For Evil's first release of 2021, the musician took to the rural countryside of their Virginia native to express feelings of "disconnection to the world even though you are in it." A relatable ambition in a year of extreme isolation, "Broken Wing," then becomes a powerful metaphor for escaping constraints from society and religion, especially as a Black queer artist. Though "you can be in a room full of people," there's often still barriers between you and them, but "it's up to you to break free of it," Evil says.
At the beginning of their self-directed video, out today, Evil sits inside a clear glass box with angel wings. "Condemn me in my most righteous form/ For I have been weak in the eyеs of the Lord," they sing, lacing together ideas about spirituality and self-inflicted pain (or the "invisible prison crafted by your own mind"). By the end of "Broken Wing," Evil shatters the glass and crawls along the prairie ground with blood where their wings have been removed.
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The track itself positions Evil in the world of modern country music alongside genre disruptors like Yola, Orville Peck and Kacey Musgraves. Featuring co-production from Band of Horses' Bill Reynolds, Evil gently sings their existential poetry above a classic steel pedal guitar: "Who am I?" they ask repeatedly on the chorus. "Sitting around thinking same old thoughts/ Who am I? Tragically lost in forget me nots."
Watch Evil play "an angel cast out of heaven" for acting selfishly in "Broken Wing," below, and read how the rising talent is changing country music by simply existing.
What story did you intend to tell through the "Broken Wing" video?
My goal was to capture the feeling of self-isolation and what it feels like to be taken out of your comfort zone whilst so badly wanting it back. The story is of an angel cast out of heaven due to their love of a mortal, to covet something selfishly. This sentiment is shared in the song. Our selfish wants can put us in places we didn't consider. I wanted to express the idea of loss and longing visually without anyone else involved because oftentimes we are our own torturers in matters of the heart.
What does the glass box symbolize? And especially the scene where you shatter it towards the end?
So, I built this box myself. I was trying to create a physical representation of what self-isolation feels like. Whether it be by force (pandemic) or by choice. When you hide yourself away from the world mentally you can be in room full of people and still somehow feel a world away, disconnected with your surroundings. You are in the room, you can see and be seen, but still you are barred from a true sense of connection. You are trapped within the invisible prison you crafted in your own mind. That is the feeling I wanted to express with my creation of this sculpture. The moment of the box breaking is meant to express the violence we must face to free ourselves from this mental confinement. The video ends with my immortality, angel wings being ripped from my body. That is the price I must pay for connection. The price we all must pay for connection is vulnerability. We must put ourselves in harm's way to truly be seen. To truly be connected there is always a risk and a sacrifice.
Where did you film the video? Does that hold any special significance?
Virginia! I think so, this is my home. Nowhere on earth is more special or beautiful to me. It's important to me to always include an aspect of myself in my work. I am very proud of where I come from and it always lends to my art in some way.
Lyrically, what's the story behind "Broken Wing"?
Lyrically, "Broken Wing" is a story to God and to lost lovers. Both are one and the same to me. I am asking God, "Why wont you change my life?" In the same way, I am asking lovers who have gone. Both are intertwined in the lyrics here because they are a reflection of each other. I am relying on lovers in the same way I am relying on God through prayer. To stay, to fix, to heal. But even while doing, so I also acknowledge the fact that I have no true place to ask this of my God or of my lover. "Who am I? To sit idly by hoping that you would change my life?" It's a conversation with myself about wanting someone other than me to change my life. A song about loss, love and longing — selfishness, too.
What was the collaboration process like between you and Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses)?
Amazing! Bill is the best. Being able to work with Bill and Kieron Menzies on these tracks has been such a great blessing and joy in my life. It was difficult with the pandemic, Bill is located in Nashville and I'm here in Virginia. All of our work together has been via email and telephone. So there was concern there will be a lot of misunderstandings due to the lack of being able to make things in the same room. But I sent Bill the track I worked on with Kieron, and told him the feeling I had in mind and he just made it happen. Bill is a genius and understands exactly what I mean when I say it — Kieron, too! I wouldn't have been able to make this song without them.
How does Leesburg, VA impact the way you approach music-making?
The Shenandoah Valley is the reason and inspiration for everything I do. It's my home, my lifeblood. I want to be able to express the feeling this place gives me and anyone who enters it. My home has taught me to slow down, to see every detail, take everything in and capture every single minute aspect of life. Because those are oftentimes the most important aspects.
In what ways are you inspired by classic country?
In every way. I would say that classic country is my main influence when making anything. I love country music, I always have. It's what I grew up around. But what makes country music so special to me is the honesty. Country music is about real life, real experiences no matter how trivial. My goal when creating things is always to become more honest than I was previously. Country music is the main factor in that.
And how do you aim to subvert classic country through a more alternative, queer lens?
I think that while my end goal is to open up the genre to more people like myself, to use the word "aim" implies there is some sort of formula applied to achieve that goal. There isn't. The only way we can change the view of anything is to simply just do it. I am doing what I planned simply by existing as a queer, POC country artist. My existence in itself is breaking the barriers of what country music is in the eyes of most people. I am always trying to blend contemporary sounds from different genres to create a sound that is more encompassing of my personal experiences as a mixed queer kid who grew up in a rural area. But just in doing that, I am doing exactly what I wanted to. The more people we have in this genre who are bending it to their own narrative, the more we will be able to see the truth of country music, which is that it's for everyone — always has been.
"My existence in itself is breaking the barriers of what country music is in the eyes of most people."
Right before the pandemic, you toured with Orville Peck. What was your favorite memory from being on the road?
I was lucky enough to play in DC with Orville before all this happened. What I miss the most about that show and shows in general is connection, with the listeners and with my friends. Nothing beats playing a great show with wonderful friends for wonderful fans.
How is "Broken Wing" a preview of what's to come from you next?
"Broken Wing" is a song from a body of work I've created about my relationship with God and religion as a queer person growing up in the rural South. I've created this song as a catalyst for my feelings surrounding that subject and the complexities of it. I'm excited to share the rest of the songs and hopefully reach more people that are grappling with the same things. God is often talked about in music, but not very often through the lens of a queer identity and how it relates. I hope I'm able to touch some hearts with this work. Excited to continue this story.
Stream "Broken Wing" by Evil, below.
Photo courtesy of Evil