Faster Than Sound: Summer Songs of Protest
The stories behind three timely tracks by local artists Pussy Gillette, Kydd Jones, and Njune
"Walking Crime" by Pussy Gillette
During their year as a band, exploratory ATX rockers Pussy Gillette have demonstrated an affinity for timely releases. Dropped last Dec. 31, "Scotch at the Opera" constituted their New Year's song, says singer/bassist Masani Negloria, while "Don't Touch Your Face" emerged on March 11. Self-recorded at PG's rehearsal space this spring, "Walking Crime" languished as a concept in her notebook before its late-May release.
"George Floyd was happening at that time, but the same stuff has been happening over and over again," explains Negloria, who with guitarist Nathan Calhoun makes up the group's core duo. "So, no matter when we released that song, it would still be relevant."
Loss of a friend to police violence inspired the singer's lyrics on the bite-sized, snarly guitar track, also a conduit for her compressed punk vocals. "My enemies would do better in the streets," she sings rhythmically. "'Cause you're just a pig to me."
"Even your worst enemies are going to be kinder than the police are," she reasons. "My enemies would not kill me. My enemies wouldn't go behind my back to kill me in my sleep. They'll do it to my face. I meant that enemies fight fair and police never do."
Negloria's knowing gaze and half smile accompany the latest track. The songwriter became interested in deep-diving the criminal implications of a mug shot, especially when used by the media. The image is actually pulled from her Texas drivers' license, but she likes the ambiguity.
"It looks like I'm in a police lineup, and I feel it's extremely relatable," says the artist. "Police are always going to treat you the same way just because of the color of your skin, no matter what you do or how you present yourself. I wanted to make people question, 'What could she have possibly done?'"
"Goblin" by Kydd Jones
On the night of June 4, Randell "Kydd" Jones sat down in his home studio in front of his laptop. Within hours, he crafted ruminative new track "Goblin." Forgoing typical single release prep with his management, he posted it the very next morning.
"It was getting to be late, like 1am, and I hadn't decided if I wanted to make a song about how I felt yet," says the celebrated local MC. "It's such a sensitive moment, and I didn't want to even think about the outcome of [publicity]. It was more of a personal thing."
Over somber, lulling vocal samples, the minimal track builds a buzzing headspace bearing the anxieties of violence and quarantine. Reference to Floyd and artwork featuring an altered image of Minneapolis protests faced the issue head-on. "Who wanna be Black in America?" asks Jones in the hook.
"I felt like everyone was viewing us, as Black people, like scary and nonhuman, and basically not worthy of simple things," furthers Jones. "I was playing around with words, and that one, 'Goblin,' made so much sense to me. It's basically a monster."
Following the 2014 shooting of Mike Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo., Jones remembers getting caught up in a since-shelved album on the politicized events. He's found the solution in quick turnaround on recent tracks "Goblin" and "Rubber Bullets." The latter references serious injuries suffered by Kydd's guitarist Bomani Ray Barton during Austin protests in May.
"Before, I just wasn't mentally prepared to tackle it," remembers Jones. "Now, with 'Goblin,' it's me getting my therapy out. It's releasing my thoughts, and getting it out to my people. That's how my musical process works. It's all reflections, contradictions, and everything in a bundle."
"One of These Days" by Njune
Adrian Armstrong initially recorded a different verse for June single "One of These Days," featuring cerebral local MCs Ifé Neuro, Ukeme (Jason Ikpatt), and Chucky Blk (Charles Stephens). As a visual artist, the local expanded his palette via retro, warped production as Njune in recent years. In an ideal collaborative outcome, the rapper revised his lines after hearing his friends' parts.
"Their wordplay is just incredible," says Armstrong, who co-founded event and media outlet Brown State of Mind. "I was reading through [Ikpatt's] part today, and he says, 'Drew Brees when I cracked the kitchen window open.' That's why I had to go back and rewrite, like, 'You guys aren't going to kill me on my own beat!'"
Soft, easy-flowing, lo-fi chemistry results, cushioned by a sample of the Supreme Jubilees' euphoric Seventies harmonies on "It'll All Be Over." Armstrong pulls a line penned prior to recent demonstrations: "If you find my body dead in the streets, you better start a riot." Without instruction, the four teammates branched on similar concepts.
"A lot was about the current climate with the protests," explains the producer. "It's the same things I heard over and over growing up, like being a statistic or working harder because you're Black. It was funny, because everybody also had some type of religious reference in their part."
Coincidentally, both Armstrong and Stephens are sons of preachers. The former also credits his sampling selects to his upbringing and says he calls his grandparents whenever he's stuck on a new project. The single cover photoshops the artists' names on picket signs of marches from another era.
"It felt current," adds Armstrong. "It's such an old photo, but it's still relevant today. You can look at it and be like, 'Was this taken yesterday or 40, 50 years ago?'"
Sixty-two percent of live music venues in Austin predicted only being able to last four months or fewer "under current conditions," according to a June survey commissioned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, reported the Austin Monitor. Locally, clubs can apply until Friday for small-business grants up to $40,000 as funded by the federal CARES Act. Nationally, Austin members of the National Independent Venue Association urge fans to support the Restart Act in Congress.
Virtual HAAM: Marking 15 years, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians plays a crucial role in the COVID-19 era, providing low-cost care to now out-of-work musicians. On Tuesday, the national role model announced its annual fundraising day, wherein local businesses donate proceeds to HAAM, as Sept. 15. They hope to raise $600,000 in conjunction with a virtual, daylong local livestream.
Preorders of Interest: Austin artist Ben Snakepit, known for daily comic strips, offers a jigsaw puzzle depicting "A Night at Beerland," right down to the Elvis-head statues at the former Red River venue. Antone's screenprints a commemorative "Unity" poster for the historic blues club's 45th anniversary, featuring a collage of historic snaps. End of an Ear lands an exclusive sea-glass-colored vinyl run of Chicago act Whitney's upcoming LP Candid.