“Organic and Beautiful and Imperfect”: An Interview with Queer Pop Musician Be Steadwell

Mulliken, Seth

Be Steadwell is a musician from Washington, DC. She has self-produced six albums, the most recent of which is entitled Jaded. dark love songs. She has toured the US and Europe, and was recently selected to a 2016 Strathmore Artist in Residence. As a touring musician, she plays shows of her music, and also offers songwriting workshops. “Songwriting doesn’t need to be inaccessible,” she says. In addition to her musical work, she is also a filmmaker. Her recently completed short, Vow of Silence, has played in festivals both nationally and internationally.

When I first heard Be’s music, I was struck by the sound of it. She uses her voice in multiple ways, to deliver lyrics, to create harmony and counterpoint, and to add texture. Her use of musical sound creates an ambience, a “mood” as she calls it, that seeks to deliver the listener to a new space. Given the prominent place of modern music production technologies, the loop pedal and computer-based editing, it was tempting for me to frame Be’s music as “highly technologized.” By this, I mean the ways music is primarily heard and discussed through the discourse of its machines and technological processes. However, Be’s relationship to the music production technologies doesn’t prioritize the machines and technological processes over other processes. Her music is not framed solely or primarily by its technologized aspects; rather, the technology she uses is part of her larger project that seeks to unite the producer, the audience, the “human,” and the technology in the music-making process. As a Queer Black woman making music, Be enacts her art within a complex web of intersecting pressures of race and gender. Drawing on the work of Tara Rodgers and Alexander Weheliye, we can hear Be’s use of musical technologies as a negotiation with a very specific set of gendered and racialized ideas about technologies of sound production.

This interview with Be was conducted over Skype. As a personal suggestion, I’d highly recommend visiting Be’s bandcamp page and listening to her album Jaded. dark love songs. while you read.


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October 23, 2018