Enter Black Pussy, the Portland, Oregon, rock band whose controversial name led Raleigh's The Pour House to cancel an upcoming show
amid threats of violence. The show has been rescheduled tonight for the nearby dive bar Slim's.
In advance of the set, I had the chance to speak to Black Pussy.
"Brown Sugar," the infamous Rolling Stones song, was written by Mick Jagger and inspired by Claudia Lennear. The song was originally called "Black Pussy," but label concerns led to the song's title being changed. Black Pussy’s label, Made in China
, states, “For Dustin Hill, the creative mastermind and songwriter behind Black Pussy, it sounded like a fantastic band name.”
But he tells me a different story. He says the name appeared from the meditation of an early writing session years ago: "It just came pure as a child," he says. He understands that it is an uncomfortable phrase and owns up to the fact that it might be hard for people to handle. But he stands by his vision, admitting he is a '70s child and that Black Pussy is a sincere attempt to recreate the sexy golden haze of stoner rock.
Still, for a band claiming to be rooted in nostalgia and peace, their Facebook page
makes it seem like they are reveling in the publicity, reposting sensational articles written about the band name from all parts of the world. Comments are filled with general words of encouragement like “Rock on!” and “Keep grooving."
I have stumbled upon a striking similarity: white voices defending the band's rights to expression and freedom. I haven’t read a single comment from another black voice defending them. In the debates sparked by Black Pussy, I have seen many musicians say “It’s just a name” or “It’s just music." OK, but you can give up music any day. When you wake up a black woman, you have to live daily with every negative thing that comes with it. I am down, then, for the Facebook and Twitter revolutions that might help create comfortable spaces for us to exist without feeling fetishized and objectified.
But I do feel bad for Dustin Hill, the stoner dreamer who doesn’t seem to understand why some people won’t stop talking about the name of his band unless he changes it.
INDY WEEK: Tell me how Black Pussy started.
It started about eight years ago. I was just writing a bunch of songs. For the first album, I went into the studio and basically did it by myself. We started touring hard three years ago with this lineup, and we really felt what we are doing now. The people that are participating are the best example of what it is, of the art.
Now that you have a full band, is it everybody contributing, or is it still just you and they just fill in on tour?
Sometimes, we put our little signatures on it. You have to liven it up.
I write all the songs, and everyone does their dance.
I’ve read the origins of the name are from the Rolling Stones song “Brown Sugar.”
I’m going to set the record straight because it's been taken out of context in interviews. Where the name comes from, it came from me. I am the responsible party, and everybody in the band is taking on the responsibility with me. As a songwriter, as a creative artist, I always start in kind of a meditative state. With myself being in a meditative state, all the things come to me—you know the drums, the guitars, the keys, the vocals. That’s how I work as a creative person. I was writing these songs, and it was actually a very dark time in my life. I just lost a 10-year relationship with a woman. I just lost a 14-year relationship with a music partner.
A band ended in a crazy way. I thought I was quitting music for the first time. I was so heartbroken and disenchanted about life and art. It was a very heavy time. But also all these songs started coming to me after I had sold all my gear. I started writing these songs and said, “You know, if I was going to be in a band, I would do these songs.”
I’m from the ’70s, and I have a huge attachment to the ’70s—all the television shows and all the music. I started embracing my childhood in this rebirth of mine. I said, “Well, if I want to have a project name, I want it to be sexy and ’70s.” That was in my mind! And I started meditating on it and all of a sudden those two words came to me, and it came in a very pure way, like it just came to you. There were no thoughts connected to it. It just came pure as a child, no thoughts connected to it. But 30 seconds afterwards, it’s all hitting me—what is this? These are intense words and ambiguous words simultaneously. It's heavy. This is a child coming out of these ideas.
Being responsible, I researched these words. I looked up the meaning of these words and the first thing when I looked up the word black, it never mentions race or people. It mentions the color of the universe, the color of the night sky. It mentions evil. It mentions sadness. When I looked up the word pussy, the first thing it said was cat, and it also meant rabid. And then it said the vulgar use of the word, which, you know, I knew. I’m not stupid. I know what these words mean.
But I researched it intensely and then, in my mind, these two words are so ambiguous it was amazing. But again I’m not a stupid person, so I know how people would take it. I researched the two words together, which was complicated because when you put those two words together you are mostly finding porn. I put a lot of time into it. This is all happening within an hour of the birth. I am on a creative high researching this.
When I didn’t see it as a band name, I was blown away that nobody had ever utilized this. Then I discovered the Rolling Stones' “Brown Sugar,” so I started reading about that. I started reading lyrics and what people were saying. I read that it’s a satire song, and in the end, it was an anti-racist racist song. I was like, "I can’t believe I put those two words together." I like art that is ambiguous. And it also had this positive meaning of genocide, rape, slavery, racism. They were connected to that song, and I just thought, “This is beautiful."
At first you’re not sure because you have to own it. You can’t be afraid to say it. You can’t be afraid to say it to your grandmother. There is a funny taboo in our culture with saying it, and breaking taboo is important. And the intention behind the music we are doing is positive, you know, in embracing the taboo of that being a negative thing. Our intention is positive.
How do you separate the positive vibes you guys want to spread as a band with the criticism the name has generated?
We are not here to censor anybody, and it can create a discussion online. People have all different kinds of views. Some of them are negative. Some of them are positive, everything in between. A lot of times ideas become bigger than the people participating in them, i.e. us in the band. We are very, very positive, loving, caring people, but everybody has a right to say whatever the fuck they want to. We are not going to try to manipulate that discussion.
People say a lot of bad shit about us. The only thing I delete on our page is porn.
Where do you see Black Pussy in a year or so?
We have a CD coming out in July, and we have songs for three more records right now. There’s no shortage of material. It’s just about finding the time to put it down and present it.
We'll definitely be making our way to Europe. People have been asking us to come for a couple years now, but we haven't gone because I am very particular as a creative person. I basically want things the way I want them. It would be great to bring this really special gear. We care about everything at the highest way we can. All of our gear is from 1968 to 1971. With bringing all this to Europe, there is a lot of logistics involved.
We are so into this idea of positivity. We tune to 432 Hz
, which is a spiritual tuning versus your standard 440 Hz. We put a lot of time into spreading positive energy, like true energy. I was researching 432 Hz, and not a lot of bands do it. It is complicated to do all these tunings, but we have done it. That’s because we care about the human race. When you research 432 Hz versus 440 Hz, you can see the people that didn’t care about the human race and wanted to hurt the human race. So we embrace really helping the human race just by our tuning, and that’s a big deal, right?
As a black woman who spent a large part of my young life in the mostly white world of rock music, I attended shows up and down the East Coast, threw gigs in my garage and even started a group of online friends with the purpose of uniting black hipster weirdos like myself. I never really felt like an outsider in the world of rock. But I have had a few reminders that rock ’n’ roll wasn’t always welcoming to the people of color who pioneered it.