(Music) MISS EAVES
Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Shanthony Exum has gained notice for her fierce explorations of confident and empowered women. In this interview, she discusses her beginnings as a music producer, her creative collaborations, her playful music videos, and her push back against online trolls.
Interview by Tyler Nesler
What got you into making music? How early on did you experiment with writing songs and when did you decide to get serious about it?
About ten years ago I was dating a noise musician. I always wanted to perform, even though I did not have a musical background. We started a noise pop dance band and played all over North Carolina where I was living at the time. When we broke up, I loved making music so much that I started the Miss Eaves project as a solo venture. I am a person who always wants to get better, so I think I was always serious in that I wanted to improve with every show and song. When “Thunder Thighs” went viral a few years ago I was able to grow my audience and start touring more.
You've been collaborating with the producer KEISHH for some time now. How did you two meet and what's the creative chemistry like?
I was in a band called Font Drama with another rapper Clara Bizna$$, and she found Keisha’s page on a website called Looperman. I really loved her work, so I reached out to her and asked her if she would produce my album Black Valley. At the time she was living in Baltimore, so I took the bus down and we met for the first time. We really hit it off and became friends and collaborators. Now she is focusing on her own band (E.T. Pat x KEISHH), and I am working with Rich Matthew, another friend and producer.
Much of your work speaks about body positivity and acceptance for women, which was a major theme of your viral hit song and video "Thunder Thighs." Did you at all anticipate the strong reactions to that song (negative and positive)? What was one really surprising aspect for you regarding all of the attention it garnered?
Before “Thunder Thighs” blew up I was mostly making music for my friends. I was surprised with how much attention it got for sure, because I was not used to that level of attention. One of my best friends Elissa (who is in Kodacrome) always told me that song was going to be a hit, so I should of listened to her!
You've found very productive ways to use the negative energy of online trolls in a positive fashion. For example, your song "Hi H8ter," was a direct and fun response to some of the hateful comments you've received for videos like "Thunder Thighs." Why did you decide to take this directly responsive approach rather than just ignore the haters?
Online bullying is a very real issue. I made that video because I wanted to make the point that people who are harassing others online would not behave that way in real life. It’s pretty cowardly behavior. I have thick skin at this point, but I was also hoping to help younger people who are being harassed see how ridiculous these trolls are and that they should not be taken seriously.
Why do you think you have always taken a very independent and outspoken approach with your work, rather than trying to appeal to any sort of more commercial music industry expectations? Did you ever have moments of wanting to appeal to a more mainstream audience, or have you been drawn from the start to taking a more fearless and direct approach?
Sometimes I do feel a little bummed that my work is not more widely known, but then I remember this is just my ego. I really want to make work that is genuine and relatable and accurately reflects how I feel. I really hate it when people call musicians a brand. I certainly am not a brand, I am a person! I am realizing now it is better to have a solid handful of people who respect my art because I am coming to the table as I am, versus trying to water myself down to make myself more palatable to the masses.
You also comment on work exploitation with the track "Exposure Kills," and on our current political mess with "Santa Please." These are playful songs about serious matters -- how tricky is it for you sometimes to find that balance between fun and being topical, and not coming across heavy-handed?
I think I am just naturally a silly funny person. I am also a person who likes to think deeply about my emotions and the world in general, so all of this comes across in my music. It is really hard to write a political song that doesn’t sound too preachy. I have written and rewritten so many songs so they come across as genuine and not corny. My background is in graphic design so I am used to critique. Sometimes I will write lyrics and then send them to friends and ask them how they are coming across so I am not just totally stuck in my own head.
Your recent single "Left Swipe Left" comments on the hell of online dating. You promoted it using the decidedly old-fashioned analog technique of putting up flyers around New York. What gave you the idea to promote such an innately digital topic this way? Were you surprised at the response?
The idea for the “Left Swipe Left” promo just came to me. I was actually pretty tickled with it. I self fund all of my work so I am always scheming on ways to make and promote my art on the cheap and these xeroxed flyers were very affordable. My thesis of my video was that meeting people online can be pretty rough but meeting people in person is always better, so I also think the flyers were an evolution of that idea.
As far as the response people are engaging with it and sharing it. That is pretty cool. I am really trying to be pretty zen with my expectations of how my art will be received so I do not become discouraged. I am trying to release things into the world without any attachments to how well they will be received and immediately focus on making new work. This is how I have learned how to survive and keep going as an independent artist.
Your videos are often joyful and very creative compliments to your music. Do you have any kind of formal background in filmmaking, or did you learn as you went along? Who are some filmmakers who are inspiring to you?
I went to design school and still work as a graphic designer. I have a lot of ideas and I am really grateful for design school for teaching me how to articulate those ideas visually. But as far as the technical aspects of filmmaking, I am self taught (I taught myself how to edit and animate my videos, which has been a really fun journey).
I really love Hitchcock because of the storytelling and building of suspense. Michel Gondry’s aesthetics are also really influential to me. I love the playfulness of his work.
What's coming up for Miss Eaves? Any new merchandise, songs, or performances you would like people to know about?
I am playing a couple of dates in Europe in November. I am also really excited to write more songs this winter…
Main page photo by Sarah Jacobs
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