Engaging with community through art with singer/songwriter and reproductive justice leader AJ Haynes
A.J. Haynes is a Black Filipina queer femme performance artist, singer/songwriter, abortion access advocate, and reproductive justice leader. Haynes is led by spirit with a keen eye on the cosmos, centering her intersectional experience to shape not only the sound and ethos of her band Seratones, but the potential for liberation within her community. In the premiere of How Art is Born Season 2, A.J. sits down with host R. Alan Brooks to discuss how she got her start as a singer, a brief history of the reproductive justice movement in America, creating deeper engagement with community through art, and more.
This episode contains mature language and content.
Links mentioned in this episode:
- Seratones, A.J.'s Dirty South-based funk-soul-rock band.
- Love & Algorhythms, Seratones latest full-length studio album.
- New Orleans Abortion Fund (NOAF), AJ is the Chair of the Board of Directors of this non-profit organization that provides financial and practical support to help people across the Gulf South access legal abortion care.
- Follow Seratones on Instagram
ABOUT AJ HAYNES
A.J. Haynes is a Black Filipina queer femme performance artist, singer/songwriter, abortion access advocate, and reproductive justice leader. Haynes is led by spirit with a keen eye on the cosmos, centering her intersectional experience to shape not only the sound and ethos of her band Seratones, but the potential for liberation within her community.
Alan Brooks: (00:03)
Welcome to How Art is Born, a podcast from the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver about the origins of artists and the creative and artistic practices. I'm your host, R. Alan Brooks, artist, writer, and professor. Today, I'm joined by the front woman of the dirty south based funk soul rock group, the Seratones, and reproductive justice advocate, AJ Haynes. Say hi.
AJ Haynes: (00:23)
Alan Brooks: (00:26)
That's how we make sure people know the difference between our voices. Okay. To start off, AJ, could you tell us a little bit about who you are?
AJ Haynes: (00:35)
Alan Brooks: (00:36)
Big question, right?
AJ Haynes: (00:38)
Who am I? Where do I begin? So I've been thinking a lot about lineage and ancestry. So Where am I placing myself in space and time right now, and I can say that I'm the daughter of Jane, granddaughter of Octavia, great granddaughter of Lotti, and just out here living my life as a free, Black, queer southerner and it feels really great. I have the privilege of making a life out of art and art out of life through my most recent project with Seratones, Love & Algorhythms. So I'm feeling really right. I'm feeling myself. I'm feeling it. I'm feeling where I am, daughter of an immigrant just sitting at a lot of really terrifying and beautiful intersections. So I guess that would be the quick roundabout way of saying I am who I am.
Alan Brooks: (02:04)
You know what? I love that. I think that's a great place to start. You and I both grew up in the south. What I find for myself growing up in the south being creative, Black, artistic is that it stoked a lot of fear in my elders and community.
AJ Haynes: (02:24)
Alan Brooks: (02:25)
Yeah. I think it just, being the next generation after civil rights, the things that make me an artist are also the things that make me stand out. Those are things that would've gotten me murdered 50 years before or whatever. So I think some of that is still in the DNA of Black southern people where we police each other in a way. I don't know if you encountered that.
AJ Haynes: (02:54)
I feel very fortunate to have... I didn't have that experience because my great-grandmother, Lotti Haynes, Capricorn queen, had 12 children and was in a really loving relationship with her husband, Armstead, which is really rare for back in the day. You just got with who you got with and hoped it worked out, and to have love and admiration for each other and respect, and so rooted in that and rooted in this very matriarchal lineage. It's understood that mothering and creativity are one and the same and that is how we get free, actually.And so I was always encouraged to just make stuff. My grandmother used to, it was just her birthday on the 31st. My grandma used to, she would say, AJ, come here, and I'd be like, what, Grandma? She's like, come sing for these people, and she would give me some peppermint and $5 and she was like, you have to sing for them now, and that's what I did. I did it. She said, you sing right now. Okay. Well, I'm not going to tell her no. You tell a Leo woman no, try, it does not go well.
Alan Brooks: (04:11)
And you earned your peppermints.
AJ Haynes: (04:12)
She just earned, I got those peppermint, and so especially thinking about the context of the civil rights era, I think that what gets remembered by the general public were the most visible people, which were the masculine of center, were the dudes when in fact, when we think about, if we think of Dr. Martin Luther King as our leader, our most visible figurehead, Coretta was right there and it was because she rooted the movement in arts is how it survived. So I feel very lucky that was my experience and that's the way that I was raised, and sometimes it's patriarchy versus matriarchy, not versus, but the difference that I experienced because I can say very clearly that I grew up in a matriarchy all day long, within which there was a healthy mutual respect for what we've created of gender.So it's like, and as a reproductive justice advocate, specifically as an abortion advocate, I feel like my visibility is hiding and playing sight, you know what I mean? I'm Black, I'm half Filipino, people are going to do what they're going to do, period. We're in a police state. They're going to say what they're going to say. They're going to do what they're going to do. I know precisely what we're dealing with. The people that storm the capital are the same people that protest, "protest" and harass people outside of abortion clinics. I've been followed home by those people. I know who we're dealing with and I know precisely what time it is, and I wish somebody would. So I think there's something about just being in plain sight. I'm here. Come at me, whatever. Don't come at me because nonviolence, but-
Alan Brooks: (06:30)
Please don't, but please don't, those two, but I wrote a graphic novel a few years ago called Anguish Garden and it's an allegory for leaving white supremacist movements. That one got me death threats and it was this same kind of dynamic where it's like, people are hiding behind things, but also trying to make me uncomfortable in my space, and I feel like if I make myself smaller, then I've definitely given them what they want, but before we started recording, I was talking to you about my niece and I was saying for myself, when I had to think about, is this art important enough to me to possibly be risking my life for it? I thought about what am I contributing to the world that my niece would grow up in, and then my decision was really easy to make.
AJ Haynes: (07:20)
She's like, oh, we can act like that, and being in community with so many other just rad folks, and especially learning from other Black women, especially learning from other Black, queer women and non-binary folks and all the gender folks, gender, just the whole genders, all of it, whatever you make of it. Anyway, just learning from them, I'm like, oh, that's how we can be. Oh, that's what time it is?
Alan Brooks: (07:47)
AJ Haynes: (07:48)
Actually, those feelings are not mine to hold and that's what I want children to see. I want them to see what's possible and to say, why not, which is their natural inclination. They say, but why, and I'm like, I don't know. Let's figure it out together.
Alan Brooks: (08:10)
Well, so it was interesting because the question I was getting to was for me, a lot of times, when people are sort of given the motivational thing about being creative or even being revolutionary or an activist, a lot of it is around pushing through your own fear, but for me, I had to push through the fear of the community around me in order to be my fullest self, and I wonder, I did see that you were born in Japan. Is that right? Okay. So I wonder for you being born somewhere else, having another heritage to the draw on a culture and growing up in the south, identified as Black, does that inform just how you find your biggest and most expansive self?
AJ Haynes: (08:57)
Absolutely. And it's always a process of discovery too. I recently discovered an indigenous Filipino culture. There was the leader of the community called Babaylan, and the Babaylan were typically like fem of center, but definitely, I mean, gender's a colonialization thing, whatever, but anyway, and the Babaylan, they were medicine people, they were doulas for all pregnancy outcomes. They were the witch bitches, they were who the kings or whatever the term would be within the tribe, who the lead folk would ask for consults, and I'm like, I'm always in this process of discovering something new and it's the process of discovery that informs my decisions because it's not static. All of these different identities, they're both and. They're here and they're centuries ago and just having that, I think specifically thinking about coming to the US whenever I was four or something.So my mother's from the Philippines, my father's from Louisiana. They met in Yokosuka, Japan, had me and my brother and sister, and then we moved from Yokosuka to Columbia, Louisiana and moved in with my grandma, and it was interesting to see myself as other because my first experience of the world and seeing people was like, oh, people are just people. They have different skin tones and that has no value. It's just like, oh, this is pretty, or it's an observation. There's no meaning attached to it, there's no value attached to it, and then I remember the first time this little boy said, what about colored people, and I was like, what are you talking about, purple or green? If that gives you, first of all, a sense of I grew up in the country.
Alan Brooks: (11:15)
Seriously. I was like, when were they using the term colored?
AJ Haynes: (11:18)
They were using the term colored, or the N word, and for me, Black identity was how we named ourselves. It wasn't like other people calling us Black. It was like, I'm Black and I'm proud. I'm Black and I'm beautiful because we are calling ourselves this because these white supremacists out here got other choice words and we're just not using them, and growing up, one of my best friends, I was not allowed to go to her birthday sleepover parties because her dad was a Klansman. That wasn't that long ago. I'm only 34, and so being able to shift... I mean, we're really just shifting time. I'm thinking of that and then I'm also able to, we're going to Berlin tomorrow, which is awesome.
Alan Brooks: (12:15)
AJ Haynes: (12:16)
And just thinking about how they are experiencing time very differently and how they are remembering the past.
Alan Brooks: (12:28)
Have you been to Berlin before?
AJ Haynes: (12:30)
My God, yes. So pumped.
Alan Brooks: (12:36)
I very much love the arts community there. I was there a few years ago, but it was like I was just meeting people on a train and they were like, Hey, you should come check out our artist collector. I was walking down the street and there was a fashion shoot and I was like, what's going on, and they were like, Hey, you should be part of this fashion shoot, and I was like, all right, and I signed a contract in German. I'm sure it was fine. Yeah.
AJ Haynes: (12:58)
Alan Brooks: (12:58)
But they told me they might use it on billboards and it was a Be Berlin campaign and I was like, you know I don't live here, and they were like, no, no, it's fine. And I was like, all right, cool.
AJ Haynes: (13:08)
Right. Because they're immigrants and people that aren't "from here" because the last time we were trying to say that the people that were only "from here" need to stay was when it got real hairy. So let's not do that no more.
Alan Brooks: (13:20)
Let's embrace everybody.
AJ Haynes: (13:22)
Let's just be here. You're from here now. You're here now. Cool.
Alan Brooks: (13:26)
Okay. So there's so much to hearing how you see yourself in the world, how you see yourself within, that kind of thing. I want to go back a little and you talked about young memories of singing for your grandmother and stuff like that. Was there a certain point for you where you knew singing was going to be the thing that you did or was that kind of always with you?
AJ Haynes: (13:51)
It's always, and is that the thing I'm doing still? I'm like, is that what I'm actually doing? I'm really lucky and really guided and I always... I mean, I'm going to sing, period. I was going to sing whether I'm getting paid to or not. My grandmother told me, taught me, get paid. There's money here and what you're doing is a service. For me, singing is an act of service. It's very much so, here's my contribution to helping people process, to helping, period, and so it's service for myself, it's service for my ancestors, it's service for people that are here and in the flesh. I don't know. I've always done it and was determined to try out having a rock and roll band.
Alan Brooks: (14:54)
How'd you pick rock and roll?
AJ Haynes: (14:56)
Reclamation. I was like, that's my shit. We made that.
Alan Brooks: (15:00)
We made that. Yeah.
AJ Haynes: (15:03)
And it's a lot of adolescents too, so rock and roll for me feels very much so like a part of the adolescences of this country, and it was also, those are the guys that I was hanging out with. We're all putting on DIY punk shows, listening to Led Zeppelin and I was like, I want to rock and roll band, damn it, and from there, it's like, I don't really... I was very keen on unpacking or at least continuing to draw the line from rock and roll in America to the African diaspora, and specifically looking at Yoruban culture and the trickster gods and goddesses. That's where rock and roll actually came from is its spirit.And then after living that discovery, then I'm like, actually, God, it's just Black music, how incredible, just you could do whatever you want, and then shifted from rock and roll to, I mean, where we are now, which I like to name myself as sci-fi punk, sci-fi funk. I mean, it's really Black music when I think of, I mean, Black as in dark matter, Black as in the thing that holds and also contains everything and is beyond, and for me, I think actually discovering Alice Coltrane was part of that shift of like, this is we can do this. We can play harp. This music is devotional.And devotion in ways that people may not have heard before, but immediately understand. You listen to Alice Coltrane and you're like, I don't need to know what mode this is in. I don't need to know. She was winging it. I mean, classically trained, impeccable musician all around, but she was like, this is spirit music, period, and so shifting from wanting to draw the historical cultural line with rock and roll and then just going straight to spirit, and it's like, okay, what does spirit want and what does spirit asking of me, and it sounds like it's filtered through all of my experiences and it's honest in that way, and that's how I feel like Alice Coltrane operates. She's just like, I'm going to do what I do.
Alan Brooks: (17:51)
Yeah. Let it be what it is.
AJ Haynes: (17:54)
Right, right. Yeah. Absolutely.
Alan Brooks: (17:56)
I'm hearing a theme in terms of how you talk about your art that I think might also overlap with your activism, which is the theme of service, and I think so for me as an artist, there's a lot of thought for me into how my art affects the world around me. What am I doing to contribute to making it a better world, and then I feel like for some other artists, art is about working out, having a catharsis, working out whatever, and sometimes it could be both, but I wonder for you, when you're approaching your music specifically, is there something that you want to deliver to the world? Is there something you want people to walk away from after having heard it?
AJ Haynes: (18:41)
I mean, I just want people to have an honest experience. I'm not going to tell people how to feel even with, for example, Good Day. I mean, Good Day is honestly written from grief. Grief is the other side of joy and that was my process, and I don't know how anyone else will process it. I hope they just get whatever they need out of it. I don't know, honestly. Whatever you need, just get it, take it home. Go for it.
Alan Brooks: (19:17)
Well, so it's interesting that you mentioned that it's about grief because I did give you one of my comments. It's called Grieving Mall and the reason I bring it up is because where it came from for me was about eight years ago, my mother almost died. She had a 50/50 chance of... She was having surgery and I got on a plane and didn't know whether she'd be alive by the time I landed, and just thankfully, she's okay, but just that brush with grief, I felt like my mind was being twisted. It was just something unlike anything I ever dealt with and I thought, well, man, I need to get ready for this. I need to figure out-
AJ Haynes: (19:56)
That's the crazy thing is you can't.
Alan Brooks: (19:58)
AJ Haynes: (20:01)
There's no getting ready for it.
Alan Brooks: (20:01)
That's what happened. I was like, I'm going to solve grief, but it didn't work.
AJ Haynes: (20:03)
No, that's now how it works.
Alan Brooks: (20:07)
Right. But one of the things I guess, that I noticed the most when it came to grief, the biggest regret that people tend to have is the things that are left unsaid, and so for me in writing that story, it's really about the things that are left unsaid and my hope, of course, in people engaging with that art is that they feel it and have that resolution so that they don't have somebody die or they don't die themselves without saying the things that are important to them. So for you in creating Good Day out of grief, is it... Well, I guess you just said it, you said just get what you need from it.
AJ Haynes: (20:42)
Yeah. Get what you need from it and I think there's something to why have we, as humans, felt compelled to create? What is the point, and for me, I think part of that is you're communicating with the ancestors. Yes, things are left unsaid, but that doesn't mean you can't say them now and that doesn't mean they're not listening, and I also have a pretty, I guess, unique or whatever my perspective is because my mother passed when I was very young. I was 10 years old and she died in a head on collision.
Alan Brooks: (21:29)
AJ Haynes: (21:30)
Freak accident, and had to become acquainted with grief very quickly in addition to being in the role of a child mother almost because I have a younger brother and sister. I had to get it together. The first thing I did after my mom passed was I did the dishes, and not to say that's a way to push through grief because you work through it. I'm just saying in real time, it's never what you think it's going to be, and for me, part of expressing myself is absolutely, I'm communicating with my mother all day, all day long. Actually, I was just having a conversation with my dad on the way up and he was like, I visited your mom's grave site and he played a song that I, video that I did of singing Earth, Wind & Fire's Devotion, and he was like, you sound just like her, and I was like, I know. She's smart. Spirit is smart.And if you get the chance to work with spirit, man, it's so worth it. Wow, we get to do this with art. Holy shit. Every day, I'm like, wow, it's a discovery and it's just grief is just the measure by which you're vulnerable and there's so much power in vulnerability, and I blame colonialism for telling us that we shouldn't make space for grief. When you look at a lot of indigenous cultures, there is actively time for grief. There's a whole process. We got rituals. We're making time for grief today. I was reading about what is this tribe? The book I'm reading is called Of Water and Spirit by Patrice Maliodoma about this African tribe, the [inaudible 00:23:33], and he was giving an account of what the funeral looked like for their tribe, and it's like days long process and the grief is like, you have to get it out of your body, and there's built in, within the culture, there are processes for communing with the ancestors. It's like, that's so intelligent. Why aren't we doing that?
Alan Brooks: (23:57)
AJ Haynes: (23:58)
And I feel like an artist in this role, you're called a spirit. You're saying, oh, that's what's needed and if you're saying, if the spirit is saying, oh, we need to talk about grief. We need to make space for it, wow, you're a healer.
Alan Brooks: (24:12)
It's part of the culture. That's something. I love that. You said something a little while ago about how much power there is in vulnerability.
AJ Haynes: (24:25)
Saul Williams told me that.
Alan Brooks: (24:26)
AJ Haynes: (24:26)
Yeah. When I was 17.
Alan Brooks: (24:29)
Oh, wow. I mean, it's a true thing.
AJ Haynes: (24:32)
It was so random.
Alan Brooks: (24:33)
Well, it's so interesting to me too because I feel like, well, at least for my journey as a man, as a Black man specifically, I have to make a decision to be vulnerable because so much of oppression culture, whatever basically tries to separate you from it, but I found that if I armor myself against the world, then I'm not in contact with my most creative. I can't create art. That's really what it comes down to.
AJ Haynes: (25:03)
It's like you're cutting your limb off. Yeah.
Alan Brooks: (25:04)
So it's like I have to be militantly vulnerable and once I push through whatever tries to stop me from doing that, there's such a gift on the other side of it. There's something so beautiful and authentic relationships are much more real. It's just a beautiful thing. Did you yourself have any journey to being vulnerable?
AJ Haynes: (25:28)
Every day, right now in real time, all the time because in this society that we live in, we're not rewarded for that. We're not rewarded for our vulnerability unless it's, as we were talking about earlier with TikTok and Instagram, there's this feigned vulnerability where in someone is profiting, period, and it's not you. So how do we reclaim that, and I'm always in that process. Ironically, it's usually my most intimate relationships are the ones that I struggle with vulnerability the most because it's too close.
Alan Brooks: (26:13)
AJ Haynes: (26:14)
You see me too good. Back up, but don't, and with my most recent relationship, I'm in the healthiest relationship I've ever been in.
Alan Brooks: (26:24)
AJ Haynes: (26:24)
It's amazing. This is possible. Wow. And having to catch myself where I'm hardening, I don't have to. For what, and I'm strong, I'm resilient, duh, that's not a question. I don't have to prove that. Real G's know.
Alan Brooks: (26:43)
No doubt. And I mean, it's like a lifelong pattern of survival. Protecting yourself in certain situations makes sense, but being able to flip that switch and be like, I don't have to do those things here.
AJ Haynes: (26:55)
Alan Brooks: (26:55)
Is such a deliberate exercise.
AJ Haynes: (26:57)
You got to talk to your child self and be like, it's okay. We're good now. You don't have to do that. I got you. Thích Nhất Hạnh talks about talking to the child self, and that just really resonated with me. You can tell eight year old AJ, it's cool. Just calm down. I got you.
Alan Brooks: (27:17)
I want to ask a question about your art specifically. I find that there's a lot of people who think that there's a destination in art. If I just get X, if I just get the record deal, if I just get the publish and do whatever, and obviously for you, it's a journey. You seem to be very good about being like, here's where I am and enjoying that and then figuring out what your next goals are, but I guess how do you process goals as an artist? How do you measure what you've accomplished, or is it important to you at all?
AJ Haynes: (28:00)
Yeah, it is important. I'm trying to work on the practice of gratitude more, honestly. Yes, goals are important. Yes, there's a business to this 100%. And like keep a good team around you, understand the mechanisms, the processes, but like, if that's the goal, okay. That's your goal. That's not mine. I have no interest in doing something that is not aligned with my ethics and my morals and my spirit. I have no interest in that whatsoever because then it sullies this gift, and I say so, yes and. How do I measure goals? Financially, yes, I'd like to make more money so that I can, and not only make more money, but how I make the money. This ties into reproductive justice. So reproductive justice is a framework created by a group of 16 Black women in, was it '94 or '92?In response to seeing how the democratic party was just like, no, we're not going to talk it about reproductive health. That's not a winnable issue, and they were like, what? No. Loretta Ross is like, try again, and created this framework and reproductive justice is the human right to determine when to have a child, if you want a child, and being able to raise that child in a safe and sustainable environment, and I'm thinking about my child self. How is my child self safe? My child self is safe whenever I get sleep, whenever I'm not in fight or flight all the time because I've toured like that. I've lived like that before and I thrived in it.But is that sustainable? Is it sustainable getting drunk on Wild Turkey 101 every night? No, and so now, I'm like, I need that juice. I need that extra sleep. So for me, I want to have more integrative and creative ways of touring that are more engaged in the community just like this where I'm getting fed by the community and we're feeding each other, and just creating new ways of doing this because it's a whole new... Who knows what's going to happen in the next year and what's possible? These paradigms, these infrastructure shifting is broken, whatever, you create something new, you have something has to die for something to be born.
Alan Brooks: (30:36)
Yeah. Okay. It's interesting to hear you talk about bringing a new paradigm to touring and stuff like that. It was for me coming from-
AJ Haynes: (30:48)
Because you were touring... Oh my Lord. You were touring in like...
Alan Brooks: (30:52)
Yeah. In a van all over.
AJ Haynes: (30:54)
Alan Brooks: (30:55)
Yeah. Basically, you just drive and get on stage and then you'd be like, wait, wait, I know how people had that thing where they don't know what city they're in because basically, you just-
AJ Haynes: (31:02)
It is so disembodied, the way that touring has been set up. When you think about Elvis hopping in a car, going wherever, you think about Smokey Robinson and whoever, Marvin Gaye just getting in a damn car, and going... It's unsustainable. It was set up wrong. Okay. So we can absolutely imagine something different and we will be whole in that process.
Alan Brooks: (31:28)
AJ Haynes: (31:29)
Speak on it.
Alan Brooks: (31:30)
I'll say for me, the most powerful moments on stage are when I make it about us, me and the audience, we are having an experience. I mean, first of all, that comes from me being fundamentally an introvert. So I'm not really interested in them adoring me, but also coming up through hip hop, there wasn't really a lot of that. So I mean, there was engaging the audience, but making it like, Hey, we are doing this. I think those are the strongest aspects and for me, that's the most healing and regenerative version of myself on stage is to have come off stage and have people who are strangers before the show hug me.
AJ Haynes: (32:11)
It's like the best feeling.
Alan Brooks: (32:14)
And I feel like at a rap show, I don't expect that to happen. It happened quite a bit.
AJ Haynes: (32:18)
That's because you're good at what you do.
Alan Brooks: (32:22)
I appreciate that.
AJ Haynes: (32:24)
Whenever you're holding space, I feel like artists are the best facilitators, you know what I mean? You can read the room and you can say, oh, this person needs this or they didn't know they need this, but now they have it. Wow, that's such a gift and so how do we retain that ability? How do we make sure to sustain that embodiment in touring, and the question is yet to be answered. I think we're figuring that out now, which is very exciting.
Alan Brooks: (32:57)
Yeah. So for me having moved more into the writing, graphic novel stuff-
AJ Haynes: (33:02)
Alan Brooks: (33:03)
AJ Haynes: (33:04)
Good job. [inaudible 00:33:06] was wild.
Alan Brooks: (33:07)
But I'm still traveling and stuff like that, and I find that the practices that I have for myself at home, it's hard for me to maintain them when I'm traveling like eating this way or exercising or whatever it is. Are you figuring out ways for yourself to maintain whatever your healthy routines are?
AJ Haynes: (33:25)
Yeah. I mean, yoga is, man, such a gift because spatially, you just need the size of your mat, and I've been known to whip out a yoga mat in some strange places and it's great because people just leave you alone and it's awesome.
Alan Brooks: (33:41)
AJ Haynes: (33:42)
They're just like, oh wow. Look at whatever, just don't look at me. I'm in my zone trying to really focus on my intuitive body and what are the micro movements and between a yoga mat and a jump rope, I'm good. I have a meditation practice and some days, I meditate and some days I don't, and it's a practice and I come back to it and I think for me, instead of thinking of it as, oh, when I'm on tour, I don't do this as much or I should do this and getting out of the should and I could do this and into what feels right in the moment.What do I need? How am I nurturing myself instead of these benchmarks because then we get critical and then be like, oh, I didn't do that today and then it's harder to get back at it, and you just come back to it. It is really difficult to eat well on tour. I will say that because food is, it's expensive. Fuck. Now when I can go out, I'm like I got gardens and stuff. I can go out my backyard and pick some kale and I'm good. Now I'm like, how much is this kale in this kale salad and this tempeh. Great. It's stressful. That's the thing that stresses me out the most on tours, food, full tourist over here. What am I eating?
Alan Brooks: (35:13)
AJ Haynes: (35:14)
Need to know now, but the framework is grace. The framework is grace, and then what are the small things that I can do with a small space?
Alan Brooks: (35:26)
All right. That rhymed. I don't know if that was intentional.
AJ Haynes: (35:30)
It did not. I did not intend that. Good job, me.
Alan Brooks: (35:34)
AJ Haynes: (35:34)
Alan Brooks: (35:36)
Okay. So by the way, I did not know that specific history of reproductive right, so thank you for that.
AJ Haynes: (35:44)
Alan Brooks: (35:46)
Also not surprised by it.
AJ Haynes: (35:47)
Black women are the best.
Alan Brooks: (35:48)
AJ Haynes: (35:48)
We're the best, we're the best. I love it. So good. So happy. God, do yourself a favor and just listen to Loretta Ross do anything. She's got a friend of mine has a podcast called Black Feminist Rants that is incredible, and Loretta Ross is a guest on that. Sister Song has a web series. I think they do, but Loretta Ross just listened to her. She's truly, I mean, when I think about [inaudible 00:36:22], that's it. That's it. There's MLK. We got Loretta Ross. We got Fannie Lou Hamer.
Alan Brooks: (36:31)
Yeah. All right. Okay. So what is sort of your next direction? What are you working towards either with your activism, your art, or both?
AJ Haynes: (36:41)
Right. So it's very timely that you say that because we're working on a tour with we actually just announced this fall, we are working with NOISE FOR NOW to raise funds for the New Orleans abortion fund, of which I am the board president, and so in each city, we're giving free tickets to whoever's working in abortion care there as well as providing educational pamphlets, information on how people within each city can connect with their local funds because this is the beauty of the abortion network. One, there's an organization called the Abortion Care Network, ACN. There's also the National Network of Abortion Funds and all of the regional funds, regional state area funds know specifically what their people need because everyone's needs are very different.Someone's needs in Denver are very different from someone's needs in Shreveport, Louisiana. I can tell you right now because the abortion landscape is so fragmented and so incredibly confusing and draconian to navigate. So with our tour, we're going to be connecting local folks with our local funds, as well as donating money. A part of the proceeds will go to my hometown, my homegirls, my home folks at the New Orleans abortion fund. So that's one way of integrating. Creatively, I'm really inspired by mothering and it's also my age. I'm 34. I'm thinking about stuff like what is family and what does that look like, and really digging into this book called Revolutionary Mothering.Which is compilation by Loretta Ross and Alexis Pauline Gumbs, curated by them. She's back. So creatively, that's what I'm interested in is mothering as a tool for how we create a more just world and however that's going to translate into music, I don't know. I didn't know what I was doing with Love & Algorhythms. I was like, I got a theme. Let's get after it. What does spirit say? Let's roll. So both and. I've been working both in abortion care and in a band for... I started working in abortion care 2009, 2008, so way less. I don't know what I was doing, but I figured it out and then started the band shortly after that, so.
Alan Brooks: (39:33)
Oh, so these have all been parallel?
AJ Haynes: (39:35)
They're super parallel. I would get off tour and then go work as an abortion patient advocate at the clinic. They would just work with my schedule touring because they were like, you know what to do. You're good. Hop in it. So they're always going to weave and intersect, but we have that coming up. What else do we have going on? Touring, writing, yeah. I think if there's something my manager told me to say. Is there? Festivals, we have some really awesome festivals lined up. We're playing music at the intersection in St. Louis, which is going to be dope. Oh, well, I can't announce some of the festivals actually.
Alan Brooks: (40:19)
That's how it goes, but they're coming?
AJ Haynes: (40:21)
But they're coming go to our Internet's page, seratones.com, and you can see dates.
Alan Brooks: (40:27)
To our internet page.
AJ Haynes: (40:29)
Our internet page.
Alan Brooks: (40:29)
On the information super highway. I just decided to go retro with.
AJ Haynes: (40:34)
Right. Remember when we didn't have that though? It was like, the dial up?
Alan Brooks: (40:41)
Yeah. Go to a record store and ask them what's happening.
AJ Haynes: (40:45)
Yes, 100%. Zines.
Alan Brooks: (40:48)
In Atlanta when Weezer, first time I heard Weezer, I didn't know it was Weezer. I just heard one of their songs. It was in the background of everything, and I had to go into a record store called Criminal Records in Atlanta and sing it. It was the (singing). Yeah. And so I've heard it in the background, snippets on television, not even on the radio. So I barely even know the words, and they were like, let's get somebody else, and then I figured it out and That's how I started listening to Weezer, which is a way different experience than nowadays.
AJ Haynes: (41:32)
Oh yeah. Because it's like, Spotify's like, here's who you like. They're not right. They're not right. They don't know. They get it wrong so much.
Alan Brooks: (41:39)
I want to ask a couple more things. Then I think we'll wrap up, but-
AJ Haynes: (41:42)
Alan Brooks: (41:43)
So one, so I'll tell you a story, then ask you a question.
AJ Haynes: (41:47)
Alan Brooks: (41:49)
Okay. So you know I write this weekly comic for the Colorado Sun. It's called What'd I Miss. Basically, it's a white woman in her fifties and a Black man in his twenties, and they talk about everything from the different perspectives.
AJ Haynes: (42:03)
That's so sweet.
Alan Brooks: (42:03)
Right on, and we did three weeks on abortion and Roe, specifically, and the artist is Cori Redford. She's really talented, but one of the interesting things to me in writing that is I'm writing it from a definite perspective, but the editor of the Colorado Sun told me that his sister in Texas uses the comic with her Bible study group to engage in social issues, and there's not a part of me that ever thought that my demographic was going to be white women in Texas.
AJ Haynes: (42:35)
Man, that's what I'm saying. When spirit says... What's it Reverend Sekou says, when the spirits says move, you got to move. That makes sense to me.
Alan Brooks: (42:44)
Yeah. But so I wonder for you, is there any place where you have felt people engaged with your art in a way that was unexpected and moving to you?
AJ Haynes: (42:58)
Right. So I recently did an interview, more like a dialogue really for youth on record as part of the fundraiser, and I thought that was so cool to get to unpack things with people in real time and an audience. Wow, that's usually not the case with art, or not with art, but not with performing rather. It's usually like we are in dialogue together, yes, but I'm not going on 15 minute tangents about how this came into fruition, and I really loved that element of unpacking a song. People's kids love our music, man. That was one of my hopes because I love children and they're just really great critics.So if they like it, I'm doing something right, but just seeing people send us videos of their kids listening to our music, I didn't really see that happening when I first started. When we first started, I was like, I'm in a rock and roll band, punk, and I'm like, give me all the children. Indoctrinate the children with Seratones. Let's get free. So I didn't see that coming, or friends are going to really, I'm part of these children's lives. Wow. That is not what I expected to happen when I started this band back in the day.
Alan Brooks: (44:37)
That's beautiful. I love it.
AJ Haynes: (44:38)
Isn't that cool? The kids are like, yeah. Good Day, just rocking out, let's get it.
Alan Brooks: (44:45)
Seratone's for the kids.
AJ Haynes: (44:47)
Seratones is for the children. Yes.
Alan Brooks: (44:48)
Yeah. All right. Okay, so this is just kind of, we wrap things up, but what is your current geeky interest? You mentioned sci-fi earlier.
AJ Haynes: (45:02)
Oh, Octavia Butler.
Alan Brooks: (45:03)
Yes, Octavia Butler.
AJ Haynes: (45:04)
Alan Brooks: (45:04)
When you said you had a relative named Octavia, I immediately was like-
AJ Haynes: (45:08)
So no, my grandma's name was Octavia. It's just like, that's a strong ass name. Ugh. What a phenomenal... Octavia.
Alan Brooks: (45:17)
When you said it, I was like, you have good names in your family.
AJ Haynes: (45:21)
I know. Armstead, Lotti. Octavia, just really.... My Aunt Puma, she has one of my favorite names. A lot of names. I tell you, my great grandma had 12 children, so lots of names. Yeah.
Alan Brooks: (45:35)
AJ Haynes: (45:36)
You had 12? No.
Alan Brooks: (45:36)
My grandmother is the oldest of 12.
AJ Haynes: (45:36)
Alan Brooks: (45:36)
AJ Haynes: (45:42)
What were they doing?
Alan Brooks: (45:46)
Living on a farm.
AJ Haynes: (45:47)
Slow down. Yeah.
Alan Brooks: (45:47)
That's what they were doing.
AJ Haynes: (45:47)
At a time, the kids kind of start raising each other. It works out and this is community. Octavia Butler. I mean, just forever, she was so private about her personal life, which I appreciate so much because in this era where people just feel entitled to know what you are doing in the day to day. I'm so glad that I didn't know what my favorite artists were doing. I don't want to know.
Alan Brooks: (46:13)
AJ Haynes: (46:16)
It's awful. So I love that Octavia gifted us her privacy and she also gifted us these texts for how do we do this, and right now, I've been really feeling wild seed and mind of my mind coming. I've been re and re rereading, rereading those texts, thinking of mind of my mind and how that relates to movement building. So taking what Octavia has laid out and applying it to how do we survive this? I'm thinking about the main protagonist of mind of my mind and how she is the pattern holder, and we are literally intertwined and have to deal with each other. So it's less that I'm obsessed with Octavia Butler because she don't let us know too much, which, sorry, this is sound. She said, no, here you go. This is what you get to have access to and she taught me boundaries with that. Octavia's like, actually, you don't need to know my whole business. Here you go.
Alan Brooks: (47:32)
It's such an interesting perspective on things because, like you said, basically, making a living as an artist, there's so much demand for you to be a personality on top of that, and for me, if I could figure out how to Banksy this shit, I would do it, but-
AJ Haynes: (47:47)
Alan Brooks: (47:47)
It seems like people need me to be a figure.
AJ Haynes: (47:50)
But there's a gift in that too because you're an artist every day that you wake up. You're an artist when you're brushing your teeth, you're an artist when you're putting on your shoes, and having that humanity, I think makes the art that much more dynamic sometimes. I don't want people to see all this, but just knowing that you exist, and especially you as a Black man out here, just living and creating is I need to see this. I need to see you happy and enjoying life and having good relationships as an artist because these false narratives that we were taught, oh, you're an artist. You'll die alone, or always going to be miserable, always going to be broke, and I'm like, I'm none of those things.
Alan Brooks: (48:43)
Yeah. hen I think about what, seeing Melvin Van Peebles, there's that documentary on him, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), that did a lot for me, seeing how determined he was to get his message out and what he wanted to accomplish and how he did it. So if I can do that for somebody else by making the sacrifice of leaving my house occasionally, then I'll do it, but man, my introvert self is very much like I could just chill at home.
AJ Haynes: (49:16)
Same, friend. I'm defo an introvert. I just learned how to be an extrovert because my grandma made me. She was like, go sing for these people.
Alan Brooks: (49:22)
Come get these mints.
AJ Haynes: (49:23)
Come get these mints. I was like, oh grandma, do I have to? Do I have to do this? I guess so. It's fine, because I'm completely content sitting on my porch, watching hummingbirds and just living my best country bitch life, completely fine with that actually.
Alan Brooks: (49:41)
Yeah. I think maybe in some ways, that makes for a more pure interaction with the world because fame isn't a goal. Fame, it's a tool, but if you get caught up in it, it'll destroy you.
AJ Haynes: (49:51)
It's ego. It's fame is solely based on ego, and I'm not saying that ego's a bad thing, but having an ego that's unbalanced and not checked is a great way to end up without community, to just be solely focused on yourself. Gross, who wants that?
Alan Brooks: (50:19)
Well, AJ, I think that's a beautiful place to end.
AJ Haynes: (50:21)
Alan Brooks: (50:22)
Thank you so much.
AJ Haynes: (50:23)
Alan Brooks: (50:24)
You have a really dope perspective on the world and I just love being able to hear it. So thank you.
AJ Haynes: (50:28)
Thank you for my comics and for everything.
Alan Brooks: (50:32)
Special thank you to today's guest, AJ Haynes.
AJ Haynes: (50:36)
Thank you so much for having me. This has been an honor and a privilege. Make sure that you check out Love & Algorhythms, the latest album from my band, Seratones, and support your local abortion fund, or you can give to the National Network of Abortion Funds, or you can give to my home friends at the New Orleans abortion fund, all of it. Thank you.
Alan Brooks: (51:05)
Thank you. Thanks to our listeners, please be sure to subscribe for more episodes of How Art is Born and leave a review. It really helps us out. Check out MCA Denver on YouTube and subscribe there too for behind the scenes clips for today's episode.