Of What Could Be, Of What Can Be: The Reimagining Tale of Black Spirituals

Embark on a one-of-a-kind expedition through time to Slawstrips Kalb–“a hyper-satiric alternate reality” where the audience is subject to the “Black American life” by way of four teenagers working through the challenges brought on by “the choices they make and temptations they follow.” Written, composed, and directed by the Newport News Contemporary Arts Network’s (CAN) Tunny Crew, Black Spirituals is a “retelling” of the black individual’s story “from a place of empowerment.” The art installation will debut this Saturday, January 23rd at the Newport News CAN HQ, and will run on each consecutive Saturday for the entirety of Black History Month (visitors may also purchase tickets to tour the exhibit on Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the month of February). Purchase your tickets here and read up on Popscure member Jasmine’s pre-debut thoughts on Black Spirituals below!

There was a general route I would take during my daily commute from the James River Bridge to the far ends of Newport News. Every day I would pass through this monochromatic route of grays and browns—heightened especially on gloomy days. And each day, I would scan the surrounding buildings…my mind always on autopilot mode. That is…until I saw a building I’d seen a million times, but this time things were different. This time the building had character…presence. Funnily enough, the building’s side was painted in a pattern of black and white—yet, it was as if it was saying, “Look at me!” As time passed, more murals were added to the lone building, ultimately creating a beacon of life amidst the lifeless stretch of road—signifying the possibility of what could be, of what can be.

Little did I know that I would be in that same building (many) months later taking in before me a vast set-up for an art installation—Black Spirituals. But just limiting it to the description of “art installation” almost doesn’t seem to do Black Spirituals, or its vision, justice. Deemed “an emancipated Negro Spiritual,” the experience is a stimulating amalgamation of mixed media creating an alternate reality as expansive as its goals to produce dialogue and education through topics ranging from mental health surrounding grief and loss, police brutality, racism in America, the drug epidemic, familial dysfunction, and exploitation within industries. With works from the CAN Foundation’s First Patron artists (Mahari Chabwera, Nastassja Swift, Asa Jackson, Hampton Boyer, and Adewale Alli) and CAN artists (Dathan Kane and Alex Michael), the collaborative venture bypasses traditional limitations in favor for delivering its message through a play and exhibition, original motion picture, and album. And really, I think that is the underlying beauty of Black Spirituals.

The topics in and of itself are undoubtedly important and way past overdue for discussion, but the true gem of Black Spirituals lies in the possibility…the possibilities. To me, the reclamation that is Black Spirituals transcends past its initial purpose to educate and furthermore invites you to imagine…to manifest…to change…to reclaim. The black narrative has been tainted throughout all aspects of life in history with black people being consistently portrayed as lesser than…lazy…sexual deviants or violent criminals—all damning qualities consciously and subconsciously taken without any further thought. You see it in the way the media portrays black individuals after the umpteenth fatal death by a police officer’s hand, or the way young black girls are seen and treated as sexual beings before they’re even able to comprehend what that even means. No one ever seems to ask about the “how’s” or “why’s” of social disparities as it relates to poverty and welfare, lack of education, drug abuse, or the most favored red herring of debate—“black-on-black” crime. How do you think a young child would feel if they were constantly inundated with such toxic preconceptions before knowing what that word even meant? Black Spirituals reclaims the black narrative, reimagines the story, and reveals the possibilities. Black Spirituals is the reclamation of identity…sense of self-worth…sense of purpose…sense of belonging. Black Spirituals is the possibility of what could be, of what can be.

All featured images courtesy of Nathan Croslin, Nalan Smartt, and Chip Jackson

Black Spirituals will debut tomorrow and run from 7:00-10:00 PM. Can’t make it? Don’t worry—the installation will run throughout Black History Month every consecutive Saturday and be open for Wednesday and Thursday tours throughout February. Get your tickets and find out more information here, and be sure to stay tuned for more from Black Spirituals.


A Little Respect: An Examination of Representation, Double Standards, and Gatekeeping in Kpop & Hip-Hop

There’s something that has really been grinding my gears lately (amongst the million other things that have made the past year more than trying). Admittedly, it doesn’t take a lot to make me agitated (s/o to my fellow fire sign friends), but there have been slights about a particular music genre that has seemed to increase in volume as of late.

I’m talking about Kpop.

You may have heard it. Western coverage on big groups like BTS (who just became the first Kpop group to be nominated for a Grammy in a major category) have been on the rise since 2017, when the Korean group became the first Kpop act to perform on a major American awards show. Performing their then single, “DNA,” the group wowed just about anyone that was completely unaware of them.

Personally, I had no idea about who these guys were or what their music sounded like. I tuned in with a peaked curiosity that was satiated far past expectations. It was more than their sound, or their ability to sing and rap…more than their charisma or their impeccable style. It was their aura. There was an overwhelming sense of passion that exuded from them that was undeniably alluring.

The next day I decided to play their recent release, Love Yourself ‘Her”, on my commute to class. I re-listened to the song, “DNA,” bopping along as I crossed the bridge to my destination, but what ultimately sealed the deal was the track, “Intro: Serendipity,” performed by one of the members, Jimin.

The best way to describe the song would be to personify it as the feeling of finally finding someone or something and euphorically falling in love. For instance, my euphoric moment would be my first true discovery of music. There are no words to explain that feeling because it’s just that—a feeling. So, flashback to my car commute…I hear this song…and I experience that feeling again. Without warning, I fell in love again, and I realized that those three letters, “BTS,” were more than an acronym.

“Intro: Serendipity” – BTS

But we’re not here to talk about just BTS or Kpop for that matter. Instead, I want to impart a broader lens on the bigger picture of music, culture, and entertainment between the western and eastern world, two worlds with so many differences, but even more similarities. And because I don’t want to bore you to tears, this will be an ongoing series because I got a lot to say. So sit down, get comfy, grab a drink (preferably water-stay hydrated), and get ready to have a much-needed discussion on some things.

Hip-hop. We all know it and love it (at least, most of us do). And when we think of hip-hop, what culture do we immediately associate it with…black culture. And nothing is inherently wrong with that, right? Because hip-hop has been a part of black culture since that first Bronx basement party in 1973, thrown by DJ Kool Herc. Hip-hop is to black culture as black culture is to hip-hop.

So what happens when other cultures latch onto arguably one of the most defined, prominent, and influential music styles of time?

Of course, there are going to be emulators and inspired artists; good music is supposed to move people and create some sort of manifestation of influence. With the decades of hip-hop and rap, there’s bound to be a major movement of others feeling the need to express themselves in the same way.

So picture this – It’s the 80s, and the top-charting pop songs in your country are placid, “safe” ballads with predictability waiting around every verse and chorus—this was the case for Korea. The country had what they called “healthy songs,” songs that were non-controversial and patriotic wrapped up in a pop-ballad formula for the mainstream airwaves…the only airwaves. With limited access to other various styles of music, the hunger for something different swelled, leading to a much more significant result than imagined.

Flash forward to 1992. Trio, Seo Taiji and Boys enter the scene with a loud western presence. I mean these guys were wearing the baggy clothing, breakdancing, and owning the stage with a charisma that rivaled any American performer. So you can imagine how the older generation felt with apprehension and confusion filling the minds of many—a classic case of the “moral panic.” That same group would continue to pave their way towards becoming one of the first coined Kpop idol groups for Korea, further spurring what would become known as the “Korean Wave” or Hallyu.

Seo Taiji and Boys

But what really drives this event home (at least for me) is their unapologetic fervor to speaking and expressing their truth. 1995 track, “Come Back Home,” a song about the enduring, societal pressures facing the younger generations, presents hard-pressed questions like, “What am I trying to find now?” or affirmations like, “My rage toward this society/Is getting greater and greater/Finally, it turned into disgust/Truths disappear at the tip of the tongue.”

What they did was bring an element of connection and catharsis into their music that seemed to be lacking from previous Korean pop music. They spoke their minds and expressed their feelings allowing for a space of connection and dialogue to occur amongst the younger public. You could say that “Come Back Home” was the Korean equivalent to 1982’s “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five—a very pivotal song in the history of hip-hop and social commentary.

This brings us to the two main topics of discussion—representation and cultural appropriation.

Representation and Double Standards

Whether we realize it or not, all forms of media have had, and continue to have, outstanding implications and influence on our daily lives (think the Arab Spring protests and the BlackLivesMatter movement). At this point, you may be asking, ‘Why are we talking about this? I thought we were talking about hip-hop and Kpop?’ Well, as the lovely subtitle above says…this is a section on representation and double standards, much of which is very reliant on entertainment and media.

For example, the late 19th/early 20th century introduced a western portrayal of Asian immigrants through film with roles that were meant to degrade and subjugate. Belittling generalizations like fictional character, Fu Manchu, depicted Asian people as cunning invaders biding time until achieving global domination, furthering the perception of Chinese immigrants as the evil “yellow peril.”

And yet on the other end of the spectrum, fictional characters like Charlie Chan would paint Chinese immigrants as passive and intelligent but socially inept with a poor grasp on the English language. Rest assure, however, that there was more to add to the representation package of Chinese immigrants with coveted roles that included playing servants and prostitutes. For the cherry on top, these characters were performed under the guise of “yellow face.”

Consequently, these stereotypes defined Chinese immigrants as either sinister masterminds or buffoons, inevitably leading to a distasteful amount of xenophobia and nationalism.

So how does this relate to today? As many like to say, history repeats itself, and while things are arguably better, there are still insinuations of the past that linger in a more covert manner. Enter the stage—double standards. New York Times piece, “Why do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?” by Thessaly La Force, speaks on the persistence of worn-out prejudices towards Asian-Americans with tired tropes depicting them as smart and hard-working, but boring and plain.

I mean c’mon…we all know we’ve heard or said something along the lines of Asian people being so good at math or the martial arts. We never, if rarely, see Asian actors consistently occupying a prominent part in a feature film – nor do we see them ever playing the roles they were originally written for (e.g., Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange), until recently with films like Crazy Rich Asians. And sure, we have classic martial arts films like Enter the Dragon, but there’s more to Asian people than just martial arts—their identity is as dimensional as anyone else’s.

Furthermore, Asian artists in the music industry are not taken seriously in comparison to their peers of non-Asian descent. Groups like Far East Movement experienced xenophobic insults and harping on social media during the height of their career in the United States. 2010 single, “Like a G6,” took off and launched the collective to become the first Asian-American group to reach #1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100. Yet, that wasn’t enough for some American consumers as condescending comments aimed at the group “to go back to Asia” filled social media.

Which brings me to a more recent example from the 2019, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special. BTS was scheduled to perform during the night’s festivities, something that many fans were excited about, me included. It was an opportunity for more representation on a program being watched by about 7.2-10.7 million viewers, but with one step towards progression are two steps backward. CNN correspondents for the night, journalist Anderson Cooper and Bravo TV reality host Andy Cohen, couldn’t help but make snide comments about the Korean artists as they proceeded to talk throughout the entire performance.

It’s remarks like these that make me wonder what else Asian entertainers can do to gain the respect of the western world? Breaking all of the records possible or achieving the unthinkable are all great and fun, yet seem to never amount to anything in the western gaze. Maybe that’s the lesson in all of this – they don’t need the approval of others…they’re surely accomplishing much of what they set out to do, regardless. But I can’t help but think about La Force’s words, “And that is why we will never be compelling enough to be the hero in your eyes.”


Cultural baggage…what better way to start this section than with those two words. Cultural baggage is in the words we hear… the songs we sing… the thoughts we think. Like anything else in this world, it’s complex.

For this section, the words “cultural baggage,” mean the long, long years of history that have resulted in the suppression of black voices. I’m talking about the years and years of thievery against black artists and the black identity. As a result, there may be a better understanding of why there is an expressed need for gatekeeping within the hip-hop community, consequently ensuing discussion on what counts as cultural appropriation.

While writing this, it really dawned on me how interconnected moments in time really are. The year 1900 may seem so far away, but when you really analyze it, you start to realize that underneath it all, some things (a lot of things) really haven’t changed. Frankly, it uncovers the interpellated state that really all of us are in for most of our lives, that is…until we start to question.

Growing up, I was inundated with all kinds of music, ranging from merengue to disco to grunge rock to R&B; there was no genre untouched. I remember one artist in particular that my little, Hispanic grandma loved, Elvis Presley. Growing up during his heyday, my grandma was a big fan, so naturally, I thought he was cool because my grandma is cool—duh. There wasn’t really a specific moment in time when I found out that Elvis sung songs that weren’t his, the realization just kind of accumulated throughout the years.

Songs like “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog,” originally written for and performed by Big Mama Thornton, were “culturally cleansed” to appeal to the masses—the white consumer. Where once existed a drawl and lag of ache and soul, came a sterile, clean, upbeat version with plain accentuations and musicality to dazzle the uniform minds of white America. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything innately wrong with enjoying the Elvis version over the original. Music is subjective after all, and some people may prefer a cleaner pop sound as opposed to a grittier, soulful sound. That’s fair.

The gripe resides in the fact that so many black artists of that time delivered really good, authentic music, but because they were black, that owed success was never met. Elvis was just another symbol of appropriation…another symbol of control over the life of the black individual. He was the ultimate signifier that, ‘Yeah, you’re good…you have talent…but you’re black. But this guy over here? This guy has got good looks, can carry a tune, and he’s white.’ Of course, this sentiment was carried out in a more subdued manner, but you get the gist.

Yet some black artists had nothing but respect for “the King.” Artists like Little Richard to James Brown respected Presley and Presley, in turn, praised the many black artists before him. But like I said, the gripe was never fully against the individual—it’s always been against the system. The system that has been against black people since the beginning. Detailed accounts of minstrel entertainment in the mid/late 1800s to early 1900s proves that this notion of “theft” has been around for longer than many would like to admit. However, in this case, the theft wasn’t solely music-related but instead immersed in the stolen sense of identity.

Minstrel entertainers like Thomas Dartmouth Rice (also known as “Daddy Rice”) or the Virginia Minstrels were all the rage for white Americans who lauded at the overly dramatic, blackfaced performers; meanwhile, black slaves toiled away to survive, nevermind live. If our translated emotions of hardship into sounds of raw expression weren’t enough to take away, then the identity of who we were would surely solidify the feeling of humiliation that was meant to define our status in life—our status in the system.

Thomas D. Rice dancing in blackface

So you can see WHY gatekeeping in hip-hop is almost a means to survival—it’s ingrained in the nature of the people who created it, who lived and breathed it, who depended on it. It’s more than a fad or a trend…it’s more than fame and accolades…more than a genre or a simple name. It’s one of the few things that hasn’t been totally capitalized by others outside the black community—in a way I think it’s almost sacred. When you have the public and music industry saying your sound is “too black” to be considered country (e.g., Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road”) or your simple blackness is “too sexual” (e.g., Little Richard – “Tutti Frutti”) it gets old…fast. And that kind of gatekeeping is still prevalent today. Like I said…some things haven’t changed.

Wesley Morris’ “For centuries, black music…” instilled in me perhaps the most resonant revelation in the matter of this entire piece; “Americans have made a political investment in a myth of radial separateness, the idea that art forms can be either “white” or “black” in character when aspects of many are at least both.” What’s wild about this WHOLE thing is that we have all, to some degree, fallen victim to this idea that music ever belonged to one race.

Why is it that music has been categorized into an ignorant, social construct? Why was there even such a thing as “race music” in the 1920s-1940s? Why do black kids get made fun of for listening to “white people music”–in other words, rock–from their own community? Give me a break. Music, in its purest form, is a feeling…an expression of emotion…an outlet of happiness, anger, joy, pain. Morris states that it’s more complicated than any word could define. The term “appropriation” only skims the surface of what we are really talking about here.

So where does that leave us? I think we would all be doing ourselves, and music, a disservice by falling prone to these invisible boxes of delegation. That’s not to say that respect shouldn’t be given where respect is due. All of the Chuck Berrys, Sister Rosetta Tharpes, Sam Cookes, Rakims, and Notorious B.I.G.s (the list can go on and on) should undoubtedly be given the respect they deserve—because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to a level of respect and understanding.

The most important takeaway from all of this is the transcendence of music. Music transcends all languages, expectations, judgments, skin colors, ideologies, wars—it transcends all.

You see it in songs like the 2000s-esque, R&B “Lookin 4” (Crush feat. Devin Morrison and Joyce Wrice), trilingual homage “Chicken Noodle Soup” (BTS’ J-Hope feat. Becky G), or bias challenging “FSU” (Jay Park feat. GASHI and Rich The Kid); all songs that bring various representations of culture and flavor under one umbrella.

“Chicken Noodle Soup” – J-Hope feat. Becky G

Again, I stress that that isn’t to say that respect shouldn’t be given where it’s due. Many love to take and suck all that they can from black culture—from our music, to our clothes…even to our hair; yet, they fail to show that same appreciation and respect to the people behind that culture—black people. It’s, unfortunately, seen countless times in Kpop, and as we move forward it is my hope that the respect will become second nature to artists and labels of that industry.

Being a homogenous culture, it’s a work in progress but recent events have shown that there is solidarity and respect with Korean artists like BTS, Jay Park, Crush, Tiger JK, GOT7, and others showing their support through statements and donations towards the BlackLivesMatter movement this past summer. Crush aptly said, “Many artists and people around the world get so much inspiration by black culture and music, including me. We have a duty to respect every race.”

That level of recognition and awareness is key to moving forward into a realm where respect is formed and nurtured through conversations between one another from different cultures. Korean YouTube channel, DKDKTV had a segment on cultural appropriation in Kpop, imparting the valuable lesson to “not fall trapped in our own world…to engage in conversations with people from different cultures…to widen [our] views of the world.” It’s so simple, yet unbelievably overlooked.

And with that, I hope the main thing you get from all of this isn’t me telling you that you should listen to Kpop because I think it’s good. Rather, I implore you to take a quick minute of introspection and look at your own biases—whether that be in music, culture, food, WHATEVER IT MAY BE. Because it’s in those moments where you may realize that we all aren’t so different after all.

2020 – A Year in Reflection

As we wrap up one hell of a year, we thought it was only best that we took some time to reflect on some of the really goods things that have come out of this year, specifically with Popscure. Thank you all for making this year a special one—here’s to many more.

What was your favorite write-up from this year? Why?

Tyler W: It’s probably a tie between the Dawit N.M. interview conducted by Cam Murdoch and the Q+A I did with members of the Wild Bunch before the “Our Streets” exhibition, both of which focused on photography. Since practically everyone in the digital age can capture an image with ease, it’s really interesting to me to hear how photographers approach it as an art form.

Jasmine R: My favorite write-up probably has to be “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”— a Q+A written and conducted by Tyler. Documenting the (without a doubt) historical summer of activism and unity is so, so crucial to say the least.

Cam M: The Tyler Donavan piece, I just want that guy to win and have his story shared, so it was big for me to see the response he got from that.

Shannon J: From Overseas, Tyler did a great job poetically telling the story of Kevin Sery and made the piece just as atmospheric and grounded as his music. Otherwise, I was excited to have a couple pieces I wrote go out (“Treasure,” “Bubble Ball“). Since I started working full-time, I haven’t had much time to write for Popscure, so I’m glad I can contribute, and I’m excited to have some new writers on this year too (Allison, James and Noah).

Noah D: Oh jeez, I don’t know. I hate to self-plug but maybe the Why Bonnie interview. It was the first time I’d interviewed a bigger name band, and I just really enjoy the chances it gave me, and I was proud to see it get feedback. Other than that, I loved the recent article [“25 Local Places to Get Gifts in the 757”] focusing on shops in the 757. I think it gave some really solid media coverage to businesses that needed it, and I think it influenced a lot of peoples’ decisions in gift buying.

What was your favorite piece to have edited and published? Why?

Tyler W: I really liked how Jasmine’s interview with LEYA came together because I see that as a great example of how Popscure can create connections both online and IRL. We were able to create a relationship with both the band and their label through email correspondence and then reach new readers through social media shares by the band and label. At the same time, we were telling our local readership about this emerging band that was on tour coming to play in our town. And then we were able to go to the show, meet the band, network with local musicians, etc. I also just really like them and their album—their album was one of my favorites this year. 🙂

Jasmine R: One of my favorite pieces that I helped put out was the Shaina Negrón feature by one of our writers, Darryan. It was a super cool look inside the conjoining of art and self-expression from Negrón. I’m also really proud of our Black Experience Collective that we put together as a response to the events of police brutality and blatant murder and injustice that occurred this year. The collective serves as a platform to amplify the black voices unheard in this country.

Shannon J: Jasmine took care of much of the editing, bless her soul, but one of the few I did was “Coronavirus and Why Your Fave Band Tee Is Important Right Now.” Documenting such a shift on the blog was crucial since so much of our content is dependent on live music and the musicians who play shows.

What was your favorite standout moment for Popscure this year?

Tyler W: One moment that stands out for me is posting the Fake Uzumi feature on our new WordPress site in February. Around that time we were leveling up, and I felt proud of the efforts from our newly-formed team. I knew the feature was going to get a lot of exposure, and I remember feeling like our operations were just starting to run smoothly; we had all been working hard getting ready for this new level of attention.

Jasmine R: One of my favorite moments from this year absolutely has to be the Valentine’s Day-themed party we did with Smartmouth Brewing Co. and Citrus City Records. This may sound cliche, but the energy was literally full of love that night. It was literally “nothin’ but love.”

Cam M: Nothin’ but love show with Smartmouth.

Shannon J: Stay Put Fest 2020 was amazing. It was such a fun challenge to translate the exhilaration, fun, and camaraderie of live music onto people’s phones. It was the first time I’d chatted with local showgoers and saw my friends play music in months. There were technical difficulties and a learning process for sure, but I think everyone appreciated it. FlyyScience’s COVID info takeover was super interesting too, and getting to know her and her work was awesome. We just really had to think outside of the box this year with events. No one stole our Instagram account either, which was a plus!

Noah D: I haven’t been on the team long enough to comment!

What do you most look forward to in the future of Popscure?

Tyler W: I look forward to us continuing to grow our team. By adding more contributors, Popscure will expand our investigation into the various aspects of culture and bring our findings to our community.

Jasmine R: Our growth!!!

Cam M: Breaking boundaries and bringing obscure talent to the masses.

Shannon J: Parties, hopefully we can do something fun in the summer!

Noah D: Writing more, editing, carving a voice for myself in the team, etc. etc.

Thank you all for the love and support you showed us this year! On to the next one…

Join NYC Nightlife United in Keeping NYC’s Lights On

2020 has served us all a harsh reminder that “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” Late-night hangs with friends are cut short…big celebrations are canceled or reimagined in a new way fitting of a dystopian novel…things that were once a lighthouse amidst the storm of life have gone dim. I mean, things weren’t perfect before COVID, but at least we had those small sanctuaries of respite. Now, as society begins to rebuild itself to a “new normal,” many will be left struggling to keep their heads above water. And unfortunately, many of those will be members who have brought us that joy and happiness that we took for granted—from artists and musicians to venue workers and small business owners, everyone in the music and entertainment industry has inevitably been affected. To make matters worse, the disparity of who will be affected is disheartening with minority-owned businesses and BIPOC & LGBTQIA spaces being most at risk at closing due to financial struggles.

And this is where we come in. A collective of New York’s finest–ranging from community organizers to music professionals–have come together under the organization, NYC Nightlife United, to support the community that has given them so much life and joy, and they are asking for our help. The organization has launched a fundraiser via Kickstarter to raise $20,000 for NYC’s nightlife–specifically the cultural hubs that have fostered a kinship of community and creativity in BIPOC and LGBTQIA spaces. Kickstarter works off a “pledge” system where you can pledge a specific amount of money and get a reward in return. Rewards include specially curated NNU merchandise, vinyl bundles, and some amazing works by Ebru Yildiz, including exclusive zine prints from For The Record and her photography book documenting the days leading up to the closing of Brooklyn music venue staple, Death by Audio.

You know…there’s one more thing 2020 has taught us—the importance of community. I think it goes without saying that we all have a strong love and appreciation for the arts and for the feelings of camaraderie and pure bliss that come along with it. While NYC is miles and miles away from Virginia, I’d like to think of them as part of our community…and us a part of theirs.

To learn a little more about the initiative, check out the Q+A I did below with NNU member, Morgan Schaffner, and don’t forget to view the Kickstarter here!

Did NYC Nightlife United form as a response to COVID-19 and the closures that came along with it? If so, do you see the organization branching off into other avenues of action in the future?

Yes! We formed back in March as an emergency relief fund to save NYC’s nightlife cultural spaces and those in the nightlife ecosystem. Since initially forming NYC Nightlife United, we’ve refocused our efforts on prioritizing aid for the most vulnerable, specifically BIPOC-owned and led businesses who create safe spaces for the BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities.

Why choose Kickstarter as your platform for funding?

We decided to roll with Kickstarter as a fundraising platform because we wanted to give something back (ie: rewards) to the individuals who wanted to donate to our cause. With Kickstarter, we found it incredibly easy to tell our story and display a lot of the awesome rewards!

In what ways are you all aiming for this fundraiser to tangibly provide?

Our Kickstarter profits will be going towards providing venues and individuals in the NYC nightlife ecosystem with emergency relief grants.

How does the organization plan on distributing the donations? Is there a process?

The first round of applications for the grants just closed on 9/23, but the money from this Kickstarter will be going towards the second round of emergency grants. Once the applications open for the second round of grants, we hope to help even more folks in the community!

What do you think is the biggest misconception about BIPOC and LGBTQIA cultural spaces, such as music venues and nightlife hubs? Music and entertainment industry?

If you take anything from these words, please know that nightlife IS culture. And specifically, throughout much of popular American, music and culture has always been appropriated from BIPOC and LGBTQIA cultural spaces. You see it again and again from American music’s black roots–where white artists became the faces (and highest earners) of genres with overlooked, underpaid black originators.

You also see it in the co-opting of “Voguing” culture from the young, brown, queer youth of NYC’s ballroom scene. Ultimately, we need to work hard to protect our cultural spaces where folks gather–the music venues…the nightlife hubs–because without them, we don’t have culture. And without culture, what do we have?

Will the NYC Nightlife United Sessions livestream series continue after the fundraiser deadline?

Yes! Absolutely. We’re already planning Volume 2 of the next NYC Nightlife United Sessions livestream series. 🙂

Any more plans for another pledge reward to be added amongst the great options you all have already provided?

Yes! We are adding more pledge rewards every day between now and the end of the campaign (which is Oct. 17 @ 9AM EST).

Have you all found much support outside of New York? (Sidenote: We are based in Norfolk, VA)

We’ve surprisingly found a lot of support outside of the NYC area! I think it’s humbling and honestly awesome that our cause relates and speaks to so many folks, especially since so many artists have had their first “break through” moment in their careers while in NYC.

The current pandemic has illuminated a significant amount of flaws within our society at every level possible. What, if any, flaws have become glaringly apparent during this new environment within the music and entertainment industry?

There’s so many flaws, especially in NYC, that have been incredibly obvious. Flaws that come to mind include the lack of rent protections for commercial lease holders, the lack of federal funding and support for small businesses outside of the PPP loan, as well as venue and live entertainment businesses’ inability to thrive at a reduced capacity.

Concert venues were the first businesses to close due to COVID-19 and will be among the last to return–while there’s some talk of venues re-opening with social distancing and 25% capacity, that’s just really not a sustainable business model. While it hasn’t been easy, I do also believe that the Paycheck Protection Program and rent moratoriums in NYC are the only reason more venues haven’t closed permanently (yet).

In what ways do you think NYC Nightlife United will provide education, or spur conversation, on these flaws? Is education of such topics something you all are interested into exploring more?

Yes! I hope with the work we’ve done, we can continue to educate folks on the issues that those in NYC nightlife ecosystem face, along with providing secure funding for those who are truly in need.

What is one thing you all hope people will take away from this?

I hope that folks will recognize, that while organizations like NIVA + NYIVA are doing amazing work actively lobbying local and federal governments, our aim is to provide direct IMMEDIATE emergency relief for folks in the NYC nightlife ecosystem. We established our Kickstarter campaign as a way to provide rewards and something in return for all the folks who are interested in helping the community ASAP. ❤️

We wish Morgan and the rest of NYC Nightlife United the best of luck and success in their mission to providing BIPOC and LGBTQIA spaces the help they need during this time! The fundraiser only has 4 MORE DAYS before the deadline on Oct. 17th @9AM EST, and they are just under $2,000 shy of their goal to $20K. For more information on the cause, and to donate, click here!

Embracing Your Inner Bish at the ART BISH Digital Festival

Find your inner BISH at the 3rd ever ART BISH Digital Festival Wednesday, Sept. 30th at 5 PM PST//8 PM EST. Tickets are on sale now ($5 OFF PROMO CODE here) with an Early Bird ticket going for $15 and a VIP package that includes a BONUS 45-minute Q+A Session with a headliner of your choice and an exclusive VIP merch box, for $125. For every ticket sold, $1 will be donated to The Global Alliance Against Trafficking of Women (GAATW), an organization committed to fighting worldwide sex trafficking.

The festival is a LIVE online event dedicated to connecting aspiring womxn passionate about the creative arts. Started by founder Claire Bishara, the festival is designed to dissolve the mysteries and misconceptions about starting a career, as a womxn, in the creative industry. The full experience will include six stages headlined by some of the most successful womxn in their respective industries ranging from fashion designers to full-time artists, all who will share their stories and tips on evolving your passion into a career!

Other opportunities include having the chance to shop at and support womxn-run virtual vendor booths (ART BISH Apparel, alilpickle, and Manic Diaries) and network with fellow creatives attending the festival in chat booths.

Most importantly, the ART BISH Festival aims to eliminate gatekeeping by allowing attendees the chance to request and join a stage via video-chat, ultimately allowing for a space of community and authentic interaction.

If you’re not sold yet, take a look at the lineup below and read our Q+A with the main BISH herself, Claire Bishara.

Stage 1: BADWOOD | Stage 2: Sweet Mutuals | Stage 3: Ashourina Washington
Stage 4: Sincerely Art | Stage 5: Cassie Marin | Stage 6: Cloudnai

How did ART BISH begin and what is it at its core?

I started out as a painter. I would show my work at art shows all over Los Angeles and Orange County and tag my paintings “Art Bish.” People always commented that they loved the name, and so I decided to order a tank top off the internet and rhinestone it myself to say “ART BISH.” I took it everywhere with me and shot it on every girl I could find.

People instantly started wanting one, and so I started to make more forms of apparel that said ART BISH. The brand formed into a clothing brand that empowered the badass womxn artists. The apparel turned into a podcast, which turned into festivals and now it’s a full digital platform that empowers creative womxn!

What made you want to start Art Bish?

I started ART BISH because as an artist, I always grew up feeling like I could never live a successful life as an artist. I tried to fit into other career paths and find another hobby that I thought would make me successful but being a creative constantly pulled me back. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I got more invested in the LA art world that I started to come across these super successful badass creative womxn who had full throttle careers and businesses from being artists, designers, photographers and more! I wanted to get the word out there and highlight these women in hopes of inspiring other emerging artists to go after their creative dreams.

You mentioned this is different than a panel discussion format, how so?

What makes this festival different is that not only do our attendees get to hear advice, tips, and tools from some of the most successful womxn in the creative space, but they also get the chance to jump on stage with them via video chat and connect face to face. This lets our attendees have a more open and authentic conversation and truly get inspired. In addition, our festival has both a networking portion and a virtual expo where our attendees get to video chat with other attendees at the festival and shop exclusive deals from womxn run businesses.

Who are a few artists you’re most excited about?

I am truly excited for every single artist at this festival! Just because of my background in painting and fashion, I am definitely excited to see Badwood kill it at her stage!

Did you do gatherings IRL before the online events?

No, we had not…it was definitely something we were working towards and still want to do in the future but these festivals were purely born in quarantine.

Tell us a bit about what guests can expect from an ART BISH event?

Something the festival guests can expect is that they are going to truly leave the festival feeling completely moved to go after and chase their creative passions. The festival is such an inspiring experience, it’s almost impossible not to leave feeling a new sense of pride in your creative talents and a new sense of ambition to start making moves in your creative career! I think they can also expect to learn quite a lot.

I personally think that our education system doesn’t do the best job at not only valuing creative careers but teaching us enough about the real tools we need to know to pursue them. Our festival does a great job at this because you are hearing directly from the womxn who are currently living that dream out and who are at this festival to show our attendees how they can do the same.

Do you dabble in any art/creative mediums yourself or are you just a lover/promoter of the arts (I can relate!)

Yes, I definitely do! I started out as a painter and that will forever be my first creative love. I also do photography, creative directing, fashion designing and more! I like to try and do it all!

Thank you Claire for the Q+A and for giving aspiring artists a space to feel inspired and empowered! Be sure to stay tuned to our features of every artist headlining at ART BISH! And don’t forget to tune in to the festival on Wednesday, Sept. 30th at 5 PM (PST) 8 PM (EST). You can learn more and buy tickets here!

Sight Is Faculty, Seeing Is Art: An Interview with Dawit N.M.

Dawit N.M. is an Ethiopian photographer and filmmaker with an aesthetic that is both intimate and reticent. His debut museum exhibition, The Eye That Follows, will be on display at The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, through August 16th. Dawit’s story is one that invites onlookers to view life honestly in Ethiopia, Virginia, and New York. While personal to the artist, these images express ubiquitous themes of community, family, and faith. Over the past few years, Dawit has released a book, earned a nod for Emerging Director at the American Black Film Festival, and continues to emerge as one of the exciting, new perspectives in film and photography. Our CEO and Marketing Director, Cam Murdoch, caught up with Dawit to talk about his debut exhibit, the sacred nature of identity, and surviving 2020.

With COVID-19 and a national uprising, how have these “uncertain times” affected you?

I kind of got used to the quarantine lifestyle because I work from home, so it wasn’t that big of a change, just my roommates are at the house too now, so I was there with them all of the time. That was a little adjustment, but for the most part it was chill. I was there for the protests in Brooklyn for the first three weeks, and out of nowhere you would just start hearing loud fireworks going off every night. Every night you would hear police sirens, for no reason sometimes. It just got crazier and crazier, and I’m hearing that it’s even getting worse now.

Other than that, I’ve been chilling. Just really focused on work and getting this show up again [the exhibit was initially scheduled for March but delayed for COVID-19 closures]. It’s been actually a needed time to catch up on some work and to catch up on some studies. The first couple of weeks I was super pressed to work as much as I [could], but then I gave myself a week of vacation, and I was like, ‘Damn, I haven’t had that in such a long time.’ The concept of not working seemed so foreign to me because of the hustling mindset I’d inherited from the people I came up from and also this society. I’m realizing all of the effects of capitalism . . . like I knew it was there, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I didn’t have anything to do.

Your work has consistent themes of community, family, and day-to-day life. Why are these subjects important for you to explore, or is it simply life captured in your style?

I’m a firm believer in just telling your story and that the best person to tell your story is you. So, a lot of my photos are usually just friends or family because I know them the most. I feel comfortable taking their images because I know they are comfortable with me taking their image. They know I’m going to represent them in a way that’s true. It’s just going to be a documentation of that moment . . . just like the image, Brad, Solo, and the Mirror. It seems like there are three people in that image, but it’s really just Brad and his child Solo and his reflection. That came from me and him just talking about how he came from a fatherless home and how he’s now a single father. We were just reflecting on that, and I just made an analogy within the photo where he was looking into the camera through the reflection.

Dawit N.M. (Ethiopian, b. 1996)
Brad, Solo, and the Mirror, Portsmouth, Virginia, 2018
Courtesy of the artist

Also, on the surface level, I’m just way more comfortable with people that I know. I’ve trained myself to find moments in everyday life [that] can look beautiful and interesting in a photo or film format. Even the stuff I did for Mereba, if you took away all of the music and the nice visuals and just imitated what she was doing, it’s really nothing crazy that she’s doing. It’s just the feelings that are present within those moments.

You and Mereba seem to have a lot of creative chemistry that feels like an extension of your previous works as a photographer.

The Universe lined it up, and it was the perfect collaboration. When I first got the email about the Mereba video, it was like the week before I was going to move into my apartment in Brooklyn. At the time, I had this job offer as an editor, and the safest route would be to take the job offer . . . but man, I would have regretted it if I didn’t take the Mereba video. I remember at the end of the first shoot, she came up to me and told me I did an amazing job. It was my first time handling a shoot that big, with that big of a crew. At that moment, I feel like that trust was really solidified. I think that’s when we realized that we wanted to keep working together. The reason I’m doing this is to help people, so if someone has that same purpose, I think I would have a connection with them. I mesh well with people who are super genuine and genuine about their craft.

Tell me if you agree. Learning something as a craft comes from a place of love for that thing, whereas some learn in order to commodify and sell their skills who may not have a love for the craft.

I don’t want to work with anyone that doesn’t have a purpose, and I’m starting to question that whole notion because I feel that everyone’s purpose should be to just . . . help one another. It’s just a matter of figuring out how you can go about helping someone. I used to ask myself what my purpose was in life, but then I started to ask how I can help someone. Right now, it’s through the format of film and photography. For a long time, even now still, Ethiopians are misrepresented in the media. That’s why I did the photo-book, Don’t Make Me Look Like The Kids on TV. Even while working with Mereba, not only was I presenting her in an amazing way, I was also showcasing a different narrative that people weren’t used to, especially for someone with an Ethiopian background. The main reason I became a photographer or filmmaker wasn’t really for a love of the craft, it was more a love of the people, a love for preserving the culture, and archiving it for future generations.

With everything that’s going on today with facial recognition, monitoring, even wearing masks outside, there seems to be a new emphasis on the intimacy of seeing someone’s face. Have you thought about that in comparison to your stylistic element of obscuring the face in your portraits?

It’s a cliché statement but a true statement, the eye really is the window to the soul. Also, . . . I had this eye infection when I was younger, so I’m always curious and careful about eyes and not so much in the face. A lot of my photo work revolves around hiding the face because when people were taking pictures of Ethiopia during the drought, they didn’t respect the people’s identity. They would just take these photos of people and just plaster their face[s] everywhere. That motivated me to find ways in which I can hide the face while still showing the person’s presence.

Dawit N.M. (Ethiopian, b. 1996)
Still from Mereba’s – Planet U music video, directed by Dawit N.M., 2018
Courtesy of the artist

I always wanted to push the portrait world a little bit further, and I was kind of bored at looking at the portrait standard way of image-making. One of the ways was to distort the face. When I’m editing, it’s really just changing the colors up a bit, and that’s about it. So, I try to do all of the effects in the camera . . . so I’m still documenting the moment, and I’m not altering the image in any way—it’s simply how I captured it. I’m still a documentary photographer, but I go about things in a very “fine art” way.

Even though this year has been wild, it’s still important to look forward. What are some things that you are looking forward to with the world attempting to reopen?

I’m looking forward to seeing how I balance out work and life. Now I’m getting a better understanding of being more disciplined. During the restrictions, I built up a level of discipline, and with them lifting some of those restrictions, I want to see if I can uphold the same discipline in whatever world we live in next. I’m interested in what kind of stories are going to be told now, even how things are going to be shot within film and photography. I feel like there’s a big change coming in the world, and I’m interested to see what comes next.

Thank you to Dawit N.M. for the opportunity to conduct this interview. Preview some more of his work below, and be sure to visit The Eye That Follows exhibition currently on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art through August 16th.


Support the resistance, Black lives matter! We’ve made a handy list of good places to donate to during this time. If you have any you’d like to suggest, please email us at popscuremedia@gmail.com

Support the resistance, educate yourself! We’ve made a handy list of good books, podcasts, movies, and other resources to check out. If you have any you’d like to suggest, please email us at popscuremedia@gmail.com

Support the resistance, show up for POC! Here’s some petitions to sign, articles to read, and more resources. If you have any you’d like to suggest, please email us at popscuremedia@gmail.com

Remembering Katherine Johnson and Others In Shetterly’s Hidden Figures

This week we lost Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician who was an integral part of the United States race to space. Her calculations were so spot-on that astronaut John Glenn requested she double-check behind the NASA computers to make sure all the math was correct. In her 35-year career, she broke down racial and social barriers as she was one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist. After receiving both a Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, Johnson lived a long hardy life to the age of 101.

With her contributions so carefully immortalized in the book Hidden Figures, we figured (no pun intended) that it would only make sense if we shared a piece that our editor-in-chief Shannon Jay wrote back in 2016 when the book’s author Margot Lee Shetterly came to speak at Old Dominion University in conjunction with the release of the Oscar-nominated film based on her book. For anyone who has not read the book or seen the film, we can’t recommend it enough and urge you to seek it out.

“We are the breath of our ancestors” rang the harmonized voices of Old Dominion’s choir, an appropriate sentiment for the events unfolding the night of January 11th.

The song “We Are”, by acclaimed all female, all African-American acapella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, encompassed the themes explored in the university’s 33rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance.

The main event was speaker Margot Lee Shetterly — if you don’t recognize the Hampton, VA native by name, the title of her first novel, Hidden Figures might ring a bell. The best-seller was turned into a feature-length film and hit theaters in a big way, beating out Star Wars for the #1 spot at the box office in its first week.

The story follows four women, two of which received honorary degrees from ODU. During the years of 1943 through 1968, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden worked with other black female mathematicians at NASA Langley in a segregated room. With only pen and paper, these women computed through World War II and went on to calculate the trajectories that would orbit John Glenn around Earth and send Neil Armstrong to the moon.

Coming from no farther than West Virginia, these four extraordinary women are woven in the fabric of our state’s history. “This is a celebration of this place and its people,” Shetterly said. “We have always known this region is a place of fascinating and often complicated history, but now the world knows it, too.”

During a time when segregation was still heavily prevalent and women couldn’t even get a credit card in their own name, “the women of Hidden Figures upend [what it means to] be female, to be black, to be a scientist, and to be American,” Shetterly said.

Mary Jackson had to apply for special permission at Hampton High School to take advanced math classes, and went on to become presumably the country’s first black female aerospace engineer. Katherine Johnson was born in 1918, a birth year where black baby girls faced just a 2% chance of graduating high school. She calculated the orbital space flight that allowed John Glenn to achieve “American domination of the heavens” during the Space Race. Christine Darden, from a segregated grade school with second hand textbooks and no science lab, wrote the computer program that set the industry standard for sonic boom minimization, and became NASA’s leading expert on the topic.

While the night focused on King’s ideals to improve the lives of African-Americans, and how those same values are applied to women, Shetterly wanted to make clear these women “wanted to be what John Glenn says in the movie — the ‘smart one,’ [just] the right person for the job.” She emphasized that the women of the Hidden Figures story needs to be told “not just because they are black or because they are women, but because they too are part of our great American epic.”

Image courtesy of NASA

In the shadows instead of out on the streets, Shetterly said, these women were “marching not with their feet, but with their mathematical talent” for racial and gender equality. There’s an added layer of nobility with this particular group’s civil rights work, having faced dehumanizing segregation at work daily. However, Shetterly said, “they wore their professional clothes like armor, [and] they wielded their mathematical talent like a weapon, warding off the presumption of inferiority because they were black or female.”

Shetterly’s father worked alongside these women at NASA, and the author only heard their story when her husband, Aran Shetterly, inquired about her father’s time there. That was 6 years ago, and ever since Margot Lee Shetterly has interviewed the women and spent time with their families to uncover the untold story. Their amazing achievements inspired her to found The Human Computer Project, which works to archive all the stories of African-American women who worked as computer scientists and mathematicians at the height of NASA that history has skimmed past.

The Human Computer Project aims to collect and highlight the contributions of women to NASA and NACA throughout the years.

The women of “Hidden Figures” felt the weight of the responsibilities the ODU choir hummed and Sweet Honey in the Rock chanted. “They knew,” Shetterly said, “that every action they took over the course of their long careers would have implications for the next generation of people who looked like them.” Along with being great at their job, Shetterly said, these women and their colleagues were out to prove “that excellence has neither color nor gender.”

When an audience member asked if the film would have a sequel, Shetterly responded that it won’t be a direct second act, but she’s working on another book, and hopes for a long career in telling stories untold.

From Shannon Jay: “Johnson was there that day, and even then I realized how special it was to share a room with history – a woman whose achievements were monumental and so important not only to black women, but to all of America. Now, with her passing, it’s a moment I’ll hold even more dear.

Katherine Johnson 8/26/1918 – 2/24/2020

Popscure X No Preserves

Hi friends, it’s been a minute.

As this decade closes and new one begins, much reflection has taken place. A whole 10 years – that’s truly how long I’ve been doing this shit.

Flash back to 2010, my junior year of high school, when my concert buddies Trey and Ryan invited me to contribute to their music blog, Let This Colony Know. While my Blogspots and Xangas before had been scattered with musings on music here and there, this step was my first transition into more actualized music writing and blogging. 

Later on, artists I gushed over on LTCK such as James Mercer of the Shins or Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards would become my interview subjects. Eventually, I would get paid to write, and when that wasn’t paying enough, freelancing would become the side gig to a full-time job.

Somewhere in between, I started Popscure. Despite the concept of music blogs being shoved to more obscure corners of the internet, I persisted. With the ability to stream all the music you’d ever want, including algorithmic pushes into new directions, who needs an independent music authority anyway?

I wanted to make it something different, bigger, and more impressive than LTCK, with video, podcasting, and events spanning all realms of media. Tyler and Jerome saw the big picture before I did and offered to help transfer my vision over to popscuremedia.com. 

Popscure is a platform showcasing independent artists and diving deep into their creative process, acute analysis of pop culture’s past and present to dictate its future, and serves as a guide through the thick jungle of content straight to the cool stuff.

What started as a lowly Tumblr to practice journalism became a full-fledged media site after I graduated college. With no prospects in sight, I decided to build the blog up and create something to show potential employers. 

Interviewers feared their offerings weren’t “creative enough” and passed on hiring me until my current bosses at Array Digital were excited instead of intimidated by my creation – they got it and they hired me. Thus, the blog I had put all my spare energy, time, and creativity into took a back seat.

In August, friends from No Preserves reached out to reinvigorate the project. Their team of eager writers, producers, marketers, and designers offered to take a load off my shoulders, and somehow marry our brands in a way we can work together instead of against each other. 

It’s a win-win situation: writers like Darryan and Jasmine can build up a portfolio while also learning how to run and operate a blog; producers like Cam can feature artists they’re working with and expand their audience; designers like Tavis can have a media outlet to showcase his work with animation, video, digital art and logo making; videographers like Alex can create new content to hone their skills.  

I feel like the biggest winner, though. Thankfully, folks have seen what I’ve manifested collectively over a decade and want to keep the train chugging along. I get to share all the doors Popscure has opened for me, the skills it has taught me, and all the joy it has ignited in others. 

So with that, I announce a new partnership between No Preserves x Popscure; to expand our networks, work smarter not harder, and usher in the next generation of artists for the next decade.

– Shannon

Strange Negotiations with David Bazan and Brandon Vedder

by davey jones

In an alternate reality, David and I would probably both be at church around the time I called Sunday afternoon. I’d seen Bazan’s band, Pedro the Lion, play at Cat’s Cradle recently. I’ve been listening to his music for more than twenty years and went to speak with him when I saw him outside.

“I just wanted to thank you in person. Your music helped me have the courage to leave church.” With a knowing look on his face, he simply said, “That’s a hard thing.”

Pedro the Lion began as a Seattle slowcore project in the Nineties, initially characterized as a Christian band with their release of the Whole EP on Tooth & Nail Records. David Bazan continues to write the lion’s share of the music, having toured with a revolving cast of over twenty musicians for live shows. Bazan shared his struggle with faith on the subsequent debut album, It’s Hard to Find a Friend, perhaps most evidently in the song “Secret of the Easy Yoke

Could someone please tell me the story / Of sinners ransomed from the fall /

I still have never seen you / And some days I don’t love you at all.

Bazan’s lyrics go beyond spiritual trials. His next two conceptual albums, Winners Never Quit and Control, held tales of political corruption, murder, religious hypocrisy, corporate greed, infidelity, and the sense that we could be treating each other better. Achilles Heel was more direct than conceptual. The song “Foregone Conclusions” laid out Bazan’s perspective on the bedside manner of many evangelicals:

You were too busy steering / The conversation toward the Lord /

To hear the voice of the Spirit / Begging you to shut the fuck up.

When Pedro the Lion played that song at a Christian music festival in 2004, panties reportedly were thrown on stage as a sign of approval. There were likely attendees that would withdraw from an F-bomb dropping on a song about God, but others obviously understood what Bazan was saying about the incessant salesmanship of their brethren.

By 2006, Bazan needed a break from the Pedro the Lion moniker and, among other projects, began touring by himself under his own name. While he would come to resurrect Pedro the Lion, Bazan has not done the same for his faith.

2009 saw Bazan booking an acoustic tour in people’s living rooms for Curse Your Branches, described as an album about breaking up with God. Having aired his deity laundry, he began to take a look around. Strange Negotiations, put out in 2011, might serve as a better State of the Union Address. The titular track describes the alienation many Americans are experiencing as they are squeezed for our collective financial sins:

But now it’s you who doesn’t know what a dollar is worth /

You got the market its own bodyguard / And all the people are getting hurt

This album also inspired the name of screenwriter Brandon Vedder’s documentary, screening up and down the east coast this week. Having read the Kickstarter pitch for the film, I know that he followed Bazan around for two years filming conversations about art, faith, truth, and America. 

I talked to David Bazan and Brandon Vedder via phone about their collaboration:

Davey Jones: How did you get involved with Dave and decide to make a documentary about him?

Brandon Vedder: I listened to Pedro the Lion in high school and college. I was on a drive after finishing a film and I was listening to a podcast by Pete Holmes, called You Made It Weird, and Dave was on. It started a fire. Afterwards, I went home and printed out all Dave’s lyrics and put a book together so I could read them as a narrative. Our mutual friend, Alison, produced it.

DJ: I rented your film, In Pursuit of Silence, last night and was fascinated by the spiritual and scientific aspects. I also read about A Certain Kind of Light, focused on death and listening. Do you feel like Strange Negotiations is a culmination of these ideas?

BV: Sure. I started by shooting bands, but I’ve always been interested in bigger ideas.

DJ: Did you have to adapt your approach after Silence?

BV: I had to be small and agile and keep up with the pace of what Dave is doing. There was a closeness, without a cam op or a boom op that would’ve complicated production. So that was a challenge, being a one-man band and having to scale up to 3 or 4 cameras and record sound at a venue.

David Bazan: If I can chime in for just a second… I would say that Brandon’s process was as manic as my own. It wasn’t really a choice. We had to get in my headspace. I was inviting him into my insecurity. We are both really hard on ourselves, and although we were able to pull it off, we were both fatigued all the time.

I tell Dave about meeting him outside of Cat’s Cradle, and he responds…

David Bazan: Yeah, it is a hard thing. It’s a lonely thing, leaving that club.

DJ: I’ve read interviews with you that say you reformed Pedro the Lion for musical reasons, but did you consider having to speak with your Christian fans again?

 Image via  ansley lee
Image via ansley lee

DB: The affiliation brings a certain attention and scrutiny. Some people may not have gotten the memo from 2005. Others may have had shifts in their thinking. I spent a lot of time deconstructing. Now it is time for reconstruction. I wanted to hang out with people again. I wanted to bring tenderness back to Pedro.

DJ: Returning to the name Pedro the Lion probably stirs certain feelings. What is your relationship to faith now?

DB: I was engaged in a conversation in my head. I thought it was with God. I didn’t get to keep that conversation, even though it had a lot of meaning for me.

DJ: I know a lot of people probably ask you “what was the hardest thing” about leaving church. What was the easiest thing about leaving church for you?

DB: It’s such a relief… I had thoughts that don’t fit into the program. Part of me is contrary. I want to think my own thoughts… evaluate the data. I didn’t like the obligation, the tension. People asking for an answer and assuming that it’s going to be along the party line.

DJ: It’s interesting to me that use the words party line, that phrase. That’s part of what the documentary is about, right? Not just your relationship with faith, and talking about it with people after shows, but also how American Christianity relates to the current political conversation… or lack of it.

DB: I always thought language was the way to change the behavior. The words were the seeds, the fruit was our behavior… peace, love, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness. No one’s trying to grow anything. They’re beating each other up with it. It’s just bad math with words. I grew up with a more idealistic sense of how people should treat one another… the implications of the Good Samaritan. People that know that story, people I love and respect, they supported a sexual predator and proto-fascist for president. There’s an extra layer of disappointment, having to remove yourself from a social group acting in a way you never thought possible. It’s a shock. It’s a blow.

DJ: Do you take some sense of hope from our system of government, the bureaucracy, stonewalling a guy like Trump, keeping him from doing as much damage as he might have if he were German in the 1940s?

DB: It took a while in Germany, too. We’re right on track if we don’t mobilize our interest in democracy. We have to insist. We have to do it at the ballot box. We’re at an impasse. I don’t want to listen to some guy’s elevator pitch for authoritarianism. We have to talk to our moms and dads and our college roommates that have conservative podcasts. It’s the third quarter and it’s a toss-up. It shouldn’t be close. I have hope, but there’s a decent chance it goes the other way.

DJ: I read an article recently about the conditions at an immigrant detainee camp. I also heard that Ocasio-Cortez caught flak for referring to them as concentration camps. Tell me how you feel about that.

DB: She’s the greatest threat they have right now. She’s not gonna be able to say anything without taking flak. Even if they don’t meet the definition of concentration camps, they’re baby versions… denying soap and toothbrushes to children like they can’t afford it. Immigrants aren’t creating economic difficulty in this country… it’s the hoarders siphoning money out of the system, outsourcing jobs. It’s a con job.

DJ: Do you think there’s a way to incentivize people to treat each other better?

DB: Yes. I think the incentives already exist. But it’s a question of narrative. Maybe they are unaware of the incentives. Or they aren’t as turned on, not as excited by looking for similarities between themselves and people that talk in a language that they don’t understand and sounds harsh to them. We’re all just people. We’ve all got problems. Trump’s got dad issues… he shouldn’t be in charge… he’s a wounded person. A wounded person that’s seduced other people. 

DJ: Seduced. That’s a good way to put it. Last year I read about Christians defending Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels by comparing him to King David. What do you think of that?

DB: You can make the Bible say whatever you want, support whatever you already believe…

DJ: Like slavery.

DB: Or concentration camps. They’ve got blinders on, supporters of Trump. I read that kids were being molested and I shared that with someone I love that also happens to support Trump. He said those kids were probably molested before they even got there. I don’t know why. I think that’s wrong on six different levels. I love him dearly, but his values don’t add up. It’s like finding out your family are monsters. Like a zombie movie. They got bit. How? I don’t know how. I was with them the whole time. I didn’t see it.

We talk a little more about the Christian bookstore that David bought Christian death metal tapes from when he was 14, and how one of his favorite bands is Fugazi. I ask Brandon about his next films. He says he is working on a project called Upriver People with the Karuk Tribe in California. Then they have to go. I tell them I look forward to seeing them at the film showing in Richmond, happening this evening. You can buy tickets in advance here. They’ll be at Chapel Hill tomorrow, and tickets can be purchased here.