The White Noise Supremacists Interview

(Trigger warning: this interview contains frank talk about racism.)

The White Noise Supremacists are, thankfully, not white supremacists (look back and note the “noise” part), and only consist of one woman: Iféoluwa Babalola (pronounced eee-FEH-oh-loo-WAH bah-BAH-loh-LAH). Iféoluwa plays and sings all of the parts in her music. She answered a ton of questions from me about topics like racism in the music industry, feminism, producing her music, and recording her new album.

Tessa: Okay, I have a confession to make. When I first saw your artist name, I did a double take. My first thought was, “No way am I interviewing a bunch of racists!” Then I finally noticed the “noise” part of your name. What kind of reactions does your artist name usually get? Are they anything like mine?
Iféoluwa: Yeah, people always skip the ‘noise’ for some reason. I don’t know why. If I had to classify all the responses, I pretty much get fear or excitement. Younger Black people tend to be the most afraid, and then you get racist White people who get angry. I also get “liberal” White people who “don’t see color” trying to preach to me about how inappropriate it is. I think they have the most gall. Like, they’re oblivious to how inappropriate it is for them to tell a Black person how they should view and interpret and respond to racism- something they will never experience in their entire lives. The arrogance in that is astounding. But yeah, it runs the gamut. Either fear or excitement that someone is finally saying these things. I tend to get thanked by older Black men a lot too. It’s interesting to try and analyze the different responses.

Tessa: So, you were born in Brooklyn, New York and are now living in Berlin, Germany. How old were you when you moved? What was the biggest culture shock to you when you moved to another country?
Iféoluwa: I was 27 when I moved to Berlin. There wasn’t a really huge culture shock but I do notice the differences. In my experience, Germans are more reserved. There’s a bit of truth to the stereotype. But I am much more comfortable with that, as I am more reserved by nature. In America I’m stoic, here I’m warm, lol. There also seems to be a difference in the way kids are raised here. At least the people around my age. Americans are raised with so much ego. “You are the best and greatest in the world and you can be anything!!!” (unless you are a woman, poc, queer, non-Christian, etc.), but here, it seems that you are more taught to be a functioning part of a group. Of society. Not that you’re such a special snowflake, which breeds less entitled douchebags, in my opinion. There are some everywhere, but it’s not so rewarded here as it is in the U.S. A lot of White people are more culturally aware here as well. A lot of them are friends with Africans, married or have kids with Africans, and can actually pick out African countries on a map. I’ve never faced that before. Being able to say to someone, “My family is Yoruba,” and they actually know what the hell I’m talking about. That was strange for me. Another shock (and I’m speaking as an outsider who has about a couple years experience in 1 city, so forgive me if I misinterpret, Germans) was how ashamed and apologetic, though I’ve heard some Germans say overly so, [the country is] about Nazi Germany and the holocaust. When you’re a kid in school, you are taught about it, from very young and throughout your school career. It’s really hammered home how horrible it was and that you should never forget. If you go out in the street with a Nazi swastika or any other Nazi symbol, you get arrested. It’s full on illegal. There is even some reservations about flying the German flag for some people, as German nationalism tends to be synonymous with racism. Contrasting that with the U.S. and how it regards [its] history of slavery and Jim Crow, how White Americans pretty much don’t give a sh*t and were raised to not give a sh*t, how the general sentiment is, “Whatever, Black people, stop whining and get over it,” how there are states where I can still drive into and see the Confederate flag waving, even on federal property, it was really a wake up call. It’s like whoa, America really has no respect for Black people. They hate us, blatantly so, and they don’t give a sh*t. It would be amazing to get arrested for flying the Confederate flag. To have the nation actually feel shame for the heinous things it did and teach their White children about it so it stops happening and never happens again. But that won’t happen any time soon. That country hates us too much. That was shocking for me. To just finally realize the country I was born in feels that way about who I am.

Tessa: Who or what inspired you to start making music? What artists do you consider your influences?
Iféoluwa: I’ve always been musical. It was never really a choice. I started singing as a girl and it just snowballed from there. Singing along to tapes, music vids…I grew up listening to everything. I don’t know if it counts as an influence if you don’t sound anything like it—that is kinda the case with most of my influences, but if we’re just talking about artists that made me see musical expression in a different way, it would have to be Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Joy Division, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Suede, The Smiths/Morrissey (even though he is a douchebag), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Radiohead, Sam Cooke, Silverchair (Neon Ballroom and Diorama are amazing records), Fiona Apple, Sade, Fela, Bjork…I think those are the main ones, though I’m probably forgetting some.

Tessa: How does the songwriting process work for you?
Iféoluwa: Currently, I just think of an idea, usually from a news story I read or something I’m dealing with in my life, and I write lyrics. Then I come up with a bassline or drum beat if the melody doesn’t come first. And I lay some guitar on it last. That’s how it’s been working lately though when I first started, it was all words first, melody second, then guitar, drums and finally bass. I like starting songs on different instruments, though. You get a completely different sound.

Tessa: What inspired you to write “Big Strong White Man?”
Iféoluwa: Being pissed the f*ck off at having the people whose hand has been on your throat for centuries pat themselves on the back with the other hand for “saving” you.

Tessa: Is there any intentional symbolism in the video for “Big Strong White Man?” For example, is there any reason why the (presumably) kidnapped girl is tied to a chair with pearls, breaks free with a guitar pick, and drops her blonde wig to the floor at the end?
Iféoluwa: Yes. It’s pretty much an allegorical representation of both my experience with my band and the common experience of being born a Black female in Western society. You’re sort of born bound, gagged and exploited by your surroundings and it’s up to you to free yourself. I won’t explain it any more but if you keep that in mind, the meaning is pretty apparent.

Tessa: There were some pretty ignorant comments on the YouTube video for “Big Strong White Man.” How did you deal with that? What reactions have you gotten from that song besides people being racist to you or giving you the “reverse racism” BS?
Iféoluwa: I don’t deal with it. I refused to respond. Say it to my face or shut the f*ck up. It’s all just fear and ego. This Black woman saying and doing things only WE are supposed to be able to say and do. “Who does she think she is/put her back in her place” kinda thing. So f*cking old. I’m 30. I’m used to it. And I’ve made it this far and will only keep going. People either love it or hate it. I like being polarizing. I love bands that make you feel the extremes. No one wants to hear a song and go “eh.”

Tessa: There are interesting vocal effects in the studio version of “She’s Soft Inside.” What exactly did you do to your voice there?
Iféoluwa: Ha! Well, it’s really just some crappy filters I found in GarageBand. That song was on my 1st EP and it was really the 1st of my more aggressive-sounding songs I ever recorded. There is another one that was the second called “Meant to Be” that has the same effect. It’s pretty much me being self-conscious about my voice. I grew up singing R&B and soul music and that’s still where my voice is even though when I write, soul music doesn’t come out. I thought it was too clean and pretty sounding and felt weird about not sounding more “rock” so I tried to gruff it up with effects. Then I was like, this is lame, my voice and this music are unique. So I ditched the filters and really embraced it. The next song I recorded after those was “How Do You Wish To Go?” and I sort of sang that defiantly sweet and soft and added harmonies. And I was like, this sounds f*cking cool! So the vocal effects were no more after that.

Tessa: What instruments do you play?
Iféoluwa: Well, in order of “damn good” to “kinda crappy but it works”: clarinet (7-year band geek, holla!), drums, guitar, bass, piano.

Tessa: So you do the singing and play all of the instruments in your songs. Do you produce all of your music too? If so, how did you learn how to do that?
Iféoluwa: Yes, I produce and arrange everything. I just learned by doing. I didn’t have money to pay anyone else and when I did get input, I never liked anyone’s ideas more than mine, lol. So I stopped asking. I worked with one “producer,” but all he did was push buttons on really expensive equipment, and he really didn’t give a crap about my music at all. It was really infuriating but also depressing. And most producers are guys and they just take it for granted that because you’re female you’ll let them “mold” you and just be a mouthpiece for their ideas. I have my own ideas. And they’re good ideas. So I decided to use them.

Tessa: I saw some of your live videos on YouTube, and I think your one-woman show is very cool. Do you have any advice for someone who might want to try doing the same thing at live shows?
Iféoluwa: Thank you. Um, just try and get a good idea of the instrumentation you want in a song and figure out the best way to realize that live with only you. It’s a great creative exercise. I have many versions of my songs because the recorded versions can’t be recreated live and solo. But I didn’t want them to be boring acoustic versions so I was like, what riff do I want to keep, can I get rid of this bassline or simplify it so it can be looped through the entire song, etc. It’s actually quite fun. Trying to keep the identity of a song but changing the execution. Or sometimes the identity changes altogether. Sweet songs become rough and harsh, rough songs become melancholic and beautiful. Just read up on gear to see what’s out there. I used to get Tape Op for free for years when I was younger but don’t know if it’s still that way.* Anyway, find something that might possibly do what you want and go to Guitar Center or whatever and play with it all day. But beware. Music store dudes are notorious d*cks. If anyone asks if you are buying for your boyfriend, feel free to kick him in the balls and run. I will testify for you in court. They’ll never take us alive.

Tessa: Who’s the drummer playing with you in your “Madman” video? How often do you play shows with other people?
Iféoluwa: She’s an awesome drummer named Veronica and we met through Craigslist. I put out an ad for someone to play old Motown covers with just for fun and she answered. We met up to jam but spent most of the time just talking about ourselves and music and jamming on my stuff. We never got the Motown covers together but I ended up getting that ROIR [the record label] show and asked her to join me for a few songs. One was a Michael Jackson cover of “Rock With You” that I really wanna put out eventually and the other was Madman. There may have been more but I forgot. After that show, we both left NY so that was the end of that. But it was still fun. Anyway, I’m kinda burnt out on playing with other people. They just don’t respect you unless you act like an asshole, and I’m really not interested in that, so I have more fun playing alone. I’ll probably form a backing band of paid musicians at some point, but I haven’t been getting shows lately that are big enough to warrant that kind of financial commitment, so it’s solo for me. Plus I can do it well alone, so why not?

Tessa: In your interview with Imusicate.com, you mentioned that you used to run a “Black Indie” night in Brooklyn to promote black artists. Do you think the music industry has improved the way it treats black artists, especially since you started on the scene? Does treatment of black artists vary in the different parts of the world that you’ve lived in? What do you think we can do to continue to move forward and improve things more?
Iféoluwa: The music industry is just horrible and desperate in general and no, it’s not getting better for anyone, let alone Black musicians. I only started doing this 6 years ago and solely on an independent basis so the few times I have come in touch with “industry” people it has been enough to warn me away. They really are the worst. Just soulless. It’s not art to them; it’s a paycheck. I feel it can be both. Racism is worldwide so Black artists aren’t treated too differently. But there is more respect and openness in Europe for all kinds of Black music. I find, in the U.S., if you are a Black man who doesn’t rap or a Black woman who doesn’t sing gospel or R&B, people run screaming. It’s like they don’t know what to do with you; your very existence has melted their brains. It’s pretty ridiculous. Whereas here you can pretty much find a place for yourself if you try. There’s an opportunity here for Black underground or alternative artists. That’s really nowhere to be found in the U.S. What can we do to improve this? Young Black artists need to depend on ourselves more. Remember when I said young Black people tend to be the most afraid of my band? That is my #1 reason why things aren’t improving. I did a documentary called “Bluck You!” that I’m still working on completing about my experiences in NY and why there is no Black alternative scene that I know of pretty much anywhere. And I came to the conclusion that it’s because we don’t want one. Too many Black people nowadays need White acceptance to validate their art. And they pretty much feel like without mass White acceptance, they will never be successful. That isn’t true, but they believe it. So they only say, think and express themselves in ways that won’t threaten the predominately White, affluent and shockingly racist and sexist, entitled “indie” audience. There’s no bravery or adventure. Because everyone is “staying in their place” to get in the f*cking indie blogs or on Pitchfork or hang out on Bedford and N. 7th with their Indie White Pals or whatever. It’s sad as f*ck. And I ran screaming. And I am not ashamed in the least.

Tessa: Is there anything you think should be done to help make things easier for black female artists in particular, since you guys have to deal with both racism and sexism?
Iféoluwa: I have no clue. People have been racist and sexist for centuries. I, we, can’t change that. But we can stop taking sh*t. That’s pretty much it. Black women, stop taking sh*t. They only give it to you when they think they can get away with it. We need to support each other too. That always helps. It shouldn’t be based solely on sex and color, though. That’s not helpful. But if you come across a Black woman and you like her art, reach out and tell her so. Collaborate. Write songs together. Organize shows. That will change things. Stop being so afraid of anything that lies outside racist notions of “appropriate” Black behaviour and outlook. It doesn’t exist. Black people can differ from each other yet still work together. We are not a monolith. F*cking hell.

Tessa: Is your “Black Indie” night up and running again? If not, do you plan to start it up again anytime soon?
Iféoluwa: Um, well in Berlin I see about 3 Black people per week so I don’t think it will happen here, lol. But eventually, yes. I don’t see myself living in NY again anytime soon, if I can help it, but who knows where or when it’ll pop up. Maybe in Nigeria or Sierra Leone! Africans are into everything. Who knows. But the night and the concept are far from dead. Just…resting.

Tessa: How is recording “The Scene Is Dead,” your debut album, going? Any idea when it’ll be released?
Iféoluwa: Argh, I dunno! My dad just donated some new recording equipment to me, so since I finally have a decent microphone, I plan to get at least another single and video out before September. It will be the song “Meant To Be.” Then the album by October. But I am really ambitious with it. It will probably be a double album. I just haven’t decided whether I’ll put it out all at once or in 2 parts…we’ll see. But it’s coming! Definitely before the apocalypse. The end of all life as we know it tends to curb procrastination, I’ve found. (I’m kidding. Not an apocalypse psycho, thanks.)

Tessa: I think it’s pretty cool how you post a “face-destroying song of the week” on your Facebook page. You posted a Bikini Kill song a couple of weeks ago, and that group was really feminist. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Iféoluwa: I’m totally a feminist and very proud to call myself one. I often meet women who don’t want to call themselves that. Like they’re ashamed. I weep for them, to be honest. It must be so sad to feel ashamed of standing up for yourself and demanding to be treated with respect. To be treated like a human. I don’t get women like that. But I’m not out to change minds anymore. I just do me.

Tessa: What are you trying to achieve with your music?
Iféoluwa: I’m a musician and I’m out to make good music that is brave and honest. That’s it.

If you want to see more of Iféoluwa, check out the White Noise Supremacists’ website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel. Please (respectfully) share what you thought about the interview in the comments!

*I would like to note that you can totally still get a free subscription to Tape Op here.

Posted on June 25, 2012, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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