Editor's Note: This piece originally ran on April 24, 2017. We're re-publishing this interview inconjunction with Guayaba's appearance at our upcoming GAYEXP event on June 23 in the KEXP Gathering Space as a part of Seattle Pride celebrations. This event also features live performances by SassyBlack, Sashay, and DJ sets from DJ Mister Sister and DJ Fishlure, and is hosted by the one-and-only Princess Charming. Get your tickets today.
Every person contains multitudes, but few embrace them as much as Northwest rapper and vocalist Guayaba. As an artist, she's fronted metal acts, made experimental pop ballads, raps, etc. But this idea extends beyond how she executes her vision. Digging through her lyrics in her latest album, Black Trash/White House, she embraces her race, gender, sexuality, and every facet of herself that makes her who she is with an unshakable, bilingual flow. We chatted with Guayaba to dig deeper into her musical roots and unpack her diverse influences.
KEXP: For a couple years you were making experimental, vocal music under the moniker Aeon Fux. What inspired the name change and what drew you to hip-hop?
Guayaba: I definitely wanted to make a shift in style, but also just felt like graduating from the project. I like to keep things fresh and exciting for myself and I was really inspired to make music that was a little more danceable than what I was making previously. I also had some censorship issues with the name, and wanted to make things a little easier on myself.
I grew up with pretty eclectic taste, but hip hop has always had a place in my heart. I’ve always written bars and used to freestyle with my friends, but I lacked the confidence to start rapping until I met some of my friends DoNormaal and Raven Matthews who encouraged me. They’re playing at the festival this year as well. The local scene is close knit, so I was quickly able to meet people to work with.
You went to school at Evergreen State College in Olympia, perform in Seattle, and live in Bremerton, Wash. How has living across the Northwest shaped your writing?
I often have people telling me that I don’t have a very “Northwest sound”, which I always find interesting, especially when it comes from people who aren’t from the Northwest. No one ever thinks I’m from here, and I’m not sure if that’s flattering or not. I think being from the area shapes my writing in every way; we are sort of isolated in this little corner that a lot of people don’t pay much attention to, and people either stay here their whole lives or leave as soon as they can. It’s a very polarizing place, even more so now with how expensive it has become to live in the city. It’s dark, and beautiful, and lonely here; I think I grew up a lonely child and spent a lot of time in the woods and I think a lot of kids who grew up here have a particular kind of loneliness in them that is unique to the area. I don’t know if I have a Northwest sound so much as a Northwest feel. I think that the place I live outwardly reflects a lot of the feelings of isolation that I deal with and write about.
A lot of your lyrics have to deal with identity. How do you feel your music helps you exude yourself to others?
My music allows me to express myself in a way that I’m unable to in any other form. I feel like people who know my music know a very intimate part of me, and I feel honored to be able to share that with people. I feel confident expressing some of my truest feelings through music where I might otherwise be afraid to. It can also be a little confining, because I think it’s easy for people to make a lot of assumptions about someone they get to know through the lyrics they write.
You describe yourself as a metalhead on your record. What's your favorite metal record? Do you feel like your love of metal impacts the music you're making now?
If I’m honest, questions like this are some of the hardest for me to answer. There are so many different albums that have had a profound impact on me that I still revisit on a regular basis. I usually have to answer within specific guidelines, like within the past five years or a particular subgenre. I’m a huge King Diamond fan and often joke that he’s my dad. I think that Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break the Oath and King Diamond’s Abigail are contenders for nostalgia’s sake alone. But based around nostalgia’s sake, I could also say Carcass’s Heartwork was my fav. I need to actually ruminate on this question this year. Metal shows are shows I go to most frequently outside of my own/my friends, for sure. Going to metal shows or hearing a really great metal album really inspires me, and it’s one of the few genres that I feel energized by. I think that secretly, my love of metal impacts everything I do. It’s something I think about a lot especially now that my daily wear exists outside of a band t-shirt, black jeans, and a hoodie. I’m not immediately recognized as a metalhead, so I like to make references to it for those who are listening closely enough.
Luna God produced all the beats on your last record, Black Trash/White House. How did you two link up and why did you want to work with him on this record?
I met Caleb (Luna God) for the first time at the same show I met DoNormaal and Raven Matthews at. I’d like to think it will be a day that goes down in history. We talked after our sets about making music together, and after I graduated from Evergreen I moved to the city very briefly. In that time, Caleb sent me some beats, one of which would be "Basura Negra". I was immediately inspired and started writing for it, and sent it back to him. When I did, he suggested making a batch of beats for me, and what came together was Black Trash/White House. I really liked the music Caleb was making with other artists in the city and his house is really flowing with positive creative energy. The irony is also not lost on me writing an album that in part examines my proximity to whiteness and working with a white producer on this project. But Caleb is someone who is easy to work with and he really let me take the reigns to cultivate the sound I was trying to create.
Do you have any other projects in the works? What's next for you?
I am working on another EP, though I’m not sure if it will be out this year. It is going to be a bit more vocal driven, and perhaps a little more experimental, definitely more metal inspired. I’ve been working with a local producer by the name of Estoc who samples a lot of metal, she’s definitely making some of my favorite music right now. I’d like to put out a few videos, right now I’m just waiting for a bit of inspiration for this next release.
Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, a Northwest regionally focused festival with over 300 acts, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features Seattle rapper ZELLi, performing Friday, May 12.
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