Can’t Afford To Be Here: An Interview with Lexagon

Lexagon, the music moniker of artist Alexa Burrell, has delivered one of the rawest, most powerful sonic statements of 2021 with Feminine Care. A beguiling mix of visceral bangers, experimental soundscapes, contemplative drones, downtempo hauntings, and everything in between, Burrell put all of herself into this record. The vulnerability shown is intense, sometimes difficult to listen to, but stopping and really listening, hearing the anxiety, pain, and brutal honesty that saturates Feminine Care is why it etches itself sharply within us. Burrell creates an experience. Don’t look away.

I interviewed Burrell in September. Feminine Care is out now on Ratskin Records. Get it.

I’m curious, what are some of your earliest memories of sound? Not necessarily music (though certainly that, too), but environmental sounds that are etched in your memory and things of that nature that have continued to influence your work.

The first things that come to mind are the sounds of the hissing electrical cables of the MUNI bus that would rattle the victorian era glass windows of my family’s SF flat. 

Or chasing a flock of city pigeons and the soft muted gray-noise cloud of sound that would rise with their ascent. 

I also remember a keychain that used to make really high-pitched melodies that I would press up to my ear and delight in the saccharin low-fi electronic pop. And then there are jingles that still haunt me…like “hello buffalo breath, is that what they call you?” from the tv show Out Of This World. 

My dad had a music shed in our Backyard so I grew up to the sounds of saxophone, drums, and the cacophonous belly laughs of Black Bayou musicians in a jam session. For a while, my dad was taking lessons from Sonny Simmons in our backyard. I remember hearing the process of musical transmission between them and it fascinated me the way they both became somebody else…they both became the music.

Our house was near golden gate park and we would visit the Horse stables that used to be there. I learned a lot from horses, their sensitivity to breathing cues, and the natural rhythms that emerge when they walk on different textures of ground. It’s possible to calibrate our movements and breath with theirs. I think all living creatures carry a natural rhythm and frequency and I’m often listening for this when improvising, whether it’s my own somatic cycles, the rhythm of the city, or the weather patterns of my environment.

Something I think about a lot with music and sound is how transportive it can be, and how it can be a conduit for experiencing different parts of ourselves, even parts of us we may not be conscious of at the time. You mentioned this in the album description a bit when talking about connecting with your ancestors and exploring hidden parts of yourself. How did writing and creating this record act as a medium to find and explore these connections?

Time-based creation feels both like documentation and manifestation. There’s the capturing of myself and the world in the moment of recording and then there’s a whole other dimension of how the work ferments over time. Music making is a mirror that exposes what I am, who I want to be, and what I may not be ready to face consciously. I like to work intuitively, kind of seeing each musical composition or film as an altar to the thoughts and feelings swirling around or inside of me.

What surprised you the most about the experience of making this record?

I guess how raw and vulnerable it ended up becoming. I took the risk to document parts of my life that I’d usually keep private. I’m still sitting in the discomfort of that but it’s also helping me mark the ways I’ve grown.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how music, as a medium, has this innate ability to bring people together, find unexpected connections with each other and even with the world around us – especially in these dark and wild times where music and art can be such powerful vehicles for processing and understanding a lot of different emotions, and I think that really comes through on Feminine Care. I wonder how music helps you stay connected, or even find new connections?

Music feels like time-traveling. I can resurrect my friends who have passed away when I play their songs. And in a world so ripe for misunderstanding and polarity- music feels like this lifeline where we can feel each other even if just for a moment in time. 

And what role does your music and art play in helping you process the emotion around living in this current world?

My music is both a sanctuary from the madness of this world and a mirror for these times. I make music because it feels good. I guess I’m chasing that feeling of catharsis and transformation through my improvisations. What is needed in this moment? How should I respond to these sounds? It’s a way I can be in conversation with my own reactions and emotions to life. 

In the album description, you talk about how the album explores the ideas of “What does it really mean to be cared for, caring, carefree and careful in the feminine experience” and is pulled from pieces you wrote, things you experienced, etc, etc between 2016 and 2020. At the best of times, our society doesn’t value the feminine experience – especially black femininity – if not outright disdains and ignores it, how does creating this work and sharing this work help you fight against that and push for change?

I wouldn’t say that my music fights or pushes for change for Black Femininity- afterall Black women and femmes are not a monolith and I’ve felt estranged and confused within this identity at times. It’s always a risk to put your art out into the world, especially a body of work that asks more questions than provides answers. I guess I hope that my music can make room to celebrate the nuance, complexity, and contradiction rather than fear it. Let’s float in the beautiful mystery of Black femininity. 

Feminine Care is such a visceral and vulnerable record. I love the description of the album as “both delicate and dangerous.” When you share so much of yourself and your experience and the way Feminine Care documents that in a way that can’t be ignored, what do you hope listeners take from that?

I hope this album gives listeners the motivation to investigate their own interior world, colliding histories, and ancestry. What are you listening for? Who speaks through you? At what point does the unknown becomes known? I hope this album gives listeners the courage to delay judgment and prolong curiosity. 

I wondered how it felt, sort of in the aftermath of making the record and it being ‘out there,’ how it felt to show so much vulnerability. Beyond seeing the ways you’ve grown, have you learned anything else about yourself, or the world around you, from putting so much of yourself out there?

I definitely have moments of discomfort but they wash away when I remind myself that what I’ve done takes a lot of courage. And then I contextualize how this body of work reflects the bravery of all those who are centered in a feminine experience…the violence we endure every day and still manage to alchemize our survival and subvert structures of oppression. 

Do you feel a responsibility as an artist to shine a light on all that is happening in your circle and your community that might not otherwise be documented and shared?

I think we are surviving an intensely pressurized moment in history and it’s really hard to find the bandwidth to process what it all means and where we are going. As a documentarian, I have a responsibility to share a Black woman’s account about these times. Not just what happened but what it feels like to be inside of it. 

You don’t just make music, you have other avenues and forms of artistic expression. Can you talk a little bit about how it’s all intertwined as well as if there are specific ideas or feelings you can process and express in different ways depending on the medium?

I grew up around jazz and so the structure of improvisation and collage repeats through my creative process. I taught myself video editing and animation after getting comfortable with the techniques of music production. It’s all just copy, paste, reverse, amplitude, frequency, or saturation, hue, beats per minute, or frames per second. Music drives all of my video work. If I’m not editing to music, then I’m composing lyrically with the color palette and tempo of a video clip. I don’t really see a separation between the two mediums. 

Over the past 4 years, I’ve found a niche for my practice in theater design. I love creating immersive environments for dancers and performers. Creating environments with sound and projection in a theater or gallery feels like an analog version of virtual reality.

What’s next?

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to learn spatial sound composing in a venue with 162 speakers! I’m really interested in exploring auditory hallucinations and phantom melodies.

I’ve been working on an afro-surrealist techno-horror film for the past year and a half called A(VOID) Fire. 

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