An interview with genrequeer rebels Sons of an Illustrious Father
It was the late afternoon. I was laying in bed, and the members of Sons of an Illustrious Father were grocery shopping. Since I had those pre-interview jitters, like any normal person who is also a person with severe anxiety, I called them exactly on schedule. I am not sure if they had been planning to do the interview from the floor of a grocery store, but that’s where it happened and where it ended. I did not leave my bed.
Sons of an Illustrious Father are a genrequeer band (get it, like genderqueer) from New York City, featuring Josh Aubin, Lilah Larson, and Ezra Miller. The genre they prefer for themselves makes a lot of sense, because when you listen to their music, you can hear that it’s not simple enough to pinpoint. It bends genre and destroys the social constructs you’ve learned about genre and also gender.
Lilah Larson has a folky voice that pulls you down to rest, but then come the synth and the drums and the punk and verses from all three of them. Their music is unique, and something that does not only speak about emotions many keep hidden, but also makes a political statement.
Back in in 2015, I saw their stop in SF while on tour with Saul Williams. I ended up telling them about it because it was interesting experience for me.
The Bay Bridged: Two of my friends were, like, freaking out that Ezra Miller were there. I brought them because, like, I told them like this is a great band. And yes, the guy we used to be obsessed with, like at…like we’re the same age. So that’s a couple years ago is in this band. There you go. And they wouldn’t stop screaming during your set. And I felt so bad.
Lilah Larson: Well, clearly we have no recollection of that.
TBB: That’s good, because I have a lot of recollection of that night. There was this moment where I was eating mozzarella sticks and offering everyone in the venue mozzarella sticks and no one would take them.
Ezra Miller: When you say everyone, There must be at least three exceptions to that because I sure as heck would have remembered being offered a mozzarella stick. I would have eaten all of that.
TBB: You were actually right next to me making out with someone. This is my story.
EM: I was making out with someone? Really? where was this?
TBB: At Slim’s.
EM: Oh, yep, OK, OK. Fair game.
TBB: Yeah. It was a very surreal moment for me. It’s like, Why wouldn’t anyone take these mozzarella sticks and why is Ezra Miller making out with someone right next to me? And why are my friends barfing outside?
EM: Next time this happens I really want you to offer me a mozzarella stick, anyway.
TBB: OK, I’ll just get in the make-out session like, “Hey do you want a mozzarella stick?”
LL: If Ezra doesn’t have anyone to make out with anyone at this show, I’ll make out with him just so you can interrupt him to offer a mozzarella stick.
EM: Hey now, you heard it here first! If there’s cheese involved, I am taking at least a five-minute break from
[my] make-out session. Especially melted cheese forms are great.
TBB: OK, now to a generic question: How did the band start?
LL: Oh well, Ezra and I went to middle school together and kind of bonded over shared love of musical heroes that other people didn’t seem to be into. Then we kind of lost touch for a couple of years, during which time I started Sons of an Illustrious Father as a folk duo. When Ezra and I reconnected, we were doing these loud, long punk-inspired electric jams in his parents basement. It slowly dawned on us that these two projects should merge.
EM: We can share with you a story that I actually just remembered: when Lilah and I were in middle school together, I was obsessed with Lilah. And obsessed with the idea of being in a band with Lilah. And actually just remembered the other night when we in the band decided to listen to Nevermind for the first time in a long time. I just remembered that when I was 11 and wanted to be in a band with Lilah, I made an audition tape that no one ever heard of me singing Nirvana songs into like one of those old tape recorders. That you plugged into the really shitty microphone.
And yeah, that’s just a little a precious tidbit that we have never shared before because I didn’t remember.
LL: He literally just told me this for the first time a few weeks ago.
Josh Aubin: I’ve known it all along.
TBB: What are some of the main inspirations and motivations of the band? Why are you in a band at all?
LL: Necessity is my answer. I will let the others elaborate.
EM: Yeah, I think there’s an idea as an artist that Lilah might be alluding to with the word “necessity.” That, you know, there’s this stuff, this river that wants to run through our bodies and we have to let it. Otherwise it’ll hurt us. And also we find that when we let the river run through, it can be a nourishing and sustaining thing for other people as well, which is sort of the miracle of it. So I think, increasingly, we do it for those people just whom the river might run. Then also there is always the reality of needing to express, like, needing to stay open. I think that as an artist you find that music can be a particularly cathartic and addictive means of expression.
Josh, do you have other things to say? You should see the way we’re, like, navigating other grocery store customers while we do this interview with you. Like, Do you need to get to the pineapple pieces? We’re sorry we’re doing a interview.
JA: I’ve been held hostage for seven years and…
EM: Josh! We’re going to take the phone back from Josh now. Next question!
TBB: You don’t tour much. How many nationwide tours have you done, and how is this one currently going?
LL: You mean like coast to coast? Yeah. Yeah. I think we I think this is our third time doing the whole shebang…It’s just really magical; beautiful getting to spend this time with two of my dearest loved ones. A gift. And also getting to see the country at a very interesting time; to meet, really connect and commune with people in this very singular way, I guess. And we’re very tired.
EM: I would say that the tour is awesome, but I don’t mean like the ’90s version of the word. I mean like the original definition. Like I’m afraid of God because of the tour.
TBB: Sons of an Illustrious Fathers feels very collaborative. How is the writing and creative process shared amongst you three?
EM: We started as very much a band with a process, where people would write songs individually bring them to the band. Then they would be fleshed out. Now, increasingly, we’re writing together. We are creating work that come out of improvisation. We’re consulting with each other on the initial process of creating a song. And again, sometimes we’re even writing verses for each other now and writing verses as duets, things like that have really started happening. there’s a bunch of that on the new album.
TBB: Like, new new or the one that came out last year?
LL: The one that has not yet.
JA: He Who Shall Not Be Named.
TBB: You all have different projects from Lilah and Josh’s separate solo projects, to Ezra’s acting career. How do you mend your different experiences through creation and performance?
EM: I need this. I think that different art forms have different obvious requirements of the artist and I think that doesn’t necessarily mean that they all don’t have a larger shared group of requirements.
When we go do other art forms or other projects in other parts of our lives, I think it is still the honing of how we move our expression, which ultimately does weed back into the work we do together.
TBB: We are currently living in a somewhat scary time, you know, with politics just being very scary, and people allowing themselves to see how flawed everything has been. How has this time affected you all as a band, and what are some techniques you can share to elevate other marginalized people?
EM: I mean, I think there’s been as a result of the horrific things that have been happening. There’s been an increased awareness regarding some of the more basic realities of the country we live in, and whether that’s a more honest confrontation of the history of this country or a more honest confrontation of our own place within this social structure, particularly as notably privileged people. I think we feel and hear our calling to be better listeners so that we can know at various stages how we can be present for and in solidarity with marginalized people and groups. And I think that, for me, is the biggest result as well as all of the plans for dissent, the increasing need to to make art and to grow culture, I think is a basic need to be self-critical and self examining. And you know, to think about as people who believe in an idea of revolution or of a better world where would we as the people we are now fit into that better world. If we can rally all of this catalyzed fervor and really make revolutionary action in this country, who are the human beings who arrive at the other end? It still feels like the most important question.
I think there’s more to say in terms of, like, our commitments that we have been making to one another and to ourselves and as a band to find ways to be available for people in crisis at the hand of this administration and at the hands of the sort of horrifying rise in popular hatred and white supremacy and fascism that we see all over the country. Like, we’re very much in an active process of trying to figure out the ways that can be the most helpful, or the ways that we can best serve them. And then again just trying to trying to really not to run from the reality of how scared and how defeated people feel right now trying to let ourselves deal with them as much as we possibly can.
TBB: Any self-care advice on how to deal with the current mess and just being a queer creative during this time?
LL: I like the way Heben and Tracy from the Another Round podcast say at the end of every episode, to drink water, take your meds, call your person. I think that’s a good start.
EM: Water. Things having to do with water. Drinking water but also bathing in water. Naps. Getting nutrients when you can. I think all the fundamentals of self-care come into play even as the call for self-care becomes tight.
LL: I mean there’s also, particularly for people who are full time activists, have a tendency to push oneself further than what is healthy. And especially at that time…the instinct is to take on as much as possible because we are in such a pressing, precarious situation, but I think forgiving oneself for not always being able to be on is serious for them.
EM: I would humbly advise, you know, focusing on anything about the long game.
One thing I can’t help but feel is like this administration is trying to tire out dissidents in the opening act of their long-term malevolent plot. I think we have to be a step ahead of them in that. To conserve some energy and to not be baited by every single controversial thing they think is controversial.
It’s knowing what are going to be our substantial moves to resist their agenda. And not getting too caught up in the day-to-day drama, which there just seems to be an endless amount of.
TBB: How about you? Josh, I don’t think I heard much of you. Are you still kidnapped?
JA: I will remain kidnapped for the rest of this administration, probably.