Queer Music Roundup: Elephant and Their Tegan and Sara Death Threats

Last time I was told to pay attention to a pair of gay twin musicians, it was Nemesis. My wounds are still raw. So it was with some trepidation that I listened to Jackson and Coleman Vrana's rap project, Elephant, and much excitement that I can present them to you here.

The Hollywood-based identical twins released two videos this year -- "Queer Nation" and "The Notorious H.I.V." -- that are dark, anarchic and inspiring. The latter plunks a hummably crude hook -- "Bag it up, bitch/Don't spread that shit"-- on top of some genuinely hot sex talk. The video also shows the sparse beats and dangerously seductive rhyming style that blows up on "Queer Nation." That track thrums with the kind of queer anger that I thought had died in the '90s with Pedro Zamora. There aren't a lot of bands out there that can use the word "Faggot" as a chorus, and even fewer that aren't just doing it for attention. Meredith Brooks they are not. Let's all hope this band gets big enough to piss folks off on a epic scale. They would get shit done.

Zack Rosen: So you're a pair of cute, gay, twin-brother rappers. Let's get that out of the way. What else do you want people to know about you that might not come up in other press outlets?

Elephant: Well, we feel that it's important to take any opportunity we have to tell people exactly what it was like growing up in Oklahoma. There was a time in our teenage years where both of us would wish we were never born. We never had a soul to talk to. If we hadn't inherited this rebellious attitude, I'm not sure where we would be. The cold-hearted, small-minded people that litter the South/Midwest aren't going to change until the day they die. Reaching the minds of their offspring is the only glimmer of hope a lot of these suffering teenagers are ever going to have.

Our own friend committed suicide less than a year ago, probably because of his judgmental Catholic upbringing combined with the fact that he never had one ounce of support at home. The anger that keeps Elephant alive completely stems from that kind of struggle. I think a lot of teenagers need gay icons who authentically epitomize what is sexy and cool if they ever want to see themselves that way.

ZR: If I call you the "Anti Tegan and Sara," are you going to kill me?

E: You'd be surprised at the number of people who have written to us with blind rage over Tegan and Sara. It's so strange. People say that they came first, therefore we have no business doing this. Doesn't matter that we're a different genre, gender, and sexuality. I think it comes from the fact that gay people in general have such a specific idea of how they want to be represented that some of them are willing to ostracize people out there fighting for their own community. It's so lame.

ZR: Though some would call your point of view on queer life skewed or offensive, I would say that it more closely resembles the kind of thoughts most people have when they think no one's looking. Were you scared about alienating the "establishment" by not playing nice?

E: Our abrasive nature has always been a part of our music, right from the start. We know that -- as rappers -- our lyrics have to push buttons; they have to be authentic, unexpected commentary on culture. If you're not saying anything surprising as an artist, becoming successful seems like a much more difficult climb.

ZR: Is it wrong that the title of your safe-sex anthem "The Notorious H.I.V." made me chuckle? Do you think such an uncensored message will reach more people than it offends?

E: I know the way that this message is presented will reach people like us long before most cliché, clinical safe-sex messages ever would. We can only be handed so many "safe sex" business cards at Pride events before we completely tune the memo out. In "Notorious H.I.V.," we were trying to burn stereotypes, as funny as that sounds (because we're constantly accused of representing gay men as typical, sex-hungry crack whores... not that there's anything wrong with that). You know, "sexy" and "HIV" can share a sentence.

ZR: What would your ideal version of a "Queer Nation" look like?

E: Hopefully it would look exactly like this one. To see people open their eyes would be my ideal beginning of a "Queer Nation." To see all LGBT artists accepted and appreciated in every genre, to see more teenagers standing up to their backward-thinking parents/teachers, to see gay men as generally stronger and tougher people than straight men (which tends to be true, anyway), and to see people finally able to live in or outside whatever box they so desire.

ZR: How do you feel about assimilationist gay politics, or the movements in our community that revolve around putting on a suit and being respectable? What advice would you have for others who want to play outside the system to get their voices heard?

E: If you want to be heard, then you have to come out of hiding and show yourself. That's our message. Being yourself is all you need; if you're doing that, then you're already playing outside the system. Even gay men conform to bullshit stereotypes for the approval of their peers; it's sad. Learning to let go of the need for approval is an important part.

ZR: Finally, when can we expect you to tour? I know the East Coast (and especially, say, D.C.) could use more fags like you guys...

E: Our December tour got pushed back to February because we've recently become overloaded with new projects (not that we're complaining). But, we'll hit as many U.S. cities as we can with the bad-ass lesbian duo Yo! Majesty (Shunda K and Shon B); come then. You can also listen online to a track from our upcoming Elephant vs. Yo! Majesty EP, which is set for release as soon as we hit the road. [Ed. Note: I'd reccomend not missing that tour.]

Those interested in other under-the-radar queer bands should check out Lynn Casper's excellent site Homoground. You'll learn a lot.