Lassai Amplifies Queer Voices With ‘IMMORTAL’
Written by Vocalo Radio on June 17, 2022
Lassai works to destigmatize and uplift Black trans and queer identities in the music community by sharing their perspective.
Chicago-rooted, New York-based multidisciplinary artist Lassai’s work is an unapologetic reflection of themself: the early days singing in choir, the theatrics of acting and the challenges of growing up as a Black, non-binary queer person. Lassai’s music is fearless, fun and fresh.
Throughout their discography, Lassai explores fusing classic elements of house, R&B, gospel and soul. Tracks like “purrr” are reminiscent of early ‘00s R&B ballads, while other tracks like “on me” and “IT” take on an upbeat house sound to get listeners’ feet moving in a club. Other releases like “Ya Feel Me” take on a fast, hyperpop-like beat. Throughout all the sounds they explore, Lassai keeps their vocals at the forefront with silky smooth soulful harmonies.
Lassai’s upcoming project IMMORTAL combines their background in performance, visual art and musical talents into a spirited visual EP bringing into focus the Black, queer underground music scene. Released Thursday, the project’s lead single “ur eyez” is featured on Vocalo’s June “Poised to Break Through” playlist. It explores the feelings and regrets associated with falling into toxic relationships.
Lassai chatted with Vocalo about their newest single, IMMORTAL project, growing up amongst House heads and their work toward destigmatizing queer and trans identities.
“Myself, and all other queer people, do not deserve to suffer from the hands of others and ourselves, because society sees us as a sin and mentally deformed. “– Lassai
Tell us a little bit about yourself! How and when did you become interested in the arts? Did you grow up around anyone else passionate about music and the arts?
I fell deeply in love with the arts when I began singing in the choir at church. My cousin was the choir director when I first started. She sort of planted the musical seed within me.
In my early teenage years, puberty hit hard and I sort of “lost” my voice. So, I sort of pivoted more into acting. Acting was always a very natural skill for me, and the perfect avenue to express myself creatively as I learned how to use my voice again. I was a theater kid in high school, so I was constantly around other passionate kid artists. Shout out to After School Matters for connecting me with a South Shore based community center, Ray of Hope. That’s where I was able to really lay the foundation for myself as an artist. We did different plays and musicals all throughout Chicago, and they had a recording studio that I was able to record out of.
Having that space to be free, perform, collaborate with my peers, and have teachers validate me, while also giving constructive criticism was priceless.
Are you from Chicago originally? If so, how do you feel growing up in the city has had an influence on your identity — both as a person and as an artist (if at all)?
Growing up in Chicago, especially in South Shore, I experienced a very vibrant, religiously and economically diverse Black community. I had some truly amazing Black women teachers and family members who greatly influenced my identity.
Chicago, however, is still a tough city, so that has made me a little hard around the edges. Chicago’s art scene is so sickening, it was inevitable for me to be greatly influenced by all facets of it. The theater is incredibly innovative in Chicago, and the music is legendary. We have such rich history in gospel, jazz, R&B… but it’s the queer folks really pioneering the sound of House music for me. I truly am a fan of most artists from Chicago.
What’s something you most love about Chicago? Something you think the city needs to work on?
I love that it’s a “Little/Big” city. It’s a massive city, but somehow it seems everyone is familiar with each other in some way or another. I also love the food!
Something I think the city needs to work on? The potholes!
Nah, but seriously, the city needs to work on allocating more money and resources to the South and West Side neighborhoods. Providing more resources to actually help these working class families elevate out of poverty.
You describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist focusing on theatre, film and music. Which of these three disciplines were you interested in first, or did you find your love for them all around the same time? Did your interest in one of the three lead you to the other two?
It all started with music. Around the same time I started singing, my grandmother enrolled me in piano lessons. As I got a little bit older, I began playing the flute. Even though I didn’t really start acting and writing until high school, it was always very easy for me to zone into different characters and build worlds with my imagination. I got my hands on a Digital Blue camera and literally filmed everything. College was where I began to really intersect all of my skills, by studying musical theater.
In your own work, how do you feel theatre, film and music overlap, interact with and/or inform one another?
In my work, currently, the three disciplines are constantly informing the other. I gain so much inspiration when I’m working on a play or musical. A lot of previous projects have been written and recorded while I’m rehearsing and performing a play. The music that I write informs the films or visuals I want to make.
Next, I want to flip it and challenge myself to write a script first! Just to see how that informs the music I make.
“Our art, however, is undeniable and always lives on. It’s ‘IMMORTAL.'”– Lassai
Tell us about your work destigmatizing queer and trans identities within the community. When did you feel you were called to share your perspective/stories and the stories of others?
This work is very crucial for me on a personal level, because I identify as a Black, queer non-binary person. I didn’t grow up with positive representation or validation that queerness and transness is normal and beautiful. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I’ve experienced crippling homophobia and transphobia that riddled me with confusion, shame and anxiety and depression throughout most of my childhood and adult life.
It was after I graduated college, where I had a spiritual awakening, that conjured up the mission of me eradicating this oppression from my community. Myself, and all other queer people, do not deserve to suffer from the hands of others and ourselves, because society sees us as a sin and mentally deformed. Since this declaration, I’ve created three different musical projects — Water + Birth, Discreet and Wonderland — detailing my Black queer experiences in love, sex, self discovery and spirituality.
Your submission bio states your visual EP IMMORTAL highlights the Black queer underground music scene. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience in this part of the city’s music scene, and how it plays a role in the Chicago music scene as a whole?
It’s interesting, because my parents and family are huge House heads! They kept House music in rotation in my home and family functions. I spent many years as a kid in Jackson Park at the Chosen Few Picnic with my family. I was elevated by those beats then as child, but it wasn’t until I experienced house music, EDM and vogue music, as an adult in queer spaces like Jeffrey’s Pub, Club Escape, Queen and Berlin. Thats when I became a true stan for the Black queer underground music scene of Chicago.
Dance music is almost the only thing I consume sonically, so naturally it’s bleeding over into what I’m creating. I also just want to add to that beautiful vibe of queer people going to the club to escape and liberate themselves through sickening beats that makes them feel beautiful.
How do you feel IMMORTAL serves to uplift this perspective? What’s your intended meaning behind the work’s title?
IMMORTAL opens an authentic, raw, Black and queer portal for the world to indulge in and dance to. It really takes you on a journey; you can cruise to it on LSD, pregame before the night out or get lost in it at the club. Visually, it captures the paradox of our society exploiting queer people of our talents but still enprisoning us to the shadows, like vampires. Our art, however, is undeniable and always lives on. It’s IMMORTAL.
Break down the project’s first single, “ur eyez,” which was featured on Vocalo’s “Poised to Break Through” playlist this month — what it’s about, your creative process when making the song, etc. Why did you choose this single as the lead-off for the project?
“ur eyez ” is about waking up and detaching oneself from an energy “vampire.” The song was produced by mellodust, whose previous producer credits include Snoh Aalegra and Alycia Bella. I was immediately drawn to this song from the very beginning. There are beautiful elements of jazz and gospel sprinkled throughout the track, which I think serves well when liberating yourself from demons.
I came up with a melody and the lyrics less than an hour into the session. After solidifying the lyrics and vocal production, I went to Lanre at Classick Studios to mix and master it. The process all around was so smooth, and my team and I all just really loved the song. It was an obvious choice to lead with this before the full project.
What’s something you know now you wish you could tell a younger version of yourself?
I wish I could tell my younger self that I was enough just the way I was. Having that awareness currently always reaffirms me and keeps me confident that everything that is meant for me will find me.
When can listeners hope to hear more from you, and from the IMMORTAL project, coming up? Any hints you can give us? Anything else on the horizon?
If any folks plan on making an NYC trip soon, they can get an exclusive early peek of IMMORTAL at SoMad.NYC’s Art gallery, it will be a part of their “(UN)FIXED” exhibit showing from June 17 through August 5. The entire visual and EP is coming very, very soon on all streaming platforms.
Written by Makenzie Creden
Interview, editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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