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Photo by Adela Park

King Azaz is the duo of Sarah Schardt and Christo Johnson, now based in Philadelphia. They met eight years ago in North Carolina and started playing music together, bonding over bands and a common interest in sounds and politics. They named their group King Azaz after a character in Sarahs favorite book, The Phantom Tollbooth. Sarah lent a copy to Christo to help them with their depression. Initially, they were both worried about the inequality implied in the word King,but they realized the charm in the irony of the name. As Christo puts it, As a couple of introverted and soft spoken people, naming our band after the Ruler of Words, someone so incredibly garrulous, felt satirical to us. The band sees music as a means of survival, a key aspect of their resistance as queer people and, for Christo, as a person of color.

Their new album Spiritus Mundi is a build off of the earnestness and drive of their previous release Tunnels. Throughout the record, King Azaz looks inward and confronts their demons,” as Afropunk puts it. Centralia, the second single off the album displays the group’s typical inclination for the epic, as they shout proclamations over heart-wrenching riffs while the drums pound relentlessly forward. The band sounds like its always trying to break out of its surroundings in order to better connect with those around them.

VICTORIA RUIZ: What is King Azaz confronting?

CHRISTO JOHNSON: I dont quite know where to start. A lot of what I write about is situational –Im writing about people and places that I care about deeply, but with whom I sometimes have a difficult time engaging for various reasons usually related to the state of my mental health. When Im at my lowest, I shut down and disassociate. I feel like all Im doing is floating through the day to day, soaking up energy from all of the awful shit thats going on in the world right now. I cant connect healthily with people when Im like that, and Ive ended up losing a lot of things that are really important to me.

   I write about the destructive patterns that I see in myself and in others, and how difficult it is to shake them. For example, sometimes the easiest way to way to deal with shit is to intentionally detach myself, but then sometimes that leads to getting lost with substances. I watch friends go through this and see the reality of how frightening it can be. The tracks “Stutter” and “Alex” are about this the most. It feels important and necessary to sing about these things. If I cant speak my own truths, I cant grow out of anything. Basically, our music feels emo as fuck to me.

How do you transfer that meaning to your live shows?

We strive to play with bands and at spaces that we feel an ideological alignment with. As much as possible, we play with artists who occupy more marginalized identities.

In the past couple of years, weve played with a lot of different artists who are very different from us musically. This is important and exciting to us. We see mixed-genre shows as a way to expand DIY and punk scenes so that they may become a bit less homogenous.

What are some influences you all look to, music or not?

Collectively, wed say we are influenced the most by the people that we collaborate with in Philly. Theres a lot of rad shit going on and we draw a lot from it. There are so many folks who have been and continue to be super supportive of us. That is what makes this place feel special to us. Artists like Andromeda Sky, X by V, Kilamanzego, Pinkwash, Guts, Shakai Mondai – there is so much talent here.

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