Artists tend to create with the hope of stimulating feeling or heightening sensation. But to simply stir powerful emotions isn’t necessarily meaningful. One can easily incite people, outrage them, titillate them and manipulate their sense of pathos. Sometimes it can all feel cheap, unearned or even suspect. Precious Child is a musical performance project fronted by the artist Precious, who operates out of Los Angeles. Precious writes a lot about feeling and sensation, about the condition of being in touch or divorced from our emotions, of being unable to experience pleasure or pain, of being removed from a feeling of wholeness, and of having an incongruous identity thrust upon us.
I spoke to Precious last week by phone from Manhattan, while the artist prepared for a show in New York City. Precious Child will return to Monstercade in Winston-Salem this week. The music of Precious Child can veer from the abrasive circuitry-frying sounds of industrial and even noise to the more moody and atmospheric aspect of ambient composition.
Precious Child released Hallow, a five-song EP last year. It opens with a punishing, chugging song, “The End (Again).” Sand-blasted distorted guitar pounds away in steady eighth notes while Precious howls and shrieks over machine-stitch drum programming. One thinks of artists like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and Nine Inch Nails.
The third song on the EP, the title track, has the lines “I’m not a dream/I’m not a lie/I know who I am/And I know why.” This inner confidence about one’s identity seems central to much of what Precious does. And that quest and struggle frequently is articulated in terms of how young people grapple with becoming who they are and pursuing their desires as individuals.
When asked about whether adolescence was a source of inspiration or a particular area of interest as a subject, Precious said, “Being a teen was a potent experience for me. It was pretty much at that time that I decided that I was going to be my own individual and do what I wanted, and not seek to fit in.”
Precious said that while the music isn’t intended for any specific audience, young people might find a special connection to it.
“Teens, in particular, I’ve got a soft spot for them,” Precious said.
Precious has thought about young people and the ways that they occupy a peculiar spot in our culture, one where their sensitivity is catered to, on a certain level, but where they’re not permitted to operate completely as autonomous individuals under the law.
“It’s hard because teens have a strong push for identity, but they can’t really pursue it since they’re officially kids,” Precious said. “I also think they’re an underserved and under-respected part of our population. They’re highly energetic. They’re creative, and they’re passionate.”
Grown-ups, adults, or people out of their teens at least, often reflect on their youth and adolescence as having been a time of particular intensity, or an awakening to passions and inclinations that go on to shape and define their lives.
“There’s this fascination in society, where people, as adults, almost worship the emotional experience of teenagers. They worship it nostalgically,” Precious said. “And yet a lot of teenage emotional experience is trivialized or mocked.”
Much of pop music is based on enshrining the particulars of youth: young love, run-ins with old-fashioned authority figures, the freedom presented by the open road and the automobile. And then there’s the other subset of songs about the glory days: how awesome it was to be young and filled with life, uncompromised by responsibilities, possibly naive or innocent and filled with hope.
If the first songs on Hallow move through dark and agonized sounds, the last track, “Divine,” gets to a place that’s almost soothing and cinematic. The 12-minute instrumental piece was written as the soundtrack for a piece of installation art that Precious did at Miami Art Week at the end of last year. It was inspired in part by Precious’s response to the televised confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court seat that he was eventually awarded. The hearings spotlighted allegations of sexual violence made against Kavanaugh, and the resultant media coverage and social media response was seismic.
“I personally lean toward supporting the victims, and I felt outraged that people weren’t listening to them,” Precious said. But that wasn’t precisely the feeling that inspired the piece. Instead, Precious was struck with a sense that the testimony had become a sort of spectacle, an entertainment where the public consumed the coverage to trigger either anger at Kavanaugh and his enablers in the GOP or possibly some other type of opposite alarm regarding the eroding sense of entitlement and white-male blamelessness.
The installation piece that Precious made involved fresh flowers strewn on a gallery floor and covered with plastic, with other fresh flowers encased in a kind of resin. In either case, the flowers would eventually be trampled on by gallery goers or ultimately rot. The flowers represented the experience and memories of victims, and the ways that they would eventually be either mistreated, discarded or forgotten as the public moved on to other fresher outrages in the news cycle.
The possibility that the news-consuming public would one day move on and forget the Kavanaugh story was part of what made the piece vital for Precious. And the prospect of other more of-the-moment current events made the concept seem potentially renewable.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some fresh new abomination of a news story,” Precious said.
Meanwhile, a new Precious Child album is in the works, one that Precious said is more poppy. One might view Precious’s embrace of pop as something that fits in with the concerns expressed in the music itself: the idea that our bodies are the most essential way that we can interact with and understand the world, that our physical experience is the thing that leads to real knowledge. Dance-pop is all about body pleasure, you could say.
“Our experience of our bodies is as close as we can get to a genuine or authentic experience,” Precious said.
Though Precious Child might exist and thrive largely in an online realm, on streaming music sites and through social media profiles, Precious does place a premium on unmediated exchanges and interactions that occur in real space. Precious routinely gives out a cell phone number to encourage fans or curious listeners to send texts and to possibly come to a show to take in the performance in person.
Music is something we experience in our bodies. The sound waves strike us, and we respond: we get melodies caught in our heads, rhythms express themselves in our limbs, we dance, or we think, or our memories get prodded, or we recoil.
In its way, the music of Precious Child is about drawing attention to the physicality of music and art. The idea seems to be that if you feel something, it’s worth paying attention.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Precious Child at Monstercade, 204 W. Acadia Ave., Winston-Salem, on Friday, May 31.