Moor Mother on Finding Your People: "We Have to Reach Out"

Moor Mother on Finding Your People: Illustration by Sam Nigrosh.

This article appears in AdHoc Issue 20, out officially later this weekMoor Mother plays Good Room in Brooklyn on June 8 with Elysia Crampton and Total Freedom.

Moor Mother and Eartheater like to keep busy. Moor Mother, whose debut album Fetish Bones came out in 2016, has been touring the globe with her noisey protest music, publishing and lecturing about Afrofuturist and diasporic thought, and organizing events at Community Futures Lab, a Philadelphia multimedia arts and education space she founded with her partner Rasheedah Phillips, the other half of her Black Quantum Futurism collective. Eartheater, real name Alexandra Drewchin, released two acclaimed albums in 2015—Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis—and has another full-length on the way, all while working as a visual and performance artist, and frequenting local creative hubs like Otion Front Studio in Brooklyn and Outpost Artists Resources in Queens. Both artists contributed to Show Me the Body’s recent CORPUS I mixtape, a collaborative release that aligns with their shared penchants for community-building and genre-bending.

In the following conversation, Moor Mother and Eartheater discuss their tireless work ethic, the artistic scenes around them, and the challenges of being a woman in music.

Eartheater: It’s amazing how much you do. When I came to New York, I hit the ground running. I’m still running. I didn’t go to college, and I can’t imagine stopping long enough in one place to go to school. Where did you go to school?

Moor Mother: I got kicked out of school. I went to arts school, then to community college, and studied education. I’ve pretty much been doing the same coaching and substituting jobs for a decade.

Education is power—but it’s also rigged. If I went to school, I would have a ball-and-chain of loans on my foot, which would not allow me to do what I’m doing right now. So it’s encouraging to hear that you took shit into your own hands and that you’re moving far and fast with it.

It took years—believe that. Universities afford you larger networks and stuff like that which can speed things up—of course, if you go to the right university.

But then you’re at school, so how do you work and pay for your food and apartment on top of that?

We perform with people who do that, you know? Which is interesting, because they walk in with synthesizers and shit, but [they also live] a very different reality. It’s not like, Oh, you grew up on the West side, and I grew up on the East side. It’s like, Oh, you have a trust fund; you have a masters or a PhD.

Right? I don’t know many people who have had to struggle financially from the beginning and still do music. And now, with the venues in New York—and probably Philly— that are getting shut down, there’s a silent war happening on the world that supports us. It’s hard to know exactly how to keep going, but I know that we will. I was going to ask: why don’t women collaborate with each other more?

Yo, I can’t even deal. When I was making the Fetish Bones album [in 2016], I felt so isolated. Who the fuck could I work with? I finally found two singers that were willing. One lives in Iceland, and the other lives in New York. If you look on the internet, there are all these sites promoting women playing music, or electronic music, and I’m just like, Where are those people? Who are they, actually?

I’m reading about it, and I’m like, is this fake news? I don’t see it. I do see Discwoman; I really respect those women, but they’re DJs—it’s a little bit different. Men get to hear records like To Pimp a Butterfly, where you have Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, and Flying Lotus. I’m jealous of that type of hanging, power, and community. Who are the women doing that? I feel like the media and the world are always trying to tear women apart.

We have all these anxieties that we’re not kneading out—and we have to let them out. My partner told me this thing—she was like, “You know, you shouldn’t concentrate on these 400 or 600 people that you know. You’ve gotta expand your thinking.” We create these borders in our mind. There’s some people who never leave their block. It’s systematic, but still, we have to expand. We have to reach out. And we have to also forgive ourselves. There’s a lot of things keeping us apart, speaking about women in particular.

I’m featuring a lot of women on my new record. It’s like a dream come true to put out a record and have all my girls in New York on there—or at least directing videos along with it, or designing merch.

When you’re saying that, I’m like, Yo, that’s on some Beyoncé shit—having reached a time or space where you can have an all-girl band fuck with you every night. I don’t know much about Beyoncé, but I know she’s a boss of what she wants to do when it comes to her vision. Like you said, though, it’s not that hard to do—we shouldn’t have to be on some Beyoncé status to be able to work with women.

Why did it take me so long? Fear. I had my own internalized fear and self-doubt.

Collaboration is a lot about taking a risk. There were so many times when I would think, That person would never talk to me—especially when it came to women artists. Sometimes I reached out and nothing would happen. But sometimes I did, and something happened. I feel like sometimes we don’t follow through with [things] because of how many hangups we have with ourselves.

I had always been embarrassed to put myself out there in the past, because I couldn’t shred as hard as the dude next to me. But I shred in other ways—in my own way. I’m glad I figured that out. And I see that in you.

I truly dig that, because I’m always trying to be the first to say, “I do not have this shit figured out.” I’m not gonna pretend I had this magical education system. I’m not gonna pretend that I’ve had experience with instruments for years and years. What I do know is that I have a point of view, a story to tell, and that I’m very imaginative.

I’ll take story, personality, and passion over chops any day. When I’m on tour, I have not been good about holding back. I rage—too hard. I won’t sleep. I always want to experience wherever I am to the fullest. I think I have to be a little more careful if I’m going to be doing this for another 50 years. I hope to be playing gigs with our rocking chairs out there and our therapeutic shoes.

My new thing is, make it last forever. Let’s go. Fuck it.

Do you see yourself moving in another direction, though? Like, how else are you going to flex your message beyond the music?

I do the things that I’m good at, which is working with the youth and making music.

Do you think that the [impact you’ve made] would’ve been possible without the vehicle of music?

I don’t know, man. The whole shit is just a weird trip. You try to think about why people didn’t like this and that, and why they do like this. The whole thing is like a maze or something.

Did you start writing poetry before you started fucking around with music?

I was always making stuff up on the fly—songs, poems, freestyling, banging on things. At school we would be hanging out by the lockers, singing songs and rocking out. The locker bangs, especially if you get somebody good at that shit. Pencil on there, with the fist.

You [once] said something like, “I don’t like using big words in my raps, because the music needs to communicate to everybody.” That meant so much to me. I respect how you limit your metaphors to not mask what you’re saying. I feel my empathy and compassion expanding when I listen to your music.

We had this event at the [Community Futures Lab in Philadelphia] that was about different things happening with young black women and young trans folks. It had me thinking that I need to be more clear on these issues. There are so many ways to keep digging to get to the meat of what the situation is; there are different ways to tell a narrative and show a narrative.

Do you think all of this had been brewing inside you for years, and then it clicked because you gave yourself some time?

No, I feel like I was wasting a lot of time in the past. Sometimes I feel like we collaborate wrong. Everybody can have good intentions, but the shit comes out wrong. I don’t look back in regret—it’s just a lack of knowledge.

There’s so much you have to learn about this kind of life. I feel like I’ve been working and working, but now I feel like I’m able to work a little smarter. I was able to release a record. That’s the biggest thing: I always thought, How would I be able to release a record? There’s a whole world of people putting out records. I didn’t know that world, or wasn’t invited to it until recently.

Do you have any mentors, or any older women you admire, who are particularly inspiring to you?

I don’t know. More than people’s art, I’m into their lives—that’s what fires me. Like Billie Holiday, for instance: I may not know a lot of her songs, but I do know that there was a successful plot to kill her.

Her life and career were ruined because she was bringing activism into her music.

Billie Holiday, Nina Simone—the FBI was after them. We have these little tidbits of stories, but it’s hard for us to make the connection [between them]. I love the stories even more than the music—I want to know about your struggle to just keep on making music, with all the things you had to go through.

Do you think the FBI has a file on you?

[Laughs] No? I don’t think I’m known enough. But these blogs and the media play a really interesting game—I still have to figure it out. I feel like certain publications in America are not talking about me, and I think some publications make a sensation out of things. That thing about Princess Nokia punching someone—they made it a spectacle, instead of getting to the root of what happened or why it happened.

With that said, I think this was a beautiful conversation. It meant so much to me.

I wish you could do all my interviews. I’d rather talk about the music than sit here talking about Trump like I’m some government official or some shit.

I feel inspired from this conversation. I hope that anyone who reads it will too. Especially girls.

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