We talk to the Atlanta-born, Awful Records artist about late nights, heroin addiction, and why his fans mean everything to him
“I first became aware of Slug Christ via the Awful Records crew out of Atlanta and months later found him on Soundcloud. There was a song in particular called “Better Leave It” by Slug that completely got me. It was raw, honest with a lyrical style I had never heard before – it made me an instant fan of his. I don’t know too much about Slug, I’ve never read any interviews he’s given, I’ve always kept my distance as a fan just focusing on and enjoying the mystery of his music. That’s probably why I knew I wanted to do a feature on him, to pull back the veil and get some answers myself about the enigmatic artist named Slug Christ” – Mykki Blanco, guest editor of Dazed, August 2018
It’s early in Los Angeles when I call Slug Christ. The LA-based, Atlanta-bred artist, real name Charles ‘Chaz’ Bell, usually works late into the night, so it’s rare to catch him waking up before 2pm. “It’s all good, I needed to start waking up a bit earlier,” he says groggily. “I like to work on music late at night. Most of my favourite songs I’ve worked on at like, 4 o’clock in the morning, where everyone’s asleep and I’m just there with my thoughts.”
There’s definitely a nocturnal quality to a lot of Slug Christ’s music, too. I first became aware of his work after hearing some of his fogged out and fucked up rap songs, released via Awful Records, on YouTube a few years ago. They sounded like the nighttime to me, a time where things happen that people maybe like to pretend don’t happen, exploring his late night, depressive thoughts and candidly discussing his (often extreme) drug use. Nowadays, Bell’s music is sounding stranger than ever, moving further from the hip hop template and embracing his wider artistic interests. Before he rapped, Bell used to play in grindcore and mathcore bands, and he experimented with glitchy electronic music and dabbled in genres like surf rock. He also paints, having studied painting at Savannah College of Art and Design, inspired by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. You can hear these ideas expressed, albeit abstractly, in releases like this year’s distinctive, spiritually psychedelic Judas' Betrayal and the Three Day Burial of a Salted Slug.
Our interview was organised as part of Mykki Blanco’s guest edit of Dazed Digital, with Mykki suggesting we profile Slug Christ, despite the fact the two artists have never met IRL. When I ask why he thinks Mykki is into his music, Bell says it’s probably down to their shared desire to do things differently. “Before we’d started talking on the internet, I was into his music,” he explains. “It’s not like anything I’d ever heard before. I don’t want to listen to derivative art, I don’t want to experience derivative art, I want to experience something that I can’t get anywhere else. Mykki definitely has that quality to him. He’s unlike anything in the rap game right now. I think that’s why he was attracted to me musically – we share the same ideas on art.”
Bell is currently working on a few projects, including collaborations with GOTHBOICLIQUE producers Fish Narc and Nedarb Nagrom and a side project with former Chiodos vocalist Craig Owens. “If you told me when I was 15, ‘You’re going to be working with this dude in ten years’, I would have been like, ‘What the fuck, that’s crazy’,” Bell says. “Craig Owens is really one of the dudes that inspired me to sing.” He’s also planning to start an “old school punk band” with his friend Alice Glass, though it’s still in its early days. I called him up to discuss his unusual approach to art, what lessons he’d give to his teenage self, and why people might get the wrong idea about him.
The first time I became familiar with your work was when you released The Crucifixion of Rapper Extraordinaire, Slug Christ. I know you’ve done a lot of stuff since then, but how do you feel about Crucifixion, looking back on it now?
Slug Christ: That album was a good introduction for people to learn what I was going to bring to the table. I don’t think it was my magnum opus, and I think I’ve made much better music compared to that – my most recent album is probably the best music I’ve ever made – but that’s coming from me. Everyone has different ideas about what’s good and what’s not good. I think I’ve evolved immensely, (but) I still look back on it fondly.
How do you think your music’s changed since then?
Slug Christ: That album was a good precursor to what was going to happen. In that album, I dabbled with things that weren’t hip hop, and nowadays, I’ve really been experimenting outside of hip hop. I didn’t start off as a rapper, I was in metal bands for years and years – from the age of 14 to 22, I played as the frontman in a lot of grindcore/mathcore bands. I’ve also had indie/surf rock projects. That all came out before I started rapping, so I don’t really consider myself a ‘rapper’, you know? I consider myself a musician that happens to rap. What has changed since then (is that I have) a lot more confidence in being able to put out music that isn’t necessarily hip hop, but (to still) do it under Slug Christ. I could release a doo-wop 50s pop song as Slug Christ and I don’t think anyone would really be like, ‘Wow, this is weird for Slug to do’, you know?
Why do you think you’re drawn to making weird or unusual music?
Slug Christ: All through my life, my favourite bands have been the weirdest. People either love or hate that kind of thing. I’ve always been into creativity, originality, and just sounding different from everyone else. I don’t understand why someone would want to listen to an artist sounding exactly like everyone else. Nowadays, hip hop has become homogenised. Not only hip hop, the surrounding genres as well – a lot of pop songs (include) rap. All of this music is sounding very samey. It’s almost like if you aren’t making music that’s 100 per cent derivative, no one is going to take you seriously. When I hear something that’s never been done before, I’m like, ‘This is really innovative’, while someone else is like, ‘This sounds nothing like anything I’ve ever heard, and because of that I don’t like it’. It’s weird.
Have you seen or heard anything recently that’s really inspired you?
Slug Christ: Not really. Honestly, I haven’t been listening to music – I don’t keep up with it at all. When I do listen to music, I’m listening to my friends, as I just want to see what they’re doing.
Does that not make you miss playing with bands?
Slug Christ: Yeah, for sure. That’s really not because I got sick of hip hop, it’s more the fact that when you play in a band, with other people, there’s a bigger spiritual element to it. When you get locked into a rhythm or groove with someone else, there’s a connection there. I remember playing with some of my bands that were very technical grindcore music, and it would take us hours and hours just to be able to hit this one, weird-ass groove in 10/8 time signature and at 180 bpm. When we would get in the pocket of that weird groove, there was nothing better. I remember just playing with my band and playing a song in our practice space and feeling a magical thing. When you play hip hop live, it’s not so much a spiritual experience, it’s more like a party – and there’s nothing wrong with that, the shows are super fun to do, (but) I do miss playing with bands for that element.
Where you are getting your ideas for your own music then?
Slug Christ: I keep a little note pad in my bag, that I carry around, and if I get a cool idea for lyrics or a short story, I’ll just write it down.
Slug Christ: I was just walking down the street from my apartment to the corner store, getting a pack of cigarettes, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I really like the aesthetic of ink on a blank canvas.’ A big puddle of ink spilling out across this blank white canvas. It’s things like that – very abstract ideas and pure aesthetic things. And it’s weird, because I’ll take an element like that and try to translate it through music. It’s never like I’m listening to someone and I hear them do something, and I’m like ‘I want to do that’. It’s a lot more ambiguous than that.
Are you still doing your visual art at the moment?
Slug Christ: I don’t have any of my supplies, I left them all in Atlanta at my dad’s house. I didn’t have enough room for a lot of shit. I’ve not been working on paintings, but I have been drawing a lot – the last few shirts I’ve dropped have been designed by me. I went to art school, I was a painting major. That’s something I’ll always love doing, and it’s something I’ll never quit doing, but as of recent, I haven’t been able to do that much fine art.
“I’m incredibly thankful for all my fans. Because of them, I can make music my full-time gig. That’s all I’ve ever wanted” – Slug Christ
What’s your relationship like with your fans?
Slug Christ: After every show, I’ll go out by my merch and just sit out there and talk to everyone. I’m incredibly thankful for all my fans. Because of them, I can make music my full-time gig. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I remember when I was 14, playing in my first band, being like, ‘Dude, I don’t care if I have to starve, or I have no money for clothes, I just want to be able to play music full time. I want to be able to pay my rent with it. That’s all I want.’
When I was in school, I absolutely hated it, and every job I’ve worked, I’ve been fired from, because I’m just not built for that. Like, Kroger was my first job, and they have a policy where they can’t fire you for 40 days. And on the 40th day, after my shift, the manager called me into her office and fired me. I have a problem with authority, and I hate when people tell me what to do. It just hits a switch in my brain.
Do you have any advice that you would give to your 14-year-old self?
Slug Christ: I would tell him to quit worrying, because it’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’d do anything different, because what happened in my life created who I am – every success, every failure, taught me something – and if things went differently, then I wouldn’t be where I’m at. When I was 14, I knew I was going to do this shit, because there wasn’t another thing that I felt like doing, and because of that, I was very scared. I was like, ‘Dude, the only thing I’m good at is art, and if I don’t do that for a career, I don’t know how I’m going to make it.’ My parents wanted me to go college, and I didn’t want to go to, but they told me to go to art school, so I did that. I would just tell my 14-year-old self, ‘Quit worrying about if you’re going to make it or not, because you’re gonna – in some form – be okay.’
Do your parents approve of what you’re doing now?
Slug Christ: My mum and dad, I don’t think they enjoyed the music per se, but I think they were just proud of me for following my dream and being somewhat successful at it. My mum passed away a few years ago – I never really showed my parents my music, because a) They wouldn’t approve of it, and b) They wouldn’t really understand it, they’re older. I think they’re just proud of me for achieving my dreams.
You talk about drugs a lot in your music. Is that ever something you were bothered about your dad hearing?
Slug Christ: I’m not gonna let anyone determine what I do musically, and when I’m making a song and I talk about snorting a lot of heroin, I’m not thinking, ‘What is my dad going to think when hears this?’, because he’s probably not going to hear it. That doesn’t ever really cross my mind. Really, no one’s reaction is going to cross my mind! When I’m making songs, I’m thinking about how I respond to it right then. I’m thinking about if I like it or not. Sometimes it’s almost like I have no will to upload it to the internet and show people, because it’s something I’m trying to do for myself: ‘I wonder if I can make this thing that I hear in my head?’ Other people’s opinions don’t really matter to me. Well, they do matter – I definitely feel a certain type of way when someone says, ‘I love your music’ or ‘I hate your music’ – but I don’t let it dictate how I create.
Do you ever think about drugs in relation to your fans?
Slug Christ: Well, when I talk about something like heroin, I don’t talk about the fun side of it, I talk about withdrawal for a couple of days because I can’t get it. I try not to glorify it. In my song, ‘Herron’, the first line of the second verse is, ‘I won’t let my friends hit no motherfuckin’ herron / I do it by myself in the motherfuckin’ bathroom.’ And it’s because I don’t want to spread that demon, because it is a demon. Drug addiction – addiction in general – it’s a demon that I don’t want to pass on to other people. That kind of manifests itself in the ‘Christ’ metaphor in my name and in my music: ‘Let me go through this so you don’t have to. Let me sacrifice my body and tell you how it is so you don’t have to go through this.’
“When I talk about something like heroin, I don’t talk about the fun side of it, I talk about withdrawal for a couple of days because I can’t get it” – Slug Christ
There have been a lot of deaths from overdoses in music recently. Do you worry about that yourself?
Slug Christ: I don’t worry about it, but everyone around me does. Abra, at Awful Records, I was just at a party with her – the whole night, she was telling me like, ‘Slug, you gotta get better because the world needs you, you make amazing music.’ I’m thankful that she cares. And my girlfriend is constantly trying to make me slow down, which I’m also thankful for – I need someone in my life to kind of balance me out. (But) I don’t worry about it myself, I leave the worrying to other people, honestly. I know that it affects people that I’m very close to, because they don’t wanna see, um… they don’t wanna see me die, just to be straight about it. I don’t necessarily wanna die either. It crosses my mind, but it’s not something that I’m constantly worried about.
What’s the biggest misconception that people might have about you?
Slug Christ: I think a lot of people just think that I’m a hopeless drug addict and I’m just laying in my bed fucked up. That’s not really how it is. I’m not just a fucked up idiot, I have ideas! I think people sometimes think of me as some weird guy that you cannot relate to – like, I’m so out there that you can’t even have a normal conversation with me – but, I’m just a normal dude like everyone else.
You know, when Awful Records first started popping off, the biggest thing that struck me was when I started meeting these rappers, artists that I really loved. It always blew me away about how normal they were. I would have an idea in my head like, ‘The way this guy raps, it makes him sound like he’s a complete fucking asshole. I would probably hate to hang out with him.’ But then when I meet this guy and do hang out with him, he’s just a chill, normal dude. I think that’s what a lot of people go through. It’s not even conscious, it’s just kind of what happens when you put out music. People get this idea about who you are and they build it up in their brains, when really, you’re just a normal dude out here who happens to make music.