Surrendering to the Rhythm
“I feel like whenever there’s energy being given, received, and then recycled, something good is probably going to happen…“
Interview & Introduction by Lee Nentwig
Photographs by Saeed Briscoe
A vivid radiance illuminates when the Ill Fated Natives connect on stage. The three bandmates (O. Thompson, Joey Pointer, and Bets Charmelus) thrive on one another, each contributing their own vibrant element to the synergistic force of their sound. Channeling the rhythmic vibrations of a universal pulse, electricity surges out from within, fusing together in a sonic whirlwind and lighting up the atmosphere. A lively sensation grooves through the ears, minds, and hearts of every listener in the room. The spirited musicians can’t help but lose themselves in the burst of vitality, they let go.
An eagle feather sways from the fretboard of O’s guitar, it was tied there as a token of trust, wisdom, power, and freedom. The symbolic interpretation derives from a Native American custom which provided early inspiration for the Ill Fated Natives. According to tradition, the Eagle holds a mystical connection with the heavens. Any young man who receives the Eagle’s feather must take tender care of it, he has received a gift from above.
As a band, the Ill Fated Natives understand and live by this parable. They give in to a natural connection to incite their creativity. Always remaining humble, the band’s music is an expression of gratitude for the inspiration the world around them and the people in their lives provide. For the Ill Fated Natives, it’s not about individual genius, they’re elevated by the waves of a much greater force. Much like the Eagle, they surrender themselves to the winds of an universal rhythm.
Your presence and energy performing live is really impressive. Where does all that pull from?
Joey: It comes from all three of us. Separately, we all have a different source of energy, but up there a synergy forms between the three of us, we feed off of each other.
O: Plus, we take a lot from the audience, having our homies there helps contribute to that.
Bets: It’s a very, very delicate environment. We can feed off of each other, but when we hear the crowd singing something back to us it just brings it to a whole next level.
And in your creative process, when writing your music and creating your own sound, what’s the source of that inspiration?
Bets: Being outside and just seeing certain things and hearing certain things. For someone like Joe, who’s a producer, he’ll be walking outside and just hear a buzzsaw and say, “Oh my God, that’d be a crazy sound to try to emulate!” And you can bring that into any form of music.
O: For the most part, all of our songs are written outside. Then we come together and make it solid.
Why do you think that your sound connects so well with your listeners?
Bets: We just try to keep the music as authentic and as real to us as possible. I feel that when you’re making something that’s real, that’s actually true, people will associate with that and they will connect to it very well.
Joey: A lot of times you can lose that authenticity in your music. A lot of artists sacrifice that for notoriety. A lot of the pop stuff that you hear on a common basis is not real music, it’s just what’s being pushed onto you. So it’s really hard to hold onto what’s real and not change it to what people may want to hear. We just feel like we should express what’s in us and be as real as we can.
Is there a line that you could define between what’s authentic and what’s artificial?
O: If it’s from the soul. As opposed to being created just to be hot. It can be from the soul and maybe it just happens to be hot, maybe it’s a radio single, it could be both, but it’s authentic. Rather than being created with the intention of fitting into what’s current and being played.
Bets: All of our songs just kind of happen. They just happen and we know this is what we’re going to do now. Once you hit the point where you’re out to produce a hit, it’s a slippery slope.
So it’s an organic process for you guys…
Joey: (Laughs) We love that word, we always use it.
Bets: It’s Earth music, it happens on its own.
O: I don’t even know how our next project is going to sound. What sounds are going to come out? What vibe are we going to be feeling? It’s hard to even say what kind of band we are, what genre we play, because you never know what’s about to happen next.
Bets: That’s always the hardest question for us to answer: “What kind of music do you play?”
There’s a heavy mix of blues in your first single, but seeing you play live…it’s a cohesive blend of everything.
Bets: We try to be as open as possible when it comes to having all types of influences come into our music.
Joey: And the live show is where you really catch that. On a record you can’t really capture all of the moment … it doesn’t allow for that 20-minute jam. But I feel like in the live shows you really get to see the versatality of the three of us. Last night, the closing song we played – we never know how to end that song, we could rehearese it and rehearse it and rehearse it, but we never know where we’re going to be a that point on that night.
There’s plenty of improv going on.
Bets: Yeah, I definitely think that’s a huge part of our aesthetic. We come into every show and see how the crowd is going to affect us on that night. Are they going to give us anything? Because if not, we’ve got it and we’ll give it to them. But if they do give us anything, it changes our songs so much. Again, that’s where the crowd plays into helping the band.
O: I feel like when ever there’s energy being given, received, and then recycled, something good is probably going to happen…
“One thing that I’ve learned playing with this band is that you just have to roll with the punches. On stage or in life itself, it doesn’t matter what happens you’ve just got to continue on. Take risks, sometimes they don’t work out, but you have to continue. And that’s how things work out, that’s how I’ve really grown as a person and as a musician.“
- Bets Charmelus
And doesn’t that versatility to act and react in that environment, doesn’t that sort of transcend into life and your perspectives on the situations you face? It’s a blend of everything and you have to remain open…
Joey: Whether you’re a musician or whatever you do, the way that you look at your passion should be the same way you approach your life. The way that I treat my music is the same way I see everything, you’ve got to be open-minded and you’ve got to be ready to take risks. Don’t close out everything and everybody because you never know…
Bets: One thing that I’ve learned playing with this band is that you just have to roll with the punches. On stage or in life itself, it doesn’t matter what happens you’ve just got to continue on. Take risks, sometimes they don’t work out, but you have to continue. And that’s how things work out, that’s how I’ve really grown as a person and as a musician.
It seems like there are moments when you guys are playing where maybe you’ll hit a wrong note, but then you’ll just bend that string or make a slide and it just works itself out.
O: I definitely feel like the free flow of the music is really matching the free flow of life right now.
It’s natural, it’s rhythmic, and I think that life is rhythmic.
Joey: Absolutely, rhythm is everywhere.
Bets: When you’re playing the same song every time, that’s how songs get stale. You can be playing the same exact song with the same exact notes, but the feel will be different. The first time you’re playing it it’s cool, but the next time you’ll get bored so you’ll play it completely different. So for us it’s like… let’s just see where it goes.
It is sort of like happiness in life, you don’t want to hit a plateau just because you’re happy in this moment. You can’t stay in one moment because things evolve and you evolve. On a micro-scale it’s the same thing with a song.
Joey: I don’t think people realize how much of a part they play in the crowd. We feel everything, and I feel like even one person in the crowd can change that energy. The second we feel one person or that bit of energy about to go somewhere else, that grabs me and I feel like we change it up. It’s crazy because we always see and hear and feel exactly what’s going on. Sometimes Bets might do something totally different, but we’ll just follow him. We build from there. Maybe the next live show we’ll hang on to it, but then we’ll try something else.
Bets: It’s constantly changing.
There is a major influence of blues in your music and blues thrives on that vulnerable, desperate part of the human psyche and emotion. Can we talk a bit more about the significance of despair in creating music that connects?
Bets: I feel like that type of a thing doesn’t have to be specifically associated to blues music, I think there’s a lot of happy blues music and there’s a lot of sad blues music. Like we said earlier, it’s about coming from the soul. If I’m at a day where I have no money and I can’t afford to eat, most likely I’m going to write a song about being hungry. That’s what I’m going through, that’s what’s real to me in the moment. As long as it’s coming from a place that you can relate to it and put it to music, that’s what makes it really work.
O: I feel like the blues was really created out of low circumstances, a whole sound blew up out of terrible situations, or maybe not so terrible situations, but just situations where you have to feel something. Living in the city too, I think it’s important to capture that.
I think that’s really on point. And it’s not just blues, when you talk about cities, obviously there’s hip-hop too.
O: …reggae comes from some of the poorest parts of the world.
That desperation really forces you to open your eyes.
Bets: Spirituals and gospel music, things of those nature… these are things that really speak to people. They come from times at the lowest part of emotion. And when you reach that certain point, you can really write things in a certain way that people really start to feel – even if they’ve never been in that situation with you.
It’s interesting that you bring gospel into it.
O: Even if you don’t play a gospel song, there’s going to be gospel at the heart of it. That’s a major part of where we’re all coming from, how we all came up, so it’s always going to be in there somewhere, in some way.
In “That Don’t Mean…” there are some great lines that really speak on the complexity of love. It seems like a really beautiful point that you’re hitting on in that song is that love transcends definition.
O: Everybody loves differently and everybody’s definition is different. There are these certain relationship standards to say you’re together, but most times those standards don’t really mesh, and just because those standards don’t mesh with the common views of society doesn’t mean that the connection that you’re having with somebody isn’t authentic. You don’t have to meet the standards of things that have already been set and said before.
“Whether you’re a musician or whatever you do, the way that you look at your passion should be the same way you approach your life.”
- Joey Pointer
Again, it relates back to what we were getting on earlier. Love is acceptance of the whole, of the ups and downs, the good and the bad in a person. When we love someone we hold them to high standards, but the love is really tested when they can’t meet those standards.
Bets: I think being in a band and having a relationship, not just a dating relationship, but any form of relationship you have is going to be tested. It’s hard, it’s a hard life. You’re doing something that people really look at and question. Maybe you’re mom will look at you and have wished you had a chosen to become a doctor or a lawyer, but this is your calling. So regardless of that, you still love your mom even though she feels a certain way about what you’re doing. What the song says to me is that even though I have my own road, my own path to go on, it doesn’t mean I don’t still care about you in a certain way or that I still don’t have love for you. There are so many different aspects, so many different facets of love.
Joey: Yeah, as musicians the three of us are always busy. It’s crazy just for us to get together! So for us, the people we can’t spend enough time with, the people we wish we could hang with, but we can’t because we’re in the studio, because we’re writing, because we have a show, or we’re rehearsing, or whatever it is…that don’t mean I don’t love you.
Take that line, “I’ve got the whole world on my mind, but that don’t mean I don’t love you,” You’re young and ambitious, you’ve set out to do these things. You’re ambitious because you love life, you’re enthralled in it, and you want to do something, you want to create music and art, and tell your own stories and go your own direction…
Bets: When you do what we do, not just music, but any form of art, it really takes priority. It’s not about something that I want or something that he wants, it’s just that when you have a calling there’s nothing else that you can do, it’s just your calling, that’s just what you have to do. So someone may feel like they’re on the back-burner to you, but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t care about you, this is just what I have to do.
Joey: Music just took over my life, in a natural way, it just took over. The minute that I realized that I could actually choose to do this… forever! Not even thinking about the pros or negatives, but just music as a life decision.
Bets: …that’s all she wrote.
Joey: It has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day it all plays into the plan. The feelings, anything that I’m dealing with, that all goes into what I play.