Soul Glo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Hits Different: Soul Glo’s “2K”
It’s me, Alex, with another column where I’ll be exploring artists and musicians, mostly from Philly that have songs, releases or albums that go against the grain of their usual repertoire! A rap band making an 80’s hair metal ballad? A noise artist putting out a polka record? Or perhaps the differences are subtle but worthy enough for an examination! In this column we’ll explore the psycho-spiritual cosmology and intimate processes behind these quirky songs and their challenging ideas, what makes the group tick, and ask, “what were you thinking?!” Join me for the trip!
Their music is a crashing swirl of guitar noises flying through the tattered DIY battlefield like shrapnel, lyrics barbed and wiry, ready to rip faces off with darts about the inner and outer turmoil racism causes in marginalized Black bodies. Soul Glo is a hardcore punk rock band employing a variety of the genre’s more drastic elements and submerging this sound in a mash up of the punk offshoots from screamo to math rock. Yet, on their latest EP Songs to Yeet at the Sun, the first for the Secret Voice label, the track “2K” represents an even more radical shift for the band — a noisy hip hop track featuring Richmond MC/DJ/musician Archangel.
“2K” drips in distorted basslines, sparse, ugly noises, and hammering drums, all a broil of aggro production from bassist Gianmarco Guerra (aka GG), with additional production from Pierce Jordan, the band’s singer and lyricist. It’s a track more suitable for a dance party at the Thunderdome than a punk rock show, but after dropping hints and venturing into electronic territory on previous tracks like “32”, Soul Glo is more than equip to handle the bombast of what amounts to rap music. Absent, though, are the dense-yet-precise lyrics and patented shredding scream, and present are Pierce and Angel’s strange, dirty and boastful raps, lyrics that explode into messy tales of queer debauchery and mass crime.
While there are plenty of elements that retain the Soul Glo infrastructure, “2K” is still such a stark shift from Soul Glo’s usual musical tumult we had to celebrate it here at HITS DIFF. We sat down and chopped it up with Angel and Pierce about the track.
THE KEY: So how did you two meet and when did the idea of doing music together enter into the conversation?
PIERCE JORDAN: We met Angel at a show in Richmond — I think 2016 was like, the magic year? We started getting a lot of traction just from having done like, a lot of shows, like three or four tours on the east coast at that point. Angel was somebody that we met after a show that we just hung out with, clicked with. She was DJ’ing at the time and was friends with DJ Haram and I think that was the point of connection amongst us.
ARCHANGEL: Yeah, I was at a house show at the Haunted Mansion in Richmond and just remember seeing Soul Glo and I was just like, “Oh my god!” That show was really important to me because that was the start of my tinnitus and hearing loss. [laughs] I was definitely new to like noise, hardcore and metal genres during that specific time when I first started getting into this kind of music. I remember seeing Pierce afterwards and I was like, “You fucking killed it” and we kept running into each other when Pierce would play with Soul Glo here and Pierce and I would link up when I was Philly.
I was heavy into music, but when it came to punk shows, hardcore shows, and metal shows, I wasn’t going to those shows until my friends exposed me to that. That’s kind of how I started [queer Black noise-rap band] BLVCKPUNX, it sort of came out of me being into rap and noise music, but also the punk scene that I was exposed to. For me, in Richmond, it was like I saw Soul Glo and it was less like, “they’re in the punk genre and they’re Black”, but for me it was like, “This is so cool to see someone doing a house show in Richmond, period, with music that I fuck with.” I was just like, this is so much more than just punk.
TK: What is BLVCKPUNX?
A: We were just talking about this! Basically, BLVCKPUNX is so many things at once. The multiplicity of Blackness — our emotions, our fears, our desires. Julian McBain and I are the two members, and we’ve had multiple people produce for us, I’ve produced for us. It’s an overbearing wave of noise on a really fucking good trap beat. Chants, spoken word, rap, noise music and probably all sorts of experimental influences. Basically Julian and I and our engineer Sanji, we worked closely with people so it’s always been a collaborative effort. You Are Here is the name of our first tape and a lot of that inspiration was like, there’s something about existing as a Black person in Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, the way people look at you and treat you and people are mad because you’re talking about racism — and we’re like, “do you see where we are, do you see what these monuments are and what the history is?” So You Are Here was supposed to be like, the idea of being Black and being anywhere. Blvckpunx is like an energy, a fucking lifestyle, a state of being. A queer and trans Black sound.
TK: Who made the beat and what was the song-writing process like for “2k”?
PJ: GG and I made the beat. The way that we make beats, [is] mostly GG doing all the technicial shit and me saying what I think it should sound like. Just the two of us going back and forth on what it should sound like. I’ll have like, mad suggestions and would kind of look over his shoulder and kind of see how he does things and if I can’t do them myself, I’ll suggest “can we add echo here, reverb there.” That’s more my style, saying a lot of shit but not having the technical skill. Mostly with Ableton, because you can do fucking anything with Ableton.
Just me and GG huddled over this shit. We had sampled a live performance of the pianist Hiromi during the parts where it’s just me and Angel talking to each other and then we added hella reverb, and then just mixed that in with these nasty ass beats that GG had mostly constructed on his own. We had talked as a band about doing a song with Angel — we had talked about doing “2k” with the release of Yeet, a lot of stuff was in flux and a couple of the songs were written with us being a three-piece, so it was during that time it was just a lot of me and GG hanging out and getting fucked up and sitting over Ableton and tweaking it from there.
TK: As the song deviates from the general Soul Glo oeuvre, was there a deliberate shift, like, “Oh! Let’s just do a rap song!” or was it a more natural thing?
PJ: It started off with me just wanting to incorporate a digital element into the group and not knowing how it was going to happen, thinking of other artists who were screaming over beats and trying to think of ways we could do both in the same songs. That was when “32” and “31” were written. At first it was like– it’s a hard thing to suggest to your band, “what if we just took it even deeper into rap territory” [laughs] It was never really that intentional, but when we wrote the song “New Humanism” they were like, “Are you rapping?” I heard this repetitive beat and I was like, “how can I not?”
You hear a lot of screamo where it’ll be the clean part, the chill part in-between the heavy parts and the vocalist would either scream, do some weird spoken word shit, or nothing at all. During that time I had seen a lot of bands do the spoken word thing and I was kinda over that, and I felt that the whole record was just me screaming over every part — so fast-foward, we were thinking about going further into adding the digital element because I didn’t know what to do with my hands during live performances — Ruben’s [Soul Glo’s guitarist] pedal board game is always crazy, so [me doing electronics] felt like a really natural way to blend songs together during live performances. And then it was like, we had already been fucking with “2K” musically, and first it was me just straight up rapping and then it was like, “What if it was me and Angel rapping on this shit?”
TK: Your lyrics are pretty dense anyway, they don’t always rhyme but you have a propensity for density — filing space, timbre, and cadence — it seems like you use your voice as an instrument.
PJ: Definitely, and over time I’ve been trying to be more intentional about doing stuff. Right now, I’m rhyming a lot, maybe I’ll get off that again, but I feel like how I write I’ll be super-ryhme focused where it’s some hella rhythmic shit just because I like there’s a congruence there, but with the screamo parts I’m less concerned if it rhymes or not because it’s less tonal and more about just straight up fucking chaos.
TK: What aspects of rap and punk are similar and where do you think they differ?
PJ: I’m not a historian or anything, but I do feel like you can trace like certain sonic practices. The argument I have with my parents all the time about screaming is, “Ya’ll listened to James Brown, so don’t tell me you don’t listen to screaming in music,” because that man is out there in ways that most people in my music community wish they could be. If you scream the word, “yeah” in a song, I don’t care — you owe that to one person. Especially like, the dude from Refused does and the dude from Piebald does — to me, it’s like a white man trying to sound like James Brown. [laughs] But it’s more than that obviously, just like when you hear a lit ass part in music, it’s something that just makes you want to say “yeah!”, from the dude from Refused to Lil’ John.
AA: There are plenty of rap songs that are short in composition, and me being a person just recently getting into the punk genre, I know the lyrics can be spat out in a really fast way and I feel like with rap — especially if it’s mumble rap or old school rap, that people can rap at a very quick cadence that’s able to adapt to the most erratic or simple of beats. So composition-wise, that’s where I see the similarities, but I also think there’s been a lot of literal cross-overs between the artists. I don’t know if this even counts as punk, but I remember when I was younger the Jay-Z / Linkin Park link up…
TK: People cite that as an eye-opening moment, especially people of your generation.
AA: Yes! For real, I remember being a kid and that was the sort of thing that got me into Linkin Park which then got me into so many other things. That was a segue for me into a genre that I wasn’t even really paying attention to. For me, where I grew up, punk music was definitely for white people. People were like, “there’s no one like us doing this shit,” but then when I saw that, I was like, “there are link ups happening, there are Black people doing this music.” And when I came to Richmond and punk and noise artists would come through, that’s when I was like, “obviously there are Black people in this scene, Black people can do anything.” Black people are the inspiration for both of those genres, it literally came from us, so I think we’re the origin and that’s how they’re similar.
TK: How’s the response been to the song?
PJ: The response has been good. I had a lot of sick pleasure in just watching the song come out through the channels it’s come out through. I mean, punk is all about alienation and in ways rap is kinda like that, but I feel like rap isn’t as concerned with alienating people just because Black people are so naturally alienated and have such a naturally alienating presence in this world, whereas white punks don’t, they have to go out of their way to alter their appearance to have an alienating presence.
We are now in the 21st century, how do you remain alienating as the punk when punk has done the most to alienate the mainstream and has become the mainstream? All I know is that punks love to alienate each other, which is why I feel like it has gotten so insular and hasn’t really expanded, because everybody is just trying to outdo each other but with the same styles. It’s funny, because the band has a naturally alienating presence already, so we really don’t have try very hard at all to metaphysically fuck with our audience’s minds, and the small ways that we do, we are acknowledging that “this is not even shit compared to what we could do to ya’ll” and people lose their fucking minds!
TK: Something that kind of really interests me about the track, in the very beginning you guys are kind of riffing on the poverty politics in punk rock in general.
AA: I think it’s so funny because we have this shared kind of understanding about these politics, we can talk about it in this sort of banter? But I was thinking about it, when we were doing it we were just kinda having fun, but within that we are also talking about reality. I remember us being in the studio and we were just being dead and GG was like, “I’m just gonna start recording.” It’s definitely this idea of performative politics of people being like, “Oh, I wanna do this or that” for this community but really it’s like, where’s the money? Where can you put your money for people doing the work? When does just giving Black people money, resources, connections just going to be normalized so we can do for us? It honestly makes me laugh, because I’m at a point where that’s all I can do, when that reality isn’t obvious. When people are like, “what should we do?” or “we’re diversifying voices!” and it’s like, why can’t you just give us the bag? And if it’s not about money, what about the resources or platform for us to do what we want to do?”
TK: It feels like empowering moments for Black people are kind of drying up, you see a lot of Instagrams go back to all-white, Biden’s in office now, everything feels like it’s going back to normal. It’s a hard way to live your life, fighting through these cycles of whiteness.
AA: And that’s the thing, I feel like, Pierce and my lyrics on this, they’re funny, they’re whimsical, they’re talking about my sexual escapades and things like that, but in this world, where that is a blink of reality that we live in — suddenly it’s Black Lives and then it’s like, “but Black lives do matter,” and we’re in this pendulum, but we’re still people in all of this. Even when our humanity isn’t being prioritized we still have moments of joy, and escapades, and choosing violence and being chaotic and messy. With this verse, BLVCKPUNX, and everything else that I do, there’s so much of me and every other Black person. While we also have to deal with all of this trauma, this oppression, this idea of navigating a world no one else is gonna get…
TK: If I said the lyric “Doin’ estrogen in the back of a Chic-Fil-A” was a political lyric…
AA: [Excitedly] The thing, that’s what I’m trying to explain! My lyrics are political, but to me while I was writing this I was like, “this is funny.” But if I’m doing estrogen in the back of a Chic-Fil-A — Chic-Fil-A being this fucking homphobic, transphobic place — it’s the idea that I’d go in there and do estrogen and then steal something or buy my sandwich. It’s just playing my cards in a world that’s fucked, like, I’mma get mine kinda situation, no matter how withholding white supremacy is from opportunities, I’m not gonna let that stop me from having joyous experiences or getting my other friends and other people a bag if they need it, whether it be for survival, or just like, their growth or even their joy because they like, want it. I’m going to still live my life in a way that’s fun because I refuse to live a life that’s not full of experiences.
TK: It often feels like, even within the artistic community, people are kinda stymied by this kind of sexuality, especially when it’s coming from a queer or female voice. We experienced that with “WAP” being both anthemic for a lot of people and anathema for a lot of people. Just seeing how that played out for Megan and Cardi was just so interesting to me, the double standard that exists. Do you think the indie and punk scene kind of stymies sexuality and looks at sex in a negative light?
AA: Oh, yeah…well, it’s hard for me to say “Oh yeah.” I’ve always surrounded myself with queer and trans people throughout my life, so I do understand what it’s like to experience homophobia and transphobia, but I’ve always run with the queerdos, so I feel like I have been in less spaces where that is commonplace in terms of genre and where music is being consumed. But I’m also a DJ, BLVCKPUNX has played a lot of different shows out of that [queer] element, so it’s like when I went to bigger rap shows and stuff like that, it was sort of this thing where people would be surprised that we were good, or that I was a good DJ. I’d have a white person or a straight man come up and be like, “Wow, ya’ll were like, good.”
TK: As if they’re discovering you. They’re just now finding out that queer Black people can make good music for us, but it also can be quote-unquote, universal. It’s a very Columbus way of looking at things.
AA: Yeah, I saw an interview of a Black noise artist and I felt like the interviewer was like, “wow, I didn’t expect her to be good.” And I’ve experienced doubts, just — getting to the door, looking how I look, and then people being like, “who’s she?” And I’m like, we’re BLVCKPUNX or I’m the DJ and the door people are like, “No, get it line.” Just crazy shit, and I feel like if I tweeted or posted every single time it happened it would be this huge database of all this crazy stuff.
PJ: I want to really invite people into an analysis of their perceptions. I really want people to read, which is why I put the lyrics everywhere. And I’m going to talk to people the way that I talk while sharing the ideas that I share. I was talking to my grandmother the other day and she was like, “I just feel like that people aren’t going to listen if you swear, and people aren’t going to listen if you scream.” And that’s the thing though, I’m challenging people. I want people who would be turned off to feel that much more challenged, because eventually there’s going to come a point where you’re not going to be able to ignore what I’m saying, because I’m not the only one saying.
TK: They’re not listening to people who aren’t screaming. It’s been an argument that’s been going on since the dawn of the civil rights movement, it’s a very interesting dichotomy that Black people have always been up against. Like, the Harlem Renaissance weren’t fully accepted as readily as they are now by the Black bourgeois and it was because they were gay, because they were bi, because they swore, because they said inflammatory things. There’s always been that push-pull generationally in the Black community.
PJ: I often wonder about the people whose memories survive versus the people who don’t. It’s like, what did they do right? Because they couldn’t have been the only freaks [laughs]. But to think about that, you can get bogged down in the thought of that forever and it’ll push you into inaction. I feel like anybody can get pushed into inaction with over consideration with what their self– as Audre Lorde said, their “mythologized self”. For me it’s like– I’ve been talking the way that I talk, minus the swearing, my whole life. I saw 9/11 on TV when I was 9 years old and after that, I knew that everything was fucking lie. I’ve been writing the same way about my emotional state for a long time, and it wasn’t until I added the racialized perspective and started writing about it in a hardcore band that people cared. [laughs] Motherfuckers can’t just be.
TK: We always have to be for somebody, which is just weird — always been a weird aspect of being queer and Black, we have to be but for somebody else. Eventually you have to stop hand-wringing and just do your weird shit. Eventually, the weird shit we’re into now is probably gonna become the norm.
PJ: Like anime.
TK: Right. That shit is just in the atmosphere now.
PJ: And honestly that’s fine, because I’ve very much only ever wanted was for the shit that I was into to be cool to the people who looked like me.