PET POLITICS: Eliza Black of Gesserit Talks Turtles, Cats, and Solo Songwriting

Eliza and Lazer (all photos courtesy of Eliza Black unless otherwise noted).

Eliza Black has the haunting, resounding voice of a fallen angel. With her low, slow, speaking voice – not quite a drawl but dripping a bit of Texas, her large, melancholy eyes, endearing gap-toothed grin, thick waves, liquid limbs, and flowing skirts, she channels some serious nereid stage vibes. I first saw Eliza perform in rock group Fruit & Flowers in 2014. It was their premiere set, and they played to a packed and enthusiastic room at Muchmore’s. Since then, I have seen Eliza make appearances on many instruments in many bands across the Brooklyn scene: Cindy Cane, Ecstatic Union, Gustaf, Darkwing, Faidy Cat, and Plain Dog… I was familiar with some of her co-songwriting via FxF, but it wasn’t until February 2018 that I saw Eliza play a solo set. She played electric using an echo pedal. I was very enchanted (and so were a number of my Instagram followers, spewing heart emojis and “new crush” under the brief video clip I posted of one of her tunes). And I was thrilled when she finally got her own band together to play out those songs: Gesserit. Gesserit released a beautiful debut single entitled “Silence” this past winter. Eliza Black is also a single mom  — to one of the friendliest cats in town and one of the chilliest turtles around.

AF: Please introduce us to your fluffy friend and your scaly friend.

EB: Introducing Lazer Beem the kitty cat and Lemen (Lemmy) the turtle!

AF: How did Lazer become a part of your life?

EB: Maybe seven years ago at this point a friend of mine back in Amarillo decided to head to Austin to live a vagabond lifestyle and trusted me to care for Lazer. We became fast friends and she’s been a huge part of my life ever since.

AF: What about your little turtle?

EB: I actually adopted him from the streets of Brownsville when I used to live there back in 2017. A neighbor was chilling outside as he always did, but one day he had a turtle in a Tupperware container and asked me if I wanted him. I was on my way to a concert, but I accepted. I immediately found a proper container for him and his been a part of the family ever since.

Lemmy the Turtle.

AF: What are some of your favorite activities to do alongside your pets?

EB: Me and Lazer love to sleep. She follows me everywhere I go in the apartment, so she is always part of my daily domestic activities. Lemmy is kind of hard to engage with but I’ll let him roam around the apartment every now and again.

AF: Tell us about your life growing up. Were you around many animals?

EB: I always had pets, from tortoises to fish, cats to dogs, horses to goats, hamsters, rabbits, a parrot…

AF: Are there other musicians in your family?

EB: My father is a very talented musician. A lot of that side of the family is musically inclined. My great grandpa used to play fiddle with Bob Wills at ranch house parties. It runs in the blood for sure.

AF: Who or what inspired you to become a musician?

EB: My father, Cher, Shania Twain, and George Strait.

AF: What instrument did your start on?

EB: Piano. I could play guitar and eventually took guitar lessons, but I hated practicing. I always felt like I could improvise on piano and it would still make “music.”

AF: What was the name of your first band?

EB: Gesserit is my first band! My first band of exclusively my own material. I had a SoundCloud account under the moniker “The New Rebecca” dating back to 2011 but it was never a fully realized band. I was always composing and playing alone.

Gesserit performing at Waking Windows in Winooski, VT (Photo Credit: Natalie Kirch).

AF: When did you move to Brooklyn, and what prompted your move?

EB: I moved here in June of 2013. I was getting restless in Amarillo and drugs were being introduced into my life. I was just partying all the time. I wanted something more than that. I wanted to move to New York to pursue a visual arts career and eventually become a curator at a museum. I always felt more comfortable in musical abilities, so I ended up working in that direction full time.

AF: Give us a run-down of your Brooklyn projects, past and present.

EB: Oh Jeez. Crafting songs alone on my mandolin and synth. That’s when “Gesserit” actually started. I wanted it to be an ambient noise/movie score project…

Co-creating Fruit and Flowers. Playing and touring extensively for a few years. Leaving FxF to focus on and actualize “Gesserit.”

AF: What is your favorite song about animals?

EB: “Fishing for Fishies” by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, “Animals” by CocoRosie… Does Pet Sounds by Beach Boys count? Ha ha.

AF: Have you ever written a song about (non-human) animals?

EB: Yes, sort of. I’ve compared freight trains to animals in a song.

AF: Do your pets inspire your writing process (or distract you) in any way?

EB: The only time I find them distracting is when Lazer lures me into a nap or when I forget to turn off Lemmy’s turtle tank filter when I’m recording in my room and I can hear it on the track. But I’ve actually used that in songs before and it can be quite nice.

AF: If your cat and your turtle were to form a band, what would the name be?

EB: Le Reptazer

AF: Who would play what instrument?

EB: Lemen would high dive into a mic’d bucket of water and Lazer would claw on a drum kit.

Eliza says drums, but looks like Lazer’s taken to the guitar.

AF: If you could have any type of pet as a sibling to your current ones, what species would it be (real or fictional)?

EB: Lazer really hates other animals and I have a feeling Lemmy isn’t too fond either. I guess I would be the ghost of a bird and be their guardian angel.

AF: What spirit animal do you identify with?

EB: A wild horse or a “spirit bear.”

AF: I’ve heard some friends say they think Lazer looks like you. Do you think this is true? What do you think is behind that human-animal bond theory that causes this phenomenon?

EB: Lazer and I definitely have similar interests and mannerisms. Maybe even a similar unbothered gaze. I think when any creatures spend enough time together, they become a reflection of each other.

AF: When is the Gesserit debut expected to release?

EB: Can’t say. As soon as I acquire a label deal then I will know.

AF: Are you going back on tour any time soon?

EB: I don’t plan to tour until there is a record to promote.

AF: What do you miss the most about your fluff and shell baby the most when you are away?

EB: Cuddles with Lazer. Lemmy is somehow in my dreams when I’m traveling, so I don’t miss him too much.

Lazer snuggling up.

AF: Any upcoming Brooklyn shows?

EB: We play May 25th at Rough Trade and June 3 at the new clubhouse The Broadway! Super stoked for those.

Eliza Black wants YOU to check out Gesserit (Photo Credit: Natalie Kirch).

You can also catch Eliza Black solo at Two Boots Pizza in Williamsburg on June 12th.