Band/Artist Profile Blog

Harsh Symmetry: Artist Profile

Harsh Symmetry comes from the mind of Julian Sharwarko of Sacramento, California.

Debuting Jan. 20, 2022 with the single “Mirror Twin,” Sharwarko’s “synth-driven solo project” is consistently dark, danceable and melodic.

Harsh Symmetry’s discography draws from the classic sounds of 80s post-punk and new wave with the influences of contemporary gothic genres like darkwave and minimal wave.

The resulting sounds are both nostalgic and ethereal.

Band/Artist Profile Blog

12 RODS: Artist Profile

12 RODS, also stylized as 12RODS or Twelve Rods, is widely an univestigated mystery of the 1990s. Until recently, their records were unavailable on streaming services. If you visit their website today, the domain is parked. If you don’t look carefully, it’s almost as though they didn’t exist.

Looking carefully, though, awards you with an interesting glimpse into queer and independent musicians who grew strong in the wake of a time where many artists struggled with making their music palatable to an industry while retaining their individuality.

12 RODS was a band formed by Ryan Olcott in the early 90s, and although they began releasing music as early as 1992, the group went through a couple of member transformations before releasing what is considered by many to be their masterpiece, the “Gay?” EP from 1996.

“Gay?” recieved lots of publicity via their Pitchfork review— one of the very few 10.0 ratings given in the history of Pitchfork as a publication. In the review, Jason Josephes writes, “This is 12 RODS’ first release, and if this is any sign of things to come, I have faith in the future of music.”

In 1998, 12 RODS released their commerical debut LP “Split Personalities,” this being the album that first brought my attention to the group. “Split Personalities” borrows two songs from its preceding EP, but offers a unique collage of indie pop, power pop, even prog pop and shoegaze. The album is packed full of fresh synth sounds and powerful, sometimes cryptic lyrics, and holds an impressive 9.7 review from Pitchfork.

Throughout “Split Personalities,” Olcott describes his loneliness, awkwardness, and struggles as a queer person in a time where discussions of queerness were sparing, and usually kept far from the mainstream.

My favorite track on the album is easily “I Wish You Were A Girl” for its heartbreaking and vulnerable description of experiencing shame around oneself in their most authentic form. My favorite part about the song, and the discography of the group in general, though, is not the lyrics by themselves, but the lyrics paired with the somehow enticingly monotone vocals of Olcott and the inventive genre-bending music from the group.

If there is one thing I admire “Split Personalities” for, it is Olcott’s willingness to bear pain clearly, loudly, passionately, and his ability to make it beautiful.

In 2000, the band released “Separation Anxieties,” produced by Todd Rundgren, which recieved scathing reviews, accumulating a disappointing 2.0 review on Pitchfork. Since then, 12 RODS has been mostly quiet, aside from an album re-release in 2015.

Ryan Olcott announced a new 12 RODS record in September 2021, writing on their Facebook page that the record was being made with “zero help, zero support, and zero financing.”

12 RODS is a short little blip in the 90s indie scene, but their music is an important statement regardless– a statement on queerness and visibility, on the music industry and what it means to create art for profit rather than for the sake of the art itself.

– bel$

Band/Artist Profile

Aesop Rock: Artist in review

Who Is Aesop Rock?

Ian Bavitz (also known as Aesop Rock) was born on Long Island, New York in 1976. When he later started creating rap projects with his long-time friend and producer Blockhead, his style was heavily influenced by the 90s New York rappers he grew up listening to.

How is Aesop Rock?

His quick, verbose rapping over slow, bass-heavy beats helps emphasize the role of his vocals over all else. Of course, that same emphasis on having such a large vocabulary can often make his verses near unintelligible unless listeners put their full focus into his songs. While there certainly is a place for music that requires your full attention in order to understand what’s going on, there are often times where his rhymes are just a bit too incomprehensible to tell what’s going on anyway.

What has Aesop Rock done?

Over the course of his 20+ year career, Aesop has released nine studio albums, six EPs, and many more collaborative songs with other artists. Of course, over that kind of a career, an artist is bound to evolve. While his rapping style hasn’t changed much since his debut “Music for Earthworms”, the production surrounding him has shifted so much that the effect of his onslaught of words has taken on a completely different tone by the time of his 2020 album “Spirit World Field Guide”.

As his beats became more synthetic over time, Aesop ironically seems to just get more authentic and personal. That’s not to say his early work featured impersonal content, just that most of his lyrics focused on his day-to-day complaints with work that are often prevalent in conversations with friends. There isn’t much he raps about early on that isn’t already covered by other rappers, in other words. A lot of the complaints critics often place against Aesop’s seemingly pretentious nature comes from these albums, I believe.

Anyway, here’s Aesop’s most popular song that acts as a great introduction to his work: “None Shall Pass”

Band/Artist Profile

Nordista Freeze: Artist Profile

Nordista Freeze is a psychedelic pop rock project and persona by singer, songwriter and tambourinist– Freeze.

His discography is defined by whimsical love songs and smooth ballads reminiscent of 60s pop tunes. However behind these gentle songs is a dramatic, high energy performer made for the stage.


Taking a look at his recorded discography, his most recent album “Big Sky Pipe Dream” is refreshingly sweet.

“Wysteria” is one of my favorite tracks off the album. Nordista Freeze creates a feeling of weightlessness in his songs. “Wysteria” in particular is a great example of the vocal and musical style Freeze has accomplished– airy, light and mystical.

The characteristics of 60s pop unite “Big Sky Pipe Dream”. However, this influence is relatively new in his work.

In his 2017 album “Cosmis Haus”, there is a greater presence of 90s pop-rock influences.

Track “Florida” off “Cosmis Haus” is bolder and a little more rustic– and captures the energy of his early work.

Something that is missing from “Big Sky Pipe Dream” is a slower, more sentimental track. “Good Time” demonstrates Freeze’s ability to slow it down and reflect beautifully.

I really admire Freeze’s ability to tie together high and low energy into his work– while still maintaining a bit of goofiness and otherworldly pop energy.

With each release his persona and sound continues to get more confident and bold.

The Narrative

One aspect that really pulled me into his music is the narrative he have built around his music.

In his artist bio on Spotify, this story is outlined best:

“A flaming blue orb came flying out of the sky and smashed into the earth, and there, lying sprawled in the crater, was a man wearing only his underwear with a tambourine in his hand. He rose to his knees and took off running over the rim of the crater and into the distance yelling ‘Na Na’. Where did he come from?”

Freeze has created a narrative of supernatural, time warping events that creates his music. It’s silly, goofy and set the foundation to his on-stage and off-stage presence.

Music has the power to redefine and reinvent the creators. In may ways Nordista Freeze and his music are one entity– and the two come alive in live performance.

Live Shows

I had the pleasure of seeing Nordista Freeze open for flipturn during their 2022 Shadowglow tour.

I was so excited to see flipturn and did not expect much from an opener– but I walked away that night amazed most by Nordista Freeze.

In my experience, openers typically give a solid performance but nothing over the top. The audience may dance a little and get warmed up, but I have never seen an audience mosh to an opener until Nordista Freeze.

What makes this even more remarkable is that his recorded work does not allude to his remarkable, chaotic stage energy at all.

Nordista Freeze opened as if he was the main event– and succeeded brilliantly.

It is clear he cares deeply about connecting with the audience, and Freeze goes above and beyond to ensure everyone walks away associating his music with a good time.

In an interview with SCAD Radio, Freeze elaborates on his goals as a performer,

 “There are two goals, the internal one to make the art I want to make, which can be dissonant or cooperative with my secondary goal of interacting with a crowd and creating an engagement where people leave with good memories”

Freeze provides an infectiously excited energy to his shows. His recorded work simply does not convey the same level of radiating adrenaline and unbridled passion in comparison to live performance.

One of the elements I loved about his performance is the live vocal mixing and editing. As seen in this recorded performance, Freeze amplifies and adds to his songs throughout his live performances.

This love for live performance is prevalent in his booking history. As outlined in his artist bio:

“The Nashville psych-pop artist is such a prolific performer that, as of the beginning of May 2021, he boasted 516 live shows since 2016 — a rate of one every three nights for almost five years”

Concluding Thoughts

Nordista Freeze is a talented performer how brings a refreshing silliness and sweetness to the music industry.

I am excited to see how his work grows and matures through his career– and I’m looking forward to where his live performances take him next.

Band/Artist Profile Concert Preview

Phoneboy Concert Preview

Phoneboy is a three piece indie pop band from New Jersey. 

Their discography is toe tapping and inescapably danceable. High energy and radiantly positive, this band provide a youthful optimism to the music world. 

With much enthusiasm, Phoneboy is currently on tour and is coming to North Carolina on Tuesday Mar. 28 at Cat’s Cradle Back Room. Tickets are currently being sold for $18. For more show information and tickets, you can visit the Cat’s Cradle website.

Brief History and Successes

Emerging in 2018, this band was an instant internet success. In an interview with The Stute Magazine, band member Ricky Dana recalls the release day of their first single “Acid Girl”,

“I remember looking at my Instagram stories and seeing the whole thing was the color of pink and red because everyone was posting it. It was crazy. Friends from home, people from our fraternity. If we didn’t have that support, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere or gotten that exposure at all,”

gloss red mannequin in white sweatshirt with red background
“Acid Girl” single cover art by Phoneboy

From their immediate success, they have continued to gain traction. Their 2021 self-titled album “Phoneboy” greatly contributed to their momentum.

Tracks “1987”, “Hey, Kid!” and “Nevermind (feat. Justin Magnaye)” are just three of the many popular songs off the release. It is easy to hear why Phoneboy is such an immediate success– from one listen there is an instant feeling of positivity.

Phoneboy makes music that sounds like candy. It is sweet, stark and begs for another listen. This is especially apparent in track “1987”, it’s incredibly wholesome and bright. From backing guitar, drums and lyrics, this song effortlessly evokes a feeling of a happy summer day.

The positive energy heard throughout their discography will undoubtedly seep onto the stage.

Latest Releases

In their latest singles, “Ferrari” and “Runaway”, they hold onto a childlike, careless energy.

In an interview with Sweety High Magazine Phoneboy elaborates on the inspiration for the newest releases:

“‘Ferrari’ represents the lack of responsibility we had when we were teenagers, and how much we took that freedom for granted. We hope any kids that are transitioning into adulthood and feel like they’re drowning can listen to this track and feel a little bit less alone.”

In many ways this theme of childhood and freedom connects their entire discography. To be in the moment without impeding responsibilities.

“Ferrari” Music Video by Phoneboy

Although much of their discography has genuine themes and deeper meanings– It’s clear they don’t take themselves too seriously and they have a good time making their music.

They make music to evoke a good time away from the stress and screens of daily life, and they succeed in this goal without any bells or whistles.

“Runaway” Music Video by Phoneboy

This carefree energy is very clear in their newest music videos and cover art. I’m excited to see how the personalities seen in the videos and heard in the music translate to a live stage.

Concluding Thoughts

It goes without saying the Phoneboy concert will have fun, positive energy.

The core purpose of their music is to encourage the listener to be in the moment and live a little more carefree– I am excited to see and hear how they promote this purpose on stage.

Regardless, it will be a great event to get away from attention hording phones and dance the night away. See you at the show.

Band/Artist Profile

Wombo: Artist Profile

Wombo is a psychedelic and indie rock band from Louisville Kentucky.

The trio, Sydney Chadwick, Cameron Lowe and Joel Taylor, take inspiration from rural and agricultural landscapes of their hometown. Their music is liminal, mystic and fluid.

Vocals by Sydney Chadwick are understated and mellow, bringing a relaxed continuity to all of their releases.

Fairy Rust & Selected Demos

Their newest release, “Fairy Rust & Selected Demos” focuses on a theme of escapism– from rural landscapes to distant fairy tales. There is a fantastic balance of mundane and unreal in this release both in theme and execution.

The explorative nature of their discography is really enjoyable to experience. They have some really solid rock tracks but actively dip into unknown genres with success.

“Jazz Wombo” is one of my favorites off the release. It’s classy, mellow and zesty. It holds to the escapism theme through a clear shift in technique compared to the rest of the album.

A great staple of the album is track “Backflip.” The backbone is a rhythmic guitar line– smoothly building to a whimsical vocals and bass line.

There are lots of tracks that play with the element of layering and time. “Backflip” is very successful bringing different techniques and themes seen throughout the album together.

There are so many gems in this release. When listening to past work it amplifies the strength of “Fairy Rust”.

“Staring at Trees” cover art by Wombo

Staring at Trees

In their debut album “Staring at Trees”, it has a much bolder application of Sydney Chadwick’s vocals. With this boldness there is corresponding heavier guitar and drum lines.

“Hex” is a joy to listen to after hearing the vocal work in “Fairy Rust & Selected Demos”. The adaptation in sound from 2017 to 2023 is quite astonishing. I find both approaches to be pleasant, but create quite the juxtaposition.

“Staring at Trees” has a fond place in my heart. It’s rustic, unapologetic and contradicts the lightness in their most recent releases.

However, one aspect I really love about their current sound is it’s understated, simple and humble tone.

In an interview with Melted Magazine, Sydney Chadwick elaborated on her simplistic approach in the latest album,

“I really enjoy songs from childhood and fairy tales, the melodies, there’s something so simple about them but so impactful. I really like when something can be so simple and seem like somebody didn’t really try… there’s something touching and simple about it. I really like to approach melodies in that way”.

“Staring at Trees” in contrast does not have this simple quality. The album sounds a little bit like they are throwing paint at the wall and seeing what works. There is nothing wrong with exploration and boldness– but it held insecurity in their sound.

Seeing the evolution of Wombo through their releases is fulfilling, fun and highly enjoyable.

“Dreamsickle” Single cover art by Wombo


Their most popular track, “Dreamsickle” is a great taste of the lyrical style of Wombo.

“And if you could see inside my mind there’s nothing there
But the images from the night give me no words
Looking back on when I thought I was a bird
I was looking at the ground to find a worm”

The writing through their releases is strong and surreal.

The dreamlike qualities of their music in both lyrics and sound make their entire discography extremely digestible.

Wombo simply makes great music to decompress to while holding interest. Both dreamlike and bold– this band has a lot of creative power and potential.

Band/Artist Profile Miscellaneous

Compelling Composers: Storytelling in Soundtracks

The storytelling ability of movie and video game soundtracks is astonishing.

This goes without saying, but there are so many outstanding stories to be told, and music provides us with a conduit for expressing overwise indescribable emotions.

For folks that have experiences tabletop role playing games, soundtracks extend beyond the story they were originally tailored for. Music becomes a backdrop for new stories to be built and new characters to be born.

I have fallen deeply in love with storytelling through music. Entire worlds, atmospheres and moments are fabricated through thoughtful sound design and music.

This care, consideration, and devotion within musical storytelling is demonstrated beautifully through fantasy composers. To highlight some of my favorite stories and soundtracks, I have compiled favorite tracks from three different composers.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Original Soundtrack Recording)” cover art by Gareth Coker

Gareth Coker

Gareth Coker has truly mastered the art of soundscapes. Using mystical strings, woodwinds, piano and vocals he invigorates and redefines video game and fantasy soundtracks.

His music is simply smoothing, pensive and mystical.

Some of his projects include Halo Infinity, ARK Genesis and the Ori series. However, the context of these projects is not necessary to appreciate the peaceful ambiance and atmosphere Gareth Coker creates.

I particularly love his work in the Ori albums. These albums are simply musical bliss.

Moody orchestral lines are the backbone of the project. Combined with angelic vocals by Aeralie Brighton, the soundtrack is dynamic and pensive.

“Ori, Lost In the Storm” is a lovely example of the atmospheres he is able to construct.

“Darkwood (Original Video Game Soundtrack)” cover art by Arthur Kordas

Arthur Kordas

Arthur Kordas is the co-developer and composer of Darkwood, a survival horror video game released in 2020.

Although his discography is limited, his work builds an isolated and eerie world like no other.

His work defined by his command of subtly. The soundtrack creates an ambiance rooted in emotions of loneness and fear, making a perfect backdrop for Darkwood.

A lot of soundtracks attempt to make music that is monumental in sound, however Arthur Kordas recognizes the beauty in ambiance.

“Intro” uses sounds found in nature to bring the listener into the world of Darkwood. The subtle rustling of trees fades into deep rhythmic motions shrouded in an unknown tone. Long, building line are prominent throughout his work.

“Piotrek” and “New Dawn” are an excellent example of the power within stillness. Long orchestral beats bring a sense of caution and fear to the listener. As if scared to make the next move, each line is intentional in the path it takes slowly building to tenser moments.

The stillness, patience and atmosphere heard in Darkwood is unlike the work of any other composer.

“MADE IN ABYSS ORGINAL SOUNDTRACK” cover art by Kevin Penkin

Kevin Penkin

Kevin Pankin is the composer of Made in Abyss series. This is a composer that creates monumental sound with a compelling, abstract approach.

He combines heavy, roaring sounds with delicate lightness. The juxtaposition within his discography is distinct.

He provides the listener with a true experience without the context of Made in Abyss. The personalities and childlike curiosity of the characters are evident within the tracks.

The use of orchestral elements is also very unique in his work. Through thoughtful dynamics, placement and composition, Kevin Penkin turns an orchestral piece into an experiential collage.

“Made in Abyss” and “The First Layer” are excellent introductions to his discography. Light and childlike, these gentle tracks subtlety allude to approaching challenges.

Kevin Penkin loves the use of sudden dynamic leaps. “Encounter the Umbra Hands” makes dynamic movements beautifully. Elegant strings are contrasted by big roaring sounds.

In even bolder tracks Kevin Penkin begins to meld vocals into the composition. “The Rumble of Scienitic Triumph” is characterized by its chant like choral melody with a dynamic, thoughtful backing.

The variety of orchestral movements Kevin Penkin makes is astounding. His work exceeds his genre and becomes a musical collage triumph.

Band/Artist Profile

Full Body 2: Band Profile

Full Body 2 an explorative band from Rochester, N.Y. have found their niche tapping into a bold blend of digital rock, shoegaze, and curated electronic chaos.

Composed of Cassidy Rose Hammond, Dylan Vaisey, and Jack Chaffer, this trio created Full Body 2 in 2020 as a one-off project from their former indie-rock band Full Body.  

Full Body 2 provides us with music that encourages creativity. It is motivating and refreshing. They are defined by their unique use of sound collage and abstract vocal work. Full Body 2 is positive, energetic, and undeniably loud. 

Upon the release of “Demo 01” in 2020, their explosive, curated sound took root and the band quickly shifted gears from Full Body into Full Body 2– the once ephemeral project taking ownership of its permanence.

“EPCOT” cover art by Full Body 2

Just a year later, they released the EP “EPCOT” on Nov. 14 2021. In this release they adopted a new identity in both their sound and in the form of the album art. The cover art on “EPCOT” is confident and chaotic, defined by bright neons, digital collage, and dreamlike visuals. This visual intensity supports the renewed boldness within the music. 

Opening track “Diamond Dallas Page” is fragmented, grungy, and loud– setting the foundation for this unique release. The vocals are distinctly distorted and confident.

Controlled distortion is a true talent of Full Body 2. They have truly mastered the art of collaging sounds without the composition turning muddy. 

This skill is demonstrated remarkably in track two, “ador // ation”. The track is wavelike, morphing back and forth between distant vocals and heavy musical madness. Although chaotic and distinctly loud, this band has complete control over their track composition.

What I love most about this band is they provide listeners with a platform for unbridled creativity.

Their music motivates unlike any other in their genre. When I first heard their newest release “demo 02”, I almost immediately felt an urge to create and draw. Although this motivating energy may not be felt by everyone, it was extremely potent in my scenario. 

“demo 02” cover art by Full Body 2

This energy I showcased best in their newest release, “demo 02”–which succeeds in being a fitting evolution from “Demo 01”. 

Opening track, “2g ether” is a perfect example of their growth from “Demo 01”. There is more confidence behind every component of this piece.

The entire EP is engulfed in radiant positivity. It is easy to tell they love making their music in every song off this track. 

Track two, “mirror spirit” is one of my favorites. I adore their use of vocals. They have evolved from lyrics and carrying the melody to using vocals as a means of building a complex, stunning background to their undeniably strong percussion. The amount of production and layering that went into this entire EP is astounding. 

Full Body 2 is fabricating a musical realm of its own with each and every release.

Especially in “dancer’s theme” off of “demo 02”, they are curating a dreamlike, otherworldly energy that is similar in tone to a video game or movie soundtrack.

They are transforming music from simple songs to a true listening experience.

Band/Artist Profile Concert Review

Quarters of Change at Cat’s Cradle — 01/22/23

Quarters of Change is an alternative-rock indie band from New York City. As a quartet from the lower east side, they are helping to bring forward a new wave of NYC alt-rock. The band, formed in 2017, is composed of Ben Acker, Attila Anrather, Jasper Harris and Ben Roter. 

What started as a group of high school guys playing music together has turned into a touring band with an exponentially growing fan base. The band’s debut album, Into the Rift, was released July 2022. The 11-track compilation exemplifies their versatile alternative sound. Four months later, they released the deluxe version with three additional tracks, one of them being a personal favorite, “Blue Copper.” 

With songs like “Jaded,” “Ms. Dramatic,” “Sex” and “Die in Your Arms,” they showcase this versatility in sound. They switch between electrifying guitar riffs, catchy refrains, groovy drum beats, upbeat tempos, and slow melodies. 

The band has had some newfound success in the past years with contributions from legendary producers Tom Lord-Alge and Mikey Freedom Hart. They have also had some songs, “Kiwi” and “T Love,” featured on indie and alternative rock Spotify playlists which have helped to expand their listeners. 

Quarters of Change North American tour poster
Quarters of Change North American tour poster

The first time I saw QOC was when they opened for Laundry Day in April 2022 at Irving Plaza in New York City. The show was almost sold out and the crowd was lively. I had no idea who they were at the time and was just there for the ride. I was impressed by their stage presence and vocals, but what made me an instant fan was the mesmerizing guitar riff in the crowd favorite, Kiwi. 

Now, Quarters of Change is currently on a North American headlining tour. Luckily, I was able to secure tickets for the Cat’s Cradle date before the sell-out. 

I had bought three tickets to go with friends earlier on in Jan., while coincidentally in Manhattan on a trip. 

On the day of the show at Cat’s Cradle’s back room, my friends and I settled in for the concert right next to the stage. Being familiar with Cat’s Cradle already, I was excited about the intimacy of the performance. 

The opening support, Savoia, an alternative indie rock band also from New York got the crowd going with their eccentric performance from the lead singer and their danceable songs. I enjoyed Savoia’s set and found myself doing some head-banging, although I felt some tracks were repetitive in structure. 

Yet they still successfully got the crowd warmed up for the main show. The crowd was mainly college-aged individuals and a semi-alternative scene.

QOC came out on stage to open with “Chloe”, a catchy song with a broken-hearted tone. Many of the songs the band performed were from their new album, Into the Rift.

While “Ms. Dramatic” and “Dead” seemed to be the two crowd favorites of the night, the audience was singing along and dancing to every song. It would be fair to say that the majority of the crowd was established supporters of the group already. 

The group also played iconic hits “T Love,” “Rift,” “Blue Copper,” “Sofia,” “Kiwi” and “Depression”.  

The lead vocalist, Roter, brought high energy and amazing vocals into the performance, while Acker and Harris played clean guitar and had great flow and Anrather carried with his beats. 

Despite being cut short on time by the venue, the group managed to play two more songs for the fans which was notable. The crowd definitely appreciated the gesture.

The band members were very kind and took the time to talk to fans as well as Leksie Fetrow and myself, the WKNC reps, after the show. We sat outside and chatted for a good 30 minutes with members of both Savoia and QOC. All of them were super sweet and carried a great presence off the stage as well. 

Overall, my friends and I had a lovely time. We sang, danced and thoroughly enjoyed the concert. I would definitely love to see Quarters of Change and Savoia again sometime soon.

Thanks for reading, 

Maddie H.

Band/Artist Profile

Rock Over Wesley Willis, Rock On Chicago

I write songs because I like to write songs. It’s my life. I had to do what I had to do.

Wesley Willis, in an interview with Nardwaur the Human Serviette

Wesley Willis was a Chicago native diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1989. Despite this diagnosis (in fact often empowered by it), Willis devoted his life to his music and his drawings, some of which became his album covers. Over the course of his career, he performed as the lead of his punk rock band, The Wesley Willis Fiasco, many solo acts, and even collaborations with more well-known artists such as Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, who signed him to his label “Alternative Tentacles”.

Marker drawing of Chicago featuring multiple skyscrapers and a government building.
Drawing of Chicago by Wesley Willis, Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil, under Creative Commons

Songs for the Strange

Much of his music, especially his solo work, has a very distinctive song structure and sound. His Technics KN keyboard tended to be the only instrument used during his performances, where he used various presets altered in some way for each song. One preset in particular, featured on “Rock N Roll McDonalds,” was used for over 40% of songs on his 3 “Greatest Hits” albums.

There are also several recurring themes in Willis’s lyrics based on his own experiences with schizophrenia, both imagined and physical. Several songs call out fast food companies for selling fattening food. Others recount his outbursts on the Chicago bus lines or in church. Still others are entirely devoted to praising artists and people he loves (platonically and romantically). A concerning number of his songs tell of people being arrested for murder and other felonies.

I believe that all of Willis’s songs reflect some fear of his. He may worry about his own weight. He may worry about being sent to jail because of his outbursts. He may fear losing the love of people he adores. Additionally, many of his songs are highly explicit and violent, likely stemming from his paranoia such as “I Wupped Batman’s Ass” or “Suck a Caribou’s Ass”.

Nearly every song ends with the phrase, “Rock over London / Rock on Chicago,” and the slogan of companies such as Folgers, Wheaties, and Mitsubishi.

A Man Beloved

Wesley Willis was well known in Chicago during the 1990s among his fans for his honest, heartfelt songwriting, even if the music can be repetitive. He famously greeted and left people with a headbutt, leaving a permanent bruise on his forehead.

Star representing the musician Wesley Willis on the outside mural of the Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue.
Star of Wesley Willis on the outside mural of the Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue. Photo courtesy of Christopher Bahn, under Creative Commons

In fact, his entire body was distinctive to people who saw him. Not only was he 6’6″, towering over most people, but he had multiple scars over his face from an attack by a stranger and that bruise on his forehead. This attack was only one of many traumas he experienced during his lifetime, the most notable of which is probably his aunt robbing him of $600 with a gun to his head.

Regardless, he was compassionate to his fans and the people he sings about. His music was incredibly original if nothing else, and most people who went to his shows seemed to be enjoying his music for what it was, not as “so bad it’s good” music.

If you want to explore Wesley Willis’s music, I suggest listening to his “Greatest Hits Volume 1” album and watching his interview with Nardwaur below.

Video interview between Wesley Willis and Nardwaur the Human Serviette on YouTube.