Just saying it out loud after three years off is enough to send ourselves down memory lane. During past years at the conference it was common for smaller acts to be overshadowed by brand activations and big name performances, but with some effort and a little luck, you could still expect to get wrapped up in the spontaneity that SXSW is known for. We are happy to report that 2022 felt like a true resurgence of the authentic South By South West experience, complete with the top-tier magic of stumbling onto a set by your new favorite band.
Our serendipitous happening was courtesy of We Don’t Ride Llamas, an alternative punk band that took over the stage at Empire Control Room & Garage on Sunday, March 13. The SouthBoiled showcase featured twenty bands and a huge crawfish boil, making it the perfect spot to catch the action during Tai’s limited time in town.
The band’s debut EP, Oracle, just dropped on March 18th, but they are already well established – in addition to joining Willow Smith on tour this past year, We Don’t Ride Llamas bassist, Kit, recently made Austin, Texas history at 16 as the youngest ever Austin Music Award recipient!
Drawn in by their visceral energy and stage presence, we knew we weren’t leaving until the set was finished. We instantly fell into the seamless grooves of ‘Venus & Mars’, switched lanes for a soulful thrasher called ‘The Flies’, and were treated to a honey-drenched track ‘Blueberries’. The dynamic between members (who serendipitously happen to all be siblings) is palpable, as each musician graciously feeds off each other, producing an intermingling of genres that range from punk to metal to avant-garde to experimental, creating a sound uniquely their own.
Following the performance, we were able to have a quick conversation to talk about community power, creating Black safe spaces and what makes music the universal language. Please read along and join us in supporting this incredibly talented, kick ass family of Black creatives.
Interview by Tai Carpenter and Sydney Paschall, all photos by Tai Carpenter.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
CYM: Thank you all for the epic show and atmosphere you just created on stage! It really felt like a safe space to dance and let go – just want to say up front how much we appreciate your presence, because it’s truly so needed right now.
Max: Well thank you! That is so kind because our whole message is basically to bring community to the people who feel like they don’t have a natural niche or just don’t fit in anywhere. We want to be the space where they come hang. Specifically in Austin where it’s important for alternative Black creatives and people to have a safe space because I feel like we’re so scattered.
We want to be a beacon to pretty much anybody who feels like they fit in that category and just invite the community to vibe with this music. I believe that music is the universal language because I’ve seen the magic it creates – when you don’t even know somebody and you start dancing to the same song, then all of a sudden you’re best friends. That’s our mission, is to create that space, uplift Black artists and to build community in that way.
Chase: And to also have the community be active and interactive with each other. People will form communities and then sit back and say ‘Okay our job’s done’. Then they don’t actually talk about or share peoples’ crowdfunds or donate to people or bring awareness to things that are going on in their own town. Black people getting together and talking, something as simple as that is extremely revolutionary and powerful, especially down here in the deep South. So we’re very adamant about bringing together all Black people who all love different kinds of shit and are focused on actually bettering community and taking care of one another – Queer, trans, all of our folks.
CYM [Tai]: I can relate to this for sure. I remember looking up to these writers and poets that were writing about things that I thought I only felt in my heart. I hadn’t seen other people talking about it. So for me, to connect to Black artists and Black creatives was literally vital for my survival. I felt so isolated and alone in a system that kind of ‘others’ you. So I feel like by creating a safe space through your music, through your presence, through whatever your physical performance may comprise itself of, it lets people know they have that support out there.
Max: Exactly. The important thing is knowing that we aren’t alone in this movement. This movement is made of people. And though a lot of people aren’t talking about it, we’re on the internet, we’re on the news – sometimes we’re on TV. Sometimes, though, we’re mostly on social media making it so great to meet in person and have that movement be alive.
Kit: and the reclaiming of Black music is alive as well. Let’s talk about the reclamation of Black music. Let’s talk about Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. PERIOD.
CYM: YES! Reclaiming Black creativity for Black futures.
Max: I also think it’s important because so many Black movements are often shrouded in our past and our pain and it’s like yes, those are a part of us, and those are things that we have gone through. However, it is so important to look towards joy. Black futures are equally as important as our past because we are not defined by our past or other things people have defined us as. We are creators, innovators, artists. Black joy is revolutionary. It is just so important for other Black trans and queer artists to breathe and know that someone else is in their corner and has their backs to be able to relax.
CYM: I wanted to take a second to ask about your album coming up – could you tell us something about the new release?
Max: Yes! Oracle drops March 18th and it’s a collection of dreams, experiences and weird, spiritual happenings that have been happening to the band for the last year and a half – and we totally hope you guys like it!
Max: I try to show up with love, grace and confidence, and I have a lot of confidence because of the people I’m working with and because of what I believe in. I am totally just rocking being a Black Queer in the world and trying to navigate everything that comes with that.
WDRL: thank you for giving us a shimmer of hope during these uncertain times – your presence is a sign that the future generation is determined to change the world by taking the most radical course of action yet by being unapologetically themselves! Make sure to catch We Don’t Ride Llamas by following all of their socials below:
Huge thank you to everyone behind the event, including all of the artists, promoters, service industry folks, booking agents, and others for hosting incredible showcases all week long. As we responsibly begin making the pandemic transition a little easier, the importance of being patient and kind should be your top priority. We’ve all been through a lot – let’s help one another get back to the things we love!