Getting Real Cold Around Here: R&B Party Icon You(genious) Turns His Hand to a Musical

IMG_1580457557821Art is reinvention; at least, it should be, if everything’s working like it’s meant to. Sometimes, though, that reinvention can catch us observer-type people completely by surprise. Like, say, when SCR learned that You(genious), party-crasher, soul crooner, and Misfit-of-R&B loverman extraordinaire, had written, produced, and released a musical, of all things. What the hell?

Believe it or not, this is a real thing. You(genious) has assembled a gang of local music luminaries to bring his quirky, street-level vision to life tonight at Montrose Proper, as something entitled COLD: When Your Heart Becomes a Hole, and it sounds pretty damn intriguing, to say the least. It’s the first effort by You(genious)’s new “alternative entertainment company,” Imagination Cinema, whose tag line is “Where YOU make the movie… With your mind.”

To be completely honest, however, not even the audio-only “trailer” released for COLD really makes it clear what will be going on, so we got a hold of the man himself to see if he could shed some light on it.


SCR: Okay, so first things first: what is COLD? Can you describe what it is and what it’s generally about, without giving the whole thing away?
You(genious): It’s about a homeless street performer at the bottom of life, who comes up, and doesn’t know how to act when he gets what he wants. It’s about love, death, addiction, but most of all, it’s about real life! COLD is actually the name of the main character… “When Your Heart Becomes a Hole” is a description of what happens when life takes everything from you…

What brought this on? What made you want to do a musical? It’s not exactly a clear-cut path from soul crooner to Andrew Lloyd Webber…
I love musicals! I have a choral background…plus, I’m an artist. The beauty of being that is I can do whatever I want. No one tells me what I can and cannot do. The actual character stemmed from me crashing parties with The Unbearable DJ Juan 1! Busking in the streets started the whole movement.

What does COLD look like live? Is this a full-on stage show, or is more like a radio play, only live?
It’s completely auditory. I had a storyline written… We did the songs first. Then I wrote the script and had the actors come in and lay the parts down. I edited it. Layered soundscapes and sound effects underneath everything. After that, Danimal and I went over the whole thing and scored it. It’s like watching a movie with no picture. You create the movie…with your mind! ®

I have created miniature set installations to get the imagination working. I worked with graf artists Brandon Sadd and Erika Salinas. Told them what I wanted and gave them sketches… I went around the city and “recycled” political campaign signs — they are 4×8, pretty damn big. Then drove every damn where and bought lights and set props from resale shops. Took shit that was laying around and cluttering up my neighborhood…

I raided recycling bins and found a shit-ton of broken-down cardboard boxes for people to sit on. I ask that they “bring your own blanket” — this adds to the listener’s comfort level. I didn’t want it to be an audience participation event, like many of my shows from before. I wanted them to actually become part of the musical…to give them a glimpse of how it would feel to be homeless for two hours.

DSC_1771 Yougenious WMAfter the show, I encourage them to donate the blanket to me — I will in turn drop them off at a local shelter that needs them, so they can get them where they need to go. This time around I am donating them to The Beacon. Last show I raised over 250 articles of clothing and 60 blankets! That’s incredible!

Is it all scripted, then, or is it improv? From the trailer, it sounds kind of like some of it, at least, is improvised?
I wrote a script, but made it very conversational. There was little improv. I wanted the dialogue to be simple and easy to follow. The songs are more poetic, deriving from a lot of poetry I wrote when I was younger, having a really tough time with life. It has a very dark side to it…

Who all’s involved in the show? I know you’ve recruited quite a few people from the Houston music scene; has everybody been ready and willing to participate?
Man… I collaborated with over 25 musicians and artists, throughout all genres of music and mediums. It gave it a very unique sound and look. Danimal composed the entire thing. Steve Torres mixed and mastered it. Then there’s NoSaprise, Dirty & Nasty, The Unbearable DJ Juan 1, Destonee, Jimmy Bl!tz, Blair Doerge, Damien Denes, Jordan Pannell, Marcia Yingling

Musicians that played on it: Erin Rogers, Gustavo N. Roman, Steve Aikey, Ashley “Cash” Davis, Eric Jackson, and Adam Martinez. Anthony Rathbun did the photos. Everyone was amazing and more than willing to come into my studio and lay shit down. I love that it’s so diverse…it’s not any specific genre; it’s just music!

If any of those names sound familiar, most likely they probably are some of your favorite award-winning band’s members. As musicians, we are stronger in numbers than we are individually. I wanted to showcase Houston’s scene. We are talented and truly amazing! This is proof!

It sounds like there’s a definite focus on the problem of homelessness in the musical; where’s that coming from? I like that you’re asking people to bring and donate blankets…
Man…it fucking sucks to be homeless. Most people don’t even pay attention. It’s like they have on blinders or something. I have never been homeless in the traditional sense. But…I have been so down and out that I had to stay in my homeboy’s garage for a couple months. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had anywhere to go.

I had a job and a car. Just no home. I was living with rodents, possums, and insects of all kind. It was terrible. I can only imagine what it feels like to not even have a roof… We have it so good and we don’t even appreciate it. Well…most of us.

I want to inspire people to be creative and empower them to help someone other than themselves. I came up with an idea to use my artistry as a platform to do that! I’m not just telling you to do it. I’m leading by example!

How did the premiere last month go? What’s the reception been like so far?
First of all, anything that Aerosol Warfare does is bomb. They offered me the space, and we blew people’s minds! It’s a sensory-deprivation musical experience. I hand out “focus enhancers” to cover your eyes, so all you can do is listen… I force you to listen. Nothing has been done like this before, not on this level. I might be pioneering a new form of art! Can’t call it…

Is there a plan to ever release COLD in album form, maybe?
There are plans, but just like every movie…you have to wait till the DVD comes out!

What’s next for you and Imagination Cinema? Will there be more musicals like COLD?
I am working with promoter Thomas Koenig; he lives in San Francisco. We are going to take the work…the movement…all across the United States. I want to spread this message to everyone and give people a little bit of joy in life. I want to inspire artists to think outside the stage and take different approaches to what they do. To collaborate with others, to take some thing awesome, and make it extraordinary!

Generations are defined by the artists. We have the power to change people through words, songs, and pigments on canvas. Once again — I’m not just talking it, I’m walking it!

So, what does the musical mean for your more “traditional” musical career as You(genious)?
Well… I’ve never been just a singer. I am an entertainer. There is an art to this shit! Are you not entertained? END

[You(genious) and friends present COLD: When Your Heart Becomes a Hole on Saturday, January 25th, at 6PM and 9PM at Montrose Proper.]

Interview by . Interview posted Saturday, January 25th, 2014. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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