Bartees Strange on His Debut Album - Beyond the Barriers | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 21st, 2024  

Bartees Strange on His Debut Album

Beyond the Barriers

Oct 02, 2020 Photography by Bao Ngo Issue #67 - Phoebe Bridgers and Moses Sumney
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It was a late night TV performance viewed as a teenager that confirmed to Bartees Strange, an emerging singer/songwriter based in Washington, D.C. whose birth name is Bartees Cox Jr., that his only path forward would be a musical one. “There weren’t a lot of Black kids, or people of color I was seeing in bands until I saw TV on the Radio on Letterman, and everything clicked,” he says.

Strange was born in England but moved to Oklahoma City with his parents in his early teens. “My mom is an opera singer, and my dad is a big-time collector: music and hi-fi stereo equipment,” he says. “So I grew up around a lot of music. And my mom always had us singing in different places—church, opera camp, and musical camp. We were a very musical family. It was just always such an integral part of my life.”

As Strange got older he turned his focus to his own musical endeavors. “When I moved to Oklahoma, I didn’t really know a lot of people,” he says. “I kept in touch with people that I met in England and that’s how I heard about house bands like Crash and Burial, but there was no one around me that was making music like that in Mustang, Oklahoma.”

Though a self-professed horrible piano player, Strange learned to play guitar and surrounded himself with other like-minded, but inexperienced musicians and started making songs.

Strange got some notice due to his covers of songs by The National, compiled on the Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy EP, which was put out earlier this year by Brassland, a label run by The National’s own Bryce and Aaron Dessner. The singer is now ready to make his full entrance with Live Forever—no, not an Oasis covers EP, but his debut full-length (on Memory Music). With influences ranging from house music to hip-hop to hardcore to indie rock, the album pulls from the varied sounds of Strange’s youth and takes a more personal tack.

“I felt because I’m Black there are these weird limits that kind of happen when you start making music,” Strange says of his multi-genre approach to the album. “People want to put a label on you if you’re Black and you make beats. It’s easier to be digested as a one-dimensional beat maker but I also play country music and I love hardcore music and I’ve played it all. Black people have roots in a lot of these genres, so I wanted to make a record that encapsulated those sounds and tell that story through my eyes.”

Living in D.C., Strange has also had an opportunity to be involved in a time of change for the Black community. “I think it’s all positive because things aren’t changing in America fast enough,” he explains. “For Black people it’s always been an uphill battle and we’ve always been fighting this invisible war. Watching what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery it reminded me of every horrifying story my parents have told me.”

Strange has been particularly impressed by the fact that many in the white community have stepped forward in support of the Black community. “One thing I’ve been amazed at is people are really taking the time to do the work, reading and examining their feelings and checking in on each other,” Strange concludes. “Those are things that are really important and will pay out in the future. It’s a very reflective and special time.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 67 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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