YOUTHQUAKE'S NEON MUSIC
By Juliann McCandless and Monica Rojas
Photos by Wyn Herrick
Neon Music is an artist; he’s a performer, a singer-songwriter, and head designer of stunning headpiece brand House of Triviál (he’s been working on new designs for Beyoncé’s upcoming tour video. Yeah, B’s a fan.). IRL sat with the Youthquake frontman to discuss his life and many talents inside New York City’s Clockwork, the Lower East Side punk dive, where Brooklyn-based Neon Music, 30, plays as resident DJ.
So you've lived in New York for a while.
What made you want to move from Boston?
There’s just more fabulous stuff going on here. I mean Boston is a cool place to grow up, but New York was the next step for me I guess.
Who were your biggest influences? Was there anyone who helped you get into your New York groove?
A lot of people – Patricia Fields, I started working for her when I first moved here, and she's always been sort of a motherly figure to me. A lot of the drag queens and trannies really took me under their wings; Lucky Cheng, I used to hang out with her a lot, my drag mother, Tobell Von Cartier, Flawless Sabrina, a very old school drag mother to everyone. She's sort of like my mentor. And then fabulous women like Tracy and my wife. I've always been blessed to have really powerful female influences in my life.
So you started off in a band. Sphinx was your first band?
Right. Well, I was doing solo electronic performance art. I guess you could call it anarcho-electro sort of stuff. And yeah, my wife and I have a band called Sphinx.
What’s the concept behind Sphinx? We heard it has to do with reincarnation…
Well, it’s like a phoenix. It’s on a little hiatus at the moment, and, you know, we’ll revisit it. It’s an ongoing thing.
Cool. And Youthquake is your current band?
Yes, it’s my rock group.
Your rock group!
Sphinx and Youthquake are very different. How did that transition happen?
I just wanted to do something more stripped down and that was less, well, not electronic, you know? I've always done electronic music, and it’s something that I love to do, but I just sort of needed to get away and do something that was – just plug in and play.
What are you guys working on now?
Currently, we’re getting ready to put out a split 7-inch with The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. We’re working on some releases, and we have a fabulous new guitar player that we’re working with and just doing some fun press stuff, like this with you guys.
How long have you been playing guitar?
I've played guitar since I was 11. I got away from guitar for a while, and I feel like I'm getting back to the core of how I was when I was a teenager. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with a lot of different personas, sounds, and visuals. I feel like I sort of figured myself out, and I've come back to a place, almost where I started, but in a more refined way, I guess…I hope.
So, where do you grasp for all of this inspiration? You have such a distinct look, every time we see you.
So many places – I mean I think I'm trying to get to a point where my image is more consistent, because I've always liked that about things. But I've always been really inspired by '60s, '70s subcultures, skinhead styles, mod, dandy, glam rock. I mean, I was always more inspired, for my aesthetic, by musicians that I’ve looked up to. I like some fashion, but generally speaking, I'm not really a fashion follower. I mean, I do design headwear…
Yeah, tell us about your headwear line Triviál.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, because it’s sort of like, I hate fashion, so it’s completely unnecessary. What’s the point? But there is a point, because it’s art, and art is necessary.
We saw that hundred dollar bill dress [on Patricia Field].
David Dalrymple made the dress, and I made her headpiece. It was probably the most intricate thing I've ever done. I had to make a cast, a rendition, as she wanted me to make something that incorporated her face into the headdress. I actually built up a clay mold of my interpretation of her face from a photograph, and then I blocked the hat around that, painted it and put all of these Swarovski [crystals]. I also made a hand smoking a cigarette – but I made it all out of molds. It’s actually very lightweight, it looks like it would be heavy. It’s at [Patricia Field’s] store. It’s pretty fabulous.
Okay, so this is a little personal. Some of us are going through some crazy heartbreak, and we were wondering if you had any advice for us, and how we could get over it.
Start a band! That’s exactly what the fuck Youthquake is – I went through a breakup. I was tortured…I’m such an advocate for channeling anger and emotions through creative means, and I think that not enough people have that outlet or don't think about it that way. I feel like I've never been a violent person, because I have an artistic outlet. Even if it’s making a train set or, you know, putting on something pretty – An art form can be anything, it can be very personalized.
You're such a creative person; were you raised in a creative environment in Boston?
Yes, my parents have very creative inclinations. My dad was more of the music side, my mom is the visual and fashion side. They were always very supportive of me and my art pursuits. I’m very lucky for that. They always had me signed up for art classes, doing arts and crafts…all of that stuff plays into hat making. That’s why it sort of seemed very natural for me – I don't use sewing machines. I do everything by hand.
How did you get those skills to create these amazing, elaborate hats?
I never formally went to college, but I wanted to take some classes in design. I wanted to design shoes, but I just wasn’t acclimated to that. I didn't know how to use a sewing machine. It was really a struggle for me…I'm really bad with patterns. I'm good at the design, but like making something that is so technical I fucking failed at it. But then I took a hat design class just to see what was up with that, and it really just felt really natural, because it was all handwork and my teacher was really cool and supportive, and I just started my line after that.
I heard that you did something for Beyoncé.
She bought one of my first hats. It was at Patricia Field’s in the window, and she was like "yup" and snatched it. I just made some new headpieces for her new tour video.
Oh no way! Cool…Do you hope that Youthquake gets super famous?
What’s your reasoning?
It’s important. There’s a very strong psychology behind it, because I think it’s very important for kids to have cool stuff to look up to. When I was a kid, there was Nirvana, Hole, Marilyn Manson. Cool stuff was so mainstream, and I feel like now, culture is very starved for anything that is authentic in any way. Of course, I want to be rich and fabulous and all this other stuff, but I really want to be a positive influence for young people and show them that it’s important to just be yourself. The most important message that I really want to relay is just self-acceptance, because that leads you to be able to accept and love other people, and you can't love anyone else until you love yourself.