Maybe You Live Twice: Julian Casablancas’s New Void

Maybe You Live Twice:
Julian Casablancas’s New Void

After spending months trying to unpack the brain of the Strokes frontman, we’re still not sure what we discovered. Turns out, that may have been his plan all along.

The sun is starting to tip the trees and fade from the view as Julian Casablancas and I sit looking out over a reservoir in rural New York. It’s a crisp, bright day in October, and he’s toying with the idea of driving to the city. Ariel Pink is playing a show in Brooklyn. Isn’t it a little late to get on the list? "My face is my backstage pass," he jokes, adding quickly, "Courtney Love said that to me back in the day. Her and Winona Ryder drove off in a car after a concert and Courtney shouted, 'Come be famous with us!'"

The Strokes frontman isn’t flashbulbs-popping famous, but he’s cultishly revered, especially in New York City’s music scene. He’s the kind of guy you notice, even if you’re not quite sure why. Today his six-foot-two frame is clad in dirty white jeans and a red sleeveless flannel shirt that peeks out from under the sheeny old black Knicks jacket that he wears each time we cross paths over the next few months. In the picket fence perfect town where we meet earlier that day, he’s genuinely incongruous, pulling up in an 80s Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS that he purchased off Craigslist. All black with red trim and a deep maroon interior, it hugs the road low, and the engine emits a pleasingly deep rumble. The 36-year-old cruises through the train station parking lot and comes to halt. He gets out of the car, smiling, and opens the passenger door. Later, when we park outside a converted diner that’s so quaint it looks like an illustration, a middle-aged man walks past with his wife and nods appreciatively: “That’s a classic car. That thing is awesome!”

I’m meeting with Casablancas to talk about his album Tyranny. It’s his second record without The Strokes—after 2009’s Phrazes for the Young—but his first with a new gang of leather-clad cohorts, The Voidz. At his suggestion we meet a stone’s throw from where he and his wife and young son have recently settled, and so it is that we find ourselves walking along a half-hidden path, crunching across fallen leaves to a nearby reservoir. We sit on our coats at the water’s edge. Alcohol, cigarettes, pot, and coffee are all vices from the past. Red Bull typically helps Casablancas get chatty and access the requisite soundbites necessary for an interview, but there’s not even Red Bull in sight. Today, he’s drinking Vitamin Water. It’s purple.

The first time I met The Strokes was February 1, 2001, in Brighton, England. It was their debut headline show in the UK, and they’d released The Modern Age EP just days before. Even though they were from New York, they hit first in the UK, where the buzz was an order of magnitude louder than any artist around. I marched into the grimy venue as soundcheck was winding down, a student journalist with a handful of interviews under my belt. I was wearing flared jeans because back then everyone was, and J.Lo, Limp Bizkit, Eminem, Britney, and Christina were on permanent rotation on MTV. I conducted a terrible interview. The Strokes were amiable and eager to chat; some of them were wry (Valensi), others bemused and slightly standoffish (Casablancas). At one point I asked, “So, Britney or Christina?”

Besides the international chart dominance of pop and nu-metal, music in the UK was suffering from post-Britpop bloat—the scene was awash with limp indie ballads and acoustic sob-strumming. It’s not empty hyperbole to say The Strokes changed the face of indie rock in 2001; in fact, they gave it a face. Beyond Britpop, 90s indie was all lo-fi slacker-pop artists like Pavement and Sebadoh, brilliant bands who nonetheless you’d be hard-pressed to pick out in a lineup. The Strokes set a new gold standard, and everyone fell in the thrall of their taut, laconic songs that captured the invincibility of youth. They embodied rumpled ennui but also an enticing, reckless passion. Their music ignited dance floors, too—slinkily sidling up to songs by The Rapture, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Kings of Leon, The Walkmen, The White Stripes, and The Killers. Reflecting on the first time he heard The Strokes—incidentally, while his band was touring the UK in April 2001—Interpol’s Daniel Kessler describes their music as “unstoppable and infectious and as such will be forever. I really believe in that band as a collective and each individual member. I would always bet on The Strokes.”

The Voidz’s guitarist Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter describes The Strokes as “probably the coolest band on earth in the early 2000s.” Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner told Stereogum in 2011 that The Strokes were “that one band that comes along when you are 14 or 15-years-old that manages to hit you in just the right way and changes your whole perception of things.” Meanwhile Karen O—who recently released her solo album via Casablancas’s indie label Cult Records—remembers watching an early New York show and thinking, “All right, this is the competition, and then, before I knew it, NME was saying they were the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll. They went from being this self-destructive, grungy looking garage rock band to having this huge responsibility and title, but there was a moment where I felt like we were all still on the springboard ready to jump.”

Five months after that first interview—and still months before the release of Is This It—The Strokes returned to play a sold-out UK tour, culminating in their first top 20 hit with “Hard to Explain”/“New York City Cops.” At some point during that run I found myself in Oxford watching the band tear through a lean ten-song set for a 500-strong crowd that included the likes of Thom Yorke. The band had detractors who took umbrage with the members’ good looks and privileged backgrounds; when they partied in public, people literally wanted to fight them. As Kelly Kiley, who works for their former UK label Rough Trade frequently joked, “Boyfriends hate The Strokes,” and they did. But that didn’t stop those boyfriends from wanting to be them either.

Casablancas runs with a new pack now. Alongside Gritter, The Voidz include Amir Yaghmai, Jake Bercovici, Alex Carepetis, and Jeff Kite, the latter two of whom have been with Casablancas since Phrazes. The Voidz look is very Mad Max-meets-The Warriors—lots of leather, patches, studs, tats, and wild, wild hair. If these guys met The Strokes on a concrete court, West Side Story-style, you’d definitely put money on The Voidz. Released this past September, Tyranny is a confounding collection, particularly against the backdrop of Casablancas’s previous output. It’s a sprawling, experi-strange jostle of pop hooks, baroque wig-outs, and left hook rhythm switch ups. From the madcap caper of “Father Electricity” to the pummeling punk squall of “M.utually A.ssured D.estruction,” the sextet’s melodic cadences are impossible to predict. “Xerox” starts off like a queasy nursery rhyme only to turn sweetly disconsolate in the chorus. At the album’s center stands the dense 11-minute opus that is “Human Sadness,” a song that was formerly called “Fuck Depression.” On it, Casablancas’s forlorn topline spends some time mirrored by guitars that eventually surge to a solo that lasts a full minute.

Tyranny is a lot to absorb and a demanding listen, but there’s a glory in this record’s dissonance, its downright weirdness. Produced by Shawn Everett (who’s worked extensively Weezer), the album took two years to write, with a good chunk of the songs crystallizing in studio sessions above The Strand bookstore in the East Village. It’s Casablancas’s quasi-protest record, his lyrics tangled with obtuse ruminations on the state of things—apart from “Human Sadness” which he admits was, at least in part, inspired by the loss of his father to cancer in 2013. It’s an experience he likens to the roof coming off: “This comfort that you didn’t realize you had is gone; there’s no one to ask, as a man, and that has a deep effect.”

The album is the product of what Bercovici calls a bunch of “crossbred music mutts” trading ideas, trying to “domesticate wild notes,” discussing time signatures, tones, and equalization while geeking out over esoteric African and Turkish records from the 70s, courtesy of mp3 blog Holy Warbles (which, thanks to the shutdown of Megaupload, is now defunct). “Sometimes it can be hard to get six people on the same page,” Bercovici explains over email. “But we give each other a lot of room to explore because we’re all very interested in outcomes that are unique and less traversed, and that takes patience, and a kind of obsession.” Ultimately, Casablancas says, “We all agree that we want it to sound simple and cool and catchy.”

Considering so much has been made of The Strokes’ early records being under the sole direction of Casablancas— with their latter two less commercially successful albums, 2011’s Angles and un-toured, unpromoted Comedown Machine, being the output of a band working more democratically but inharmoniously so—I ask if with The Voidz he feels it’s a more true collaboration than he’s felt in a band setting before.

“Uh, yes?” he replies hesitantly. “Will I get in trouble for saying that? Mmmm. Short story long, yes.”

The Strokes closed 2001 headlining the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem on New Year’s Eve alongside their heroes Guided By Voices and comedian David Cross. The audience was up and out of the bright red seats the minute the band took the stage, shimmying in the aisles under falling confetti and strewn balloons. The quintet rang in 2002 with a chaotic rendition of “The Modern Age” and, filled with boozy excitement, the crowd stormed the stage for a dance and a kiss and a New Year’s grope of a Stroke. Much, much later, everyone ended up messy at 2A, that two-floor bar in the East Village across from the studio where they’d spent so many nights toiling over Is This It.

Just like a lover looks back on a newly disintegrated relationship and pines for those first months, sepia-tinting and soft-focusing any flaws or foibles, so too a music fan tends to like their artist to remain near enough to the version of them which they fell for, particularly if, in their hearts, that version was never bettered. Back in 2005 on “Killing Lies” Casablancas sang, “Don't think that everything is gonna stay the same / That's impossible.” We may want to keep The Strokes as the kids they were when we first met them—best buddies having the best time—but things have changed. They’ve splintered off for solo projects and come back together again; Hammond Jr. finally kicked the drugs (heroin, coke, ketamine, pills); Moretti, who studied sculpture way back when, is focusing increasingly on art that isn’t music. Four of them are married, three of them are fathers, and only two of them—Nikolai and Albert—still live in New York City.

During our conversation by the reservoir, I tell Casablancas it’s funny that a man who drives a car that looks like Knight Rider’s KITT and appreciates the design aesthetic of eras 30 years past is so utterly un-nostalgic about the early days of his own career. He lets out a heavy sigh. “Here’s the thing, The Strokes, the relationship is good now,” he explains. “FYF [Festival in 2014] was kind of a moment where for once things were cool for me, but that was very recently. So I’m trying to do stuff to keep it alive, work on it, give it a chance.”

“The Strokes was my life,” he continues. “It was everything, and I put everything into it—it was a journey that I wanted to keep moving forward, but I couldn’t do that anymore, and it was very frustrating. So it took all this time to getting round to almost starting a new band to get to the point where I can continue to do what I set out to do from the beginning. It’s like if we had the best team ever and before the championship people started celebrating and not practicing. And we still have to play the playoffs.”

He trails off. We sit in silence for a while. The cars whir on the highway in the near-distance; the reservoir remains placid. “I feel nostalgic sometimes,” he concedes. “Also I drank too much. I don’t have clear memories. I wish I could go back and do it all sober so I could really just savor everything. I remember stuff, but maybe the things I’d be the most nostalgic for I was a little numbed for how I’d like to remember it.”

“[The Strokes] is like if we had the best team ever and before the championship people started celebrating and not practicing. And we still have to play the playoffs.”

He did drink a lot. He was a slurry, smoky, lurching figure in a grey pinstripe suit jacket and skewed pale pink tie; he eyed the clamor from under heavy lids. Why did he do it? For all the reasons you already know: “Insecurity, bad role models, The Doors. It’s a stupid mythology. It’s like to get to that point they had to do all this serious work, but then when they were famous and they got drunk everyone was like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s famous ‘cause he’s drunk.’ People enjoy that mythology, and you eat it up as a kid. And once I was there… I don’t know, you drink, and you’re crazy, but I feel like if I were to have had the confidence to do that sober it would have been better on so many levels.”

"Boyfriends hate The Strokes," and they did. But that didn’t stop those boyfriends from wanting to be them either.

In November, The Voidz perform a homecoming show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. The crowd is equal parts frenzied and neck-craningly curious; the set is peppered with a few Strokes songs and, at points, Casablancas brings on support acts Shabazz Palaces and Dev Hynes to perform with the band. A swoony rendition of the much loved Strokes demo “I’ll Try Anything” elicits a full-bodied sing-along. At one point, Casablancas quips, “So I met up with Dev today… we went to brunch actually”—a reference to a now-infamous offhand quote in GQ about New York’s brunch culture being the reason he moved out of the city—and the floor erupts. It’s a rare moment of well-delivered banter.

“I’ve got to say, it was definitely a transcendent experience,” says Karen O, on the phone, about a recent Voidz show. “It reminded me of when I went to see Brian Wilson perform Smile. It felt like you were jumping into the mind of some mad genius’s symphony. The ordered chaos of what’s going on alongside his raw emotion—which elevates it to this whole other level—it felt like he really found himself in this record and the way he presented it. Like there was some catharsis that happened and that’s what I was watching. It all made sense after seeing it live, something I felt went really underappreciated to be honest. It felt like watching history in the making. I felt so high after it.”

Onstage Casablancas might be a powerful performer, always managing to hold the room even when standing stock still, two hands gripping the mic stand, but being the showman does not come naturally. “It’s just hard to be yourself in front of that many people, watching and judging—it’s hard to even walk across the stage,” he says. “It’s like someone taking your photo, you get all unnatural. I know what will make the crowd cheer loudly,” he says, putting on a booming showman voice, “‘ARE YOU GUYS READY TO HAVE A GOOD TIME?!’ It’s just phony, and I can’t bring myself to do it. Like there’s a lack of honesty. I know it’ll rile people up, but I just have to stay honest.”

Suddenly a man appears out of nowhere strolling through the woods. Spooked, we abandon the reservoir and hop back in Casablancas’s car. The windshield wipers are busted and swipe across the glass at timed intervals, no matter the weather. We head back to the train station parking lot. At one end sits a derelict bridge, rusty metal and concrete splitting apart at its joints. We squeeze around the chain-link fence designed to keep out trespassers.

“This is a little more Bruce Springsteen-y: There’s the highway view or the view of the railroad,” he offers, gesturing at our surroundings. We sit facing the railroad. Besides the chug and blare of intermittent trains—and even that is rather soothing—it’s peaceful. It took Casablancas seven or eight years to find the “cool secret spot” where he now lives, but he’s keen to point out that he still feels like he’s living in the city, not cloistered away, fireside, in the sticks. He drives down a couple times a week.

Casablancas is so over-analytical it sometimes stops him forming full sentences. He finds it both frustrating and funny. Like many musicians, he communicates more clearly in his music than in conversation. Sometimes he sings his indecision: “Not really, maybe, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…” But he also possesses the surety of an artist who’s meticulously called the shots and whose calls have by and large paid off. According to The Strokes’ manager Ryan Gentles, who’s been with the band since the summer of 2000, Casablancas is three steps ahead of everyone at all times. “I’ve been in rooms before where he’s been like, ‘Something’s not right, the hi-hat’s off,’ and everything’s been checked ten times,” Gentles tells me. “And then the producer will realize someone leaned on something and it’s half a decibel higher than it was before, they’ll put it back, and Jules will come back and be like, ‘Now it’s perfect.’ Those things are so important. He’s so sensitive to the tiniest little brush stroke because it has so much weight in what the overall painting looks like.”

Gentles claims Casablancas will be remembered as a “true creative genius.” It seems like the kind of bold declaration that might make him shrug uneasily—or perhaps he’d be secretly pleased. He’s mindful of being seen as vain and arrogant, although we both agree these traits are essential strands to the DNA of a frontman and key songwriter. Genius or not, for so many people The Strokes were the last rock ‘n’ roll band before the internet demystified everything and all-access was the expected norm. These days the myth’s been replaced by minutiae mining. I hazard that Casablancas doesn’t like the curiosity, but does he get it? “Yes, but just because someone wants to know something doesn’t mean they have the right to know,” he says. “There’s people I want to know about too. Who? When I was a kid, Eddie Vedder.”

I suggest they’re buddies now. “Buddies, I wish! We’re friendly, but you know it’s tough—you’ve got to play it cool in front of your idols. Yes! I wish we were best friends! I want to carve Jules and Eddie into that tree. But I feel like if I read”—here he mimics a David Attenborough-type voiceover tone—“‘Eddie Vedder goes to the grocery store and gets the gluten free rice’—Is rice gluten free? I don’t know!—‘He’s wearing jogging pants…’ I wouldn’t want to know that; I’d rather just wonder. Maybe he disappears into a cave and comes out later with 13 Amazon women! The mystery is better.”

Months later, we meet for dinner in Williamsburg on a brittle January evening two days after the city’s gone into panic over a winter storm that never fully materializes. Casablancas might look a little alien upstate, but he’s also just another Joe. Here in Brooklyn, even though we’re tucked away in a booth at the back of the restaurant, the customers and wait staff are keenly aware of his presence. One of the owners later tells me that he took a Strokes song off the bar playlist for fear it would come on while we were eating. When I slip off to the bathroom, I return to find a pretty French girl seated beside Casablancas, iPhone angled for a picture. She is shy but clearly excited. She thanks him for the music.

At some point in the past couple years Casablancas gave up his cell phone, reasoning it would be harder to persuade him to do things he didn’t want to do if he was at least half off the grid. He liked being bored waiting for an elevator instead of standing there scrolling through emails. But he is emphatic about his love for the internet. Although he stays away from his own press, during rare “masochistic moments” he’ll occasionally look sideways at readers’ comments. “Without fail it’s painful,” he says. “Nothing to do with me and my music, but I think anonymous comments are just totally weird and unhealthy.” Instead he carries an iPad, and iMessage appears to be his main source of communication. At several points over dinner he clicks Shazam and holds the tablet towards the speaker. “This does not look cool!” he says. The first two songs draw blanks; the final one is Black Angels’ “Yellow Elevator #2.” He keeps his finger “indirectly on the pulse” via friends, Shazam, and never going upwards of 92 on his radio dial. He relies on college radio stations and some deep YouTube safari-ing.

“When I think of the main things I’m confused about I don’t know if I have anyone to talk to.”

“I’m overwhelmed—I have too much new music to listen to!” he says. Casablancas does appreciate pop music. He has a soft spot for Cyndi Lauper, enjoys Mac DeMarco, and says Sia’s “Chandelier” is his favorite song of last year. When she hits those high notes, “it’s one of the best vocal moments ever.” Sometimes he dances around the house with his son Cal to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. “I’m not much of a dancer; I stay away from things I’m naturally bad at.” During both of our meet ups he sings R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” half under his breath, to no one in particular. Marty Nolan, the general manager of Cult Records, tells me later that he calls the singer “the human jukebox.”

Casablancas is so over-analytical it sometimes stops him forming full sentences.

But Casablancas has a deep mistrust for the mainstream too—be it the media’s agenda or iTunes, which he calls “toxic shit” adding, “That’s a little harsh, but whatever they put on the front page has so much power. And they don’t push the coolest things. They’re just there to make money.” He’s on the fence about Lorde—an artist he finds to be hovering in “that tricky gray area.” He adds, “I think it’s a little fake art.” In 2009 Casablancas founded Cult—whose roster includes the aforementioned Yeah Yeahs Yeahs singer, Cerebral Ballzy, Har Mar Superstar, and Albert Hammond Jr., among others. With this label and The Voidz he hopes to nudge cool, weird, edgier, underground music into mainstream ears. It’s pretty idealistic. Once something hits the mainstream it loses all cool, I counter, but he fires back: “Thriller, Nirvana, Star Wars.

His career might almost be seen as a series of tests to this idea: If The Strokes were a very specific version of cool that went mainstream, The Voidz are more expansive, less easily reducible incarnation for which he has similar ambitions. At the end of 2014 The Voidz completed their first US/UK tour, and Casablancas says that while it feels like the beginning of their journey together, he’s also onto the next chapter—in which he hopes The Strokes and The Voidz can work in tandem. The Strokes have already announced a small clutch of high profile festival appearances this coming summer, and Casablancas has joined Hammond Jr, Moretti, Fraiture, and Valensi in Manhattan for the next week or so. “It’s the first time we’ve been exclusively writing since Comedown Machine,” he says. “We’re planning on recording stuff. I still think we could do cool things and I’ll do that. I’d like to do both [bands] really if I could.”

A lot seems to be weighing on Casablancas tonight: What's his next move, what should be prioritized, how to balance the busy, which lane to take. “I’ve rented all 20,” he says with a weary half-smile. I ask him whose opinion he respects the most. “My wife, and then Sam [Adoquei, his stepfather], and my mom. Then again I also feel—and no disrespect to them—but I feel weirdly alone.” He’s drumming the table, jiggling his right leg. “When I think of the main things I’m confused about I don’t know if I have anyone to talk to.”

It’s edging towards 1 AM, and the weather’s taken a turn. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” he delivers in a Dean Martin-esque croon. We slip and slosh several blocks to a venue called Baby’s All Right where Savages are playing a rescheduled show. The black-clad postpunks have decamped from London to record their second album, and this is the penultimate night of their nine-show New York residency. Casablancas became friends with the band when they played alongside The Voidz at a string of South American festivals early last year. He’s set to duet with singer Jehnny Beth on a forthcoming song.

Over dinner, he mentioned that his obsession with politics had become “pretty all-consuming.” Although Casablancas will disagree, his records up until now appear avowedly apolitical. Tyranny is different: He spent more time on lyrics than ever before (although in a contrary move they’re also more shrouded and difficult to decipher). His words are bleak non-sequiturs, the mood veering from resigned and melancholic to questioning and suspicious, and at times, corrosively angry, railing against passivity and those chasing what’s ultimately hollow. He notes that Tyranny is more a study in morality than politics. Casablancas is a fan of Run the Jewels’ second album, which cuts cleanly to the chase, addressing sexism, police brutality, gentrification, socio-economic imbalance, the war on terror—you name it, Killer Mike and El-P are explicit and all over it. But whenever I’ve broached the rather broad subject of what exactly Casablancas thinks is wrong with the world, what specifically he thinks should change, our conversation stumbles.

Several days later he’ll send me his thoughts on politics in written form. What begins with Casablancas questioning America’s ruthless, money-driven elites, the media’s failure to report on it accurately and objectively, and the separation of cash and state, steers inevitably towards Ferguson. “Clearly we are far from racial equality and the justice system is far from colorblind,” he writes. “We see how far people have to be pushed to protest, which is a pity, but at least we see it happening, which is positive. Just a clear understanding of what's happening would be the biggest victory possible because the Matrix-like blindness in America is just sad and scary right now.”

“Cue the comment section: ‘You can help by shutting up about things you know nothing about and playing with The Strokes you conceited idiot.’”

In his writing to me he name-checks commentator Bill Maher, theorist Henry Giroux, journalist and activist Chris Hedges, as well as Russell Brand, Louis CK, and Sarah Silverman as outspoken figures who address cultural and political issues in ways that are both digestible and on the money. But it’s Martin Luther King Jr. who Casablancas cites as his favorite philosopher. “MLK’s genius is he got white people to be aware and have a conscience and that's what got laws to change and ended legal segregation. The people who are victims of the situation kind of know what's going on, the goal of a new movement needs to be all inclusive—the more people in the bubble that have the courage to speak up the better.” He further considers strength in numbers to be a necessity as, historically, so many of those who’ve stuck their necks out and “directly threatened American financial interests, or [who] threaten real change or an awakening, have been pretty much wiped out.”

It’s new territory for Casablancas—he’s willfully far from his comfort zone and, as always, hyper-cognizant of how he’ll be perceived. And to his credit, it’s hard to offer a nuanced set of opinions about politics, history, and human nature to a world that’s interested in what you have to say because you’re the singer in a rock band. But he remains undeterred, Casablancas wants to contribute to the conversation, which in turn begs the question, what form of action is he going to take? “I’m always thinking and working on ways—hopefully with the help of others way smarter than me—to get these kinds of messages out more clearly and to more people. It's certainly daunting, but still, it's exciting and very possible in my opinion.

“I'll continue doing music as well, and maybe one day a clearer path with reveal itself, but now it's mostly studying for me—learning what I can and thinking more about whatever ways I can possibly help,” he says, before adding, “Cue the comment section: ‘You can help by shutting up about things you know nothing about and playing with The Strokes you conceited idiot.’”

By this point, we’ve arrived at Baby’s. Casablancas is on the guest list, but when we get to the door the man doesn’t look at the sheet of scribbled names: He glances at the singer’s face, stamps his hand, and waves him through. Later, backstage, Casablancas is relaxed and joking around, catching up with singer Luke Rathborne, a gangly talent with whom he used to share management. At some point, he looks at the mirrored wall and musses his hair, cracking to those in earshot that he looks like he wearing a wig skewed the wrong way. “I had a hair cut once,” he says. “Now I don’t know what’s going on.” The Savages girls tease Casablancas for his woeful lack of winter-wear—that Knicks jacket, ripped jeans—and gift him with a sweatshirt from their merch, which he duly dons. Jehnny Beth snaps a picture that will end up on Instagram the next day. There’s something familiar about this scene—the band on the cusp, the feverishly packed shows abroad—but it’s not Julian Casablancas’s world anymore. The goalposts have shifted. He’s still feeling his way through life, blurrily yet with conviction, but he’s more clear-headed now. I think back to our conversation at dinner: “Some people are just well spoken, and they can speak on a level that’s easy to understand, and they can say all their points, and they can wrap it up.” He laments, “I’m just a jumble of thoughts. I’m trying. I was hoping that maybe I would have a breakthrough tonight… Don’t give up on me.”

Kim Taylor Bennett

is an editor at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter


Abby Ross

is a photographer based in California. Follow her on Instagram


Dessie Jackson

is an artist based in Philadelphia. Follow her work on Instagram