From Trainhopping to Trans Anthems, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s New Record is an Instant Folk Classic

“The Past Is Still Alive” is such an evocative statement. What does that sentiment mean to you, and what does it mean in the context of the album?

This record was so much about me looking back and really investigating my experience of memory. I feel like my friends have a different type of memory than me: I will have emotional memories but not remember where we were. I was feeling like my experiences were slipping through my fingers because I couldn’t make a timeline of them. This became a way for me to feel like everything I experienced really happened. These fleeting moments that I had in my mind and in my body, I was making a box for all of them.

I lost my dad really suddenly right before the record. I already had the title but then all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, yes, it’s also about honoring these people who aren’t here anymore, but are such a huge part of my life,” and feeling like they actually are still with me and everything that’s happened is is still here in a way. It’s also about the history of our country, and the history of landscapes. All of that history is still being made and what happened is still a part of what’s happening now and what will happen.

The album description says that you open up about your life on this record more than ever before. What were some of the ways that you did that on the record, and what made you feel comfortable enough to do that?

I talk on this record about moments and parts of community that I found throughout my life that are really sacred to me, and I was really scared of sharing those. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the listener. It’s that I didn’t trust the whole machine of selling music. I felt really nervous about letting some sacred moments or memories or people out into the world because I thought they would just get used up and commodified or something.

I felt finally ready to be like, “I think that I know how to do this in a way where I trust myself to do this artistically and to protect the contents with the writing.” Something clicked that I could do it, like how all these other artists that I admire have.

What made that click for you?

I think recognizing how fragile life is. Also throughout early lockdown, I was thinking about history and people and movements and scenes and art communities getting written down in history or somehow cataloged so that they can be remembered. I was feeling nervous that people who I thought were really important who had passed away, or movements that I was a part of when I was younger in New York, were not getting written down in the history books. Then I read this book that was really important for the writing of this album called It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful. It’s about ACT UP and about [the AIDS activist art collective] Gran Fury. It started to feel way more important to me to be somebody who’s writing down a moment in time, and memorializing people.