For lovers of a dark, musically chaotic sound who mourn the reductive feel and eventual irrelevance of the “witch house” genre, Seattle-based artist Guayaba (who uses both she and they pronouns) is a welcome addition to the pantheon of thriving, genre-bending experimental musicians.
With songs that use soul, jazz, Goth, metal, and electronic sounds, along with references to insect imagery that discuss toxic relationships and racial identity, Guayaba is a talented artist who defies trite comparisons. Formerly known as Aeon Fux, recently Guayaba is opting for a name that’s less tongue-in-cheek and more of a nod to their cultural roots and the themes they seek to explore. “I did begin Aeon Fux with a cyberpunk feel,” says Guayaba. “As fun and tongue-in-cheek as it was, I wanted to be taken a bit more seriously and didn’t want to limit myself from any opportunities because of it.”
Guayaba has accumulated quite the Internet fan base over the years; their candid openness on social media about their struggles with racism, gender identity, and mental health have proven to be a comforting beacon to young fans dealing with these same issues. When asked about their Internet “celeb” status, Guayaba expresses complicated emotions. “I think what began as an experiment in vulnerability grew into something much bigger than myself.”
Like many of us, Guayaba finds that when they are in a more positive mental space, social media matters less to them. Their need for an online platform started when they were in college experiencing deep depression; sites like Tumblr became an outlet for them to express their daily anxieties, oppression, and disseminate their music. “I have a lot of fears, about the present and about the future. I really appreciate the Orisha, the gods of Santería, because one of their main concepts is that no one is inherently good or evil. People are multifaceted, and complicated, and I think the Internet is one of the biggest examples of that concept.”
Santería is one theme that is explored on Guayaba’s highly anticipated full-length album Black Trash, White House:
“During my last quarter of college, I was feeling overwhelmed in a class that centered on the American Blues…I started a research project about depictions of the Devil in blues music. I was dealing with a strange lack of identity and dissociation, and felt confused about my cultural identity…I’m Afro-Cuban, and I didn’t really know what that meant because I’m not connected to my father’s family. But the research project lead me to Santería, a religion practiced by slaves in Cuba. Elegua was the god of the crossroads, pathways, opening doors, and liminal spaces in general. It’s theorized that the ‘devil at the crossroads’ stems from depictions of Elegua, and that connection really set the motion for this album.”
Along with lyrics exploring Santería and Afro-Cuban ancestry, Guayaba’s new album utilizes their characteristic captivation with insects. Guayaba is a proud cockroach pet owner; something that might make most folks uncomfortable but a hobby that is integral to the artist’s examination of their identity. “My fascination with insects grew as I explored the depths of my depression, and the fine line between beauty and disgust,” Guayaba explains. “I relate to insects a lot, and I think about them in terms of the black experience often. Being seen as ‘scary’ or ‘dangerous’ when you are not only harmless, but essential to the ecosystem, is a feeling I’m sure all black people relate to. I’ve heard black people compared to cockroaches, and it used to make me sad, and now I think about what that really means. Cockroaches are incredibly biodiverse, and out of 3,500 subspecies there’s only 6 pest species. So what’s really being said here? That when we inevitably destroy ourselves, we’ll be the ones to remain to inherit the earth? That’s what I pick up from it.”
Guayaba’s complex understanding of how oppressed human beings function alongside maligned animals is an element of their music making that is unique to them and their process; it is part of why their intricate sound resonates with queer people and people of color.
Their melding of genres into one complete sound appeals to the millennial sensibility of overlapping musical styles speaking to intersectional identities. Black Trash, White House promises an amalgamation that reconnoiters the largely untapped, witchy potential of American blues music, dancehall, and 60s Motown. Witchy aesthetic has become absurdly popular among women and queer people in recent years, and Guayaba’s music is often funneled into this category.
“Musically, there’s a lot of influence from dancehall and Latin drums; I wanted people to be able to turn up to this album while still saying what I wanted to say, and I found that balance to be a little difficult. But black people speak in code. The coded language of this album made it incredibly fun to write, and the references give some lines triple or quadruple meanings depending on how you read them.”
Another recurring theme on the new album, parasitism, is tangentially related to the artist’s fascination with insects. Guayaba has often spoken about and made music exploring toxic relationships and how they manifest in a racialized context. “The origin of the word parasite means ‘one who eats at the table of another.’ I like to ask myself, whose table do I eat at most often, and who eats at mine?” says Guayaba, meditating on these concepts. “I think it’s easy for relationships among people to become parasitic; there’s a fine balance to giving as much as you take, but parasitism in the context of colonization and gentrification takes on a more complex meaning. I wonder if symbiosis among humans in a wider sense will ever be possible.”
Guayaba’s album Black Trash, White House is set to be released in November and the artist is playing more live shows recently in the Pacific Northwest region, and beyond. Follow their Facebook page and Instagram for updates on the album, and check out their Soundcloud.
Photographs by Úna Blue with makeup by Angel Dorr.