The artist serpentwithfeet makes music with an incredible openness. Listening to his debut EP, Blisters, feels like you’re working alongside him through his perceived vulnerabilities and internal conflicts, a process equal parts fascinating and therapeutic. There is a wonderfully bizarre sense of time travel while enjoying the record — his lyrics frequently use the ideas of ancient magic and spirituality to deal with modern relationship issues, while the music itself offers a hybridized mix of alien club sonics and 19th-century church gospel. In short, serpentwithfeet creates work in a category all its own, a true representation of the many diverse lives the artist has already lived at such a young age.
Your lyrics and your performance name are imbued with a strong spirituality — do you aim to be like Björk or Drexciya in creating your own fringe mythology around the work?
I’m interested in telling big stories. I don’t know if I always get it right, but that’s what I’m pursuing. I have admired Björk’s work for years because it is so detailed and so tall. Her songs are alive. And I love that. I can take them by the hand and walk down the street with them. I pray that one day my songs can be friendly companions to someone.
You are a classically trained singer, one that grew up performing in choirs, but a lot of your club music contemporaries frequently use their voices as discordant weapons. Is this a style you could see yourself pursuing, or do you see yourself as more of a formalist?
I’m definitely not a formalist. Honestly, I think most classical singers would listen to my music and not consider me kin. I’ve learned that it takes many villages to raise this child, so I’m open to letting my baby roam a bit. When I’m writing songs, I obviously always think about the gospel music I grew up singing, but I also think about Sesame Street, and Brandy, and some off-beat TV show I couldn’t stop watching. I want to continue inviting a twisted humor into my work. So I think that will require me to recruit sounds from a lot of places.
You were raised in Baltimore, a city that possesses one of the country’s most active church populations as well as one of its most dark and aggressive noise music scenes. As someone who often references gospel music — but also has a pentagram forehead tattoo — do you think the duality of that city was bound to influence your work?
When I was in Baltimore, I stayed in church. I haven’t lived in Baltimore in over ten years, so I’m going to disappoint you by saying I don’t know much about the noise music scene there. But I know that the soil is rich there. My curiosity was nurtured in Baltimore, so that will always be with me.
Your breakthrough EP, Blisters, came out on Tri-Angle Records, a label that has spent the last few years pushing primarily deconstructed club music through artists like Lotic and Rabit, but I read you just signed with Secretly Canadian, one of the largest indie rock labels. I was wondering where you see yourself in the current landscape of contemporary music?
I don’t think it’s my place to say what my role is or what my spot is in this musical landscape, but I do enjoy thinking about how I am doing what most of my contemporaries are doing — which is asking questions. Most of us are deciding what we want to be moored to and what ideas no longer serve us. We have more tools now because of the Internet. So I think I’m part of a wave of young black queer artists who are unfolding their wings.
You frequently wear corsets and other bondage gear, which are obvious signifiers of the idea of restraint. I found this interesting, as I feel restraint is one of the most significant tools you use in your music. Would you say it is a tool you knowingly wield when writing and recording?
It’s so funny that you mention the corsets. I actually got rid of them. Restraint was so important to me for a while; I needed to focus. But I’m ready to let the weeds grow. So no more binding garments for now.