INsiders Guide: Exclusive Interview with VUCA

This October, Planned Parenthood of WI is featuring “Shine” as part of their annual event with an AR experience of the song, supporting this year’s theme of “Be Visible.” Listeners everywhere can hear this chapter of VUCA’s story on this single, “Shine.” On “Shine,” L.A.-based singer Usen Isong, playing the role of Jackie (they/them), wakes to find that they are dead. With their last breath, they sing of life’s most closely held secret from the other side. A dreamy electro-pop and string-infused (arranged by Daphne Chen) atmosphere build a stunning sonic landscape that sets the backdrop for the tale itself. Shine’s magic grows stronger when the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles enters, heightening the intensity of each chord with strong voices that call out from the heavens, welcoming the newcomer to the afterlife.

VUCA is an experimental art collective — whose first project, The Geometry of Lies, is an immersive alternate reality concept album, featuring a novel, album, and AR experiences. “Shine” represents a chapter in the novel, performed by the character Jackie — a non-binary technology wunderkind.  The Geometry of Lies is a modern meditation on the untold story of Prometheus and his relationship to Hope. With mystical energy only Greek mythology could inspire, each song is a reflection on the ever-shifting tension between Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA).

For those who aren’t familiar with your work, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your musical stylings?
VUCA is an experimental art collective focused on narrative storytelling. Shine, for example, lives as both a song and a chapter in The Geometry of Lies, which is both an album and novel. Every song we release is performed by the character from the story; taking on their unique voice and perspective. In Shine, Usen Isong is performing as Jackie, a non-binary technology wunderkind whose tragic death is the catalyst driving the narrative. In each release, genres are bent and strained in the search of something timeless. Because the project has many different lead vocalists, perspectives, and styles, The Geometry of Lies, as an album, feels like a lovingly crafted mixtape for a friend in the throes of heartbreak. 
How did you get started in music and who were some of your biggest inspirations?
I am a relative newcomer, although music has always been a part of my life. My mother was an artist with a gifted ear, who exposed me to a wide variety of great music at an early age, including Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Blondie, and countless others. Without a doubt, Pink Floyd is a seminal influence for this project. I can draw a direct line from The Geometry of Lies to listening to The Wall at the tender age of eight with my giant Koss headphones in the living room of our house in the Florida Everglades.  
So tell me about “Shine”, what inspired this song and what does it mean to you?
In 2015, I lost my mother and sister within six months of each other. I started songwriting as a way to process my grief. Nothing was really gelling until I met Barbara Stephan in 2019, who is a classically trained jazz musician and performer. We had a couple good phone conversations, so we decided to meet up to collaborate. When I first saw Barbara, I had a hard time forming words. Thankfully, Barbara carried the conversation until I got up the courage to show her a photo on my phone. “How do you have a picture of me?” she asked. I didn’t. It was a picture of my sister Lisa, who I had lost.  She looked exactly like her, down to her height and piercing green eyes. The universe had spoken. I had found my writing partner.
Shine is a modern take on the world’s oldest song, the Seiklios Epitaph, which was written in the 1st or 2nd century CE. I found the lyrics particularly moving – “While you live, shine/ have no grief at all/ life exists only for a short while/ and Time demands his due.” Here was a song singing from the grave.  It felt like a universal truth. 
Talk me through the creative process of the song and who helped you work on it?
Start to finish, the song felt channeled. Barbara Stephan and I worked out the melody and lyrics in a magical hour-long session. Initially, we handed the song over to producer Dave Olson. So much of his vision and compositional genius is all over this track. In early 2021, we learned that a movie wanted to license the song. This gave us a chance to revisit Shine and introduce some new elements. I had been in conversation with producer Greg Papania and was eager to work with him. I had wanted to reformat the song in 432hz, which is right in his wheelhouse. Greg took the composition to soaring new levels, inviting Daphne Chen in to arrange the strings, Usen Isong to perform the lead vocals, and the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles to burn the house down. 
Tell me about your first project which was called The Geometry of Lies, it sounds like such a unique and interesting concept?
Every single we have released so far is a track on the album The Geometry of Lies. But calling The Geometry of Lies an album is a bit of a misnomer or, at very least, incomplete. The project is an immersive alternate reality experience with three sides – the music, a novel, and ultimately a live production. 
So I’m interested to know if you are able to, tell me about any upcoming projects and what we can expect?
Prior to this project, my creative and life partner, Jeff Fitzsimmons, and I have worked in Virtual Reality (VR) with two of our projects Across the Line (2016) and Ashe ’68 (2019) both premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.  With The Geometry of Lies, we are aiming to stretch the definition of Virtual Reality. It’s time for VR to move beyond the headset and become a collective experience. To do that, we need a compelling narrative and score to hold the audience’s attention.  The traveling production will live somewhere between concert, film, and magic show.  
Any plans to film a video for the song “Shine”?
We have some behind the scenes footage that we may share. If we do a video for Shine, it will be part of the larger narrative. That said, everything is on the table right now.  We will be releasing our first music video, Glamour, on October 21.  That track lent itself to a nice standalone story about sex addiction. It’s creepy and perfect for Halloween. 
What do you hope listeners take away from your music?
We hope that our music inspires people to make the art of their lives.
What’s next on the agenda for 2021?

After we release the Glamour video, we will be releasing performance videos of Elysian Fields and an unreleased track, Out of the Shadowlands. On Instagram, we are telling the larger story of The Geometry of Lies, which is curated by the amazing Elena Velez, a fashion designer who had her collection spotlighted this year at NYC Fashion Week. 


Written By: Neill Frazer

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