The Black Noise, consisting of vocalist Donovan Brown and guitarist Victor Ujadughele, are the product of our modern eclectic music age. Yes, they know how to get down and get funky, that's in their DNA. However, Radiohead is one of their big musical inspirations, and they cover The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" in concert. We spoke with them to learn about some of their key songs and find out what moves them.Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): How do you describe your music?
Victor Ujadughele: One thing we have tried to avoid over the years was being classified as R&B. We love rock music, we love funk music, we love all those kinds of music. We just didn't like that people would see us from afar and say, "oh, they're R&B."
Over the years we've combined so many elements to confuse people, and as long as we stay in that confusion, I'm fine with that.
Donovan Brown: We do want to avoid being pigeonholed as much as we can just because as you continue to do anything, whether it's music, art, a poem or whatever you're doing, you have to find a way to keep it interesting for yourself. So, as we continue to grow as adults and learn new things and try to experience and be exposed to more music, we want to keep that opportunity for us to just be able to absorb different styles and just change and experiment. Because really that's what life is for: you're supposed to try everything and the only people that are afraid of that are unfortunately the people that have the funding, so they try to keep you in a box and promote you with people that are in that box.
Songfacts: You have a song "Holy War" that you wrote after the election. What were the emotions that you were going through that inspired the song?
Brown: I was pretty disgusted with the country and just the way that nationalism has taken precedent over democracy, where everyone gets a voice, and everybody matters equally. It was a difficult time because my girlfriend, Shelly, was coming down from Hawaii. She took off from Hawaii before the election results came in, and when she landed, I was at the airport and I had to be the first one to tell her what happened. She was crying in the parking lot of an In-N-Out, and we were just trying to make sense of what this was going to mean for us and the rest of the country, and as we've seen, things are different, the climate is different. Afterwards, we could see KKK members in the street - you didn't see that before.
So, I don't know if it's for the better or for worse, because I think it's good that we are aware of who we live with, who we live next to, but I felt betrayed. Because who were these people that were voting? Who were these people that believed that way? That gays shouldn't be able to get married, that immigration is bad.
When I think about America, I've always thought of it as a melting pot, where everyone had a fair opportunity, but certain people don't want to see it that way and it kind of made me feel betrayed.
Songfacts: How do we bring the country back together?
Brown: I think you need to separate yourself from the crowd, from the mob mentality where you have to pick a side, where you have to be a person who's either blue or red, gay or straight, black or white. You can think about yourself as a regular-ass human being and think of everyone else as their own individual person with different shared experiences but the same needs.
Part of it is being able to think for yourself, being able to exercise your voice and communicate within your social groups to hopefully change opinions, but that also is work and that also is exhausting.
Songfacts: What are some other songs you are particularly proud of?
Brown: "Wishes For Fishes." It's kind of inspired by a Radiohead song.
Ujadughele: The Radiohead song is called "Weird Fishes." The vibe is very calming and soothing, but for me it has a very Prince-esque vibe at the end, like a "Purple Rain" where everything has a build-up.
Brown: The song is about needing to be free. It's about being in a relationship where you understand that you have responsibilities, but you have to also be able to experience the wider world around you and stuff like that. It deals with a lot of stuff - there are some hidden messages in it, but that's the one I'm most proud of lyrically.
Songfacts: Tell me about your song "King On The Run."
Brown: I started doing music when I was 21, and at 22 I figured out it was not easy and I dropped out of college. I was staying at home taking care of my dad who had a stroke, and then he passed. I was just looking for the next thing and it ended up being music. But I didn't have a good job at that point, and I wasn't really supporting myself, so I had to decide whether I was going back to school or whether I would find a 9 to 5. The answer ended up being both: I ended up working two jobs at a time and doing music. It was important for me to learn that I could do that, that I was capable of keeping that much information and keeping things consistent. My family was saying, "You gotta do this, and you gotta do that," but I felt like if I stopped, I would have lost something really great.
Songfacts: Was there a moment when you realized music was what you really wanted to do?
Brown: Yes. It was actually pretty early on. We played a show at the Airliner for this event called Brokechella - it was like Coachella but Brokechella, but it was really well put together, and we were playing on the downstairs stage of the Airliner - it was our first show. I remember talking to people and they were like, "Erykah Badu has played on that stage, Radiohead's played on that stage" - the same one I was on. I was like, "I've only been doing this a few months."
We were playing with this huge 10-piece band and we were like enjoying it. The girls were spraying champagne on each other and all that, and I was like, "This is amazing, why can't this be my life every day?"
Songfacts: That's a good confirmation. What were you studying in college?
Brown: Journalism. I was a writer. I still do write sometimes. But there was never a point where I was like, "Screw music, I'm not doing this." It became a part of me as soon as I figured out what it was. When you love something, you just love it.
December 13, 2018
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