Acrossing a long section of the pandemic, formal face-to-face interviews replaced by pleasant phone and laptop conversations, we became accustomed to pictures of kitchens, living rooms, and carefully selected bookshelves. For today’s talk, however, singer-songwriter Serpentwithfeet offered a much newer environment in the current locked climate: the airport. After trying to connect, it appears, most of the face covered with a mask, tattoos on the neck are just visible through a compressed video image. “Can you hear me?” he asks, before the disembodied voice breaks, announcing that the flight is boarding.
The 32-year-old, who now only passes by Snake and not as his birth name, Josiah Wise, is returning to Los Angeles from Florida ahead of the release of his second LP, Deacon. It’s an album that represents just a journey. Serpent became famous for the EP blisters in 2016 Debut album 2018, extensive works that used baroque pop, R&B, gospel and opera flourishing to revive themes of strangeness, desire, sadness and a broken heart. The sonic breadth of his results, as well as the almost ceremonial live performances, attracted his fans, ranging from the experimental (Björk, with whom he traveled and collaborated) to the dominant charts (singer and producer nominated for Grammy Ty Dolla $ ign, who appeared on his 2019 individual accounts), and compliments like Vogue and Pitchfork.
Yet, where Soil and Blisters were emotionally charged and often prickly, his new album is a redirected flight to someone gentler.
“I did things with a broken heart and I think I did a pretty good job at least saying I was broken,” he explains. Instead, he tried to write with the Deacon about “the joys of going out with men and especially getting out of blacks. I went out with Blacks and I was in love with Blacks, and there’s just a certain way I feel really cared for and adhere to them. There is a certain trust. It only warms my heart when I think about it. ”
Deacon is an album that Serpent says he wanted to make for four years, but he lacked the emotional tools to create: “I think you have to keep living with some things to do them. I had to live longer. ”
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Serpenta was raised by fairly strict religious parents (his father owned a Christian bookstore) and spent a lot of time in church, joining a choir in his family’s Pentecostal non-denominational church when he was six years old. Although his writings and sermons were not interesting to him, especially given the church’s conservative attitude toward homosexuality, he was drawn to the church ceremony, especially when it comes to music.
“I was fascinated by the songs and the language in the songs,” he recalls. “It was fascinating for me. How vivid the pictures were. There was so much passion. “
Both the blister and the ground embody this sense of grandeur, as does the snake’s affinity for classical music and opera. But the period during which he created those records was full of worry and creative anxiety. “I was constantly frustrated, confused and I felt like nothing was going on,” he says. “If things didn’t go the way I expected or wanted, I would become fierce. I was on fire. I think it should have been. I think I worked from that fire site. ”
The move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was ultimately a “transformative experience”. He has found peace in the vast expanse of LA, where he has lived for the past few years. “My life is really cold, which is what I wanted.”
The new album, Deacon, is a direct result of this move and the friendship gained with the people there, which he describes as “abundant” and “balm”. One such person is Kanye and Rihanna collaborator Ty Dolla $ ign, who became a trusted creative.
“Since I’m close to Ty, I think I’ve become a better songwriter and a faster songwriter,” he says, explaining how Ty encouraged him to tweak his music, instead of deleting it, until he corrected it. “Once I started doing it, I think I could have had more fun because it became less of this painful process. I’d be really neurotic about it before, and Ty helped me regain my lightness. ”
At this point, Snake seems a little panicked. His screen goes black for a moment before he comes back and tells me that his plane is actually boarding at that moment. After a frantic run through the airport terminal, he hangs up while boarding the plane.
When we reconnect the next day, the surroundings can’t be further from the hectic buzz of the airport: his apartment is bright and airy, and he wears a Burberry bucket cap instead of a mask. While talking about Deacon, there’s both lightness and ease, something echoed in the warm textures on the album, from the gentle hum of a xylophone at the nearby Society or the romantic plucking of a Spanish guitar on the Amir.
“A deacon is something I wanted to create in a tradition I saw,” he explains, “that blacks like anyway. Blacks live their damn lives anyway. Because no one can take away my peace or my joy. Neither the government nor the random white man on the street. I just wanted to make an album that reminded me: I enjoy this life I have, no matter the temptations or the mountains. ”
The album was also spoken of with respect for R&B, especially the work of Janet Jackson and Brandy – “Archetypes for a certain type of singing and a certain approach to love and care.” R&B is something he passionately believes in. “I don’t think I’m an R&B goalkeeper at all,” he says. “But one thing that’s really hot is that people are pretending that R&B is something you can do without any worries. The allusion of many R&Bs is that there is a certain kind of sensitivity. “
Listening to Deacon, it’s fair to say that Serpent understood the softness found in the work of his R&B heroes. As a result, the world of Serpentwithfeet was reformed and rebuilt. “Maybe it’s a blessing of my 30s. I spend less time caring and more time retelling love, ”she sings at Fellowship. Sounds like a world we could all visit.
Deacon was released on Friday, March 26