ThebandIvory Delve into Queer, Indigenous Identity On Anthropocene LP

two members of ThebandIvory pose wearing velvet jackets
two members of ThebandIvory pose wearing velvet jackets
Photo Credit: Bob Sweeney

Frankie DeRosa needed to heal, but he didn’t realize it until he saw children of Mexican immigrants locked in cages. “Seeing that came with a sense of responsibility to have my voice be heard,” he says. He made a vow to finally finish Anthropocene, his debut full-length as ThebandIvory, alongside collaborator and real life partner Robbie Simmons. It’s been five years in the making and follows the duo’s 2015 EP, The Beast, and despite a winding road to get to this moment, they’ve more than earned it.

“We needed five years to grow into the album. There’s so much to be said, and especially with the way the world is right now, it took battling our own mental health and what it takes for healthy relationships,” DeRosa tells Audiofemme. “This year has definitely made me reflect on my place as a person of color [who is] gender non-comformig and queer. I take up a lot of space, and definitely these days, it’s harder to feel safe to be yourself. In making this album, I thought it was really important to address that fear.”

Anthropocene cracks open with gentle, soothing waves on the first track, “I’ve Come to Realize.” It’s an ethereal musical centerpiece, priming the body for a powerful expedition into pain, regret, uncertainty, angst, and the current political climate. Lead offering “After It’s Said and Done” vents frustrations over taking so long to make the record, blending musicality from a piccolo-laced tribal dance into a somber, soul-crying crescendo.

“You see your peers touring, and you compare yourself a lot when it comes to socials. I was trying to reignite the fire inside of me. Writing this song was a way to remind myself that when anxiety or depression seems to take over that it’ll pass, and there’s something on the other side,” he says.

Apt to infuse some lighthearted humor, “Factory Song (Hey-Oh, Goodbye)” recalls a time DeRosa worked in a clam canning factory. DeRosa and Simmons had just moved from Berklee College of Music to the Philly area, and they needed to make ends meet. “The cans going down the conveyor belt were [hitting] in this weird 6/8 kind of rhythm. When you work 12 hour shifts, it gets stuck in your head even when you go home,” he describes.

So, he wrote a song about it. His factory job also sparked a rush of millennial angst, seeping onto the entire record. “As millennials, we do everything we’re supposed to do and still society isn’t set up for us to be successful,” he points out.

That emotional tug-of-war peeks out from behind lush, elegant instrumentation. Even with “The Man in the Eye of the Storm,” perhaps DeRosa’s most moving vocal performance, he utilizes ornamental beauty to sculpt a tragic tale about his stepfather, whose toxicity and emotional abuse spread trauma like a plague into every facet of DeRosa’s existence. “No matter how far he’d go/The storm would still follow/Ghostly in nature, haunting its maker,” he cries, carving out what blossoms into a chilling folktale.

“I’ve seen a lot of people, especially those who suffer with depression and maybe aren’t aware they even have depression, have this black hole around them. It sucks energy,” he says. “My father wasn’t ever able to see that.”

Anthropocene became a conduit through which DeRosa could confront trauma from childhood and move onward to his destiny. The titular cut, drawing upon a term, which, as defined, outlines the geological age in which humans now exist, celebrates the discovery of his Indigenous lineage (Warao Venezuelan) and his “understanding in having a positive experience to the environment,” he reflects. “That culture, they know how to influence nature to benefit it, and we tend to, in an industrialized world, do the opposite. This song was a way to look at both sides.”

“This current age is unstable, to say the least. We all joke about how the world is gonna end, but it feels like it really is,” he adds.

He further reclaims his heritage with the gooey, electronic “Fake News,” also an obvious dig at the current U.S. political climate. It’s a languid, spacey performance that cuts deep with an array of instruments, including xylophone, guitar, and bansuri. DeRosa packs in such vibrancy “while talking shit about the administration,” he notes with a chuckle.

The record 一 co-produced with Simmons, whose sultry production style and foundational instrumentation accentuates DeRosa’s irresistible presence 一 threads together their evolutionary journey and inclination for rich tonal colors. “I tend to love different modes, which are scales with different personalities. I draw a lot from Caribbean music for grooves and Indian music for my melodies,” says DeRosa, who dove into various musical ensembles (Indian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean) during his Berklee days. In working so intimately with Simmons, a collaboration that could get very heated at times, they bounced off each other’s strengths and diverse talents.

“I’ve learned so much by just being next to Robbie. We compliment each other in that way,” DeRosa gushes. “It definitely makes the stakes higher.”

By the album’s alarming end, “Open Your Mind/Surrender/Breathe,” DeRosa comes as close as he’s ever been to totally mended with what is truly a cathartic release. He learns to shed his old self, as well, and embrace who he was always meant to become. “I think often we get swept up in our own ideas of who we are, and we hold ourselves back by not being willing to change. I saw myself over the five years trying to get this album together. I was holding onto old ideas of myself,” he explains.

In this very moment, DeRosa stands in the spotlight next to Simmons. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with. “Even life and death is an illusion, and it’s hard to own that all the time,” DeRosa says. “I remind myself to find the beauty in irreverence and make fun of things. Live life without fear. Live the best life you can. You only get one. Humor makes life enjoyable. If I can find happiness in all the dark moments of my life, then moving forward shouldn’t be that difficult.”

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