Seattle’s Adra Boo is supremely lovable. Just ask anyone who’s spent time with her in any creative capacity. She’s buoyant. She’s thoughtful. She’s honest. And she’s integral to the Emerald City music community, whether she’s fronting a project like Fly Moon Royalty, emceeing a festival like Timber! or giving advice on the side in the green room. Boo will also perform at this year’s GAYEXP Pride Festival event at the Wild Rose on June 28th. We caught up with the musical dynamo to preview the gig and to ask her who she’s listening to these days, how her identity as a queer woman informs her art, and when she started singing.
When did you first start singing?
Some single-digit age. Everyone in my house sang so it was just, like, the thing that you did. But I don’t think I sang for anyone until middle school. Maybe like ’90 or ’91. The first song that I ever memorized and sang in front of friends was the song called, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” by this girl group called Voices. And one of the Tia and Tamera twins was in the group! Super old! But my friend Charles used to make me sing this song in woodshop two-to-three times a week. I’ve just been singing forever. Somehow, some way. But I didn’t think this was what I was going to do. I thought I was going to be a dancer but I knew nothing about Cornish and how to apply for a scholarship because I was just doing my own thing. As time would have it, the stage still ended up being my thing.
When did you notice your identity as a queer person start to inform your creativity?
I knew that I was, for lack of a better term back then, I knew I was different when I was a kid. I grew up in a house full of men who LOVED women. You get to really see the appreciation in that. Were they womanizers? I mean, maybe a little bitty-bitty-bit. But they were the kind of cat callers that I like to be. Like, you could tell somebody they lookin’ good and you don’t even have to come off your post. Like, you never leave the gate. The person keeps going about their business having a great day because you basically told them exactly what you were thinking. It wasn’t nasty or gross. So, that’s how I grew up. I knew I had that appreciation for just anyone looking good.
But I feel like when I started hanging out with DJ LA Kendall, her and our friend David were doing these nights at the War Room called, “Hot Mess,” and I started hanging out with Kendall so much more — her, David and my friend Ruby. We were all just up in the scene. I was go-go dancing. I was emceeing stuff. And I started singing on things with Kendall and eventually started to get to a place where her and I were a group. Then I started writing music for the both of us. At that point, it wasn’t that I wasn’t “out,” per se. I just didn’t talk about it much.
When you’re a person of color, just talking about being LGBTQ in a black family is a thing we all kind of avoid because black families are very much rooted in religion. So, we couldn’t talk about it. And I didn’t. I was just, like, these are my people so I’m out here. I started writing stuff for the both of us and her being the one that’s out very clearly, very in the community, it was like, “Okay, now I have this outlet.”
When I started making music with Mike [in Fly Moon Royalty], I think at that point it was like, “Oh, I can actually write stuff that I want to say and sing about as far as who I am and what I like.” And more in a genre that I listen to more often. It was still line-walking a little bit. People were like, “We see Adra and she’s been on dudes.” But my queer friends were like, “Oh, you should see her in the club with us! She’s groovin’ on chicks!” So, no one ever knew. But I think around those times, between 2007 and 2010, is when I was really just, like, “Okay. Now I’m going to start putting it in my music and talking about certain situations.” Because I want to talk about.
How does your queer identity influence your work today?
Now, literally, I feel like it’s not so much about being queer as much as it is about me just being true to myself and how I feel about people, things and certain situations. I never make it my intention to say, “Okay, I’m going to write this song for my queer people.” It’s always about, “This is what I’m dealing with at the moment.” The first song that people were actually like, “Ooooh, wait, where is this going?” was on the first Fly Moon album on a song called, “In The Woods.” That song is what I like to call a line-walker because it wasn’t about a situation I was in. It was about something I was watching happen. But I sing it as though I’m singing this about a specific woman. That’s my intention. To tell you a story. And that could change depending on what day you see me or when you heard the song and what was going on. Because I’m such a muse writer. I can’t make myself write, like, this queer album. That feels unnatural. I just write whatever is happening. Like, what’s going on? And I want that to hopefully be able to be something that whatever gender you identity as, you’re like, “I’ve been in that situation.”
You’re looked up to by many artists in Seattle. How do you process that?
It’s funny. People say that and I’m always just like, “I don’t know why.” I’m just out here black auntie-ing everyone and trying to make sure other people are having a good time. Or, if people got questions about stuff that I know something about, I’m just trying to make it so that we’re all getting ahead somehow. Whatever is going to lead you to live your best life - yeah, let’s get there! I want to live my best life!
But it’s always strange for me to hear that. Like, “You’re Adra Boo!” And I’m like, “Uh, okay.” I got day jobs. I got regular gigs like everyone else. So, that’s so wild. But as far as trying to take that further, I just try to keep it 100 with people. If you want to know something, if you want me to be straight up with you, I try to keep it 100. That’s it. I’m very much a grandfather inside. There’s a lot of grandpa in a smooth chocolate black auntie coating. There’s a lot of “MmmmmHmmmm. Hmmmmm. Well, okay.” There’s a lot of that.
But I try to share what I know. Whoever that helps — I tell people if you want to know something, just ask me. I’ll tell you. But I also don’t want to give people my opinion when it’s not needed or wanted. I think that’s just how I try to navigate all the spaces. I know what I like, too. I’m not going to kiss nobody’s ass because I’m too old for that. If I don’t like something, then I’m not going to do too much around it. I’m not going to give someone props — if you’re like a good musician and your playing skills are on point, cool! Does that mean that I’m going to get down with what you’re doing? Not necessarily. We all got stuff that we enjoy, right? Like, textures. There’s stuff I don’t want to hear. It’s cool, but I’m going to go over here though.
I just try to keep it 100. If you got nothing nice to say, say nothing at all until you’re with the right people where you can have your little shit talk with. And you can get to the truth of it, you know what I mean? That’s how I keep it all the time. It’s too hard to think about carrying around some torch. Because I still don’t feel like I’ve hit a place like that. I haven’t even hit my Mary Lambert on “Same Love.” I got a ways to go!
You also have a keen eye for new talent. What to give any shout outs here?
There’s a girl, LIVt, and she is filthy. We met doing a performance with 3rd Shift and she sings and raps. Her voice is just incredible. She’s someone I’m listening to and there’s also two young ladies out of the Ladies Rock Camp that are starting to pop up a lot of places, their names are Bess and Amber. They do a lot of harmony stuff that’s super interesting. Then outside of the town, I just got put onto this girl, Baby Rose, from Atlanta. And she’s filthy. Like, who are you? I didn’t even know who she was then I saw her do some festival that Parisalexa’s doing. But also, like, Wu-Tang is playing and DMX and a bunch of folks. But this girl, Baby Rose, I was put onto her by this group called the The Txlips, which is all-black punk band from Atlanta.
Sometimes I’m on Spotify and I hear something or someone will send me an email trying to book me for a show and I’m like, “Who are these cats?” And it’s like, “Oh! Okay!” The Txlips are actually going to be up here playing Pride Fest because of us meeting through this hella random email business. I was like, “I just want to get them up here somehow.” I guess now maybe I can throw “booker” in my title because I booked them for Pride. And they are about to just blow everyone’s whole head off. If you go to the Afropunk web site, they’re like half the images around the festival.
What does it mean for you to be part of the GAYEXP event?
I’m curious to see how this plays out in a whole other phase that’s not Seattle Center. I’m so used to whatever KEXP has, their Pride stuff was usually at 5-Point. So, it will be interesting to see it somewhere else this year and somewhere that is actually, legitimately a queer location. Nothing against 5-Point but, like, you know, you are in there sometimes with people who — they’re not necessarily allies for the right reason but they’re people who enjoy Pride because they get to put on some stuff that they would call, “Oh, this is crazy! We get to wear these rainbows! This is awesome!” Very often hetero people like to co-sign on some stuff just because. Like the people who ride bikes in Fremont at the Solstice. Like, “Look at these naked bodies! Oooh look at that!” Hetero people are all up in queer spaces trying to wear their little stuff and then they’re going to go back to work and be some cis hetero asshole on a regular day. Like, nah.
But this will be fun to see the GAYEXP happening at Wild Rose. Like, who’s going to be there? Who’s coming? Also, it will be fun to see - every year you get this new crowd of lesbians, these new crowds of just the L’s, the B’s, the G’s, the T’s and the Q’s. I feel like an old lady because I’m like, “Who are these new cats? What are y’all doing? What are y’all listening to? Are we still listening to, ‘My neck, my back’?” Which we probably are because that’s just classic. But I’m looking forward to being back out there in the space and getting to have a good time with folks. I have gigs the whole weekend and at some point Monday is going to come and I’ll just be dead. But I’m excited to get back on the Wild Rose stage. It’s been a while.
How has your relationship to Pride evolved over the years in Seattle?
Man, I feel like it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger, obviously. The thing that I always slightly loathe about when Pride comes around is that there’s so many different Pride celebrations that are not cohesively run together. They’re not the same organization. Sometimes, I’m just like, “That’s kind of corny. How can we mesh some of these things together? Is that too much?” But I do appreciate that there’s always so many more things happening. Even like this year, Burien had a Pride celebration. White Center had Pride. I love that it’s spreading and that it’s going places that don’t necessarily force you to have to come to Capitol Hill or somewhere hella deep. People are doing Pride in their neighborhoods where these things weren’t happening before and I just appreciate and love that it’s growing.
I tell people often, there’s old people who are not with this and one day they’re going to die and we’re going to have all these people who are born hella smart and know who they want to identify, who know how they feel early on. That’s going to change the world, right? People who are growing up right now younger than us who are fully in the understanding of who they are. All the videos that we watch on Facebook and YouTube are with children who realize, “I am not a girl even though I’m in a girl’s body” or “I am not this one way. This is who I am.” Those kinds of things make me excited about where Pride can go and what it can become for people. That’s dope.
This year, people are going to be out acting so ridiculous — and I hope that’s in a good way. But at the same time there’s a lot of scary shit happening in society with reproductive rights and with people putting their vote and opinion on our bodies. Who knows where this is all going? But I feel like the LGBTQIA community is just like, “You know what? Fuck this.” We’re out here. We’re not going away. Now we’re on TV. You better get your life right now because we’re about to get bigger and bigger up in here. Old people who don’t like it, you’re eventually going to die! Of natural causes, of course. But when you gone, we going to be out here living that much bigger, that much louder, that much more like, “Hey, we right here. Ka-pow!”
Along with being a singer, you’re also a burlesque performer. And I wonder what you get out of that art form that music itself might not offer?
I don’t even know if there’s really an answer for that, to be honest. Burlesque is basically the more visual representation of song lyrics, if you think about it. Burlesque is done to music already and it’s performed either classically or your burlesque numbers are telling a story. Whereas with music, you can just listen to it and vibe out and find yourself somewhere, with burlesque, visually, we are putting ourselves out there. Like, this is my skin, this is what I look like. These are our bodies. And there’s so many stories you can tell with your body and with your music.
I don’t do burlesque as much as I used to, more often I emcee it now. But there’s definitely the Briq Houses and Boom Boom L’Rouxs who are like, “Adra, when you goin’ come back and really, really do it though?” But I think also that’s because it just costs a little bit more to do burlesque. ‘Cause costumes ain’t cheap. I guess it’s equivalent to studio time. You got to pay for something. You either paying for some costumes with some rhinestones and when you’re a big girl that’s a lot more costume! Or, you might be paying for some recording time and for people to come and play on tape for you. They both equally feed me the same way.
Word on the street is Fly Moon Royalty is going to make a comeback. Care to comment?
We are doing a reunion show — yes — at the West Seattle Beer & Music Festival on August 23rd. We’ll be doing a little Fly Moon business! This is actually the second time this year that we are doing a Fly Moon reunion of sorts. We also performed at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival. We did almost every song off of Delicious Trouble with burlesque performers, which was just beyond whatever I could have imagined. It was incredible.
What’s one thing you wish someone would have told you when you were younger?
To apply for a scholarship at Cornish! Literally. That’s the only thing where I’m like, “Man, I wish someone would have told me to apply for a scholarship there.” That would have taught me how to read music and maybe play one instrument and have to study it. Also, Cornish has dance, which I was really into at the time. I could be out here on my Macklemore! But I guess if I would have done all that I wouldn’t be in the place that I am and getting to experience life this way. So, it’s like, “Do I actually want to do that?” I don’t know. Maybe I just want to live this good life. Now, if someone would have told me to ignore the dudes that I was dating back then, that probably would have been a good idea, too!
Adra Boo plays Friday, June 28th on day one of our three-day celebration at the Wild Rose. Pre-sale tickets are not required to attend. We'd love to see you there and the option to pay admission each day at the door is available.
Fly Moon Royalty lit up the KEXP stage this afternoon with their glorious, funky jams. Originating as a twosome in Seattle in 2011, with the powerful voice of Adra Boo and the rapid rhymes of Mike Illvester, they've now grown into a full band, synchronized backup singers and all. Always a crowd f...
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