Putting together a band — finding the right musicians — is certainly not an easy task. But that’s just what Andy Meyerson of The Living Earth Show did, with the specific aim to form a collective of top-notch queer artists from the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Says member Lynnee Breedlove of Meyerson, “He knew more about the queer music scene than I did. And I had access to a whole bunch of singers that he didn’t. Between the two of us, we gathered up this motley crew.”
This “motley crew” is COMMANDO, a collective featuring eight LGBTQIA musicians of different musical backgrounds, all equally creative and talented. And the group’s 14-track self-titled album is slated for release Friday on Kill Rock Stars Records.
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As drummer/percussionist Meyerson explains, “Each one of the people in the band is so powerful and unique and has built such an influential, substantial and just mind-blowingly progressive body of work individually.”
The members of COMMANDO are Principal Dammit (aka Travis Andrews of The Living Earth Show); Van Jackson-Weaver; Juba Kalamka of the homo-hop group Deep Dickollective; Lynnee Breedlove, former member of the San Francisco queercore band Tribe 8; Drew Arriola-Sands of the queer punk band Trap Girl; Krylon Superstar of the queer electro-hop group Double Duchess; Honey Mahogany, a contestant on Season 5 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the vice chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee; and Meyerson himself.
According to Meyerson, the diversity of COMMANDO’s members and their unique music abilities and resumés they brought to the group resulted in the meeting and then quick surpassing of initial expectations.
He says, “This project was basically designed at first to be a site where each [member] could use whatever sort of tools from the vocabulary of the various music that they’re drawing from, whether that’s rap rock and nü metal or punk hardcore, or any of the other kind of experimental musical languages. … But it became something that was far greater than the sum of the parts. It really became a band that was designed to be able to do anything, because each one of these musicians can do so much.”
The album, which took a few years to complete, showcases a variety of genres from hip-hop to nü metal to spoken word. As Breedlove comments, “There’s a whole wide spectrum of everything.”
Recorded in San Francisco and Oakland studios, Breedlove describes the 14 tracks on the album as meticulously produced — a quality he appreciates. “To me, it feels regimented compared to what I usually do, which is [to] just kind of flail around, but it’s really cool when you have that level of structure and discipline.”
Each of the songs also has its own particular vibe, fitting together but also existing separately. “Mykki Blanco” for instance, features Breedlove speaking about relevant cultural topics such as gender pronouns, normativity, Black Lives Matter and being transgender over precise drum beats and a strong guitar riff. The song title is a direct reference to the transgender rapper, poet and activist of the same name.
In “Hotel Essex” — the title a nod to gay poet and activist Essex Hemphill — lead vocalist Kalamka raps, sings and shouts over similarly crisp, aggressive guitars and drums. Both tracks have a metal-esque sound to them, but they diverge from there in terms of lyrics, subgenres and styles.
As Meyerson says of the album’s songs, “They would all belong on the same radio station, even if they weren’t necessarily recognized as the same artist. And that’s the idea — that was part of how we went about making this album and how we imagined the collective.”
And not only is this collective one-of-a-kind in terms of its member makeup — it also breaches uncharted territory in its defiance of adapting to mainstream concepts of queer music and art. At the same time, though, it demonstrates how welcomingly diverse the concept of queerness is and can be.
Explains Meyerson, “The music that’s on this album is generally a little different from what one imagines as queer pop music. …But there’s also a lot of emotions in that type of music, and hopefully, [this album] gives permission to feel those emotions in a queer space or context. And a lot of the songs on the album reference very specific things that we feel are essential for folks to be aware of. The humans referenced in the album, like [gay writer and artist] Gary Fisher, need to be talked about more. And that’s also a part of what is important to us in this project.”
And for those hesitant to give such an unapologetically intense and unique band a listen? COMMANDO member Lynnee Breedlove offers this suggestion: “I tell people, ‘If you want to really appreciate it, just take it home and play it on low volume and read the lyrics.’ Because [doing] that’s a lot better sometimes for people.”
To purchase COMMANDO’s full-length album “COMMANDO,” find the group on Bandcamp at https://commandothebando.bandcamp.com/.