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Betty Black: Pop Ballads, Raunchy Rap Tracks—Even Country, Jazz And Opera



Her name is Sylvia Black but you can call her Betty Black if that’s what you're into. The multi-talented singer/songwriter/musician has several projects and guises—everything from Art World Killer (formerly Kudu), Vivian Alive!, Sylvia Black and Illvia (just to name a few)—and she’s collaborated and worked with a lot of artists including Black Eyed Peas, Moby, Spankrock, Kelis and more.

Rather than me trying to tell you all about Sylvia, I’ll hand her the mic and let her do it in her own words.

There is no typical day for me. The only structured thing I have in my life is a daily pole dance class. I travel a lot, mostly visiting with family. My turn-ons include black cowboy boots, studded leather jackets and tight clothes…fortunately my boyfriend fits into those things very nicely. While I spend a lot of time traveling and being in New York City, I think it would be cruel to have a pet but it more than makes up for itself when I go to visit my Mother with her 10 cows, bull, calves, 2 horses, 6 chickens, 2 dogs, 2 cats and about 50 hummingbirds who hover around her porch every day. Family is important to me and I do my best to nurture those who are closest to me in life so that we all may flourish. I wouldn't hesitate to ask my little sisters to record on a song with me just for the sentimental value of it. In fact, they can be heard on my Betty Black song, “Low Tide Lullaby.”

In my iTunes you would find mostly older songs form Siouxsie, Psychedelic Furs, Killing Joke, PIL, or anything dancey and aggressive like some hard dubstep mixes. I like good beats with lots of space, Witch House, SeaPunk, Punk, Weird Records catalogue, but I’m a huge fan of and grew up on good 'ol rock-n-roll, it's really a big part of who I am no matter how I try to escape it. It's just that blues I guess, it's in my DNA. I have been discovering and devouring the gamut of music ever since my babysitter (who's boyfriend was in The Romantics and who also got me an autograph from each member of my favorite band, Van Halen) took me to my first record store in 4th grade. This has enabled me to be flexible in my musical projects…to write for pop ballads, raunchy rap tracks, country, jazz, opera…I’m a fan of music, period.

I’m also really into the triumph of humanity despite ourselves. I would like to see at least some portion of humanity evolve into the future and hope that we don't get snuffed out like the dinosaur. I am a fan of Richard Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like, so you can gather that I have no time for Astrology, religion, old wives tales, fear based superstitions or bullshit. I hadn't seen my Grossmutti (grandmother) in over 4 years and when I discovered that she had read all Dawkins’ books I flew her in from Canada and hosted the 86 year old woman so that I could have the honor of taking her to see Dawkins speak at the New Yorker Festival and then later to meet him at his book signing.

The last thing I would do before I sleep is probably some form of visual computer aided art…photoshopping, video editing. It's very addicting and fun.

So that’s Sylvia Black in her own words. She finished the Art World Killer album called Last Laugh. It’s 13 tracks of sheer rock-electro goodness. Betty Black's remix album of the “Slow Dance” EP entitled “Too Much To Resist” (taken from the “Spring Blossoms” lyric) is coming out Nov 29th on Frau Pink/KID Recordings with remixes by great remixers such as Starkey, Richard Morel, Killahurtz and Deantoni Parks (Art World Killer, John Cale, Mars Volta, Me'Shell N'Degeocello). Shortly after that look out for the 1st single off the 2nd Betty Black EP called, “Bad Weather.” Oh yeah…she finished about 6 or 7 songs with Telepopmusik some time ago. Nothing solid to tell you today but… don't be surprised, we did warn you.

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She wore red lipstick and red nails. She loved art and fashion. She was the first woman in my life that showed me the power femininity and the value of nonsensical beauty.

EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOAD: Betty Black "Low Tide Lullaby" (Starkey mix)

How would you describe your sound to a deaf person?
Betty Black is…A cool gentle breeze up your skirt on a warm Spring day with the taste of dust on your tongue, cold rain drops mingling with warm tears on your cheek, the steam heat of a lover's lies behind your ear with the scent of Summer Tarweed swirling in a cocoon around your body.

What was your favorite toy as a child and when/why did you stop playing with it?
At age 3 or so I remember a model semi truck just big enough for me to sit on and roll down the halls of my Grandmother's house in Texas. It had a roll-up gate leading to the cargo trailer that I would put gumdrops or Maple Nut Goodies in and drive them around like the guardian of this big-rig's contents.

Any colorful incidents involving a fan?
One day walking by a store in Soho I noticed a purse with my and Deantoni Parks (Kudu/Art World Killer drummer, who also works with Meshell Ndegeocello, Mars Volta and John Cale) image printed on it for sale. I was too surprised and too flattered to think about usage without license.

Favor us with a moment in life that changed the course of, or defined, your aesthetic philosophy.
There was one point in my life when I was about 8 or 9 and my Father had this girlfriend named Angela. She wore red lipstick and red nails. She loved art and fashion. She was the first woman in my life that showed me the power femininity and the value of nonsensical beauty.

Your creative arc. Alpha to omega, go.
I am inspired by too much. Whichever environment I am in is where I will take my cues. Betty Black started out of unrequited longing that went on for far too long and this emotional tyranny reminded me of something very much feminine…female. How emotions of love can paralyze you and keep you fixated and frozen. Writing songs about it was my only way out of it. At this time my parents moved way out into the country and that introduced me to a whole other way of living as well as reminding me of my roots in Texas. For me the creative process always starts with a strong emotion about something, usually love, longing, or sex, but not always. And 2nd, it needs a setting. Could be the routine of the nightlife in New York or the wide-open spaces of the country and the instruments and rhythm should sound accordingly. Fast and frantic or legato and longing. When I was working on the final 6 songs of the Art World Killer album, we (the group) all convened in a studio in LA for a short period of time. The songs came pouring out. I was in a new relationship, still attached to an old one and we happened to be working together on the album during this time! Also my little brother ended his life a few weeks prior and here we were in this new setting of beach culture in Venice, which reminded me of my teenage years where I grew up in California. All these things melded together and it took me 2 days to write and record 6 strong songs that all had such specific meaning.

The movement from CD to MP3 was a big paradigm shift in the music biz. Crystal ball time. What will be the next big shake up? How are you going to come out on top?
Well, content is key, as everyone says. Fortunately I love making videos and artwork so I will have an outpouring of visual content in the coming months. I think artists will regain control in a more democratic way. The most creative, re-inventive, and self sufficient will survive…although a true artist must be happy with what they create for themselves, and not what they perceive an audience would want, and be happy with that. More often than not the outcome of your work will never gain critical success due to the sheer amount of competing voices and monopolies out there. I think speed of output, and quantity and quality of an artists’ output will garner them due attention.

Do you think there are any commonly held societal beliefs that are false?
I don't know of any beliefs that are “commonly held” anymore. Even religion changes form thru the ages to suit current trends. There is such a wide range in what people know and their educational backgrounds. If you say society thinks one thing, I can easily show you almost as many people who say the opposite. There is too much information out there and some people tap into it and some don't. Some people have a facility for logic, some don't. I recommend watching “Penn and Teller's Bullshit” show. From what I’ve seen online, dolphins are not some cute water-puppy like creatures one should buy a stuffed toy of or tattoo on their ankle but rather, a lot of dolphins are assholes. Does that sound cynical? Well you should see what I’ve seen, hahaa.

Oh yeah, and if you buy into facials or anti-aging beauty products at all…wake up and take a biology class. And I do think alcohol is one of the world's biggest problems but is great if you want to be a musician or comedian.

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