by Melanie Bryan
I recently had the chance to chat with non-binary queer activist Alexander Millar of the alternative rock band VATTICA. VATTICA has a fresh, but familiar, sound and they proudly advocate for those who struggle with mental health issues in today’s society. We discussed their sound, views on the current social and political landscape, and the meaning behind their upcoming single. Be sure to check out “BACK TO LIFE”, out February 24th!
MSM: First of all, would you mind introducing yourself, and briefly explaining VATTICA’s sound to any potential new fans?
ALEXANDER: Hey there, thanks for having me! My name’s Alexander and I’m the singer, guitarist, songwriter, and producer of VATTICA. My project creates anthemic alternative rock inspired by the authentic energy of the iconic, guitar-driven bands of the 90s and re-imagined through the pop sensibilities and polarizing sociopolitical landscape of today.
MSM: Since you speak of mental health awareness on social media, let’s take a moment to start there. What advice would you give others when they are struggling to keep pushing forward?
ALEXANDER: I’d tell them something that my partner Kai taught me, which is to remember that progress isn’t linear. Some days you’re doing great, and other days you’re just ok, and other days it totally sucks and you’re exhausted and feel like you’re backsliding. As someone with lifelong OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) I can testify to the fact that some days the most productive thing you can do for yourself is to rest! I’ve learned from disabled activists that rest is actually a radical revolutionary act within the hyper-capitalist white supremacist ableist society in which we all live. That this societal collection of systems and its propaganda are why we all feel guilty for resting, like we’re being “lazy” and “non-productive by laying around”, when in reality the human body needs to rest! We were never built to be constantly working. Many other cultures have known this for millennia and their societies are structured differently, even today. It’s important to remember that this current version of hyper-capitalism that we all live under isn’t that old from a historical perspective; that it isn’t the only way, and that it is in fact the worst way, because it’s literally killing our planet and its people every day in the service of endless profit.
MSM: Tell me about your journey with creating music. How did you get started, and was it something that you always knew you wanted to do?
ALEXANDER: My father is a musician, pianist, conductor, and teacher, he started me on the piano really young, like 5 or 6, so I grew up loving music. I knew it was what I wanted to do when I found a guitar in my folks’ garage and taught myself how to play. Eventually, they got me lessons and bought me my first electric guitar and I’ve been performing in bands ever since.
MSM: How has music shaped who you are as a person? Has it been a type of therapy for you?
ALEXANDER: Often times it feels to me that music IS who I am as a person. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It is definitely a type of therapy for me because music transcends thought; when I am writing or performing music, my “self” goes away and I just am the music in that present moment. I seek that presence in my life through other avenues as well, like mindfulness and meditation, but with music it’s always been instantly accessible to me and a welcome reprieve from thought.
MSM: Which of the songs that you’ve written means the most to you, and why?
ALEXANDER: The answer to that is always whichever song I’ve just written, because it’s what’s currently working through me.
MSM: What do you think sets your music apart?
ALEXANDER: I think that it’s hard to answer this kind of question without sounding very pompous. I’ll do my best though. I think my music is unique for two reasons: one because it’s rock filtered through a pop lens; every part of every song is designed to be as catchy as possible while still taking the listener on a musical journey, and two that I try to write lyrics that have meaning on multiple levels. There’s what I know I wrote the song about, and then I phrase it so that it can be interpreted multiple ways by the listener, because I want my songs to be as accessible as possible. I want folks to do me the honor of having my music be part of the soundtrack of their lives.
MSM: How would you describe your upcoming single, “Back to Life”? And how will it compare to your previous releases?
ALEXANDER: This is a great example to build off the previous question, because “BACK TO LIFE” is about my personal struggles with OCD, but I wrote the lyrics to be able to be interpreted in multiple ways, from mental health, to fear in general, to zombies! Hahaha As far as comparing to previous releases I guess the most noticeable thing is that the recording and production quality is getting better; since 2020 I’ve been doing all the recording, mixing and mastering myself which is a continuous learning process as someone who is self taught.
MSM: What can you share with us about your ongoing series, “Self Made is a Toxic Myth”?
ALEXANDER: “Self Made is a Toxic Myth” is my ongoing TikTok series and part of my creative research. I investigate how the systems of white supremacy shape the popular music industry, both historically and presently. I’m especially interested in how toxic individuality, a byproduct of capitalism and a core tenant of white supremacy, drives the narrative of how we speak, write, and think about the concept of “success” in popular music, specifically as it pertains to the myth of the “self made” artist/group. I have a deep commitment to democratizing access to knowledge and research, as well as re-contextualizing creative research outside of Academia. That’s why my research is publicly available in the form of TikTok videos; to date my account has over 200k followers who engage with my research and likely never would have encountered it if it were not available on a popular social media app.
MSM: You are also the Music Director for Good Trouble Makers. Would you mind explaining a little bit about the collaborative, and its mission?
ALEXANDER: Good Trouble Makers (GTM), is the brainchild of my amazing partner Kai Hazelwood. It’s a collective of queer artist-agitators spinning a web of community and creative mischief, through collaboration, across the world. GTM is a flexible collaborative that invites creative relationships with individuals or communities, for a moment, a season, or a lifetime. Inspired by the words of John Lewis, Good Trouble Makers are committed to making art, making room, making change, making good trouble. You can learn more at https://goodtroublemakers.com
MSM: What’s your motto or some good advice that you live by?
ALEXANDER: Always forwards, never back. I try to be in the process of lifelong learning and education. My goal is always to try to be a better person than I was yesterday. I don’t just mean that in an “acquiring skills” sense, I mean improving myself as a human being. Unlearning my own racism and white supremacist programing. Unlearning my ableism and fatphobia. Unlearning my sexism and toxic masculinity. Forgiving myself for my mistakes. Listening and learning from BIPOC activists and educators. Listening and learning from my fellow folks in the Queer and Nonbinary community. I strive for perfection, which is impossible, so then my goal is to be an ongoing work in progress. As a white person, I want to do the most good I can in this world while simultaneously getting out of the way and taking up less space.
MSM: Lastly, do you have any closing messages for your fans?
ALEXANDER: Don’t forget to hydrate! Seriously, it makes all the difference.
*IMAGE PROVIDED COURTESY OF WTFPUBLICITY