You may know them from their brief cameos at the opening of Janelle Monáe’s “Many Moons” and “Tightrope” videos, but now the creative minds that guided and produced Monáe’s ArchAndriod and The Electric Lady are coming out from behind the scenes. Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Chuck Lightning—the funk-rock duo Deep Cotton—recently released their first “fixtape,” Runaway Radio, yet another project from the Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society.
The Janelle Monáe executive produced EP, featuring the high-energy anthem “We’re Far Enough from Heaven Now We Can Freak Out” and the speculative funk ballad “Fork n’ Knife,” is available for download at deepcotton.net. EBONY.com spoke with Deep Cotton about the evolution and perception of Black rock, and how they (and the rest of Wondaland) hope to fix the urban music scene.
EBONY: What makes you who you are in concert? And do you feel people can say they’ve heard Deep Cotton if they haven't been to a Deep Cotton show?
Nate Wonder: I think that is part of the experience. You know, at Wondaland we love making experiences. So I think that is just another part of it. It’s probably not a complete meal if you haven’t experienced Deep Cotton in concert.
Chuck Lightning: I would definitely agree. At Wondaland we strive to make the concert almost like a religious experience. You come in and you get a spiritual fulfillment. You do it together, collectively. It goes to another level.
EBONY: Aesthetically, what’s in the Deep Cotton DNA? What are the origins of the group?
NW: When Deep Cotton began, it was an unspoken conversation Chuck and I had that basically started with him walking in when I was working on some music. Before that, he acted like he didn’t like music, like he didn’t like music period. We’d been rooming together for a little while.
Then, all of a sudden one day, he walked into the room and was like, “Turn the microphone on.” And I was like, “What? What are you talking about? You don’t even like music as far as I know.” I was working on some beat and he just started yelling in the microphone, screaming in it. And I was like, “What the…?”
So I started making a beat that I felt would be crazier than what he was doing when he started yelling in the microphone. We had an unspoken rule from then on that we were secretly trying to out-crazy each other. It was something we never spoke about for years.
CL: Yeah, we’re totally into artistic collectives that are trying to out-crazy one another—where the members all have a certain aesthetic or worldview, and you feel like the members are all a little bit off, speaking in tongues at the same time and you get the vibe. Whether or not it’s the Beatles with Lennon and McCartney or P-Funk with George Clinton working with Bootsy [Collins] and Bernie Worrell, these people were just trying to say “I’m crazier than you” and “No, I’m crazier than you.”
EBONY: Do you believe that, in 2013, popular culture has firmly abandoned the perception, or misconception, that Black folk don’t rock? Has rock, for you, become a solid aspect of contemporary Black culture?
NW: I think it depends on what we do next and how we reach tipping points. Black rock has been around for so long, and there are so many different ways that it’s shown itself. But in terms of a tipping point when someone says, “Oh, a Black rock concert—that’s mainstream,” I don’t think we are at that point right now.
But when I think about punk, I don’t think that people think Odd Future is that far off from a punk aesthetic. When people think about Public Enemy, I think they were very close to what people think about as a punk aesthetic. Little Richard has a punk aesthetic. Prince does as well. Living Colour… I think there have been plenty of places where that has shown itself. And really, it just depends on if it has reached above critical mass in terms of how many people are taking that energy and running with it.
CL: I agree. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Black rock or Black punk rock is mainstream. I do think the term “afropunk” has helped in some respects, because it has allowed people to rally around a term and a banner. It’s allowed people to claim something as part of their identity, something that they can latch onto. I think that has been very helpful.
But I agree with Nate that every generation there’s someone. You had the Black Rock Coalition in the eighties. Living Colour, Fishbone, everybody knows that. In the ’70s, you had Funkadelic, Parliament, War, the Chambers Brothers, Hendrix, Sly. There have always been people that, even if they were pop or funk, leaned rock.
We’ve had moments like when, for instance, Michael Jackson does “Beat it” or Prince does “Purple Rain.” Lenny Kravitz. We’ve had those moments. But to really say a whole movement comes through at one time, like it was in Seattle [with Nirvana], we haven’t had that moment yet. We’re in a space where that kind of thing could happen, especially if the music jams. The music has to jam.