The Black movement in country music is not a monolithic notion.
Yes, it is an attempt at proving that darker-skinned, square-jawed rhinestone cowboys deserve as much shine as their white, toothy-grinning counterparts. And yes, it’s formed by a desire to highlight that angelic, heaven-sent voices are just as worthy if they emerge from the bosoms and wombs of long-haired white women or those who wear coats of many colors. Finally, and most certainly, it’s a concept aimed at proving that the genre’s roots can yield a diversity of fruits that satisfy everyone’s hunger for three chords and the truth.
However, when a Black person who redefines their humanity creates music, a song becomes more than the sum of its crafting. Thus, in country music’s post-modern future where the circle, unbroken, is infinitely more representative than it could have ever imagined being, an artist like Evil — borne as much from Appalachia’s Shenandoah Valley as the streets of Washington, DC — becomes vital. Because they’re neither he nor she and urban nor suburban, celebrating Evil’s ability to exist between country music’s strict margins becomes essential to understanding how country music survives its evolution. Therefore, this interview yields not just answers but solutions, too.
Enjoy XIANNE-XI’s conversation with self-described “depressed queer country singer” Evil.
Introduction from Marcus K. Dowling
Xianne-XI: In what ways have you been surrounded by the country music genre and its related genre’s such as blues, bluegrass, and early American folk?
Evil: I was born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley. I’ve always been surrounded by country music in one way or another, it’s always been apart of my life and my surroundings. From bluegrass bands playing on main street of my tiny Virginia town to singing Patsy Cline with my grandmother in the kitchen. It’s just something that’s been engrained in me from birth.
Xianne-XI: Did growing up in a rural environment play big part in exposure to the lifestyle and the local acts in Virginia?
Evil: I’d say so, as much as growing up anywhere would. I think in rural areas the act isn’t so much “exposure” to music but taking part in the community experience of listening to music together and enjoying it and where you come from.
Xianne-XI: Tell me about your first concert, and who did you get to see perform live that serves as an inspiration now?
Evil: My first concert was Usher and Janet Jackson when I was 6 years old. Random I know lol. I think that it would be virtually impossible to not be inspired by Janet. I remember being so amazed and bewildered seeing her preform. Just taken back as a little kid seeing something so masterful. I’d like to have that impact on someone too, give someone something to remember forever.
Xianne-XI: Country music showcases a lot of talent when it comes to storytelling in song writing, and a deep vulnerability of the woes and wins of life like acts such as the banjo player, Dock Boggs. Are you influenced by him or any other banjo player for composing original chord transitions for songs?
Evil: I loveeee Dock Boggs! Have been since I was a teenager. All my favorite country stuff is old stuff-from him to the Carter family to the Carolina Tar Heels and so on. I love the older stuff because it’s so simple and true, that’s my goal when creating anything. Authenticity.
Xianne-XI: What historical and traditional elements do you keep in your songwriting and composition?
Evil: Honesty. That’s why I love country music, the truth it’s made with. I want to make sure everything I make is more honest than the last time and I think that’s the the only thing “traditional” about what I create.
Xianne-XI: What elements do you leave behind in favor of experimenting to make country music your own?
Evil: Many, I think for me creating something that bridges the gap between my identities is more important to me than anything else sonically. I want to create something for everyone that still sounds like me. I’m a country person, therefore anything I make is inherently country (to me). I want to always keep the essence of myself in the music while exploring sounds that make things more palatable for a wider audience.
Xianne-XI: You give a lot insight on the internal and external battles of being accepted by God in your music, in the construct of society. Does making music to have that open conversation with God help self soothe from the evils that affected you and many other Queer and Transgender musicians?
Evil: I think so, I can only speak for myself of course, but it has been a great catharsis for me. Being able to write and listen back to my own conversations with God has been extremely helpful in understanding my own experiences in relation to him. I’m really thankful I’m able to do so. Talking about anything without the judgement of other humans is extremely helpful in accepting bad situations I think.
Xianne-XI: Would you classify your music as a great launching pad for younger listeners who may enjoy other genres outside of country, to explore what the genre has to offer?
Evil: I’d hope so! I wouldn’t give myself so much credit but that’s absolutely my personal goal. Country music has always been a safe haven for me, something that sounded like home. If my music sounds like that for other people, I’d be real happy. I am a product of my environment, I wouldn’t be making the music I am without the legacy country acts that I love. So I hope that my work would inspire others to dig deeper into the history and find things they relate to, because they exist.
Xianne-XI: Last year, you did an artist takeover on rising country legend and gay icon Orville Peck’s instagram to educate his audience about the African origins of country music. Do you think more digital media collaborations like that is needed to help Black and Queer country musicians more awareness?
Evil: Yes! We live in a world that is controlled by the internet. It’s going to take using new technology to talk about old things to sway people into understanding things from a new perspective. I’m glad we live in a time where people are open to learning the true history of things that have so often been forgotten or pushed aside. The ease of access of the internet is a great help to that.
Xianne-XI: On your songs “Young American” and “ A Child Shamed” you express deep heartfelt emotions of not feeling good enough and tackles the gut wrenching feelings of what shame feels through sound. With your new single that is coming out Friday, you stated that its direction will be more happier. Have you found peace since your debut album?
Evil: Haha, I wouldn’t say that-no. But I think there is allowance for sorrow in peace. I’d say that’s what I’ve found. There is a moment in all sorrow where you sober up and realize maybe things aren’t so bad and this is the way they should be- through God’s will. Accepting what you can not change no matter how painful it is, can be peace within itself. I’m getting better at doing that these days.
Xianne-XI: Name a few favorites from your playlists that are Black Country singers of recent years whom you are greatly motivated by to get going?
Evil: Valerie June, Yola aka Yola Carter, Kaia Kater, Amythyst Kiah, Lizzie No! I’m excited there are so many black women making amazing country music right now, it’s a gift we shouldn’t take for granted.