By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
I don't have to all of a sudden now become fucking Marilyn Manson if I'm gonna define it as goth," says Yonnas Abraham of the music his band BLKHRTS is making. "I just gotta...be obsessed with romance, obsessed with death, and obsessed with the color black.
"Sex, drugs, violence, money, death, romance and the color black — those are the seven things I could specify my songs are about," he notes. "These are the things in life that are easy to learn and take forever to master. These are the things that can potentially destroy you. They're the only interesting things to talk about."
Clearly, Abraham enjoys playing with fire. If our overbearing parents are the old gods, then he is Prometheus. If the straight and narrow path is a fresh, undying and ultimately very boring garden, then Eve, flirting with the demon serpent, is a BLKHRT. "People talk about demons, and I think it's like impulses," says Abraham. "Sexuality's an impulse. The majority of human beings feel it like an impulse.... We do have the natural urge to try things, so once you try one of these things, once you taste that, then it's in you and you may never turn back."
Before Abraham's heart turned black, his main focus was fronting one of Denver's most well-regarded acts, The Pirate Signal. BLKHRTS, in fact, began as a side project, a supergroup of sorts featuring Abraham and two of the scene's most ferocious rhymers, Karma and King FOE. "There was this sample from this band called Witchcraft — or, no, it was a Pentagram song," recalls Abraham of what first brought the outfit together, "and I was like, 'I'm gonna make a beat out of this.' And they heard the sample — it doesn't really sound like something you can make a beat out of — and they're like, 'Uh, okay.' And then they came back a week later, and [we] had 'Bloodlines of That Gangster Shit,' which is like the first BLKHRTS song. We still play it to this day."
From the start of BLKHRTS, "there was something that made it seem like this is important," he recalls, "that made me care enough to do it for two years and keep trying at it. People just kept telling me, 'This is where it's at. You should keep doing this.'" Thus BLKHRTS moved into the foreground.
"When I think about it," Abraham muses, "the thing The Pirate Signal lacked was distinct identity. Nobody knew what it was, who was in it, what it looked like, what kind of music we made. Every fucking song sounded different.... Nothing in my career happened until I was able to put it in a fucking box. So I was super-stoked when I found a fucking box.... That seemed like a lot more of a pure way to make music, to start out wanting to do everything until you find what it is not only that you really like, but what you really are."
BLKHRTS is one of the few bands that has taken a label given to them by critics and run with it: "Goth-rap" is how many described the act's sound early on. The term "goth" itself is loaded, and often comes with a stigma. The perception is that goth is made up of white kids wearing whiter make-up, whining about their first-world problems — not exactly an aesthetic you'd instantly associate with hip-hop.
Before it was given a name, BLKHRTS had long been wading in these relatively uncharted waters, the depths of which are now being explored by iconoclasts like Kanye West, who has ventured into that territory. And while, granted, even before that, horrorcore flirted with goth for a long time, nobody has really fully embraced the handle by its four-letter name until now. For Abraham, there is no stigma attached to the designation.
"I don't go to goth clubs," he points out. "I don't hang out with people who have been thirty years claiming goth and painting their face white — and I don't fucking feel like I have to — because I'm just gonna write songs, and I'm just gonna listen to the music, and I'm gonna be fucking me."
That resolute outlook, combined with the act's ferocious style, both live and on record, is likely what convinced Dave Sitek to want to work with BLKHRTS; the TV on the Radio guitarist has signed on to produce some of the group's new music. Listening to BLKHRTS, it's clear that the MCs are first and foremost rappers who have immense respect for the power of the word. The three of them speak fast and loud, and sometimes it sounds like they're screaming at you incoherently — and it's exactly this unadulterated goth-swag that makes them so goddamned fun to listen to.
It'll be a little bit longer before the rest of the world gets to experience this phenomenon, however. JZBL JNKNS, the group's full-length, was originally planned for release this year, but it has been pushed back for now. "There are things we need to take care of," Abraham explains. "I feel like we need to get a little bit bigger. We need to grow into ourselves and really master our fan base and really control our industry.... So it's this unique opportunity to take what we're working on and our growth and measure it, so that when I make that song, it'll be ready to go."
In the meantime, there's plenty of new BLKHRTS music to feast on. First up is the group's mixtape, Death, Romance and the Color BLK, a self-released effort that marks the group's departure from sampling, which, although it has been key in providing texture for the act's tracks in the past, is not economically sustainable. "This is the beginning of the exodus from Sampleville," notes Abraham, "because this is the sum of the zenith of shit you can do with a fucking sample.... After this, you can't really sample anymore."
The mixtape is slated to be followed by a new EP due out sometime this fall. The EP could be looked at as a bridge from the old, sample-driven BLKHRTS to an updated version of the band. Abraham describes the EP as kind of like a sample plate for the BLKHRTS sound, insisting that the abrasive punk sound that the group is best known for is only one side of its music. "There were watershed moments when we were like, 'Whoa, we have never made something like this before,'" he shares. "I think that by the time we're done putting out the mixtape and then the EP, we'll be ready to put the album out."
That album, JZBL JNKNS, is inspired by a real woman and is said to capture an aesthetic Abraham describes as "ghetto-goth," a vibe fully embodied by the lady in question. "She became really important to me," says Abraham of his muse. "Others would say, 'She's not your girlfriend,' and there's all this stupid generic discussion.... That discordance is happening on the outside, and it's like, as long as me and her get it, we're good. But as soon as that breaks, then you're in real crisis mode. And there were times we'd fight, and it just makes you care more."
This period leading up to JZBL JNKNS "is our unequivocal leap forward, very deliberately so," Abraham stresses, "so I feel blessed that the best is in front of me. You take stock around this time, you really do. I feel very blessed, and I feel very lucky, and I feel very happy — but not satisfied.
"I won't be satisfied," he concludes. "I'll be dead."