This is from a live show on 9/21/19. Photos by Sarah Elizabeth Larson Photography. Article and interiews by Hannah Frank.
The Green Mill is packed inside while the neon lights outside glow, making the club able to be seen from the el stop a block away, and all around the world, famous for its music and as legendary Chicago gangster Al Capone’s hangout.
Normally, one would expect to see a music group of people of African heritage performing in a jazz club, inheriting the legacy built in decades past, but they’re not holding saxophones and vibraphones. They’re not in three-piece suits or fluffy sequin dresses. They’re dressed in black leather. They are wearing eye make-up. They are looking at you ferociously. They spark other-worldly countenance and charm. Yet you can’t help shaking the feeling they have a bone to pick with you. And they are singing metal. They are Erzulie.
“Art in general is spirit-work.” – Cros
Vocalist and frontwoman GoldGrrl takes the stage seeming to take up the full space from the floor to the ceiling. The exuberance that Ezrulie exudes extends over the whole room, you can feel it from front edge of the stage all the way to the back by the ATM. The club is packed nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on a Saturday afternoon at The Paper Machete, the showcase combining comedy and cutting-edge music. After the laughter of stand-up comedians falls slowly like snow settling in the wind, Erzulie hits the stage like a controlled tornado, welcoming you into their volcanic lair.
Nature metaphors help explain the inevitable force brought to the stage. But they don’t quite do it justice – the storytelling and shamanistic strength of singer and lyricist GoldGrrl is strengthened by a band that serves the music like soldiers on a journey, taking no prisoners and letting loose. The band doesn’t just capture demons, they expel them. Only great artists like this can overcome conflict within all of us; utilizing an overall vibe of doom and death, to offer an experience that will leave you energized, enlightened, and enlivened.
“Metal is an ever-growing circle that brings more elements as it travels. The Japanese bands like The Gazette, Deviloof and even BabyMetal always excite us. They prove theater still has a place in Metal,” says Cros, the band’s guitarist. “We’re hoping to bring a unique experience by adding heavy music with comedy, melody, sexuality, positivity, spirituality and theater. We believe those elements have always been fundamental to African art and by default American art.”
The experience of Africans not only in North America but Central America is brought to the forefront. Gold Grrl gives the insight into two of the band’s songs “Panama” and “Children of an Unwelcome God”: “I was born in Panama and always struggle with my identity as a foreigner and citizen. I share my cultural heritage in my lyrics. “Panama” is the first in a three-part series exploring issues of nostalgia, separation and loss unique to the immigrant identity. Being Panamanian was a huge part of my life growing up: I danced in folkloric dresses and acted as a cultural ambassador of sorts, so I bring that to band.
“Children of an Unwelcome God” is a song about the paradox of being an immigrant in America. Two-fifths of Erzulie were born outside of the USA, so the issue of immigration is imminent. The phrase “forgotten self” refers to how one can love living in America while mourning separation from home.”
Even from distant places, the group has found ways to echo Chicago. “Chicago has a long and strong musical history. Our main take away from that was the melody you could hum in your head. That’s why it’s really important to have melodies that people can remember. That’s our main Chicago stamp,” says Cros.
When Paper Machete’s Production Manager & Co-Producer Leah Munsey took the reins on music booking for the showcase (which also includes comedians and a myriad of theatre disciplines like acting, sketch and improv), she wanted to bring that broad approach to the music side as well, by including rap, metal and more in order to “better represent Chicago and the diversity of people making art here.
[Erzulie’s] aesthetic is so wonderful and theatrical, which is something we specifically seek out in our talent. They also come across as being deeply authentic and grounded, able to simultaneously honor the city and their varied backgrounds in their music, while maintaining a raw, punk rock edge. It all combines to make them an extremely appealing act.” – Leah Munsey, Paper Machete Production Manager and Co-Producer
The Paper Machete, started by Christopher Piatt and cohorts in 2010, has been presenting shows on Saturday afternoons at the Green Mill since 2012.
Metal, as a music form, has evolved around the world, from the U.S. to Britain, with offshoots in Europe and Asia. “Similar to how a lot of Metal bands take inspiration from their cultural heritage, we took inspiration from our African heritage in the Americas. Vodou is easily the most recognized African religion found in the Americas and we wanted to represent that by naming ourselves after the L’wa (spirits of Vodou) that best embodied the extremes of our musical language. Erzulie called to us the most,” says Cros.
Infusing metal language with the power of vodou, it creates its own signature sound with Staxx (bass) Sur (keyboard) Ty Darke Jone (drums) . “As a band we’re heavily influenced by bands like Slipknot, Pantera, and Mastodon as well as artists such as Michael Jackson, Fefe Dobson and Chaka Kahn. Bands that cared about big choruses, groove and had a strong heavy/melodic duality as well as artists you can sing along to.”
The look of the band is potent, and GoldGrrl shares some of her influences: “The artists who have inspired my look are Prince, Grace Jones, Wendy O. Williams, Betty Davis and the Original Chicago TinMan. I know one of those names seems out of place…I worked as a human statue for a time, and the Original Chicago TinMan taught me a lot about how to be a lucrative performer. He taught me how to shop, paint and build outfits from scratch. I still use my metallic makeup and have also built customized jackets with the same technique.”
The band has been supported positively in their live shows by the Green Mill, where they’ve played four times. In addition, they’ve performed at shows and benefits that are community-minded.
“As individuals we’re inspired by different things and come from completely different musical backgrounds,” says Cros. The gamut of interests, from sewing clothes for themed costume balls to bio-engineering (keyboardist Sur studied bio-engineering at Yale) is threaded together into the musical fabric of the band which is inspired and magical.
“The Metal side of our music draws heavily from the Latin American bands like Ill Nino and more specifically Sepultura who made a way to incorporate Latin rhythms in Metal,” says Cros.
The band’s second EP is AudioHex:Bad Blood Saga, including “Panama” and “Children of an Unwelcome God” – words like ‘hex’ in the title to recall the casting of spells. The real spell the band has cast is on the audience. Their most recent single is “Serpent’s Tongue.”
In terms of what holds the group together, Cros says, “As long as Mama Gold Grrl and Papa Crosafix are okay, Erzulie is okay.” They are the original members and the band was founded to be a project focused around the two of them. The group is currently on hiatus, but you can follow the evolutions: Gold Grrl is focusing on dance and releasing solo music. The musicians in Erzulie will gig instrumentally under the name Odd Intrigue. See the Erzulieis Facebook page for more updates.
The Paper Machete, although currently suspending shows at the time of printing, is broadcasting from quarantine. Watch their videos here and hear the podcast here (and at Stitcher, Spotify, iTune and Apple Podcast) and you can donate (even $1) to the show here: https://thepapermachete.org/
Learn more about Chicago’s legendary and phenomenal venue The Green Mill, here.
Photos by Sarah Elizabeth Larson Photography. Article and interiews by Hannah Frank.