O Brave New World – By Sonia Akther
“Beauty seeps through pain” are the opening words for the press release of Hellboy, a new song and music video from American actress and singer, Herizen Guardiola. It is 3 minutes and 21 seconds of stunning sci-fi-like visuals, embedded in hypnotically ethereal vocals; a psychedelic therapy session for all your bad break-ups, in song. From storyboarding to directing, to shooting and editing, the entire thing came together, with the help of a few friends, in the space of say, a week—in quarantine.
Described by Baz Luhrmann as a “terrific talent”, she was cast in his 2016 Netflix musical, The Get Down. Her own influences range from Fleetwood Mac, to Bob Marley, to Pearl Jam. In the midst of a tough week, on the back of a tough few months, we got on Zoom to talk with Herizen about Hellboy, and were unable to avoid talking about events in Minneapolis and the world. Her deep meanderings on half a family who support, and vote for President Trump, were so brave and beautiful.
After a technically difficult start, our conversation was cut short before I could ask about the unique racism and reverse-sexism in cannabis culture, or how The Get Down, an incredibly intelligent and entertaining series by Baz Luhrmann could be cancelled…and if streaming giant Netflix was actually “awakening” us on algorithms and AI.
What time permitted however, was gold. Art is an antidote for pain. And the world has been suffering. An interview by Trevor Noah, with Miski Noor from Black Visions Collective, recently filled me with hope. She rounded up a radical list of their objectives, with these encouraging words: “We’ve seen a lot of wins over the past 2 weeks…we really can craft a world in which all of us are safe…it’s going to take every single one of us to relearn new skills and build new relationships”.
This year has been an excruciating experience for us all, but as we enter its second act, the world does feel a little more honest—and that feels hopeful. Herizen’s favourite play happens to be The Tempest, by Shakespeare. It is a play which begins with a shipwreck, and deals with themes of servitude and forgiveness. It came up coincidentally in conversation, and it wasn’t hard to immediately imagine Herizen as Miranda, and harder still, not to quote some of the bard now;
How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
That has such people in’t!William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Light an aromatherapy candle or burn some sage. Open Spotify and listen to her album Come Over To My House (to begin with), and read on. Welcome to PAUSE Her; in conversation with Herizen Guardiola.
“Beauty seeps through pain” is the opening line to your press release for Hellboy. What do you think it is about pain, that we are so frightened of?
I think it’s because we sometimes anticipate it being worse than it actually is. A good example would be like getting on a rollercoaster for the first time as a young kid, you freak out, you’re nervous, you’re scared something might happen and you’ll get hurt— you just don’t know until you go through it blindly, by letting the rollercoaster just happen. I think that’s how life is, and I think what’s so scary about it is growing, and being changed after the pain has gone, and learning from it. Because it is growing, and that’s why they call it growing pains. But through that process, you learn about yourself and the people around you, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Pain is such a powerful emotion where events in Minneapolis can be physically felt from London to Auckland. How have you been coping with the week.. and past few months?
Yeah… well as far as the virus goes, not being able to see my music people and collaborating and travelling has been hard. It was really nice to be home at first, I had just finished filming so it was nice to take a hiatus. But now as it’s gone further, it’s been… [sigh]
As far as the virus goes, I’m ok but anxious to collaborate. I was talking to my friend Chris, aka What So Not, who’s one of my closest, dearest friends, and he’s in Australia, staying at this massive house in Sydney, with every musical instrument; guitars, synthesisers, all the drums you can imagine! He’s there with a couple of his friends and they’ve made an entire album, and I’m just like, I wanna make music immediately!
I have my guitar and I’ve been writing a lot, but it’s not the same sending vocals through to someone to being in the studio with them, because ideas just don’t flow the same way. So as far as music goes, I’m starting to go a little cuckoo. That first live performance, I’ll probably just cry!
But then to top it all off… oh my god, it’s so… I just got off the phone with my family in Miami, and they’re all Cuban and they’re all Trump supporters. We’re basically the outcast family, we’re the only ones that look like us. My dad is Cuban, and he married a Jamaican woman. So we’re the only ‘mocha lattas’ that look this way. We’re also the hippy, free-spirited, ‘weird’ ones, I guess… I don’t know!
It’s always been obvious that we have our own beliefs; we don’t support the Catholic Church for our own reasons, and we don’t support Trump, for obvious reasons. I called them, and I called them out. We are a close family, we keep in contact and they’re always in the group chats posting about graduations, retirements, and all the other baby steps of life. I have a big Hispanic family with 15 immediate cousins… so with all those close relatives, it’s hard to get a point across to everyone at the same time, so I messaged them and my point to calling them out was;
‘No matter how you feel, no matter who you vote for, there is a situation happening in the world right now to people who look like me. I’m your family, I’m your blood, my sisters, my mother and I. There should have been an outreach. There should have been a post. There should have been a something’.
My managers do that and they’re not my blood. But they are my family. And they recognise that we’re going through it right now. I haven’t spoken to all of them, but some did listen. One of my closest cousins reached out to me and l honestly felt the compassion, I felt held, I felt loved. I felt loved and held for the first time by that side of my family and it was really beautiful.
And then I spoke to another cousin and his response was “All Lives Matter. Trump has his good too.” I mean, I just thought, why would you reach out to me to say that. Like, “please do not try to defend yourself when I was not trying to offend you.” I was just speaking my truths. This conversation went on for an hour and I had the phone on mute, while I meditated…
I had this whole message written out that I was going to send to my entire family but I didn’t send the message to everyone and I’m glad that I didn’t. Because I know there would be opinions and the fact that I can’t even penetrate my own family shows me the world is in a really rough place.
I wonder if the most important thing happening right now, is conversations like this, in families all across the world…
Yeh, I hope so. Because they’re answer to me was, “Oh, I’m sorry, we didn’t even realise you were black.”
Like pain, do you think people are ashamed and frightened to face that?
I think it’s difficult because my grandmother is ‘old school’ and my mother coming into the family was difficult for her. Her prejudice trickled down into everyone, it seeped in just a little, layer by layer, to the point where they all went and voted for Trump. And they probably will again. We’re family but there really is this disconnect.
I mean, say during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and Castro was trying to keep everyone in Cuba, if that happened now, do they really think that he (Trump) would let anyone into this country? That answer would probably be a NO. He would not. And you secretly know that because he discriminates, and he wants to “Make America Great Again” — how can you vote for someone who treats people the way he does… We all came from somewhere! I said sit on that, there are lessons to be learnt and we need to wake the fuck up.
I loved your music video for Hellboy. All your music videos are stunning and feel almost Shakespearean. I was getting getting major Tempest/ Midsummer Nights vibes..
O wow! The Tempest is like my favourite play of them all! I’ve acted in that play, I’ve read that play so many times, that is actually one of my favourite plays ever!
Ha! How did Hellboy come together?
I wrote Hellboy out and I knew, I need this one, I’m going make this one into a song, as a reminder, a kick in the arse that it did happen, don’t pretend like it didn’t. It’s kind of painful to get it out onto the page but that’s when I like to hold onto it and making it into a song. And the video was just me, my sister and a few friends we know with cars!
I love the purple-hazey fields, how did you shoot that?
Our friend Quinn is like a drone nerd and we told him and he was here in 10 minutes because it’s a small town and everyone is so bored during quarantine! We shot the video in 6 hours and edited it in 2 days. And that was how he music video came together. Eric shot both Troublemaker and Focus and those are both like the cutest!
There’s a thread running through all 3 and I assume the budget was fractionally smaller on Hellboy…
Hahaha! It was free! It was absolutely free! Except for the few celebratory drinks after! And that’s it!
If we were all honest about pain, would it be this beautiful?
I just had a conversation with a friend and I asked, “When was the last time you cried?” I was with my boyfriend and I know the last time we both cried because it was a big cry, and it was together.
And this guys response was two years! And I was just like yeah, that’s why I asked, you need to cry more. I think if everyone did get the pain out, there would be more heart, people would be more free of mind, there would be more loving and understanding to other peoples pain because they recognise their own and they would see the beauty in it. Out of the ashes, comes the Phoenix, which is my favourite quote. Or out of the mud comes the lotus flower, which is such a beautiful flower.
I think emotions are really repressed in society now; and especially in America. Right now, everyone is feeling the same emotion and the same pain and I think that’s what’s unifying us for the first time, that everyone is experiencing pain together and turning it into a unified force, which is really, really awesome!
Do we have skewed beauty ideals because of our inability to face truth?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, in Hellboy I have no make up! I wanted it to be raw and honest. I cut a lot of my friends out this year, it’s crazy how I went through this cleanse! Then, a good friend of mine, that I’ve known for 15 years, went out talking, and I just decided– enough of the bullshit, enough of the fake, on the surface, getting by/let’s use alcohol to wash it all away. There was a lot of betrayal on her side and I finally got sick of it. Hellboy is pretty much about being betrayed by a boy… and a girl. And it’s sooo shitty.
But after releasing the music video, and every time I watch it, I get that feeling… of when your ex calls almost! Every time I hear the song at a specific part, and I hear my anger from the day I wrote it. That whole song was like a freestyle, I just freestyled it, went back, fixed some lyrics, but it all came together in like, one-take. And I hear my anger, and it’s so hard, and it scares me, and it will physically make me sigh. But then, I LOVE IT, and I appreciate it. And I am there for myself; and for my creature who I allow to come out with my music, even if no one else is.
I just started saying: if you don’t wanna come to my side and try and live a real, honest and good life; and you’re going to be fake, and you’re going to hang out with people who are fake, if that’s your lifestyle— I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. And I just decided. That was also very painful but it was a growing pain that was necessary and I feel light!