December 5, 2019

Vogds (pronounced like "Vogue" the magazine with an "s") treats pop-stardom like a gallery space. Coming from a conceptual background, Vogds crafts every aspect of their pop-image; from garment making to music production, video directing to photo editing. Aesthetically, they are a maximalist, a surrealist, and a scholar of camp. Musically, Vogds writes, sings, and produces experimental pop-music, all under the umbrella of queer futurism. Their songs dissect dystopias within social media environments and embrace anti-capitalist mentalities. In just one year, Vogds has been featured in numerous publications such as PAPER Magazine, Mic Media, and Wussy Magazine, as well as being awarded a Propeller Grant for their innovative work. Performing around the country at music venues and art spaces alike, Vogds' show locations have included Empty Bottle, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Cheer Up Charlies, Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, Miami Art Basel, Mana Contemporary, Heaven Gallery, and Subterranean among others. Ready to propel us into the new decade with content that directly challenges contemporary pop-trends, Vogds will release their debut full-length album in 2020.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

My name is Vogds (they/them pronouns) and I’m a multidisciplinary pop-singer. With roots in visual and performance art, I think about my pop-identity as a black hole. All of my art practices get sucked into the center, with chaos and mystery waiting on the other side. I produce my own beats and design, and fabricate my fashion, create sets/props/visuals, direct and edit my videos/photos, and perform.

How did your interest in music begin?

Though I’ve always been a singer, I rarely saw it as a feasible option for me to pursue. As an awkward, closeted queer boy growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, my dysmorphia prevented me from believing that my body or voice could be desirable. I pursued conceptual visual art and made surrealist paintings up into my early undergrad. Here, I shattered my practice into many mediums and skills. I began making performance art pieces where I would sing vocal melismas for hours on end in garments of my own making, but I was still just scratching the surface. I held onto various disguises of dysmorphia past my BFA until something clicked. I finally gave myself permission to be myself, regardless of any pressure from the art world or entertainment industry. I realized that I could combine my interests and forge an entirely unique music identity that works to dismantle gender norms, pop-trends, and this pervasive imposter syndrome.

What kinds of things are influencing your music right now?

Anxiety, N64 games, Postmodern design, Bjork, Ella Fitzgerald scats, and Chicago Imagists.

How has living in Chicago affected your music? What role does community play in your work?

Compared to New York or LA, where one must sink, swim, or float, Chicago is more affordable. This allows artists the space, time, and thriving underground community to create within, without having to cater to preordained ideas of success. I think Chicago is the birthplace of Queer Futurism, an ideology I hold as a cornerstone to my practice.

Despite my DIY addiction, community is key. I have a fashion collaborative with Sky Cubacub of Rebirth Garments and Compton Quashie. We are called the Radical Visibility Collective and we make fashion for the full spectrum of gender, size, and ability. I produced two EPs that act as visual descriptors of our garments for visually impaired folx. The second EP “RVC2” was just released in September, with support from our Propeller Fund grant. This EP expanded my production capabilities as I tailored each song to the different artists I was collaborating with. It was through working on these projects with so many amazing queer Chicago artists, beat-makers, and rappers that helped inspire my full dedication to music making. 

Can you tell us about the writing/recording process for your recent single, Swiss Army?

“Swiss Army” is about feeling split by many passions, genders, art mediums, and identities as a multi-disciplinary, non-binary artist. Capitalism often pressures us to choose one thing and get good at it. Yet, being a jack of all trades can be a super-power, strengthened by intersectionality. Though challenging at times, wearing many hats has its tenfold rewards. The best moments in my work happen at the intersections; between fashion design and music production, photo editing and vocal riffing.

This was the first song I finished in Ableton, having switched to this music-making program at the start of this year. Thus, it’s impregnated with all of those unsettled neurons and experimental surprises. My favorite part of the song is the bridge. I knew I wanted to throw the track in a totally different direction here, shifting moods, tempos, styles, voices – everything. This section truly embodies the overwhelming anxiety and inspiring psychosis of a multi-disciplinarian. 

I just released my music video for “Swiss Army” in late October, and I truly feel that it is my most ambitious project yet. It was a wild process to go from writing, recording, and producing this song myself, to mixing and mastering it with Jeremy Chereskin, to then directing a music video and spending a month and a half designing and fabricating sets, props, and garments. I collaborated with my partner Nico Gardner to create the giant soft-sculptural swiss army knife and charmbracelet. His work has this amazing flat, suto-dimensional product-objecthood that worked perfectly for these Claes Oldenburg-esque pieces. Eon Mora, the cinematographer, and I had this golden chemistry, pushing each other to go that extra mile to bring the video’s visuals to life. I still consider myself an image-maker, regardless of how multi-faceted that ‘image’ may be. Creating visuals for my songs is just as important as the music itself. 

What do you want a listener to walk away with after hearing your music?

A desire to create something that is completely different from what they are hearing or seeing today. An empowerment to pursue their own unique identity. An eagerness to tear down the hierarchies and algorithms holding us captive in this posthuman environment.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your music?

My highschool voice teacher once told me that my voice sounds like a leprechaun. 

Also, a producer friend told me that “Swiss Army” sounds very ‘American’, like an old national anthem. I think that’s hilarious and amazing, because it is very American to feel torn apart by capitalism and commercialism, fragmented by social media, working multiple jobs, living many lives. It’s the new American dream/nightmare. 

Photo by Adam Mayer

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other musicians are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing?

Instagram being pay to play (via promotions). Instagram shadow-banning queer/activist accounts and denying the promotion of our work. Social media further isolating us into vulnerable, like-minded quadrants for sales and political influence. Income inequality, wealth disparity, and lack of transparency in the industry/all industries. Heavy competition that prevents developing artists from breaking through while forcing all makers to believe that they must become the google search version of themselves in order to be palatable and successful. 

It will get worse before/if it ever gets better. 

What do you do when you’re not working on music?

I need a healthy balance between making with my hands and making on the computer. After spending hours producing beats and recording vocals, it’s rewarding to get my hands on fabric, design a look, and fabricate it. I work with difficult materials such as chainmaille, vinyls, mesh, PVC, carpeting, and spandex. I always push myself to design something completely different from my previous looks.

Who would you love to collaborate with?

Another self inside of me.