Illustration by Donte Neal
Interview by Jessica Rodriguez
Editor’s Note: The idea that there is scarcity in the world is a capitalist lie. That lie would have us believe that if we give something, we lose something and that we must employ greed to not only make ourselves comfortable but to ensure our safety. This lie can be understood as a major reason why gluttony is a problem in one part of the world and starvation is a problem in another. The truth is that when you give and share, your world expands. When you give and share your family becomes a community, and your community becomes a nation. This truth is not particularly convenient for those that profit from greed, but it still remains.
This truth is why collaboration can be located as a form of resistance work. Collaboration, if it is to be done correctly, calls for two or more parties’ rejection of ideas that are informed by greed to create a thing that transcends what those parties could do independently. It is beautiful to be a part of and it is beautiful to witness. Philadelphia Printworks, for our #MYACTIVISM series, spoke with the patron saints of that particular mode of beauty, known as the musical duo St. Beauty. St. Beauty is the Wondaland-signed, Janelle Monae-approved soul band that defies labels with their sounds effortlessly going from hip-hop to trip-hop to acoustic rock to funk to electronic, and back again. Through their music and performance, they exhibit a type of activism that is vital to witness; the activism that is musical creation and collaboration. This is a transcript of the conversation that St. Beauty (comprised of Alex and Isis) had with our zine editor, Jessica Rodriguez, where they laugh and share thoughts on stardom, collaboration, and paradise.
I think to produce anything great you must collaborate. That seems even truer for you two since you are a duo. How do you think collaboration allows you to create your good work in ways being a solo artist may not?
Alex: Getting Ideas from other people [and] being inspired by other people’s ideas because you may think your ideas are great but there’s always somebody with a different perspective. Seeing other people's perspective is really inspiring.
You are a part of this bigger collective in Wondaland Records with amazing artists and ideas always floating around, so despite it being cliché, I’m very interested in what is inspiring you, right now?
Isis: Right now I’m really inspired by people I’m around, my friends and seeing how talented they are and basking in that and being aware of that. I’m inspired by Solange and the new year coming up [laughs]
Alex: There has been one thing that has been really inspiring me, this vision of seeing all of my family in paradise. I want to make that happen one day, I don’t know how it’s going to happen but that’s something that I really want to see one day, you know being surrounded by all of my friends and family in one place, in a paradise and everybody happy and smiling. I see it happening, it’s in my heart, it’s inside of me and that’s something that keeps me going, it really inspires me to keep going, keep working and keep creating. It’s the one thing that I think about every day.
That is so beautiful when you say paradise, do you have a specific place in mind?
Alex: Yea, last year Janelle flew a bunch of us out to a villa in Mexico and it was amazing, just being there with all these awesome people and it was really inspirational and I want to do that same thing for my family that Janelle did for us.
That’s so cool! I’m actually half Mexican, my mom is from Oaxaca! What part of Mexico?
Alex: Oh dope! It was right outside of Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta is beautiful! Like you mentioned earlier, Isis, this year has been pretty crazy and tumultuous. What was the most challenging thing you’ve had to overcome and how did you do it?
Isis: People [not believing] in us and having to continuously prove [ourselves] by being great and making sure we communicate and lift each other up.
Alex: Being discouraged is hard, being in the music industry isn’t easy. We have to stay encouraged every day and that’s something that can be difficult [to do] when you’re working hard and things don’t turn out the way you want them to. But [we] just keep going.
Yea most, definitely. I recently watched your video for Going Nowhere and you had a Bay Window Volkswagen and I literally died [laughs] it was so beautiful! I myself have a ‘84 Westfalia Volkswagen that I did a cross country road trip in last year. It really made me happy to see that in your video, because as weird as it is, I feel like for people of color, especially women of color doing road trips [or exploring the outdoors] isn’t commonly depicted. I just wanted to say that. [laughs]
Isis: That’s dope that you did that!
Thanks! It was really amazing. So speaking of traveling on the road, rituals and routines are important to all artists, but I’d imagine for artists that travel a lot, it’s just as important but harder to come by. What are your daily rituals and mantras that help you remain grounded?
Isis: A prayer every morning. Making sure you declare how you want your day to go. I definitely have to work out!
Alex: Praying, of course, and doing something that makes me feel good about myself every day. Like pampering, I just started steaming my face with rose water and it’s really soothing. I like reading Don Miguel Ruiz books too, they’re so inspiring! He wrote The Four Agreements, The Book of Knowledge, The Mastery of Self, I just love his books! That’s it for now, it may change.
Yea definitely, like with anything in life, routines and rituals change over time. I love taking baths and pampering myself because it’s an act of self-care and having me time is really grounding and therapeutic. I think it goes along perfectly with your team’s mission to heal and inspire. What do you envision people healing from and what do you envision yourselves inspiring people to do?
Alex: You know when other people see that someone is going through something similar to what they’re going through, it’s really healing and it really helps them realize that they’re not in it alone. People tend to think that no one is going through their same [struggles] so we love writing songs about things that we go through because everybody goes through similar [struggles]...doing that through music is really important and I really feel could heal people.
Isis: Alex said it perfectly. Writing the songs have also been healing for us. It’s kind of a two-way street we’re healing and inspiring ourselves and doing it for other people also. Personally, we haven’t seen anyone like us and it just shows that you can look like us and go through what we go through but still push through and don’t have to worry about what your hair or skin looks like. It’s like saying “hey, look at us, we’re just like you!”
For sure! Like I said, watching your video was so inspiring I was like “Yes! Other women of color are into this.” [laughs] It’s a really cool feeling. And even how Alex mentioned, Solange's album A Seat At the Table touched a lot of people of color, especially millennials. It was for us. And with 2016 being a crazy year, current music has really evolved into a specific theme of healing. It’s really cool that you guys are also focusing that into your music.
So how did you become a part of Wondaland?
Alex: We started performing at this place that we both worked at, a boutique called Poor Little Rich Girl and I really wanted to perform so I asked Isis if she knew anybody who could play guitar and then she offered and we practiced together and performed together for the first time and it went amazingly and we just kept performing every month at the showcases in the basement. We just kept going and Isis knew some people that were already in Wondaland that showed up and eventually, Janelle came and was inspired by what we were doing and we just built that relationship and here we are.
That’s awesome! It just all happened organically. That’s how you know when things are just meant to be. St. Beauty represents a possibility for women to exist in entertainment in unconventional ways. Like you mentioned Isis, you guys have a different “look” and your music is all about showing people that you can look a certain way, or not, and still do what you love. So what advice can you give women looking to exist unconventionally on their journey?
Alex: Remembering who you are and that your journey is your journey and not anyone else’s. Knowing that you’re the shit [laughs].
So you feel you built up your confidence along this journey or do you think you always started out with a good sense of self and high level of confidence?
Alex: I definitely didn’t. I did not have a lot of confidence. I feel like right now, I’m [the most] confident that I’ve ever been just based off of experiences. I feel great right now and pumped, and prepared.
What advice would you give Isis?
Isis: Really knowing yourself and like Alex said, try not to compare yourself to anybody. It’s just going to be really difficult for you to try to be someone else. Really look at yourself and know what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are and even if you need to find someone to hold those weaknesses for you and be that strong part of yourself [then do it]. It’s what I think makes St. beauty work. Just be yourself, it’s truly as simple as that (not simple, but it is simple).
Do you guys feel like throughout your journey you’ve had a solid support system and people that have been there for you?
Alex: Yea definitely and it’s growing every day. It’s been awesome and really inspiring seeing fans really ride or die and support our journey. You know, it has taken us a while to release a project but people are still very supportive. Every time we release a song, people are so excited about our project, no matter how long it’s been. It makes us feel really great that people that don’t even know us personally backing us up.
Isis: And just like you guys wanting to interview us, it’s just like “wow, you wanna interview lil’ ol us at home while we’re chillin” [laughs].
There are accepted definitions of a word or a thing, and definitions that we conjure up; what is your definition of activism?
Alex: My definition of activism, is really taking action in what you believe in and really wanting to make a change in the world. And knowing in your heart that you can do it.
What is something an elder has said to you that you’ve discovered to be true?
Isis: My dad recently told me, “care for people, but also make sure you care for yourself” and that’s been really true in my relationships in life. You can get so lost in helping other people, which isn’t a bad thing but it’s also kind of like being godly you know, god is love; you have to give love but you also have to [receive it] and you have to love yourself. It’s all intertwined and it rings true, especially right now.
Alex: It wasn’t really an elderly person, it was my mom and she’s not really elderly yet [laughs] but pretty much similar to what Isis said about not being able to find anybody who really loves you unless you love yourself. I’ve realized that time and time again. Every time I go through a discouraging phase or feeling like I’m not good enough or inadequate, I always feel like people around me feel the same way about me. And I’ve come to a place where I am happy with who I am and I feel better about who I am and I can see the change in people around me based on how I feel about myself.
Isis: What people have to realize about older people is that they’re still human beings, they’re still growing and learning. You never stop learning. Think about how old you are and how old your parents were when they had you, they had to be parents at that age. They definitely made mistakes but you have to forgive them for that because you never know what state they were in, they didn’t learn certain things or their parents probably didn’t teach them. I just want to let the youth know that it’s important to understand that we’re all still learning.
Totally. It’s all a growing process, it’s all a journey and everyone is on their own individual paths.
So this brings us to our last question and this can be as fun/silly or as dead serious as you desire for it to be! What have you done today to resist the powers that be?
Isis: I’m just kinda lame today...I prayed. I just feel like this whole interview we’ve been like super deep [laughs].
That’s not lame! This question is meant to be as serious or silly as you want. So when we say the powers that be, I guess what we mean by that is the heaviness in the air from all that’s been going on; how do we resist that negativity? For example, the people that try to bring you down, or don’t believe in you, basically anything that is conflicting with your light or your power. How do you resist that?
Alex: Well I walked out the house without makeup on and I did not care! [laughs].