Music in Your Gardens: Q&A, Young Bull

This article was originally published on the Duke Performances blog

This summer, we’re proud to present Music in Your Gardens, a free eight-week online concert series showcasing nationally renowned artists who call Durham and the surrounding area home. The series shifts Duke Performances’ longtime summer series, Music in the Gardens, normally held outdoors at Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Duke’s campus, to an online format.

This Wednesday, August 12, we continue the series with Young Bull. The pre-recorded performance will be viewable at 7 PM ET online, free of charge, on our website and on our YouTube page.

This week, in advance of the performance, Duke Performances intern Caroline Waring “sat down” over email to chat with the artists.

We encourage you to check Duke Performances’ blog to read previous Q&As with artists participating in our spring 2020 livestream series. We also invite you to explore or contribute to Duke Arts’ “Arts & Artists Are Essential” collection of voices, opportunities, and offerings, or you can subscribe to receive weekly updates.

Can you talk about your quarantine routines? Where are each of you right now and what’s been keeping you grounded?  

Tahmique Cameron (TC): Quarantine has consisted of work. I pretty much work, and when I’m off, I’ll write, or, shit, sometimes at work I’ll put headphones on and write. But work and writing/recording has been my routine through quarantine, and that’s what’s been keeping me grounded.

Solomon Fox (SF): I’ve been in London for a lot of quarantine with my girlfriend (who I was visiting in March when everything went down), but for the last bit I’ve been back in NC with my family. Honestly, I feel very fortunate that I am able to continue working on my production and songwriting practice in quarantine, which has been my main grounding force without much opportunity for performance. But I have also taken the opportunity to try on some more random things — like cooking a lot more and attempting, with limited success, to teach myself the trumpet.

Christian Sinclair (CS): I’m at my grandparent’s home in Winston-Salem. Meditations, yoga, bodyweight workouts, and reading keep me grounded.

You open the music video for “Voicemail” with footage of a cop shutting down one of your shows in Raleigh. You end the music video with Solomon Fox, on the mic, shouting: “We live in a police state. Fuck Donald Trump.” Since we’re in the midst of sweeping protests against police brutality and anti-Blackness, can you talk more about the intersection between your music and the political, and how this relationship has evolved since you first came together?  

SF: I think since the beginning of Young Bull, we have wanted to project a really honest, unhindered voice into the world — one that is as multifaceted as we are. And though our music itself centers mostly around the topic of romantic love, one thing I think that I have learned is there are many ways to support a movement with art without feeling like every song needs to be a protest song explicitly.  And that is exactly what we intend to do in this incredibly powerful moment, but also far beyond it — stand up for what we see as right and wield our influence and platform accordingly. But, fuck it, we might still write some more direct shit too. We write free.

In 2016, you self-released Sopadelic and put it online. It got big — you have millions of streams on Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube. You even met Christian Sinclair via SoundCloud. What’s it like to go viral and to have such a dispersed — and international — audience? How do you think the internet is shaping young musicians?

TC: It was cool for sure, but there’s different types of virals. Like, we went “viral,” but people couldn’t put a face to it. So there’s people who know us but don’t know us, if that makes sense. But the internet is definitely a game-changer for musicians. Growing up I remember not having internet and having to buy albums. So, now being able to just record and upload same-day and millions of people have access already, no excuses.

SF: Viral is a funny word. Honestly, it’s like a drug to see that something we made and created with just a mic and a computer resonated in some way with that many people. But it is a double-edged sword since it’s a continual challenge to pull together the resources to reach those fans more directly — especially the ones that are further from home. I don’t exactly know how to contextualize the impact of the internet, but I do think that it, too, is a double-edged sword, since musicianship is such a patient practice, and so much of the internet’s architecture is geared towards impatience. But it has also massively disrupted the existing fucking parasitic business model of record labels in democratizing the resources to distribute and create music which is dope!

CS: Not sure. But on that note — do not allow the internet to shape you. Go to the internet for information you are looking for and then leave.

In the past couple months, both Solomon Fox and Tahmique Cameron have been releasing solo music (as Solomon Fox and Mique, respectively). How does the creative process differ between writing as a group — “Young Bull is Not an Individual”— versus writing for yourself? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your individual sound? 

TC: As a group it’s collaborative amongst us all, as opposed to individual work, which is more so done on our own, then brought to each other for ideas or critique. I’ve personally learned a lot about myself through recording individually. Things I learn from collaborating with YB I incorporate in my solo work alongside the things I already knew I liked to do, and stuff I’m still learning whether I like it or not.

SF: Ooh, great question. Honestly, they are incredibly different. There is a certain freedom to writing solo stuff that I think we are all drawn to. With the group, there is obviously more role-playing, but I think there is also a bit more unexpectedness, I think, which can be very exciting. Like, a lot of times one of us will bring a basic idea that may morph and develop in a completely different direction than that person might have initially expected. That process has a special power to it.

Back in June, you played a socially distant pop-up show in Durham to raise money for the NC Community Bail Fund of Durham and the Freedom Fighter Bond Fund. Obviously, that show couldn’t be like your usual concerts. What was that public performance like? How did it feel — especially in the context of a community-engaged benefit show — to perform for a reduced and distant audience? 

TC: It honestly felt good. I always think the worst, so people coming out was just a surprise to me. We announced it only the day before, so we didn’t give people any notice and raised a significant amount, I’d say. And it’d been the first time we played together since last November. Crazy, right.

SF: It was quite different from our usual shows but not necessarily in a bad way. First of all, it was incredible to see so many people inspired to donate by our actions. But it was also just fun to play that loosely and for no charge to the public. Actually, we used to play on the street like that pretty often, just raising tips for ourselves, so it was sort of a return and repurposing of those roots.

An intentionally open-ended question I’m asking of all the artists participating in this series: What’s next?

TC: What’s next. Stay tuned. You’ll see.

SF: Wow. A lot! We have some very exciting collaborations we have been working on — both with NC and non-NC artists. Plus, we have our second full-length album, which we have been grinding on throughout quarantine. And solo projects! But yeah, what Mique said, stay tuned.

Duke Performances presents Music in Your Gardens in collaboration with Duke Arts, WXDU, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Duke Continuing Studies, and Duke Summer Session. Hospitality partners include The Palace International and Locopops.