LIVING LIVE IN KINKY COLOR” “PETTY” BY TOLLIVER

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Anyone sad or horny? Cool, now that I’ve attained global unanimity with one question, we introduce our next guest…

Tolliver is the mind, the voice and the body behind the arresting new EP ‘Thin Black Duke’. The video for the upcoming single “Petty”, for which Tolliver directs and stars in, features him stripping down to a black fishnet onesie to a frothing audience at Akbar, rewarded with equal parts cash and liberation.

The song “Petty” is a response to being asked to leave by roommates via text message. “The lyrics are me puffing my chest. I’ve never beat anyone’s ass in my life, but it’s fun to fantasize.” Without any context, one may take the song as a prerogative for recalcitrance, a declaration of debauchery. And perhaps it is. But there is a notable sub-plot in the music video… that of the shy on-looker that nervously approaches the stage themselves, both transfixed and anxious. By the end they are inspired by Tolliver’s freedom to entertain in the way he sees fit and they too strip down to join the fun. And It is fun!

This theme to inspire self-actualization runs deep in Tolliver’s work. While collaborating with renown producers The Architects, he was urged to embrace sides of himself he hadn’t thought to bring into music. “I’ve hosted dark-comedy variety shows, wrote and hosted a murderous clown show at the bootleg—So it was nice to finally own that and like, laugh at my pain instead of reveling in it.”  With each new chapter of expression, Tolliver finds new ways to bring beauty into his life… and he’s having a god damn blast doing it.

“I was never happy. And now I know joy, because I live my life in color.”

Read below the conversation with the “seraphic falsetto” wielding diva himself…

I was lucky enough to catch you at the Joni Mitchell Tribute at Standard of Hollywood put on by Valida, the lovely empress of homage herself. How was your experience that night and how do feel about events like this that bring musicians, many of whom don’t know each other, together to honor the icons?

That night was gorgina. I met a lot of musicians I normally wouldn’t see, lots of acoustic acts, big singers. I got to hang out with this director I love, Wendy McColm. She convinced me Meryl Streep was in the audience, and I foolishly believed her!

I had licherally nothing prepared that morning, but Zhao and I had a music playdate. He volunteered to build an entire track from scratch, crafting this incredible electronic cover of ‘River.’ I’d love to put it out at some point.

I love events like this, they’re so so so rare. There are lots of legends I just…haven’t checked out, and Joni was one of them. These shows fill in some serious musical blanks for me.

The EP is called ‘Thin Black Duke’ in part because I sang at a David Bowie tribute a while back, then fell down the rabbit hole of his life.

You also teamed up with producer Zhao for a track called “reCOLLECTION”. Do you plan on working on more music together?

Me and Zhao have like 2.5 songs we’ve worked on, and each one cuts me to the bone, emotionally. We wrote them over the very sad holiday last year, and one day they’ll come out. We’ve played together live plenty, he’s essentially part of my band now. We were gonna tour, then the pandemic hit. I’m sure we’ll regroup when the smoke clears.

“Petty” is in your own words a bitter response to your ex-roommates asking you to leave. The potential impetus of this being that you were editing porn with the door open and playing music loud… so what’s next, studio apartment or roomies with similar proclivities?

The latter! I moved to Boyle Heights with some other folks, one of whom is significantly louder than me! Like, all the time!

I also have a room sort of tucked away, so I can edit hardcore pornography in peace. It gets loud!

Was there a pivotal moment or any noteworthy guidance you received while working with the production team The Architects?

I got real close with Jayme, who worked on a lot of Miguel’s records. There was a moment very early in the sessions where he and Ramir heard some of my lyrics and were like, yo, you’re funny. You should lean into that.

That made the process so much more fun. I tend to write about things that make me sad or horny, but I’d never really shown my like, funny side on record. Which is wild. I’ve hosted dark-comedy variety shows, wrote and hosted a murderous clown show at the bootleg, and hang out with comics non-stop. So it was nice to finally own that and like, laugh at my pain instead of reveling in it.

Your new EP Thin Black Duke vacillates between hedonism and holding onto your soul. One can only imagine your bisexual identity being the emotional albatross of your formative years, growing up strictly Baptist. Can you elucidate the highs and lows of that kind of upbringing? And do you have any advice for people going through the same self discovery?

Yeah, you know what? It was strange. I didn’t realize I was a 4.5 on the Kinsey scale till I was a full grown adult, far away from my family. So I didn’t have to face a lot of that shame head on. But goddamn were there clues.

My family tried to set me up on dates, asked me why i wasn’t dating girls. A few girls themselves asked me if i was gay after we’d made out. I was just like, a very sensitive boy who sang in musicals and took ballet and had a lot of female friends. Who knew??

I’m rambling. The lowest part of all of this is I haven’t even given my family a chance to accept me. I distinctly remember by older brother – not you, James – telling me that if I turned out gay, he would kill me. Other family members have told me they think gay people are pedophiles, gross, etc. So when I realized I was queer, I just…hid from them. I’m still hiding. We don’t really talk.

The tough part is my family was very loving. They treated me great, saved me time and time again, supported me in all things. But now we don’t speak and we know nothing about each other.

So I’m not sure if I’m the best person to give advice on, say, coming out. But I can say that living boldly as myself, choosing what I want, dressing how I want, and loving who I want has brought non-stop beauty into my life. I know the most interesting, colorful people who check in on me, make art with me, feed me, house me when I need, and give me the pure joy that I at no time experienced as a kid. I really, truly never once had fun as a kid. I was never happy. And now I know joy, because I live my life in color.

You opened a creative space in Boyle Heights in January. Any exciting collaborations, magical moments, or recordings you can share? And is the space able to survive through the quarantine?

That space is on big time hiatus, obviously. We had a few bands come in, we were starting the planning process for a big fundraiser with the non-profit Jail Guitar Doors, had some folks record parts of their album. But the most magical moments I had were teaching voice lessons to a very cool singer who saw me perform at The Factory early this year. I’ve never given lessons, but I’ve got formal training and whatnot. Me and this person were growing together, laughing a ton, becoming good friends. I went to Jolene’s in SF for my birthday, where they work sometimes on weekends. They told one of the bartenders I was coming and they hooked me up all night.

I don’t know, it was and is a friendship that I value a lot, one of the most heart-warming parts of a very…emotional year.

What has been the one song or artist that has kept you sane the last month and a half and if you happened to be quarantined with that artist, what would you ask them?

Black Truck by Mereba is the song that’s sustained me most, which is weird, cause it doesn’t have much to do with like, loneliness or yearning or any of the other feelings I’m feeling. It’s just like, an aspirational song delivered gorgeously by a singer I adore. I played a show with Mereba like 4 years ago, so I guess I would ask her if she remembers the absolutely manic set I played that night.

CONNECT WITH TOLLIVER

INSTAGRAM // SPOTIFY // FACEBOOK

photos / Lisa Johnson

story / Chris Hess

 

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