A lineup of talented and independent emerging artists from all over the globe gathered in the heart of Idaho’s capital city over the weekend for Treefort Music Fest. Downtown Boise held space for a number of queer artists including Princess Nokia, La Louma, SassyBlack―and trans indie musician and activist Sean Desiree aka bell’s roar.
The moniker is a reference to feminist writer bell hooks, who speaks of intersectionality and solidarity in their work. Being a queer, nonbinary person of color, bell’s roar says they cannot isolate forms of oppression. The roar represents the fight to not be silent and to use their creative voice to stop ongoing domination.
“On stage I fight against the anxiety that comes from self-doubt,” roar tells INTO. “It's doubt that stems from the messages within racism, transphobia, sexism and homophobia that I've internalized. When I perform I'm pushing against those negative thoughts and allowing myself to be free from what would otherwise keep me silent.
roar recently came off the Northeastern leg of their ART FUNDS ART TOUR which gives grants to LGBTQ artists for color in each city they travel through. The new video for their track “Echoes from Below” is about “being open and honest about what I have felt and/or still feel while performing,” roar says.“Through persistence and commitment my art I have made strides in my ability to share my music,” roar says. “I now believe I deserve to take up some space within the music industry because my perspective is needed and beautiful. Video director Hana Van Der Kolk picked the imagery of the abandoned factory complex for “Echoes From Below” because, roar says, “it felt quite isolating and raw similar to the lyrics.” Van Der Kolk tells INTO they resonated with the theme as a performer.
“I find performing to be a profoundly paradoxical space of vulnerable sharing, one of the most immediate, rich, and satisfying experiences of life, and profound terror and risk, one that seems to come from somewhere deep inside and take over the whole body,” she says. “bell’s roar speaks so beautifully to this paradoxical phenomenon in this song.”
“With the video,” she continues, “I tried to capture that precious collision of energies, as well as to follow the song's arc from slow, internal, even stuck inside, to the ease, flow, and even celebration of the intricate human soul, towards the end.”
It’s totally what I did not expect, you know? Because Idaho, I guess. You have a certain perception of it, especially growing up in a bigger city like New York or LA. Right now I live in Albany and this definitely has more of an art scene―there are so many different spaces that you can do all types of physical performances in and they’re so close to each other―it feels very bikeable. Of course I think the festival creates a false utopia but it feels good to be here.
I keep telling everyone the people here are so nice. I didn’t know what to expect but everyone’s really nice, that’s for sure.
Tell me about your Treefort Festival performance.
I feel like Treefort really helps create the best performances you can have because they are really attentive to the needs of artists. There’s always food available which is nice. Like, I have not had to stress about that and like, a lot of places you don’t get that. I feel like they think about they think about the music and what kind of venue would work for you. I was really happy with the experience. People came―it was a good space I feel like you get enough time to do your set. An ideal amount of time so it doesn’t feel like a quick festival turnover. It doesn’t feel rushed.
I was really happy, and I was able to connect with people before the show, like “Hey, come see me play!” So I was really happy with it.
Let’s talk about the Art Funds Art Tour: What artists have you worked with in the past?
Abdu Ali, tubafresh, anjimile Gemynii, TAYLOR ALXNDR. The idea is coming from myself. I was thinking about being an artist that’s struggling looking for resources in order to finish an album―I didn’t really need that much because I do everything myself but there are certain things that would be helpful, you know? And it feels like there are not as many resources for musicians specifically. So I was thinking, “How can I get involved and be a part of the solution?” while thinking of ways to support other artists.
Also for me, I don’t particularly feel―I could perform, I could not perform. I enjoy making music―
The performance is secondary for you.
Yeah definitely. It creates more anxiety―it’s a weird dynamic.
Are you an introvert?
I’m the in between.
S: And so it also helps me to -I’m releasing this album We Carry Us and it’s about supporting each other and I’m going to make the album about this, you know? And it helps me to actually play shows and organize and meet people and try to figure out ways that we can network together.
Last month was the first leg of it all, the experiment to see if it’s something that’s doable. The next leg is on the west coast.
Do you have a target date?
Probably September. I’m hoping for. It takes a lot of coordination and organization of businesses that want to contribute to the cause. Also I use the money from ticket sales to pay the local artists. So if local organizations want to support local artists, the money goes to them.
Just for fun, who do you have your eyes set on for the West Coast leg of the Art Funds Art Tour?
Honestly, I don’t know yet! The structure is based on artists submitting to perform. Not necessarily well known artists, more so smaller artists that could benefit from $250 to perform. But artists with klout help, too. For now, it’s totally a blank canvas.
Really excited about that. On an more unrelated note, it sounds like you have some pretty iconic women helping you out, such as Kiran Gandhi and your girlfriend, Alisa. It sounds like you’re very collaborative. Tell me about that.
Kiran and I became friends through Tom Tom Magazine. We both play drums and it’s a drum and beat making magazine that feature women and nonbinary people. They had museum shows where they would have 10 drummers in set up in different places doing a performance piece together, but separately. We became friends through that―she really enjoyed my music and I said, “It would be nice to have someone play drums on it!” and she said “yeah, for sure!” So that’s what happened for the album before We Carry Us.
She’s also trying to use whatever access she has to further the work of other musicians and putting femmes to the future forward. And Alisa―she’s my partner. She has to help me. [laughs]
And she’s here traveling with you!
Yeah, she’s traveling with me. She’s a visual artist which is so convenient to have someone that does that. She designed the album artwork for We Carry Us. She specializes in collage work.
We can’t survive without each other so I think it’s really important to just be open to what we each have to offer to each other.
What’s the worst question someone has ever asked you in an interview?
Well, because I identify as trans, because I’m nonbinary, she asked me if I had my surgery yet. Really personal questions about your genitals and stuff―like who asks that?
Yeah, like who asks that?!
What’s next for you?
I definitely want to try and do that all throughout the country and challenge myself musically. I want to go behind the scenes a little more and start writing and producing music for people. I’m starting to do that―write with other people in mind. Also, trying to do more with synching licensing and film and TV. I feel in order to have a sustainable career, it’s important to make those connections. I feel it’s very hard to get into that industry.
Art Funds Art Tour and things like that are what I want to do so I just have to figure out how to keep getting money in to do that. I feel like if I got enough recognition, I would cap my salary at a certain amount and then use the rest to support artists. I really want to start a music residency program. I feel like we don’t really have as many of those in place to support queer and trans POC specifically that are trying to do their music. Like having a space to record for free ― it’s so expensive to go to a studio. Not everyone has the skill to produce either.
What is your dream collaboration?
Moses Sumney or Frank Ocean, obviously. Would love to make a beat for Princess Nokia, or Jamila Woods.