By Allison Kinney, Staff Writer
There were several ideas tossed around the virtual Country Queer office when I asked how I should get in touch with Evil. Dale suggested pentagrams. I considered looking within. Eventually, though, we got them on the phone.
Evil, formerly known as B. B. (Babeo Baggins) of Barf Troop, has moved from hip-hop and rap to a more backwoodsy, singer-songwriter mode, but they’ve kept their commitment to artistic honesty. Their songwriting is courageous in its openness and depth of feeling. As quickly became clear in conversation with them, Evil is a deeply thoughtful songwriter as well. We talked about the experiences that informed their most recent single and music video, “Broken Wing”. I had questions at the ready, but ended up wanting to hop on board Evil’s train of thought instead. Here’s our conversation; it’s been edited for length and clarity, as they say, which I’ve discovered mostly means taking out the parts that were just me going “Wow!” and being star-struck.
I wanted to talk, before we get into “Broken Wing”, about the name Evil.
To me, the word “evil” is a very loaded word, as it is to most people, and that’s part of the reason I decided that it aligned most with me. The word “evil,” obviously, is the word “live” backwards, and I’ve found in my life – and in other lives, but in my life especially, I can only speak from experience – as a queer person, as a Black person, as a non-binary person, I’ve been dealt a lot of hard cards, like a lot of us have, with oppression and so on and so forth, so I face a lot of evil just trying to live my life. And to face that evil not only makes me a more compassionate person, and a more understanding person, but also sort of opens me up to kind of be a raw nerve of the earth. I feel that if I don’t recognize the evil in myself that’s just been, you know, societal – obviously humans have a tendency to be very selfish and self-serving and judgemental and all these things – if I’m able to recognize the evil not only that I have experienced, but the evil that lives within myself, then I’ll be able to combat it all the time. So it’s kind of just a constant reminder to always be working to be at my most true, and authentic, and kind.
I’m wondering if there’s a connection between that and the religious imagery in this video.
Absolutely! My current work – the project that “Broken Wing” is from – is about my relationship with God and religion as a queer person, as a Black person from a very rural community in Virginia. I’ve obviously experienced a lot of things around God and religion that contradict each other. As a child, you go to church, and when you live in a rural community, especially in the South, it’s sort of the focus of your whole life: going to church, talking about God, Easter Sunday, all these things. So it’s definitely something I’ve participated in since birth. But simultaneously, being a queer person, being a non-binary person, obviously when you go to church you hear so many things that are damning to the person that you are. So it creates this sort of argument with the self about seeing the compassion and unconditional love of God, but also seeing the bigotry of humans. So, now that I’m at the point where I’m understanding myself more, and thinking about what God means to me, and the role that God plays in my life, I wanted to create a body of work that expressed that, and was sort of a capsule for all of those feelings – feeling not welcome in the church, but feeling surrounded by God’s love and being inspired by that level of compassion and sacrifice.
I grew up in a Christian church, so as a child, the crucifixion of Jesus was really terrifying to me! Obviously! Very medieval, drastic, torturous, all that. But now that I’m an adult, I realize that that level of sacrifice, to love something so truly that you’re willing to give your life for it, is such a beautiful act of selflessness, but also of passion, to love something so much, to be able to want to do that. So for “Broken Wing”, for the video, for the whole project, it’s really just about me grappling with my love for God, and what that means for my queerness, me being trans, or me being Black, or anything, what these things really mean and how they all come together.
You brought up the power of caring so much about something that you’d die for it. So thinking about that, and about your point that “evil” is “live” backwards, I’m wondering about the power of caring about something so much that you live for it? If that’s a thing?
That’s definitely what I feel about music. And about the people in my life that I love, but speaking in this instance specifically, definitely how I feel about music. My goal as an artist is that everything I make should be more honest, every time. I want to be able to do everything that I have to do to feel like I’m reaching that goal, to be my most authentic, raw – you know! whatever that may be, whether those things are embarrassing or hurtful, full of sorrow or happiness, I want to experience whatever sacrifice I have to to get there. I think if we create art from a place of – not necessarily sacrificial, but from a place where we’re trying to put something into the world that is a true mirror for ourselves or for others, I think things can only be better in the world as a whole if we have reflections of ourselves in every instance, and feel represented even in our darkest moments.
That’s such a brave way to make music, such a brave way to be in the world. I’m so glad you brought it up, because it’s something I definitely feel in your songs.
I’m glad! Thank you.
I’ve been thinking about revealing woundedness, admitting when you’re not okay, asking for help – partly because it’s a hard time right now! – but also in connection to your video. You’re in your angel state, with your wings, in your little box, for almost the whole time. And when you’re finally out of the box, crawling through the world, it feels like you’ve achieved a goal, but your wings are gone!
Yeah! I built the box myself. The purpose was for it to be a physical representation for self-isolation. You can be in a room full of people but still alone, there’s still something that’s blocking you from feeling that togetherness, not only with other people but with the world in general. And the angel wings, that’s to send the message that I’ve been cast out of heaven, and here I am, separated not only from heaven, obviously, but from the earth, the ground. And the only way to break free from that isolation is to humanize myself: to take away any sort of deity aspect or whatever and make myself human, and vulnerable to pain, or physical harm, or anything. When I’m in the box, I’m disconnected from the world but I’m also safe from it. Nothing can reach me inside the box, nothing can hurt me, even sound – I really couldn’t hear from inside of it! So it’s sort of saying that if you want to be connected and vulnerable, or feel any sort of connection with anybody, earth, nature, human, whatever! there is a level of sacrifice in humanizing yourself. You can’t be strong all the time.
That’s really moving to me; I’ve come to think about art in general, and music in particular, as being about overcoming that sense of isolation. I’m not religious, but something that moves me in the story of Jesus is the idea of God taking on human form, having a human body, being human for a while.
Yes – I think that’s something that’s really important to the story of God’s unconditional love. People love to focus on what God would condemn, versus the main topic of Jesus, which is unconditional, compassionate, unreserved love. And it’s hard for human beings to imagine that sort of love because we don’t really give it to each other, or see it given to each other, very often. So it’s much easier to believe that Jesus might have hated because you’re gay than it is to believe that he loved you absolutely as you are, unconditional, mistakes and all. So to see Jesus be in human form to me really continues to represent the message that God is us and we are God: that level of love is possible in any form, in any body: Jesus proved it in his human body, as well as His holy spirit and so on. So I think it’s really important to think about that – I don’t want to tell anyone to dissect religion or whatever, but it’s definitely not lost on me that Jesus in his human form was able to show such compassion to other, because for humans to believe something, they have to see someone physically do it.
I want to make a connection between compassion and music, particularly with the way music can help people feel less isolated: I wonder if there’s a way that coming out of the sense of aloneness also makes us more compassionate to each other.
I would say, absolutely. I think when you’re very in tune, not only with yourself but also with your surroundings, you can feel when someone is feeling something that you too have felt. Whether that may be a cosmic connection or body language or whatever, I definitely have been in rooms where I can feel someone is feeling a way that I’ve felt, whether it be anxiety or depression or shyness or fear or any of those things, and it definitely makes me want to open up that room to them, and be their starting point. I think as human beings we need to see an act: if there’s not someone there to bridge the gap between action and thought, we’re not super brave enough to do it, most of us! We take a step back until we see someone else take that chance. I think that really feeling things, and acknowledging that you’ve felt certain things, sometimes it’s really hard to acknowledge that, when we’ve felt depression or anxiety or all these other things, it’s really hard to acknowledge that in a public space, where other people are aware of it, and I think if you are brave enough to do that, it really allows you to see other people’s pain, and in that also be there for them.
I think that must be what I connect with in your music, because it seems like that’s exactly what you’re doing. You talked earlier about feeling like a raw nerve, of feeling other people’s feelings and having the particular type of bravery that is honesty.
It’s not just a particular type of bravery, but also one that is particularly hard, because there’s really no reward for it, there’s no end goal where you run to the end of the race and you won – you’re just there with yourself and the way that you feel, it’s just you. There’s no reward for it, and you have to be brave enough to be like, I want to know what I truly am, and to know that, I’m able to connect with someone else in a more honest and compassionate way.
Sort of an unconditional honesty.
Absolutely. I think it’s really important, and it’s hard for humans to do that a lot of the time, because people want to seem a certain way instead of just being as they are.
Thinking about wanting to seem a certain way, performing a self rather than being a self – I’m wondering if that’s connected to the self isolation in some way. I’ve often had the sense, when I feel like I’m “performing,” that there’s another self that’s hidden away somewhere.
Yes – and for me, music is the thing that cuts through that. Music is the thing that allows me not to hide. Music is the thing that gives me space to not have a smile on my face, to not be personable. Music is that ball of absolute raw nerves that I feel when I’m in a room with a bunch of people I don’t know and I don’t want to be there, but the smile on my face is the opposite. Music is that for me; I think everybody needs a place like that, whatever it may be. I think it’s just natural, when you’ve been socialized to just go along with things and not cause a fuss. Especially if you’re assigned female at birth, and people see you as a femme person, you’re not allowed to have the span of emotions your male counterparts are – anger is definitely not something women are meant to express, and not only that, but sadness – you’re expected to just smile and go along with things. So it can be very, very, difficult, not only because it’s hard to be honest, especially if your’e not feeling good, but also for a level of safety if you’re a femme person. It can put you in an unsafe place. So I think it’s natural for people to do that performative action, but I also think it’s important that someone realizes when they’re doing it, and also finds an outlet where they can free themselves from all that.
It’s wonderful that you’re making that happen for people, though your onstage performance.
I hope so! That would be my goal. I see music as a conversation of self – my music in particular is me talking to myself about things I have experienced, but I believe music when it’s out in the world is a conversation between the artist, the self and the listener. It’s not a singular thing anymore, it’s something that I believe the listener is a part of, so I want someone to feel seen, and heard, and understood, and I welcome any comments anybody has, any thoughts, I welcome all of that, because it adds to the art, it creates layers. And not only that, but the community that is important for me to build, because that’s something that has made such an impact on my life, is the community surrounding music. So to be able to have a call and return with everybody who might hear it, that’s what gives me a ground to stand on, and hopefully anybody else who’s also hearing it, just so – it’s corny to say – but just so they feel like they’re not alone.
What was the process for making the video?
I decided I wanted to create that box. I had to get the plastic – it took a lot of time to actually get it together – I’m not a sculptor by any means, and I had no idea how acrylic worked or any of that, so it was a lot of trial and error, but when it finally came together it was kind of perfect, and after that, I was able to tell the story I wanted to tell. The video itself is pretty minimal for the most part, which is my goal: I really want the person who’s watching to pay attention to what’s happening and decide how they feel about it before I tell them what it is. I really love the ending scene, where the wings are gone – I feel like it really puts the “The End” on the story.
Yeah, that’s a really cool transformation. Evil, it’s been so very excellent talking to you. Is there any information that you’d like to put out into the world through our magazine?
I do have another single coming out in June – that’s a secret, nobody knows, but I’m telling you guys because I think you guys are cool. I’m not going to say the name because I need to keep some mystery – it’s the Scorpio in me. Hopefully my album will be out by the end of this year. For this platform specifically, I just want to say that it’s really important that queer people from rural communities feel represented, because for so long we haven’t been, and for so long it’s been a secret that gay people exist in places like this. I think it’s really important that we continue to create spaces for people like us to be seen and heard.
Thank you so much, Evil.
[Photos, courtesy of Dana Meyerson:]