LA-based artist TwoLips has just released their latest EP, PSYCHOWAVE, a fusion of tribal beats with melodic jazz that oozes feeling with every sound. Like a moment of déjà vu – hearing a song for the first time that instantly speaks to you – PSYCHOWAVE shares powerful tales of origin, racial injustice and connecting to the land at such a vibration that even if you have not lived these experiences, the sounds makes you feel the journey of another in your veins. Throughout the 6 tracks of PSYCHOWAVE, you are carried on the shoulders of the storyteller as a human conduit, feeling their experiences and witnessing their connection to the spiritual realm. Are you ready to go on a journey?
We talked to TwoLips about the concept of home, the healing of Black people and affirmations for the new year. Download PSYCHOWAVE here.
“Long Way Home” in an incredibly vibrant and emotive song with strong instrumentals. How did you go about composing this song?
The melody and lyrics of the chorus have swum around my head for years. They came to me after having a dream of being abducted by an alien species. I felt no fear, just purpose. And acceptance. More than I had ever felt in my life.
I started a collaborative relationship with multi-instrumentalist Harry Foster who shaped the song into chords and made a demo version. We joined forces in assembling an ensemble. For drums, the only choice was Arthur Johnson, a long-time TwoLips collaborator with gospel chops. For guitar, Sean Lee’s jazz style lent itself easily to the tune, filling the space with delicious riffs. On keys, we were joined by Delwin Campbell, another long-time collaborator. He also mixed this EP. Delwin’s music project is called CAPYAC.
The profound solo you hear at the end is by saxophonist and composer Hailey Niswanger. Harry Foster played bass, keys, and provided musical direction for the session. I sang. We recorded three takes of the song. That’s all we needed. It was meant to be a shorter song but it grew into something else entirely. With such quality ingredients, the magic was palpable. In my career so far, as far as composition goes, I’m most proud of this song.
What does the concept of “home” mean to you?
Right now, home is where I wake up feeling safe and loved. Sometimes, it’s my apartment, but the location can shift. My mom raised me to believe I, as an Indigenous person, was at home in any place I chose to be. That the land, air, and water were for me to nurture and be nurtured by. While it’s a beautiful sentiment, I found myself contemplating ‘home’ through the lens of Blackness and wondering where that leaves us. I am descended from a stolen people who cannot rely on the same sense of entitlement (as right as it might be). Home can be found in the places and people I love. I’m a home to many people, including myself.
In the video for “Long Way Home” you’re featured displaying your impressive and hypnotic skills as an aerial contortionist. How long have you been training to achieve such skills?
I tried silks once about 2.5 years ago at The Palace, an international artists’ residency in Poland. I didn’t try it again until April 2020 when I went home to New Mexico to “wait out COVID”. My friend Kristen Wade let me train with her.
When I got back to LA four months later, I’d planned on training at a friend’s warehouse space but my bike got stolen and I had no way to make the commute on a regular basis. That in combination with not wanting to train at a gym led to my decision to invest in my own outdoor aerials rig. I do silks as often as I can, now. Sometimes daily. Having a dance and yoga background has made this medium somewhat intuitive, however, I am asking my body to do new things on the regular. I’m typically sore.
You’ve described this video as a “visual representation of a Black woman healing”. Can you delve more into the meaning of this?
Long Way Home is an aerial silks installation and contemporary commentary on lynching in America. Could any Black person look at such a photo without seeing themselves? In the wake of yet another instance of racial injustice, it’s important to draw a connection between the lynchings of our past and the police brutality that have replaced them.
It is impossible, yet necessary that we dream of a just future. To hold ourselves high. There is a strain in trying to feel that which is not yet in existence. To commit to dreaming ourselves differently. By depicting Blackness as powerfully limitless, Long Way Home aims to delineate the process by which the psyche is formed in relation to domination, which depicts Black bodies stripped of power and agency. Anger and pain are justified means of resistance, as is softness.
The public of lynching for public and private erotic white consumption has intimately dispossessed Black people. The consequences are both direct and abstract, much like my own grief and process. Dreaming and giving are an art of risk for the Black American, but they are an essential part of my own response. By empowering myself as the subject through a Black lens, I am telling a new story; one that is meant to inspire instead of threaten. To stun instead of shock. A softly riveting resistance to the anxiety and hatred the Black body appears to generate. The process of transmuting this painful story through the use of free movement and vibrant color palettes is intended to aid the process of shedding and acquiring the images that define us.
“Radar” has strong lyrics including “Look into my eyes and see my humanity” and “I’m just trying to find the truth in the lies”. Can you speak more on the inspiration behind this song?
I wrote this from the perspective of a tribal medicine jester who knows the jig is up. Jared Eugene, who produced this track, also has Indigenous ancestry. Jared sent me a version of this beat sometime last year and I lyrically unravelled into summoning the paradigm shift. You know, the one that we’re gonna need to survive as a species.
My desire to escape from life and reality is because the design doesn’t support me or people who look like me. Everything we consume has the potential to be toxic, mind-numbing, and disenfranchising, thus distorting our reality and forcing us to eat it. But Source is communicating through us every day, and we must actively choose to honor it. I sometimes cry about how primitive my peoples’ are depicted as being, as though we are of the past. As though we don’t evolve.
But I’ve come to appreciate thinking of myself as a creature. My connection to the elements is intact. This feeling of connectivity is what people are chasing when they go to Burning Man or raves (neither of which I go to) not realizing they can generate such environments on a more sustainable scale with more meaningful intentions. Not realizing that Indigenous peoples around the world have engaged in mind-altering ceremonies with tribal beat loops for millennia and have been brutalized for it. I digress. The confines of whiteness and heteronormativity once forced me into submission for survival. But many of us are not surviving. I am participating in re-writing the story and welcoming Afro-Indigi-futurism. I will be seen for who I am and I will tell the truth. We cannot turn to one single theory, answer, or deity. We need them all.
Have you found that the creative process for you as an artist has changed due to the pandemic?
I thrive in solitude. This time has allowed me to go deeper into myself. My days follow a regimen that I feel satisfied by. I feel sensitive to suffering and the poor human condition and do my best on a cellular level to spend my time increasing the good and extinguishing the harm. There is routine, but there is no calm.
On Thanksgiving you posted a video on Instagram with choreography for the next album, stating that you are going to “spend the day celebrating my people’s resilience by feeling my ancestors through my bones”. Can you share the process of how you use choreography to connect to your roots?
My friend and collaborator Nikesha Breeze shared with me her experience of asking the ancestors where they can be felt in her body. Through deep meditation, they communicated that they were in her bones and the soft tissues of the ligaments. Earlier this year, I did a native meditative exercise that involved laying flat and imagining the sensation of being packed into a ship over a great ocean. About thirty minutes in, I felt a thousand pounds on my chest. Unable to move. Dark. Sounds of wailing. I cried at the thought of my ancestors unable to dance. I can only assume that my ancestors loved to dance, because they brought their dance and music with them. I’ve always had a strong sense of rhythm, and I dance to feel my ancestors rejoice. I dance for the ones who didn’t make it. I dance for the ones who did. I dance so the rhythms continue to be embedded into my DNA.
With 2020 being such a wild year for us all, how are you feeling about entering 2021? Are there any affirmations that you are using to enter the new year?
So far, mantras include:
Unexpected income and pleasure continuously flow to me.
Take the best, leave the rest.
I am compassionate towards myself and others.
I give myself the freedom to change my mind.
I am worth the time.
Follow TwoLips on Instagram to stay up to date with their adventures.
Cover photo: Alicia Farimah Afshar
Article photos: Lloyd Galbraith
Interview: Sahar Nicolette