Princess Jafar’s Instant Messages: №1 “Poetry Meat” with The Childlike Empress
I met The Childlike Empress earlier this year in traditional Pittsburgh fashion. Which, of course includes painting Gia Fagnelli’s bootyhole blue, transforming a trashcan into his spaceship and spending the night in VIP rooms with drag royalty such as Kevin Aviance & Raja Gemini thanks to the prestigious party planning prowess of Pittsburgh’s premiere party princess, Indica Queen.
When I decided to start this chat series I thought about people who I was captivated by and was generally interested to know more about. I couldn’t be more thrilled to start this series with someone as equally magical and compassionate as The Childlike Empress. For those of you who are already familiar with The Childlike Empress, congrats, and I hope this interview reveals new sides of them. And for those just meeting them, please click every link in The Childlike Empress’ LinkTree.
Thanks for meeting with me and spending a few hours writing this together.
*Listening Note* For those of you at home, if you highlight the text and hit “speak,” your phone or computer will read the interview to you!
Princess Jafar: Hi!
The Childlike Empress: Howdy!
PJ: How’s your night? Are you somewhere tropical right now?
TCE: It’s going pretty well. I just stuffed myself full with sushis and nachos. Admittedly, not the best mix, but I’m very content. Yes, I guess you could say that haha!
The butthole of America, Florida.
It’s a shame Florida is full of shitty white people. They don’t deserve it.
PJ: 100% agree. My sister was showing me this Floridian she’s become obsessed with who claims to be “a pure blond looking for other real blonds.” He’s so terrifying, but she loves his Facebook hahaha.
I had the same craving today sushi and nachos i ended up grabbing Taco Bell. It was the first time I’ve had it in forever and it was perfect.
I’ve been mostly quarantined so it was nice to do something normal.
TCE: Haha Hell yeah, you should’ve asked if they had sushi. I feel that though. Being on vacation in Florida feels like such a dick move right now. I had multiple anxiety attacks before we left, but all things considered I’m being as safe here as I have been at home. The biggest risk is the planes, but I’m gonna quarantine myself and get tested twice before trying to see my small group of friends or returning to work.
PJ: Yeah, its understandable and a good move to switch up your spot. I mean, this isn’t going anywhere so we have to adapt and learn how to actually live through it.
TCE: That’s a very good point. While I’m not about to be one of those assholes that acts like everything is fine, I also want to be able to find the ways to enjoy my life with respect to the current climate of the world. I think it’s especially important for Black people to be finding ways to pamper and enjoy themselves right now.
PJ: Yes, self care and self love and self spoiling as well! I say those all to, kind of, separate self-care from the version popularized on “Parks and Rec.”
I’ve been caring for myself by trying to educate myself on some topics that interest me and by working on some songs I want to have out soon.
Are you working on music? /Slash/ Is music something you work on or does it come out unexpectedly? I read that a lot of the songs on your last album came out pretty quickly?
TCE: Love that you’re working on new songs. To answer your question: yes and no. I was literally just talking to my boyfriend this morning about how watching “Bohemian Rhapsody” last night kind of sparked a new wave of excitement and inspiration in me. I’m not the biggest Queen fan but I have a lot of respect for them and learned a lot about their story watching that movie, though I do think some of it was dramatized? Regardless, I was watching music videos all morning on my phone. That’s the type of content I used to watch as a kid that made me want to make music in the first place.
I didn’t think I had been actively working on music, but recently I was going through my voice notes on my phone and realized I have a solid album’s worth of ideas that I’m genuinely excited about. I think I’d convinced myself I was in a musical dry spell cuz this process is not the same as the last album. That one really did just pour out of me. I was hurting so bad and once I started feeling somewhat stable again, all these words and sounds came out of me. To this day, I’m still amazed by it.
But yes, the next album is indeed in the works. In the very beginning stages, but I’m excited to get home and move the rest of my instruments to my new apartment and flesh some of these ideas out. I’m currently going through some big changes. Feeling inspired by summer love, allowing myself to grow and purge. The words and melodies are bubbling up inside of me and I wanna make stuff to dance and cry to.
PJ: I think we are all doing all those things at the same time right now and could use a soundtrack for it. I was caught by the word “dry spell.” Even if you are in one or not, it’s still some sort of spell. It creates an interesting idea in my mind of a witch in an arid climate.
So, full disclosure, I looked you up and found some interesting things. Some things that I found similarities in between us and some interesting discoveries that I thought added to your puzzle. So you can stop me if this is too much but! When I googled the childlike empress I found an interesting piece about your mother’s side being Guatemalan.
My grandmother just passed two weeks ago and there’s a family name in your family that i have been considering changing my last name to.
I hope this isn’t awkward but I mean, the internet is what it is and it’s all just there on the first page of google and I wanted to do a thorough interview with you!
But, I think we have some witchy connection. My birthday is 4.26.88 and you are 10.26.94, which is my half birthday. And I’m a taurus and you have a Taurus moon. One of your family last names is Salazar and my family’s last name is Al-Achkar. I recently have condensed this to Alazar and have been writing it down over and over and talking to friends about taking on the last name Alazar. So when i saw ‘Salazar’ in your family name i was just- i felt like there was something going on. Also I apologize if this is too much! Hah.
TCE: No need to apologize! I love the investigation. Come through Nancy Drew! Hahaha
Ugh, yes, I love the name Salazar. I’ve thought about legally changing my last name to that so many times, but I’ve grown so attached to my last names as I’ve gotten older. I’d like to use Salazar for something for sure.
That’s a very powerful name for you, it’s beautiful. Love all these parallels we have! I’m actually ‘96 but the date is correct so yes we are each other’s half birthdays. I’m also a Taurus moon and rising so I love me a Taurus. I don’t think I’ve met a Taurus I didn’t like. I’ve met a few that were too neurotic but cool when they could chill the fuck out, but I also get that cuz I can be that way when I’m manic.
My condolences by the way! Grandmas are so special, I lost both of mine awhile ago. Wish I had more conversations with them. I feel like I’m missing out on all the matriarchal tea in my family and it fucking sucks.
PJ: Mm, grandmas are very special. Mine just turned 88. Which, again, is the year I was born. She was born in Lebanon and came here in the early 80s.
Actually i wanna say one more thing: my grandma and I couldn’t be very close after high school because of religion and me being gay and queer. But- I honestly don’t care about that and now that she’s passed I feel the best parts of her are free to be with me more than when she was here physically.
-Omg someone just drove past me weep-singing to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me.”-
That meant a lot, okay. Who needs tarot when the universe gives me that imagery.
Okay, so I think before that Taylor Swift paid content interruption, I wanted to ask about your grandmother and if you have a strong connection to your Guatemalan side.
TCE: Lmao damn, hope that person is alright! That made me laugh because part of my visual manifestations for getting my license and a car def involves me weeping and scream-singing in my future car.
That’s beautiful, I have a very similar situation. Both of my grandmas were immigrants. They were beautiful, hard ass women. They both scared me. My Haitian grandma had this warmth to her but as a kid I could feel both of my parents’ fear towards her so I never felt at ease around her, which sucks. My Guatemalan-Salvadoran grandma was the same, but was more willing to show her soft side. Both were extremely religious and judgmental, though. So yeah, I am in the same boat with you. Family connection isn’t really a thing for me. I think most of my family hates me because they all creep on my social media and know I’m a sex worker so fuck them, they can bite me for all I care. It’s unfortunate, but so common for queer, sexually liberated, non-religious kids of immigrants. It’s all too common.
I do feel connected to my Guatemalan and Salvadoran side for sure. I also do with my Haitian side. But it’s like a vague connection. I’ve been making an effort to actually read and learn about my people, because lord knows the American school system didn’t do that for me. And it’s hard being second gen in the sense that your parents tried so hard to assimilate to the US, or in my mum’s case Canada. So through them trying to fit into their surroundings you lose a lot of cultural teachings. The things that make your family so special are lost cuz your parents were so embarrassed to embrace those things. So now I’m kind of left to pick up the puzzle pieces and learn things myself. It’s harder when you can’t talk to your family without being berated, ridiculed and abused. It’s a great source of sadness for me. I want to know my family’s stories but can’t really talk to them, it’s too painful. But I do feel an ancestral presence around me so strongly these days. Like it really leaves me speechless sometimes. I don’t even know their names but they’re here with me and they keep me safe. So I don’t dwell too much on the sadness of missing out on a “healthy” family dynamic.
PJ: That’s very relatable for me and my sister as first generation. My white mom was allegedly pretty fucking racist and shamed us on a lot of our Lebanese cultural markers and made us feel ugly. Turns out she’s ugly. Um, hah anyways that’s all alleged for legal purposes.
I’m actually spending the summer with my sister and her new baby and her husband and we’re all learning Lebanese together through youtube. It’s so weird growing up in a small rural town being othered by American kids and not fitting in with Lebanese kids at the Maronite church who were raised with a Lebanese mother who spoke it at home.
I have been reaching out to friends from Lebanon today because of the tragedy and feel pretty helpless to help them but I’ll figure something out. I’m donating 5¢ for retweet of my tweets on my twitter for the month of August 2020. I can donate the proceeds from that to a hands-on group in Beirut.
But, back to this, my sister and I have such a strange push and pull between the two groups. Food seems to be an easy way for us to connect to it, however. That was something that wasn’t kept from us the way the Lebanese language was.
TCE: Ugh, I feel all of that heavily! “Turns out she’s ugly,” you crack me up. I’m sorry it’s like that. It really is strange not feeling at home anywhere as far as blood goes. It’s a lot to digest and discuss and I’m always mindful of how I do so, cuz it can come off as lightskinned self-pitying hahaha. But it is an important convo to have, because it can lead to a lot of isolation and depression. I’ve always felt like a fucking alien. Like I’m here by mistake. I know now that’s not the case and my presence here is very powerful and necessary. At the same time, I will always have an air of detachment to everything in this realm.
Really appreciate you mentioning you and your sister making your own connections through food and language. I was just thinking earlier how I need to just finally become fluent in Spanish and then see if there’s any resources to learn actual Native languages because really Spanish ain’t my mother tongue either. I started learning French to learn Creole. I’m such a space cadet, I can never focus on anything for too long so I have since fallen off my streak, but I’m trying to take it seriously and stick with it. I have fantasies of myself flipping between my mother languages like it’s nothing.
Food is probably the biggest sacred connector between me and my family. I made pupusas by myself for the first time ever earlier this year and started sobbing as I was forming them in my hands. My grandma was such a fucking boss when it came to cooking but especially pupusas. I had only ever made them with her, and I think I only got to make them with her one final time before she had a stroke and half her body was paralyzed. Oh man, when I had that pupusa in my hand, I wept like a baby. I wasn’t anticipating that. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make some traditional Haitian dishes vegan but that’s tricky since so much of it is based around seafood, pork and beef. It’s possible, but would be easier if I had an elder to consult with.
My heart is so heavy seeing what’s happening in Beirut. Definitely trying to figure out what I can do to help. I am grateful for social media because otherwise I’d have no clue how to be of any assistance.
PJ: Same, I actually found out by reaching out to Qaws.Qozah who performed in one of the PJOL shows you were a part of, to see if they would be interested in doing an article like this. They responded that they were safe and they’d talk later so I looked into it.
I spent the morning after that actually diving into your album Take Care of Yourself. It was perfect for watching the rain on a Japanese maple from under an awning, smoking two and half bowls.
I heard it out of order last night on your youtube. And this morning listened to the first three tracks 3 times, then the next three 3 times, then the last two a few times and finally got to the final track. Then listened all the way through again. Would you be interested in going through the album with me a little bit?
TCE: Oh damn, that’s dreamy as fuck. Very ideal for listening to my album. I may need to do that myself hahaha.
Yes I’d love to go through it! Thank you for listening to everything so attentively, that’s very nice for me to hear. I can’t lie, I go back and listen to it sometimes just to check on it and I feel tremendously proud of it.
PJ: When did they pour out- I mean when did they spring out of you- ha I guess I’m trying to say, when did you write the songs?
TCE: I wrote the songs mostly in 2015. I was still very new to Pittsburgh. I think ‘dang.’ was the first song of them all. Then a friend at the time gave me his old banjo for my birthday and once I had that the rest of the songs came. ‘YIKES!’ was the one that made me realize shit was really happening. Like I had wanted to write an album my entire life and wrote a couple songs as a teenager but when ‘YIKES!’ Started forming I was like “oh fuuuuuuuuuuck, it’s happening!!!”
PJ: When i heard the album out of order last night ‘YIKES!’ played second or third and I was like, ‘Alright! This has that summer rock vibe to it.’ And when I listened to the album, I had been anticipating hearing that feel more through out but appreciated having to work for it and get to it by getting through this emotional journey and labor. I also noticed that the two songs you just mentioned ‘dang.’ and ‘YIKES!’ are the two with punctuation in the title and really bookmark the album. For ‘dang.’ I just wrote, “the realization.” You realize this situation you’re apart of is not it. And for ‘YIKES!’ I had written in my notes, “Ooookay thank god I dropped this situation and cut this connection when I did.” Also, I wrote that Yikes could be an EP on its own. It changes so much that it could be 4–5 separate songs. What I read about you on a horoscope site said this is because you are a bit distractible but at the same time dedicated which means your interests can switch gears quickly and intensely. It also said this comes out because you weigh the possibilities of a lot of different options and enjoy seeing many truths existing at once. “Hands in a lot of pots.” Is that wrong or does that ring a bell?
TCE: Haha wait about me specifically? Or about Scorpios in general? Either way, DEFINITELY true.
PJ: Yes, about you specifically, hah. I used your birthday 10.26.96. Even though I got it wrong earlier in our convo, when I was looking into you I used 1996.
TCE: Oh okay, I see. Wow yeah, it’s definitely one of the biggest influences in my life. I am such a scatter brain because of how many things I’m passionate about. It’s equally exciting and exhausting. I get in my own way a lot because of it. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t change that aspect of my psyche, because it’s made me the terrifying, beautiful black hole of hedonist that I am. :)
It definitely informs all of my art. I mean just from the process alone. I’ll go from writing three songs in a day and learning 5 new covers the next, to not touching my guitar for a month because I threw myself into doing vegan food pop ups. Then when I get burnt out on that, I jump back into photo projects. And it just cycles through all of my talents. It might look fun being multi-talented but it really does take a toll on my brain. Never sure if I’m like this cuz of mental illness or vice versa. It all helps and complicates each other simultaneously. I am a very high functioning manic person and I don’t realize how much shit I still have to work on within myself because of how stimulated I keep myself with all types of art and projects.
PJ: I relate to that. I call myself a ‘Jacqueline of all trades’, our alien friend Gia Fagnelli calls himself a ‘Jagoff of all trades.’ We, one-person-bands, seem to find each other. And that might be because we expect people in our circles to be able to take on a lot of roles and responsibilities, with limited resources provided and the highest quality product expected. Through my research I saw you were a very strong writer. I went to school for writing and languages and often forget that I’m a writer even though I’m writing and editing lyrics everyday. This project is a way for me to stay active while I’m feeling the fatigue of self-isolation and the toll of seeing worldwide trauma on a daily basis.
Back to the music a bit, in the album’s opening track, ‘cataclysm,’ which has a striking 38 second music video you write “sell all your smiles for a gun.” Do you endorse or condemn the idea of giving up happiness for security?
TCE: Yes, on the topic of our communities of artists, I do think the little freak show forms itself, so to speak hahaha. We all do find each other, it’s really special to meet one person and then it just all snowballs from there and you have this big motley family of weirdos that can all make insanely beautiful and diverse art together. It’s something I really admire about your manner of organizing events and shows. You always have great lineups and I like that you put the pressure on other organizers to diversify their shows.
Regarding ‘catalysm,’ great question. I condemn that idea. I think there was a time when I maybe endorsed that idea, but where I’m at now in life:
My happiness is my security. And I’m extremely defensive about it at this point.
You come for my happiness or the happiness of my loved ones, you might as well dig yourself a grave. I don’t play about that shit anymore. People try so hard to take away the happiness of Black and Indigenous people, especially femmes, ESPECIALLY those that are also Queer and Sex Workers.
“cataclysm” was what I refer to as “the first song I ever wrote.” I wrote that verse in two minutes with my ex who the album is primarily about. He inspired me in a lot of ways. He made this instrumental on his iPod touch on GarageBand and asked me to write a verse and it just came out of me quicker than I could write it and he was so happy and I was so happy. Our friends were the only ones to hear that song but we all listened to it a lot. The words and melody haunted me. It was all just random shit that I was spewing but looking back on it made me realize it was almost like a prediction for the relationship.
PJ: When I heard the line I heard it through the lens of the ex. But when you wrote “you are not the one its come undone” I saw that as an observation and a command coming from you.
TCE: Yeah it’s sad. Those words really did just come out of me in that exact moment and in a way I wrote it about my exes before him, but it really does feel like a hex. And not in the sense where I doomed the relationship, more so that I knew shit was doomed before it really began. Feels very prophetic. I feel that way about a lot of my writing.
I appreciate what you said earlier about forgetting you’re a writer. I say that same thing all the time. I discredit myself as a writer because I’m not writing like essays and novels and screenplays and blogposts, but I write every day. Whether it’s a few bars for a rap that I haven’t made an instrumental for yet or a self righteous Instagram caption. I’m very proud of the crap that comes out my brain. Even if it’s just rambling.
PJ: I think there’s a lot of judgment around some art forms but we need to just try to shake that off and be confident in what we present. I was wondering if you were familiar with Charley Pride.
TCE: I’m not familiar. Do tell!
PJ: I hope this isn’t too big of a jump from being judged in art forms but Charley Pride is an 82-year old Black country singer widely loved and awarded, a living legend who has upheld and shaped the genre. But his first album was released without his picture on it so that it would sell without controversy because the genre is racist and exclusionary. And his whole career he was asked if he was a failed r&b singer and if he was faking the country act. This is happening to Lil Nas X now as well. Do you feel backlash for embracing the banjo and folk and rock vibes even though they’re all traditionally African?
TCE: Honestly, I’m happy to say I don’t feel any backlash for those reasons. I’ve def gotten some questioning looks at certain shows, but it cracks me up honestly. For example at the beginning of “YIKES!” I had my brother record himself saying “ohhhh this nigga got a banjo???” because some kid had literally yelled that out at one of my shows. I don’t really get backlash, but I feel like people slap me on lineups just because of how I look. That show was one of those. It was a lot of young local trap musicians and they were so good, but I def did not fit in the lineup at all. Which can be cool! And I’m all for genre non-specific shows, but it was literally a rapper, another rapper, me, then more rappers. I know those college kids weren’t trying to hear my sad folky ass.
But I digress. I do feel fortunate to feel embraced as a musician. I struggle with feeling valid. It’s that same feeling of otherness again. I don’t fit into one compartment, which is ideal for me but I think as far as marketing and similar things it gets complicated. Sometimes I wish I could just focus on one thing or simplify things then I laugh and realize how boring that would be.
I think it’s crucial for Black people to take up space in folk music or any genre they want to. But yeah banjo is a historically Black instrument. And I feel proud to play it. It’s a huge source of power for me.
PJ: I love the wide range it possesses. It’s as mutable as you. I was listening to Etta Baker this morning as part of the dive and preparation for this article and I love the way the banjo can squeal and whale and clunk and plink. A longtime friend of mine who goes by Lonesome Daughter speaks through banjos and also is a multi-faceted artist who inspired me to embrace many media. When I listened to your album in order, I was surprised the banjo came in during the 5th song on the EP. The first few songs have a very Smashing Pumpkins and Modest Mouse and Hush Sound vibe with the strings and then go into a more folk rock vibe. Why do you think you blocked this out and structured the album this way?
TCE: Haha wow I love that you brought that up. I actually structured the album that way because that’s how I play my sets. Instead of jumping back and forth between banjo and guitar, I like to play the guitar songs first. So it just kind of made sense to structure the album like that. I’m very flattered you compared it to The Smashing Pumpkins and Modest Mouse. I’ve gotten the Modest Mouse comparison a few times and that really warms my heart. I am very inspired by a few of their albums.
PJ: What are you listening to and inspired by recently?
TCE: Been revisiting my intense love for Frank Ocean lately. Had a really beautiful, intense shroom fueled camping trip with my best friends and a new lover and we listened to Frank most of the day so that’s kind of been informing the magic in my life. I have this really good summer playlist I’m proud of that I can send to you. That’s been the soundtrack of my summer. I was telling this new lover how music is very cinematic to me and how my life just feels like a movie all the time.
PJ: Your life is like a movie though. Your horoscope that I filled in for you -lol- said drama might tend to follow you. Narrative is conflict, does that lead to that cinematic feeling? Or is the reading off?
TCE: Yes, begrudgingly, I do think it might be right. I definitely don’t like drama, but I end up in a lot of dramatic situations. I’ve thought so many situations were gonna be the end of my life, but it just ends up being a really big influence on my art. My best friend Natasha and I used to call it “poetry meat.”
PJ: I giggled. Poetry Meat is a beautiful title for this interview, if you’re down for that. Well, Childlike Empress, I wanna thank you for spending three hours with me talking about you and your process and your past and your future and yourself and your communities. This is the first in the series and I’m so happy to have started it with you. I am thinking I want to shape it around chatrooms and AOL. So what would be your Princess Jafar Instant Message screen name for this convo? Like ‘skaterdude811’ kinda thing.
TCE: Oh mannnnnnnnnn! I’m gonna need a moment to think about that. I think my old aim name was like xXjackskellingtonXx so I’m gonna need to come up with something better than that.
PJ: I don’t know if that’s possible, that’s a top tier screen name. Mine was luxojr88. That’s the name of the desk lamp from pixar.
TCE: OF COURSE YOU KNOW THAT!