The artist Moon is a shape-shifter. Poet, musician, human beatbox and spoken word performer, she resists an urge to be classified. After attending high school and college in Connecticut, she began to perform as Moonchild at intimate music venues like New Haven’s Cafe Nine and the city’s now-defunct Daggett Street Square. But when a group reached out with copyright concerns over the name two years ago, Moonchild became Moon, and started reinventing her music at the same time.
Earlier this year, Arts Council intern Sydney Feinberg had a chance to sit down with Moon and talk music, creative aesthetic, and what it means to be constantly experimenting with style. This Thursday, Moon takes the mic again at Kehler Liddell Gallery, where there will be a special Lit Happy Hour from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Their interview is below.
Sydney Feinberg: So how would you describe yourself as an artist?
I don’t know! I only really know hip-hop. I mean, I know other genres of course, but I feel like hip-hop needs me the most. I could be like, “oh I’m experimental or something,” but I think it’s important that I’m part of the hip-hop culture. Because number one, I rap pretty well—and hip hop needs this perspective.
And when you say “this perspective,” what do you mean?
I mean like a New England, queer perspective, as weird as that sounds. Like a New England, queer, space perspective.
How do you think being queer shapes the way you rap, or the way you perform as an artist?
It makes me more empathetic. It gives me more attention to detail because of what I see missing from most artists that I listen to. So I’m more like “oh this matters and this matters.” It shows me what matters more.
How did you come to hip-hop, and the type of music and art you create now?
I was just kind of bathed in it as a child. I grew up Catholic, so I was dipped in communion oil then also dipped in Wu Tang Clan at the same time. Like, literally, I’ve just never known a life without it. When I was an infant, there were videos of me, and you can hear the hip-hop music playing in the background. So my parents were really, they were like really 90’s parents. So I kind of got it all.
Do you think the music you grew up listening to has a big influence on the music you create today?
Yeah. My parents are divorced; I lived with my mom mostly, or forever. And she had a certain string of CD’s in her car that shaped my life. Sting and the Police, Shonte, and Floetry, and Jill Scott, and Mos Def, and Kanye. She was the person that got me into Kanye. So, yeah, mostly those CD’s, traveling in the car, going to school. She had a lot of good ones. The Fugees … I just realized that the other day, my mom has really great taste in music. Like, really great taste.
What are you listening to now?
I’m listening to a lot of local artists … Chef the Chef, Mark the Mighty. I’m listening to Lotus Halves, she’s a queer singer from New York. I met her, I did a show with her. She’s really cool, really chill too. Who else … Andre Jakia, people like that. I really like to listen to old music. But it’s hard, because I find myself in this weird place where I really like to listen to it, but it’s problematic. Like everyone, not just some people. Everyone.
Like, I love Kodak Black, for example, and then he was like “oh I don’t really like Black women” and I was like, “wow, damn.” I just want to listen to music, you know what I mean? But I guess, some artists you have to separate. They’re not really political … some people belong in a square. That’s why, me as an artist, I think I can walk out of that as an artist because I can talk politically. I’m not afraid of questions. I’m not afraid of any questions really, I just want to be in that platform where I can say some real shit.
That was actually something I was going to ask about—whether or not you would identify as a more political artist.
Oh, definitely. It’s easier for me, because I was raised to think that the issues aren’t easy, but my opinions on them are not. Because even if I say something wrong, I’ll learn. That’s what takes—just as a person, I don’t even think, to be honest, that tackling these issues are so hard. Just do the right thing. I think now, more than ever it’s pretty easy to see what the right thing is, you know what I mean? It’s kind of weird how people are like, “I don’t … I don’t want to get into it.”
I’m all for “if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.” But I’ll do it. I’ll hopefully say the right thing, and if I don’t I’ll learn from it.
Do you think the last year, with the Trump presidency and general political turmoil, has made you more willing to speak politically and make more political work, or less?
Both. Definitely both. I can’t lie. I wish I could just be like, “oh I just put on my cape and put and S on my chest and darted out,” but I didn’t.
I was actually, especially the last couple of months last year, just so afraid to even walk outside. I was spending time in my room, not really doing much, but I just feel so ashamed doing that. Because then you look at the people who were me, like Nina Simone and Martin and Malcolm and everybody who literally gave up their lives and gave up their sanity to do what’s right. So I feel like I have a ancestral obligation to do the right thing at all times, most likely. But it’s okay. You’ve gotta do the right thing.
When you talk about being afraid, where does that fear come from?
Mostly just being an American. Like, more than anything. More than being Black, more than being a woman, being an American right now is scary, because this dude is really going to kill us all. And I’m scrambling to get my art out because I literally had a time where I thought that at any moment … I really thought that he could just end this whole thing for us.
People don’t think about that, but I’m sure the people of Hiroshima thought: “Oh my God, you don’t know what the accounts were.” I know how temporary life is, so I’m always super weird about that. But then I had a revelation this coming year on New Years, because I really didn’t think we were going to make it to 2018. And then I did. So now it’s like, you know what? You’ve just gotta go for it, you know what I mean? If anything did happen, I’m going to die anyways so you may as well just live your life in color.
You live in New Haven. What does that mean to you?
From a person who has lived in North Carolina, California … what pulls me to Haven is two things. Number one is the diversity. The diversity is beautiful in New Haven. You meet all different types of people in different walks of life, and not just Black people and white people, but all different types of cultures, and it’s so beautiful to watch.
And, I think it’s hilarious that we have this economic dichotomy that is just such a theme for America. Where we have the juxtaposition of Yale and Dixwell right next to each other, just living and commingling. I think it’s so dope to be surrounded by that. I’ve talked to people that are really New Haven and I’ve talked to people that went to college in New Haven, and it’s just totally different types of experiences. Not one good or bad, but it’s just totally different types of people. Like, you guys probably pass by each other with different lives every day. It’s just a better New York. New York is overrated.
There are so many people that really dislike New Haven.
For what? What did New Haven ever do to them?
What would you tell someone who doesn’t want to go into the city?
Don’t go! We don’t want you. I mean, that’s weird. That’s like hating mahogany. Who hurt you? You can quote me as ‘who hurt you?’ They must have left their car unlocked. That’s just a bad decision anywhere. Don’t leave your car unlocked. Come on.
Right now, what are your goals for the future as an artist?
I’m actually doing a play and a comic book. I’m trying to really centralize and I’m trying to get HBO’s attention, for real. Because there are a lot of Black, queer women right now on television that are, like, killing it. Have you ever seen The Chi, produced by the Black, queer woman from Aziz Ansari’s Master of None (the producer is Lena Waithe)? He wrote it, and she was on it forever. There’s Shonda, the God, you know what I mean.
And I was just thinking, I don’t really want to do just one thing, and I don’t really have to do just one thing. Because I’m getting labeled as a Connecticut artist, and that truthfully for my ego is really weird. So I’m trying to write this play right now and make this comic book. It’s like a sci-fi drama about empowerment and finding your power inside. It’s about this young queer girl, Moon, it’s gonna be me, and how she got a message from beings in space, that she has innate power within her and she has to prove that.
And when she fulfills this mission, they’ll be returning. I also really want to bring more art to my demographic. I know a lot of Connecticut artists, and I feel like they’re stifled. They’re making like, really dope music videos, that are damn near movies, and I’m just like: “Why don’t you make a movie?” You could do all this stuff. I just want to prove it.
I’d love to know a little more about what the play’s going to be like.
The play’s actually going to be soundtracked by the last release I just did, Strs&Englhtnmnt. So it’s pretty much going to be about the journey of this young, queer, Black girl who makes music, and through the frequencies in her music, she finds she is connected to this outer being in space. And they work together to find more power that she has in her. And she has to operate and move forward and go through this stuff. But these inner conflicts are going to be represented as monsters and demons, so there’s going to be a lot of guts and blood, and it’s going to be really, really cool.
So would you say you feel like New Haven is more your home than other places you’ve lived?
Yeah, definitely. It’s weird, I was born in Waterbury, which I claimed until Trump visited my old high school. So I moved out here, and this is where I found myself. This is where I became me. This is definitely the home, you know what I mean? There’s so much culture here. The Black Panthers down on the Green, and just a whole bunch of stuff that happened here low, low key. I like the low key stuff.
How do you think being an artist plays into your identity?
They’re—what’s the word, they coexist. There’s not one without another. My biggest inspiration is Nina Simone. Not in her tunes and her melodies or anything she does musically, but how she carried herself. So, she had a quote that said, I don’t think I’m quoting her completely correct, but she said—basically it’s her responsibility as an artist to reflect the times in which you create art in. And I think that’s important to me, as an artist in particular.
You know, I can easily do some trap stuff and get rich. Easily. Like people really don’t know how easy it is. I could really just make a beat and be like another Little Kim, and be on the spot. I love Little Kim—no shout outs to Little Kim—but I just think that God put me here for a different type of reason. I’m just trying to figure out what that is. That’s pretty much it.
You talk about God. If you’re comfortable, would you be able to talk a little about how religion plays into your art?
It didn’t so much before, and it doesn’t completely. It’s really behind the scenes. I performed at the Yale Peabody Museum the day before yesterday for Martin Luther King’s birthday, and I was so nervous, because there were going to be like 6,000 people there. That’s like a lot of people. So I went to church, and I’m sitting in the pew, and I haven’t been to church in a really long time, so I was like, let me just be respectful, and this is where I grew up. I was raised very common—Black family, my mom made me go to church. I went to church, and I was like, “Okay God, show me some signs. I know I’m probably going to have to pick it apart, I know you’re not going to give it to me fully, so just show me how to navigate.”
Then the preacher stands up and is like: “Somebody today is afraid of taking the opportunities that they were given.” That’s me. I like stood up and everything, and was like, “Oh my God, that’s me.” And he was like: “Don’t be afraid. Just don’t be afraid. There’s literally no reason to be, nothing good comes from fear. So just don’t do it.”
I went to the show, and I rocked it, and it was dope. So yeah, God definitely has my back, I feel like. But I’m also definitely very open to any other religion. It’s me trying to be a chill person. Minimally decent.
Is there anything that you want to plug in this interview, that you really want people to know about?
I’m in a community of Connecticut artists. There’s a lot of different types of people, and right now there’s like an uproar of Connecticut artists because, that I would say was catalyzed by Diddy’s comment. You know Diddy, right? He, in an Instagram post, was like, “We need more artists from New York and Atlanta. Nobody wants to hear artists from Connecticut.”
Those were his very words. So people were bubbling because I’m in a community of amazing artists who are seriously much better than the mainstream. And they’re not even too complex to be mainstream.
One of the Connecticut artists just passed away, his name was Zoe [Dowdell]. He was shot by a police officer. He’s linked with a lot of different artists, and he was a good friend of mine. We weren’t super, duper close, but I knew of him and I had performed with him before, and he was literally a ball of happiness and joy and light. And, it’s just a shame, I won’t even go into the whole police thing, but it’s just a shame that this boy didn’t see his accolades for his music, because he had to die to receive them.
Recently he was posted in a magazine, and he’s now seen his fame. I think it’s ridiculous that he had to die in order to do that. A lot of people are ignoring that. What I say to folks is just go local. If you’re willing to do it with your food—go local. Do it with your music. And if you feel like you don’t have something you want locally, talk to me, because I will hit you up. I just want to mention some artists, if I could.
Chef the Chef, Mark Da Mighty, Alyssa Hughes—you’re going to love Alyssa Hughes. Vee Skeeno, Andre Jakia, Gedda on the Tracks is good. He’s not only a rapper, but he also makes art. He’s a cartoonist and he makes really good cartoons, and it’s dope. I’ll give you three more. Another fashion person who’s really dope is Ari Serrano, he’s like an amazing fashion person. You know, I’ll just give you that. That’s a good start.
Those people are really important to music, really on a national level … They’re really dope. They’re better than like, everybody. And I’m not just saying that because I know them. Even if I hated any of those people, they would still be the greatest people ever. So, that’s how you know it’s real.
You talk a lot about the group. How do you feel performing in a group is different than performing alone on stage?
Well, doing it solo is really dope. I love doing that, I just don’t always get the opportunity. So if anyone wants to hand me that opportunity—you know what I mean? Or sometimes, I set it up and do shows, and do it that way.
But obviously with a group, normally I perform with these folks, and the energy is better. It will always be better in a group. It’s weird, it’s kind of like this theory of icons. I feel like we’re living in a generation where they really emphasize icons, and icons being this one thing. I hope nobody out there thinks that Apple was created by one guy in a turtleneck. I hope nobody really thinks that. Even though somebody could be the face of something, there’s always the team behind it. It’s always better. Because it adds the energy.