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Nexus J. on the Nuances of Sexuality in Music and Visualizing Depression - Tunes Tuesday Transcript

Maud Mostly: Hi, I'm Maud, my pronouns are they/them, and welcome back to Tunes Tuesday, a weekly series where I sit down with 2SLGBTQ+ bands and musicians to talk to them about their music, their experiences, and so much more. Joining me this week is Portland-based rock soul rap artist, Nexus J. It is so wonderful to have you here. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Nexus J: Yeah, sure. So I'm Nexus J, pronouns, are she/her. I did just recently relocate to Portland, I'm originally from Chicago, so I just wanted to throw that out there, because that's certainly where a lot of my heart is, but yes, I do a lot of fusion music with the genres that Maud mentioned, and I also do a lot of poetry, and hopefully down the road in my music career, pretty much every genre there is, that's something I think about, so yeah, that's a little bit about me.

MM: Amazing, thank you for sharing that. And I also love how often artists now are really experimenting with genres, so I love that you're bringing that up and that you're really looking forward to a future with more of that.

NJ: Totally. I think I was having conversations recently with folks, where I would just mention, yeah, it's always been in my head that I want to do a country song so badly, there's so many reasons that that's the case, but it's one of the most white-wash genres that exists, and have existed today, and it's probably because I've watched The Voice for several seasons and Blake Shelton just, well, maybe I shouldn't ostracize future managers, but Blake Shelton kind of gets under my skin and I'm like, oh, I just want to get up there and just really rip it at a country song, but that could be a tangent.

MM: I genuinely, really hope you do that one day, I am personally always looking for more queer country, because I feel like that there's so many queer country roots as well that I think get forgotten about so quickly, because it's all like straight cis white men, prominently being shown in the genre. So this is all tangential, but I absolutely love talking about it.

But to speak a little more towards the music that you're currently creating outside of these future ideas, is that you've recently released Cum Ovr and Ruin Me, so these are two of your 2021 singles that make up what you call your Bad Girl Trilogy and as far as lyrics go, they're fantastic lyrics, and what does it mean to you as a queer woman to explicitly explore sexuality through those lyrics and through the sound of the song?

NJ: Mm, totally love this question. I also prefer to add the lens of my intersectional identities because I cannot separate me being a black queer person, and with that in mind, it means so much, it's all based in love for myself and my community and freedom and truth and authenticity, because the queer community and black femmes historically have been hyper-sexualized and thus dehumanized and the experience of sex and pleasure becoming — or at least attempting people attempting to separate us from those qualities and to control those qualities about us — and so I really, when I was writing Cum Ovr specifically, I really wanted to touch on this nuance of just primally desiring someone, but it not coming from the point of view of the male gaze. That was really what I was trying to get at. Because sex is fun and sometimes sex doesn't have to be this incredibly in-depth soul intertwine thing though — I am a hopeless romantic, so I'm not saying that I don't want that — but I just wanted to touch on really fun queer sexuality that also felt safe and didn't feel like this underlying sense of danger and a whole host of other challenging things that tends to happen with sex-driven songs these days, so it means so, so, so much, and definitely within this past year or two, I was coming into my own sexuality, and that's why these songs came out because there was a very authentic parallel of more confidence in exploring those things, and I think that's where Ruin Me came in. When I was like, “yeah, this is me and I love this about me” and yeah, I just want to be really bold and confident about that, so. Yeah, it means a lot, for sure.

MM: Absolutely, yeah, and I really appreciate you speaking to that intersectionality. I know when I first listened to the songs, it kind of overwhelmed me how much I could feel the fact that, you know, it wasn't being fetishized, that it wasn't being turned into something, it wasn't. It was just being felt and expressed, and I thought that was amazing.

NJ: I could explode. That just means so much. Yeah, I will say, I'm not sure if I've had that particular language for feedback right yet, like someone's explicitly saying I could feel that you weren't fetishizing — that really hits home. So I just so appreciate that that's what you got from it.

MM: Yeah, absolutely, I'm so happy that I had this opportunity to share that with you, I do think it's something that definitely needs to be talked about. And have you — as far as that feedback though — have you sensed that other people have been drawn to your music because of the fact that you know it's not from that male-gay standpoint, but it is exploring these themes?

NJ: That's a really good question. And I think that there is some nuance and probably more unpacking that I would have to do to really know for sure. Because I would say, if I'm looking at the music that I've put out, I've also recognized that this material has gained a lot more attention and I've reflected on that, and I would think — I mean I haven't done the math or the metrics quite yet — but I think it's because it's very sex-driven, and then I kind of dig into that to, I just have been, what's the word I'm looking for? Processing that, because I think it comes down to this question of is that really something I feel good about? I guess, and I'm not really sure because I would hope, you know that when folks are taking it in, they feel as I do and they feel as you've named that you do, and they're separating it from that male gaze and that fetish tendency, but I think sometimes it's hard to tell for sure. So I don't even know if I'm getting away from the question at hand here, but I think that's like my initial reaction is I still feel a very grey area about the amount of response that I've gotten compared to other more vulnerable, very sad, a lot more personal stories as opposed to me saying, “yeah, I feel hot and I really want to have sex with this person”, so I appreciate it, and I still love my work and it's really important. At the same time, I think, like I said, I'm just repeating myself at this point, I think it's still a processing point for me, the response that I've had to this project.

MM: Absolutely. Well, I love hearing about the thoughtfulness that you not only put into the music before releasing it, but also after releasing it, seeing how you continue to feel about it and looking at how other people are feeling about it, perceiving it as well, and really seeing that bigger picture of it.

NJ: I appreciate that too. It helps with the anxiety.

MM: Definitely, and also speaking about these singles, so two of these singles were mixed and produced by SuperKnova, who is another incredible queer artist that has actually been on the show as well, so how does being able to work and create with other queer people impact your music?

NJ: Definitely, I could fan about SuperKnova forever, and I feel like if you know her, you would too, because I just felt so, I'll just gush on her a little bit before I answer your question, because I think she deserves it. I mean, I was just incredibly honored at the end of the day to work with her, and I actually didn't know much about her work before connecting, I connected with her through knowing that she had done work with GLITTER MONEYYY, who I'm not sure if you know of, but whoever's listening to this also go listen to GLITTER MONEYYY, incredible rap duo. But anyhow, once I got to work with her, there was this space of patience and feeling safe that I've never felt working with any other producer before, and SuperKnova is the first trans woman of color that I've worked with as a producer and, again, I process a lot, I'm still unpacking that, because I don't want to be unfair, but prior to that, I've only worked with cis men, and it's never felt as good as it felt when I was working with SuperKnova, and I think that there was this sensibility to, yes, like the community and kinship we shared and sure, I do don't want to sidestep that SuperKnova is also just an incredible person, so I think it's both of those things together. But what I took from my time with SuperKnova, that helped me make my art the best it can be, is the amount, yeah, like I said, the patience, for the sheer amount of questions I would ask, the amount of times I would do one take for this little tiny vocal thing, and she would just never make me feel rushed or wrong for doing things that I felt I needed to do to make the song what I wanted it to be and yeah, that was definitely new for me, for sure.

So that's something I really appreciated. And I will say with me, especially Cum Ovr, the POV that that song was in, I just so appreciated, well, because this is a little background. I recorded some of that song with her, she was not to produce her for Cum Ovr, but I did record a little bit of it with her in her studio, and it was just so great to connect and create in that space with another queer artist and furthermore her responses to the music as time went on, hit at a really deep soul level because we did share that queer community where I'm sure I would appreciate if a cis man told me they liked the song, but I think there's just a different level of love and feeling seen and heard that after I was done with one session, I'm like, great, I'm so ready to come back and be very excited to share more of this experience with that particular artist because she gets where I'm coming from, so, yeah, it was beautiful, it was magical, and I can't wait to create with her again.

MM: Yeah, absolutely, I was hearing that that makes me so happy for so many reasons, but I just absolutely love the fact that we can find people within our communities to have that dynamic with and that we can truly trust and feel safe to share our artistic practice with them, because I absolutely think you touched on it where it's not only are we being fully seen as artists, but our work is being fully seen for how we want it to be seen.

NJ: Totally. And it made me think, to add on also, separate from me being an artist, sometimes I just think it's helpful to compartmentalize or maybe just, yeah, in terms of me processing my own artistic journey, I'm also a person that's like learning and engaging with art, and I think across my artistic career, there's been a lot of insecurity and a lot of impostor syndrome that prevented me from taking steps forward and putting an effort in investing in myself. And again, just to look back to how absolutely vital and crucial, this feeling of safety is, I think it just speaks to that because again, there are so many insecurities that I was walking into that room with. But when you meet a person that just says, “That's fine, like no worries”, and, “Yeah, sure, I'll answer that question”. And just outpouring of love, patience and space, it just made the inner-child-Nexus really feel so good. And again, aside from artistry, just as a person, I so appreciate those moments of connection, I think they're so, so needed and invaluable.

MM: Yeah, absolutely. That is so beautiful. And moving on, even though I feel like I could talk about this forever, because it just feels like a love letter to the queer community, but moving on, because I know earlier you mentioned that before releasing the Bad Girl Trilogy, you are releasing a lot more vulnerable pieces, pieces that really explored other areas and even exploring those in different styles. So I know back in 2019, you released your first visual project with Exhibit O, and through its visuals and words, Exhibit O discusses mental health, psychiatric experiences, queerness and finding oneself as well as self-harm in an immensely vulnerable way. As this was your first visual project, what drove you to create it and how did it feel to see the final product?

NJ: Totally. Yeah, I'll answer the first part of that question of what drove me to this project. It definitely has a lot of layers to it, and that the poem itself was a school assignment when I was in college, studying creative composition, so it came from that, and I'm a person who navigates depression and anxiety still to this day, and I have personally experienced suicidal ideation and self-harm. And so it just was my attempt to just express truly what that felt like without feeling the need to apologize for it or make the person hearing it feel comfortable showing what this was like for me, and to give, I suppose, one more layer of context that in and of itself has been a really important goal, like that attempt to just not apologize for how I feel, even if the feelings are really heavy and uncomfortable, because I'm just speaking for my own healing journey, it's necessary because, so often times when I feel that way, my first reaction is to feel so ashamed of even feeling that way, and to then like, I can't remember when I came across this, but someone termed it as having secondary emotions about things and how so often those are not very helpful. Like being sad and then being mad at yourself for being sad, like the being mad is very rarely ever a beneficial thing to do kind of lean into.

So yeah, that's why I made the piece just to say, this is how I feel, so I'm going to accept that this is how I feel. And then it came to be a visual when I was partnering a lot more often with a videographer/photographer, friend of mine, and it just felt like one of the poems that I've been most proud of and could so easily see the visuals in my brain. I just saw all of these scenes with my hands dragging through the sand and the imagery of the water and being in showers and things like that. So I think, yeah, it just kind of came together pretty organically, it was such a long shoot. Wow. I haven't thought about this project in a minute, it's been a couple of years, but just going back, memory lane, it was such a long shot, I was so tired. There's black paint everywhere, I don't know. Like whomever has seen this, if you're listening to this now, it was a mess and such a mess clean up.

And it was very interesting because in thinking about creating it, I hadn't quite realized that I would be acting. Like, of course, I knew that logically, but then you get in front of the camera and you're like, oh, I have to think about how I feel when I truly feel this depressed, and then I have to have someone capturing it. It's such an incredibly vulnerable thing to do, so I would also say it was this incredible moment of dipping into the art form of acting, and it was really, really scary to say it was just really scary, but very, very cool to practice that and to also, I think flex the muscle, of not letting that just comfort around the show and just really surrendering myself to the whole goal, which was like, this is how I feel when I feel this depressed and anxious and I'm going to show it. So yeah, it was very messy, very vulnerable. And then I think you had asked, how did it feel when it came out, if I'm correct? It felt, how did it feel? I would say that it felt really, really a mix of emotions. Again, just super, super vulnerable. But also incredibly empowering. I think that that was a big feeling I had because I really, when I do work like this, I'm so sure that people have felt so similarly to me, and I think when I released this piece, some of me could zoom out and look objectively and say like, I am in a position of creating something where when someone else sees it, and if they’ve felt similarly, they don't feel so alone and they don't feel so ashamed or so afraid of themselves or, yeah, a lot of host of these other types of secondary emotions that I made before. And I think I felt really empowered for that reason, that I could be brave enough to share this, made me feel really great.

So yeah, great question. I hope that wasn't too much of like pudding, the way I answered it, but it kind of feels like pudding it just the way I feel towards the project.

MM: No, that was all incredibly powerful, I mean, it is such a powerful piece to watch, so hearing the emotions and really what went on behind the scenes. And I feel like even that idea of the paint being so messy and so hard to clean up, I feel like that even ties in with the feelings of the piece though, that these can be messy times and messy emotions, so it seems like so much of the process behind it was so connected.

NJ: Yes. It's true, what I said that I was like, yes, there's a parallel. So I'm very glad that you caught on to that. And it's really interesting because as I've moved here to Portland, my depression and anxiety have been at the top of their game, and yes, I'm totally using humor to cope and that's fine, but, yeah. It's been incredibly rough. So it's just interesting to be in this interview right now, talking about a piece that I wrote so long ago, and it's actually very interesting because when I wrote that piece, my relationship with self-harm had felt so distant for me from that time. I really place my experiences with self-harm as something that belongs to the high school version of myself. Yet, as I've gone on a journey of mental health over the years, I've learned to remember that all of the stages of who I've been is still a part of me, because I've found me myself in my mind a really, really low points to where I'm like, oh, my gosh, I haven't felt this way since whenever. And I've learned to practice not being caught so off guard by going to mental spaces that I might have been in the past, because again, that's the fastest track for me at least, to go down Shame Lane and, oh, I have back slid and what is all this, these years of therapy even done? And you could just go on forever. But I think it's also good to remember that it's okay to experience things that you've experienced in the past, and that's just being human, and it's not specifically a marker of your progress or lack thereof. So that's just something I thought of, and even having this conversation about this piece, because transparently, times have been rough. So it's interesting.

MM: Yeah, I really appreciate your honesty with sharing that. I know more and more people are starting to talk about their mental health journeys publicly and such, but there is still a lot of stigma, especially as you mentioned before, when we look at intersectional identities about who is “allowed” to talk about their struggles with mental health and who isn't. So that is incredibly powerful to share. And do you see yourself using this experience of visual mediums and mixing it in with your future music?

NJ: I do, I do. I definitely want to put out a music video for songs that are coming up, I think it'll just have to be a secret until then, because there are just little noodles of pieces that need to be put together. But yes, that is definitely a dream of mine. I cannot wait to be able to do that, and I'll be excited at which song or songs that could be a plan too...

MM: That's so exciting. I definitely look forward to that as well. I hope everyone watching this is looking forward to that, and if you are, I highly recommend checking out all the links below this video, which share the songs that we talked about today, there will be a link to that Exhibit O video, and you can also stay in touch through social media to make sure that you don't miss all the future projects that we have touched on or potentially alluded to the future existence of.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. This was such a delightful conversation, and Nexus J. will be playing us out.

*Cum Ovr by Nexus J. begins playing*

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