By Zach Schepis
Images courtesy of Black Pussy.
It’s hotter than hell in New Orleans, but a different and altogether more oppressive kind of heat is closing in on Dustin Hill. Hill is the principal songwriter, guitarist, and singer of the Portland based psych-rockers Black Pussy.
A titillating name, sure. It’s caused a stir that the musician wasn’t quite expecting.
He sounds cool and collected on the phone despite all of the mounting controversy. Last month a petition surfaced on change.org calling for supporters to boycott all of the remaining shows on the band’s tour. Many upset feminists and bloggers are pulling the group to pieces with accusations of racism and misogyny.
Everything came to a head just over a week ago, when Black Pussy was forced to cancel a show booked in Raleigh’s Pour House. The venue received countless threats of imminent vandalism and violence towards their staff.
“This is rock and roll; it’s been like this since 1954,” Hill tells BTR. “There’s always been controversy, and that’s just the way it is–and that’s how it should be.”
The controversy is not to say, however, that audiences should read into Black Pussy as racist or sexist. Hill is ever wary of journalists presenting small kernels of his statements as complete truths, so he takes the time to explain how the salacious name he selected came to fruition.
Believe it or not, the roots are far more ambiguous than what many sensitive critics might consider. Eight years ago Hill found himself soul-searching for a good name that could encompass his new material. He knew that he wanted it to be something that felt very ‘70s, something that sounded sexy.
Out of a meditative state the two words just appeared.
Then Hill did some research. He was convinced that someone would have taken the band name. When his searches turned up empty, he looked into the meaning of the two words–something that he recommends everyone should do.
Hill’s curiosity led to the eventual discovery of the back-story behind the Rolling Stones hit “Brown Sugar”–the single off of 1971’s Sticky Fingers–that was originally titled “Black Pussy.” The song deals with the daunting horrors of slavery and rape. Front man Mick Jagger was eventually forced to change the name to a far tamer alternative.
What occurred to the artist seemingly on a whim opened up a torrent of interpretations and meanings. Hill argues that the two words are still just as ambiguous as when they first came to him. Hell, some people will interpret the band name as nothing more than black cat (maybe).
Still, nothing is shocking.
“People latch onto anything,” he says. “There are a lot of people sitting at home seeking answers, and often that comes in the form of art. The people who are uptight draw attention to that freedom.”
As a member of the successful psych-heavy group White Orange, Hill realized he wanted a new creative outlet. He imposed a series of loose rules that worked well for White Orange, but sought the liberation of a group with none.
Black Pussy became his blank canvas.
There are notable similarities between the two. Both are definitely guitar-driven and steeped in psychedelic layering and experimentation. But while White Orange leans closer to the heavier, doom soaked end of the spectrum, Black Pussy is suffused with the blues. Pentatonic scales burble out of the stew, and songs can occur as three-minute pop songs or 20-minute jam odysseys.
Take two of the group’s records, 2012’s debut On Blonde and this year’s most recent release Magic Mustache. While the underlying thread of the songwriter’s penchant for heavy hooks and inter-dimensional exploration remain at the helm of each record, they ultimately sound worlds apart. Which is strange–considering many of the songs on the latter are older than those on the debut. Some of the songs on Mustache are more than 15 years old.
“On Blonde was a concept album,” he remarks. “It reminded me of my high-school youth. Sitting in the back of fast cars, making out, drinking down by the river, and young love.”
At the time, Hill performed and recorded every instrument by himself. With Magic Mustache he’s backed by an entire band. It’s allowed him to focus more on the songwriting so that the performances can attain a closer level of mastery.
Like any job, everyone has their unique position. Hill acknowledges with a laugh that everyone in the group is superior to him as a musician because he spends 99 percent of his time searching for songs.
He literally searches for them. As both a guitar player and singer, he draws influences from beats and sounds of the many cities he visits. The rhythms seek him across space and time and he believes that these vibrations are fundamental to the way we live out our lives.
“Singing and drumming are the oldest ways of making music,” says Hill. “It’s very tribal, and very much a part of our DNA. To beat on things, to chant and dance around. If you can make someone want to move then you’re onto something good.”
The good ideas come to Hill from the beyond. Like any budding songwriter, he used to over think the process. Now he has come to understand the art of letting go.
The songs are already out there, waiting for him to discover. Like Stephen King once wrote in his book On Writing, the storyteller (or in this case the songwriter) is the archaeologist, and the story or song is the fossil. It’s already there, someone just needs to uncover it and bring it back to the rest of the world.
Meditation is a big influence towards attaining these creative states of harmony with the universe–and so are drugs. When asked about Black Pussy’s chemical intake, Hill explains that musicians have been smoking weed together since the dawn of the jazz age. Smoking diminishes thought process, allowing the players to let go of their egos and evade unnecessary judgments clouding the music.
While some of the other guys in the band trip together, Hill prefers to remain alone during his psychedelic voyages. The experiences can become heavy and serve as a necessary purge or “clearing of cobwebs.” The visionary states awakened many insights, one of the most important being that everyone on the planet is creative–many are just shut off to it.
“What society does is really close us off to the spirit world and block the third eye, which is why I’m a big proponent of psychedelics,” he says.
“With all of the controversy around our band name, all of the haters, what if we were all in the same room and decided to take some ayahuasca? We’d all realize that we’re all the same and love each other.”
To hear the rest of the interview, tune into this week’s Discovery Corner.
Or find your own way to interpret Black Pussy by clicking here.