Diversifying Music: An Interview with The Non-Binaries

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to think about New Year’s resolutions, and I decided I’d try to discover and support more diverse musicians. I want to listen to different genres and new musicians within the genres I already love.

It might seem like a straightforward  resolution at first, but as you look closer it becomes more complex. During 2015, I listened to a variety of genres from around the world. When it came to music, I thought my ears were open to everything. Then I noticed that most of the musicians I listened to were male, cisgender, white, and straight. How could I claim to have a diverse music taste when I only listened to content from one demographic? As a transgender person of color, I was surprised by how long it took me to realize I was misrepresented in the music I regularly supported.

In September two of my non-binary friends, Caitlin McCarthy and Bethim James, formed an experimental hip-hop/classical duo called The Non-Binaries. Non-binary is an umbrella term that describes any gender identity that does not fit within the binary of male and female. The two met through the LGBT community, but what brought them even closer together was their love for innovative music. Their music combines classical instruments, like the violin, with hip-hop beats.

They recently released their third EP on bandcamp.com called “The City.” After listening, I was left wanting more. This was the perfect opportunity to support an up-and-coming LGBT group. I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview them after their release party in Baltimore.

What motivated you to form this duo?

Caitlin: We first collaborated in March 2015 on my “Ukulele Daydreams” EP.

The song Bethim was featured on was the most popular song on the EP and we had a great time working together. That is really what motivated us to collaborate more.

Bethim: I was excited when Caitlin asked me to collaborate with them again. Originally it was just supposed to be a couple more songs, but we clicked well and did not want to stop there.

Why did you decide on calling it “The Non-Binaries”?

Bethim: The two of us met through the transgender/non-binary community.

Caitlin: That is where a lot of our creativity and support comes from! We also wanted to make sure other non-binary people could find us easily, since representation for us is hard to come by.

What is your process like?

Caitlin: Bethim lives in Baltimore and I currently live in New Jersey, which adds a challenge to our collaboration.

Bethim: Usually Caitlin sends me a rough version of a song and we start going back and forth with ideas. Caitlin is rather inventive when it comes to compiling different sounds.

Caitlin: A few songs included rain noises and I actually went outside during a storm to record it.

Bethim: Probably not the best idea!

You make instrumentals, but would you consider adding vocals in the future?

Bethim: We are currently only making instrumentals, but we might add vocals soon.

Caitlin: After we finished “The City” EP, we made an acoustic demo. Bethim recorded this beautiful violin piece and I wrote some lyrics that could possibly go with it.

Do you have a long-term goal or are you taking one EP at a time?

Caitlin: We definitely have a long-term goal. The dates for the next three EPs are already planned. Eventually, we are coming out with a full album.

Bethim: The first two EPs (Spectrum and Androgyny) have very connected themes. The non-binary community heavily inspired the song titles, artwork, and overall aesthetic. Caitlin worked hard on the presentation and flow of that.

Have you received any criticism?

Caitlin: We have received constructive criticism from fellow musicians, which we appreciate!

Bethim: People have been saying our music is getting better with each EP.

Caitlin: We are excited to continue improving and exploring our sound.

Bethim: To be honest, we were expecting some criticism for our duo’s name. Caitlin can probably explain that concern better.

Caitlin: Some people are against putting emphasis on terms and labels. I agree that we should not let labels define us. There is way more to an individual than one part of their identity. However, when it comes to marginalized groups, I fully support how people choose to utilize terms. It took us so long to figure out who we are, to be comfortable with ourselves, and explaining non-binary genders can be difficult. Putting words to an experience can makes things easier. We are thankful that most of our followers understand that is where we are coming from.

Why bandcamp?

Bethim: We have both liked bandcamp for years. It allows fans to directly support musicians they like.

Caitlin: In 2016, we might have our music on iTunes and Spotify as well. Bandcamp will always be special to us though.

Do you have music recommendations for someone who wants to listen to more transgender and non-binary musicians?

Caitlin: Oh, where do I even begin! I recommend Mal Blum (genderqueer/non-binary), who’s a singer-songwriter with a unique and endearing sound. Their music is a mix of folk, anti-folk, rock, and punk. Seriously, go listen to Mal. If you are into those genres, you should also listen to Ryan Cassata (trans man). He is a folk rock/alternative musician. If you want something different, check out Tunde Olaniran (who identifies as a blend of genderqueer and androgynous). His music is hard to categorize actually, I would describe it as electro-pop/rock/hip-hop.

Bethim: I recommend Ezra Furman (gender-fluid). We both recently got into his music, which is indie/psychedelic rock. There is also Raeen Roes (agender). You might know them by their stage name Angel Haze. They are a rapper and singer, who’s well known in the LGBT community.

Lastly, where can people find your music?

You can find our music at thenonbinaries.bandcamp.com! We are also on twitter and tumblr.

After interviewing The Non-Binaries, I was able to gain more insight on their music and other trans/non-binary musicians. It is a shame that mainstream media often overlooks these musicians. Talking to Caitlin McCarthy and Bethim James gave me the starting point I needed to explore new music in 2016! Musicians like the one’s they recommended have existed for a long time, I just needed a push to go out there and discover them. Hopefully, I will stick to my New Year’s resolutions for once!

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