Medusa Mixes Myth and Reality with Allegory of the G/Rave

It all began with a post on Tumblr.

“Medusa was defending herself,” explains Medusa, a Buffalo-based trans-nonbinary, intersex music producer and visual artist and winner of the Audiofemme Agenda Grant, about how they got their name. “And then I read the things that people were saying in the notes about how Medusa was attacked by Poseidon and then demonized and turned into a monster and then banished from the place that she had called home for her entire life, and I was like, this is very familiar.”

Medusa came to the Greek myth by way of isolation. After being stalked on campus at their university, many of their friends felt they were making the whole thing up. They delved into the internet and started tinkering with Audacity, the early manifestations of their present musical practice. 

With their grant, Medusa is producing a short film to accompany an upcoming concept album entitled Allegory of the G/Rave, a queer retelling of the story of Medusa. They latch on to those themes of isolation and self-protection in terms of the queer experience – by chronicling Medusa’s life, transformation and persecution, Medusa intends to contribute to the emotional needs of of their young divergent audience, and to galvanize their self-worth, providing them with the representation necessary for self-actualization.

When they started playing music, they had never even been to a show. “I didn’t know what an XLR cable was,” they say. “I played with the EQ on my computer while my music played. And then sometimes I talked when I was brave enough to talk over the music, and then that was my first show, and then it just sort of snowballed, and it turned into this community, this melding of my own self-discovery and the connection with my community.”

Medusa’s birth as a musician came with their realizations that they were both queer and intersex, things they found out very publicly because they were making music about them. “That brought me more community than I ever lost in the first place. Which is and has been the biggest – I don’t know if I should say blessing, but I’ve been very lucky.”

That they hone in on this myth while adopting the moniker Medusa adds layers to the narrative, particularly given that their musical practice is driven so organically by emotion. “Auditorily it’s not quite what people call synaesthesia, but when a song is stuck in your head and affects your mood,” they explain. “That’s how it happens for me but backwards, writing. So when I’m having an emotion, I’ll hear music, not necessarily in a hallucinatory way, but the urge to translate that into actual tangible, audible sound.”

They call them “transmissions” – when they’re “having a feeling or realizing that in the background of my mind, there’s been a song playing the whole time that I have to then go check to see if it’s real, and it exists and it’s stuck in my head, or if I’m writing subconsciously because of the feeling that I’m having. And then I’ll run over to the computer and I’ll get it down…I’ll figure out oh, what song does my subconscious want that to go in?”

In that way, they update the myth for the community they have built online, imparting a certain wisdom that while being different may be off-putting to some, it’s actually a source of power, a means of self-protection if harnessed well. And because they learned it the hard way, Medusa seeks to pay it forward with this narrative film of the concept album, split into eight music videos that will run a total of thirty minutes.

“The story of Medusa being something that she didn’t ask to be transformed into, something that she didn’t want to be necessarily, and then turning into that was very relatable for me. Because after that point, you start to harness it. In an effort to protect yourself, you are different,” they say. “Do I have to be alone forever? What does the process of re-opening yourself up look like, and is it even possible? So this has been a big process of self-discovery, but translating that in a way that is useful to other queer people is not just comforting, but also inspiring.” 

Follow Medusa on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for ongoing updates.



(image: Kristen-Wrzesniewski)

GEMS is the shadow pop brainchild of Lindsay Pitts and Clifford John Usher — two Virginia bred musicians– who met while simultaneously attending the University of Virginia. After years of playing together, their vision coalesced under the moniker GEMS in 2012. You probably remember them as one of the mysterious internet bands whose music was gracing nearly every atmospheric playlist from Silverlake to Berlin and beyond during 2013 with their stellar four song EP Medusa. The duo just released their first full-length album Kill The One You Love (Carpark Records) and are currently touring the country to support the record. The new release unravels R&B sensibilities that were a mere thread in earlier recordings. Pitt’s vocals are as evocative as memory serves and Usher’s production showcases a level of restraint that is astounding in the current pop landscape — as a unit choosing understated to overwrought. Which is equally evident in the stark, often black and white visuals that the band employs alongside their music. I caught up with them while they were barreling towards Denver to discuss the new album and the evolution of the band.

AF: Cliff I see you have a 703 number. So do I. Where are you from exactly?

Cliff: We’re both from the Washington DC area. I grew up in Vienna, Virginia and Lindsay is from Woodbridge. We just moved to Los Angeles four months ago.

AF: How did the two of you meet and start playing together?

Cliff: We both went to University of Virginia. Right around graduation we met. We played music together for years, but we started GEMS at the end of 2012. We knew we wanted to do a band thing the two of us and so we started to lay down tracks as GEMS then.

AF: What’s your favorite fact about one another?

Lindsay: Well I have kind of an obvious fact, but I love it. Cliff is really, really tall. He’s 6’7”. You can’t tell in pictures, but he’s a giant.

Cliff: Lindsay used to play the drums. When I first met her she was taking drum lessons from some old dude who lived in the woods and she would bake him muffins in exchange for lessons.

AF: In listening to the new album your sound seems to be more restrained than on Medusa — how do you see your musical evolution?

Cliff: I feel like for the new album we put a lot of emphasis on trying to carve out our own sound. It’s always an ongoing process, but I feel the new album is more our own thing for better or for worse. I like it. I feel like there’s this thing in music where it’s a lot easier to be successful if you sound like something else that’s already successful and it’s something that’s always frustrated me because I want to make our shit sound like us, you know? I constantly have this thing where I hear some new band that I’m like this is obviously just ripping off this other thing that is already popular. And every single time without a doubt that band gets huge. I’m not knocking things that sound like other things. I just mean it’s a weird phenomena. I guess people just like what they’re familiar with. So I don’t know, maybe people won’t like it as much. But I feel like we’re doing our thing more.

Lindsay: Sure that’s how it works.

AF: Was there a most exciting moment in production on the album?

Cliff: Not really. It was something we were working on for a long time.

Lindsay: Yeah, I felt like it was a bonding. We also reworked so many of the songs. One of the songs on there I think we re-recorded four times over a couple years. We just kept thinking it wasn’t right yet. Eventually we were like ok. We could have reworked it forever. You’re always reaching for something that’s just a little bit ahead of you.

Cliff: This is the only downside of working ourselves. We do all the recording stuff and songwriting ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop. But I like where we ended up.

AF: Can you describe your songwriting process?

Cliff: We always have a bunch of stuff that we’re working on. Since we’ve been doing GEMS I’ve taken on more the producer role, but we still go back and forth a lot. Lindsay with often start with a song idea where she’s real focused on the emotion and what she’s trying to convey. A lot of times it’s more like about the chords, or the feeling in the chords, or even a non-verbal melody. And I’ll make the beats. We always talk about honing in or sharpening in to the core emotion of each song. A lot of times when we start the lyrics are just gibberish, it’s more about the vibe and the emotion that’s coming through. And then as we rework it we hone in on some kind of thread lyrically.

AF: As a unit you have a pretty chic aesthetic, can you tell me a bit about how visuals factor into the project?

Cliff: Yeah it’s not really a conscious thing so much as it’s all an extension of us in our own weird little world. Actually I think it might also be a product of growing up in the suburbs of DC and living around DC. DC is a pretty cool city, but there’s not really like a lot of cool stuff around. The city is cool especially for the architecture and stuff. But the suburbs of DC, like Fairfax and Tysons Corner, it’s not like you’re growing up in New York or LA and you’re surrounded by cool shit. I felt like we felt like we had to create our own world as an escape from all that.

AF: Are there other projects you’re into?

Cliff: I’ve been really digging the new Autre Ne Veut album. We’ve been listening to that on the road here on tour with them. It’s been fun. I feel like we haven’t listened to any new music in a while. We listen to the radio a bunch, because the aux input on our van is broken, so our options are CDs or the radio– and we can’t even burn CDs now because our laptops don’t have a CD burner. We try to see live music a lot. Like Holly Herndon, we saw her at FORM Arcosanti, this festival that another band we toured with called Hundred Waters put on– that was pretty mind blowing. And recently we went to FYF in LA. FKA Twigs, Mac DeMarco and D’Angelo were some standout acts.

Lindsay: Yeah D’Angelo. He has such control over all of these other musicians. He addresses this group of musicians and they all read each other’s minds everything is so fluid. Great performance.

AF: I know you’re on tour right now, is there anything else exciting on the horizon alongside the release of the album?

Lindsay: We have an apartment in Highland Park right now, that I really like. And I’m excited for when after this tour we go back and to record and make music again. Keep working on new stuff really. Because we’ve been working so hard on this album, getting it out and getting ready for tour, and I’m really excited to sit back down and start writing again.

You can find more on GEMS on their website.
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