Words by David C. Obenour
Joy Guidry has a lot of themselves to share. Notedly their talent and creativity, as it is shaped and weaved into playing the bassoon and a number of other instruments, but also their humanity. On the new album, Radical Acceptance, Joy follows the Darkness is a Myth EP with further explorations in family, love, healing, and discovery. Just as these emotions live and evolve, so does Joy’s music. Tonality plays with concept and each listen uncovers new insight – intentional, spiritual, implied, empathized, projected, or even completely made up. All experiences are valid and unique.
Off Shelf: Radical Acceptance starts off with a spoken word track, “Just Because I Have a Dick Doesn’t Mean I’m a Man.” I was wondering if you could talk about why you wanted to not only include that track but started your predominantly instrumental album with it.
Joy Guidry: I wanted to start with this one for many reasons. For one, I wanted to make it very clear that I’m living in a new identity now. I am fully living as a trans person out into the world. To my family, to my friends, to everyone, but mostly also to me. That this is my declaration of my radical acceptance. The acceptance of who I am and who I am not, and I am not cis man. I don’t know what else I will identify as later, you know, if I do transition or if I will just have this spiritual transition, but I wanted to make it clear that this is my declaration to myself.
I also wanted to make it clear that I am doing different things with music. [laughs] I’ve done a lot of bassoon my entire life and I’m making a change. I will always be a bassoonist. I will always play bassoon. There will always be a bassoon track to some capacity on every album I make until I die but I am making a change. I am becoming more of an electronic musician. I’m experimenting with the sounds and I want that to come across.
OS: That spoken word talks about your journey towards realizing the dissatisfaction you felt was with the gender you had been cast with. As a musician, how has that complicated or eased how you came to realize and then live out that realization?
JG: As a musician it has been pretty easy to live it out because I am able to choose the community I am around. There are many types of musicians. There are very racist, very transphobic, very misogynist, very very hateful musicians in the world. There are also many musicians that are so loving, so accepting – that will see me for who I am, that will adapt on the fly, and really take the time to get to know me. So for me personally, living this out as a musician has been very easy because I’ve been able to cultivate this beautiful community that always supports me.
OS: In that track you also talk about having to account for all of the hate that you put out over your life. A powerful and convicting sentiment – no matter who you are – I was wondering where does it come from for you?
JG: It comes from growing up in the church. And you know, I am still Christian today, though don’t go to church anymore, but I was always surrounded by people that were like praising God but being so hateful outside of church. [laughs] I would go to school with people like this, lived with someone like this, and you know, it… it’s awful. People claim to love and do all this shit but then say the most disgusting things about other people. And about themselves! That’s why at the end of that I want to say what you put out is going to come back to you. That also goes for me! Like, I’m not excluding myself. I say things that are fucked up. Like work on yourself and hold yourself to a high standard. No matter who you are, we all have things to work on in ourselves. This world is really fucked up and it will take all of us to get there, to have the revolution in all these things. We have to figure out what is holding ourselves back from being a truly, fully loving person.
OS: The other voice on the album comes on “Down in the Valley” – whichis credited as Maudry Richard Davis. Raw and unadorned, can you talk about that recording and how it fits into Radical Acceptance?
JG: Maudry is my meemaw, my grandma! So, “Down in the Valley” comes from a hymn and she would sing this… well, she’s alive, so she sings this to all of us when we were growing up and to this day. [laughs] Anyway, I was really inspired by John Coltrane’s “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” and just the rawness of that track, the sound of little children screaming and everything, and I was like, “Oh my God, I want to make something like this.” There is a lot of different sounds, a lot of playfulness, a lot of peace. So every time I play “Down in the Valley” is an attempt to ground myself in my childhood and adulthood, and it keeps getting fucked up. That’s why there are two bassoons, one is a grounding and the other is the disruption, and they trade off. There’s not one aligned with this path, because healing is not linear. So I end with that hymn and it’s just my grandma singing. It’s like the ultimate grounding and it’s just really nice to hear her voice. I don’t know. It’s really beautiful. I love her.
OS: Before I leave that, I also really loved how “72 Hours” had a warm crackle to it that mirrors the lofi recording of “Down in the Valley” – how much of an effect does sequencing have on how you craft your songs?
JG: Everything really is intentional and connected in my music and there’s a lot of little nuances in there. It’s not supposed to be this like scary ambient track, it’s actually supposed to be comforting. It is based on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, so there is the cackling… crackling noise like the sound of the rain and I put this vinyl distortion over it.
When I was forcibly hospitalized it was really scary, and that’s why the song has the low gongs but also there is the warm hum that is there. It kind of keeps me calm and it’s actually my own hum that I do to self-soothe when I’m really stressed out. Like I will hum “Down in the Valley,” or I’ll hum just like little melodies. So yeah, there is a warm cackle, crackle [laughs], I keep saying cackle because I sound like a witch when I laugh. Anyway, that is there for a reason and thank you for picking that up.
As far as sequencing, it goes even bigger into the albums. So my first EP, or my only EP, Darkness is a Myth, ends with a field recording of my family and me all in the park, having a great time, saying goodbye and I love you and all this shit. So this album starts with also an instrumental but in a much different way and is getting into the hate and everything in the world. It’s kind of like, “Okay, healing is not beautiful.” It’s taking this love for my family and I want to love them so much that they change… for me. Change so that they see me for me. Not want me to adapt for them, not want me to fake straightness around them and other people, things like that.
Then going all the way to the end of the album, “Grace” is the same notes as “Just Because…,” it’s just a different tonality. It’s to show that a lot of healing is now leaving my body, leaving my aura and it’s a lot cleaner now. There’s still dissonance in there but it’s the same feeling. That’s why it starts instrumental on this album, and – so you know – that leads to the next album that’s coming in a couple years. How “Grace” ends is how the next album is going to begin which could lead you to say that it’s going to be more peaceful. Which will tell the story of my actual healing and where I am now. Where I am in my happiness… and sadness and heartbreak! But in a different tonality and in a different way.
OS: The rest of the album is instrumental, and as an artist with so much to say and draw from, I was wondering how you felt about the listener putting their own feelings and emotions to your work? This always happens in music – even the most direct – but especially with something as emotive and unrestricted as music without words.
JG: I think that’s awesome. With myself being such a talker and being so descriptive on my music, like I think it’s super awesome for them to do that, but also to remember there is an actual story here. It’s not open-ended and I am saying something specific with each track. But the things I’ve heard from people is moreso that the words I spoke really kind of woke them up a bit – in many different ways. [laughs] You know? Or they found peace in my music or it was thought provoking. Some people said like, “Wow at first I was searching for a melody but then I realized the whole thing was a melody,” and I was like, “Yeah, welcome. Welcome to my mind.” [laughs] So I am open to people doing that but also respecting and really trying to figure out what I am saying before they try to put their own projection on to it. But I’m also not trying to limit someone’s expression to my music or reaction but I just hope that they are listening to what I am saying and then adding their, you know, own sprinkle on top of it.
OS: I was wondering if you could talk a little about incorporating your classical training on the bassoon into this music. How is what you’re able to do similar and disimilar to your other ensemble work?
JG: Incorporating bassoon into my music is mostly my ear. With like getting to a mess around with different intonations and quarter tones and things like that has helped a lot. The bassoon does not have a tuning slide, we just have to be on the money with intonation because it’s a very old instrument that… has made significant progress but also not. We all just play from our reed and put our reed on our bocal, which is the metal tube which connects to the bassoon, and that metal tube can drastically change your intonation and also your reed. So you just have to have a really good ear to play the bassoon.
And I… incorporate bassoon in the way that it is my instrument, you know! I do have multiple instruments but this is my main instrument and with the time I put into it, with learning scales and just fluidity around the instrument, and learning how to sing on the instrument, I always want to bring that in a way that really features my artistry in the best way. In “How to Breathe While Dying” I use the bassoon in a couple of different ways, I use it in a very aggressive way, use it in a very melodic and just crying out way, and a very joyful way at the end – just making all of these textures. I want to show people that with the bassoon you can do more things than just Tchaikovsky, Brahams, Brahms, Mozart, and Beethoven, and I truly love all of their works… well, most of them. I’m not going to say all of them. [laughs] But taking that and using those sounds and learning how to blend it.
Really, chamber groups have showed me just how it’s all so connected. Classical music and jazz and stuff, is divided purely by racial segregation and racist sentiment that looks down on jazz. But playing in a combo or free jazz ensemble or in like a wooden quintet, isn’t so different for me personally.
OS: Working with a number of musicians, I was wondering if there were any contributions or performances that particularly resonated with you during the recording? Maybe taking a song or segment in a new direction from what you had initially envisioned?
JG: Working with everyone was very special to me. It was very moving. With “Why Is Toxicity So Yummy,” and “Inner Child” I did not exactly see them going that way but I’m very, very happy with them.
I must say that, “How to Breath While Dying” is the track that changed me. Honestly. It is only me but I’m playing with myself and my different personalities. It really is an ensemble, it’s just me. I don’t mean to make this sound self-centered but the ending, where it’s all of these beautiful lyrical lines, I didn’t know I could write music like this! I didn’t know I could express myself in this way. I could not figure out the ending of this track and once I got a glimpse of it I was like “Oh my God. The sky is opening up. This what I’m trying to say with this piece! Life is rough, trying to find out how to breathe while living with bipolar disorder, living with depression, living under the reign of white supremacy. I found it!” And it made me really emotional, I’m kind of getting emotional about it right now. [laughs] Taking the limits off of myself and my musicality and just experimenting, and experimenting, and experimenting, and going at it. Figuring it out and busting my ass making this product that I am so happy with. So so so happy with.
OS: “Voices of the Ancestors” was the only song credited as a live recording – I was wondering if you could talk about it and how you appreciated the differing and continuing dynamics that it adds to the album?
JG: I started improvising in 2018 and I was trying to figure everything out in my life and I could just not do it. I could not figure out melodies, I was so afraid, and I just played really really really aggressive bassoon all the time – to the point where my wrists were hurting. Like tearing my bassoon the fuck up, not in a good way, all this stuff. Then I found myself also playing in large contemporary spaces with white people and I could not feel spiritual connection there to the same level I did when I played with black people. Making music within blackness always feels very different to me then playing music with white people.
So with “Voices of the Ancestors,” that was for the 400 year date that enslaved Africans were stolen and brought into this country to work on plantations – part of a whole program at Riverside Church in Manhattan. I just got the call that they wanted improvised bassoon and I was like, “Okay… that’s really random,” but I went and I was playing with three African drummers and it was just like life changing. Meeting and playing with Chichi [Chioneso Bakr] and Hassan [Bakr] and Victor [See Yuen], I had never played with African drumming ensemble before and so… I was really scared [laughs]. And I don’t know if you have ever been in Riverside Church before but it is humongous. It’s so beautiful but it’s huge. I was asking what the turnout was going to be like and they told me, “Oh, it’s completely soldout,” [laughs] okay, alright. So I went, and did a dress rehearsal, just to get a feel, and I was like, “Oh my god, I have no idea what I’m doing.” So I went, got a margarita, a quite strong one, came back and I felt great. I went up there and I just looked at them and they started playing and it was a very spiritual experience for me. I remember watching the video the next day and I was like “Oh, I didn’t realize I did all that. This is really good!” [laughs]
So yeah, I played this piece, posted it on the internet, and things went pretty crazy for me! A lot of things really changed for me. I will always be so grateful to Hassan, Chichi, and Victor and I… I want to go more into it but I can’t because I don’t have the language to put in what my soul was trying to say. I know that main sound cheesy, but I truly mean it. I could not imagine not having that on this album. I don’t know where I would be in my music if I did not get the call for that gig and I truly fucking mean that. It changed my life. That performance really changed my life and forever grateful for it.