Interview: Gavin Godfrey
There’s a calm to Speakerfoxxx that might catch you off guard if you’re not used to seeing her outside of a club. In her Reynoldstown home filled with books, vinyl and an old motorcycle she seems more like the artsy, intellectual girl next door than an ambassador of southern rap anthems.
Then again, to assume Speakerfoxxx should merely be confined to the aesthetic of her Dopegirl Anthems mixtapes and her legendary, sweat-induced sets at El Bar, would be a mistake. After all, “DJ,” is just one Speakerfoxxx’s many titles, interests and passions and definitely isn’t her main source of income.
Speakerfoxxx also has an undying love for Atlanta, even though that wasn’t always the case.
“I hated living in Atlanta as a kid,” Speakerfoxxx says.
In this interview Speakerfoxxx explains how the city of Atlanta grew on her and the story behind her growth as young girl who loved punk music to one of the most recognizable females names around.
Talk about your early years coming up in Atlanta...
I was born at Northside Hospital and lived in Brookhaven as a kid. We lived in that area until my parents got divorced and my dad moved to Sidney Marcus area. I moved to Little 5 Points in high school and have lived around there since 1999. My first passion as a kid was definitely art and drawing. Second to that was animals and music. My first favorite song was “Sarah” by Jefferson Starship on vinyl and favorite album was a Twisted Sister cassette tape that I would play on repeat.
What were some of your first impressions of Atlanta?
I thought it was very country, close-minded and I felt stifled a lot in my early years. I went to NYC when I was 12 and was determined after that trip that my life goal was to end up living there designing clothes. I was pretty influenced by fashion and punk culture at the time and that was hard to find in Atlanta. Moving downtown in high school helped a little bit, but I really didn’t appreciate living in Atlanta until 2000 or so. I appreciate it more, the more often I travel to this day. But growing up it definitely felt like a small town with a small mind mentality.
What was your introduction to music, and from there what was your first stint at trying to do it professionally or in front of a crowd?
When I was five, I remember my grandfather teaching me how to play the ukulele and playing on my grandmother’s piano. I taught myself piano, playing by ear. It impressed my mother who got a piano for our home from an estate sale. I sang in choir as a kid for years and later in chorus and honor chorus in school. I always loved playing and listening to music growing up and ended up buying a guitar and taking lessons, writing music that I would later play in bands. I played bass guitar, classical guitar and electric guitar in several bands (in both punk bands and a jazz band) in my teenage years. I was heavily influenced by the punk and hardcore shows I went to and other bands like The Renegades (The Black Lips first band) and Mans Ruin. One of my favorite bands I was in was an all-girl punk rock band called the Sex Kittens where I sang, wrote music and played guitar with three other girls I went to high school with.
How’d you go from Sex kittens to DJ’ing?
I really wasn’t introduced to DJ culture until high school when I started going to clubs for the first time. I was quickly intrigued; I began to like DJ’s and hearing music in clubs over hearing live music and going to shows. My relationship with J$un Buckner, a former DJ, producer and record store owner in ATL, is what inspired me to learn about the history of the DJ culture and later pursue DJ’ing. I got into trouble and ended up in jail during our relationship and when I got out I had a pretty strict probation that allowed me to go to work and then an outpatient court ordered treatment program. So I saved up money to buy turntables, equipment and vinyl and used my free time outside of work/outpatient teaching myself how to DJ and attending AA meetings. I was affiliated with Dixie Mafia during this time – a crew comprised of mostly producers and rappers including Yelawolf, Grip Plyaz, KP of Beat Chefs, and Scender (Rittz’s manager). It was an early version of Yelawolf’s crew Slumerican that I am a part of now.
What can you say about why you went to jail?
I can say with confidence that it was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. It set me on the right path and gave me time to think about the life I was living and where I was headed. Truth is; I had a lot of goals that I would never have had the opportunity to accomplish if I hadn’t gone to jail. I learned my lesson, I used my time there wisely and when I got out I was determined to succeed in life even if the state had set up some rules for awhile to help me stay straight.
Talk about the club scene and how going to clubs and seeing DJ’s live inspired you?
I guess the best metaphor I could use on what it felt like to be inspired by DJ’s the first few times is similar to someone catching the Holy Ghost listening to a sermon from a preacher at church. I am always intrigued when someone can catch my attention and tell me a story through a vehicle I hadn’t ever valued as a significant storyteller. There’s an element of surprise and appreciation that occurred that I was able to learn a story about life and appreciate beauty while being surrounded by a bunch of kids in a club who were getting fucked up. I remember going to Django in early 2000 and hearing Don Cannon play a J. Dilla tribute set right when I got out of jail. It was like a spiritual experience. Time stopped. Moments like that inspired me.
How did you go from DJ Double Dutch to Speakerfoxxx? Tell us the story of the name evolution.
I had a manager, DJ Rob Wonder, who had an old school mentality that you couldn’t name yourself, that your name had to be given to you. He was very stern and told me it was a principle he lived by and I had two options: One, starting January 2011 I would no longer go by “DJ Double Dutch” and go by “Speakerfoxxx” (influenced by Big Boi’s “Speakerboxxx” album) or two, I could find myself a new manager. So I chose choice number one.
You once told me you’re not a professional DJ, like you don’t just eat off of DJ gigs. Your day job is working as a hair stylist at Van Michael Salon. Talk about your other hustles from your passion for hair and your forays into fashion and also production and modeling...
Well I am definitely not a model (laughs). And I don’t make money off of production yet. But I do have a multitude of interests outside of my day job as a [hair] stylist and DJ’ing that also do not produce income, but keep me inspired. I work a day job because I like daytime people. I like getting up and going to work in the morning and doing something different besides music. Being a stylist helps me think with a different part of my brain and helps support me, so I only take gigs that I want to take, not because I need the money.
How has Atlanta shaped your artistry? Why keep your base here?
Although I did not appreciate it growing up, the older I get the more I value this city and the music that comes from here and how Atlanta shaped the music industry. So much of what I play and tracks I value as a DJ that are in my set, I got inspired to play them from hearing it drop exclusively on Hot107.9, going to a Future mixtape release party, hearing something at Onyx or Magic City, sitting in Drumma Boy’s studio – experiences that could only happen in Atlanta. Atlanta is so tied into my Speakerfoxxx brand; I can’t leave it or move away from it – it’s one of my main sources of inspiration. And, even further, now that I am entering into adulthood as an artist, musician and creator in Atlanta, it has become my duty as a creative. I love this city. I am obliged to keep it fresh, bring in new ideas and honor the ones that came before me that gave Atlanta its culture and gave it its place in the music industry.
Who are some of your mentors/friends that have shaped you and what have you personally and professionally learned from each?
I believe that every creative person has a tribe or has to develop a tribe or a family especially if they come from a family that doesn’t support their own creative goals in life. I have done a little bit of reading and studying on the concept of a chosen family or a tribe and loved Kelly Cutrone’s perspective of its significance.
She says, “There’s power in numbers. Say it however you want to, but the truth is that we cannot go through this life alone. Finding your tribe, like following your dreams, isn’t always about what makes sense; it’s about what your soul needs. As much as we’re looking for experiences that turn us on, we’re looking for people who do the same, whether creatively, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually.”
That being said my tribe is comprised of intellectuals, musicians, visual artists and visionaries including Daniel of Heroes & Villains, Don Cannon, Coach K, Fadia Kader, Mali from Tree- sound Studios, Gangsta Boo, DJ Princess Cut, Keet from Southern Star Tattoo, Dr. Dax, Brittany Bosco, J. Dirrt from Ballers Eve, Yelawolf, Laura Dalton, Ria Pell, Venus X and Tragik.
Have you found that the industry/scene can be tougher on white, female artists?
Well. Honestly I think that the industry is hard to break into for any artist so I don’t know how much of it was based on my gender or race and how much of it was based on being a new face. I just know that when I felt like I was faced with opposition I just focused on my music and becoming great. A lot of times I have found that the things that make someone not fit in are the very aspects that make that artist stand out from the rest, so I chose to view it as strength rather than a weakness.
Is the whole Dopegirl Anthems movement a way for you to inspire more women to get involved with Hip Hop culture or just kind of a female pride call in general?
Dopegirl Anthems and the Dopegirl Movement is a concept I branded with the idea of appreciating women in the industry and banding together. The phrase, “together we stand, divided we fall,” comes to mind when I am explaining this.
You’re more than just music, so what legacy are you trying to leave behind? How do you want the city and beyond remember you when it’s all said and done?
This can probably best be summed up by the words of Cee Lo Green in my favorite OutKast song, “Liberation.”
If there’s anything I can say to help you find your way
Touch your soul; make your whole, the same for you and I
There’s not a minute that goes by that I don’t believe
We can fly...
But I can feel it in the wind
The beginning or the end
So people keep your head to the sky.
I want to liberate myself so I can, in turn, liberate others. After all we are all connected to one another. I think that’s the point of it all.