Albany artist speaks on their first full-length 'We Carry Us' and the innovative Art Funds Art Tour
Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
Hailing from Albany by way of the Bronx, bell’s roar is the solo work of Sean Desiree. The project began in 2013 with Desiree studying every aspect of music-making, from writing to producing and mixing, before putting out their self-titled EP in 2014, followed by 2015’s Second Chances Volume 1 EP, released on Tom Morello’s Firebrand Records. This January, Desiree’s self-released their first full-length, the intricately woven We Carry Us. The LP is bell’s roar’s most fully-realized work, 10 tracks filled with dream pop landscapes and odes and messages to a future we all long for. Standout song “Defiance” repeats its words like a prayer you repeat to take you through a storm: “All of your defiance, we have you to guide us, we will not be silent.” The title track, the album’s opener, sets down lush layers of guitar and synthesizer as it praises mutual support and solidarity, one of Desiree’s most central themes.
Desiree says they don’t like to name direct influences, but notes “a major influence is Prince because he did so much of the work himself. He wrote all the music, performed all the music. I like the idea of doing everything myself. I get a lot of control over because able to have a project that’s totally myself. I challenge my voice in the process and see a vision.” The power of that vision comes through bell’s roar as a solo project – a complete projection of Sean Desiree as a person – but also shines through Desiree’s collectivist ideals and constant efforts to uplift their artistic community.
That mutualism is exemplified by Desiree’s unique record release tour, the Art Funds Art Tour, which set out to materially support other QTPOC artists and encourage proper funding for the arts. Running from Albany to Atlanta, each show on the nine day tour was used to channel funds for a QTPOC artist in the host city. Artists applied for the grants, and the winner in each city was given a sum partially funded by the show, and partially funded by crowd-sourced donations (the project still needs to raise money, so you should donate here). The Baltimore show, for example, benefited local artist, writer, and sex educator Jaki Griot, and the Atlanta show benefited musician zaahk. As Desiree told Autostraddle, “If I’m struggling, then others probably are too and I wanted to know how I can use my music to support and deal with that [financial] gap for other artists.”
Our reality is that the US government has never been seriously in support of the arts, and further budget cuts are proposed everyday. The material possibilities for the DIY landscape and QTPOC artists in particular are under even more severe attack everyday. The tour, then, brought direct support to artists and also spread awareness of an important fact: artists need resources in order to survive and continue making their live-giving work.
VICTORIA RUIZ: What is like creating all your work as an individual, a musician, producer and performer?
SEAN DESIREE: A lot of people assume that if you’re not a cis man that you didn’t make the music. It’s important for me to say, “Yeah, I did that. I can do this. I learned how to do this.” I think it is important to say that. Often you’re socialized to not say that or do that. When I was drummer it was like I had to get to a milestone before I could say that I was a drummer, but it is important to say what you can do and what you do. Especially from someone you don’t expect to be producing.
How did you come up with the idea of the Art Funds Art Tour?
It has been very trying. It hasn’t been easy. But most projects that have a meaning are going to take a lot of work. It mainly started because I thought about how I could use a small grant to buy equipment, gear, or get some merch made. So, I thought about how I can do this for other people. So, I thought I would want to support the people supporting me on the show roster. I wanted to think of ways of getting resources to QTPOC. We already don’t get a lot of funding, so I thought about using this as a way to get a platform to do that. I basically made a Google form for people to submit their projects for grants or submit to perform. Some friends and I chose artists for the grant. It was hard because so many amazing people have projects. It also showed me that there is such a need for funding. So, if there is a way to make it that we can support and sustain each others’ art. Arts aren’t seen as a valuable thing, especially with a government that wants to buy weapons. And we still want to make our art so I want to see how we can sustain each other. I want to make sure it is what I say it is going to be. It was a lot to coordinate all of these cities. I tell myself it is going to be worth it in the end.
You haven’t toured in a little while, what’s your history been traveling and working as an artist?
I haven’t really been touring between the Rock Against the TPP shows and this record release tour. Rock Against the TPP was a national tour of various musicians protesting the Trans Pacific Partnership. I don’t find it very satisfying a lot of times. It makes me anxious. You’re often booking whatever space you can and you don’t know the vibe or what it will be like.
If it is not intentional it can often feel random and just a bunch of white people attend. This one show in Detroit was insightful because it was mostly white people and I started talking about Black Lives Matter and people got really upset and just didn’t get it. I was really upset by it and decided that I wanted to play shows with more intention for my community. This new album and the Art Funds Art Tour are helping me do that. As a musician, it just feels like you’re always on a quest, it just feels like some hustle. It can be depressing in a way and makes me not want to do it. But, I want to share my music, and I will always be figuring out ways to do that.
Do you think that more art should work this way?
Other countries do a way better job than the U.S. In other countries, your job can be an artist. You can apply for funding as if you were applying for public assistance. In some places like in Albany, you can pay based on your income if you’re an artist. It is soul crushing when people can’t do their art. You have to survive, so you will just work wherever you can. We can do so much more and contribute so much if we didn’t have to worry about that. It would be amazing to have that at your disposal. Maybe in the future I can give out bigger grants. We could grow this and have more resources and people involved.
Can you talk a little bit about your album’s title track, “We Carry Us”?
“We Carry Us” is about supporting each other. We need to support each other to make it through. I record everything at home. I wasn’t rushing myself. I was learning more and more about how to make and produce music. I wanted the album and tour to work together. Each track is something that I struggle with or that I enjoy. We are often our own worst enemies and don’t believe in ourselves. I wanted to talk about that and I wanted us to celebrate ourselves. So much of the racism and homophobia that is tearing us down and making us feel like less are making us weak. If we didn’t have that we would get stronger and stronger. I wanted to write music that reflected how I was feeling.
PLEASE donate to the We Carry Us Tour. The tour is not receiving any grants and it would be great to have as much help as possible. Even after the tour dates have passed, contributions are needed for grants! Please contribute.