For this special, Halloween-inspired installment of 'The Cultural Reset's' Artist Interview Series, TCR heads Nick Lee and Shannon Ervin sat down with dark-pop, futuristic soul duo The Black Creatures' to discuss the horror/fantasy and real-life experiences that influence their music, being POC and LGBTQ+ in the music industry, and their most recent album release 'Wild Echoes'.
Photo By: Beth Taye-"The Black Creatures"
Nick Lee: Hello everyone! My name is Nick Lee Creator and the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Cultural Reset’ and this is my Assistant Director Shannon Ervin!
Shannon Ervin: Hello! You can call me Shay! My pronouns are she/her. I'm very excited to interview you because I love spooky season and your album is so spooky!
Jade Green: Thank you. Thank you!
S: Would you like to introduce yourselves?
Xavier Martin: Hello, everyone. I'm Xavier of The Black Creatures. My pronouns are he/him. And everyone thinks that my favorite video game character is Sonic the Hedgehog, when in fact it’s [unintelligible].
J: Rightfully so. I'm Jade from The Black Creatures. I use they/them pronouns. And I have a black Cat named Luna. I've been with her for 10 years, she’s my familiar. We're so partnered. It's beautiful.
S: That ties in perfectly with one of the questions I am going to ask you!
N: You both are the perfect fit for our special Halloween addition, but also just the perfect fit for TCR! We like to allow our guests to tell their stories, so I will start you us off with our usual first question: What were your individual creative journeys? And where did they begin?
X: My creative journey began a long, long time ago in a land far away. I remember my first time ever writing, I was in third grade and it was a diss track to my sister. What does a nine-year-old have to write about? I remember trying to be a rapper, and I planned on incorporating my schoolmates into my project. We were going to be called the Thrashers because I was very edgy. I was trying to be tough but, I was a very soft boy, it was so funny. I was just making diss tracks about my sister and talking about videogames. And at that point, they didn't grow into anything. I just was doing a thing for fun. I didn't really think I was going to be a musician. But some years later, I got the opportunity to play violin and I'm in middle school orchestra at Congress. Congress was just the name of the school. And I played with them until high school, then I joined my high school orchestra at Park Hill. The entire time I was doing orchestra I was thinking, I'm going to be a programmer. I was taking classes on programming at school, HTML, Java, Visual Basic. I was teaching myself GML at home. But all the while doing orchestra and at some point, I was making some game when I was 16 and I needed music for it. I'd been doing orchestra for so long I supposed I could use the digital audio workspace to try and make music for this game.
At the time of me trying to pursue that for this game, Skrillex was getting popular and so I started emulating, dubstep because that's what I started listening to. I'd never heard anything like that. I ended up going to a Dead Mouse concert. My first concert ever was Skrillex. I realized it was Skrillex when I was there. I was like, “Who's that girl on the turntable? She's real cute.” Later, we learned that that was a guy named Skrillex. We were really far back and I couldn’t see his face. But anyway I kept thinking I was going to be a programmer. I graduated high school and I got into my programming College of choice. When I was talking to admissions during the summer of 2011, they were asking me about tuition, and I had a thought right then and there on the phone. “What if I just pursued music?” I'd been doing it so long since I was in seventh grade. I started getting into production and I didn't feel like moving to Arizona. So, on the phone with them and then I stopped the lady and said, “Hey, hold on. I think I'm not going to come this year.” And she was like, “Are you sure?” I got in; I was ready to go. Then I said, “Yeah, I think I'm going to do music instead.” So I just kept pursuing production. Me and some friends would DJ at parties and stuff. I would produce stuff, but I wouldn't release a whole lot. Some stuff that I did release, eventually made it to the ears of Jade. At the time I was still making EDM but, working with Jade.
J: We freaked it!
X: We did “freaked it!” That's where we are now. I DJ as a hobby and I produce so many other genres. I don't really fuck with EDM that hard anymore. I don't really go to raves. I like listening to it. But I don't make a whole lot. I'll make house music sometimes, but it's not as heavy as electro house. I make a lot of hip hop and R&B and ambient tunes.
J: I was brought up in the age of 90s and early 2000s, hip-hop and R&B. I have been singing since the car-seat days. I knew from a very young age; that singing is a thing that I can do that brings other people joy and brings me joy. I knew it was something that was going to be part of my life forever. And so I went through my academic life, trying out for choirs and different things. But I was chronically ill as a kid and I missed a lot of school. I got passed up for the fancy choir stuff up until high school. Then I ended up with a teacher who really saw something in me. And he said “No, even if you're only here two days a week, we got to have you in this choir. If you'll study this stuff while you're out sick and you'll come back, you'll know it.” I ended up being the soprano section leader for all the sopranos and my high school. He took a chance on me and I think it really worked out—we did great that year. We went to competitions and got the best ratings that you could. But it also gave me that boost of confidence that I really needed.
Even when people count me out, music is still a skill that I had that I would love to sharpen so that I could use it to be together with people in different ways. I was a pretty sick kid in high school—that didn't change too much. I also ended up running with a different crowd because my home life was bad. I ended up graduating high school and didn't have a place to sleep. I was lucky enough to have a car and so I slept in my car. I spent a lot of time couch surfing, sleeping in the backseat of my car and going to work. Senior year everyone's asking, “What college are you going to?”—your counselors and everyone are really pushing you to make that choice during that time. I decided that I wanted to go to UMKC, which is a university here for music and performing arts. There's a separate application and I'm not sure what happened. Someone fumbled the ball somewhere. I was also couch surfing and trying to survive. So I missed an important deadline to apply to the program and they couldn't make any exceptions. I ended up going to college for German language and culture. I took a strange turn, but I had to keep going.
That whole year was such a blur for me because it was a very painful year, but sometime during my senior year Xavier and I became internet friends. We went to the same high school and never interacted. We saw each other because Xavier was the only dude in school with locks down to his butt and I was the only person in school with green hair.
That senior year was really intense and strange. Xavier and I ended up meeting each other through the Book-of-Faces and we were talking about makeup, our little gender-nonconforming selves. Somehow I stumbled upon his Soundcloud which he maintained fairly regularly. I reached out, and I said, “Hey, do you mind if I like put my vocals on one of these?” And Xavier said, “That is what I want. Please do it.”—without really knowing what I sounded like at all. He didn't even know my speaking voice. What I sent to him was a very poor-quality microphone audio over this song that I had worked on in a free, open source program. He said, “Oh, this is amazing. We have to record this, but we have to record this better. What do we do? What do we do?” And from there, that was our first song.
So Just the space and time in which it happened was—like seriously…if I had not joined the Black Creatures, I would be doing something very different and/or dead. It was just that serious and not to be like “oh my life is meaningless without music” but also, my life was definitely headed toward being meaningless.
S: I read in one of your Q and A's that you use music as a sense of therapy. I have found that to be the case for many people, music is so therapeutic. It's not only the act of creating, but it's the product itself. People listen to music for therapy. I definitely do. I think that it saves lives. Let's talk a about your artistry. What would you say your mission is for your art? Where do you want this to go? What kind of influence you want it to have?
X: This is something we decided years ago, almost a decade ago at this point. We wanted to make music that spoke to and related to the kind of kids that we were. I can't speak for both of us, but I didn't have friends growing up. I didn't care, but I also didn't feel that there were things in the world that existed for me. I was pretty odd and later learned that it was autism. I was just a weird kid in school and surrounded by no one. To have some type of music that helped me sift through those feelings and thoughts would have been ideal. Years ago, when I lived in a different apartment, Jade and I talked about what our mission statement might be, and we've talked about reaching out to young people that felt how we felt when we were young.
J: To date, we've done some work with groups that work with youth. We put out a song with a couple of teens called Rebel Song Academy. That was cool to be a part of. We did a show at a high school once, and one of the teachers really liked us and she told us, “I think my students would really like you.” That was a big success. We want to have the kind of conversations that young adults and teenagers are being shushed out of and told that they can’t think about—they are detrimental to us. In every community, there are conversations that youth are pushed away from. It’s our goal is to create space for having hard conversations and processing very real-life stuff in a very healthy way.
S: That is important for youth who are often told that they either can't have an opinion or shouldn't because they are too young.
N: I definitely agree with that. It’s very crippling for young people who know who they are, but are forced into a box. It’s very unsettling. Given your mission, how does your music cross with your activism? How do they intertwine?
J: Okay. One thing I want to say is, for us, the personal is the political, the political is the personal, as Angela Davis said. I personally live by it. “Activism” right now is a really popular word. This is in no way shade toward the young new freedom fighters who are on the scene—but, activism is changing a lot in what it looks like and rightfully so because we have new tools to combat oppressive systems. Our activism is very community-oriented and real-life based. I don't do it for ego. I get all bashful when I start thinking about it and talking about it. The reason that we have pretty strong themes in our music is because a lot of our experience has to do with growing up black in Kansas City. There are some really violent dynamics at play here for anyone who is Black and in KC. We have the third deadliest police department in the United States. It's real messy over here. I'm always hearing sirens. I've had run-in’s with them—all my friends have. The cops are basically trained here to beat the fuck of you. If you're not doing what they want, that's what they are trained to do. That's the extent of it. We live in a pretty consistent state of fear with fleeting moments of joy, fleeting moments of community, fleeting moments of pleasure activism. Sometimes our music is very directly out of our own storybooks—the storybooks of our own lives, but then some of our songs sound like they come from different fairytales. The songs that are heavy such as Wretched talks about the prison industrial complex and about transformative justice. It references Frantz Fanon who is ‘The Wretched of the Earth.’ That's his book. It is, to date, the most widely referenced. It's the top choice when people want to talk about literature, neo-liberalism, settler colonialism and the settler state.
S: I feel like there’s another question in this too: What emotion fuels your activism?
J: For me, it has to be joy because I tried the anger thing and it burned me out, out, out. Right now, it's like we gotta make sure that we're trying to change the world because of what we love and not because of what we hate. Granted, there are plenty of things to rightfully hate right now. For us, it's very much about what this world would look like if we all knew what it felt like to be free. How would we move differently? If we knew how to communicate with each other, if we knew how to step away and if we all had what we needed. How would we move differently? Most of the time I'm moving in pain, I'm moving out of trauma. Talking about how things are really messed up. Our music acknowledges things are messed up. There's a lot of pain in our hearts for good reason. We have to do something with it. We either move forward or we stop moving. So what's your choice? Pick your fights.
X: I would say that in portraying all of that, Jade and I talk about the spectrum of activism. All of it is necessary—from people writing think pieces to people actively chaining themselves to a courthouse to stop a certain law from passing. I think one of the roles that we know we can fulfill, because of our skillset, is creating a dialogue and opening conversations with people who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to talk. Jade is saying that as far as different leaders in their field (people like Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis, etc.), we can create that bridge for people who have not heard of them—people who have not read their works—and allow those listeners to work through the their relationship with politics and their government and their state and their community.
S: That was a, a heavier question, but something that we make a point to talk about because it is very much relevant and relevant in your music. Your most recent album Wild Echoes. Let’s talk about that. What was the creative process like?
X: It was several years in the making. We were working on our See No Evil album and near the end we were storyboarding Wild Echoes. I remember speaking to Jade about the concept of the general ideas and taking notes down. I remember at the end of See No Evil, we had one song ready for Wild Echoes that hadn't been named yet. The song was Elements. That was the very first song we finished for the next album, and because it was already produced and written, we figured we might as well record it right now.
It was just a long process of us just writing things and saying “is this a good idea?” I think we wrote some stuff and some stuff out, but it didn't really pan out as something we liked. But it also took so long because we were both working and Jade was in school as well. There were just a lot of transitional periods in our lives that were happening in the conception of that. But yeah, it was a lot of time
J: Not to mention, we got signed to Center Cut Records, so they were like, “Oh you gotta make this official and serious and professional.” Cause when they found us, we were sitting in the gutter, like ”…hey look at this little CD we put together!” We were like little mad scientists and we had our little things pieced together. But they were like “guys come on, get it together.” Not that there was that much work to be done, but yeah, the vocals that you hear throughout the album are still the same vocals that we recorded in Xavier's living room—living rooms…because you moved. So all the vocals that you hear are still those vocals, they just got mastered. So that was cool.
So yeah, I know a lot of Wild Echoes also felt like filling in pieces to half-told stories. As much as we wrote it and created it, it's also very much like I owe thanks and allegiance to the universe again. This space time conundrum that occurred to get us in a position where we were writing songs in 30 minutes. All the dominoes. So other songs it'll take like 10 months and it's like“nope this line's still not ready” or “Ooh, that transition. Can we do that again?”
Every song was very lovingly crafted though. Like every single song is a child of ours, for sure. It's like a pet of ours. You don't create pets…they are like our Neopets.
X: Yeah [chuckle]. But when you say, it's a “baby” or “kid” or whatever, a lot of people have come up to us at the end of the show asking us “so how long have you guys been married?” We are not together! So when you say that “Oh, our music is like a kid.” People might be getting the wrong impression.
J: I forget. It's very hetero-centric every time. Would you be surprised if I told you all of the people who have assumed we are together are cis-hetero?? Nothing against them, but also please ask us real life questions. Don't assume that we're like living in a little white picket fence home with a dog and seven children. And we're…I don't know. I don't know what they think.
Artwork by: Suzanne Rae Nelson—"Wild Echoes"
"We need to make our own industry. I think that it was never meant to serve us in the first place."
S: Other options. I think that it's just people think that's the default. But no! We should verge away from that default. There’re so many other options. You don't have to monogamous or hetero and that’s it.
N: I think it's goes back to that idea of people placing you in the box of their comfort so you can be the thing they can understand and mold to their expectations—the thing that they need for you to be.
J: Yeah. We're grown now, but some things just don't change. You know?
X: Couples are musicians together, like who, how many couples like work together? Like consistently? That's not a thing that's common. I think there was the White Stripes and then they got divorced.
J: Nonetheless. We're a series of art pieces that we really beautifully and lovingly crafted. There was not a single song that we looked at and said “yeah, okay.” But rather everything was very carefully crafted.
X: Yeah. Everything’s there on purpose for sure.
S: The one that stood out to me and that I know is going to be a staple song for me is Fear and Chaos. And I actually wanted to ask you a personal question and this is more for Jade. Do you identify as a witch? Because I myself can say, and this is the first time I've actually put this out there, but I definitely do identify as a witch and I've met many, many people who have, and they all are cautious about revealing that. But I do feel a sense of wittiness from you, especially because you say that you're a bad witch in every which way. Pun intended.
J: First of all, thank you for very bravely putting yourself out there. Cause I feel like we sort of lead with an air that is maybe a little mysterious because we're not sure how people are going to react to or respond to us. But I've, I've been a little, a little magical for as long as I can remember. I've definitely been very connected with the unseen and unheard and untapped things. And at this point in my life, you know, I happily have a bunch of little altars around my house and I've got a good community of other witch-folks, root workers, and practitioners as they may call themselves.
And it's very lovely. It's just another way that I get to be in a community with people and encourage them and be encouraged by other people in regards to not fitting into what the mainstream expectation is. And I don't either and still we create beautiful community. We have wonderful events and I know a few people who are really, really working hard again for the witchy youth to try and keep those folks safe. Cause not everyone is experiencing the same levels of safety and comfort in this world. And that's an issue for people who are not causing harm to others specifically.
S: Yeah. And the word “witch” definitely holds significant meaning through history. It's not like Hocus Pocus, it's definitely different entirely, but yes, it is very personal and thank you for sharing that. And honestly, it was difficult for me to even say that because it's people might think I'm insane by saying it.
J: You know, the good news is they'll probably think you're insane either way. If they can't dislike you for the things you're not telling them, they'll find a way to dislike you for the things that you are saying. So that's where I'm at in my life now.
S: I'm just like, you know, I needed that.
J: Thank you. I needed it too. Thank you for letting me say it out and say it out loud, Shay. I appreciate it. But yeah, also like Aliyah and Queen of the Damned or like the trash queen in Elmo and grouch land. Oh my God did y'all watch Lovecraft Country? That's the other thing,
N: I was talking to Shay about this before we hopped on this interview and I was like “Shay, please. You have to stop me from going in deep with the horror genre with these people. Because I will go too deep with them." Because it relates so much to your sound. You reference so many horror classics on your project. And it leads me to ask you this question about your upbringings.
As a deeply spiritual community, the black community has seemingly shunned the horror genre for decades. I grew up in a very southern, religious family that shunned horror, magic, and fantasy. Some of these like wonderful movies, tv shows, and books that we know and love today were banned in our household because they're deemed innately demonic because they ran counter to the norm. I was banned from watching Harry Potter; I was banned from watching anything related to werewolves, vampires, etc. And anytime I would be caught watching something like that at my grandma’s, the question became: “Are you trying to go to hell? Are you trying to do something crazy?” So my question to you is: as people of color, how did you get into this kind of sound? Did you face those same barriers that a lot of people in our community face? What was that like for you guys?
X: So my mom had me quite young and I guess she did not experience a lot of like religious upbringing in her youth so she wasn't barred from that kind of stuff. So when I was young, growing up with my young mother, we watched shows like Charmed. I tried to get into Buffy, but it was just so weird to me. I don't know why, maybe I didn't like vampires at the time, but she would watch Charmed. She got me like the Blade VHS too, so my mom loves horror movies.
However, when I turned seven or eight or something, she started going to church and she started making me go too. And Harry Potter came out around this time and I was not allowed to watch Harry Potter. I was banned from it because she was just like “the church told me that, we got to protect our kids from magic” and all this stuff. And I was thinking “you had me watch the entire series of Charmed start to finish. And now suddenly you're concerned that I might believe in magic? Like what? So I ended up watching it at school because it would just play it at school one day. And I was like “this is a decent movie.
Eventually I guess she just stopped caring because I mean, she loves horror movies I guess. And she just got back into them. And you know, the first time I saw The Ring it was with my mom and it was such a weird experience. Cause I was just like “what is happening in that bathroom!?” That girl freaked me the hell out. I saw parts of Candyman with my mom for some reason. But yeah, we watched alot of horror movies together. And so I think that's where I get my interest in horror. And it actually influences a lot of my sound design. So as a producer, I’ve watched horror movies for reference. I have specific movies and composers from horror movies or sci-fi movies that I specifically reference because of how much I enjoyed their stuff until I was six or seven or something.
"The Black Creatures"
For us, the personal is the political, the political is the personal..."
J: You know what? I can relate. So I kind of identify as having three different families: really I've got a black family, I've got a white family, and I've got a chosen family. I was predominantly raised by my white family up until high school. And then I was on the loose and unchained—Django Jade Unchained.
So there’s religious households. And then there's households where you read the Bible at the dining room table after being forced to finish all of your dinner kind of households. And then there's households there's the houses that invite the Jehovah's witnesses in to engage in debate. There are those households. And unfortunately, I was brought up in a household very much like that.
First of all, Harry Potter was completely off the table to this day. Like you mentioned, that's really funny. I don't even think we've talked about that before. I totally watched the second Harry Potter movie in class one day. And in fourth or fifth grade and we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I had to keep that a secret from my family.
X: Which is funny because, the Chronicles of Narnia is based on religion. Like it's a religious text.
J: But also—no shade to anyone who doesn't believe in magic; no shame to anyone who practices religiously, however they practice. I just…shrug emoji…that's what I say. But yeah, I wasn't allowed to watch Harry Potter. I remember I wanting to go see the Spider-Man movie—the one where Mary Jane and Spider-Man did a little upside-down kiss. My grandpa saw the preview and told me I couldn't go see it. One time I was watching the Powerpuff Girls and one of them farted and my grandpa told me to change the channel because it was not lady like.
I love my family. I just feel like they tried to protect me from, or keep me from doing things that already lived inside of me—things that I already was. On the one hand, I'm probably a great big disappointment, but on the other hand, I speak to a lot of people who have never been spoken to the way that I speak to them. And that matters a lot more to me, and is much more magical, than conforming to a repressive environment.
And it's funny because even when I was trying to conform, it was ridiculous. You should have seen the size of the box they tried to fit me into. It didn't look right. If this were a real box, I would have looked like Play-Doh putty coming up out the sides. Like I can picture that. And very clearly, yeah.
N: Yeah I feel like the industry in general sometimes tries to compartmentalize artists in particular to try to make them carbon copies of other artists so they can be guaranteed to sell. So is there anything about the industry that you think needs to be rectified or changed? Are there any injustices that you both have personally faced?
J: We need to make our own industry. I think that it was never meant to serve us in the first place. When I say us, I mean black creatives. I think the industry was created to help people like Elvis and the Beatles make a lot of money and they did. And everyone’s job was done so they said “Let's shut up shop now and let's go ahead and move on.” I mean, that's also coming from the standpoint of the DIY community, which was the first community that really showed me love.
As far as a community, the DIY community was the first one to look at The Black Creatures and be like “We need you. This community needs you. Come on, let's get to it.” I want to shout out The Untuck Collective which is a trans-feminine, electronic music collective here in KC. They've got a bunch of incredible artists. And we get along because they're also horror movie fans, you know? Shout out to Bath Consolidated, shout out to Mazzy Man, shout out to Mara, shout out to Jasmine Infinity. This phenomenal collective of women who are DJs and are part of the LGBTQ+ community doing phenomenal things. And they're part of the DIY community here in KC. I mean, it's not always been the most inclusive community so it's really awesome to see them and they show us a ton of love. Shout out to KC Culture Building is a Pan-African music collective here in KC as well.
X: As far as the mainstream music industry goes, I feel like the question really is: if we could go back and change it, would we? And it becomes really complicated when I think about it from that perspective. If we were to change how it was established in the first place, so that it has different values, that would change how we interact with it today—and the people that we idolize and say are amazing because of how they overcame certain obstacles due to how the industry currently is. So the importance of Jimi Hendrix or Chaka Khan or Prince or Michael Jackson or all of these icons—the legend is that they did it in the face of adversity, right? So if we got rid of that adversity…on one hand, obviously we shouldn't have had to. We already live in a state where we know them as l