Bartees Strange is on the rise. After releasing his debut album, Live Forever, last October, it made most “Best of 2020” lists. Critical and popular consensus is that Bartees is going to be big. The Washington D.C.-based, Oklahoma-raised artist rejects genre boundaries, finding inspiration in everyone from Tyler, the Creator to Bjork. Bartees breaks down his influences, touches on writing records to be performed live in the middle of a pandemic, and describes the therapeutic qualities of massage chairs.
The following interview has been lightly edited.
Who are your current influences, and how do they help you to create?
Yves Tmor, Paul Cauthen, Jessie Ware, and Roisin Murphy. Those four artists have been big for me this year—really incredible stuff. I’m so interested in their workflow. When I hear something that inspires me, my next question is, “How they made it?” That’s how they help me create. They show me different ways to create. I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching that. These four artists have been that for me over the year.
Who are your all-time influences, and what do they reveal about you as an artist?
Ha! Bon Iver, James Blake, Radiohead, TVOTR, Bloc Party, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, The Antlers, Junie Morrison, Bat For Lashes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and As Cities Burn, and probably many more. I like too many things, and they all seem to arise at different points in life. I think this reveals that I’m pretty scatterbrained when it comes to music and how it’s classified. All in all, these artists are just always playing in my head as I make things.
What’s the most overrated right now?
Foamposites, now and forever.
What’s the most underrated right now?
Having an overpriced OD massage chair in your house. My parents just got one, and it makes life, like, 30% better to have a machine massage you for 30 minutes right after you wake up.
What are you the most excited about right now?
Probably getting back in the studio and then getting back on the road. This record, Live Forever, came out right in the middle of the pandemic, which is fine, but I’d love to tour the music. It’s all made for live shows – it’s so much fun to play – I think people will get the vision, even more, when they see it. It’s such a trip.
What was the most surprising thing to you about 2020?
Biggest Surprise? Probably watching Trump lose. It surprised me how much less faith I have in “people” now than I used to. I was sure we were gonna take an “L” on that. Happy to be wrong.
What’s next for you?
Probably buying a grill. I’ve wanted golds for a few years. Why not now?
Bonus Question: In an interview with Billboard, your “A-ha!” moment at a The National concert is discussed explicitly linking the lack of Black representation and visibility in indie-rock, and Washington, D.C. What do you think is the larger social and cultural connection between race and representation in both indie-rock and politics?
Big question. Well, I think the way we classify art has a huge role in how we perceive and consume it. I think we can easily see how calling a Tyler, the Creator record a rap record takes away from his art’s brilliance and the impact it has. When I think of that example and overlay it with the impact that classification can have on society, culture, and politics, it seems like genres can reinforce parts of society and create incomplete pictures of what’s actually going on in the world. Ultimately we need those pictures to be more accurate.
For your next “covers” EP: name the group and the songs, please?
Ohhh, another covers EP. Maybe somebody like Bjork and say the record is by Bjartees Strange. I’d want Army of Me, Joga, Pagan Poetry, and Human Behavior on it.