PREMIERE: Adeem the Artist Reclaims Identity With Cast Iron Pansexual LP

There are few albums that capture such an array of the queer experience quite like Cast Iron Pansexual, the new LP from Adeem the Artist. Officially out Friday but premiering via Audiofemme today, the record bursts with personality, marked with deep moments of personal retrieval and reflection on queer identity and rural heritage, encompassing some trauma but also recovery from it. “I have found sexuality isn’t just who you kiss/It’s part of your unique identity,” they sing over plucky guitar strings.

“I Never Came Out” cracks open the conversation with plain-spoken honesty and a pinch of cheekiness. “Oh boys in tight blue jeans are driving me crazy/Boys in tight blue jeans with legs that go for days,” they howl with a bluesy growl. “Boys in tight blue jeans are driving me wild/With their poise and impeccable style.”

Unlike most LGBTQ+ people, Adeem, who now identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, really did not have that pivotal coming out moment ─ although the release of the record “feels like a definitive coming out moment,” they tell Audiofemme with a laugh. “At this point, it doesn’t feel like it’s something I’ve missed out on.”

Partly because of this, Adeem says they harbored reservations that they “could be centering myself in something that wasn’t mine” with the record. “Last year, I was thinking about identity and who I was when I didn’t see the same friend groups, [asking myself] who am I when I’m not experienced by other people?” In their story, a certain anxiety descended around them when “my friends started treating me differently and interpreted my jokes differently,” they say, noting a song called “Apartment” confronts this, head-on. “That was really scary ground to step into.”

Cast Iron Pansexual began as an entity unto itself toward the end of 2020, initially prompted by Adeem’s Patreon supporters, who desperately wanted a new batch of music. Writing a song a week, Adeem had “urgency to write” through such accountability. “I need deadlines,” they remark.

Some songs are much older, but a bulk of the record was written in the early months of the pandemic when they felt increasingly “isolated” from the world they once knew. “So much of my community is walking around in market square downtown and bumping into people I know or going to the grocery store and chatting with people from the show I saw,” they offer. Normalcy was completely ripped away, of course; Adeem says they “didn’t even make eye contact so I didn’t have to figure out how to communicate” with the implications of the pandemic looming so large over casual run-ins.

Adeem hadn’t really done much writing about their sexuality. While their world was opening up through extensive self-exploration, they were greatly influenced by nonbinary model and gender activist ALOK and their book Beyond the Gender Binary, released in 2020. Adeem also dove into “internet exploration of gender and gender expression,” they say. “All of that was happening while I was examining these early feelings of queerness and trying to pin it down.”

“I’m not trying to represent all queer people by saying I’m queer. I’m just accepting myself for who I am. I allowed myself to step into it,” they add. “I’m nonbinary, but that doesn’t mean I understand everyone who is nonbinary and can speak for them.”

A vital part of Adeem’s journey was growing up in a Christian household. Originally from Locust, North Carolina, they were baptized when they were just a kid, around five or six. Even then, they “had a pretty good understanding of the metaphysical and existential repercussions of making a decision like that.” Adeem’s church was comprised of devout believers ─ so much so, they were “waiting for Jesus to show up on cloud to take us to the new earth” ─ but Adeem firmly left the church when they were 23 years old, in 2011.

Over the next decade, they “came back a couple times,” including in 2014 when they entered the Episcopal Service Corp. During that time, Adeem discovered the teachings of two theologians named John Shelby Spong and Matthew Fox, both of whom “didn’t believe Jesus ever rose from the dead.” That was a light bulb moment. “When Spong entertains the idea that maybe Jesus is a composite of different characters, and all this could be a metaphor, that was cool to me. There’s still things in there I could be interested in if it’s just a mythology,” they say.

“Going to Heaven,” clocking it at under a minute, is the most forthright in reconciling what they were taught, coming to terms with the truth, and what faith means today, if anything. “On the back roads of my hometown/I was baptized once or twice,” they sing, as their story unfurls. “By some grifters in a storefront church/In exchange for eternal life.” In true Adeem fashion, such heaviness is sliced with refreshing humor. Later, they sing, “I can’t wait to go to heaven/Gonna have a gay old time in heaven/Fuck me, I’m going to heaven/I made a steal of a deal that day.”

Adeem wrote the song amidst a major professional change. They’d had a corporate job for a few years but began to feel the mental/emotional pressure — so they quit. “I’m just not good at having jobs. I’m definitely an artistically-minded person,” they say. Adeem then began doing various odd jobs for some friends to make ends meet, and one of those was driving up to Spencer Mountain to retrieve produce from The Mennonites who lived there. “I was driving through the forgotten towns of Tennessee and thinking, I can’t imagine being 13 and living in a town like this, where the Food City parking lot is lit up on a Friday night because there’s nowhere else to go.”

“I was really ruminating on heaven and hell,” they continue. “It’s important to some people. I would say now I could not careless, but when I was younger, especially in the years after leaving the church, it was heavy for me. I was thinking about how there are people who actively think I’m going to hell. I had this idea of writing a modern hymn and shoehorning in ‘Fuck me, I’m going to heaven!’”

Perhaps Adeem’s boldest entry is “I Wish You Would’ve Been a Cowboy,” a dismantling of country staple Toby Keith’s 1993 hit “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” into an ode of accountability. Adeem examines Keith’s role in perpetuating the extreme patriotism which sprouted up in the aftermath of 9/11 and the deeply troubling exploitation of the working class.

“Your twenty minute song props up Fascists/While you brag about kicking asses/With a boot in your mouth, exploiting the American South,” Adeem sings. There’s both a melancholic weight and an icy rage to their performance, specifically addressing Keith’s 2002 song, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which Keith alleges he wrote in just 20 minutes.

Looking back, Adeem says they were not anti-Toby Keith in the early aughts (that would come later). “I was probably pretty ambivalent toward it. I’d discovered Nirvana, and I was in a different space,” they recall. Their family moved to upstate New York that year, and much to Adeem’s shock, the area “maybe had always been kind of racist. It felt like there was renewed strength behind it.”

“There’s a theory country music was killed by 9/11. I’d been ruminating a lot on Toby. I like his music. He’s a great songwriter. I don’t think anybody would contest that he knows how to write a song,” Adeem adds. “He also wrote the shittiest songs in the aftermath of 9/11. They’re so violent and gross. I did so much googling to see if he ever apologized or ever reckoned with this. And he hasn’t once. The only thing I could find was him saying, ‘I wrote this song in 20 minutes.’ And I toiled for a year on this song, at least, trying to get the phrasing right and make sure I said what I wanted to say.”

They also reached out to Palestinian-American poet named Summer Awad to ask if she would take a pass on the song. “I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t feel I should. My perspective is so much of a white redneck in America. So, I sent the idea to her, and she sent me back a bunch of the same ideas that were written from that perspective. I didn’t experience any Islamophobia or see much in my circle because… everybody was white,” Adeem remembers. “I wasn’t going to put it on a digital release or anything. I didn’t want to be unfair. I lob some accusations at him, that he is exploiting the working class. And I actually don’t think it is unfair. Who can say? Maybe Toby is picking the themes for the same reason I pick the themes I want to. Someone could say I’m exploiting the queer community for releasing this album, which is obviously not true. But I was worried about the nuance of it.”

Adeem was struck by a few other things. Around five years ago, they discovered the work of Roger Alan Wade and his 2010 album, Deguello Motel, which was “full of really brash poetry,” including the song “Rock, Powder, Pills.” “It was the first time I think I related really strongly with country music since I was a kid,” says Adeem, who largely grew up listening to pop-country on the radio. Wade was a gateway into much richer country music, like Guy Clark and John Prine, and this revelation “made me feel connected to being from the South. [It] was really healing for me.”

Adeem’s “origin story” is as country as they come. Their mother worked overnights at Texaco when their father “popped in to get some road beers, had a one night stand, did the Presbyterian thing and got married.” Through both their musical and personal journeys, Adeem has come “to listen to country music and view that as poetry instead of a reason to be embarrassed. It was like finding a gem in the backyard,” they say. “The more I grew into that, I got to thinking about my twang and how I spent so many years trying to cover it up. I didn’t want to be the redneck in a school in New York.”

Much of Cast Iron Pansexual is a love letter written to “the barefoot hick that I was as a child,” Adeem says. “I think it started to give me a lot of bitterness to those artists and that culture that made me feel so estranged in the early aughts. It got to the point where it was like ‘I don’t fit in here. There’s no place for me.’ And there really wasn’t. It wasn’t a scene that was welcoming to people who looked and thought like I did.”

The album arrives five years after 2016’s Kyle Adem is Dead, another watershed moment in their ongoing life story. In a blog post, written around the same time, Adeem wrote openly about “the religious questions that had chased me for years, the troubled relationships I was clinging desperately to, and the difficult work of sorting reality from fiction in a household where mental illness was often a guiding hand.”

Adeem’s growth and strength is palpable these days. Five years is an eternity, not only in the world at large, but on a micro level. “That was a big moment for me. I’d been going by Adeem with my friends for a long time, but ‘Kyle Adem’ was a moniker I was using to blend ‘this is who I was born’ and ‘this is who I want to be.’ I reached a point where people were calling me Kyle a lot, and it was triggering shitty memories of growing up in the South and the way people said my name and the way the world interacted with me then.”

Adeem dropped the name as a way to reclaim their worth and take up some space. Now, going by Adeem the Artist, they remind themselves “why I want to make albums and write songs.”

Adeem the Artist’s Cast Iron Pansexual is a mighty declaration of self, identity, and resilience that comes with living comfortably in one’s own skin. Even if they wouldn’t call themself a trailblazer, they’re certainly living proof that who you are is perfectly okay.

Follow Adeem the Artist on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

I Believe in Nashville: How a City Becomes Family in the Wake of a Devastating Tornado

This week, Tennessee was hit by a devastating tornado that took the lives of at least 25 people and injured several others. The Nashville area took a particularly hard hit – it was home to 16 of the 24 people who lost their lives, many homes and businesses were ravaged or destroyed, including beloved rock club Basement East where locals would go to catch the best indie acts. Ironically, the “I Believe in Nashville” sign painted on the side of the building remained intact.

But in the midst of all the devastation, a word that keeps rising from the rubble is “family.” Its meaning is embedded in many artists’ reactions, whether it’s Trisha Yearwood remarking on the multiple people she saw offering up their homes as a safe place for those who have been displaced, to Dierks Bentley observing “no one comes together as a city like Nashville does.” “This community comes together to take care of its own,” Yearwood writes. “So proud to be part of the family we call Nashville.” Seeing country stars offer more than just thoughts and prayers has been heartwarming, like Kelsea Ballerini posting about ways to help on Instagram, while Chris Young pledged to donate $50,000 to the Music City Inc. Foundation, which disperses the funds to families that have been the most impacted by the deadly storm.

Further examples include Cassadee Pope, who joined forces with a stranger to help clean up the devastated neighborhood of East Nashville. “It’s just a small example of what kind of place this is. We’re a family,” she shared. Carrie Underwood used her platform on the Today show to convey, “Nashville’s a very strong community, and anytime anything like this happens, you just see how strong they are, and how they band together to fix things.” Nashvillians proved this sentiment true, exemplified through the fact that Hands on Nashville, the organization coordinating volunteer efforts to help with recovery, had more than 5,000 people sign up to volunteer in a matter of hours. And when 2,000 volunteer positions opened up online, they all were filled in minutes.

As it often does, kindness causes a ripple effect, the community continuing to find ways to lend a hand, such as Bridgestone Arena opening its doors to provide warm meals for those in need while the Ryman Auditorium donated proceeds from Hatch Show print sales during Monday night’s show to relief efforts. Additionally, the upcoming Women Who Rock event is auctioning off unique works of art created from the soundwaves of songs by Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves, the proceeds to be donated to the Community Foundation’s Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund.

Nashville is no stranger to devastation, with many remarking how the city united in a similar fashion after the 2010 flood that left the city underwater and its citizens to rely on themselves to rebuild it. Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State, a motto that its residents wholly embrace even outside the confines of a natural disaster. I believe it is this sense of family and community that was a key component of the magic I felt the first time I came to Nashville as a bright-eyed, yet naïve 18-year-old who knew 48 hours into the trip that Nashville felt like home.

To watch so many people immediately spring into action and contribute any effort they can to help their neighbors is awe-inspiring and a true reflection of Nashville’s spirit. I wish our world would unite like this every day.

If you would like to help with the tornado relief efforts, here are some locations accepting donations and volunteers: 

Hands on Nashville – Working with the city of Nashville to coordinate volunteer opportunities.

Community Resource Center – Collecting donations such as tarps, work gloves, flash lights, batteries and toiletries to give to displaced families.

Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee – The hub for monetary donations, with proceeds to be dispersed to communities and nonprofits that are helping the victims of the storm.

Second Harvest Food Bank – Nashville-based food bank working to gather resources and supplies for the areas devastated by the tornado. They are working with the Red Cross and OEM to bring food and resources to people in shelters. You can donate money or non-perishable food items such as canned produce, ready-to-eat soups and peanut butter.

TRACK REVIEW: Chasing Lovely “Always and Never Enough”


Chasing Lovely have released a live version of their track “Always and Never Enough,” and it’s definitely enough to pull on your heartstrings and make you feel some pretty serious emotions.

Hailing from Nashville, sister duo Chloe and Taylor are able to weave a vivid tale with their voices and light acoustic guitar that’ll give you goosebumps. This folky pair advocate working toward positive change, and their music is a fantastic reflection of that. “Always and Never Enough” is an introspective peak into how they process the positive yet tragic elements of the human element and everyday existence.

Sit back in a comfortable chair, turn on “Always and Never Enough,” and listen to Chasing Lovely as they offer you a new perspective (which seems particularly necessary as of late).

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The Saint Johns “Lost the Feeling”

You can pretty much tell The Saint Johns vibe well together once the first guitar chord is struck in “Lost the Feeling,” and this is just further confirmed when you hear the way their voices swirl together in perfect harmony. Upbeat yet ethereal vocals come from singer Jordan Meredith while Louis Johnson provides a more savory sound as well as crisp guitar riffs—like I said, they really just complement one another so well. Their newly released official video for “Lost the Feeling” starts off a bit reminiscent of “Spring Breakers,” the rush and excitement of a successful robbery fresh in the air as the Americana duo plays in what appears to be a small town bar. Tension mounts and ultimately dispels, following the ebbs and flows of the song just perfectly. It’s the type of track you want to know the words to immediately so you can sing along to it—maybe a bit loudly, but who’s judging?—in the privacy of your bedroom.

Luckily The Saint Johns are currently touring, so you have the chance to watch their dynamism live. And for those of you who are also in the New York area, maybe I’ll catch you at their show at Gramercy Theatre on March 31.

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YEAR END LIST: Notes From The Road – Top 5 Musical Destinations of 2013

I took several road trips this year. At the beginning of 2013, adventure felt overdue—something about going to new places, with no routine or expectations, opens you up to hear music you’d never think to listen to otherwise. Below are the five biggest, best surprises from the road—hopefully, you’ll feel inspired to go looking for some adventure of your own.

5. Layla’s Bluegrass Inn—Nashville: This september I went to Nashville, TN for the first time in my life. Walking down Broadway felt like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy lands in Oz and suddenly everything is in technicolor. Oh my God, I thought. Everything was lit up with neon! Everyone was wearing cowboy gear and drinking before noon! Every bar sold cheeseburgers! Wafting out of every single venue was the bass line of a country song so infectious that, had I heard it while walking down the street in New York City, I would have dropped whatever I was on my way to doing to go watch whomever was playing it.

Layla’s is a fashionably divey and slightly over-touristed honky tonk, brimming with down-home vibes and energy, and with a band to match: The Jones were on stage, fronted by the energetic and angular Memiss Jones, who looked too small for her upright bass but slapped its wood uproariously on the downbeat anyway. They played originals and covers with equal skill, always trending towards rowdier interpretations of Southern spirituals like “I’ll Fly Away.” They captivated the crowd: a band of what looked to be retirees on a country tour began square dancing on the floor, and behind the table where I was sitting, a misty-eyed cowboy nipped stoically at his drink, lips trembling during ballads.

Memiss Jones plays at Layla’s every Thursday, from “11:30 AM ta 2:00 PM” according to her website. I bought The Jones’ CD,and predictably, it wasn’t as irresistible as the live show had been. Honky tonk music works best in the rough, playful realm of spontaneity, and Memiss Jones worked the stage with an energy that could never be duplicated on recording.

4. Willie’s Locally Known—Lexington: There are better bars in Lexington, Kentucky. Really, there are. This one is located in kind of a strip mall parking lot area, with a dust-caked neon lit-up sign floating in the window and terrible food and bikers who play Bruce Springsteen on the jukebox. One night, wedged amidst “Born In The USA,” in the back room where they keep the football fans trolling for a quiet place to watch games, a bunch of banjos and mandolins lay piled on top of the pool table.

The state of Kentucky, in general, is not hurting for live musicians, but here they seemed to happen almost by accident, coming out of the woodwork without ceremony or audience. Six or seven men sat in a circle and unassumingly began to play. The word hootenanny came to mind. Dating back to the Civil War, when a hootenanny referred to a “meeting of the minds” between strategists. Hootenannies differ from shows in that they’re played for the process—for that complicated, invisible knot that ties people playing improvised music together—more than for the product: a show to entertain an audience. Though the venue also functions as a performance space, that evening did not involve a stage, only a collection of people sitting in chairs. Banjos dominated the impromptu stage plot, with about four for every two mandolins, plus a fiddle and a guitar. The very rough-edgedness of the performance contributed to its special magic, as if music could, under the right conditions, spring fully-formed from the beer-sticky dingy surfaces of a dive downtown, listless in the boredom of a Wednesday night.


3. Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival—Oak Hill: Set at the top of a hill of one of the most gorgeous sections of New York’s already gorgeous Hudson Valley, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival has been an annual institution since 1976. The atmosphere of the event feels like homecoming—all the performers seem to be friends with each other, and with festival producer Mary Tyler Doub.

While not much of a road trip from New York City—the festival takes place about a two hour drive north of Manhattan—the difference in scenery couldn’t be vaster, with the Catskills looming in the background and cowboy hats rampant in the crowd. Old and young bluegrass fans turned out in equal measure, and to that end, the spectrum of the acts varied widely from traditional bluegrass bands like the Travelin’ McCourys to newer and more hybridized roots outfits. One of these, I Draw Slow, hailed from Ireland and brought a very light Celtic touch to their style, which mostly focused on expressive storytelling without compromising catchiness. Another, a cellist from California by the name of Rushad Eggleston, adopted a stage persona that originated from the made-up planet of Snee, and performed a blend of metal, bluegrass, classical, and frankly unclassifiable cello music. These two bands, while still relatively unknown compared to many of Grey Fox’s acts that weekend, garnered a lot of attention and sizable crowds for each of their performances throughout the duration of the festival.

Though Grey Fox has long represented a kind of home, a family reunion—and this was true for me, too; I used to live in the Hudson Valley—this year, the memorable acts were the ones that no one had heard of before, and who didn’t stick within the grooves of pure bluegrass. While still in keeping with the spirit endemic to the festival, they expanded and improvised on it, providing reassurance to the concertgoers, it seemed to me, that the bluegrass genre is not yet finished evolving.


2. Maryland Deathfest XI—Baltimore: Baltimore, MD, burial site and sometimes-home of Edgar Allan Poe, held up the Poe-ish legacy of the grotesque and absurd, of sublime revelation as discovered through darkness and extremes, with the eleventh iteration of the festival billed as “America’s most extreme annual metal party.” Highlights included acts like Sacred Reich, Sleep, Pentagram and black metal founding fathers Venom. Before their set even began, an audience that stretched backward from the stage about the equivalent of three full New York City blocks had appeared, packed tightly together onto the lawns, streets and parking lots that had been sectioned off as concert grounds for the outdoor festival.

Equally compelling were the concert-goers themselves, who descended upon Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend. On Sunday, the last day of the festival, downtown residents had cleared out, and the run down office buildings, streets and parks served as a veritable playground for metalheads. As I walked around the city, everyone I passed looked terrifying: clad in black and leather, heavy metal t shirts and metal chains, the festival goers seemingly changed Baltimore’s topography altogether. Just before heading into the festival, I saw a rare non-concert-goer—a homeless man, nearly disfiguringly withered and old, with a shopping cart in front of him and long hair that had coagulated into a single massive dreadlock—do a fantastically scandalized double take as an extremely tall and thin man walked by dressed in head to toe leather, combat boots, and extensive facial tattoos.

Venom appeared hulkingly on stage, with shoulders and thighs so huge that they often couldn’t  dance or thrash, and instead just stood still and made menacing faces. Although the theatricality of metal shows has grown tamer since the nineties, the aesthetic of the performance was impressive: strobe lights pulsed, a yawning, doom-heralding bass line shook the framework of the stage, and a deep bass came over the loudspeakers: Ladies and gentlemen, from the depths of hell…VENOM!

Venom spit abuse at the front row and demanded a bigger mosh pit, reverberating—I’m sure—into the rest of Baltimore. One weekend every year, the city turns into Metal Central, so inescapably that walking around downtown feels like being in an episode of The Twilight Zone. The world abruptly became colored in a spectrum of things that were not metal to things that were very, very metal (24 hour Wendy’s, metal; getting lost on the way to the 24 hour Wendy’s, not metal.) Cars booming on the overpass above the road where I parked my car were nothing more than heavy doom bass writ small, and, for about a day, all other rock and roll sounded wimpy—and as if it were playing from about fifty miles away—by comparison.


1. Happy Home Old Regular Baptist Church—Amburgey

Lined-out hymnody, a style of church singing once prevalent in seventeenth-century British churches, gradually lost favor in religious communities once psalm books and greater general literacy became the norm. This a capella style of call-and-response singing, in which a group leader would sing one line which would then be slowly repeated by the rest of the congregation. The singing, which resembles shapenote or Sacred Harp songs, sounds ragged and ploddingly slow, as the singers were often unfamiliar with the tune and the words of the song they sang. But the often-dissonant vocal chorus created a particular kind of singing which today is more or less unique to the rural churches of Appalachia, including, notably, the Old Regular Baptist churches of eastern Kentucky.

I went to one such church this fall, in a small out-of-the-way building about an hour from the Virginia border. The Old Regular Baptists don’t allow music in church, nor do they encourage music in the secular lives of their members. This belief essentially stems from the thought that God cannot be worshipped by man’s hands, and that a pretension to beauty, or godliness, with the aid of a musical instrument disrespects God. I’m not religious, and I told the pastor of Happy Home as much before the service started, but I was interested in the music. It would be just fine for me to come to the service, he assured me. The Old Regulars are a small community, growing ever smaller, and their shrinking singing tradition represents a part of life in the mountains of Appalachia that may soon disappear.

Singing starts every Sunday at nine. Before the service, those who arrive early to church begin a song, usually led by a preacher, and others join in as they enter the church, shaking hands with everyone—and I do mean everyone—already gathered in the building. In good weather, the preacher throws open the windows of the church, casting the sound of the slow, swelling hymns up the mountains and echoing into the small towns of the valleys. Even the preaching in the church had a rhythmic, incantation-like quality to it, as sung as it was spoken, and marked with cadences and crescendos that felt downright bluesy.

Many people living in the area—religious and not—grew up with the sounds of these songs, so particular and evocative that they have a meaning to anyone who hears them. People often say the lined-out singing style sounds mournful. Most of the people who sing it disagree, instead thinking of the style as a joyful expression of praise.