creative authorities and I can allow myself to let go of ideas when they’re not necessarily a complete demo on my end. In the last year or so I had been listening to a lot of no-wave electronic stuff. It didn’t feel very flashy, and it was kind of bizarre, but all the hooks were there. It felt like pop and jazz and funk at once; totally achieved with not much more than a drum machine, some synth chords, and a very up-front, grandiose, indiosyncratic vocal. To name a few—Indoor Life, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Patrick Cowley, Tuxedomoon—verging on punk, but still a little too weird/queer for it. This kind of not-belonging theatrical energy was something I wanted to experiment with on my own. I knew that I would do it in my own way, and if it sounds like Strange Names a bit at the onset, it's only because it’s my voice singing and it's my melodic instinct in the writing. As far as execution, the simpler construction is definitely intentional. I like that it sounds like a demo. There’s some spoken word involved—kind of in a Jarvis Cocker kind of way—and for the live show, I’ve begun collaborating with dancers and devising choreography and that’s been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.

Autre: I’ve read that Strange Names has constantly been restraining its avant-garde tendencies in order to make the sound more accessible. Is that something you feel you need to do with Soft Ethnic as well?

Benzvi: You could say that. With Soft Ethnic, I want to be unapologetically myself in every way, from start to finish—I suppose that could form a window to potential avant-garde tendencies. Making something accessible is in reference to the hustle of being in a band, trying to get picked up. We were in Minneapolis and we were listening to all sorts of music, reading all the blogs, trying to methodically figure out how we could be successful. It was and will always be exhausting, but when we moved to New York that all changed because we really sat down and made the record we wanted to make. We realized that our collective admiration for anthems came from the inclusive feeling it evoked—not talking meaningless and vacant American Idol-penned anthems, but Human League hooks and B-52s summer-of-love type music. I think we’ve stopped giving a shit about people turning their noses up.

Autre: Strange Names came out of the Minneapolis music scene and has since made its way to New York City. Can you talk a bit about how those music scenes differ and whether or not this has affected your sound?

Benzvi: I think that in New York it’s really easy to be alone, and because I have a lot of alone time here I’m more inclined to make things alone. Since Strange Names has been a New York band, when the band gets together, we’ll all have made something alone and bring it into the room and have to make collective sense of it. Is this something we can all attach ourselves to? And great results always come from that kind of dissecting. With Soft Ethnic, I have no idea how something is being received because I keep it completely to myself and then perform it and see what happens. I crave that sort of danger so that I can keep working hard at all times. I want to be the most resourceful performer I can be, and I always want to be learning about how I can be as compelling as I can on stage.

Autre: When you’re not making music how do you spend your free time?

Benzvi: I’m trying to collaborate with as many people as I can lately. Making friends. Drinking. Writing. I’m not really sleeping that much.

Autre: How would you like your sound to evolve over the next 5 years?

Benzvi: If whatever I’ve made is aggressively of my doing, I’ll have probably evolved in some way.


Click here to watch the music video for Soft Ethnic's track Prints. Photograph by Charlotte FergusonInterview by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE