BANDSPEAK, BOSTON/NE BANDS, Went There

Solo Sexx interview + Solo Sexx, Miss Geo, Nikolas, DJ Afropanther show review

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Last Friday at a secret location, scores of loyal Sexxcateers crowded into a tightly packed studio to see local electro-rap juggernauts Solo Sexx do their thing. This was one of the most highly anticipated shows in their long and storied career, as it celebrated the release of their first ever music video, for their anthemic new single “Yes Queen”. Rounding out the bill was synthpop cherub Nikolas, indie electronic trio Miss Geo, and bombastic Western Mass MC/DJ mashup artist extraordinaire Afropanther.

The room was already packed as Nikolas took the stage, and after a few songs it was just about filled to the brim. Nikolas performed as his own DJ, sauntering between front and center and his pushed back stage setup as the situation called for it. Rocking a throwback neon ski jacket and immaculately applied contouring, he effortlessly drew the attention of all in attendance, striking a neat balance of glamour and earnestness.

Halfway through his set he called a surprise guest to the stage, and who should appear but local scene legend Casey Desmond. Looking stunning in triple cross earrings and a furry neon pink cat claw shawl, Desmond was a human charisma factory. She commanded the stage, the crowd, and even Nikolas himself as she belted out a short set of originals. The tracks were dense, industrial pop epics with a slight Eastern tinge, and Desmond performed them with bewitching confidence. Nikolas’s backing vocals were a touch drowned out, but who can complain about surprise Casey Desmond? To close out the set, the showrunner graciously let Nikolas and Desmond go over their time to perform a new track they’d been working on together. Introduced as “Clarity”, the song enveloped the crowd, shimmering and uplifting and perfectly tailored to the chillout tents of America.

Solo Sexx’s Heather Mack played emcee in both senses that evening, introducing the acts and tossing out humorous asides. “The best part about this night is that Trump would hate this shit,” Heater opined as she brought John-Waters-mustachio’d male drag burlesque performer “Tad Lively” to the stage. In a bizarrely alluring genderbent performance, “Tad” enticingly removed articles of clothing – starting with his fedora, then his jacket, and so forth – until nothing was left but a pair of leopard print boxers with a healthy bulge and his perky tits. Certainly more bang for your buck than the average bar show.

Miss Geo was up next, serving up their warm, dreamy blend of indie rock and dance pop. “It’s nice to be playing in a safe space with a lot of diversity,” observed lead singer/guitarist Abby, and she was right. The crowd was about as far removed from the stereotypical white dude punk bros one generally tends to expect at DIY shows (yours truly excepted), and the vibe was unmistakably inclusive. As Miss Geo moved through their set list the crowd danced along, enveloped in the warmth of a digital embrace. Interlocking synth lines were punctuated by cold steel reverb-laden guitar riffs, and the band effortlessly bridged the gap between organic and synthetic.

By the time Solo Sexx took the stage the crowd was fully energized, ready to soak in their signature brand of jungle-tinged party rap. Roaring through the gates with “Love Sexx and Danger”, Heather The Vulga Vulva and Julia The Velvet Vulture radiated electricity, boasting that they’ll “make you lose your shit in front of strangers”. They continued to relentlessly plow through a set of fan favorites like “Jackit Girl” and “Hipsta Chick”, feeding off the energy of the room, seemingly never stopping to catch a breath. For sexy slow jam “Wymynz Pryzyn” they brought Casey Desmond back to the stage and sat her down in a chair, playfully and seductively encircling her as Julia rapped with a grin, “it’s just you and me and a conjugal visit.” Solo Sexx always brings the heat, but they were particularly turned up this evening, Julia even spitting several songs while imperiously standing atop a folding chair. Heather kept the crowd engaged between songs, regaling them with stories of Solo Sexx’s history and accomplishments. At one point she had some sobering words about Julia’s production: “Nine times out of ten people come up to me and assume [Solo Sexx DJ] Slim Tim made the beats… People need to know that Julia makes all of these beats herself!”

When the moment came for the video screening, the empowering vibes reached an apex. The “Yes Queen” video is a veritable shrine to female and queer excellence. Filmed at the Northampton Pride festival, it follows the ladies of Solo Sexx as they rub elbows with the likes of a 13 year old drag star, Ms. Trans Massachusetts, and even a bus full of furries. At the video’s conclusion VV and VV quite literally tear through a shroud of normality, gleeful fans following behind them as the refrain rings out: “We are motherfucking queens in this world/Don’t let anybody tell you you’re not.” It is one of the most positive and reaffirming works of art you’re likely to see in this dark season.

Mashup DJ extraordinaire Afropanther took the stage after the video premier, keeping the crowd moving with expertly blended dance classics and deep cuts, and I took some time out from the show to have a chat with Solo Sexx about their past, their future, and their often beguiling lyrics.

MIKE DUNN: So this weekend you’re celebrating the release of your new music video for “Yes Queen”. Tell me about what went into making the video.

HEATHER MACK: Well we were privileged enough to be asked to perform at Northampton Pride this past May. We had this song called “Yes Queen” that I wrote when I was super, super anxious and stressed out about where my life was going, and what I was gonna fucking do as an adult when I graduated from grad school, which is like the most bougie reason to write a fucking rap song in the history of the world. [Laughs] But I was really stressed out, and I started watching a lot of drag documentaries and shows, which was therapeutic for me because I would watch these incredible superstars that were totally normal people with vulnerabilities and insecurities and all these anxious thoughts like I was having, but then they would put on their wig, put on their nails, and put on their persona, this elaborate performance. And I’ve always identified with that desire to put on an empowering persona that only you get to define. So I wrote this whole song about that experience, about how this shit pulled me out of crazy sadness and anxiety and existential freaking out and feeling like an imposter that had to be an adult all of a sudden. So to be able to play at Northampton Pride was an obvious connection between what the song was about and appreciating queer culture, drag culture, ball culture… [And that] shit fucking saved my life and saved my brain when I really needed it.

JULIA SHERRATT: And I think that we couldn’t have filmed it anywhere else. This was probably the best case scenario for a first music video, because being there filming, during an event that was live, and there was a celebration…

HM: It was totally authentic, it wasn’t staged.

JS: If we tried to re-do that, you know, it would have looked staged, but it was pure and genuine. It was very pure of heart.

MD: You both live in different parts of the state. Julia lives in Western Mass and Heather lives in Somerville. What’s your favorite place to play in both Eastern and Western Mass and why?

JS: When we first started, we played a lot of house parties in Western Mass around UMass, where we went to school. Those are always my favorite places to play. Dingy, smelly, moldy basements of houses where bands come to play. They pass around a hat and everybody donates money to it. We’ve played so many bars and venues where they’re like, “here’s two drink tickets, see you later!”

HM: If that.

JS: You get so much support. The energy in those tiny little house shows is the best. And they’re all over Western Mass.

HM: And here! I was very intentional in booking this show. I didn’t want to do it at a regular bar. It was between here and another DIY space. It was never a question. We were going to perform at a DIY space run by folks in this community that are supporting local bands. No fucking bullshit. No crazy percentage of the door fee to promotion. This is the real deal. Those are my favorite shows to play. Shows where the performers are the ones putting it together, and where the venue really respects artists and artistry and wants to make shit work. [Places like] here, and House of Luff, and The Lilypad, which does all ages shows, which we really support. The majority of our shows, we want to do all ages, low cost, pay what you can, donations only. Because that’s building community, and that’s what’s important to us.

JS: That being said, I’d also like to add that the Extravanganjas that we played and the Boston Freedom Rally – I’ll always remember those shows.

HM: And Northampton Pride!

JS: Those are the biggest crowds that we’ve had.

HM: Yeah. Being able to play for 500 people at one time is completely incredible.

MD: A lot of great bands and artists have come out of Western Mass, but it can be hard for acts from the West to build buzz because of their relative isolation from the rest of the state. Who are some artists from the West that people should be watching?

HM: And The Kids! Obviously [people have] been watching them, it’s not new, I’m not bringing anything crazy to the table here, but And The Kids is one of my favorite Western Mass-originated bands. Also Potty Mouth is fucking awesome. But [also], Afropanther, who we’re playing with today, came to one of our shows. That’s how we met. That’s what I love about Western Mass. Because it’s so small, people really support each other and help each other out. Bella’s Bartok, we love them, they’re really good pals. And Mal Fucking Devisa, oh my god, what am I thinking? Mal Devisa, if you’re sleeping on her you’re very much alone, because again, the world has taken notice. She went to our Extravaganja show when she was 13 years old. And that was one of the coolest things ever. That’s fucking rad.

MD: Heather, you’ve been very active with Girls’ Rock Camp, having both worked at the camp and played several of the shows that they’ve put on. What other advice do you have for young girls who are looking to get involved in this male dominated industry?

HM: Ok, listen, here’s the deal. I’ve worked with Girl’s Rock Camp, and I work with young people full time, that’s my job, so I know that in like five years they [won’t] need my advice. This world is already theirs. Finally, thank god. I really believe that. I believe that more than ever. I see the Boston music scene, and I see how many artists have female members, or are all female members, and how that’s starting to become not a fucking prefix. When we started, and even still sometimes to get booked, we’ll be like “oh, we’re female MCs.” But really, I’ve been intentional about trying to not use that as our fucking crutch. So [my] advice for them is [to] just fucking make weird art. Don’t be afraid to fail, because it’s gonna be embarrassing and probably awful, but it’s gonna also be amazing and incredible, and you’re going to learn so much by just trying and failing and trying again. And again, I don’t think young girls are gonna need it. I already see them fucking slaying the game. I’m so happy to see the world changing in that way. I don’t think we’re going back.

JS: My advice would be, if you’re getting into this – as you’re starting out and you’re like “I have all these new ideas,” and you’re producing all this great art, don’t stop. If you’re in the flow, if you’re continuously being inspired, keep going and use that muse.

HM: And do it DIY, but also invest in your art. If it’s really that important to you, which it should be, invest in it, and learn how to do all the shit. I only just recently learned how to do audio visual stuff and photography, and like, why the fuck didn’t I learn it before? Learn how to do all the different pieces. Why wait for a dude to book your show? You can book your show. Don’t think that you need to rely on other people, especially other men, to do that for you, because you can do it yourself. The motto to remind yourself, and this is from Sophia Cacciola [of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling], is if you’re ever feeling like you have imposter syndrome, just think to yourself, “what would a mediocre white man who doesn’t know what they’re doing do?”

MD: Your Video Release show is at a secret location. After the Great Cultural Purge of 2012, in which the Boston Police Department systematically targeted and shut down dozens of underground venues, the perception has been that Boston is hostile to its musicians. Do you think things have gotten better or worse since then?

HM: I have only been met with support in this community. I got shut down more when we were playing house parties in Amherst. Not to say it’s not still an issue. Mike Beaudet drinks his own piss, we know that. Motherfucker is a chump and thinks it’s cool to go after DIY venues, which by the way are not in this shit to make money or get glory. It’s a labor of love. You’re doing it because you fucking love it and it’s what you do. I’ve never had an issue in the city – I mean, I have had issues in the city – but not with DIY venues.

MD: Julia, in addition to MCing, you produce virtually all of Solo Sexx’s beats. What is your creative process for beatmaking?

JS: For a while I didn’t have access to different programs or applications to make beats. And for me, working in a smaller box like that – everybody’s different, but for me that makes me more creative. Being restricted and having limited resources caused me to be really creative. Not wasting any opportunity to make a cool loop or find a good sample to fuck with. Most of [my music], especially the earlier stuff, is sample driven. But I also wanted to make a point that if I was going to use samples, to use them in a much different way. So that if I was inspired by a certain beat or a specific song, then it was really important to me that it became something brand new. Something that complements the original thing that I’m referencing. Because that’s what I always appreciated in the DJ culture, was just seeing people mix different tracks together seamlessly. You’re watching this DJ mix live and then suddenly it’s a whole new song. I was inspired by DJs, so a lot of the beats are a hodgepodge, sort of like a quilt of different sounds and different rhythms.

HM: But also you tell stories with your samples, and I think that’s the coolest thing. The way you choose those samples, like adding [the Unsolved Mysteries theme song] to an audio feed of part of an Intervention episode. It’s intentionally kind of weird, but totally transforms it, but also tells a story, and isn’t just for the sake of having a sample.

JS: Exactly.

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MD: Solo Sexx has been playing together for over 8 years now. What sort of lessons have you learned during your time together?

JS: Not [rapping] over each other was one of our first lessons.

HM: Don’t steal the mic from each other. Realize that we are stronger together than when we are fighting over each other.

JS: Try to move as much as possible when you’re performing so you’re not stagnant. Emoting a lot, making eye contact with the audience.

HM: Following through with shit is really important and really difficult. The thing is, we’re friends, not business partners. We love each other, which is really convenient a lot of the time, but also sometimes difficult, because we’re like, “oh yeah, we’ll get around to that video,” and it took us fucking 8 ½ years. So we did it, and it’s amazing, but that’s the thing: Follow through on shit. Take your shit seriously. Recognize when you’re fucking dope you’re dope, and don’t just rely on other people to do that shit for you. Like ok, I want a video? Well I’m gonna fucking make sure – and shouts out to Steve and Alex for helping us do that – but I was right there next to Alex making those editorial decisions. That was so awesome being able to have that power. Learn how to do all the shit and just do it. Don’t make excuses.

MD: What’s something that the Solo Sexx of 2008 would have done that you’d never do now?

JS: Wear a leotard under some fucking printed jeans.

HM: [Laughs]

JS: Wear weird keychains and knick knacks around my neck. I have more refined jewelry now.

HM: Bring an iPod to a show.

JS: A tiny iPod where you hear the “click, click, click-click-click”.

HM: Not have a microphone.

JS: Get wasted. Don’t get wasted before a show!

HM: Not too wasted. We get a little —

JS: [Pretends to slur incoherently]

HM: Take acid and do a show. Take a bunch of molly and do a show.

JS: Make sure the drugs that you take – this is like advice to our 2008 selves – make sure the drugs that you take will benefit you and not be a hindrance to your performance.

HM: Yeah, yup. [Laughs]

MD: Your lyrics run the gamut from playful, to sexual, to deeply political, to occasionally nonsensical. I’m going to give you a few Solo Sexx lyrics, and I’d like you to give me your Rap Genius annotation for those lyrics:

“I wanna let you know wha-what’s my fan-ta-ta-sy/A man next to me/Made of melted cheese/I wanna sink my teeth into his rice and beans” (from “XX Chrome”

HM: Obviously it’s a reference to the Ludacris song, which is referencing the male gaze, so mine is a reimagining of that, of my fan-ta-ta-sy, and I’m basically objectifying a man to the point that I’m actually comparing him to food. And sinking my teeth into his rice and beans, I think you can imagine.

“We Monopoly millionaires/We memorabilia sprayers/Our crew’s stealin’ your flair” (from “Party Muzik”)

HM: So I’m making fun of fake rappers that talk about making all this money. We monopoly millionaires, we’re so rich, but we’re only Monopoly money rich. Memorabilia sprayers… it really is a mess. I was thinking about, at the time – this is eight years old – OJ was on trial for stealing his own memorabilia? Right? Wasn’t that a thing that happened? Our crew’s stealing your flair.

“I’m dojo for shay/Get your bitch steaming turn around and walk away/My wrist stay gleaming like the ocean in the bay/I don’t quit scheming ‘til I get your Tiffany/Put it in my crate” (From “Doin’ Big Things”)

JS: Dojo for shay.

HM: Don’t start there, because there’s no answer.

JS: Dojo for shay. That was like, ok. So, “doja”, or “dojo”, is a weed term. Instead of “fo sho” it was like “dojay for shay” instead of “dojo fo sho”.

HM: [Laughs]

JS: Then “get your bitch steaming turn around and walk away.” Great cadence, great imagery there. Because that was our whole theme. “Yeah, we’re gonna turn your girl out. Don’t bring your girlfriend to the Solo Sexx show. She’s gonna open her legs and we’re gonna pretend to give her cunnilingus or some shit.” And then, “my wrist stay gleaming like the ocean in the bay.” There’s actually a clear story about that. I was on vacation with family, and it was the first time me and my little cousin Jesse smoked a fuckton of weed. And we were past Provincetown on Cape Cod, at Race Point. And there’s this crazy beach, but you have to let the air out of your tires to even get to it, it’s like super exclusive. And it was so beautiful and we smoked so much weed that it was like old school high, where it’s like a psychedelic trip. And I was just like, “my wrist stay gleaming like the ocean in the bay.” Because we were facing the bay and it was just these crazy diamond sparkles were all I could see. So that was from that. “I don’t quit scheming ‘til I get your Tiffany, put it in my crate, don’t wait,” is kind of a play on, “hey, put your shit in my bag.” Like I would never rob someone, but –

HM: I thought it was like an online shopping kind of thing.

JS: No I think I was trying to be kind of goony with that.

“I’m a black market hepcat/Fresh set of checks/Fat lips got you smacked back/Get your facts checked/Got millions to the max, mack” (from “Tik Tak Toe”)

HM: “I’m a black market hepcat.” Hepcat is a reference to my ska past. So that’s a ska reference. And I’m a black market hepcat, so I’m hip on the black market scene, I know where you can get that good good. “Fresh set of checks,” so you know, maybe I’ve got some cash in my wallet. Because people get me checks for all the drugs I can get them. “Fat lips,” oh I have fat lips. “Got you smacked back,” like I’m gonna smack you like Smackers…

JS: …Like Lip Smackers, the lip gloss. I love this.

HM: “Get your facts checked, got millions to the max, mack.” I have so many millions. I have so much money you better check your facts. Which if you do check your facts you realize how little money I truly have. The End. [Laughs]

MD: What does the future hold for Solo Sexx?

HM: Oh my god, that’s an existential crisis question. Um, I want us to record another album. I basically want us to lock ourselves in the woods for like a week, just the two of us, and just write a fucking album.

JS: That would be amazing.

HM: I really think we would come up with it. It would be done.

JS: I have so many little tidbits. It’s just, putting them together. And that’s why I had that advice for young kids. First starting when we lived together, we were always talking and always having this dialogue, and this firing off of ideas and bouncing them back and forth. And it was really easy to become inspired every single day and make new shit. And it just flowed so, so easy.

HM: We’d write a song in like a half hour.

JS: Yeah, so that’s not gone, it’s just – we need to, like –

HM: — Be together.

JS: That would be a really good goal for 2017.

HM: So my goal for 2017 is that Julia moves the fuck out to Eastern Mass, and we can make all sorts of weird music together, and continue to evolve our sound. I think the most recent recordings that we’ve done and songs that we’ve created are the best ones that we’ve ever done, so really capitalizing and building off of that is a good thing.

MD: If you could sum up Solo Sexx’s message to the world with one sentence, what would it be?

HM: Go fuck yourself. Literally. Solo Sexx.

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