Upon the music video’s premiere with Document, Tongue in the Mind’s Juliana Huxtable, Jealous Orgasm, and Via App expound upon their debut
Juliana Huxtable teeters from side to side, her head upturned, body propped up like a crab. Her hands worm into the faux grass beneath her. “Pretty canary color of cherry / In my garden blue,” she drones, “Sipping on sherry / Named her carry / After her screaming hues.”
The premiere single from Tongue in the Mind, “Pretty Canary,” is a deft indulgence in experimental sound. Improvisation typically implies an excess of disjointed material, taking turns for attention. But for Tongue in the Mind, it’s a practice bent on finding unexpected synchronicity in otherwise unalike parts—rooted in pleasure rather than posturing. Born from a decades-long collaboration between Huxtable and Joe Rinaldo Heffernan (Jealous Orgasm), and then Dylan Shir (Via App), the project is driven by instinct: playing until they find something worthy of permanence.
“Pretty Canary” was released last week via PAN, coinciding with Huxtable’s ongoing exhibition USSYPHILIA at Fotografiska in Berlin, which showcases the video—directed by Hendrik Schneider—alongside a series of site-specific images. Upon the premiere of “Pretty Canary” with Document, Tongue in the Mind expound upon their debut.
Megan Hullander: Where did the concept for ‘Pretty Canary’ come from, and how does the video build upon it?
Juliana Huxtable: I was working on a livestream in peak 2020 lockdown, and used it as an opportunity to make drafts of new music. The first chunk of vocals and the beginning of the production came in a flurried single setting. There was no ‘concept’ beyond what came out. I didn’t plan it; I had no conscious directives. I didn’t even write down the words—I simply recorded them. In that sense, it came from the place all art, in its rawest form, comes from, which is an ineffable void. The song evolved with Joe over a number of months, and I continued to trust my instincts. I have ideas as to what my subconscious was trying to express in that initial surge, and those inclinations informed the making of the rest of the song, at least lyrically. But ‘Pretty Canary’ is a surge of excess beyond the affectation of concept. It’s an explosion. I feel so lucky to have been a steward in bringing to life.
Megan: What are some non-musical influences that inform your sound?
Joe Rinaldo Heffernan: Everything is musical or poetic or a metaphor for me, because I have it in my head all day. I am making symphonic music in my head 24/7. At the same time, nothing literally musical influences my sound. People influence my sound.
Juliana: The places we play and live in and love have all influenced the music. New York, London, Beirut, and now Berlin, as we have worked on most of the EP there.
Dylan Shir: I’m inspired by language as a vessel for transmutation, and as a liberation technology via Juliana’s pen, and our play with language in life. We get into extra-sonic goth and punk sensibilities, vivacious sartorial expression, and the thespian.
“‘Pretty Canary’ is a surge of excess beyond the affectation of concept. It’s an explosion.”
Megan: How has your work together in performance art informed your music?
Juliana: Performance is durational and is about presence, in the moment. So many musicians make music in isolation, and have to learn how to make that work live. We thrive as live musicians, so there is always a sui generis energy present, even when we are recording in a studio. I first came to performance art because I had no money, no studio, no reputation within art circles, but had to make art. Joe is an artist before education, training, or otherwise. Art writ large is exclusionary, and the people who do performance that aren’t independently wealthy are ghettoized. I refined my artistic impulses through performance, and Joe and I found our collaborative vision in performance art spaces, but the spaces were opportunities for what was already at work.
Joe: I did not even understand what ‘performance art’ was for most of my life. But now I understand that it can be a way to express from just being—like, you don’t have to ‘do’ anything within the realm of performance art. Creating something does not have to come from labor. It can be a way of expressing or giving information from alternate realms, and it can be a portal.
I started to understand this more in New York. Juliana and I were doing our thing within the realm of performance art for many years and that made me feel more free. We have more freedom. But that freedom was within us before the context of ‘performance art’ was introduced to us. We are all from a more ‘country’ setting, so I think we came to performance art from an ‘outside.’ What are we outside of? We like being outside in nature. What comes naturally to us is what others might term ‘performance art.’
Megan: Does this project feel conceptually tied to New York?
Dylan: Its waves have been formative to so much of our individual musical experience, as well as present and historical influence.
Juliana: New York is where we all met and is a city propelled by cross-pollination, profound extant diversity, and hybridization. It’s a city dense in every sense of the word, and our music reflects all of that.
Joe: We moved to New York to get away from various situations. Juliana and I met about 12 years ago [here], and we started sharing stories and taking long walks together about 11 years ago. Through our friendship and conversations, I [came to] understand her life and how she navigates the world. Our interactions naturally formed into a performance project. This would not have happened if it was not for New York.
“Creating something does not have to come from labor. It can be a way of expressing or giving information from alternate realms, and it can be a portal.”
Megan: Where do you stretch each other creatively as a group, in ways that might not come through in your work separately?
Dylan: I have been taking pleasure in snapping the scope of my work from club tracks and abstract compositions into song structures with the band, in a spirit of play and flow that still freaks the form.
Joe: We are improved by improvising with each other. We are able to jam. And we are not put in a box with the BPM. When playing solo, it can be a different game with the BPM if you are stuck to performing with a backing track. And solo, it can be just my vocals and an instrument, which can be intimate but unidirectional. It’s always much more electric and spontaneous with our group. I play piano and listen to Juliana’s words, and it’s a back and forth. Dylan’s beats and hardware are really exciting to play guitar over. Dylan helped to get me off the drums, and I use the guitar like a drum in a way. We play off each other.
Juliana: I tend to be a very do-everything-myself type of person. Creative collaboration just hasn’t been something I did much of until working with Joe. The ability to give up needing to do so much, to have to control all the aspects of something, has been both joyful and necessary for my creative evolution, and the emergence of this project.
I also trust Joe and Dylan, so when they give me feedback I try and be open to it, even if my initial instinct is otherwise. It’s been really cool to be vulnerable creatively with them, and it has changed how I work, even in my visual art practice.